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Answer the question as per the criteria.

First, watch the video below in which an illustrator explains what it’s like to draw pictures for children. Then, read through the following article and consider the course objective about the socio-cultural impact of children’s books.

How do illustrations play into what we’ve already learned about children’s literature?

1 Back in the fifteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci made the following remark about visual
And you who wish to represent by words the form of man and all the aspects of his membrification,
relinquish that idea. For the more minutely you describe the more you will confine the mind of the
reader, and the more you will keep him from the knowledge of the thing described. And so it is
necessary to draw and to describe.”
Finished artwork for
Ajubel’s Robinson Crusoe.
From very early on, we both intuit and learn the language of pictorial representation, and most
modern adults, the picturebook was our first dictionary of this visual vocabulary. Yet the
picturebook — defined by its narrative framework of sequential imagery and minimalist text to
convey meaning or tell a story, and different from the illustrated book in which pictures play a
secondary narrative part, enhancing and decorating the narrative — is a surprisingly nascent
In Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, illustrator Martin Salisbury and
children’s literature scholar Morag Styles trace the fascinating evolution of the picturebook as a
storytelling medium and a cultural agent, and peer into the future to see where the medium might
be going next, with case studies of seminal works, a survey of artistic techniques, and
peeks inside the sketchbooks and creative process of prominent illustrators adding dimension to
this thoughtful and visually engrossing journey.
Though pictorial storytelling dates back to the earliest cave wall paintings, the true picturebook
harks back to a mere 130 years ago, when artist and illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886)
first began to elevate the image into a storytelling vehicle rather than mere decoration for
text. Maurice Sendak, widely regarded as the greatest author of visual literature (though
he refuses to identify as a “children’s author”), once wrote of Caldecott’s “rhythmic
syncopation” and its legacy:
Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He
devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counter point
that never happened before. Words are left out — but the picture says it.
Pictures are left out — but the words say it. In short, it is the invention of
the picture book.”
Even early on, tensions between the creative vision and marketability of picturebooks captured
the same friction between artist-storyteller and publisher that continues to plague children’s — if
not all — publishing.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about “marketability” in children’s literature.
Beyond illustration, when else has marketability affected what gets published and
what does not?
Walter Crane (1845–1915), another Victorian-era picturebook innovator, famously grumbled
about printer-publisher Edmund Evans’ approach to publishing:
“…but it was not without protest from the publishers who thought the raw,
coarse colours and vulgar designs usually current appealed to a larger
public, and therefore paid better…”
(Evans, per Crane’s remark, seemed to have taken on the role of a “circulation manager” of
books, and with that came the same perception of compromised editorial integrity we’ve
previously seen in the context of newspapers.)
Lewis Carroll’s The Mouse’s tale is an
early example of text taking the visual form of that which it describes or alludes to.
But the picturebook didn’t fully blossom until the late nineteenth and early twentieth century,
when new developments in printing technology, changing attitudes towards childhood, and a
new class of exceptional artists catapulted it into a golden age. The first three decades of the
twentieth century germinated such timeless classics as Curious George and the Babar stories.
But as war consumed Europe, resources dwindled and the paper shortages of the post-war era
placed new demands for keeping publishing costs low. Yet despite, or perhaps because of, the
austerity of the time, there was a profound longing for color as escapism, which reined in the
neo-romantic movement.
Then, in the 1950s, a peculiar cultural shift began to take place — the line between artist and
author started to blur, and a crop of famous graphic designers set out to write and illustrate
picturebooks as a way of exploring visual thinking. (Just this week, one of the most celebrated
such gems, the only children’s book by the great Saul Bass, resurfaced to everyone’s delight.)
Among the highlights of this new frontier was a series of children’s picturebooks by legendary
graphic designer — and, paradoxically, notorious curmudgeon — Paul Rand.
He and his then-wife, Ann, produced Sparkle and Spin (1957), Little 1 (1962), and Listen!
Listen! (1970), all an exercise in demonstrating “a playful but sophisticated understanding of the
relationship between words and pictures, shapes, sounds, and thoughts.” (It was in the same
period that Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics,
the study of signs and symbols.)
André François’s
Crocodile Tears (Universe Books NY, 1956) uses an extreme landscape format to reflect and
emphasize the subject matter. It was François’s first picturebook as author-artist.
In Um Dia Na Praia
flat color without line is used with careful attention to the placement of every element in order to
develop a wordless text. The very simple shapes need to carry the entire weight of a subtle
pictorial narrative.
But many of these pioneering picturebook storytellers, just like Sendak does to this day, had an
aversion to identifying as “children’s book” authors. Salisbury and Styles write:
Of course, many of the best picturebook artists would not describe
themselves exclusively as such. André François was born in Hungary, in
an area that became part of Romania after World War I. But it was as a
French citizen that he spent his working life as a graphic artist, spanning
visual satire, advertising and poster design, theater set design, sculpture,
and book illustration. François’s work exhibited a childlike awkwardness
that belied a highly sophisticated, biting eye.”
(Sound familiar?)
In the 1960s, as a generation of British artists emerged from art school, picturebooks entered a
new era of vibrant paint and color, with many artists combining book illustration and painting to
make a living. (Including, as we’ve seen, Andy Warhol.) It was in that era that some of the most
influential picturebooks were born, including Maurice Sendak’s most beloved work and
Miroslav Šašek’s timeless This Is… series.
Miroslav Sasek’s
‘This is…’ series introduces children to countries and cities around the world. What
distinguished them from many such books was the artist’s eye for the anecdotal detail of
different cultures. This is London was published by MacMillan in 1959.
(Don’t miss Šašek’s lesser-known 1961 gem, Stone Is Not Cold, in which he brings to life
famous sculptures from London, Rome and the Vatican City in irreverent vignettes from
everyday life.)
Maurice Sendak may be the greatest illustrator for children of all time and
was certainly one of the earliest to make an impact on educators and
scholars, as well as on children, parents, and the artistic
community. Where The Wild Things Are (Harper & Row, 1963) was not
Sendak’s first picturebook, but it was the first one to make a huge
impression on children and adults alike. Interestingly, it caused a furor
when it was published, with many critics anxious that it would be too
terrifying for children.”
Vladimir Radunksy’s
swirling vortex of type and image perfectly complements Chris Raschka’s rap text in Hip Hop
(You might recall Vladimir Radunsky, above, from his fantastic illustrations for Mark
Twain’s Advice for Little Girls.)
But the book’s most fascinating feat is its discussion of the socially constructed and increasingly
fluid criteria for what is suitable for children, with complex themes like violence, sex, death and
grief, and human rights violations turning picturebooks into a powerful crossover storytelling
medium for all ages. Even some of the most beloved storytelling of all time, like The Brothers
Grimm fairy tales and Arabian Nights, was aimed at children but often featured dark, even
savage, themes, and picturebooks have a documented history of radical politics.
The bleak,
uncompromising visual and verbal text of Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death and the Tulip.
No Hay Tiempo Para
Jugar / No Time to Play (text Sandra Arenal, illustrations Mariana Chiesa; Media Vaca, 2004).
Produced in typical Media Vaca hardback format, the book gives voice to the child laborers of
Mexico in words and pictures
Paradoxically — and disappointingly to those of us who celebrate the cross-pollination of genres,
ideas, and narratives — traditional booksellers and the marketing departments of major
publishers have remained oddly stringent about how picturebooks are labeled and sold, confining
them strictly to children’s literature. (For an example of just how short that sells them, see
Blexbolex’s fantastic, layered, remarkably thoughtful People, as delightful to kids as it is
thought-provoking to adults — yet it remains shelved in the children’s section at the Big
Corporate Bookstore.)
Color woodcuts by
Isabelle Vandenabeele from Geert De Kockere’s Vorspel Van Eeen Gebroken Liefde (De
Eeenhoom, 2007)
The CJ Picture Book Festival in South Korea seems to get this crossover evolution, stating in its
Picture books, in the present era, enjoy a status as a culture form to be
enjoyed by people of all ages. It is a precious and versatile art that has
already left the confines of paper behind, shattering the boundaries of its
own genre and fusing with various other forms of art and imagery.”
What do you think makes picture books a “precious and versatile art”?
The unique developmental capacities of children, Salisbury and Styles point out, also shape the
stylistic suitability of visual texts, presenting their own set of paradoxes and challenges:
Many publishers and commentators express views about the suitability or
otherwise of artworks for children, yet there is no definitive research that
can tell us what kind of imagery is most appealing or communicative to
the young eye. The perceived wisdom is that bright, primary colors are
most effective for the very young. The difficulty is that children of
traditional picturebook age tend not to have the language skills to express
in words what they are receiving from an image. They can also be
suggestible and prone to saying what they imagine adults want to hear.
So, even with the best designed research projects, the world that children
are experiencing will inevitably remain something of a mystery to us.”
In her Chain of
Happiness illustration, Marta Altes screen-prints with three colors.
So where is this ever-evolving medium headed? Salisbury and Styles cite gaming developer
turned children’s book illustrator Jon Skuse, who articulates both the tragedy and infinite
potential of today’s children’s ebooks beautifully:
The eBook isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about an ‘exploration,’ and
experience, rather like a pop-up book. What many publishers are doing
wrong at the moment is just copying printed picturebooks on to this
format, which does both media a disservice. It’s just like looking at a PDF.
Children will simply flick through. A printed picturebook is a particular
kind of physical experience that can be savored and revisited. The eBook
needs to exploit its own particular characteristics and strengths to evolve
as similarly special but distinct experience.”
The authors conclude with a metaphor for the future of picturebooks borrowed from Lane
Smith’s fantastic It’s a Book:
Perhaps the last word (or, rather, the last word and picture) should go to
that modern master of the idiom, Lane Smith. In his new picturebook, It’s
a Book (Roaring Book Press, 2010), Smith’s ape tries to explain to Jackass
that the thing he is holding is called a book. Among the stream of questions
asked by Jackass are: ‘How do you scroll down?’, ‘Does it need a
password?’, ‘Can you tweet?’ and ‘Can you make the characters fight?’.
When Jackass eventually gets the hang of this strange object, ape is forced
to enquire ‘Are you going to give my book back?’. ‘No,’ replies Jackass.”

As fascinating and rich as Children’s Picturebooks is, it suffers one conspicuous contradiction
— with its concern with the format and future of the book, and its multitude of references to
other books and historical materials, a kind of baked-in framework for truly networked
knowledge, it would have, and should have, easily lent itself to the digital medium, where each
of the dozens of books mentioned would be linked and explorable in rich media. Still, it remains
a rigorously researched and compellingly curated survey of a tremendously important
storytelling medium, one that equips young minds with a fundamental understanding not only of
the world but also of its visual language.
How does this article affect the way you think about picture books? Identify at least
one thing that you learned and consider how it will impact your experience(s) as a
reader of picture books in this course.

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