Pictured Worlds: Masterpieces of Children’s Book Art by 101 Essential Illustrators from Around the World

Image of Pictured Worlds: Masterpieces of Children’s Book Art by 101 Essential Illustrators from Around the World
Release Date: 
March 7, 2023
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What could iconic names as varied as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Merry Adventures of Robinhood, Curious George, and The Invention of Hugo Cabret possibly have in common? Besides being beloved children’s stories that have captivated the hearts of millions of young readers, they were all powerhouses of art and illustration. And they are represented as just five of the 101 essential illustrators in Pictured Worlds’ history of children’s book illustration.

Children’s book illustration has not been around very long relative to other art histories. Stories, in general, have been illustrated for centuries, long before literacy became more commonplace among the general population. John Locke philosophized in 1693 that pictures, “were an essential ingredient because, from the child’s perspective, showing always works better than telling.” So it would seem that this quintessential writer’s mantra—show, don’t tell—has been around for a really long time! But it took another hundred years or so for illustrations to enter into language primers and another hundred years after that for the demand for children’s books to hit its stride in the publishing industry.

Pictured Worlds lays out a brief but interesting overview of the evolution of children’s illustration in Marcus’ introduction. He touches on “cartoons” or the “funny papers” of newspaper circulation; highlights the literary stars of the era such as John Newberry and Randolph Caldecott; pinpoints Andrew Carnegie and the birth of the public library system; and includes advances in printing and color technologies. All while the birth rates around the world were increasing and “educational pedagogy” became a household phrase encouraging adults to revisit how they were teaching their children at home and in the formal school settings.

The international scene for children’s books was huge, fast, furious, and impactful. After the Second World War, an International Youth Library was established in Munich, the International Board on Books for Young People was designed, and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair held an annual international rights fair to facilitate “the commercial flow of children’s books across national and cultural borders.” All of this activity benefited the fledgling graphic design industry where artists could expand their creative repertoires with new opportunities in illustration.

This collection is intended to feature artists who each, “made an extraordinary contribution to the illustrated children’s book” from a cross section of the world. Here one will find significant artists who have created imaginative “endlessly surprising” worlds and a “bridge between generations.”

Many favorite illustrators will be well known to the reader: Quentin Blake, Crockett Johnson, Leo Lionni, James Marshall, Richard Scarry, Dr, Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and David Wiesner, to name but a handful. Others might be known by their artwork, or the story, and not by name. People like Ernest H. Shepard who was the illustrator for A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), Esphyr Slobodkina who masterminded Caps for Sale (1940), or Ludwig Bemelmans who illustrated the Madeline series in the 1940s.

Other artistic treasures may be relatively unknowns until the reader comes across their entries. In these cases, it will instantly be obvious why they are considered “essential” to this collection. Illustrators such as Anno Mitsumasa (Japan), Ivan Bilibin (Russia), Christian Epanya (Cameroon), Robert Ingpen (Australia), Roberto Innocenti (Italy) and Vojtech Kubasta (Austria/Czech Republic) present absolutely incredible imagery to their respective projects.

Each of the 101 illustrators in the essential collection has four dedicated pages, all of which include their biography, the book that represents the apotheosis of their work, and a publication history laying out how, when, where, and why the book caught the attention of the publishing world. Of course, full color reproductions accompany each illustrator which makes this massive 432-pager mostly . . . illustrations!

Sadly, 101 does not seem nearly enough. So many deserving talents did not make the cut.

Jan Brett, Tomie dePaola, Stephen Gammell, Jack Kent, Arnold Lobel, Lynn Munsinger, or John Muth are conspicuously absent. Dozens of Caldecott winners could take their rightful place here as well. Ah, well, there is a solution to this: There simply needs to be a volume 2.