Top 10 Picture Book Characters
“With picture books small children can see themselves as readers long before they have learned to decipher the text. They turn the pages with relish, exploring the plot through the illustrations with tremendous concentration. They are learning how to look, rather than being passively overwhelmed by fast moving electronic imagery. Little wonder then, that the great heroes and heroines of picture books are among the world’s best remembered fictional characters.”
1. Fungus the Bogeyman – Raymond Briggs
Fungus is one of Briggs’s most inventive picture books. Adults as well as children will be gleefully sucked down into that world deep in the slime, a place of blocked drains, dubious smells and infestations, where the Bogey family thrive. Fungus’s sorties above ground to plague luckless humans who are fighting a losing battle against Bogeydom are wonderfully funny.
2. The Bear with Sticky Paws – Clara Vulliamy
When The Bear with Sticky Paws arrives at Pearl’s house, chaos of one kind or another ensues. Clara Vulliamy can draw real children as convincingly as she can invent anthropomorphic animals, a rare quality in contemporary picture books. (I have to declare an interest here, as she is my daughter!) These stories explore Pearl’s changing reactions to the engagingly maverick bear, who tears through the action with delicious abandon.
3. Ginger – Charlotte Voake
The relaxed simplicity of this kind of illustration is the hallmark of a true professional. Many small people will strangely identify with Ginger the cat’s irritation when a kitten arrives to ruffle his life. The pictures sprawl nonchalantly across the page but nevertheless express a great deal of emotion.
4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle
One of the simplest and most brilliant ideas for a picture book ever. The caterpillar literally worms his way through the story holes punched in the pages. Even the youngest child can follow his progress with her fingers to the glorious dénouement when he emerges as a beautiful butterfly.
5. Olivia – Ian Falconer
Olivia’s jaunty piggy personality is expressed with the true economy of line we expect from a New Yorker cover designer. She is, of course, really an irrepressible preschooler, bouncily engaged in dressing up, taking a bath, reluctant to go to bed and very good at wearing people out. Along the way she also stars as an opera diva, prima ballerina and a talented abstract painter.
6. Katie Morag – Mairi Hedderwick
Although anthropomorphic animals abound in picture books there are not so many convincingly real child characters. Katie Morag lives on a Scottish island and the details of her life there, all the neighbours and bustling activity of a seagoing life, are the kind you can linger over and return to again with increasing pleasure.
7. Captain Haddock – Hergé
Hergé has been described as the Homer of strip cartoon. His impeccable draughtsmanship matches his soaring inspiration as a storyteller. Tintin and Snowy are great heroes, but Captain Haddock steals the show – short tempered, fond of drink, but an intrepidly loyal friend in a tight spot. His exclamations alone – “billions of blue blistering barnacles!” – are a claim to immortality.
8. Little Tim – Edward Ardizzone
Part of Little Tim’s enduring appeal is that with his friend Ginger he can take off, go to sea and have all kinds of exciting adventures without grown-ups tagging along. Ardizzone’s style both as a storyteller and an artist are in the great English tradition. He uses line and wash with the relaxed eloquence of a true master.
9. Babar the Elephant – Jean de Brunhoff
“Babar” is perhaps my most favourite of all picture book characters. This wonderfully illustrated saga opens when his mother is shot by a cruel hunter. Luckily, on the very next page a kind old lady gives him her purse. He goes on not only to acquire a smart outfit of new clothes and win a devoted wife and family, but to become King of the Elephants and have many breathtaking adventures.
10. Moomin – Tove Jansson
The Moomins are another great saga that every child should experience. Tove Jansson’s deceptively simple strip cartoon format creates a whole readily inhabitable world. Moominpappa and mamma and their children are irrepressible optimists, though many tiresome villains cross their paths. The dialogue is superb.