Real Art for Great Books That Don’t Exist

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Arthur Dent's house vs. the Vogon ship, by John Martz via the PictureBookReport.com. Used with permission.Arthur Dent's house vs. the Vogon ship, by John Martz via the PictureBookReport.com. Used with permission.

Arthur Dent's house vs. the Vogon ship, by John Martz via the PictureBookReport.com. Used with permission.

I love children’s picture books. I love reading them aloud and poring over the illustrations (though I will admit to rushing through a book after reading it to my kids for the umpteenth time in a row). For some reason I’ve yet to really work out, I don’t actually picture characters visually in my head while reading a novel. And while I hate when the “movie version” of a book comes out, with particular actors now tied to the image of the characters, I love a good illustration. I recently came across a wonderful collection of book illustrations—but the catch is, you can’t buy these books because they haven’t been printed.

Alice, down the rabbit hole, by Meg Hunt via PictureBookReport.com. Used with permission.Alice, down the rabbit hole, by Meg Hunt via PictureBookReport.com. Used with permission.

Alice, down the rabbit hole, by Meg Hunt via PictureBookReport.com. Used with permission.

Meg Hunt is the artist behind the Picture Book Report, what she calls “an extended love-song to books.” She and fourteen other illustrators have picked their favorite books and are creating illustrations for them on their own. Hunt is illustrating one of my favorites, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and there’s a wide variety of books among the rest of them. What I particularly enjoyed is that not all of them are kids’ books, either: Patrick Murphy’s selection was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

My favorite illustration so far has got to be the one above by John Martz, of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It looks like something from an old kids’ picture book, the big cheery yellow Vogon ship, hanging in the sky over Arthur Dent’s house “in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

It’s an awesome collection of artists, and although I haven’t read all of the books they’ve chosen, I’m familiar with most of them and they’ve done a terrific job of interpreting them. Of course, since some of these books aren’t in the public domain yet, the artists can’t sell prints or make any money from the illustrations—it’s really just a labor of love. Hopefully there are some publishers out there paying attention to the fine work they’re turning out, because personally I’d love to get a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide with Martz’s illustrations scattered throughout!

I also found another collection of non-existent books, but this time they’re purely hypothetical. Charlie Orr is a designer who has done some book cover design but wasn’t always satisfied with the way projects get assigned. As a designer, you just get an assignment and you take it or leave it—you don’t get to pick a book or an author you’d like to work with. So, he created the Hypothetical Library: “Imaginary book covers, designed for actual authors.”

Orr reached out to several authors and asked them to give him the jacket-flap copy for a book that they haven’t written. He asks them for a “what if” scenario and they give him the idea of a book, and then he designs a book cover for them. (And in many cases he’s collected jacket blurbs from other real authors to include.) Orr tells a little bit about the author and their real books, and the idea behind the hypothetical book as well. The designs are excellent and professional-looking and I can picture them on the shelves of a bookstore. I love the idea, which reminds me of the Invisible Library, the library of books that have been alluded to in other books but don’t actually exist themselves. Perhaps they could use Orr’s Hypothetical Library card, inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s story The Library of Babel:

The Hypothetical Library Card, by Charles Orr. Used with permission.The Hypothetical Library Card, by Charles Orr. Used with permission.

The Hypothetical Library Card, by Charles Orr. Used with permission.

Now, if there were just some way to move some actual books we wish had never been written into the Hypothetical Library, we’d be set…

Visit the Picture Book Report and the Hypothetical Library.

Get the Official GeekDad Books!