The illustration of children's books has a very long
history. Its significance was reinforced by a comment by John Locke in
1693 recommending the necessity of illustrations in children's books.
Although Locke’s prescient statement had little immediate impact, from
the 1750s onwards, illustrations appeared in substantial ways in the
children's books published by John Newbery and also in chapbooks, cheap
early versions of children’s story books, usually available for the
sum of one penny.
During the Victorian age picture books flourished in England
when Kate Greenaway, Walter Crane, and Randolph Caldecott created
illustrated books especially for children. Of these three, Randolph
Caldecott is regarded as the real inventor of the picture book as we
know it today. He perfected the unification of text and illustration,
allowing illustrations to interpret and extend text beyond words, and
created illustrations without borders. His significance was
commemorated by the creation of the Caldecott Medal in 1937 by the
American Library Association. The award is presented annually to the
most distinguished American Picture Book for Children. Not only is the
award named for Caldecott, but the image on the Caldecott medal depicts
the cover image from his The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1878).
Techniques through which illustrations have been created
have evolved over time, but the development of newer techniques did not
mean older ones were abandoned. Authors of one generation have
frequently borrowed technique from their predecessors to achieve a
The earliest techniques of illustration ranged from wood
block printing through woodcut and metal engravings. Evaline Ness’s
illustrations for Lucille Clifton’s Some of the Days of Everett Anderson (1970)
present a nice use of the older technique of woodcuts in a newer book.
Another early technique popular throughout the 19th and 20th centuries
was pen and ink illustration, sometime done in conjunction with
watercolor, which we see in both Arthur Rackham’s The Peter Pan Portfolio (1914) and Caldecott award-winning artist Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations for Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1985).
Rackham (1867-1939) was one of the most acclaimed illustrators of his time, and the Portfolio was an enlarged version of selected illustrations he created for his 1906 edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens; the Portfolio contained
twelve images from the original book, and was published with large
proof-size color plates in mats that were intended to be suitable for
framing. While Rackham was not pleased with the quality of the
reproductions, the book went on to become one his most successful.
Similarly, Hyman (1939-2004) was also a tremendously popular
illustrator, and her use of color and style show the strong influence
of Rackham over her work.
Painting and drawing were also popular forms of
illustration, appearing in a variety of styles throughout the 20th
century. Margaret Wise Brown’s and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon (1947)
is a classic of Children’s literature. Hurd’s acrylic paintings
provide an excellent example of the appeal of basic colors and simple
lines. Similarly, highly renowned and Caldecott Award-winning artist
Jerry Pinkney is known for his colorful and beautiful watercolor
paintings; his illustrations for Julius Lester’s John Henry (1994) bring the African American folk hero to life.
Satoru Sato’s and Tsutomu Murakami’s I Wish I Had a Big, Big Tree
(1971; translated to English 1984) is another example of illustrations
rendered in watercolor, this time combined with ink and gouache. The
book’s design is also interesting, since it not only progresses from
right to left but also needs to be turned vertically at times in order
to look at the picture properly. Kevin Henkes, who won the Caldecott
medal for his Kitten’s First Full Moon (2004), also utilizes
gouache but combines it with colored pencil. His black and white
illustrations provide a startling change from the full color
illustrations popular throughout the 20th century. However, his use of
strong lines and simple shapes draw the eye’s attention, and his poetic
wording makes the story easily accessible for even very young readers.
Another 20th century development in illustration includes the use of collage. Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (1962),
which won the Caldecott award, is an excellent early example of this
technique in children’s book illustration. The book is also significant
because it was the first American picture book to be published with an
African American protagonist, and is thus recognized for introducing
multiculturalism into mainstream American Children’s literature. Keats
is also considered one of the first illustrators in the
English-speaking world to use urban settings for his picture books.
David Diaz uses collage as well as acrylic paintings in his illustrations to Eve Bunting’s Smoky Night (1994).
The book, which also won the Caldecott award, tells the story of a
young boy’s experience of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, and ends with a
strong and positive message of multiculturalism. Diaz’s illustrations
reinforce the book’s theme, uniting not only acrylic paintings with
collage, but creating collages from disparate objects ranging from
canvas and bubble wrap to broken glass, matches, cereal, and Styrofoam
crinkles, to name but a few. Moreover, his acrylic paintings render all
of the people with similar facial features, all of which are African
American in style; his choice to depict a kind of ‘Everyman’ with
African American features, despite the characters’ different Asian
American, Latino, and other ethnic backgrounds, reinforces the ways in
which our perceptions of culture are finally changing and expanding to
become more inclusive.
Illustration style can refer not only to media, but also to
the way in which an artist creates stories through both text and
illustrations. Anthony Browne, a British illustrator who won the Hans
Christian Andersen medal for lifetime achievement in 2000, stretches the
boundaries of picture book illustration with his Voices in the Park (1998).
His watercolor paintings provide a near-photographic sense of realism,
but they are blended with fantastic touches that strongly show the
influence of both surrealism and post-impressionism. Containing
numerous intertextual references to such artists as Edward Hopper, René
Magritte, and Edvard Munch, Browne still creates original illustrations
which contain such whimsical details as a man nonchalantly walking an
alligator. Moreover, his narrative in this story, which splits into
four different voices with each telling the same story from a different
perspective, introduced a relatively new approach for storytelling in
Similarly, Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm have borrowed
an older style and rendered it new: their cartoon-like story and
illustrations for Babymouse, Queen of the World (2005)
illustrates the movement towards graphic images for not just young
children but for older readers as well, a phenomenon that took off in
the late 1990s and remains popular today.