Timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal, which honors excellence in picture-book illustration, a slender illustrated biography of its namesake.
Though he created only 16 picture books for children in a sadly shortened but hugely productive career, Randolph Caldecott's (1846–1886) name has become inextricably linked to the form. Children's literature expert Marcus (Listening for Madeleine: A Portrait of Madeleine L'Engle in Many Voices, 2012, etc.) sketches his life swiftly but surely, introducing readers to a likable, hardworking professional. A sickly boy, Caldecott entered the workforce in 1861 at 15 as a clerk in a village bank—a job that left plenty of time for the young man to draw. He sold his first drawing before he turned 16, to a London newspaper. By 26, he was able to move to London to make his living as an illustrator; six years later, eager for a new challenge, he began to apply his talent to picture books. Though not a picture book itself, Marcus' book has the dimensions of a generously sized one. Caldecott's sketches, drawings and full-color picture-book illustrations appear throughout, as do other contemporary images that provide context. Carefully selected quotations bear witness to the artist's signature wit. The pages are of a thick, creamy stock that gives both text (set in a large, comfortingly antique-looking typeface) and illustrations a pleasing richness. Marcus provides a cogent analysis of the ways Caldecott revolutionized storytelling with pictures, creating a visual narrative that expanded on the written text and utilizing pacing and page turns to guide readers through the story. While it's a shame that some of the images referenced are not reproduced in the book, the copious examples that do appear attest to the artist's humor and growth.
A worthy illustrated tribute to the man who arguably invented the modern picture book.