The ten best illustrated books - Features - Books - The Independent

The ten best illustrated books


1 GRIMMS' FAIRY TALES By Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm; illustrated by George Cruikshank (Puffin Classics, £3.99)

1 GRIMMS' FAIRY TALES By Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm; illustrated by George Cruikshank (Puffin Classics, £3.99)

George Cruikshank - the great personality standing on the threshold of 19th-century British illustration - was also the illustrator of Oliver Twist. Children are not supposed to like small, black-and-white pictures (or is that a myth perpetrated by children's librarians?), but who could resist the almost naïve intensity of these images, alive with energetic detail?

2 STRUWWELPETER Written and illustrated by Heinrich Hoffman (Chrysalis, £9.99)

More manic intensity. It's hard to grant Heinrich Hoffman much more than amateur status as a draughtsman, but despite that (or perhaps because of it), he was able to break out of the formality of the page and dispose of his frightening - and extraordinarily memorable - images in unexpected ways that make Shock-Headed Peter a true picture book, not just a book of text with pictures.

3 THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS By Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by EH Shepard (Egmont Books, £30)

EH Shepard's illustrations are full of vitality - felicitous, and drawn with an easy grace, they capture both the real surroundings of the riverbank and the real-but-fantasy creatures upon it. Animals-in-clothes can bring their own problems but Shepard sails by them, and, strangely, his anthropomorphic creatures are more convincing to our eyes nowadays than the humans they encounter.

4 MADELINE Written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans (Scholastic Press, £12.99)

Perhaps only someone like Ludwig Bemelmans could have the poise to put together such evocative but dramatically simple scribbled views of Paris. Nothing much seems to happen to the 12 little girls and their protective Nurse Clavel,but at the same time one has the sense that what Bemelmans is offering stretches far beyond the perimeters of the conventional children's book.

5 THE HAPPY LION By Louise Fatio; illustrated by Roger Duvoisin (Scholastic Press, £4.99)

Another American book with a French flavour that stands up well to the passing of time. Duvoisin's portrait of the lion is so convincing that it's easy to think that's how a lion ought to be drawn, and the book as a whole exudes sweetness and freshness.

6 CROCODILE TEARS Written and illustrated by André François (Faber, out of print)

The original 1950s editionappeared in the guise of an oblong case suitable for transporting a crocodile back to France, an ingenious ploy characteristic of the artist and of his publisher, Delpire. It's still worth getting hold of in normal book format for its witty, straightforward drawings, and as a reminder of the tremendous influence that François has had on a whole generation of post-war illustrators.

7 DOCTOR DE SOTO Written and illustrated by William Steig (Farrar Straus Giroux, £3.99)

I have three artists elbowing to get in at No 7. How can I choose between Maurice Sendak, William Steig and Tomi Ungerer? The first two are American, the third came to success in America - but all have deep, European immigrant roots. Where the Wild Things Are or Doctor de Soto or The Hat? Oh, please, just go and look at them all.

8 ROSE BLANCHE By Ian McEwan; illustrated by Roberto Innocenti (Red Fox, £5.99)

This book and the next are both wonderful examples of how closely observed realism can still have an air of magic about it - or vice versa. In Rose Blanche, the young heroine lives in a Nazi-occupied country and comes upon - in almost dream-like fashion - a concentration camp and the children in it. It's a modern fairy tale that does not flinch at reality.

9 SNOW WHITE By Josephine Poole; illustrated by Angela Barrett (Hutchinson, £12.99)

Angela Barrett reverses the procedure, so that a folk tale is treated as a reality, magical though it is: the seven dwarfs are small men of decent responsibility, and it's not totally surprising to discover that the figure of the poisoned Snow White is based on the photo of a Nazi suicide at the end of the war.

10 THE WINTER SLEEPWALKER By Joan Aiken; illustrated by Quentin Blake (Red Fox, £3.99)

I always have a problem with "favourite this" and "favourite that"; I hardly need say that these aren't the 10 best illustrated books for children, but 10 of the best. That only slightly eases my embarrassment in knowing that No 10 is expected to be a book of my own - not least because that judgement belongs to others, not to me. However, I mention The Winter Sleepwalker because it was, in its range of mood and subject, fascinating to undertake, and because it gives me the opportunity to salute the memory of the great Joan Aiken.

'Quentin Blake: Fifty Years of Illustration', Somerset House, The Strand, London WC2 (020-7420 9400; www.somerset-house.org.uk) to Sunday

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