________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


Randolph Caldecott: His Books and Illustrations for Young Readers.

Robert J. Desmarais.
Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Libraries / University of Alberta Press, 2006.
117 pp., pbk. & cl., $24.95 (pbk.), $40.00 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55195-207-6 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55195-209-2 (cl.).


Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

*** /4


In looking at Caldecott's work for young people, one is reminded that there are two principal aspects to illustrating children's books: the lighthearted and the serious aesthetic. Caldecott never separated the two; his purpose was to make a book as pleasurable and as beautiful as possible. Morever, his illustrations provided children with the pleasure of forgetting about their worldly cares and responsibilities. Caldecott wanted children to experience the emotions, thoughts, and actions of a full variety of fascinating characters. This process of making literature meaningful to children by offering intricate patterns of emotional involvement was unprecedented.

The twelve page introduction of this text provides detailed information about the life of Randolph Caldecott. Readers learn about Caldecott's first published illustrations, and about his friendships with other accomplished artists, including Kate Greenway, James Whistler, Albert Moore and George du Maurier. Desmarais also includes acknowledgement of the work of Edmund Evans, the expert colour printer who designed and printed the 16 Picture Books or which Caldecott is perhaps most well known. Desmarais describes several of the Picture Books, identifying many common elements of the illustrations and of the narrative themes of these selections of literature. According to Desmarais, Caldecott was a “master of observation,” (p. v) and that his illustrations, which are often depicted from “a child's point of view” (p. xiv), provide readers with a range of human experiences. Desmarais also writes that Caldecott believed that children “yearn for adventure” (p. xii) and he desired to “stimulate the young reader's imagination with the sense that children have unlimited potential” (p. xv).

     Following the introduction is a catalogue of 26 works illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. In the preface, Desmarais explains that the works exhibited in the book are from his own personal collection. Some of the profiled books that span the years from 1873-1886 were both written and illustrated by Caldecott (e.g., the Picture Books). As well as a narrative description of each of the 26 featured books, Desmarais includes accompanying coloured or sepia reproductions of Caldecott's illustrations. Indeed, Desmarais's passion for and knowledge about the work of Randolph Caldecott are most evident in this text.

     The catalogue organization of the book results in repetition as some of the featured works are also described by Desmarais in the introduction. In addition, as described in the introduction, common illustrative elements and techniques can be discerned by examining Caldecott's work. Thus, Desmarais's observations and interpretations of Caldecott's work become repetitive in nature. Further, in several places in the book, Desmarais writes about how children will read, view and interpret Caldecott's illustrations. However, the latter are the opinions of Desmarais, not children, and he provides no research to support his suppositions that are presented as facts and not speculations. Desmarais does provide a list of cited works which can be consulted for further reading on Caldecott. Interestingly, there is no mention of the prestigious award named for Randolph Caldecott that is given annually to the illustrator of the most distinguished picture book for children published in the United States.


Sylvia Pantaleo is a language arts professor in the Faculty of Education, University of Victoria, in Victoria, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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