12 of the most beautifully illustrated books for gifts or your shelves
I love books. I adore beautifully illustrated books, though. Pen and ink drawings, watercolours, digital art… all of it.
I’ve shared before my selection of the best beautiful books to treasure for years to come, but here I wanted to focus on the most beautiful illustrated books for adults (with some beautiful children’s books, too).
Here are some of my favourite beautiful books with stunning illustrations, covers, and typesetting that make for the perfect gift for yourself or others.
The most beautiful illustrated books to admire and treasure
1. 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 A Walk in the Woods is one of them. I love the vintage feel of the illustrations from James Weston Lewis and the cloth-bound cover. And just look at the spine!
2. The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Before writing The Fox and the Star in 2015, Coralie Bickford-Smith had already won a reputation for gorgeous illustrations as the award-winning designer of the iconic Penguin Clothbound Classics series.
With her own 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.
3. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (illustrated by Daniel Liévano)
This stunning edition of Kafka on the Shore is another Folio Society book crafted with so much loving attention. It’s probably my favourite writing by Murakami, too.
4. Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel
Like the other illustrated children’s books on this list, this is just as perfect for grown-up readers. Life is Cynthia Rylant’s moving meditation on finding beauty in the world and gaining strength from life’s challenges.
Accompanied by Brendan Wenzel’s stunning landscapes and engaging creatures, Life makes for a perfect inspiring gift for readers of all ages.
5. Fierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill
In this empowering reimagining of fairytale classics accompanied by spellbinding original tales, Nikita Gill dismantles the old-fashioned tropes, bids goodbye to the docile women and male saviours, and blurs the lines between heroes and villains.
With beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by Gill herself, this is a gorgeous collection of stories for a new generation.
6. 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 own reading time, wherever you are in the world.
7. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
How can I not mention this? The Boy, the Mole, The Fox and the Horse is just as known for its pen and ink drawings as for its writing that shows the beauty of a life well-lived with so much joyful simplicity.
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.
8. The Tree Book: The Stories, Science, and History of Trees by DK
“Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky” Kahil Gibran. As a tree nerd with a weakness for illustrated botany books, I couldn’t help but notice this book from DK published earlier in 2022.
9. 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 heartwarmingly wholesome illustrations by Rebecca Green.
10. How to Catch a Mole: And Find Yourself in Nature by Marc Hamer
Beautifully written, life-affirming, and completely unique, How to Catch a Mole offers a memorable portrait of one man’s deep, unbreakable bond with his natural surroundings in the Welsh countryside.
In this quiet but powerful memoir, Hamer infuses gorgeous poetry with stark and simple observations on nature that will inspire you to see your own corner of the world differently. This edition is wonderfully illustrated by Joe McLaren.
11. Mountain Song by Lucy Fuggle
I wrote this one, so I’m probably a little biased. That said, the illustrations are probably what I love most about Mountain Song. The cover was designed by Alana Louise Lyons, and the book interior contains lovely pen and ink illustrations by Louise Morgan. You can read more about the hardcover and order a copy here.
12. Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession by Gavin Francis
Island Dreams isn’t illustrated in the same way that the others in this post are. But it is full of stunningly beautiful maps, so I think that still counts.
This is Gavin Francis’s project to “map an obsession” and dive into our collective fascination with islands, blending stories of his own travels with psychology, philosophy, and the great voyages of history.
For more exquisite books, you might also like my collections of beautifully written books, beautifully illustrated children’s books for readers young and grown, and the most beautiful books of all time to treasure forever.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.