The best picture books with super-detailed illustrations you can stare at for hours

Who am I?

When I fall in love with a fantasy world, I want to consume as much of that world as possible. That’s why I’m drawn to illustration that is so dense with worldbuilding elements. In my own work, I started indulging this obsession by creating tiny one-by-three-inch books that contained fully-illustrated alien worlds before eventually moving on to bigger books like A is for Another Rabbit, a book crammed so full of hidden jokes, Easter eggs, and thousand-rabbit-wide crowd scenes that my hand hurt by the end of it. Extreme detail is a way of prolonging the delight and discovery inherent in reading picture books, and I intend to keep pushing it to the limit!

I wrote...

A is for Another Rabbit

By Hannah Batsel,

Book cover of A is for Another Rabbit

What is my book about?

In A is for Another Rabbit, a rabbit-obsessed narrator makes an owl increasingly irate by refusing to play by the rules of a conventional alphabet book. Every entry is about bunnies, from "delightful, dynamic, daredevil rabbits" to "xylophone rabbits and rabbits on drums!" Readers will pore over scenes of bunnies at the circus, in a tiny town, at the museum, even in a motorcycle gang. Author-illustrator Hannah Batsel takes readers on a delightful romp through the alphabet and keeps them laughing all the way to the ridiculously fun conclusion.

The books I picked & why

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Spring Story

By Jill Barklem,

Book cover of Spring Story

Why this book?

While Spring Story is the first book in Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge series, all eight of them are bursting with sumptuous, hyper-detailed illustrations of a pastoral mouse society in the English countryside. Barklem’s watercolors are jam-packed (literally – so many jars of jam) with mouth-watering baked goods, flowers, and trees that any gardener would envy, and one of my favorite illustration techniques ever – the cutaway – to show the layout of the mice’s treehouses, flour mill, and other buildings that keep the tight-knit mouse village running smoothly. If you've ever salivated over the feasts of Redwall but been less-than-enthusiastic about the possibility of a weasel massacre, let the ever-sunny Spring Story scratch that itch in full, vibrant color.


By James Gurney,

Book cover of Dinotopia

Why this book?

Another first book in a consistently-lovely series, Dinotopia delivers on exactly what its title promises: a lush utopia full of immaculately rendered dinosaurs (and their costumed human companions!) It’s no surprise that the breathtaking scenery of Dinotopia feels so real and immersive; author-illustrator James Gurney previously illustrated reconstructions of ancient civilizations for National Geographic. His illustrations pack so much worldbuilding into such a small space; from the actually-translatable dinosaur footprint language on all the signage to the consideration of the minutiae of Dinotopian life (where and how do sentient dinosaurs poop?), it’s no wonder this travelogue-style book has swept away both adults and children alike.

The Arrival

By Shaun Tan,

Book cover of The Arrival

Why this book?

The Arrival’s target audience may be a bit older than that of my other picks, but the fantasy city that blooms to life in its sepia-toned art is no less awe-inspiring. It’s the story of a man immigrating, and adapting, to a city full of strange creatures, contraptions, and people – none of the writing is intelligible, none of the architecture makes much sense, and the humans who live there seem to have strange symbiotic relationships with monsters great and small. The book’s lack of text puts the reader on the same level as its protagonist: we must scrutinize and make meaning of the shining city using only what we can see. A beautiful book about the confusion, uncertainty, surrealism, and excitement of the immigrant experience.

Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?

By Richard Scarry,

Book cover of Richard Scarry's What Do People Do All Day?

Why this book?

Ahhh, Richard Scarry. All of the books on this list are great for children, but this is the only one I actually read as a child, and the fact that I’m still thinking about it now means it must have been formative. There’s a reason this book’s setting is called “Busytown:” animal citizens hard at work burst from every door and window, cutaways show how the buildings are constructed and plumbed, and vehicles of all shapes and sizes (including a quadruple-decker bus full of rabbits) whizz through the streets. What Do People Do All Day? doesn’t leave out the mundanities of city life, like how cement is mixed to lay sidewalks or how bathroom sinks work – instead, it explains and illustrates those things in bright colors, elevating them to spectacle.


By David Wisniewski,

Book cover of Golem

Why this book?

Golem’s illustrations are certainly not detailed in the same way as the others on this list; the imagery in this retelling of the Golem of Prague story is composed entirely of colorful cut paper, layered and woven into bold, dynamic scenes. Whereas the first four books I’ve recommended invite hours of poring over worldbuilding detail and density of information, Golem compels readers to marvel over the construction of its illustrations. How does the golem pierce through the spidery paper web of paper smoke? How are the sheets stacked to imply depth and shadow? Is this seriously all paper?! 

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