children's book illustration

The Golden Age of Illustration

After a decline during the early 1920s, the golden age of the picture book began with the publication of Wanda Gág's Millions of Cats (1928). In 1938 the American Library Association instituted the Caldecott Medal for the most distinctive American picture book for children. The first recipient was Dorothy Lathrop for Animals of the Bible (1937). A number of major illustrators whose works are still popular emerged in the 1930s. Kurt Wiese illustrated Kipling's Mowgli Stories (1936). Helen Sewell employed a realistic style for The First Bible (1934).

Maud and Miska Petersham's The Christ Child (1931) and Jean de Brunhoff's broadly drawn, delightful Story of Babar, the Little Elephant (1931) were among the outstanding books of the 30s. Robert Lawson's Ben and Me (1939) was the first of many witty books that he wrote and illustrated, including Rabbit Hill (1944) and The Fabulous Flight (1949). Dr. Seuss's popular, cleverly drawn books for young children began with And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). Boris Artzybasheff illustrated Aesop and The Seven Simeons (both 1937) with bold woodcuts.

In the next decade Robert McCloskey produced superb illustrations for Make Way for Ducklings (1941). Garth Williams's realistic, expressive drawings brought to life E. B. White's Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952). The painter Maxfield Parrish created a series of glowing and colorful illustrations for a children's version of The Arabian Nights (1947). Wesley Dennis created powerful watercolors for many horse books by Marguerite Henry. The first book in the charming Madeleine series, written and illustrated in a broad, painterly style by Ludwig Bemelmans, appeared in 1939; his Parsley (1953), the story of a stag, incorporates a colorful catalog of wildflowers. Marcia Brown's Puss in Boots (1952) is light and whimsical.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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