Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of great art. We didn’t have any rare or unique pieces on our walls; in fact, the oversized picture that hung over our sofa was the exact same print that hung over the sofa at my grandmother’s house—a department store special one year, I think! I also never visited any museums or galleries to view any of the works created by the masters as a child. My parents just did not have an interest or admiration for fine art at all. I never even recall a discussion with them about an artist, painting, or sculpture. I grew up in a total artistic vacuum, in many ways. And yet, to this day, I have a love and appreciation for art that would seem unusual for someone with my (lack of) artistic history. When I finally found my way to the Louvre in Paris, I distinctly remember rounding a corner and stopping dead in my tracks as my eye caught part of a painting by Jacques-Louis David. It was so breathtakingly beautiful, I was moved to tears. I longed to fill my world with the kind of beauty and elegance I felt when I looked at Napoleon’s Josephine. The velvet in her dress seemed so soft and real, I had to suppress the urge to reach out and touch it. I wandered through the museum with a feeling of longing, wanting to hold forever the sense of wonder and joy I felt as I encountered piece after piece of exquisite artistic excellence and beauty. I felt the same way as I viewed the work of the Impressionists at the Musay D’Orsay a few days later. As I passed by the artists who were painting watercolor pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine on the Left Bank, I wondered where my love for art had come from, considering its void in my life as a child. And suddenly I realized that I had been exposed to countless works of art when I was a girl, even though I hadn’t realized it. I had intently studied the works of many artists, despite my parents’ lack of interest. Because, even as a child, I was a voracious reader and I came to be a lover of beautiful art through my constant exposure to picture books.
“An adult appreciation of artistic excellence is not a coincidence, nor is a heart that hungers for the beautiful. Values such as those must be shaped from early childhood, woven day by day into the fabric of a child’s thought…with every picture and illustration they encounter, they are building an internal expectation of beauty against which they will measure all future experiences with art.” -Sarah Clarkson
I believe wholeheartedly in the power of picture book illustrators to shape a child’s affections and love for quality artistic expression, because I experienced it in my own life. I was blessed to grow up in a time when the “classics” of children’s picture books were still very popular. These days, many of the illustrations in picture books can be crude, base, and offensive. A parent who wants to expose their children to high quality, beautiful art has to sort through the dross to find illustrations by artists who will, hopefully, form the child’s affection for true beauty and form. Over the past several years, as I have been collecting picture books for my boys, I have found that there are particular illustrators who consistently produce the kind of lovely art that I want to expose them to. When I fall in love with an illustrator, I begin to seek them out and collect everything of theirs that I can get my hands on! Over the next several months, I plan to share with you some of my very favorites.
Today, I want to share with you my love for Michael Hague. I discovered Michael Hague when I came across his book AlphaBears: An ABC book in a thrift store. I had an infant at the time, and I was smitten with how he used charming illustrations of teddy bears to teach the alphabet. I grabbed it up, and my boys and I have enjoyed it ever since.
A few years later, I found NumBears: A Counting Book at a used book vendor at a homeschool convention and we have enjoyed it just as much!
Now that my boys are getting a bit older, we can enjoy longer tales, and a one of our favorites is Hague’s Book of Dragons. It is a collection of famous dragon tales, including dragons from mythology and hero epics, tales from Edith Nesbit’s Book of Dragons, and even Lewis’ Eustace. All three of my boys ask for the “dragon book” and will study the pictures for hours.
Hague has also illustrated many classic books and fairy tales. We have The Velveteen Rabbit (Amazon link unavailable) and The Little Mermaid. We do not own his illustrated Wind in the Willows, but I love his depiction of Mole, Toad, Rat, and Badger so much that I ordered an art print of the picnic scene to hang in the little boys’ room!
Compilations and anthologies are always nice to have in a home library, and Hague has illustrated a few of our favorites for children. The Children’s Book of Faith is a lovely collection of stories to help teach children some of the foundational stories of the Christian faith, and The Land of Nod is a lovely collection of famous children’s poems and nursery rhymes. Both get a lot of mileage in our home with our boys.
Many of Hague’s books are now out-of-print, but they are worth hunting down. You absolutely should snatch it up if you happen to come across one! His beautiful, timeless art will be enjoyed by your children and are worth keeping in your home library for generations to come!
*A note on The Little Mermaid: There are a few illustrations that may be frightening for young children and one illustration that shows a the little mermaid naked from behind when she first gets her legs.