Two Illustrated Books: “The River” and “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone”

It’s been a while since I’ve read an illustrated book, I realized on a recent visit to the library. I decided to rectify that by picking up two books that were on display, one about a river and another, a familiar story, about the boy who lived. Both were good reads and quite an experience, though one wasn’t as I expected it to be. However in both, I found that I paid more attention to the artwork rather than the story.

The River by Alessandro Sanna (illus.), trans. by Michael Reynolds

Quick summary:

The River is an illustrated book by Italian painter and illustrator Alessandro Sanna about a town situated by a river. The story is told almost entirely without words, and the book is separated into four parts, one for each season, that all begin with a short paragraph about how the season affects the river or the town and what is included in that section (I realized this last part after completing the book).

My thoughts and the Art style:

The River is a sweet story. To tell the story of the town and the river, Sanna has us focus on a character, a man, to see how the seasons and the river affect his life.

The story is easy to follow since Sanna uses long panels throughout the book to make the progress of the story clear and the changes in a scene due to the weather easy to comprehend.

However, I think rather than the story, the book’s emphasis is on the artwork, which was done using watercolor, and Sanna’s skill as an artist. The illustrations are spectacular and became even more amazing to me when I read the Afterword, in which Sanna said that he tried to paint these captured moments without first drafting them with a pencil or knowing if he’ll find the right tone or color when creating them.

Though the style isn’t one I usually favor, I do love Sanna’s work here. The illustrations focus on lights and shadows. Though images have a definite shape, not much detail is given to them, so people, animals, and other objects are drawn as silhouettes. The exceptions are the figures in the last part, which have some defining details.

My favorite thing about Sanna’s work, and the first thing to catch my attention, are the colors and mixture of colors, which not only communicate what sort of season or weather Sanna is trying to depict, but also the mood, the emotions, he wants us to associate with them.

I love the entire book because of the masterful use of colors throughout, but my favorite parts were Autumn and Winter, which were illustrated using darker colors to fit the usual tones of those seasons. Autumn was filled with browns, deep, dark purples, and a bit of cream, while Winter was a bit lighter, because of snow, and was a mixture of browns, purples, cream, and white with a shock of pink and hint of blue.

The Spring and Summer sections mirrored the seasons they’re named for by containing brighter, more festive colors. The story also became lighter here as well, a turn from its serious tone in the darker, colder, more turbulent seasons.

Spring and Summer weren’t favorites the first time I read the book (I reread it almost immediately upon completing it) and I think that’s because of the dark, sullen mood I was in while I read, which made me connect more with the Autumn and Winter colors. However, the next day when I picked up the book, I appreciated the Spring and Summer sections more as my mood lightened.

The colors used for Spring are like the soft, new blossoms we see on trees whenever that season rolls around: light pinks, baby blues, and white. Everything is fuzzy and new. Sanna begins with these colors and steadily increases their vibrancy until we get to Summer and the colors begin to pulse with their intensity. The story’s plot rockets in these sections, drawing more interest from the reader as the colors beguile their eyes. I could hardly look away from the book on my second read, so entranced was I by the colors and my new appreciation of the story.

I picked up this book by random at the library because it was on display and didn’t expect to like it so much, or to write such a long review of it, lol!

Overall: ★★★★☆

I gave it 4 stars though the story itself didn’t interest me much. The artwork overpowered it.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Beautifully illustrated and evocative. I highly recommend this one for its watercolor paintings.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, illus. by Jim Kay

My thoughts and the Art style:

I was eager to read the illustrated copies of the Harry Potter books when they were first published. I’d assumed they would be akin to graphic novels and so expected the story to be told in illustrated form. I was disappointed with what I saw.

These illustrated copies were instead the story printed in heavy hardbacks packed with thick pages that were sometimes accompanied by illustrations. The books are beautiful and the artwork is whimsical at times, but because it was not what I’d expected, I refused to get it.

However, every now and then someone would feature the books in a post and slowly I began to weaken toward purchasing a copy. I almost bought it, but luckily my library had an illustrated copy of the first book in stock. When I got it, I decided to read it aloud to myself.

That was a horrible mistake.

I read painfully slowly when reading aloud and often I became impatient with myself. But I stuck with it and took almost a month to complete the book! Aside from my slow reading, I also paused to pore over illustrations, which I appreciated for their details and color, but often wished there were more.

I believe this is my first sample of Jim Kay’s work and I think they complement the Harry Potter story well. However, as I read I found myself preferring his illustrations of buildings and other architectural objects rather than of people. I think the only figures he drew that I like is Hagrid and what looks like a pencil portrait of Harry.

Otherwise, my favorites of the illustrations are his illustrations of Hogwarts in the end pages, the spreads of Diagon Ally, and all the illustrations of plants, especially Hagrid’s house. I also like the vibrancy of the colors and even the wispy line work, when it can be seen.

Overall: ★★★☆☆ 1/2

As with Sanna’s The River, I mostly paid attention to the art rather than the story, in this case because I already know the story by heart. As such, I rate this edition of Harry Potter for the art rather than the story. I gave it 3.5 stars because though I liked the presentation, I wasn’t impressed by it.

In the video below, Jim Kay talks about using different styles for the books, so I look forward to trying the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets illustrated edition.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

This was a hard one, but if you really want to own a copy, then you should get it.

14 thoughts on “Two Illustrated Books: “The River” and “Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone”

  1. When i’ve flicked through The River at my local comic book shop i hadn’t even considered it was telling a story–only that the images are beautiful. The next time i’m there i may have to actually take the plunge and buy it ❤


  2. I love the Harry Potter illustrated editions! I think my favorite part – more than the art, perhaps, though the art is fantastic – is the formatting. I love how they worked words around illustrations – there’s a few pages where the art is scattered throughout the words and it’s just lovely.


    1. I agree, I like that too. The illustrations are really good actually. I just prefer those of inanimate objects like buildings and plants.


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