The best animation books

5 authors have picked their favorite books about animation and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals

Ordinarily I don’t believe in “greatest” comparisons, but this book is different. Animation historian extraordinaire Jerry Beck surveyed more than a thousand historians and animation professionals to ascertain their picks, compiled the results into a list of fifty “greatest” cartoons, and then created this book with a separate entry for each film. It’s both informative and an endless delight, with well-illustrated celebrations of classic cartoon gems from the Disney, Warner, Fleischer, and MGM studios as well as the smaller, more obscure companies. You may disagree with the rankings or the choices, but this is undeniably a deep dive into a cornucopia of treasures. And Jerry didn’t stop there; fifteen years later he followed up with a similar but more specialized volume, The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes.

The 50 Greatest Cartoons

By Jerry Beck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The 50 Greatest Cartoons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.


I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Starting Point

By Hayao Miyazaki,

Book cover of Starting Point: 1979-1996

These are collections of writings by Miyazaki in translation: interviews, essays, production notes, doodles, and even poems. These are sometimes directly related to the films, and sometimes on general themes such as artistic integrity, the environment, and contemporary Japan. You get a picture of Miyazaki: deeply thoughtful, ethically engaged, and playfully child-like. Plus, lots of cool illustrations. The second volume goes up through Howls’ Moving Castle. 

Starting Point

By Hayao Miyazaki,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Starting Point as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A hefty compilation of essays (both pictorial and prose), notes, concept sketches and interviews by (and with) Hayao Miyazaki. Arguably the most respected animation director in the world, Miyazaki is the genius behind Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Mononokeand the Academy Award-winning film, Spirited Away.

Who am I?

Princess Mononoke blew my mind. And as I read about Miyazaki himself I thought: here is a kindred spirit. I thought I’d try teaching a course on Miyazaki, not sure if I could sustain a whole semester just about his work—and then I found, there’s way more than a semester’s worth to talk about. After teaching about Miyazaki for a few years, I had to write it all down. Some reviews of my book say my essays are personal, and it’s true, for better or worse—it isn’t about Studio Ghibli or the production process or even about Japan—it’s my reflections on these great films. 


I wrote...

The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

By Eric Reinders,

Book cover of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

What is my book about?

In Miyazaki’s films, what is “the moral of the story?” What’s the message? What kind of people do we become, when we are watching a Miyazaki film? Why do fantastic stories matter in the real world? This book is a series of personal and philosophical reflections on the 10 major works, from Nausicäa to Wind Rises. Miyazaki’s films suggest how we can find meaning in our work; how to retain our creativity even when are tired of the job; and how we can hold true to our dreams when our dreams are compromised. The films lament the loss of the sacred in modern life but never give up hope. They address problems of growing into a new maturity while retaining the good things of childhood. 

Book cover of Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture

Whereas my book is about the ideas that come out of the films, this book is on the philosophy of Miyazaki himself, based on his writings and interviews. It is organized not by film or chronology, but by themes, such as Time, Space, Vision, and my favorite, “The Courage to Smile.” She describes the director’s picture of the world and uses the films as illustrations. The book has certain fannish qualities, but is enriched by a creative selection of contemporary philosophers. 

Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture

By Dani Cavallaro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hayao Miyazaki's World Picture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hayao Miyazaki has gained worldwide recognition as a leading figure in the history of animation, alongside Walt Disney, Milt Kahl, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, Yuri Norstein and John Lasseter. In both his films and his writings, Miyazaki invites us to reflect on the unexamined beliefs that govern our lives. His eclectic body of work addresses compelling philosophical and political questions and demands critical attention. This study examines his views on contemporary culture and economics from a broad spectrum of perspectives, from Zen and classical philosophy and Romanticism, to existentialism, critical theory, poststructuralism and psychoanalytic theory.

Who am I?

Princess Mononoke blew my mind. And as I read about Miyazaki himself I thought: here is a kindred spirit. I thought I’d try teaching a course on Miyazaki, not sure if I could sustain a whole semester just about his work—and then I found, there’s way more than a semester’s worth to talk about. After teaching about Miyazaki for a few years, I had to write it all down. Some reviews of my book say my essays are personal, and it’s true, for better or worse—it isn’t about Studio Ghibli or the production process or even about Japan—it’s my reflections on these great films. 


I wrote...

The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

By Eric Reinders,

Book cover of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

What is my book about?

In Miyazaki’s films, what is “the moral of the story?” What’s the message? What kind of people do we become, when we are watching a Miyazaki film? Why do fantastic stories matter in the real world? This book is a series of personal and philosophical reflections on the 10 major works, from Nausicäa to Wind Rises. Miyazaki’s films suggest how we can find meaning in our work; how to retain our creativity even when are tired of the job; and how we can hold true to our dreams when our dreams are compromised. The films lament the loss of the sacred in modern life but never give up hope. They address problems of growing into a new maturity while retaining the good things of childhood. 

Drawn That Way

By Elissa Sussman, Arielle Jovellanos (illustrator),

Book cover of Drawn That Way

Hayley is thrilled to be accepted to a prestigious summer program for aspiring teen animators. But then only boys are chosen to direct the participants’ short films, and that might only scratch the surface of the boys’ club culture within the program. The multiple forms of sexism Hayley experiences throughout are so real, they were painful to read (in the best, truest way), as I reflected on my own experiences with misogynistic gatekeeping—but the community and solidarity that develop throughout this fantastic novel are very satisfying. 

Drawn That Way

By Elissa Sussman, Arielle Jovellanos (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Drawn That Way as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I was an ambitious teen, and as I entered adulthood, my relationship with ambition has continually evolved. Those of us with marginalized genders sometimes have our ambition treated with suspicion or scorn—by peers, family, or would-be mentors. I wanted to share books that don’t necessarily come to the same conclusion about ambition’s role in our lives, but that all grapple with what it means to be ambitious in a culture where that is often seen as threatening or unladylike—or where any sign of ambition gets one automatically labeled as “unlikeable.” I love these books’ narrators, and I hope you will find something to love in them too. 


I wrote...

It Goes Like This

By Miel Moreland,

Book cover of It Goes Like This

What is my book about?

Eva, Celeste, Gina, and Steph used to think their friendship was unbreakable. After all, they've been through a lot together, including the astronomical rise of Moonlight Overthrow, the world-famous queer pop band they formed in middle school. After a sudden falling out leads to the dissolution of the teens' band, their friendship, and Eva and Celeste's starry-eyed romance, nothing is the same. 

Gina and Celeste step further into the spotlight, Steph disappears completely, and Eva, heartbroken, takes refuge as a songwriter and secret online fangirl...of her own band. That is, until a storm devastates their hometown, bringing the four ex-best-friends back together. As they prepare for one last show, they'll discover whether growing up always means growing apart.

Drawn to Life

By Walt Stanchfield,

Book cover of Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes

This two-book volume of notes, drawings, wise sayings, and philosophy are and have been invaluable assets to the learning curve of myself and numerous others. I have these same handouts, in storage boxes, saved over the years. I was there in the lunch-time drawing classes Walt taught at the Disney Studio. Before each drawing session he would hand out these xerox pages. On occasion some of my sketches were included in these handouts. With humor and enthusiasm, Walt encouraged us to push the models pose, see the possibilities and more, all with a goal of making better animation drawings. 

Drawn to Life

By Walt Stanchfield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Drawn to Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the lessons that helped bring about a new golden age of Disney animation!

Published for the first time ever, Drawn to Life is a two volume collection of the legendary lectures from long-time Disney animator Walt Stanchfield. For over twenty years, Walt helped breathe life into the new golden age of animation with these teachings at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and influenced such talented artists as Tim Burton, Brad Bird, Glen Keane, and John Lasseter. These writings represent the quintessential refresher for fine artists and film professionals, and it is a vital tutorial for students who are now…


Who am I?

I've been drawing for over 68 years and carrying a sketchbook for over 60 of those years. I've seen success as an author, I'm an award-winning illustrator of books and magazines and animated many classic Disney features. Am I an expert on sketching humans and animals? ...No. I'm constantly learning in my effort to capture humans and animals in action by following the basic principles of drawing as they apply to quick sketching. My learning is aided by these books as I prepare lesson plans or the encouragement and inspiration found within their pages. I'm married to LaVonne, my high school sweetheart of 50 years, and have three grown children and six grandchildren.


I wrote...

Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

By Ron Husband,

Book cover of Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

What is my book about?

One of the benefits quick sketching has given me is that it has sharpened my ability to analyze actions quickly. I now look at human and animal movement and see their basic shapes, the various shapes it is composed of as a whole and individually. I am able to quickly recognize special relationships between my subject or subjects; how far an arm is away from the body, the distance one foot is from another in a walk, or how one body relates to another in space. Seeing both the negative and positive shapes as equally important has given me control over my quick sketches. I am definitely a better artist today because of what quick sketching has caused me to focus my artistic attention on. 

Of Mice and Magic

By Leonard Maltin,

Book cover of Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons

This landmark survey of American animation, published more than forty years ago, remains an essential guide to the subject. Maltin’s passion for classic cartoons is evident in the depth of his research and in the infectious enthusiasm of his writing. For beginners unfamiliar with cartoon history, Of Mice and Magic is a delightful introduction; but even for the seasoned enthusiast, it provides gratifying coverage of both the established classics and the more obscure discoveries. I thoroughly enjoyed this book when it first appeared, and I still return to it periodically.

Of Mice and Magic

By Leonard Maltin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Of Mice and Magic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Film historian Leonard Maltin recreates a whole era of Hollywood cartoons, from Betty Boop to Spielberg's "An American Tail". It also brings the reader up to date on the modern work of Walt Disney and the Warner Bros studio, plus new developments in animation. The book includes a filmography of cartoons and sources for video rental.

Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.


I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Book cover of Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

This book laid the foundation of the importance of anatomy for me. I was first introduced to the pages as a college student and over fifty years later I use it as reference for myself and the students I teach. The author, through the use of his thorough, detailed illustrations, charts, photographs and explanations guide us through a maze of complicated body parts. His mastery of the human body allows him to visually present this complex topic into easily understandable material. The information contained within its pages has also been invaluable to me over the years as a constant reference in my quick sketching, illustration, and animation projects.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

By Stephen Rogers Peck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stephen Rogers Peck's Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist remains unsurpassed as a manual for students. It includes sections on bones, muscles, surface anatomy, proportion, equilibrium, and locomotion. Other unique features are sections on the types of human physique, anatomy from birth to old age, an orientation on racial anatomy, and an analysis of facial expressions. The wealth of information offered by the Atlas ensures its place as a classic
for the study of the human form.

Who am I?

I've been drawing for over 68 years and carrying a sketchbook for over 60 of those years. I've seen success as an author, I'm an award-winning illustrator of books and magazines and animated many classic Disney features. Am I an expert on sketching humans and animals? ...No. I'm constantly learning in my effort to capture humans and animals in action by following the basic principles of drawing as they apply to quick sketching. My learning is aided by these books as I prepare lesson plans or the encouragement and inspiration found within their pages. I'm married to LaVonne, my high school sweetheart of 50 years, and have three grown children and six grandchildren.


I wrote...

Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

By Ron Husband,

Book cover of Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

What is my book about?

One of the benefits quick sketching has given me is that it has sharpened my ability to analyze actions quickly. I now look at human and animal movement and see their basic shapes, the various shapes it is composed of as a whole and individually. I am able to quickly recognize special relationships between my subject or subjects; how far an arm is away from the body, the distance one foot is from another in a walk, or how one body relates to another in space. Seeing both the negative and positive shapes as equally important has given me control over my quick sketches. I am definitely a better artist today because of what quick sketching has caused me to focus my artistic attention on. 

Hollywood Cartoons

By Michael Barrier,

Book cover of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age

During the 1960s, a wonderful periodical called Funnyworld began to chronicle animation history with unprecedented depth and eloquence. It was the work of Michael Barrier, and as it continued, it offered glimpses of the research he was conducting for a book to be published by Oxford Press. The book was finally finished and published more than three decades later, and reflects Barrier’s depth of insight, the thoroughness of his methods, and his dogged perseverance; his research included interviews with literally hundreds of artists from every American cartoon studio. Hollywood Cartoons stands as a definitive study of its subject, an essential reference (and enjoyable read) for any lover or serious student of classic animation.

Hollywood Cartoons

By Michael Barrier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hollywood Cartoons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Hollywood Cartoons, Michael Barrier takes us on a glorious guided tour of American animation in the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, to meet the legendary artists and entrepreneurs who created Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, Wile E. Coyote, Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, and many other cartoon favorites.
Beginning with black-and-white silent cartoons, Barrier offers an insightful account, taking us inside early New York studios and such Hollywood giants as Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM. Barrier excels at illuminating the creative side of animation-revealing how stories are put together, how animators develop a character, how technical innovations enhance the…

Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.


I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Go, Dog. Go!

By P. D. Eastman,

Book cover of Go, Dog. Go!

If your early readers love dogs, this classic picture book is alive with dogs who can help them read easy yet important words like colors, numbers, and directions. Best of all, its lively action-packed illustrations provide context cues for even the most struggling reader. “Stop” and “go” are illustrated with car-driving dogs braking at traffic lights or racing through intersections. “Over” depicts a dog helicoptering above a tree; “under” depicts a dog resting in a hammock under it. Action-packed doggy adventures – dogs on scooters and skates, on unicycles and carriages - invite young readers to join on this doggy adventure, preparing them for the adventure of reading itself.

Go, Dog. Go!

By P. D. Eastman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Go, Dog. Go! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I belong to a family of dog lovers – Oscar, the black cocker spaniel; Buddy, the brown-and-white beagle; Riley, the buff cocker spaniel; Buffy, a black boxer mix, Milo and Max, Golden retrievers. In fact, cavorting with Riley at a San Francisco park was my inspiration for Bark Park. I also love children, especially my grandchildren Connor and Kasey. When Kasey, at five years of age, read my book Bark Park aloud for the first time, my heart swelled with joy! It took me back to my own young daughter Laura whose first all-by-herself read-aloud had been: Go, dog, go!  So it’s only natural for me to combine my two great loves – dogs and children – with these book recommendations.


I wrote...

Bark Park!

By Trudy Krisher, Brooke Boynton-Hughes (illustrator),

Book cover of Bark Park!

What is my book about?

Welcome to Bark Park! Come along and play with all of the dogs at Bark Park in this exuberant rhyming picture book that’s a treat for animal lovers of any age. There are dogs running and dogs sunning, dogs riding and dogs sliding, dogs with a buddy and dogs getting muddy—all before returning home to a bubble bath, a cozy dog bed, and sweet dreams of—what else?—being back at the park. The jaunty rhyming award-winning text is perfect for beginning readers.

Bark Park! is a “canine tour de force” guaranteed to captivate early readers who love their dogs!

Wild Minds

By Reid Mitenbuler,

Book cover of Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation

Wild Minds is a wonderful and engrossing history of the early days of the animation industry. From Winsor McCay to Otto Messmer, Max Fleischer, and Walt Disney, this book twists and turns weaving a fantastic tapestry of the talented and highly competitive artists that invented animation techniques that are still being used today. Read about the choices Fleischer and Disney made that ended the former and vaulted the latter into stardom. A wild read for any animation history buff. 

Wild Minds

By Reid Mitenbuler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wild Minds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I'm a student of animation and Disney history. As a Disney historian, I find much joy in writing the stories that intrigue and peak my curiosity. Stories that haven't been told or explored in-depth are exciting to bring to life because readers are hungry for new information on the Disney universe. And so am I. In choosing my writing projects it's important that no one else has written more than a cursory amount or nothing at all on the subject matter. I equally like to read books that shed new light on topics that I’m interested in and doing so in an authoritative voice. I hope you will enjoy the selection of books listed here.    


I wrote...

Claude Coats: Walt Disney's Imagineer: The Making of Disneyland from Toad Hall to the Haunted Mansion and Beyond

By David A. Bossert,

Book cover of Claude Coats: Walt Disney's Imagineer: The Making of Disneyland from Toad Hall to the Haunted Mansion and Beyond

What is my book about?

Claude Coats: Walt Disney’s Imagineer—The Making of Disneyland: From Toad Hall to the Haunted Mansion and Beyond is the story of artist and designer Claude Coats who was one of the most prolific creative talents at The Walt Disney Company and, arguably, the most accomplished.

Coats was handed-picked by Walt Disney, to start the fabled WED Enterprises—now known as Walt Disney Imagineering. Working with Walt Disney, Coats is considered a significant influence in creating the first theme park, Disneyland, and a new form of creativity called Imagineering. He forever changed the worlds of global entertainment and popular culture, building the most iconic and enduring attractions at Disneyland including Alice in Wonderland, The Submarine Voyage, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and many more.

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