(Written by Maria L Hughes) According to author David Salisbury, young children often love books with simple visual styles. Simple expressions allow children to project their emotions, personalities, and imaginations onto the characters of the story. Because of this, books with simple illustrations and few words are often the most popular among children. This article is a review of five well-loved, beautifully illustrated, and strikingly simple children’s books.
P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother is great example of a wildly popular children’s book with simple illustrations and a charming message. Illustrated with sparse watercolors, the story begins with the hatching of a baby bird. Right before the little bird is to hatch, his mother decides to leave and bring him food. Unfortunately, he hatches before she is back, tumbles out of the nest, and leaves in search of her. What ensues is a humorous journey on which the little bird asks various inappropriate animals and objects, “Are you my mother?”
The simple and repetitive sentences are perfect for children of preschool age, as is the familiar message of separation from parents. Children often feel bewildered and lost when their parents are away, and identify well with the baby bird as he becomes more and more anxious throughout the story, until he is happily reunited with his mother.
Although the illustrations are quite detailed, Goodnight Moon retains simplicity in its poetic form and the broad primary colors that the illustrations employ. There is no message, just the depiction of a little girl wishing “goodnight” to all the things around her. The combination of detailed, interesting imagery and memorable lines makes this book an easy bedtime favorite.
Dr. Seuss’ highly imaginative artistic style has long been celebrated by many children and adults around the world. The Sneetches, however, is a particularly wonderful example of a simple children’s story with a distinct, heart-warming message. The story teaches children the silliness of being boastful and unkind, and how differences between people often are superficial and don’t really matter at all. And what’s the best part about The Sneetches? Adults can enjoy reading the tongue-twisty and often made-up words just as much as children enjoy listening.
Most of Silverstein’s simple, rough illustrations are done in black and white and accompany his inventive poetry in books such as Where the Sidewalk Ends. In The Giving Tree, however, he adds color to his squiggly illustrations, and the result is a book that is bare and open but interesting and colorful to look at. The story is quite sad but also teaches children lessons of love, loyalty, and sacrifice.
This French book isn’t quite as well known in the U.S. as Dr. Seuss’ and Shel Silverstein’s works, but it should be! The first book, written in 1932, was so popular that it began a series of books featuring the main character, an elephant, including The Voyage of Babar and Babar the King. The illustrations have drawn acclaim for featuring the simply-drawn elephant against primary colors and depicting visually delightful adventures.
Often simplicity requires more care and effort, and the writers of these five works demonstrate the effort and talent that is required for the children’s books that will be loved by generations of readers and their parents.
About the author: +Maria L Hughes is a children’s book enthusiast and online publisher for childrensbookstore.com.