1940-50: war and the immediate post-war period - The picture book - Forms and genres - children’s literature

Children’s literature

Part II. Forms and genres


25. The picture book


Michele Anstey and Geoff Bull


1940-50: war and the immediate post-war period


The immediate effect of the Second World War in England was paper rationing and shortages. The result was that, during the war few books with illustrations were published, and those that were published had narrow margins and poor binding on poor-quality paper. Fold-out and very basic pop-up books were popular, as were the shaped toy books of the Marspen series, produced by Marks and Spencer’s stores.

It was also during this time that Picture Puffin Books were established with Kathleen Hale’s Orlando’s Evening Out (1941), emphasising the constraints of wartime. A series of information books covering a variety of subjects was one of the more significant developments (Whalley and Chester 1988: 198)). The Puffin series began in 1941 and had published over a hundred titles by the mid-1960s. Clarke Hutton produced a Picture History series with books on Britain, France, Canada and the United States intended for self-education because of the wartime evacuation of many English children and the interruptions to their education. But despite the long-term effects of the war on Britain, the place of the picture book was recognised as a separate and important entity in children’s book publishing, with the establishment in 1955 of the Kate Greenaway Medal awarded by the British Library Association.

During the same period in Australia the influx of American servicemen, and Australian servicemen being away from home, led to a demand for books as gifts for fathers to send home. This was the era when a large number of picture books with largely Australian characters and settings became available. Such titles as Digit Dick on the Barrier Reef, The Story of Shy the Platypus and The Story of Karrawingi the Emu written by Lesley Rees and illustrated by Walter Cunningham signalled the arrival of Rees and Cunningham as a market force. The Story of Karrawingi the Emu received the first Australian Children’s Book Council (CBC) Book of the Year Award in 1946, and in 1952 Australian Picture Book of the Year Award was instituted, although it was given only four times between 1952 and 1970, indicating the paucity of the offerings.

There were few new picture books in the USA during the war (Bader 1976: 333), although the Little Golden Books of 1942 grew into major industry by 1953 with Big Golden Books, Tiny Golden Books (a boxed collection), Golden Story Books, Golden Play Books and Little Golden Records (and even Little Golden Writing Paper), with themes aimed at reinforcing socially acceptable behaviour, responsibility and appropriate values. The picture books of Dr Seuss remained very popular, while Maurice Sendak explored the world of childhood with his illustrations for A Hole Is to Dig by Ruth Krauss (1952) and his own books such as Kenny’s Window (1956) and The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960). The USA also moved into information books with a series of nature books by Tresselt and Duvoisin published between 1953 and 1975; other countries followed.

This period was a significant period of change in the design, layout and format of picture books. The double-page spread was used more and illustrations began to be found in margins and cartoon-like sequences across the page, interspersed between written text. Endpapers also became an integral part of the book and books were produced in a range of sizes and portrait and landscape formats. Colour began to be used more deliberately to denote mood and the range of media used for illustration expanded.

Noticeable too was a change in the view of the reader. Authors and illustrators now positioned the reader in a range of new perspectives that demanded different interaction with both the written and illustrative text, and tended to give the reader and viewer more agency in making meaning. Dr Seuss recognised an expanded audience in parents reading to young children and included messages for them as well (as in Horton Meets a Who, 1954).