Our Favorite Illustrated Chapter Books (Full of Gorgeous Illustrations and Glorious Adventures)


Growing up, my mom started the tradition that Christmas morning meant books.  To this day, I can’t think of Christmas without remembering that delicious feeling of anticipation a new book brings.  Of curling up on the couch – cozy socks on feet and a book in hand – for a long afternoon of reading by the fire.  By the end of the day, my cheeks would be pink from the wood-fired stove and my mind would be faraway – caught up in the world of whatever I was reading.

I’ve always been a book nerd.  I think it’s my best quality.

So in the spirit of my childhood Christmas, each year I pick out a very special book to read to the boys.  Something a little challenging, perhaps, but something….special.  An epic tale, a daring adventure, a story that captives the imagination and renews the soul (I warned you about that book nerd stuff).   Glorious illustrations and unabridged text are a must.

At the moment, Raines is almost 7 and Pax is 4, so my book choices and comments are based on those ages.  (However, Pax is a book nerd like his Mama, and has been happily sitting through Chapter books since he was 2.  I know that’s not the norm.  Raines was late getting into the book game – he just wasn’t into it early on – but he’s a fairly old soul, and likes his adventure pretty hardcore.  Some of his favorite stories are downright scary.  All of our notes below.)

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1. The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie The Pooh, written by AA Milne, illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

There’s just something about Pooh.  About Pooh and Piglet and Rabbit and Eyeore and the seemingly all-knowing Christopher Robin.  This book, this weighty tome, has captured both of my kid’s imaginations.  Pax asks to read it every night – he especially likes the one where Rabbit and Pooh scheme to kidnap baby Roo – and Raines, in the spirit of Christopher Robin (who is also 6), acts indifferent, “silly Pooh” but doesn’t miss a word once I actually start reading.  There is simply no comparison between the original, thought-provoking, sometimes dry-humored Winnie The Pooh and the Disney version of these tales.  But be sure to get a unabridged copy with full-colored illustrations.  They’re heart-melting.  (The link above is to the full-color unabridged version of the complete tales, including Winnie The Pooh, House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six.  BUT.  It’s really, REALLY heavy.  I wish we had bought this Winnie The Pooh boxed set – still full-color illustrations and unabridged, but broken down into four lighter volumes.)


2. The Story of Dr. Doolittle, written by Hugh Lofting, illustrated by Michael Hague

I had never read Dr. Doolittle as a child, so this was a fun read.  The illustrations are fabulous, and, we found, necessary (the cast of crazy animal characters is long and a bit hard to keep straight.  Pax is always trying to identify which one is Dab Dab the Duck vs whomever else).  Raines, however, was not into this book.  I suspect it’s because he’s not really into animals at the moment.  Or, in his words, “I’m just not a zoo guy, Mum.”  Um.  Ok.  But a total must-read for any animal-loving kiddo.


3. The Saga of Erik The Viking, Terry Jones

This is a retelling of classic Norse myths.  It is also, to quote one Amazon reviewer, “ripping stuff”.  He goes on:  “…the balance between straight adventure and human emotion introduces the young reader to both the obvious attractions and entertainments of mythical stories and the more subtle rewards of reading and thinking about great odysseys.”

Exactly that.  There’s danger and daring and terrifying beasts, but vulnerability and doubt too, and quite possibly the best lessons on true leadership that I can remember reading.  Raines couldn’t get enough of this epic tale, but a few parts were too frightening for Pax.  Raines still gets a steely glint in his eye if I mention The Dogfighters.  “I am not afraid of fear!” Erik cried.  “Fear is like an old friend who shouts by my side!!”  …the battle against The Dogfighters had begun.   [shiver]  Good stuff.  (Be sure to get the hardcover edition with the full-color illustrations.  Totally worth it.)


4.  Beatrix Potter The Complete Tales 

This.  THIS book.  I credit Beatrix Potter with getting Raines interested in books in general.  Raines wasn’t into reading as a toddler (he’d slam most books closed and shout “NO!!!”) but his two year old self was completely enchanted with this set of teeeny tiiiny Beatrix Potter books.  And once I started to read about naughty Peter and Benjamin Bunny, or the tantrum-throwing Hunka Munka?  He was ALL IN.  So we upgraded to The Complete Tales in a size I could easily read.  It’s amazing, really, how so many years later Ms. Potter’s stories capture my little boys’ imaginations as if no time at all has passed.


5.  The Odyssey, written by Gillian Cross, illustrated by Neil Packer

Yup, this is Homer’s Odyssey, with seriously cool art on every page, and redone in a language that is easy to grasp.  This book is best for kiddos slightly older than mine – last year it was too much for both of them, but Raines is now just starting to appreciate it.  If you are serious about classic literature, this is an amazing introduction for kids, with illustrations that make this *almost* more art book than story.


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

I’ve been struggling with what to say about this this unabridged, gloriously illustrated Peter Pan because I fear that my words will not do it justice.  Suffice to say that this may be the best book I’ve ever read.  Not just the best children’s book, mind you, but the best book, period.  There’s dry humor (that goes over the boy’s heads but leaves me giggling uncontrollably), there’s daring adventures and gut-wrenching honesty and an ending so bittersweet I had to read through a thick veil of tears.  And the author’s grasp of the nature of children – of humanity, really – leaves me feeling humbled.  It’s a story about us all.  A story of our fears, our disappointments and of life marching on.  It’s actually a fairly dark story, and Raines especially got that.  I think he was surprised to learn that he didn’t always like Peter Pan, although he was cheering him on in the end.   Disney didn’t get it completely wrong, though (to live is an awfully big adventure), but what Peter Pan actually said was, “to die must be an awfully big adventure” and after that how can you not let your mind soar?

The illustrations in this unabridged edition are stunning.  So true to the story and the kind you can pour over for hours.  (Amazon doesn’t have many in stock at the moment, but Biblio.com has several copies for $35.)


7.  Ramayana: Divine Loophole, written and illustrated by Sanjay Patel

Another book based on mythology, this time Hindu.  It’s the story of Rama, a god-turned-prince who must rescue his wife Sita from a demon king.  There’s journeys and tricks and epic battles and – to the delight of Raines – a bow that shoots a million arrows at once.  Mind. Blown.   (Warning:  this book prompted a paint-our-body-blue phase so Raines could be like Rama.  It was pretty funny – there’s a picture in this play article. )


8.  The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Inga Moore

That devious Toad!!  He is such trouble for lovely Mole and quick-witted Rat.  And the completely irresistible pull of the motorcar?  Well.  My boys are hooked.  POOP POOP!  We’ve actually read this book cover-to-cover twice, and each time they’ve delighted in Toad’s scrapes (but sensitive Raines always wants to get back to Mole, “he’s my favorite, Mum”).   And at the end?  The glorious finale when they go up against the Stouts and Weasels in an epic battle for Toad Manor?  I mean seriously we’re talking edge-of-the-seat stuff here.


9. Paddle-to-the-Sea, written and illustrated by Holling C. Holling

This story is near and dear to my heart.  It’s the story of a toy, carved by an Indian boy in the Canadian wilderness.  The boy leaves the little boat on a snowbank one spring, and when the snowbank melts, the boat is whisked off down the river.  The boat (named Paddle-to-the-Sea) journeys through the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River, and finally the Atlantic Ocean.  While I’ll admit that I like this book more than my boys do, the stunning illustrations (spanning both miles and seasons), strongly depict a sense of time and place and of…connection that it’s earned it’s place on our shelves.


This year, I haven’t quite decided which book to add to our library (as you can see, we have quite the collection!!).  The boys just pulled Peter Pan back out, so we might just go with that.  We’re taking the train home again, so it’s a perfect time to cuddle up and read together.  But I’d LOVE some recommendations.  I was thinking maybe this illustrated edition of Treasure Island, but it’s “heavily abridged” according to reviewers.  Is there a stunningly illustrated Alice in Wonderland, maybe? (Perhaps this one?)  There should be.





  1. I’m so excited to see this article, I love finding beautifully illustrated unabridged versions of good books to read with my boys! My oldest (he’ll be 7 in March) has a super long attention span for books and always has, but my second son (age 4.5) is a little more typical in his tolerance for sitting still. Mine also loved that edition of Beatrix Potter, and I’ve been dying to find a good unabridged version of Peter Pan to read to them.

    Both older boys (we also have a 2.5 year old, but he doesn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes for anything!) LOVED reading through the Chronicles of Narnia. We have this edition, which has really full-color illustrations every couple of pages and is broken into the seven separate books so it’s not too ponderous (sorry, I don’t know how to link this without pasting the whole link here): http://www.amazon.com/C-Lewis-Chronicles-Full-Color-Collectors/dp/B0086IPSGO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418864838&sr=8-2&keywords=chronicles+of+narnia+full-color+collector%27s. I also read “The Hobbit” with my oldest, which he absolutely adored. This version is unabridged and really well illustrated, with full-color pictures every two to three pages: http://www.amazon.com/C-Lewis-Chronicles-Full-Color-Collectors/dp/B0086IPSGO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1418864838&sr=8-2&keywords=chronicles+of+narnia+full-color+collector%27s. We also just got this copy of “A Christmas Carol,” which I have yet to read them in its entirety but I can vouch for the illustrations being really well done: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0763631205/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o07_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

    • @heidiendsofearth I liked your comment and am interested in finding that edition of The Hobbit that you refer to. Unfortunately, you copied the link to the Narnia collection twice… can you please re-post or pm me with the details?

  2. The Hobbit, of course. I read it to my kids when they were 5 and 7 and they loved it (I am not a Hobbit person myself). My kids love both the Greek and Norse myths by d’aulaires. Actually all of their books are so beautifully illustrated. I just got their Book of Trolls which I am sure will be a hit.

  3. I highly highly recommend a series of adventure books – the first one is called Swallows and Amazons. The boys may be young yet but they are fabulous!!

  4. Thanks for sharing these! I’ve added a couple to tp-buy list Have you ever listened to Peter Dennis reading Winnie the Pooh? It’s delightful.

    At what age did you start introducing chapter book reading? I have a three year old, and I’m excited to start reading my favorite kids lit chapter books, but I don’t know if he’s quite old enough.

  5. James and the giant peach! This books is amazing and conjures up so much imagery! Love you blog. Formerly from Marquette too!

    • That’s another Roald Dahl book. He was an absolute genius! George’s marvelous medicine was my childhood favourite & now my kids love them too!

  6. How ironic! I’m actually a librarian, but on my blog I don’t really ever talk about books (I leave that for my edu blog, Dear Librarian–that doesn’t receive enough care unfortunately), but today I did. I posted my family’s top five Christmas books. I need to go home and check the shelf for our illustrated C.S. Lewis title. It’s lovely. So….I’ll return with more deets. I just found it ironic that we both posted books today. Although, maybe you regularly do–I just started visiting:D

    Have a great day!

    Ann of Kremb de la Kremb

  7. I love books! I recently bought The Wind in the Willows with full color illustrations by Robert Ingpen (it is unabridged) and the illustrations are gorgeous, so that is another illustrated Wind in the Willows option. The illustrator is the same as the abridged Treasure Island you linked above. As for a new book to read, I recommend the full color version of the Chronicles of Narnia – http://amzn.com/0064409422 . They are great stories.

  8. How about roald dahl…….Fantastic Mr Fox, Matilda, Charlie & the chocolate factory, George’s marvelous medicine…… etc You can get them all in full colour illustrated and they are fantastic, fabulously written & full of adventure and laughs!

  9. My daughter’s insatiable love of reading began when my husband read her Deltora Quest: http://www.amazon.com/Deltora-Quest-Complete-Emily-Rodda/dp/0545056497/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1418909193&sr=8-6&keywords=Deltora+Quest I am now reading it to my 6 year old and she loves it just as much and now that it’s my turn to read it, I can see why. It’s fabulous. A book that has been invaluable to me for picking out books to read aloud has been “The Read Aloud Handbook”. It has never steered me wrong and now there’s a new edition too (it’s one of the few things on my Christmas list so I better f-ing get it).

  10. ok ok…you got me. The combination of being a LOVER of books and the slightest feeling that I might need just one or two more things for under the tree for my 2.5 year old had me clicking “buy” on Winnie and Beatrix. Great post!!

  11. My boys (4 and 6) love books and we are always looking for suggestions! They love the How To Train Your Dragon Movies so when I discovered there was an entire series, we had to check it out! The boys love them. We are currently on book 5. They are a bit different than the movies but they are really enjoyable. There is lots of adventure, humor and, of course, dragons! It is written as Hiccup’s memoirs. There are 8 books in all. Love your blog!

  12. My husband did not read much as a boy, so he has had an amazing time reading to our six-year-old son and getting to experience some of the best books ever. The Hobbit was a favorite with both of them and both of them cried in the end. They also loved The Chronicles of Narnia and Smoky The Cowhorse, by Will James. Right now they are delving into the Redwall series. Rowan did listen to an unabridged audio book of Treasure Island when he had the flu. I’m not sure how much he got out of it, but he and his dad plan to tackle a beautiful vintage copy I have of the original soon. Sometimes vintage copies have the best illustrations…

  13. Oh! Couple more things….I haven’t read them but Pepper and Salt and The Wonder Box, both by Howard Pyle come highly recommended and are beautiful books. And if you are open to some good old gruesome fairy tales, The Blue Fairy Book and The Red Fairy Book , compiled by Andrew Lang, are wonderful. My kids seem unscathed by the real (versus Disneyfied) versions of the stories.

  14. I am so excited you had Paddle to the Sea on this list. I watched the film in first grade and it stuck with me for so long as the first movie I ever cried in. I searched and searched but no one else had heard of it until an old friend (who became a kindergarten teacher) gave me the name. Here’s the link:


    There are lots of other fun, short Canadian films on this site that fellow Canadians will fondly remember (‘Log Drivers Waltz’ and ‘The Sweater’ are two favourites!)

    I tried showing this film to my kids because I had enjoyed it SO MUCH. They didn’t get it.

  15. I was going to suggest James Herriot as well. Even my 1.5 year old loves the one story my parents have! But another one I thought of is the Secret Garden. I read it a couple years ago and loved it! Not sure if it would be too much for your boys still.
    This copy seems to have good illustrations: http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Garden-Sterling-Illustrated-Classics/dp/1402778724/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418933015&sr=1-1&keywords=illustrated+secret+garden
    See the comments from one reviewer: “I just received this glorious book. I have many renditions of the Secret Garden. This luxuriously, lovely book is filled with superb illustration that really captures the mood and era of the story, which is the early 1900’s. There are so MANY illustrations, Inga Moore has created a painting for nearly every page! A really lovely addition to a collection or to share with your children. If you enjoy the artwork in this book, buy “The Wind in the Willows” also illustrated by Inga Moore .Simply wonderful!”

    • According the 1-star Amazon reviews, that version of the The Secret Garden is both edited/re-written and abridged. For classics like this, I often find it hard to tell online whether or not a specific edition has been abridged since they rarely say clearly in the description.

      • Bummer. I didn’t see that. I did see a comment from Amazon during the preview that said it was not previewing the newer release with pictures that you get if you order…

  16. One word: NARNIA. My dad read the whole series to me as a child, and while I’m sure he read other things, I remember these. I remember him reading them in the tent when we were camping, by flashlight. Serious adventure, a bit of dry humor (love those English writers!), some deep themes. Gah, they’re so good.

  17. Charlotte’s Web and A Tale of Desperaux (Kate di Camillo). Shana, I love you even more for your love of books. Here’s to a smart and stylish New Year!

  18. Love these suggestions thank you! I just finished “Treasure Island” with my six-year-old and started “Tom Sawyer”. They are actually young readers I found in Targets dollar section.

  19. I can’t read Peter Pan out loud either. Makes me cry like a baby. (I love the book, hate the movie.) We are enjoying an English series about a wiley fox, Danny Fox by David Thomson. Perhaps your boys would enjoy Rascal by Sterling North, The House of 60 Fathers by Meindert DeJong, or a true favorite of ours, Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes.

  20. Our list of favorites ostly matches yours, with the addition of Rudyard Kipling. Check out the Just-So Stories. Your boys will love them–especially Rikki-Tiki-Tavi! onderful adventures.

  21. I came upon your wonderful list, while I was doing research for my own illustrated chapter book. While here, I’m happy to have found, fellow connoisseurs of this genre! I would love to send you and your boys, a copy of my book. It’s a time travel adventure about kindness, diversity, inclusion, gender expression, and bullying prevention. It’s geared for kids 7-11 years old. Your sons are older now, but I hope you will enjoy it! A VERY IMPORTANT POWER available here: https://www.amazon.com/VERY-IMPORTANT-POWER-Kindness-Anti-Bullying/dp/1732778922/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1572291822&sr=8-1-spons

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