The best sort of X-mas treats

Illustrated books are extra tempting and make for ideal gifts for your little bookworms

Before children learn to read, they learn to decipher pictures; smiling faces, furry animals, snowflakes. Even as they become fluid readers, using their imaginations to conjure images that the words leave out, that hunger for satisfying visuals never fades. Seductive colour palettes, clever interplay of words and images, thoughtful paper craft — these are the factors that make illustrated books such desirable objects to read, touch and admire.

Now more than ever, authors and illustrators are creating books that push readers’ expectations. Sometimes it’s unusual physical dimensions — luxuriously tall and broad, or satisfyingly chunky. Sometimes it’s especially lavish illustrations. Sometimes it’s whiz-bang pop-up art (or, as it’s called now, “engineered paper”). Here’s a short selection:

The Great Escape

By Loïc Méhée.
Paper engineering by Camille BaLadi

18 pages. Chronicle. Rs 2,030
(Ages 4 to 8)

This elaborate pop-up book may be one of the most kid-pleasing spectacles ever to come between two covers. Within and amid all the engineering, there’s a story afoot: The premise is that a gang of cartoonish villains is on the loose in the city of Criminopolis. The reader’s mission is to find them hidden inside the 3-D pop-up scenarios.

These paper structures are serious eye-poppers. There’s a spiralling expressway that looks like a Hot Wheels racetrack and a multilevel park not unlike something Bjarke Ingels would design, taking the seeker’s challenge to a whole new level. The book’s creators even suggest using a small mirror and magnifying glass to hunt in all the nooks and crannies.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the
Looking-Glass

By Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by
MinaLima.

320 pages. Harper Design. Rs 1,741 (Ages 6 and up)

For terror, delight and sheer imaginative weirdness, nothing beats Carroll’s 1865 tale. Even a kid who claims no interest in the classics can be easily lured down the rabbit hole. (Talk about the original Upside Down!)

While there’s no shortage of unabridged ‘Alice’ editions out there, this lavishly illustrated version, designed by MinaLima, the cult graphic design team behind the Harry Potter films, is a standout.

For youngsters not quite ready to tackle the text all by themselves, this edition would be perfect for a read-aloud.

Here and there, they can dip into the various whimsies tucked into the pages: Alice’s extendable arms and legs, the foldout chess board and Humpty Dumpty’s blank shell, which transforms into a peevish face with the turn of a dial.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Complete Collection

By Hergé

1,648 pages. Little, Brown Rs 10,844 (Ages 4 and up)

A rite of passage for many children, the classic Belgian comic series stars the fresh-faced boy reporter Tintin solving mysteries and battling evildoers around the world, always accompanied by his faithful dog, Snowy. Friendship, loyalty, adventure, slapstick, nonstop action: After 90 years, these meticulously drawn books still deliver.

And yet, despite a Steven Spielberg film adaptation in 2011, they’ve never caught on beyond a cult following in some countries.

(It may have something to do with the fact that Tintin is a human with no superpower — unless you count his uncanny ability to keep his quiffed hair so perky.) This deluxe eight-volume set — sheathed in a claret-hued slipcase — would be wasted on an indifferent reader.

But if you happen to know a Tintin devotee, or someone you suspect could become one, this collection is the gift of a lifetime.

 

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