Five Picture Books That Surprise and Delight

As I was editing yesterday’s post on Feather, I started to think about picture books I have recently read that have held surprises, either in their format or artwork – or both. At its simplest, the surprise can be the way a book opens: Horizontally or vertically? A magnificent example is A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Allemagna (tr. from the French by Rae Walker), a giant picture book that opens upwards. The format is different, strange even, and seems to reinforce one of the key themes of the story – experiencing an unfamiliar environment, and coming to terms with it. Readers will likely stop thinking about which way the book opens by the time they reach the final spread!

In terms of artwork, any style can, of course, be a source of amazement and delight. Here, I have chosen to focus on a handful of books where exquisite paper engineering really adds to the story and enjoyment, including two titles from Indian-based publisher Tara Books who are renowned for experimenting with traditional book architecture.

Knock Knock

Knock! Knock! Where’s My Bear? by Kaori Takohashi (Tara Books, 2016)

This postcard sized title from Japanese illustrator Kaori Takohashi is a triumph of book design! As a young girl searches for her teddy bear in a residential block, pages open out and up, to right and left, revealing the different apartments and their diverse occupants. The pages then open downwards as she heads back to her home on the ground floor, creating one large patchwork spread. Quirky, visual, interactive and fun.

The ForestThe Forest by Riccardo Bozzi, illustrated by Violeta Lópiz and Valerio Vidali, translated from the Italian by Debbie Bibo (Enchanted Lion Books, 2018)

A brightly coloured vellum jacket that lifts off to reveal a forest in various stages of growth, gatefolds, cut-outs and embossed pages make this book unique and special. The forest is a metaphor for life: In pared-down lyrical prose Bozzi conveys the essence of the human experience, from birth to death. A beautiful book that invites exploration and deep reflection.

Express Delivery from Dinosaur WorldExpress Delivery from Dinosaur World by Yanan Dong, translated from the Chinese by Helen Wang (Candied Plums, 2017)

An interactive picture book set in the cretaceous era with ten challenges to solve. Flaps and folds abound with extraordinary artwork tucked underneath them. The highlight: The printed acetate sheet at the end, where readers explore dinosaur innards with a flashlight retrieved from the book at the start of the story. Short paragraphs of clearly-worded prose provide guidance and encouragement.

Paris Up Up and Away

Paris Up, Up and Away by Hélène Druvert, translated from the French (Thames & Hudson, 2016)

A bored Eiffel Tower takes to the skies in this exquisite (and delicate) black-and-white laser-cut book from French illustrator and paper designer Hélène Druvert. Readers will enjoy a unique tour of Parisian sites and monuments, including the River Seine, Palais Garnier opera house, and Notre-Dame Cathedral complete with spire. Bouncy rhyming couplets lend rhythm, momentum and context to the visit.

A Village is a Busy PlaceA Village is a Busy Place! by Rohima Chitraka and V. Geetha (Tara Books, 2017)

This colourful book unfolds like a scroll to gradually reveal a Santhal indigenous Indian village. A group of musicians play drums and horns; people are selling goods from woven baskets; a man and woman are planting rice. Neat paragraphs of text on each panel provide readers with useful background information and highlight things to look out for in the busy scene.

Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading and chasing after her two young children.  She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at


One thought on “Five Picture Books That Surprise and Delight

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