Exploring books for children: words and pictures
Exploring books for children: words and pictures

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Exploring books for children: words and pictures

5 Illustration

Illustration is increasingly recognised as an integral part of children’s book production, playing a role equally, if not more, important than the words of a story. This increased recognition is demonstrated by the fact that, since 1955, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, or CILIP, has awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal for ‘distinguished illustration in a children’s book’, alongside the more longstanding Carnegie prize for a work of children’s fiction (inaugurated in 1936). The Greenaway Medal has been awarded to well-known illustrators such as Shirley Hughes, Raymond Briggs, Quentin Blake and Anthony Browne. Another sign of the growing acknowledgement of the artistry and importance of pictures alongside words in children’s fiction is the now quite common use of the term ‘authorstrator’. This term was first coined by illustrator Martin Salisbury to emphasise that the illustrator needs to have an authorial voice in the finished text, as the job of the pictures is just as much a storytelling one as that of the words. In the next activity you will hear Salisbury discussing illustration.

Activity 7

Watch the following video featuring Martin Salisbury, who introduces the work of some well-known and historically important illustrators of children’s books. We have included some examples from these illustrators for you to consider as you listen; you may wish to look on the internet for more. As well as being an illustrator, Martin Salisbury teaches children’s book illustration at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.

As you listen, reflect on what the images, and Salisbury’s commentary on them, tell us about changing ideas about childhood and the child. What do you learn about the complexity of children’s books?

Download this video clip.Video player: Illustrators of children’s books
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Transcript: Illustrators of children’s books

The Victorian illustrators were perhaps the key illustrators when we start looking at books specifically for children. Kate Greenaway’s world is one of fragrance and perfect children, rose-filled gardens and cottages, the idyllic childhood. And of course, she appealed enormously to children and, perhaps more importantly, parents with this perfect world.
Water Crane’s illustration work is very much of the arts and crafts period -- extremely decorative, flat colour and shapes, quite formal drawings essentially. Randolph Caldecott’s illustrations I would say are much more earthy than people like Greenaway or Walter Crane. They somehow have that element of naughtiness and stuff going on -- much more a sense of everyday life.
Arthur Rackham is perhaps one of the most influential artists, still very much in print today, just a brilliant technician in terms of his use of watercolour combined with an extraordinary imagination. So his illustration work has great richness.
Perhaps one of the greatest illustrators, or British illustrators, certainly of the 20th century would be Edward Ardizzone. In terms of children’s books, I suppose Edward Ardizzone is best known for the Tim books. He’s often described as the quintessentially English Illustrator. His books are always full of local detail. He lived in Suffolk for a long time, and also in Kent.
Ardizzone wasn’t formally trained as an artist. He began his working life working as a clerk in an office, taking evening classes in life drawing, but was a compulsive doodler. Some people describe his work as occasionally sentimental. I don’t think it’s ever sentimental. I think it’s always affectionate and done with enormous charm.
Quentin Blake -- although his work is instantly recognisable, a very distinctive, stylistic approach -- he actually has enormous range. His work covers humour, obviously. An enormous amount of the work is humorous. But he also deals with more sad stories, famously the Sad Book with Michael Rosen.
Without consciously, stylistically changing, he seems to be able to express these very different moods and emotions through his drawing. He’s also very interested in the relationship between words and pictures. I think one of the best examples is a book he did called Cockatoos, where he’s incredibly inventive in the way he uses the viewpoint of the reader to show that we can see what’s going on, but the hapless Professor DuPont can’t see what’s going on. It’s a brilliant piece of work.
John Burningham, I think, is one of our most original artists and authors working in picture books today. He’s another artist who never talks down to the reader. His books are, at the same time, sophisticated but accessible.
There’s a crudeness to the drawing. He uses materials that you would never normally think of putting together. There’s Biro, and wax crayon, and very sensitive media alongside very crude media. And yet there is such an artistic vision that holds it all together. There’s an indefinable magic in his drawings and an incredible sense of atmosphere. A river bank scene, which is drawn entirely with green Biro, seems to somehow smell of the watery summer day.
One of the most influential picture book artists of recent is the American, Lane Smith, best known for his collaborations with the writer, Jon Scieszka. Smith and Scieszka -- and, importantly, their designer Molly Leach -- are very much a team who come together to create a picture book, and who, between the three of them, really understand the picture book as a medium, and play with it, subvert it. The designer plays a key role because very often the typography in Smith and Scieszka’s books is imagery. We find that characters are speaking about the words, and the layout, the size of the words, the often upside downness of the words, become part of the overall meaning.
Sara Fanelli is a particularly interesting artist working in picture books today. Her work is hugely admired, particularly by art students and artists generally. She’s very much the illustrators’ illustrator, I think. She’s seen as working on the edge, if you like, of contemporary illustration, always pushing the boundaries. She’s also rather batted about as an example of, in some people’s view, certain artists being too indulgent or too sophisticated for children.
It’s always difficult to know what is appropriate for children and what isn’t. I don’t think there are any rules about this. I think often artwork that is described as too sophisticated is not regarded as remotely over-sophisticated in other cultures. Children are incredibly flexible and receptive in terms of how they receive imagery.
End transcript: Illustrators of children’s books
Illustrators of children’s books
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This tour of the work of famous illustrators enables us to see how picture books have evolved according to the social and historical context in which they were produced. Kate Greenaway’s idyllic imagery, for example, suggests that the 1880s were a time of nostalgia in Britain, dominated by an idea of childhood as safe, innocent and carefree. The style, words and imagery of the Smith/Scieszka/Leach partnership, on the other hand, suggest that a certain amount of mischief – even anarchy – is normal and acceptable in a young child. Salisbury’s in-depth knowledge of illustration enables him to present a nuanced assessment of the work of a wide range of children’s illustrators. His commentary shows how complex this field is. For example, illustration is at the heart of debates about what is ‘suitable’ for children, and the level of sophistication that they can cope with. Salisbury appears to be of the view that children can absorb and enjoy very sophisticated images, and that the British market, at least, tends to be rather conservative in this regard.


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