I think children’s books are a source of inspiration that often goes untapped. The combination of an intriguing storyline with beautiful images can get those creative neurons firing like crazy. I remember one Christmas my mom brought a huge stack of children’s books home from the library, and we spent hours reading them by the fireplace. It was both relaxing and energizing at the same time, and became one of my favourite Christmas memories. Over the years I’ve found a small collection of books that are meant for children but still appeal to me as an adult – probably because, like many things that inspire me, they’re a little dark and very strange.
Two of the writer/illustrator teams that grabbed my attention for both their stories and their illustrations are:
Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
I love the irreverent tone and out-of-the-box storytelling in these books. Most of all I love Smith’s wacky collaged illustration. My parents bought us the first book when we were kids and I’m still a fan.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is a ramshackle collection of fairy-tales spoofs and parodies. The art spills from one page to the next, playing with conventions. Even the table of contents and the end papers are part of the fun.
Math Curse: What happens when you realize that math is inescapable? A descent into mathematical madness (educational too!)
Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
I found these two through the Sandman comics – Dave McKean did the covers – and was instantly smitten. McKean’s style is full of shadows and mystery, and he layers elements in such a way that I’ll stare at the images wondering, “How did he do that?” It’s the perfect compliment to Gaiman’s imaginative (some might say twisted) stories.
The Wolves in the Walls is a slightly terrifying tale of a family dealing with the wolves that have taken up residence in their home. “When the wolves come out of the walls, it’s all over.”
The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish is the story of a boy who traded his dad like a baseball card, and then had to try and get him back, sending him and his sister on an adventure. (There’s a really great map in this one!)
I discovered the following artist more recently when a friend mailed me one of his books (getting books in the mail is one of my favourite things), and I can’t get enough of his work.
I discovered this artist more recently when a friend mailed me one of his books (getting books in the mail is one of my favourite things), and I can’t get enough of his work. Equally comfortable with vast surreal landscapes and hyper-realistic portraits, Tan’s illustrations might make your imagination burst if you’re not careful.
The Red Tree is a quiet story about a bad day that keeps getting worse, until you find that one beautiful thing that makes it all okay.
The Arrival is a meticulous wordless study of an immigrant to a new land. The strangeness of his new country is evident in Tan’s fantastical drawings and the character’s faces are rich with emotion.
Are there any children’s books that you still like to cozy up with? Do you have any weird and wonderful titles to add to the list? Leave a comment below.