REVIEW: 100 Great Children's Picture Books

Front Cover of 100 Great Children's Picture Books
Cover illustration by Sara Fanelli

I was a bit slow to get my hands on a copy of 100 Great Children's Picture Books but it has definitely been worth the wait. Even after it arrived I made myself wait a little bit longer in order to finish another review and sort a whole bunch of house moving stuff. Why? Because some books demand that you sit down and give them your undivided attention.

Inner spread from 100 Great Children's Picture Books showing The Slant Book
The Slant Book  by Peter Newell

Each of the 100 books is ordered chronologically starting with The Slant Book from 1910. Each title has its own double page spread showing the cover and a variety of internal pages, as well as giving you information on the author/illustrator, the publisher and a little background about the book and the people who created it.

Salisbury points out in the introduction that the selection has been made on merits of art and design alone and aspires to deliver a visual feast to the reader, books have been chosen subjectively, indulgently and personally, so doesn't have any academic grounding. The result is a glorious variety of illustrations from a range of different countries that have been published over the last 100 years.

Inner spread from 100 Great Children's Picture Books showing Clever Bill
Clever Bill by William Nicholson

As well as enjoying the book visually I found myself learning about all kinds of illustration history such as the popularity of the French stencilling technique of pochoir, how Benjamin Rabier (Le fond du sac, 1912) was one of the first illustrators to give lead roles to animals as characters, while William Nicholson (Clever Bill, 1926) was significant in the development of combining text and image to form narrative, which we are accustomed to seeing in picture books today - using text to prompt the reader to look more closely at the image.

Inner spread from 100 Great Children's Picture Books showing Storie di tre uccellini
Storie de tre uccellini by Bruno Munari

Naturally as a picture book enthusiast I found a whole heap of books that I'd like to read, but some of my favourites include the very first book The Slant Book from 1910 by Peter Newell; I love its timeless humour that incorporates the slanted design of the book into the narrative. I also love Storie di tre uccellini and Il venditore di animali (both 1945) by Bruno Munari for their playful design and unpredictable reading experience by using cut-outs, flaps and books within books that add intrigue and delight.

Inner spread of 100 Great Children's Picture Books showing The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My
The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My by Tove Jansson

Recognisable titles/characters are also appear, including Babar et le professeur Grifaton (1956), The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My (1953), and The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968), (can you believe I never actually read that as a kid?). Some of the more contemporary titles featured include the beautifully water coloured Dwarf Nose by Wilhelm Hauff and Lisbeth Zwerger (this illustrated version, 1993), and Gisèle de Verne (Glass Gisèle, 2002) by Beatrice Alemagna; the idea of a girl with transparent skin whose thoughts are visible to the world coupled with the delicate use of transparent paper is a beautiful thing. 

Inner spread from 100 Great Children's Picture Books showing Gisele de verre
Gisèle le de verre by Beatrice Alemagna

I follow many contemporary working illustrators online, they are all exceptionally talented but having read this book I'm aware that although they are all individual (in a blind test I could name that illustrator) and have their own je ne sais quoi, you can see they are part of the current British era. This is no bad thing but by encompassing so many decades and countries 100 Great Children's Picture Books has shown me just how diverse illustration can be. It illustrates different techniques for the communication of ideas and narrative development and showcases many examples of style, medium and design.

I have discovered books I've never seen before and thanks to Salisbury’s supporting text have found myself appreciating visual styles, that I previously may not have paid attention to, with a pair of fresh new eyes.

I now have a wish list a mile long and judging by the low stock levels of the featured titles on a well known book selling site, many others have also been inspired. Sadly there are some titles that no longer appear to be available, so I'll have to start searching secondhand bookshops if I ever want to read them. This has made me more aware of picture books that are being published now. I often put off buying picture books that I like because I always think that I'll will be able to get them another time, but no matter how wonderful the book is, that isn't necessarily the case. With that in mind I'm coming after your work Alex T. Smith, Emma Yarlett, Gemma O'Neill and David Litchfield, I know your books won't be vanishing any time soon (hopefully ever) but I really need to start making some purchases before my list gets too long and I get left behind.

100 Great Children's Picture Books 
Martin Salisbury

Published by Laurence King Publishing
RRP: £24.95

ISBN-10: 1780674082
ISBN-13: 978-1780674087


All images copyright of Laurence King Publishing