Some of the year's most beautiful books against a cream background.
Some of the year's most beautiful books against a cream background.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book-lover in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a beautiful book.

Whether you're after classics or cookbooks, graphic novels or children's books, this selection of some of our most exquisitely designed stories is ready to give your bookshelf a makeover and win you some brownie points this festive season.

Nests by Susan Ogilvy (2021)

Susan Ogilvy was tidying her garden one day when she came upon a small bird’s nest. After bringing it inside to dry, she was struck by its delicate beauty, and sat down then and there to paint it. From that day, a passion was born: Ogilvy began collecting and painting the tiny constructs, amassing more than 50 life-sized works as striking and unique as the nests themselves. In the aptly titled Nests, she collects those paintings in one gorgeous hardcover package perfect for any bird-lover, architecture fanatic, or anyone with an eye for beauty.

D (A Tale of Two Worlds) by Michel Faber (2020)

This modern-day Dickensian fable is ideal to curl up with this Christmas. Michel Faber, the author of The Crimson Petal and the White, creates a story set between England and the wintry land of Liminus, a world enslaved by the monstrous Gamp and populated with enchanting creatures. The story begins as the letter D disappears from the language, and Dhikilo is summoned to the home of her old history teacher Professor Dodderfield and his faithful Labrador, Nelly Robinson. This tale is a celebration of friendship and bravery in an uncertain world – something that hits all too close to home this year.

Monsters by Barry Windsor-Smith (2021)

Few graphic novels have ever been as anticipated as Barry Windsor-Smith’s Monsters: 35 years in the making, the nearly-400-page epic tells the story of Bailey, who in 1964 becomes the subject of a US government science experiment using genetic technology first discovered in Nazi Germany two decades prior. Equal parts cautionary tale, multi-generational family drama and political allegory, and drawn in Windsor-Smith’s impeccable pen and ink, Monsters comes to life when the experiment goes awry and the book’s titular “monsters” begin to multiply, making for one of the most visceral and intense graphic novels of the past decade.

An image of the vinyl version of Charlie Mackesy's 'The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the House' against a cream-coloured background.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019)

By now, you’re likely familiar with Charlie Mackesy’s extraordinary (and extraordinarily popular – it has, at the time of this writing, spent 108 weeks straight in the Sunday Times Top 10) tales of four creatures brought together to teach each other lessons about life, from grief to friendship. But have you heard Mackesy himself reading his book in audio, complete with calming sound effects and music? And have you seen that it comes on deluxe, special edition heavyweight vinyl, with a newly illustrated cover that shows Mackesy’s elegant, looping brushstrokes larger than ever before? It’s the year’s most beautiful audiobook, and a perfect gift for the vinyl lover on your gifting list – even if that’s you.

Superheroes: Inspiring Stories of Secret Strength by Sophia Thakur (2021)

This inspiring new book for young readers, written by Sophia Thakur, beautifully illustrated by Denzell Dankwah and published by #Merky Books – and with a foreword from Stormzy himself – compiles “daring tales of inspiration” from over 50 iconic Brits, each of whom took their interests, strengths and ambitions and turned them into super powers. From athlete Dina Asher Smith to actor Riz Ahmed to baker Liam Charles and beyond, these stories of achievement, from people who were once just starting on their paths to greatness, are sure to galvanise any young person to harness their own power.

Save Our Birds by Matt Sewell (2020)

Diminutive in size but hugely stunning, this guide to a host of Britain’s most beloved birds – all of which are on the red list – is both a handbook and a call-to-action from Matt Sewell, aka ‘the Banksy of the Bird World’. In Save Our Birds, Sewell depicts dozens of species in glorious watercolours, simultaneously giving practical advice on how we can protect these denizens of the UK’s cities, coastlands, woodlands and farms from extinction. Whether that special someone on your list is an activist or an aesthete, this pretty little book makes a perfect gift. 

An A-Z of Pasta by Rachel Roddy (2021)

Sometimes cookbooks are just cookbooks, and sometimes, they’re things of absolute beauty; this gorgeous tome, from Guardian columnist and award-winning food writer Rachel Roddy, falls into the latter category. Subtitled Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes, this ode to pasta condenses the history and cultural context of pasta – not to mention 100 essential, practical, and easy-to-follow recipes that result in delicious, perfect pasta every time – into a single volume that qualifies as a vital ingredient in any cookbook collection, as useful as it is nice to look at.

Passing by Nella Larson (1929)

Nella Larson’s landmark novel Passing is about Clare Kendry, who’s severed all ties to her past. Clare – fair-skinned and ambitious – is married to a white man who has no idea of her African-American heritage. When she renews a childhood friendship, both she and her friend Irene are forces to confront fears they’ve buried.

This beautiful new edition of Passing is part of the Penguin English Library, collectable general readers' editions of the best fiction in English. 

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury (2021)

For anyone who needs a bit of comfort and warmth these days – which feels like all of us, increasingly – illustrator James Norbury has provided a book-length balm in the form of Big Panda and Tiny Dragon. Packed with emotional insight and inspired by Buddhist philosophy, the pair of unlikely friends are gorgeously rendered by Norbury’s pen, bringing to vivid life both the characters and the seasons through which their friendship endures. Day or night, rain or shine, cold or warm, Big Panda and Tiny Dragon isn’t just a book, it’s a companion.

Liquid History: An Illustrated Guide to London’s Greatest Pubs by John Warland (2021)

We tend to take going to the pub for granted, but with enough time and thought, one could trace the history of an entire city through its pubs – and that’s exactly what garden designer turned pub history tour guide John Warland has done in his exquisite new illustrated book, Liquid History: An Illustrated Guide to London’s Greatest Pubs. Here, Warland brings his ‘Liquid History’ pub tours to the printed page, profiling over 50 London pubs – from “the watering holes of London's writers and artists, its most notorious criminals and celebrated figures” to “architectural marvels [and] secretive backstreet boozers – with intricate detail, dazzling illustrations and interest-piquing anecdotes.

The Complete Alice: V&A Collector’s Edition by Lewis Carroll (2021/1865)

There’s no shortage of beautiful versions of classic books – just see Penguin’s vast Clothbound Classics collection – but once in a while, a classic stands out just a hair above the rest. That’s the case with The Complete Alice, a V&A collector’s edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspired by the iconic clothing and visual motifs from Lewis Carroll’s unforgettable children’s classic. If Alice is still missing from your bookshelf – or from your child’s, or any loved one’s bookshelf – there’s never been a better time, or way, to devour this must-read.

Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman (2021/2003)

In this short but crucial addition to Philip Pullman’s beloved trilogy, Pullman depicts his heroine Lyra two years after the events of His Dark Materials, as she and her daemon Pantalaimon witness a flock of starlings attacking another bird in the sky – a witch’s daemon come to report a terrible sickness, but who may or may not be trustworthy. Already an essential Pullman classic, this new edition, illustrated magnificently throughout Chris Wormell, makes a perfect gift for any Pullman fan, whether they own the original version or not.

The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill (2020)

Nikita Gill follows up 2019’s beautiful retelling of Greek myths and fairytales, Great Goddesses, with another journey into the mythical. This time, her protagonist is Paro, a girl full of heart and born into a family reeling from the ruptures of Partition. As Paro crosses the precarious lines between childhood, teenage discovery and adulthood, Gill (who is also a great supporter of poets) takes us on a journey where reality meets epic mythical landscapes.

The Poetry Pharmacy Returns by William Sieghart (2019)

If you know someone who could use a few well-chosen words to help heal the soul (who couldn't?!), then look no further. William Sieghart has collected an assortment of poems in this clothbound compendium for just such a purpose – to remedy and reassure, comfort and console. 

Ottolenghi FLAVOUR by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage (2020)

Yotam Ottolenghi’s stunning new cookbook, written with Ixta Belfrage, features innovative vegetable dishes that will excite and inspire, encompassing simple recipes for weeknights, low-effort high-impact dishes, and standout meals for the relaxed cook.

The book is split into three parts: process, which explains cooking methods to elevate vegetables; pairing, which lays out four basic combinations that lead to great flavour; and produce, which is about impactful vegetables.

Recipes include Aubergine Dumplings alla Parmigiana, Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions and Romano Pepper Schnitzels. And not only will it help you create delicious food, this is a book that will look as beautiful in your kitchen as the dishes you make.

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (2020)

This pocket-sized treasure is the perfect gift for fans of nature, poetry and dreamy illustrations. Robert Macfarlane’s “spells” each conjure a different animal, bird, tree or flower, while Jackie Morris’ illustrations bring the spells to life. The result is a book that celebrates the wonder of nature, and that amazes and brings joy.

More books for Christmas

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