Most of my life has been involved with children's picture books. I was, and remain, a collector of these books. Of course, I read and enjoy them continuously. I have studied the lives and methods of their creators, and remarked the changes in technique, printing and narration. I have visited the Bologna Children's Book Fair and wondered at the variety and profusion of the books from around the world. I have been a editor and publisher of picture books, deciding what to publish, and helping authors and artists coordinate their visions. I have sat on a jury seeking to define and reward contemporary illustrators. I have authored books on various aspects of the picture book, and have written text for many picture books. I have worked with illustrators to bring visual life to my ideas.
Becoming a Child Again: Children do not write or illustrate their own books. Adults do this by reaching down into their memories and imaginations to recapture what a child experiences. They become, as they work, children again. Readers, too, if the book works, feel and see as a child. Both readers and creators tend to idealize childhood, omitting the insecurity and confusion most children have. This idealization, on the writer's and illustrator's part, has the benefit of showing the child readers an orderly and burnished view of their own lives, providing a pattern for response and growth. –Welleran Poltarnees
There is a rightness in three characters that is inescapable, but elusive. The Three Bears are perhaps three because that is the least possible members of a family with children. The differing response of each of the bears is a large part of the story's delight. The Three Little Pigs are three because there needed to be a number of responses to the wolf's aggression. Four would have been tedious; two would have been abrupt. The three kittens who lost their mittens could have been two or four, but three has a subtle rightness, as it does in the Three Blind Mice. The Three Billy Goats Gruff provide satisfying drama, much like the Three Little Pigs.
Of all the wonderful illustrators of the past, Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) stands, in the minds of most people, as the exemplar. He is to fantastic illustration what Picasso is to modern painting. Of course, this is erroneous, for no one artist truly stands above everyone else. This said, Rackham is excellent in a variety of ways. His career was long, extending from 1893 to his death in 1939. His powers of imagination were remarkable; his fairies, for example, seeming truer than almost anyone else's. His palette is muted, but he never falls into fogginess; bringing the softness to life with a touch of color. He was as brilliant in black and white as he was in color. He had a vastly superior sense of balance and design. He was a fine draftsman, able to render figures and faces with accuracy. Finally, he worked at the highest level for 40 years, creating illustrations for more than 50 books; still triumphant with the animals of the Wind in the Willows, painted in the last year of his life.
Louis Wain (1860-1939) was an English illustrator who specialized in cats, dressed and acting like human beings. He started as a magazine illustrator, but in the late 1880's he illustrated several children's books featuring his distinctively humorous cats and dogs. They were immensely popular and called forth a torrent of postcards, magazine illustrations, painting and books, almost all featuring his cats. He was very popular for the next 20 years, but competition from other humanized-animal artists grew fiercer year by year.
Since 1972 it has been our avowed purpose to call attention to the vast treasure of illustrations found in old children's books. We have a large library of these books. We frequently browse them ourselves, saying, "Look at this wonderful picture!" Our publications are our way of sharing our enthusiasm for these images. Most of our notecards, books and other publications show these largely forgotten illustrations, and yet, in forty years we have barely touched this treasure trove.
The invention of the book is one of mankind's greatest triumphs. Inside its compactness lies worlds, even universes, of adventure, thought and exploration. Once they are created, they wait silently, needing no maintenance, until someone opens their covers and lets loose their energy. They are not consumed by use, but can be passed from person to person with undiminished potential. One needs no fuel or special circumstances to read them, which is why they are so often carried to desert islands. One can read them in bed, in the bathtub, in a treetop, at a restaurant table, on a camel's back, in the loft of a barn. They are a perfection, which is why we love them.
Books that are organized by the twenty-six letters of our alphabet abound, and for good reason. Children enjoy them because they make the job of learning the alphabet pleasant. The images connect the letters with the words in a satisfying manner. B, by itself, is an abstraction, but as the beginning of bunny, baseball, balloon, bathtub and banana it becomes an interesting part of our daily life. Illustrators enjoy the imagination, and the books are always in demand. Publishers value them because the are needed by every family with children. Children's book collectors like them because their variety is intriguing and nearly infinite.
Benjamin Rabier (1864-1939) was a prolific French illustrator, creating early cartoons for periodicals as well as for myriad books, the first of which was published in 1895. He made children's films in the 1930s for Pathé Bebe. He invented many vaudeville acts and developed the beloved Laughing Cow logo.