Beautiful Read-Aloud Book Editions: A Treasury of Our Favourite Illustrated Read-Alouds

This is the story of how my family created a culture of reading together. It’s also a peek at some of the treasures of our read-aloud book collection (with plenty of pictures so you can see why these books are so special!)

Beautiful hardback editions of family read-alouds including Peter Pan and Heidi.

Many years ago (it seems to me now) there lived eight people in a little house on an island–although you wouldn’t know it was one–surrounded by marsh and rivers and more islands. These eight people were a family, and one of things they liked to do best together was go on adventures.

Some adventures they took with their feet, others in their big van, driving to the furthest reaches of their country. And some they took with their imaginations. For that kind of adventure they didn’t even need to leave their island or their little house. All they had to do was gather round–by the fireplace, perhaps, or on a sheet in the back yard–and open a book, and one person would begin to read in a Story Voice. And thus the next adventure would begin.

And how many adventures we had! Hours and more hours we had over the years, reading our way through Victorian London or Weathertop or the prairies of Kansas. My parents began keeping a logbook of all our adventures: a three-ring binder full of lined paper, where we recorded each book title and author.

The family reading record became something of a sacred object. Once, when it had to take a trip to another family’s house, my mother told my sister to “guard it with her life”–which our friend thought a very wicked thing to say. But even though we understood hyperbole, we also understood the value of the reading record. It was a memorial of all those adventures we took, all those hours we spent in each other’s company, knitting us tighter even as our minds expanded wider.

Living stories don’t ever really end, and now that we’ve grown up we’re continuing those adventures. We all read aloud to our children, and to each other’s children, and one day this new generation of unique, adventuresome, imaginative children will read to their own.

I made my own family reading log to record our new adventures. I can’t wait to see it filled.

And I invite you, dear reader, to begin your own logbook of read-aloud adventures. Read aloud to children–to your own, your nieces or nephews, grandchildren, students. When there are times that you have children in your care, spend some of that time reading to them. Now more than ever, our children need good stories in this strange digital world of distractions and fractured narratives. Because stories are grounding, even as they lift you off your feet to lands away.

If you’re not sure where to begin, I have a list of 50 classic chapter books that will help. And today I’m going to share with you some of our family’s greatest treasures: the gorgeously-illustrated book editions (many of them hardback), that we read over and over again.

My parents made it a practice to gift us with beautiful books for birthdays and Christmases, inscribed in the front to remind us who the treasure belonged to (very helpful when we went our separate ways as adults!) So some of the books I’m about to show you I got when I was a baby or a very little girl. Others match the books my siblings were given, which I’ve since bought or asked for so that my own children can enjoy.

Many of these are out of print, but you can still get your hands on them used. I’m supplying the ISBNs for each edition, so all you need to do is make a web search for “ISBN ___” and the results page will show you where the book is listed for sale. And of course, seek them out in used bookstores. Keep a list of books you want–inside The Book Lover’s Companion is a good spot for that–and then if you don’t have time to scour the whole shop you can show your list to the bookseller and they can direct you.

When you find a beautifully illustrated edition of a book your family loves–or a book you want them to love–get it. Books like these make it impossible to resist the adventure of reading aloud together!

Wonderful Family Read-Alouds with Gorgeous Illustrations

Heidi by Johanna Spyri, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson

This book is an absolute treasure, clothbound and full of lush illustrations–many of them full page–as well as floral end papers and a note from the artist. Sanderson also illustrated an edition of The Secret Garden, and has done collaborations with Jane Yolen and Bruce Coville, as well writing and illustrating numerous other fairy tale retellings, saint’s lives, and children’s books.

Hardback edition of Heidi, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson
Interior illustration from Heidi, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson - dressing table
Interior painting by Ruth Sanderson for Heidi book - Heidi talking to Clara in her wheelchair

ISBN: 039453820-X | Amazon listing | Ruth Sanderson’s website

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt

Hildebrandt brings this Italian classic to life with rich paintings and black-and-white drawings. Greg Hildebrandt’s edition of A Christmas Carol was the one we read every year; I still need to get that one for my family! Greg and his late twin brother Tim illustrated the movie posters for the original Star Wars trilogy, and they’ve worked on book editions for The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and many classics.

Clothbound edition of Pinocchio illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt
Pinocchio going to the Blue Fairy's house - illustration by Greg Hildebrandt
Interior painting from Pinocchio illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt - Pinocchio talking to the Blue Fairy
Black and white illustration from Pinocchio, illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt - Pinocchio and Geppetto escaping the shark's mouth

ISBN: 0881010588 | Amazon listing | Hildebrandt website

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, illustrated by Scott Gustafson

The version of Peter Pan we grew up with was actually the one illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, which my oldest sister read to us on “kids’ nights” (nights when my parents went on a date and she was old enough to babysit us). You see, when reading aloud is a highlight of your family’s routine, after a while it’s not just the parents reading aloud. The siblings begin to read to each other, too! Although the Hyman edition of Peter Pan is lovely, I wanted something that offered even more in the way of illustrations. So I did my research and settled on this edition by Scott Gustafson, which includes no less than fifty paintings! Gustafson draws inspiration from N. C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parish, two artists I love, so it’s no wonder his style spoke to me.

Hardback copy of Peter Pan, illustrated by Scott Gustafson
Map of Neverland from Peter Pan, illustrated by Scott Gustafson
Scott Gustafson painting of Wendy sowing Peter's shadow
Painting of Neverland scenery and the Lost Boys by Scott Gustafson
Painting of Tinker Bell from Peter Pan edition illustrated by Scott Gustafson

ISBN: 0670841803 | Amazon listing | Scott Gustafson’s website

The Saga of Erik the Viking by Terry Jones, illustrated by Michael Foreman

Perhaps best known for being part of the Monty Python comedy troupe, Jones was also a medieval historian and drew on his knowledge of the period to author a number of books for children and adults. The Saga of Erik the Viking is a fantasy adventure full of lessons in courage, prudence, and leadership. My dad read this book to us many times, and we would eagerly pour over Michael Foreman’s illustrations, eager to revisit our favourite episodes in the saga.

Paperback copy of Erik the Viking, illustrated by Michael Foreman
Interior illustration from Erik the Viking - Vikings fighting the spellhound

ISBN: 0140317139 | Amazon listing | Amazon listing for new edition (with black and white illustrations only) | Michael Foreman website | Terry Jones website

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Linda Hill Griffith

There are many wondrous things in this fantasy novel–the goblins and their creatures, the mysterious grandmother and her attic rooms, Irene’s magical thread–and Linda Hill Griffith’s lavish illustrations help you visualize them. I just read this one to my kids (my listeners were eight, five, and three), and they were spellbound! I think it would’ve been harder to keep the younger two’s interest if there weren’t pictures!

Hardback edition of The Princess and the Goblin, illustrated by Linda Hill Griffith
Black and white illustration by Linda Hill Griffith for The Princess and the Goblin - Irene following the thread into the mountain
Interior painting of The Princess and the Goblin illustrated by Linda Hill Griffith - the grandmother and Irene

ISBN: 0891915575 | Amazon listing | Linda Hill Griffith website

Dangerous Journey, a retelling of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress by Oliver Hunkin, illustrated by Alan Parry

This abridged version of Pilgrim’s Progress is an excellent introduction to the classic, with illustrations you will never forget! The illustrations are dramatic and rather frightening, but (more often than not) kids love them. I think it’s a bit like the G. K. Chesterton quote about fairy tales and fear: “Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms [the child] for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

I love that Alan Parry set his illustrations in the 1600s when Bunyan was writing. Combined with the careful narrative retelling by Oliver Hunkin, they’re a powerful way to encounter a classic good-vs.-evil story.

Dangerous Journey illustrated by Alan Parry
Alan Parry illustration from Dangerous Journey - Christian and Faithful running away from the giant at Doubting Castle
Interior illustration for Dangerous Journey - Christian walking between two lions

ISBN: 0802836194 | Amazon listing | Alan Parry’s website

The Four Seasons of Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem

On a trip to England, my parents brought back a treasury of Brambly Hedge stories as a souvenir for me. I was just a baby then, so I’ve treasured this book literally my whole life! The Brambly Hedge stories tell of the adventures and rituals of a rural mice community, and their stories are illustrated with intricate and loving detail. My siblings and I used to study the various mice dwellings and pick which ones we’d like to live in!

Thankfully, Brambly Hedge is still in print and there are several editions to choose from. This volume contains all eight Brambly Hedge stories in one. You can also get boxed sets of the tales here (all eight), or here and here, in a smaller dimension than the large treasury volumes.

Brambly Hedge story collection by Jill Barklem
Interior painting by Jill Barklem in Brambly Hedge book - cutaway of mice home in a tree

ISBN for The Four Seasons treasury: 0001840266 | ISBN for Tales from Brambly Hedge: 0001982796 | Brambly Hedge website

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Tasha Tudor

This is a match made in heaven: one of the best collections of poetry for children ever written, combined with the illustrations of one of the best observers and artists of childhood life. Tasha Tudor’s pictures illustrate the poems themselves but also tell stories of their own. If you’re looking for a good read-aloud to begin with even the youngest children, this is perfect.

A Child's Garden of Verses illustrated by Tasha Tudor
Tasha Tudor's interior illustrations for A Child's Garden of Verses

ISBN: 9780689823824 | Amazon listing | | Tasha Tudor website

Where to go from here…

Here are more posts from Tea and Ink Society to inspire you to read aloud and build a beautiful home library for your family!

Do you have any treasured book editions? Please share about them in the comments!

Beautiful Read-Aloud Book Editions: A Treasury of Our Favourite Illustrated Read-Alouds

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  1. Illustrated editions are my downfall, they are my favorites and you mention a couple that I want for my collection. Right now I’m looking for a version of Peter Pan and Tthe Secret Garden.

    In the email you mention that there are no illustrated editions of Anne of Green Gables and there is one, but in Spanish. The publisher is Edelvives and the illustrator is Antonio Lorente. I love his illustrations and his version of Anne is wonderful, very autumnal and heartwarming

  2. The timing of this post is fantastic! We just got two new bookshelves, and I’m looking at some of my tattered paperbacks and wanting to purchase pretty editions. It’s so hard to tell what the quality will be when buying online!

  3. This is so exciting and timely for me. My grandson, Wilder, will be 2 in February and buying him beautiful books for his library is perfect! And the journal is perfect too. Teaching a child to love books is the greatest gift! I have a small book of poetry my grandfather gave to my mother when she was twelve. Deeply worn, I had the book refurbished and read it to my kids! Now I will read it to my grandchildren and eventually pass it along. I cherish that book so much!

    1. That is so special, Pam! How priceless. Do you inscribe the book gifts you give to kids/grandkids? I love looking back at the back at the books my parents gave me and seeing the special message and the date/occasion when I received it!

  4. What a wonderful trip down memory lane! Some of my favorite children’s book illustrators (besides those here) are Garth Williams, Barbara Cooney, Angela Barrett, and Trina Schart Hyman. We love Tasha Tudor’s illustrations for The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, both by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Do you remember which illustrator did the artwork for the Secret Garden version we had as kids? Those were great too!)

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