I’m having a big dragon-fest at work recently, which has given me a good excuse to trawl some of my favourite picture book beasties, plus some brand new ones.
In the 1960s Tove Jansson, best known for creating her very own Moomin shaped folk legends, turned her hand to illustrating some British children’s classics including Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark. I’d never seen her take on the Hobbit and its dragon Smaug before – needless to say it’s gone right to the top of my must have list.
Jon Klassen, children’s book author / illustrator du jour is best known for his arch take on picture book animals. I stumbled across this sketch of a wyvern – that classic winged serpent. If his amazing paintings of forests are anything to go by I’d love to see him turn his hand to a full scale fantasy epic.
Jan Pienkowski is your go-to guy when it comes to creating stylish fairy tales. His use of silhouette combined with vivid splashes of psychedelic colour give his work a timeless / modern feel. This one comes from the reissue of Joan Aiken’s A Necklace of Raindrops, a modern collection of fairy Stories that easily stands up against the classics of Grimm, Anderson etc.
Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin have been responsible for some of the sweetest dragons of recent times – most famously the small red heraldic dragon Idris, who lives in Ivor the Engine’s furnace. But this big daddy is Grolliffe the tired and persecuted Ice dragon from Noggin the Nog.
Eric Carle’s Dragons, Dragons is a collection of mythical beasts and poetry. It’s more art book than children’s book – particularly in the choice of verse, but the paintings are as ever beautiful.
‘Hic sunt dracones’, or ‘here be dragons’ were the words that appeared on old maps to denote the presence of our fiery friends. In reality only one map has been found with those words on. However plenty have pictures of sea serpents – the watery relatives of the dragon. This is a detail from the 16th century Scandinavian map the Carta Marina, which is as much bestiary as it is map.