The development of illustrated texts and picture books - Forms and genres - children’s literature

Children’s literature

Part II. Forms and genres


24. The development of illustrated texts and picture books


Joyce Irene Whalley


Children learn to read pictures before they learn to read words. Pictures also form the earliest records of man’s attempts at communication: cave paintings, church murals, stained glass windows - all testify to the importance placed on pictorial representation. It is surprising therefore to realise how long it took for due significance to be placed on the illustration of children’s books. Early books for the young were not without pictures, but they were not illustrated books.

What is the difference? A good illustrated book is one where the accompanying pictures enhance or add depth to the text. A bad illustrated book is one where the pictures lack relevance to the text, or are ill placed and poorly drawn or reproduced - these are books with pictures rather than illustrated books. In this outline study of illustrated children’s books we shall trace the rise of the importance of pictures and the improvement in standards of illustration, until on occasions the pictures assume greater significance than the text - or even replace it.

The emphasis in this study is on books for children’s leisure reading, not textbooks. Nevertheless, the first illustrated book of any significance for children was in fact a Latin textbook. This was Orbis Sensualium Pictus, by Johann Amos Comenius, published in 1659. There had been many Latin textbooks before this, but Comenius, an educationalist from Moravia, was among the first to realise that children best remember things they have seen rather than merely read about. His book was translated into English by Charles Hoole in 1659. It consisted of a picture at the top of every page, with the name of each object depicted in it listed below in Latin and then in English. The crude little woodcut illustrations covered a great variety of topics, both familiar and unfamiliar, and so provided the widest range of pictures for the young then available. The book was popular throughout Europe and remained in use in schools for many years. A popular imitation in English was James Greenwood’s The London Vocabulary, which by 1771 had reached its sixteenth edition.

But the point about all these books, to our eyes at least, is that the illustrations were so crude. This was not because good illustration was impossible in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although England did not have a school of illustrators such as existed in France at the time. There were, however, many competent engravers who rendered their French models very finely, as we can see from contemporary adult books. But the models for children’s book illustration were taken from the lower end of the market, from chap- books and broadsheets, selling to a partially literate readership at a fraction of the cost of the better-class adult book. This fact is in itself indicative of the attitude at that time to children’s books, their production and illustration.

It is appropriate here to consider the methods available in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the actual reproduction of illustrations, which were of course largely manual processes. For children’s books in particular, the most important method of reproducing illustration was by woodcut - a process that goes back to the late fifteenth century. In this method, everything that was not required to print was cut away on the block so that the resulting illustration was one of mass rather than line. Such illustrations lacked subtlety, especially in the small size common in children’s books. But the method was cheap and the blocks could go through the press at the same time as the type, so that in an illustrated book, text and pictures could be printed together. Children’s books have always been required to be cheaper than adult books, and in a society where such books were little regarded, this form of simplified - or crude - illustration was considered quite suitable. It was also the method used in the production of chapbooks and broadsheets, which themselves lay at the cheaper end of the market.

A superior form of illustration, and one used in technical books and the more expensive eighteenth-century adult works, was engraving. This is an intaglio process, by which the line of the drawing is engraved on to a copper plate, which is subsequently inked for printing. To reproduce this incised inked line, the plate has to be put under great pressure in a printing press, and cannot therefore go through at the same time as the type, which is raised. As a result, any book using engraving as a means of illustration either had to go twice through the press, or else it had its illustrations and text printed separately (this was the more common method). Engraving was certainly used in children’s books, especially in the more expensive ones produced towards the end of the eighteenth century. It was also used by John Harris and William Darton in the mainly didactic works produced by them in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Engraved illustration permitted the reproduction of far greater detail in a picture, and a good engraver could produce very fine effects of line as well as of mass, giving much greater variety to the illustrations.

But the use of this more expensive process of illustration indicates that a change had taken place in the course of the eighteenth century in the whole attitude to children and their books. This change was initiated to a large extent by one man, John Newbery, who in 1744 set up his shop in St Paul’s Churchyard, London, where he produced a wide range of children’s books. He was not the first to do this - Thomas Boreman had preceded him in this new approach to children’s books. But Newbery was the first to appreciate, and to exploit commercially, the market in illustrated children’s books. He realised that his new product had to be reasonably cheap and so his books were small - no disadvantage in young eyes - and certainly illustrated, but by the cheapest method, namely the woodcut. Few names of the artists employed by Newbery are known, and many of the pictures he published were used again and again, in his own or other publishers’ books. This was made possible by the general nature of the pictures: two children in a garden, a coach and horses, a lady and a child in a room. Such basic pictures could easily have stories written round them, though of course there were even at that date illustrations specially commissioned for specific books.

By the end of the eighteenth century the idea of illustrated books for children had become established and some of their authors had become well known - although others still preferred to hide behind such phrases as ‘by the author of ...’ or ‘by a lady’. These books tended to emphasise religious and moral matters (not good illustrative material), or social behaviour which was seen as the key to prosperity. By contrast, the early nineteenth century turned towards more factual themes. Children’s books were of course written by adults and for the most part bought by adults for their children. It is surprising, therefore, that such poor-quality material was for so long allowed to circulate among the young by people who would not have tolerated similar standards in their own books. Moreover it was the most scorned type of reading - the chapbook - which in the end effected the revolution in children’s books.

The chapbook was a small, crudely illustrated booklet of about 2% x 4 inches, which could be easily carried in the chapman or pedlar’s pack as he traversed the countryside selling ribbons, pins, ballads and other small items to villages and farmsteads. The middle- class child probably only obtained sight of these cheap booklets through the servants’ hall, but whether the child saw them or not, they certainly flourished among the poorer and semi-literate members of the population. Their content was varied: folk tales, nursery rhymes, ballads, riddles, short entertaining or moral tales. All these continued to flourish as a substratum of literature, ready to surface when the time was right and a change had taken place in children’s reading, when fairy tales, folk tales and nursery rhymes were once again permitted in the nursery.

But while the crude woodcut illustration continued to prevail in the cheaper productions for children, certain improvements were taking place. By the early nineteenth century the rationalism so much in favour for children’s literature was being supplemented by an appreciation of new discoveries of all kinds. The publishers William Darton and John Harris caught the public mood admirably in the books they produced over the next few decades. Nearly always didactic in content, these books sought to bring to children an awareness of the wider world beyond the British Isles, as well as to explore in depth the wonders of their own country. The titles of such works are themselves revealing. John Harris produced a number of travel books specifically for ‘Little Tarry-at-Home Travellers’, while there were also such works as Scenes of British Wealth (1823), Rural Employments (1820) and City Scenes; or A Peep into London for Children (1828). Publications of this sort demanded, and got, plenty of illustration. But since detail was essential in these pictures, engraving was the method most frequently employed to reproduce them. This often meant that the books contained texts which were separated from the pictures. These were usually grouped together, two or three to a plate, for the technical reasons described earlier. This was not a very satisfactory arrangement for the young child. Nevertheless, these books, often with the pictures hand-coloured, were a popular if rather expensive contribution to children’s reading. The names of the artists employed are rarely known - it would appear that many quite well-known illustrators were prepared to contribute pictures to children’s books, but at this period the standing of juvenile publishing was not such as to openly attract the named artist. Much work remains to be done on the identity of artists working for both William Darton and John Harris.

By the 1830s there were various methods of illustration in use in children’s books, which were now being produced in considerable quantity. The didactic books still led the field, but there were also religious and moral tales, now often by named authors, and it was certainly accepted that for the most part children’s books should be illustrated. The earlier engraving had been done on copper plate, which had a limited life. By the 1820s onward, it was found that the use of steel plates gave longer runs, and so steel engraving frequently took the place of copper in the more popular works, such as the ‘Keepsakes’ and gift books of the period. Though cheaper and longer lasting, steel engraving had one disadvantage; it gave an appearance of coldness and lack of subtlety to the illustrations where it was employed. Lithography, the invention of Alois Senefelder at the end of the eighteenth century, was also used in children’s books, but less frequently in Britain than on the European continent. It had the same disadvantage as engraving, in that it too needed to go through the printing press separately from the text, so that books illustrated by lithography were expensive and usually had far fewer illustrations. There remained the woodcut, but by the 1830s the improved version of white-line wood engraving pioneered by Thomas Bewick was almost universally used in preference to the cruder woodcut. Thomas and his brother John had both themselves illustrated children’s books, but it was in the 1830s and 1840s that their method of engraving on wood became more widely used in children’s books.

The 1840s saw great developments in the field of children’s books, in content and in production. Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense, and the first translations of Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales both appeared in 1846. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm had appeared with Cruikshank’s illustrations as early as 1823-6, although their circulation was probably not widespread until later. But equally important for the acceptance of nonsense and fairy tale in the nursery was the advent of Henry Cole and Joseph Cundall. Henry Cole was a man who had a finger in many pies baked in the mid-nineteenth century, including such outstanding events as the Great Exhibition of 1851. But he was also a father, and as such was appalled at the state of children’s books when he came to provide them for his own family. Under the pseudonym ‘Felix Summerly’ he instituted the Home Treasury series. In this he published fairy tales and nursery rhymes, commissioning well-known artists of the day, many of whom he knew personally, to illustrate them. He also commissioned special covers for his books. Joseph Cundall, with his interest in producing well-designed books, was the right man to work with Henry Cole. Such productions should have been outstanding, but it must be confessed that to modern eyes the Home Treasury series often appears somewhat dull. The cover designs were based on various traditional arabesque patterns, taken from older bindings, and were usually printed in gold on coloured paper, but they were not eye-catching, especially for children. The illustrations were of good quality, relevant and attractive - but (no doubt because of the cost) very few in number. These booklets were certainly very tasteful productions, but left to themselves children do not necessarily exhibit good taste, preferring a brightly coloured cover to a well-designed one. Nevertheless, a precedent had been set by which all aspects of a book designed for children should be given the same degree of attention previously only allocated to adult books. Moreover, Henry Cole’s standing ensured wide publicity for these new ideas - he was known to be a friend of the Prince Consort, and later became the first Director of the South Kensington Museum (later the Victoria and Albert Museum).

By the end of the 1840s, well-known book artists were no longer reluctant to put their names to their work in children’s books. The establishment of popular illustrated papers during this period, The Illustrated London News and Punch among them, ensured a regular demand for good illustrators and engravers, thus encouraging a native school to flourish.

By the 1850s many of the artists whose names were to become well known in the next decade were already producing notable work. In 1851 the Punch artist Richard Doyle produced illustrations to accompany John Ruskin’s text The King of the Golden River, so getting the new decade off to a good start. Others working in the 1850s were Hablot K. Browne (Phiz), one of the Dickens illustrators, and ‘Alfred Crowquill’, a pseudonym for the two Forrester brothers. George Cruikshank’s work spanned a large part of the nineteenth century, starting with his illustrations for the Brothers Grimm’s tales in the 1820s, but in the middle of this decade he started to issue his own Fairy Library.

Whereas almost all the children’s book illustrators of this period used wood engraving, Cruikshank used etching. This method, like engraving, is an intaglio process, but uses acid to bite the line on the plate rather than a burin or graver; it too can give a fine detailed picture, as we can see from Cruikshank’s own pictures for his Cinderella of 1854. Also using etching, and writing and illustrating his own stories, was Charles Henry Bennett, another Punch illustrator.

Having now reached the middle of the nineteenth century, it is a suitable point to consider the state of children’s books, and how they differed from those of the beginning of the century. In the first place there were far more of them. The prosperous middle class now provided an extensive reading public, while the tremendous technical improvements made good-quality illustrated books more widely available and relatively cheaper. The subject matter too had changed. Entertainment was much more to the fore, and nonsense, folk and fairy tales, as well as longer stories, were now provided for children’s reading. Other more subtle trends are noticeable in the illustrations of the period. Following the popularity of Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter in 1844, there was a fashion for a more primitive or archaicising style, which would certainly amuse the young, and a tendency to facetiousness. We can also see the beginning of the cult of childhood, as the illustrators start to depict coy, quaint or sentimental children - something almost unthinkable at the beginning of the century. Obviously didactic, religious and moral books continued to be published - after all, even today children’s books still have an underlying moral tone, even if it is scarcely noticeable.

The best illustration was still uncoloured, although some books were issued in two kinds: plain or coloured. The colouring at this date, in children’s books at least, was still by hand. But experiments were taking place to produce a commercially acceptable form of colour printing - it was in fact already available, but it was expensive. Colour became much more widely used from the 1850s onward, especially in the popular ‘toy books’. The toy book had nothing to do with toys, but was basically a publishers’ description of a paper-covered picture book. In its earliest manifestations it consisted of about eight pages, with a minimum of text and a picture on each page, which was usually blank on the back. Various artists obviously worked on the ‘toy books’ but few early publications can be attributed to known illustrators, and some must have been done by hack workers employed for the job. But these booklets were cheap and colourful, and covered a wide range of topics in a very basic way, whether it was a summary account of the story of Red Riding Hood or Robinson Crusoe, or a brief description of the wonders of the world. These books were at first hand-coloured, often by children employed as cheap labour, but they were also among the earliest to bring colour printing - of a sort - to the mass market of child readers. In the hands of a master they could indeed become works of art in their own right, as we shall see towards the end of the century.

As we move into the 1860s we reach the peak period of British book illustration for children and adults alike, since by now the illustrators worked equally for both the juvenile and the adult market, boldly putting their names with those of the authors on the title page. Indeed, not only were some artists their own story writers, as we have seen, but sometimes the artist could even dominate the book - Harrison Weir, the famous animal artist, was one such example; the text had now become subsidiary to the pictures.

Not only did Britain now produce black-and-white illustrators of very high calibre, but these also had the satisfaction of being much in demand, so that security further encouraged them to work to the highest standards. The spread of popular illustrated papers continued, while the increase in the actual reading public, and a middle class with more leisure, all encouraged the production of books of all kinds. This was the era of Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Trollope, and also of the gift book (the Victorian equivalent of the ‘coffee-table’ book) - and all these works were lavishly illustrated, providing plenty of work for the book artist.

Although colour was now more prevalent and improving in quality, it is interesting to note that the best illustrators of the period still preferred to work in black and white, in the method of wood engraving derived from Thomas Bewick. But we should always remember that in the production of these illustrations two sets of hands were at work - the artist who drew the original artwork, and the engraver who engraved it on the block ready for printing. But here too in Britain at this period a good school of engravers had developed, the best known often working for the firm of the Dalziel Brothers. Artists already mentioned, such as Richard (Dicky) Doyle, C. H. Bennett, and ‘Crowquill’, all produced outstanding children’s books during this decade. There were new names, too, at least as far as children’s books were concerned, who were often already artists in their own right. One of these was John Millais, with his illustrations for books such as Little Songs for Me to Sing (1865), or Arthur Hughes, who produced the evocative drawings for George MacDonald’s At the Back of the North Wind (1869), as well as other similar high-quality illustrations, all usually set spaciously on the page.

The book was now considered as a work of art in itself, and layout and cover were, in the best instances, receiving as much care as the text and illustrations. Illustration could also be much more sophisticated too, as we see in the often dramatic work of Ernest Griset. Griset was for long a rather neglected artist, though much appreciated in his own time. His illustrations to a work like The Purgatory of Peter the Cruel (1868), in which the incidents are sometimes shown from an unusual viewpoint, such as that of a fly or a frog, and his melodramatic designs for Aesop’s Fables or Robinson Crusoe (reminiscent of Gustav Dore), put him high on the list of mid-century illustrators.

But surely dominating the mid-1860s and early 1870s we must consider the two Alice books by Lewis Carroll. Here we have perhaps for the first time an artist and a writer working together to produce a definitive form of an illustrated story. Others have since tried to interpret Carroll’s Wonderland creatures, but surely no one has portrayed them so memorably as their first illustrator, Sir John Tenniel. Subsequent artists have also given permanent form to a writer’s imagination (Shepard’s illustrations for A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books spring to mind), but here in a book for children was the first complete interpretation of a fantasy world, which has survived more than a century of change in children’s books.

Would the Alice books have survived to the same degree if they had been unillustrated? It is an interesting speculation, since it can also be applied to other books where text and pictures complement each other so perfectly - in Beatrix Potter’s work for example. Certainly Lewis Carroll depicted his creatures verbally with great care, but readers would have been left to imagine the exact form of the Wonderland creatures without Tenniel’s guide. This is perhaps the great mark of a good book illustrator, in that the visual forms they give to the text linger in the mind, whereas those of lesser illustrators (and there have been many of Alice alone) do not.

Some of the finest children’s books date from the 1860s, a notable period for British book illustration, when known illustrators worked with book designers to produce works for children which were as fine inside as out, and as good reading as viewing. But Sir John Millais, Arthur Hughes, Ernest Griset and others were all producing high-quality black- and-white work during this period, just at the moment when colour printing and photography were about to be applied to children’s books in such a way that, for a time at least, progress would seem to go backwards rather than forwards. For it is very rare that any new process immediately reaches its peak - there has to be a period of trial and development.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, technical developments were increasing in all fields of book production and helped to satisfy the immense growth in children’s reading. This increase in readership was brought about by the various Education Acts, starting with that of 1870. With the expansion of literacy went also the further development of the illustrated journal, widening in scope and reaching lower down the social scale - with the consequent need for ever cheaper productions.

At the end of the century there was a conscious effort to reduce costs, which led to the employment once again of hack artists - often unnamed as in the past - together with poor-quality paper and type, as we can see from those journals and cheap books which have survived. In colour printing, especially the three-colour process, there was both good and bad, and on the whole, the good was much more expensive. Fortunately the ‘toy book’, in the hands of publishers such as Darton, Routledge and Warne, ensured that the standard was largely maintained, aided by the arrival on the scene in the last quarter of the nineteenth century of a great triumvirate of illustrators, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, together with the remarkably competent colour printer, Edmund Evans.

Of the three artists mentioned, Randolph Caldecott was probably most truly a book illustrator. Walter Crane was certainly more prolific, but his other work in the decorative arts tended to spill over into his books, making him more of a book decorator than an illustrator. This is particularly evident in his ‘toy books’, where contemporary motifs - the fan, the sunflower, the general air of japonaiserie - manifest themselves on nearly every page. If we look at Crane’s Sleeping Beauty, for example, we find the whole of the centre-page spread covered in illustration and design, and looking more like a decorative tile than a book picture. The same is equally true of his illustrations to Goody Two-Shoes and Aladdin.

By contrast, Randolph Caldecott made great use of space in his illustrations, allowing his line to speak for itself, and his pictures to enhance the (often traditional) texts he chose to illustrate. In The Queen of Hearts, for example, the simple basic nursery rhyme is ‘expanded’ by the pictorial comment of the cat who has seen the knave steal the tarts - no text is used, or indeed needed. The same is equally true of his other ‘toy books’, such as The House That Jack Built or The Three Jovial Huntsmen.

Kate Greenaway, however, was to some extent in a category of her own, and for the most part she chose to write and illustrate her own poems - Under the Window and Marigold Garden are perhaps her best-known books. She ‘invented’ a style of dress and a ‘never-never’ period of her own, in which she placed her elegantly clad and immaculately clean children. Her work was highly stylised and very popular - although not very well drawn (her figures tend to have no bodies under their clothes) - and this popularity has remained firm to the present day. These books were not cheap, with their fine colour printing and high-quality illustrations, but they formed a small if influential section of the children’s book market.

By contrast there was a great outpouring of muddy-coloured and indifferently illustrated works, often printed in Germany (Bavaria for the most part), which have survived in large quantities to show how widespread they were. These frequently contained not the traditional nursery rhymes or folk tales used by Caldecott and Crane, but ad hoc verses and short tales made to accompany pictures - one can hardly call them illustrations. The use of photographic methods and of the three-colour process led to a lowering of standards, while at the same time providing school and Sunday School prizes and Christmas and birthday gifts in plenty. Such books demanded little from the child, and indicated their level of approach by their titles: Our Little Dots or Little Chicks are examples - and their poorly drawn and indifferently coloured pictures matched their titles.

In the early years of the twentieth century the highly sophisticated type of work by Kate Greenaway, for example, was carried to extremes by the productions of several artists whose books lie on the borderline between those for children and those for adults. Kate Greenaway’s books had been intended for children, with their simple rhymes and games, but illustrators like the Frenchman Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen from Denmark, and Arthur Rackham offered a fantasy world which was scarcely that of the child. Of the quality of their illustrations to well-known works like Cinderella, Hans Andersen and others, there can be no doubt, and the lavishness of production ensured that the books were duly treasured, but they stand to one side of the general production of children’s books.

Although the names of Rackham, Neilsen and Dulac may be linked together as indicating a particular type of lavish book for children, their styles were very different. Of the three, Rackham was possibly the most significant because of the stories he chose to illustrate, and also because his very personal style invited imitation. Even today it is possible to describe a woodland scene as ‘Rackhamesque’, and the picture which arises in the mind’s eye is revealing. For Rackham made good use of line as well as colour, at the same time using both to convey a twilight fairy world, based on the factual (trees, flowers, buildings), but to which his art added an air of fantasy, sometimes even of the grotesque and the eerie. Although a frisson of fear does not come amiss to some children, as Charles Lamb pointed out in his essay ‘Witches and Other Night Fears’ (Essays of Elia, 1823) the more sensitive child may be greatly alarmed by illustrations, even in so-called children’s books. Both Nielsen and Dulac relied more on a subtle use of colour rather than line, and both made use of oriental and other exotic touches to conjure up the romance in the children’s books they illustrated.

Almost contemporary with these illustrators, and with a stronger touch of the real world, was Beatrix Potter. This writer, like Charles Henry Bennett, was also her own illustrator, and as a result her artistic creations have a homogeneous quality with her text. Unlike the fine (and expensive) colour books mentioned above, Beatrix Potter was determined that her books should be of a size and price to suit children - she saw her books as quite definitely aimed at the child reader, and many of her stories were first tried out on young relatives or friends. She was particularly concerned that picture and text should match each other on the page, and that both should progress from page to page with the story. Although she used only black-and-white sketches in her privately printed The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1901), the commercial edition subsequently issued by Frederick Warne (1902) was coloured, and the vast majority of the pictures in her subsequent books were in colour. Where black and white was used, it was usually subservient to the colour pages. Beatrix Potter based her art on the real world - she made many detailed studies of animals, flowers and scenes before she began to illustrate each story. Her tales are of course fantastic - but in quite a different way from those artists whom we have just been considering. There it is the trappings of their art that give rise to the fantasy - it lies in the colour, the line, the mystery. But Beatrix Potter takes identifiable places and animals and, without comment, gives them lives and speech which make them live and move in a world which is both ours and theirs. It is probably this mixture, together with the concern for the physical make-up of the little books, that has kept her work among the foremost of the twentieth-century illustrated books.

But the first two decades of the twentieth century saw a great outpouring of books of all kinds for children in Britain. The Education Acts of the previous century and the provision of a public library service all ensured a good reading public - though not necessarily a public for good books. There was much ‘run of the mill’ illustration in weekly comics and in the popular Christmas annuals and ‘bumper books’. But a lot of good work was also being provided for children, often in black and white to ensure relative cheapness. The Robinson brothers produced a wide range of good-quality illustrations during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two of the twentieth century. William Heath Robinson in particular gave new interpretations to the work of Hans Andersen and others, as well as illustrating his own stories for children. Although his best work is perhaps in his black-and-white drawings, he too was a subtle master of the three-colour process. One interesting feature of early twentieth-century illustration was the use of silhouette: it was to be found in works as diverse as Rudyard Kipling’s illustrations to his own Just So Stories (1894), W. Heath Robinson’s edition of Hans Andersen’s tales, and Arthur Rackham’s illustrations to C. S. Evans’s retelling of Cinderella (1919).

European contributions came from Hoffman, and Wilhelm Busch, whose Max und Moritz cartoons were to influence a wide range of later illustrators. From the USA, Howard Pyle was important on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the century, together with his pupils Maxfield Parrish and Jessie Willcox Smith.

There were indeed many prolific and competent artists working for the children’s market in the decades before the First World War, besides those who catered more for the luxury trade. Interestingly, most of their work was done in black and white, though their range within this limitation was quite remarkable. Among such artists was H. J. Ford, who provided the illustrations for Andrew Lang’s widely read twelve colour fairy books, which began with The Blue Fairy Book in 1889 and ended with The Lilac Fairy Book in 1910. Norman Ault and the Brock brothers were also working in the early decades of the century along similar lines, while an artist of rather greater stature and imagination was Leslie Brooke, whose Johnny Crow’s Garden, published in 1903, was deservedly popular. Having noticed at the beginning of this chapter the influence of continental artists on British book-making, it is interesting to note at this period some examples of influences working in the opposite direction. This was especially true of Maurice Boutet de Monval, whose books were influenced by Greenaway, although his colours are more subtle, and he has a charming sense of humour. He in turn greatly influenced the work of Henriette Willebeek Le Mair, a Dutch artist, with her flat pastel colours and rather flat ornamental pictures. Her work was very popular in the first decades of the twentieth century, especially accompanied by nursery rhymes, and several of her books have been recently reprinted.

In the late nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century there were almost as many women illustrators as men; notable were the Scot Jessie M. King, Anne Anderson, Jessie Wilcox Smith and Mabel Lucie Attwell. But the immediate future lay with what was almost a throwback to an earlier style. The work of William Nicholson, Cecil Aldin and John Hassall carried with it overtones of the chapbook style of the 1890s. Simple masses and flat colours, set on a spacious page, were quite striking when they first appeared, as we can see in such work as Nicholson’s An Alphabet (1898) and Aldin and Hassall’s Two Well-worn Shoe Stories (1899). It was to some extent this simpler style which was to appeal to the book-makers of the 1920s and 1930s, though all too often these lacked the courage to allow the use of blank spaces which had contributed so much to the success of the earlier artists’ work. But the 1914-18 war made a break which, though not immediately apparent in the children’s books of the 1920s, soon asserted itself, and a new era of children’s book illustration began to develop.


Further reading

Alderson, B. (1986) Sing a Song for Sixpence: The English Illustrative Tradition and Randolph Caldecott, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press in association with the British Library.

Bader, B. (1976) American Picture Books from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, New York: Macmillan. Barr, J. (1986) Illustrated Children’s Books, London: British Library.

Lewis, D. (1995a) ‘The Picture Book: A Form Awaiting Its History’, Signal 77: 99-112.

- (1995b) ‘The Jolly Postman’s Long Ride, or Sketching a Picture-Book History’, Signal 78: 178-92.

McLean, R. (1972) Victorian Book Design and Colour Printing, 2nd edn, London: Faber and Faber.

Muir, P. (1985) English Children’s Books 1600-1900, 4th imp., London: Batsford.

Nikolajeva, M. and Scott, C. (2001) How Picture Books Work, New York and London: Garland.

Whalley, J. I. (1975) ‘Cobwebs to Catch Elies’: Illustrated Books for the Nursery and Schoolroom, 1700-1900, London: Elek.

Whalley, J. I. and Chester, T. R. (1988) A History of Children’s Book Illustration, London: John Murray, with the Victoria and Albert Museum.