Title: Pictured Worlds: Masterpieces of Children’s Book Art by 101 Essential Illustrators from Around the World
Author: Leonard S. Marcus
Publisher: Abrams, New York
Date: March 2023
Themes: illustrators, children’s book illustrations, history of children’s book illustrations
I honestly can’t think of a children’s author and/or illustrator, or children’s librarian or teacher who would not want to have this book on their shelves. I have had the distinct privilege of not only meeting Leonard Marcus several times in social settings, but also, I have accompanied one of his animated and informative literary walking tours of Manhattan. And lucky me, during my first year living in New York City, I visited the New York Public Library exhibition – The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter curated by Leonard. He is the foremost authority on children’s book history, having published about 30 books around the subject, and his passion for this subject is palpable both in conversation and on the written page.
This compendium is not meant to be comprehensive (how could it be?) but it does cover artists from 25 nations spanning 250 years of illustrated children’s books. It is large format and of course lavishly illustrated (Over 400 illustrations showcase landmark books from Great Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, Japan, China, Korea, Bulgaria, Argentina, Cameroon etc.) highlighting the work of 101 top children’s illustrators.
In Pictured Worlds, renowned historian Leonard S. Marcus shares his incomparable knowledge of the global phenomena of illustrated books aimed at children, which came to the fore in the UK in the 18th century. London publisher John Newbery established the first commercial market for illustrated “juveniles” in the West, and this not only became a global model but, as I learned in this book, it truly impacted kids’ lives and their literacy rates.
This tome is sweeping, illuminating, fascinating and vibrant. It starts off with the well-known Robert McCuskey’s (Boston) ducklings, but doesn’t stay with the famous. I am sure even for amateur historians and kid lit passionados, you will discover unknown artists among your favorites on these pages. There are modern favorites like Mo Willems and Yuyi Morales, 20thcentury household names like Sendak or Helen Oxenbury’s (and her famous bear hunt). Iconic Winnie the Pooh and Alice, of course feature too, as well as some of my personal childhood favorite’s like the German Emil and the Detectives (1929) illustrated by Trier who had entered into a collaboration with German journalist, poet, and songwriter Erich Kästner, or Quentin Blakes illustrious career. There were many extraordinary artists I did not know like Leonard Weisgard, born 1916, New Haven, Connecticut, US; died 2000, Glumsø, Denmark, who went on to mentor Maurice Sendak. Or, Zhang Leping, born 1910, Jiaxing, Zhejiang, China; died 1992, Shanghai, China, whose trickster child hero in the 1940’s, child hero “became a beloved avatar of Chinese resilience in the face of relentless suffering, and for many adult fans a clarion call for a meaningful government response to the plight of Shanghai’s homeless children.”
Each illustrator is introduced with a short biography, information about the book(s) and the publication history, all with copious images.
In the introduction Leonard Marcus notes that the picture book appeared for the first time in more or less the form we know it concurrently in the Edo-period in Japan and in mid-18th century England. And he points out that though on different continents there was a thriving commercial middle class excited for its children’s future and made a priority of childhood literacy. He has traced the development and spread of key genres and artistic traditions – first pop-ups, first books for toddlers and preschoolers, first truly irreverent books for the young, first books that show the influence of modern psychology, first reviews, book fairs, literary journals etc.
As a librarian, my mind dances at the research process this book must have entailed. I imagine this book was years in the making. Leonard doesn’t just share the artwork that made it into these beloved books, but shares rarely seen images from artist’s estates as well as pictures preserved in archives and museums. Among other sources, his research took him to the major university archives like the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota and the deGrummond Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi, the British Library, the Zimmerli Museum at Rutgers, Robert McCloskey’s sketchbooks at the Boston Public Library etc.
I learned not only about how the system of libraries, awards and review journals in the US children’s book world have had a major impact internationally over the last century, but of course, many American illustrators were immigrants who brought with them aspects of their own own cultures, thereby redefining the “American” picture book again and again. Here on Miss Marple’s Musings, I have made a point of interviewing diverse illustrators over the years both from in and outside the US. As my own children’s book writing has taken place over the last decade in the USA, it was good to be reminded of the worldwide love of this artform, and how from its beginnings, illustrators from all continents have been entertaining, educating and inspiring young (and old) minds.
This is a masterpiece that I unequivocally recommend. In fact, I suggest you buy a copy to keep on your coffee table, as it will be of interest to anyone who picks it up.