Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing

Have you seen the new biography Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus caldecott-randolphyet?

Who Is Randolph Caldecott?

Each year the American Library Association awards a medal to the artist who has produced the most distinguished picture book in the previous year. This award is called the Caldecott Medal, and it is named for Randolph Caldecott. You can find a list of Caldecott Medal winners from 1938 until the present at the American Library Association website.

Randolph Caldecott was born in Chester, Cheshire, England on 22 March 1846. It is said he enjoyed the country life as a child. He did show an early interest in art. His father was an accountant who didn’t want Randolph to be an artist. Still, as a child Randolph continued to sketch from nature, carve wooden animals, model with clay, and paint.

When he was 15, Randolph followed in his father’s footsteps, and took a job as a bank clerk. He moved to Wirswall, a village near the town of Whitechurch, Shropshire. Caldecott loved to ride, hunt and fish. He often rode around the countryside when he was out visiting clients or when he wasn’t working. Many of the illustrations he drew later on are of buildings and scenery of that part of Cheshire.

In 1872 Randolph quit his job as a banker and moved to London to become a full time illustrator. During this time, a printer named Edmund Evans was working on printing books for children with high-quality color illustrations. Around 1878 he asked Caldecott to illustrate some children’s books he was putting together to sell for Christmas. He used a woodgraving technique that produced high quality illustrations.

Caldecott’s lively illustrations were full of action and humor. Children loved them and they became very popular. Over his short life he produced 17 picture books with Evans.

In fact, Caldecott is thought by many to have produced the first true picture book. What does that mean? In previous works the illustrations merely supplemented the text. Starting with Caldecott’s books, now the pictures became part of the story. His illustrations told as much or more of the story as the text did. Rather than writing his own stories, however, Caldecott chose to illustrate tales and poems written by others.

Unfortunately, Caldecott had health problems. He often took holidays to warmer climates. When he traveled to Florida for his health in 1886, he passed away unexpectedly (just before his 40th birthday) and was buried in St. Augustine, Florida. Even though his life was cut short, his work had a tremendous impact on children’s picture books, an influence that continues to this day.

This biography by Leonard S. Marcus is a scholarly work, illustrated by many of Caldecott’s works. Marcus is definitely passionate about Caldecott and this enthusiasm shines throughout the book.

There may be some questions about the intended audience. If you just glance at the physical size of the book and number of illustrations, you might guess it is a picture book. If you look at the reading level and density of the text, however, you realize it is meant for older middle grade to young adult. For example, take this snippet:

“His picture books, like Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-action photographs of animals and people in motion, were original expressions of a forward-looking time:  the age of rapid rail travel, instantaneous telegraphic communication, and the quintessential modern art form- the motion picture.”

Personally, I think younger children might enjoy looking at the illustrations, which truly are stories in themselves. Older children interested in art or in writing could benefit from learning about Caldecott’s contributions. Finally, I know there will be many adults who will find Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing to be a fascinating examination of the life of the man who earns the title “father of the children’s picture book.”

Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Grade Level: 5 – 9
Hardcover: 64 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR); (August 27, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0374310254
ISBN-13: 978-0374310257

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Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. We invite you to join us. For more information and a schedule, stop by Booktalking to see who is hosting each week.

Today’s round up is at Stacking Books.

5 Replies to “Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing”

  1. Thanks for sharing this lovely review. I admit that I had never read an autobiography on Caldecott although I follow the awards religiously! I think its a wonderful tribute that the book should read like a picture book as well. Thanks for sharing on NF Monday!
    -Reshama @Stackingbooks.com

  2. I’ve had this one on my desk, and have been meaning to read it. I agree, it looks as if it will appeal to older readers (and librarians!). Thanks for reminding me.

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