Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing

Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing

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by Leonard S. Marcus, Randolph Caldecott

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Randolph Caldecott is best known as the namesake of the award that honors picture book illustrations, and in this inventive biography, leading children’s literature scholar Leonard Marcus examines the man behind the medal. In an era when the steam engine fueled an industrial revolution and train travel exploded people’s experience of space and time,… See more details below


Randolph Caldecott is best known as the namesake of the award that honors picture book illustrations, and in this inventive biography, leading children’s literature scholar Leonard Marcus examines the man behind the medal. In an era when the steam engine fueled an industrial revolution and train travel exploded people’s experience of space and time, Caldecott was inspired by his surroundings to capture action, movement, and speed in a way that had never before been seen in children’s picture books. Thoroughly researched and featuring extensive archival material and a treasure trove of previously unpublished drawings, including some from Caldecott’s very last sketchbook, Leonard Marcus’s luminous biography shows why Caldecott was indeed the father of the modern picture book and how his influence lives on in the books we love today.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Marcus (Listening for Madeleine) begins his biography of the illustrator for whom the Caldecott Medal is named with some historical background, describing the changes wrought in 19th-century Great Britain by the steam engine, which eased travel and greatly expanded distribution of media. He details Caldecott’s early days clerking in a bank and his search for freelance illustration work, then describes how diligence and charm lead to his first book-illustrating assignment, a great success: “The world had discovered a new genius,” as one of his contemporaries put it. Caldecott produced celebrated artwork for children’s books meant to be seen and purchased by train travelers on the run, until his untimely death at age 40. He left a legacy of illustration conventions still in use today: fully developed visual stories that complement the text; the spacing out of passages of text over many pages; even the idea of royalties rather than flat fees. Marcus’s thorough attention to detail, sober writing, and social conscience all contribute to an exemplary juvenile biography. A handful of illustrations enliven every spread, revealing the artist’s gift for capturing action in a few swift lines. Ages 10–15. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Sharon Salluzzo
Caldecott “had a ready smile and easy going manner.” Although his first job was as a bank clerk, it was his sketchbook that would eventually help him discover his career. Born in 1846, a time period of great growth and change with the industrial revolution, Caldecott saw the opportunity to make a living as an illustrator, first by selling his drawings to the illustrated newspapers and eventually by creating books. Marcus knows his subject well and uses his wealth of knowledge from his research to create an engaging and lively biography. Profuse illustrations of Caldecott’s sketches and drawings inform the text in many ways: showing Caldecott’s humor and the playfulness of his sketches and his drawing (literally) upon the local geography and architecture when creating his illustrations. The reader learns what made Caldecott’s art outstanding, such as how he combined formal painting and line sketches—a new idea at the time. Marcus discusses Caldecott’s thought-process for indicating passage of time, making close-up views of a particular detail and even creating illustrations that would tell a second story that somehow complemented the one told in words. Every library ought to own a copy. It should be required reading for every Youth Librarian, children’s book illustrator, and anyone interested in the history of children’s literature. It would be a perfect gift for any of the aforementioned. Back matter includes a Randolph Caldecott timeline, listings of his books, and source notes, and bibliography. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo; Ages 12 up.
School Library Journal
★ 10/01/2013
Gr 6 Up—Marcus has sifted through a variety of archival collections to find fresh material by and about the celebrated 19th-century British illustrator. Opening with an arresting self-portrait, the volume chronicles Caldecott's birth, rise in British social circles, travels, publications, marriage, and untimely death. The book is handsomely designed with a jacket bordered in the burnt sienna favored by Caldecott. Endpapers are decorated with cameos; thick, cream-colored paper lends richness. Marcus skillfully places his subject in historical context, weaving in such concepts as the impact of the advent of the train on the artist's energetic style and the influence of contemporaries (Turner, Whistler, Tenniel). He wonders, convincingly, if Caldecott had seen Muybridge's photographs proving that horses run with all four legs in the air-and if they inspired his depiction of John Gilpin's galloping horse that graces the Caldecott Medal. Art and quotations bolster the narrative, building the character of a complex man and ultimately detailing his contributions to picture-book design. The question of audience arises. With a trim size comparable to a portrait-style picture book, a page count of 64, and examples with clear child appeal, this is not pitched to academics. Yet, its scrupulous documentation, thorough back matter, and sophisticated language, e.g., "The epicenter of England's burgeoning textile industry, Manchester was a new kind of city," indicate it is also not for casual, child readers. It will be a delight for picture-book enthusiasts and a provocative introduction for those who want the backstory of the man behind the medal.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
9.40(w) x 12.00(h) x 0.60(d)
NC1280L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

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