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12 of the most beautifully illustrated books for gifts or your shelves

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the quiet music of gently falling snow book inside illustration
Illustration by Jackie Morris in The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow

As you might expect from this website, I love books. I adore beautifully illustrated books, though. Pen and ink drawings, watercolours, digital art… all of it.

I’ve previously shared my selection of beautiful books to treasure for years to come, but here I wanted to focus on the most beautifully illustrated books for adults (and some beautifully illustrated children’s books, too).

Here are some of my favourite books with beautiful illustrations that make for perfect gifts for yourself or others. Pour a cup of tea and unwind with these exquisitely illustrated books…

The most beautiful illustrated books to admire and treasure

The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow by Jackie Morris

For the most calming and dreamy artwork, I turn to Jackie Morris’s beautifully illustrated books. As you browse the pages of The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, you fall under the spell of its gentle universe in twelve interconnected folk tales by the author.

Described by Jackie as a “catalyst for the imagination”, this lovely little book paints a world of majestic creatures, bewitching music, and an enchanting interaction between words and illustration.

The Fantastic Gustave Doré by Alix Paré and Valérie Sueur-Hermel

The Fantastic Gustave Doré is such a special book. I found a copy in the bookshop of the Glyptoteket gallery here in Copenhagen and fell in love with it. Even though it’s just been published in 2023, it’s not the easiest book to get your hands on. But if you manage to do so, you’re in for a treat.

From the Bible to Shakespeare and Balzac to Milton, Gustave Doré’s oeuvre of more than 10,000 illustrations and engravings helped to define literature in the nineteenth century. This glorious retrospective takes us on a tour of Doré’s striking works, packaged in a spectacularly exquisite hardcover – complete with gold foil stamping and embossing – that reflects the artist’s moody, richly detailed, and dramatic style. This book is a true feast for the eyes and a treat for the imagination.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (illustrated by James Weston Lewis)

How could I not mention the Folio Society? Last year I gave Iain a beautiful edition of The Hobbit from the Folio Society for his birthday, and there are countless others I’d love to receive from their collection.

This edition of Bill Bryson’s beloved travelogue A Walk in the Woods is another of my favourites. I love the striking illustrations from James Weston Lewis and the vintage linocut-inspired clothbound cover. And just look at the spine!

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Before writing The Fox and the Star in 2015, Coralie Bickford-Smith had already become known for her gorgeous illustrations as the award-winning designer of the iconic Penguin Clothbound Classics series.

In this beautiful book inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, Coralie Bickford-Smith weaves a fable for readers both young and grown.

With your copy, fall into her magical and immersive tale about loss, courage, and the friendship between a lonely Fox and the Star who guides him through the dark forest.

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands by Huw Lewis-Jones

See on Amazon | Bookshop US | Bookshop UK

Edited by Huw Lewis-Jones and with a prologue by Philip Pullman, this stunning hardcover from 2018 is a captivating atlas of imaginary lands made for leisurely browsing, accompanied by 167 full-colour images for any bibliophile (or cartophile) to admire.

Even with such a gorgeous cover, the book looks even more impressive in person. You’ll discover maps – and enlightening accompanying essays by authors, illustrators, and fans – ranging from The Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter to Robert Louis Stevenson’s map of Treasure Island and Norse maps of the universe.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (illustrated by Angela Barrett)

Another of my favourite books from The Folio Society is this beautifully illustrated edition of Anna Karenina. Behind the stunning clothbound cover illustrating Levin striding through his fields, you’ll find 14 full-page illustrations in atmospheric watercolour by Angela Barrett, one of Britain’s most respected illustrators of children’s books.

With the reliable translation of Louise and Aylmer Maude and an introduction by award-winning poet and novelist Helen Dunmore, this is one of the most beautiful editions of Anna Karenina to treasure for generations.

Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel

Accompanied by illustrator Brendan Wenzel’s stunning landscapes and engaging creatures, Life is Cynthia Rylant’s moving meditation on finding beauty in the world and gaining strength from life’s challenges. It’s a wonderfully inspiring gift – and like the other illustrated children’s books on this list, this book is just as perfect for grown-up readers.

The Fairy Atlas: Fairy Folk of the World by Anna Claybourne and Miren Asiain Lora

Find on Bookshop.org and Amazon

In this bewitching compendium of the secrets of fairy folk, author Anna Claybourne and illustrator Miren Asiain Lora have created a delightful mix of fairy facts, short retellings of some of the most magical fairy tales, and dreamlike illustrations.

From Cornish pixies and Spanish goblins to the forest gnomes of the Congo, readers of all ages will be entranced by this spellbinding celebration of fairies.

Wild Places by Sarah Baxter (illustrated by Amy Grimes)

I love the Inspired Traveller’s Guide series from White Lion Publishing, including beautiful books such as Hidden Places, Artistic Places, and this favourite of mine: Wild Places.

From the Galápagos Islands to St Kilda in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, this beautifully illustrated celebration of the solace of wild places will transport you to some of the most wondrous corners of the world during your reading time, wherever you are in the world.

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

How can I not mention The Boy, the Mole, The Fox and the Horse? It’s a book just as known for its captivating illustrations as for its gentle writing on the beauty of a kind life.

It’s a book to treasure as a hardcover, but I also loved listening to the audiobook earlier this year. Charlie Mackesy’s narration is accompanied by a beautiful music score by Max Richter and wildlife sounds of rural England – it’s fantastic.

Botanicum by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis

“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky”, wrote Kahil Gibran. Their poetry couldn’t be more beautiful than in Botanicum, one of the beautifully illustrated books I most enjoy picking up from my shelves.

As part of the Welcome to the Museum series, this is a world-class botanical exhibition in a book. Although it’s celebrated as an educational read for younger minds, it’s just as fantastic for adults in love with the botanical world.

The thoughtful typography and illustrations by Katie Scott have a wonderfully vintage feel to them. After reading, you can’t help but look at the trees around you that little bit more closely.

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery (illustrated by Rebecca Green)

I’ve talked about How to Be a Good Creature for years now. I’ll probably keep talking about it. This memoir and celebration of a life lived with animals is just so simply and memorably gorgeous, complemented by heartwarming and wholesome illustrations by Rebecca Green.

How to be a Good Creature illustration of an octopus by Rebecca Green
Illustration by Rebecca Green

For more exquisite books, you might also like my collections of the most beautiful new books of 2023, beautifully illustrated children’s books for readers young and grown, and the most beautiful books of all time to treasure forever.

You might also like this selection of beautiful books like The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse if that’s one of your favourites.

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