Art of the Picture Book

Crocodile Tears by André François interior page, a crocodile is lounging in a bathtub Yankee Doodle: an old friend in a new dress by Howard Pyle interior page, men on galloping horses

As the market for children's books expanded and matured, publishers developed a keener understanding of their audience. Among the increasingly well-defined genres that emerged as a result was the picture book, catering to the capacities and interests of younger, often preliterate children.

Early picture books were of necessity printed in black and white, with color sometimes added afterward by hand. By the mid-1800s, however, Industrial Age wizardry had rendered color printing feasible. Talented artists—led by England's Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott—flocked from the allied realms of satirical illustration, printmaking, and graphic design to seize a new chance to make their mark.

The genre evolved rapidly via bold experimentation with media, formatting, typography, paper, and a highly distilled approach to writing that, in the hands of a master like Margaret Wise Brown, approximated poetry.

It continues to grow as an art form: the triumphant rise of the graphic novel has exploded the prejudice that comics are inferior, and with it the myth that older children—and adults—outgrow illustration. And as more books go digital, the picture book and artist's book look increasingly like the laboratory where the future of the printed book will be decided.


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Art of the Picture Book