I came across some beautiful books in the library yesterday when I was looking for read-aloud ones. The illustrations caught my eye immediately but the stories are lovely too.
The illustrator for each of these is Roberto Innocenti, a self-taught artist from Italy.
The Last Resort by J. Patrick Lewis c. 2002
Essentially, an artist’s imagination is lost, goes on holiday without him, and he chases it down to a sea-side resort. There he meets all manner of interesting characters and tries to figure out what they have in common. This is not a book for small children although they might enjoy looking at the illustrations (gorgeous and detailed). This is a good read-with-them book for children over nine or ten depending on reading level. They will almost certainly not catch the literary references, but you can help them through it. Older children (high school) will probably find this book enjoyable despite the fact that it’s shelved with the young children’s books.
The House by J. Patrick Lewis c. 2009
Unlike the previous book this one can easily be enjoyed by younger children. This story, in poem form, traces the history of a stone house from 1656 to the present, concentrating on the most recent hundred years. The illustrations are two-page spreads and exquisite. Each one is a story in and of itself. Children will enjoy picking out the differences in style of dress, transportation, and other signs of the changing times. Older children who have learned a little history may enjoy it a bit more and be able to identify critical historical events which are alluded to. Again, this is a good read-along book. (Adults will enjoy both of these. Promise.)
Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann c. 1996 (original 1816)
Ok, I know it’s not Christmas nor anywhere near, but since I’m on the subject of Innocenti, I might as well include this one. Everyone is (or should be) familiar with the story of the Nutcracker. This book is not the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite, but the original story. I hadn’t read the original and was surprised to find it existed. The basic plot is the same, but there is a lot more to the story. Reading this is similar to reading the original book after you have only watched a so-so movie. The illustrations are very realistic and bring the story to life. It is not a short book so I suggest reading a chapter a night and taking your time over it. Each illustration is worth poring over.