Open for a fantastical ride

When one thinks of children’s book illustrators, Salvador Dali is perhaps not the name that would immediately come to mind. However, in 1969, Dali illustrated for a version of Alice in Wonderland , published by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House. Come to think of it, what better story for Dali than the illusory world of Alice?

The surrealist painter is not the only famous artist to have tried his hand at illustrating children’s books. Before painting soup cans, Andy Warhol illustrated a book called The Little Red Hen (among others) and David Hockney illustrated a few fairytales by the brothers Grimm. Illustrating children’s books comes with its own set of challenges, and perhaps these artists — who were used to patrons of a completely different demographic — were more than willing to explore that.

Here’s my list of children’s books, by Indian and international artists, that adults and children alike would love to own.

El Lissitzky

About Two Squares , 1922


The Russian avant-garde artist designed, illustrated and wrote About Two Squares a few years after the Russian revolution of 1917. On the face of it, it can be read as a simple story of a red square pitted against a black square, but at the same time, it is also a political allegory where Lissitzky uses geometrical abstraction to represent the Bolsheviks and the Tsarists. Apart from its brilliant use of typography and composition, the open-ended story encourages children to chart their own way in the world rather than follow a play-book.

₹1,405.87, on

KG Subramanyan

A Summer Story , 1972


Subramanyan’s witty, modern retelling of the popular fable about the thirsty crow is a little gem of a book. Created in his trademark graphic style, the book — illustrated entirely in black and printed on coloured paper — has stunning compositions that use negative spaces in ways only a genius like him can. Animator Nina Sabnani took Subramanyan’s art forward, to make an equally delightful animated version, as her student project at the National Institute of Design. The film is available online, and children will love seeing their favourite frames from the book come to life.

₹75, on

Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach , 1991


R inggold is an African-American artist who is known for her diverse range of work — from paintings to the narrative quilts that she stitches. Tar Beach is a gorgeous picture book, illustrated in a quilt-like fashion. It tells the story of Cassie, a young African-American girl with a vivid imagination, who dreams about flying all over New York City. Though the tone of the book is whimsical and carefree, it touches upon some really serious and poignant topics of race and freedom. Each page is done in vibrant colours and little details definitely make for repeated readings.

₹563, on

Bhajju Shyam

The London Jungle Book , 2004


This book is a visual record of Shyam’s first visit to London. The renowned Gond artist looks at the city with the wonder and humility of a child, and makes endearing and poignant observations about the city by using the symbolic vocabulary of Gond art. The visual metaphors he uses are at once stunning and humorous, and anyone who has travelled to an alien country will relate to his experiences of an outsider in a big city.

₹750, on

A Ramachandran

Dakiya the Mailman , 2012


T hose who know Ramachandran’s work will be surprised to see the versatile styles he employs for the numerous children’s books he has written and illustrated. The pictures in Dakiya the Mailman are made using paper cuts, giving the book a sophisticated graphic style.

₹250, on

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston

A Child of Books , 2016


This book is a collaboration between Oliver Jeffers — who, apart from being a celebrated children’s author, is also a painter — and artist Sam Winston, and a celebration of books and reading. Visually stunning, A Child of Books is a picture book that combines the unique styles of Jeffers and Winston to tell the tale of a girl who literally sets sail on a sea of words and arrives at the door of a boy whom she tries to convince to join in her adventures. It uses images of text from classics like The Swiss Family Robinson, Kidnapped and Frankenstein to create the illustrations, and part of the thrill of reading this book, apart from the lovely story, is recognising these references.

₹550, on

Yayoi Kusama

The Little Mermaid , 2016


At 87, the Japanese artist brought to life the popular Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Little Mermaid through her signature black-and-white drawings. Unlike the previous light-hearted Disney version, the book sticks to the original story, and Kusama’s detailed, and sometimes surreal black-and-white illustrations, complement the dark theme well. ₹2,476.31, on

The writer is a children’s books illustrator, comic book artist and animator. She blogs at

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Printable version | Jul 4, 2022 8:48:13 am |