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Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books.

RANDOLPH CALDECOTT'S PICTURE BOOKS. Randolph Caldecott. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library Press, 2008. 236 pp. $26.95. The Caldecott Medal, awarded by the American Library Association since 1937 for excellence in children's book illustration, is named for a 19th century English illustrator, Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886). Caldecott began his career as a magazine illustrator; in 1877, he was asked to illustrate two children's books for Christmas: The House That Jack Built and The Diverting History of Jack Gilpin. They were immediate successes and a new facet of his career was born.

The publication of Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books, the third installment in the Huntington Library Children's Classics series featuring facsimiles from books and manuscripts in their collection, is a treat not to be missed. The book is produced in a square format, and the printing and binding are very high quality. The reproductions of nine of Caldecott's most popular books, including his first two, are printed on heavy ivory paper. The line work is reproduced in sepia tong while the color illustrations look like their hand-colored 19th century originals. Because these are facsimiles, the type is not reset and the layouts are true to Caldecott's vision.

Caldecott's books are not wordy--his illustrations are filled with nuances and need time to be studied. The abundant details can be innocuous and humorous. For example, Baby Bunting is a rhyme with 12 panels and 18 words. The story is simple: Father goes hunting to bag a rabbit to clothe his naked baby. Five panels are devoted to the chase, led by a lively dog followed by Father, carrying a rifle, on his horse. The sixth panel shows Father in front of an establishment, with a woman holding a rabbit skin. A sign above the door reads: Dealer in Hare & Rabbit Skins. The next panel shows Baby in the rabbit skin, crawling toward an ecstatic Father. The last panel shows Baby walking in the woods, dressed in the cuddly rabbit coat, holding Mother's hand. They pass 20 little rabbits and as Baby and the rabbits stare at one another, we are left to ponder their thoughts. Maurice Sendak concluded that Baby Bunting's expression seems to query, "Does something have to die to dress me?"

This reader found Sendak-esque foreshadowings everywhere in Caldecott's illustrations--the ancestors of Mickey in the Night Kitchen and Max and the Land of the Wild Things abound in Caldecott's stories. In fact, Maurice Sendak wrote in his introduction to The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, "When I came to picture books, it was Randolph Caldecott who really put me where I wanted to be.... Caldecott did it best, much better than anyone who ever lived." Caldecott also had a great influence on such authors as Kate Greenaway and Beatrix Potter.

Although this volume of Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books is not for the preschool picture book basket, it is to be read and studied. It should be shared with a child on your lap, or contemplated in a discussion of children's book illustrations. It will be its most valuable as we ponder the timeless nature of a child's imagination and the wonder and laughter of children. Reviewed by Linda Schaffzin, Director of Admissions, Lehrman Community Day School, Miami Beach, FL.

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Author:Schaffzin, Linda
Publication:Childhood Education
Article Type:Children's review
Date:Dec 22, 2009
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