Caldecott, Randolph 1846–1886

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Randolph Caldecott


(Full name Randolph J. Caldecott) English illustrator and author of picture books.

The following entry presents an overview of Caldecott's career through 2001. For further information on his life and works, see CLR, Volume 14.


Often credited as the father of the modern picture book, Caldecott was a seventeenth-century master illustrator whom helped revolutionize the form and format of illustrated children's literature. Working during the same period as fellow Victorian artists Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane, Caldecott approached picture books from an innovative perspective, adding bold colors and graphic texture that helped usher in the so-called "Golden Age" of children's book illustration. In a dramatic break from the bland chapbooks that previously dominated the Victorian era, Caldecott's texts fused art and language to add new contextual dimensions to familiar stories and fairy tales. In his honor, the Caldecott Medal is presented by the American Library Association "for the most distinguished American children's books published the previous year."


Caldecott was born on March 22, 1846, to John and Mary Dinah Brookes Caldecott, in the historic village of Old Chester in the west central county of Cheshire, England. An artistic prodigy, Caldecott began sketching by the age of six. He proved to be a precocious student of illustration, copying images from his surroundings in a variety of mediums, including ink, clay, and wood. During his youth, Caldecott nearly died after a bout of rheumatic fever, and the effects of the disease troubled him for the rest of his life. Accepted at the nearby King Henry VIII School, Caldecott was an excellent student and eventually became head boy, a position of authority at English boarding schools. Upon graduating from King School at the age of fifteen in 1861, Caldecott's father coordinated an apprenticeship for him at Whitchurch & Ellesmere Bank in rural Whitchurch, Shropshire. Enjoying the pastoral atmosphere of his new home, Caldecott became an active outdoorsman, participating in hunting, racing, and touring the neighboring countryside, aspects of which became models for his later illustrations in such works as The Three Jovial Huntsmen (1880). He was first published in the Illustrated London News, whom reproduced Caldecott's illustration of a tragic fire that destroyed the Queen Railway Hotel in Chester in 1861. Despite his love for Whitchurch, Caldecott transferred to the head office of the Manchester & Salford Bank in Manchester in 1867, where he saw greater opportunities. In Manchester, Caldecott looked to expand his artistic skills and reputation, enrolling at the Manchester School of Art and joining the Brasenose Club—a gentleman's club focused on the advancement of art, English, and science. Slowly, Caldecott began to build an artistic reputation and saw many of his drawings published in local newspapers and journals. In 1870 painter Thomas Armstrong passed Caldecott's name to Henry Blackburn, the editor of the London Society. Caldecott became a regular contributor to London Society and, spurred by his growing prestige, quit his banking job and moved to London in 1872. He quickly became a sought-after commissioned artist for various publications, including Punch, Harper's Monthly, and the New York Daily Graphic. That same year, Blackburn offered Caldecott the chance to illustrate his forthcoming travelogue of the Harz Mountains; the resulting book was called The Harz Mountains: A Tour in the Toy Country (1873).

Caldecott's first children's illustrations appeared in Louisa Morgan's Baron Bruno: Or, the Unbelieving Philosopher, and Other Fairy Stories (1875), although he received his first major accolades for his accompanying artwork for a collection of the works of Washington Irving titled Old Christmas: Selections from the Sketch-Book (1875). These books caught the attention of Edmund Evans, a prominent printer and engraver who had been successfully collaborating with Walter Crane on a series of popular children's books. By the mid-1870s, however, their twelve-year partnership had collapsed, due in part to Evans's notoriously low compensation scale. Looking for a suitable replacement, Evans enlisted Caldecott's services for two Christmas releases—The House that Jack Built (1878) and the William Cowper tale The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1878). Both editions were successful, and Caldecott agreed to illustrate two picture books annually for Evans. The resulting sixteen picture books, published over an eight year span—from 1878 until shortly before Caldecott's death in 1886—provide the bulk of the illustrator's legacy. In 1879 Caldecott moved to Kent, marrying Marian Brind in 1880. By 1882 Caldecott's fame had reached the United States due in part to printing advances and Evans's growing literary empire. Enticed by American publishers, Caldecott traveled by ship to New York in 1886 and ventured further down America's Atlantic coastline. He unexpectedly died on February 12, 1886, in St. Augustine, Florida, where his remains were interned. In recognition of his immense impact on the world of children's book illustration, the Horn Book Magazine uses a variation on Caldecott's famous Three Jovial Huntsmen illustration as its cover art. Caldecott also received several prestigious appointments during his lifetime, such as his election to the Royal Institute of Watercolor Painting in 1872 and to the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts in 1879. Additionally, in 1869, Caldecott had a picture hung in the Royal Manchester Institute, and one of his pieces was hung in the Royal Academy for the first time in 1876.


Given his strong affinity for the outdoors, it is not surprising that nature and hunting play dominant roles in many of Caldecott's most famous illustrated works. Particularly in the texts in which he served as both author and illustrator—such as The Three Jovial Huntsmen—Caldecott glorifies the unbounded freedom of the outdoors through deceptively simple illustrations and spare language punctuated by expressive phraseology. His artwork reflected an espoused joyful simplicity; Henry Blackburn described Caldecott's artistic style as "the art of leaving out as a science," which dictated that "the fewer lines, the less error created." This informal storytelling philosophy is evinced throughout Caldecott's publications in both his illustrations and prose. In Hey Diddle Diddle, and Baby Bunting (1882), which critic Rita Smith describes as a "nursery rhyme which Caldecott expands through his illustrations to include humor and a depth of meaning that just isn't there in the rhyme itself," the appeal of the "Baby Bunting" story is largely found within its accompanying pictures. The illustrations offer a light, airy atmosphere, presenting a tangential storyline not found within the simplistic lines of the basic rhyme. The actual rhyme consists of only four lines: "Bye, baby bunting / Father's Gone a hunting / Gone to fetch a rabbit-skin / To wrap the baby bunting in." As seen through Caldecott's eyes, this text becomes a twelve-page story told almost exclusively through pictures. In the visual storyline, we watch Baby Bunting's father ineffectually hunt for a rabbit until his hunting dog eventually leads him to a shop where he can finally purchase his sought-after rabbit skin. However, despite the whimsy and humor of Caldecott's subjects, his illustrations frequently feature touches of the macabre. For example, in "Baby Bunting," when the baby girl takes a walk with her mother wearing the full-length rabbit skin, she passes a group of live rabbits, whom lock eyes with the girl in a glance of morbid fascination. According to famed children's author Maurice Sendak, this is part of the subtle genius of Caldecott's art: "You can't say it's a tragedy, but something hurts. Like a shadow passing quickly over. It is this which gives a Caldecott book—however frothy the verses and pictures—its unexpected depth." Caldecott's children's works are filled with similar moments. In A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go (1883), our amphibious hero—whom Caldecott grants such human flourishes as a hat—is eaten in full view of two small children. The she-bear in Samuel Foote's The Great Panjandrum Himself (1885) perishes in a similar fashion, while the royal children of Sing a Song for Sixpence (1880) stare in horrified amazement as blackbirds pore out from their pies.


Maurice Sendak has argued that Caldecott's contribution to children's literature "heralds the beginning of the modern picture book," going on to claim that Caldecott "devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book." Certain scholars have noted that Caldecott's particular strength at imbuing anthropomorphic animals with decidedly human personalities has undoubtedly influenced such subsequent children's authors as Sendak, Beatrix Potter, and Margaret Wise Brown. Critics of the Golden Age of children's book illustration have continually debated Caldecott's talents in comparison to the works of Crane and Greenaway, though there has been no scholarly consensus on which of the three artists has had the most influential legacy. John Cech has stated that while Caldecott "effectively established the dynamic new form of the modern new picture book (that is) a vital means for both verbal and visual storytelling" he is, nonetheless, "taken for granted, without much discussion or study." Certain commentators have attributed this lack of critical attention to changing cultural aesthetics, with some critics noting that Caldecott's heavily stylized illustrations appear somewhat antiquated in dress and appearance. Furthermore, many of Caldecott's works are based on seventeenth-century nursery rhymes, which have a limited appeal to modern readers. However, despite such debates, Caldecott's illustrations were widely praised by his contemporaries, with Crane lauding the "extraordinary vivacity and humour of his drawings." Caldecott's frequent collaborator, Julia Horatia Ewing, confessed to being "daft about (his picture books)—the draughtsmanship so nervous and fine—the whole artistic satisfactoriness so completely free of trick and so thoroughly the outcome of labour." After Caldecott's death, Joseph Pennell hailed the artist's illustrative ability, commenting that, "There is no one in England who has ever equaled him in this respect, and I very much doubt if any one ever surpassed it."


Author and Illustrator

The House that Jack Built (picture book) 1878

Sing a Song for Sixpence (picture book) 1880

The Three Jovial Huntsmen (picture book) 1880

The Farmer's Boy (picture book) 1881

The Queen of Hearts (picture book) 1881

Hey Diddle Diddle, and Baby Bunting (picture book) 1882; also published as Hey Diddle Diddle and Other Funny Poems

The Milkmaid: An Old Song Exhibited & Explained in Many Designs (picture book) 1882

Some of Aesop's Fables with Modern Instances [edited and compiled by Alfred Caldecott] (picture book) 1883; also published as The Caldecott Aesop: Twenty Fables, 1978; and as Aesop's Fables, 1990

The Fox Jumps over the Parson's Gate (picture book) 1883

A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go (picture book) 1883

Come, Lasses and Lads (picture book) 1884

Ride a Cock-Horse to Banbury Cross; and A Farmer Went Trotting upon His Grey Mare (picture book) 1884

As Illustrator

The Harz Mountains: A Tour in the Toy Country [written by Henry G. Blackburn] (nonfiction) 1873

Baron Bruno: Or, the Unbelieving Philosopher, and Other Fairy Stories [written by Louisa Morgan] (picture book) 1875

Old Christmas: Selections from the Sketch-Book [written by Washington Irving] (picture book) 1875

Bracebridge Hall [written by Washington Irving] (picture book) 1877

The Diverting History of John Gilpin [written by William Cowper] (picture book) 1878

The Babes in the Wood [written by James Riordan] (picture book) 1879

An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog [written by Oliver Goldsmith] (picture book) 1879

Daddy Darwin's Dovecot: A Country Tale [written by Juliana H. Gatty Ewing] (picture book) 1884

Jackanapes [written by Juliana H. Gatty Ewing] (picture book) 1884

An Elegy on the Glory of Her Sex, Mrs. Mary Blaize [written by Oliver Goldsmith] (picture book) 1885

The Great Panjandrum Himself [written by Samuel Foote] (picture book) 1885

Lob Lie-by-the-Fire; or, The Luck of the Lingborough [written by Juliana H. Gatty Ewing] (picture book) 1885

Jack and the Beanstalk [written by Hallam Tennyson] (picture book) 1886


R. Caldecott's Picture Book, Containing The Diverting History of John Gilpin, The House that Jack Built, The Babes in the Wood, and An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog (picture books) 1879

R. Caldecott's Picture Book (No. 2) Containing The Three Jovial Huntsmen, Sing a Song for Sixpence, The Queen of Hearts, The Farmer's Boy (picture books) 1881

R. Caldecott's Collection of Pictures & Songs Containing: The Diverting History of John Gilpin, The House that Jack Built, An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog, The Babes in the Wood, The Three Jovial Huntsmen, Sing a Song for Sixpence, The Queen of Hearts, The Farmer's Boy (picture books) 1881

Randolph Caldecott's "Graphic" Pictures (artwork) 1883

R. Caldecott's Second Collection of Pictures and Songs: Containing The Milkmaid, Hey Diddle Diddle, and Baby Bunting, The Fox Jumps over the Parson's Gate, A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go, Come, Lasses and Lads, Ride a Cock-Horse to Banbury Cross; and A Farmer Went Trotting upon His Grey Mare, Mrs. Mary Blaize, The Great Panjandrum Himself (picture books) 1885

Complete Collection of Pictures & Songs (picture books) 1887

More "Graphic" Pictures (artwork) 1887

Gleanings from the "Graphic" (artwork) 1889

Yours Pictorially: Illustrated letters of Randolph Caldecott [edited by Michael Hutchins] (correspondence and artwork) 1976

The Randolph Caldecott Treasury [edited by Elizabeth T. Billington] (picture books and artwork) 1978


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Maurice Sendak (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Sendak, Maurice. "Randolph Caldecott." In Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books and Pictures, pp. 21-5. New York, N.Y.: Noonday Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, famed children's author Sendak credits Caldecott as being the father of the modern picture book, arguing that Caldecott's illustrated works feature "an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before."]

Caldecott's work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it. In short, it is the invention of the picture book.

Caldecott's Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting exemplify his rhythmic syncopation of words and images—a syncopation that is both delightful and highly musical. The characters leap across the page, loudly proclaiming their personal independence of the paper. In most versions of Hey Diddle Diddle, the cow literally jumps over the moon. But here the cow is merely jumping: the moon sits on the horizon in the background and, from our perspective, only gives the appearance of being under the cow. In this way, Caldecott is being exceedingly logical, since he obviously knows that cows can't jump over the moon. But within his logic he shows you, on the color page, two pigs dancing, the moon smiling, the hen and the rooster carrying on—all of it entirely acceptable to him and to us. Yet Caldecott won't go beyond a certain "logical" point: the cow seems to be jumping over the moon, but in fact it's just leaping on the ground. Still, this is bizarre enough to make the milkmaid drop her pail of milk.

When you turn the page to read "The little Dog laughed to see such fun," you might well take this line as a reference to the cow jumping over the moon. It refers, however, to the spilt milk—or whatever was in that pail—now being gobbled up by the two pigs, while the cow stares from the corner, watching it all happen, and the maid looks down, perplexed, perhaps annoyed. So Caldecott has interjected a whole new story element solely by means of the illustrations, adding and compounding image upon image.

The situation in Baby Bunting is a bit more conventional: the baby is being dressed, Father's going a-hunting, looking a little ridiculous as he disappears behind a wall, followed by that wonderful dog trotting after him. But Father's frantic hunting is ineffectual, and all comes to naught. So they rush off to town to buy a rabbit skin. And this, of course, is Caldecott cutting up: the father dressed in hunting regalia with his dog, unable to kill a rabbit, finally winding up in town to buy the skin.

Father brings the rabbit skin home to wrap the Baby Bunting in, and what follows is a scene of jollity: the baby dressed in that silly garment, everyone rushing around, pictures on the walls from other Caldecott picture books. Then there is the lovely illustration of Mama and Baby.

And now Caldecott does the unexpected. The rhyme ends ("To wrap the Baby Bunting in"), but as you turn the page you see Baby and Mother strolling—Baby dressed in that idiotic costume with the ears poking out of her head—and up on the little hillside a group of rabbits playing. And the baby—I'd give anything to have the original drawing of that baby!—Baby is staring with the most perplexed look at those rabbits, as though with the dawning knowledge that the lovely, cuddly, warm costume she's wrapped up in has come from those creatures. It's all in that baby's eye—just two lines, two mere dashes of the pen, but it's done so expertly that they absolutely express … well, anything you want to read into them. I read: astonishment, dismay at life. Is this where rabbit skins come from? Does something have to die to dress me?

After the comedy of what has preceded, this last scene is especially poignant. Caldecott is too careful and too elegant an artist to become melodramatic; he never forces an issue, he just touches it lightly. And you can't say it's a tragedy, but something hurts. Like a shadow quickly passing over. It is this which gives a Caldecott book—however frothy the verses and pictures—its unexpected depth.

Caldecott is an illustrator, he is a songwriter, he is a choreographer, he is a stage manager, he is a decorator, he is a theater person; he's superb, simply. He can take four lines of verse that have very little meaning in themselves and stretch them into a book that has tremendous meaning—not overloaded, no sentimentality anywhere. Everybody meets with a bad ending in A Frog He Would a-Wooing Go. Frog gets eaten by a duck, which is very sad, and the story usually closes on that note. But, in Caldecott's version, he introduces, oddly enough, a human family. They observe the tragedy much as a Greek chorus might—one can almost hear their comments.

In the last picture, we see only Frog's hat on a rock at the stream's edge, all that remains of him. And standing on the bank are a mother, father, and two children. This is startling until you realize what Caldecott has done. It's as though the children have been watching a theatrical performance, and they are terribly upset. There are no words—I'm just inventing what I think it all means: Frog is dead, it alarms them, and, for support, they are clinging to their parents. The older child, a girl, clutches her father's arm; the younger holds fast to his coat. The mother has a quiet, forlorn expression on her face. Very gently, she points with the tip of her parasol toward the stream and the hat. The father looks resigned. They're both conveying to the children, "Yes, it is unfortunate, but such things do happen—that is the way the story ended, it can't be helped. But you have us. Hold on, everything is all right." This is impressive in a picture book for children.

Ellin Greene (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Greene, Ellin. "Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books: The Invention of a Genre." In Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, Volume Three: Picture Books, edited by Perry Nodelman, pp. 38-45. West Layette, Ind.: ChLa Publishers, 1989.

[In the following essay, Greene offers an appreciation of Caldecott that praises his attempts to interpret common nursery rhymes as an innovation in the evolution of the picture book genre.]

Frederick G. Melcher, donor of the medal given each year for "the most distinguished picture book for children published in the United States during the preceding year," was firm that the award be named in honor of Randolph Caldecott. Melcher believed that Caldecott "had ushered in a new age of illustration for children by giving them pictures filled with joy and beauty."

Prior to Caldecott, the customary approach to illustrating a story for children was either to depict the events literally or to add pretty decorations. Caldecott interpreted the text, adding new elements to the story. In his appreciation of Caldecott, Caldecott medalist Maurice Sendak, wrote, "There is in Caldecott a juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it. It is like a bouncing ball; it goes back and forth. In short, it is the invention of the picture book."

Born in Old Chester, Cheshire, England, on March 22, 1846, Caldecott showed his artistic bent early and, as young as six, could be found with his sketch pad or modeling animals in clay or wood. When Caldecott attended the grammar school attached to Chester Cathedral his interest in drawing was encouraged by the schoolmaster and he took first prize in drawing. His father, a "practical" man, dissuaded his son from pursuing an artistic career and prompted him to take a position as a bank clerk. At the age of fifteen, Caldecott began working at the Whitchurch and Ellesmere Bank in Shropshire, but couldn't seem to stop his fingers from recording the scenes and people around him on the back of receipt slips, old envelopes, and the blotter on his desk.

Caldecott worked as a bank clerk for eleven years, continuing his sketching at night. In 1872, at the age of twenty-six, he sold several drawings to Henry Blackburn, editor of the magazine, London Society, and moved to London, determined to devote the remaining years of his life to art. In London, Caldecott was befriended by Thomas Armstrong, an artist fourteen years his senior and art director of the South Kensington Museum. He also met the French sculptor, Jules Dalou, who gave him instruction in clay modeling in exchange for lessons in English. (One of Caldecott's pieces was a cat crouching for a spring; when he came to draw the crouched cat in The House that Jack Built, that experience must have returned to him, for the two cats bear a striking resemblance.)

Caldecott's drawings for Washington Irving's Old Christmas, published by Macmillan in 1875, established his reputation as a book illustrator. When the talented wood-engraver and colorprinter Edmund Evans saw the drawings, he was so impressed that he "thought Randolph Caldecott would be just the man to do some shilling toy books which I was anxious to do…." Evans proposed that Caldecott illustrate a series of nursery rhymes and ballads of his own choosing. The idea pleased Caldecott, work began, and in December 1878 the first two books appeared. Eventually, sixteen books were published, originally singly in paper cover by George Routledge & Sons, then later by Frederick Warne in sets of four, as bound volumes with various titles. The individual books were also published in a miniature edition (5 1/2″ × 4 1/2″).

Caldecott's line work was rendered and reproduced in dark brown. His books were printed in six colors: dark brown, flesh tint, red, blue, yellow, and gray; but the reader is unaware of the relatively limited palette, such was the skill of Evans and his engraving assistants. The initials E. E. appear on several of the colored pictures, indicating that Edmund Evans personally engraved the wood blocks, and Evans con-firms that in his Reminiscences: "I agreed to run all the risk of engraving the key blocks which (Caldecott) drew on wood: after he coloured a proof I would furnish him, on drawing paper, I would engrave the blocks to be printed in as few colours as necessary" (56). Evans was meticulous in regard to detail, and prepared his own delicate, transparent printing inks by the grinding and compounding of carefully selected pigments.

The process by which Evans made the engraving was a complicated one. Caldecott would make a pen and ink sketch on smooth writing paper, and this would be photographed on the surface of a block of boxwood. The woodblock was then engraved, inked, and a number of proofs pulled from it. Some of these proofs would be transferred to other blocks—one for each color to be printed. One of the proofs was sent to Caldecott, who carefully hand-colored it and returned it. Working from this colored proof, Evans engraved a block for each color, and from them, made a full color proof.

Evans' craftsmanship and Caldecott's fine watercolor work can be seen in the six original woodblocks housed in the de Grummond collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. This collection also contains the complete set of nine original brown outline proofs for The Queen of Hearts, with Caldecott's pencilled notations in the margins—"I wish the cover paper to be a pale bluff"; "Keep the ground tint flat"; "Perhaps it will be well, therefore, to only use the grey tint all over the ground"; "Same value throughout"—each signed with the initials R. C. Except that in the first printing the red is brighter and the green shrubbery has more yellow in it, these blocks and proofs show that the reproduction is faithful to Caldecott's original watercolors.

Caldecott's picture books continue to delight children in an age when well-designed picture books of singular beauty are taken for granted. When the first two appeared, there were so few quality picture books available that the effect must have been startling. And though the picture books of Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway, which Evans also commissioned, were of high artistic quality, Caldecott's personal vision of life, his gentle humor and gaiety, and his use of detail, must have appealed to children immediately.

The detail is particularly noteworthy. The opening full-page color drawing of The House that Jack Built shows a well-dressed, rather portly gentleman in the foreground, addressing two ladies and a gentleman seated on a bench. He is pointing to a stately house (said to be modeled after Brook House Farm at Hanmer, near Whitchurch) and we can almost hear him say, "This is the house that Jack built." Two dogs play on the path leading to the house. In the next sketch, done in brown pen and ink, the portly gentleman stands at the open front door, welcoming a lady accompanied by two young girls, possibly her daughters. On the tour of the house we meet the hardworking farmer, the rat looking bemused at a sheet of paper on which is written, "4 measures of malt," the crouching cat surrounded by apples and straw, its tail curled, its powerful paws about to spring on the rat. A few pages on we come to a pastoral scene about to be disturbed by the cow with the crumpled horn running toward the unsuspecting dog who has just worried the cat. In a pen and ink sketch a little further on, two trees bend in sorrow to sympathize with "the maid all forlorn" who mourns the death of the dog thrown by the cow. But she is soon consoled by "the man all tattered and torn" and the couple joined in wedlock by "the priest, all shaven and shorn." In this, and in subsequent picture books, Caldecott's depiction of animals is realistic even when the animals wear human clothing.

The Diverting History of John Gilpin is the exciting story of John Gilpin's attempt to meet his wife in Edmonton to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. He starts out on a borrowed horse, which soon gets out of hand and begins to gallop. The villagers think Gilpin is riding a race. Along the journey he loses his wig; the wine bottles he carries attached to either side of his belt break; he is mistaken for a thief and chased; and an attempt to rescue him only frightens the frightened horse more. Caldecott has recreated the hilarious mad gallop against a background of quiet English countryside. With startled looks on their faces, the villagers lean out their windows to learn the cause of the ruckus. Caldecott's double-spread painting of John Gilpin clinging to the wild horse for dear life as geese scatter every which way and barking dogs join in the chase was greatly admired by Gauguin and Van Gogh, and it is one of the paintings the sculptor Rene Chambellan used in designing the Caldecott Medal. For the reverse side of the medal Chambellan chose Caldecott's gentleman bearing the pie in which were baked the four and twenty black birds from Sing a Song for Sixpence.

In Sing a Song for Sixpence, Caldecott has pictured the King and Queen as children, giving the rhyme additional appeal for child readers. Mary Gould Davis says that the granddaughter of a Mr. Mundella served as the model for the girl Queen. Inside the counting house the boy King counts his money, his crown resting on a velvet cushion nearby. There is a statue of St. George and the Dragon on the mantlepiece, and, on the wall, two paintings, one of Jack and the Giant, the other of Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday. The paintings on the wall in the Queen's parlor depict Little Red-Riding Hood, the Babes in the Wood, and Little Bo-Peep. A regal-looking doll sits on a chair beside the Queen and some puppets reside in a cupboard.

Another favorite with children is The Queen of Hearts. The book opens with the serene and beautiful Queen resting her feet on a stool as she reads The Art of Making Tarts. The familiar rhyme is acted out by expressive characters. The cat reveals the thief and the contrite Knave serves the children the stolen tarts. This is one of the most beautiful picture books in the series.

Caldecott's creative imagination is never more in evidence than in his rendition of the old rhyme, Hey Diddle Diddle. The rhyme first appeared in print in Mother Goose's Melody; or, Sonnet for the Cradle (circa 1765).

     Hey, diddle, diddle,
     The Cat and the Fiddle
     The Cow jumped over the Moon
     The little Dog laughed to see such fun
     And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.

What does Caldecott make of this nonsense? The book opens with a pen and ink sketch of a debonair cat, holding a fiddle and bow, and bowing to two pairs of dignified children as they enter the room. The first full-page color drawing shows the cat fiddling on top of a table, four children dance—each holds an object in one hand (a horn, an orange, a fan, a doll)—while a girl and boy look on (only the top of the boy's head, eyebrows, and fingers are visible) and a maid presides over a table of goodies placed in front of a wall papered with a pineapple motif, a nineteenth-century symbol of hospitality. In the next full-page color drawing, the fiddler has donned a red jacket and moved out into the garden where he plays for a strutting rooster and hen, two jovial pigs, and a cow, while a white dove and a little dog look on. In the next sketch the cow makes her famous jump over the moon. Caldecott creates the illusion by having the cow kick up her rear legs over a half-moon setting low on the horizon. A startled milkmaid drops her milk pail and the little dog laughs at the pigs guzzling the spilled milk. The scene shifts back indoors, where the agile cat now plays on the sideboard for a cavorting pitcher, a vinegar bottle and two china plates. Three more plates sit on a shelf, legs swinging in time with the music, and look about to join in the dance. A large oval platter with a painted flower face runs away with a slender Spoon wearing a red sash around her slim waist. On the next to last page the romantic couple rests on a bench. The rhyme ends here, but Caldecott adds a tragic ending to the tale. Turning the page, the reader sees the Spoon being escorted away by her angry parents, an irate Father Knife and an indignant Mother Fork, while the Dish lies shattered to pieces on the floor, no doubt the result of a smashing blow from Father. Four china plates look on in great distress. The play on common phrases—"broken-hearted" and "all broken up"—amuses adult readers while children find drama in the unexpected turn of events. Kate Greenaway, in a letter to Frederick Locker, wrote: "My brother showed me some of his (Caldecott's) new drawings yesterday at Racquet Court. They are so uncommonly clever. The Dish running away with the Spoon—you can't think how much he has made of it. I wish I had such a mind." Like Hans Christian Andersen before him, Caldecott had the ability to give life to inanimate objects and make them characters in a drama.

Why did Caldecott choose these particular sixteen rhymes out of the hundreds available to him? No doubt because he had a sense of what children enjoy. Billington relates the story of a four-year-old who asked her to share a story at bedtime. "We will look at Shershey," the child said. "Shershey" turned out to be Caldecott's The Milkmaid. "Why do you call it 'Shershey'?" Billington asked. "Cause that's her name," came the prompt reply. "It says so in the book. 'Nobody asked you,' Shershey said." Billington adds, "I thought I could hear Caldecott's ghost chuckling."

As Tenniel is associated with Alice, Caldecott is associated with these nursery rhymes. No other artist has surpassed his interpretations. Though his characters are clothed in unfamiliar dress, twentieth-century children can still recognize the human types: the vain young man in search of an easy fortune and the spirited milkmaid who gives him his comeuppance, the thieving Knave of Hearts, hard-working country folk and country gentlemen, kings and queens, and lovers of all ages.

Caldecott's exuberance matches a child's own. "Lively" is the adjective most often associated with Caldecott's scenes. His characters skip, jump, or dance across the page. If not in motion they are poised to move—notice the position of the feet of the children about to enter The House that Jack Built. Writing in the Horn Book Magazine, Hilda Van Stockum says that Caldecott's picture books provided her with her first "movies."

Caldecott was a spontaneous artist. He did not labor over a faulty illustration, but threw it out and began fresh. "Lightning Sketches" for The House that Jack Built, printed in 1899 for the benefit of London Hospital, shows Caldecott's ability to suggest movement and character with a few sketchy lines. He constantly perfected his technique, saying, "The fewer the lines, the less error committed."

Caldecott's pictures involve all the senses. We see the anger in the farmer's eyes when he discovers the rat that got into the malt, feel the tension in the dog's stance, the upward thrust of his tail, the heavy lines of the eyes, nose and mouth as he worries the frightened cat pinned against the wall, one paw up, tail raised, hair on end, eyes filled with terror. We can almost hear the shouts of the six gentlemen in pursuit of poor John Gilpin.

There is often a story within a story, as in The Milkmaid, in which the observant reader can follow a secondary courtship, that of "Sir's" greyhound and the Milkmaid's collie—an animal courtship that ends with the same results as the human one. However much one looks at Caldecott's picture books, there always seems to be something new to discover. It is this eternal freshness that makes his books interesting to each new generation of children.

Caldecott had a love of country life, its people and animals. He immortalized the English countryside and villages of a more pastoral era. He included scenes from places where he lived. Anne Thaxton Eaton wrote, "You can walk down the main street of Whitchurch, just by opening The Great Panjandrum at page six." The tower of St. Oswald's Parish Church and the town of Malpas appear in several books, including Baby Bunting, Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross, and The Fox Jumps over the Parson's Gate. Images imprinted on Caldecott's mind and later remembered have been recorded in the picture books. The walking wedding in The Great Panjandrum Himself may have been drawn from memories of his own wedding, for it has been established that Marian Brind walked to her wedding at the church of St. Martin of Tours, Chelsfield, Kent, when she married Randolph Caldecott on March 18, 1880.

Caldecott and Walter Crane met in 1877 through the artist Thomas Armstrong. The two men were about the same age, both came from Old Chester families, and they shared many professional interests. Crane wrote that Caldecott would ride over on horseback in the early evening so that he could play with the Crane children before their bedtime. Perhaps Crane's children served as models for Caldecott's picture-book characters. In his book, An Artist's Reminiscences, Crane draws a picture of Caldecott: "His quiet manner, low voice, and gentle but rather serious and earnest way of speaking did not suggest the extraordinary vivacity and humour of his drawings, though an occasional humorous remark may have betrayed a glimpse of such qualities." Indeed, Caldecott could hardly refrain from putting jokes in his drawings. In Baby Bunting, the hunting dog leads Father to the shop of a "Dealer in Hare and Rabbit Skins." Only one of the sixteen picture books, The Babes in Wood, has a somber subject, and even in this story Caldecott injected humor. He modeled the father, "a gentleman of good account, sore sick and like to die," after himself, and one of the two "ruffians strong" after Edmund Evans.

Maurice Sendak wrote of Caldecott: "For me his greatness lies in the wholeness of his personal vision of life. There is no emasculation of truth in his world. It is a green, vigorous world rendered faithfully and honestly in shades of dark and light, a world where the tragic and the joyful coexist, the one coloring the other."

In an article on distinction in picture books three-time Caldecott medalist Marcia Brown posed the question: "How rich is the experience in living the child gets, that I get, from looking at this book?" The experience of looking at Randolph Caldecott's picture books is as rich as Devonshire cream.


Billington, Elizabeth. The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, with an appreciation by Maurice Sendak. New York: Warne, 1978.

Blackburn, Henry. Randolph Caldecott: A Personal Memoir of His Early Art Career. London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1886.

Brown, Marcia. "Distinction in Picture Books." Illustrators of Children's Books, 1946–1956. Ed. Bertha Mahony Miller, et al. Boston: The Horn Book, 1958. 2-12.

Cech, John. "'Art Is Long; Life Isn't': Randolph Caldecott in America and in Florida." The Florida Historical Quarterly 59, 3: 307-317.

Chapman, Margaret L. "St. Augustine and Randolph Caldecott," Florida Libraries 21, 1: 18-24.

Crane, Walter. An Artist's Reminiscences. London: The Macmillan Company, 1907.

Davis, Mary Gould. Randolph Caldecott, 1846–1886, An Appreciation. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1946.

Evans, Edmund. The Reminiscences of Edmund Evans. Ed. Ruari McLean. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967.

Original Woodblocks drawn by Randolph Caldecott and engraved by Edmund Evans. Gail Klemm—Books. Catalogue Three. 1972.

Mahony, Bertha E., et al., eds. Illustrators of Children's Books, 1744–1945. Boston: The Horn Book, 1947.

Overton, Jacqueline. "Edmund Evans, Color-Printer Extraordinary," The Horn Book Magazine 22 (1946): 109-118.

Van Stockum, Hilda. "Caldecott's Pictures in Motion," The Horn Book Magazine 22, (1946): 119-125.

The Winter 1988 issue of Journal of Youth Services in Libraries (1:2) celebrates the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Caldecott Award. Among the articles are: Carus, Marianne, "Randolph Caldecott, Father of the Modern Picture Book." Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 1:2 (Winter, 1988): 143-151.

Leonard S. Marcus (essay date March-April 2001)

SOURCE: Marcus, Leonard S. "Medal Man: Randolph Caldecott and the Art of the Picture Book." Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 2 (March-April 2001): 155-70.

[In the following essay, Marcus theorizes that Caldecott and his fellow "Golden Age" artists, Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway, fundamentally altered the way picture books are created and influenced all subsequent generations of illustrators.]

The picture book was born on the fly, as an art form for, by, and very often about people in a hurry. Children, of course, are always on to or into the next new thing. But during the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, it was industrial Britain's upwardly striving middle class who clamored for illustrated storybooks for its children. And it was in response to that great and growing demand that ambitious young artists such as Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, and Randolph Caldecott turned to picture book making; and that Caldecott, in particular, went on in a few short years to produce a series of books that represented a new kind of book for young people.

Thanks to the Caldecott Medal, more people than ever recognize Randolph Caldecott's name. Yet nowadays, more adults than children—and of the adults probably more librarians and collectors than anyone else—know any of the sixteen picture books that Caldecott illustrated, at the rate of two a year, from 1878 to 1885. And few people know very much at all about the artist himself. The home page of the one website devoted to him leads with the headline: "Randolph Who?" Who, indeed? What follows is an attempt to renew our acquaintance with the medal man himself; to show in pictures and words something of who Randolph Caldecott was, the world he belonged to, the work he did, and in what ways that work still has value.

Caldecott was born in March 1846, in Chester, England, a small town well to the north and west of London. The son of a hatter, he was a tall, bright, physically frail, good-natured child. The elder of two sons, he taught himself to draw at an early age, and in his last year of school he earned the Head Boy's silver badge, which he wore, by all accounts, with none of the comic self-importance of Harry Potter's Percy Weasley. One of Caldecott's most engaging personal traits, his readiness to poke fun at himself, set the tone for the best of his illustration, in which all but the most ridiculous characters look to be worth knowing. It is as though Caldecott could not help putting himself in the other person's bowed or buckled shoes. This gift of empathy stood him in good stead especially when, as a much-in-demand thirty-two-year-old magazine illustrator, he turned to art-making for children. At a time when many contemporary illustrators, including Kate Greenaway, perched the young on pedestals of unattainable moral perfection, Caldecott approached his audience at eye level, as flesh-and-blood folk no better and no worse than himself.

Caldecott's tradesman father did his best to talk him out of a career in art, and the good son obliged, first by taking a clerk's job at a nearby bank and later, at age twenty-one, at a bank in more cosmopolitan Manchester. He never gave up sketching, however, and there is always plenty of paper in a bank. Manchester's dynamic art scene soon absorbed his evenings, and in 1868, within a year of his arrival in that city, Caldecott published his first humorous illustrations in a local magazine.

Things happened fairly quickly for him after that. In 1871, he published his first drawings in the prestigious London Society magazine; the next year, he moved to London, set up as an illustrator, exhibited a painting, published in Punch, and illustrated his first book, a travelogue for adult readers called The Harz Mountains: A Tour in the Toy Country, by Henry Blackburn. Another travel book followed, along with work for American magazines, including Harper's Monthly; then a commission, in 1876, to reillustrate Washington Irving's Old Christmas. It was this last project that solidified his reputation, prompting the renowned printer, Edmund Evans, to approach him about the possibility of launching a picture book series alongside the series Evans had already printed by Walter Crane. Caldecott created his first two picture books—The House that Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin —in 1878, in time for the Christmas trade, and he continued the series at the same pace for the next seven years running. The Caldecott Picture Books were an instant success, both in their original, eye-catching paperbound "Yellow Back" editions, which during the artist's lifetime had initial print runs of up to 100,000 copies each, and in the more costly gift editions that followed, in which four and later eight of the picture books were bound together.

The world in which Caldecott came of age was in some ways much like our own. New technologies were transforming the way people worked, traveled, communicated, and pictured themselves. The steam locomotive telescoped distances for travelers, making it possible, for instance, for Lewis Carroll to make the sixty-mile journey from Oxford to London any time he wished for a weekend of theater-going; Carroll was riding the rails when the chapter titles for his first Alice book came to him. As an illustrator on assignment and later as an ailing thirty-something-year-old artist in search of warmer climes, Caldecott was another frequent traveler who worked well while in motion. In the spring of 1879, he wrote a friend that he had just dashed off the complete dummy for one of his two picture books for that year—either his Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog or Babes in the Wood —while hurtling along by train between Florence and Bologna. Rapidly executed, preliminary drawings such as these came to be known as his "lightning sketches." Victorian rail travelers were book buyers, and Caldecott's popular picture books sold briskly at the bookstalls to be found on train platforms throughout Britain. The canny artist went so far as to take this fact into account in his cover designs, aiming for images bold enough to be "catching," as he told a friend, "from the top of an omnibus or our of the passing window of a railway carriage."

The telegraph not only shot words through a wire at unimaginable speeds but, just as the advent of e-mail has done, prompted the invention of a new up-tempo style of written communication. Emily Dickinson was the first poet of the telegraph age. Caldecott brought to the picture book a similar taste for verbal punch and compression, showing time and again that what could be pictured in a book did not also have to be stated; and that, with the right drawings to help spirit them along, a very few lines of text could be made to speak volumes.

The inventions that most directly influenced Caldecott's work were in the field of mechanical reproduction—Edmund Evans's domain. During Caldecott's childhood, high-quality color printing still lay beyond the practical reach of the publishers of books and magazines. Whatever books the young Caldecott read would either have been hand-colored or colorprinted by primitive methods yielding garish results. Edmund Evans was not only a master wood engraver and color printer but also something like a modern-day packager. Evans gambled that, given the choice, the newly educated English public would prefer children's books of superior artistic quality, and that high demand for the books would help keep them competitively priced. Evans was right, and the various series illustrated for him by Crane, Caldecott, and Greenaway set a new standard for the picture book that in some ways has yet to be surpassed.

The combined impact of these three artists can be seen in the contrast between two anonymous nineteenth-century English alphabet books on that most Victorian of subjects—trains—the first published in 1852, the second around 1889. Cousin Honeycomb's Railway Alphabet is a book of the old school, illustrated with hand-colored woodcuts and designed more or less the way bricks are laid, text and pictures fitted one on top of the other. But the 1889 Railroad Alphabet shows a different, more fluid Crane-Greenaway-Caldecott-like approach to design, in which pages no longer merely warehouse content but instead serve as platforms for the artist's inventiveness and the viewer's imagination.

Each of Evans's illustrators left a different mark on the picture book. Walter Crane was essentially a decorative artist who brought a lusty delight in design to the genre. Fey, theatrical Kate Greenaway was something like the Laura Ashley of her day, and a fervent spear-carrier for the Victorian cult of innocent childhood. Caldecott's impact, which far exceeded that of his two rivals, was more in the nature of an explosion: an unhinging of the basic conventions of the illustrated book. Caldecott books were free-wheeling experiments at a time of feverish experimentation in the visual arts.

J. M. W. Turner's Ram, Steam, and Speed of 1844, for example, represented one of the earliest attempts by an artist to record the propulsive rhythm and energy of the age. The French Impressionists, several of whom were living in exile in London in 1871, learned from Turner and were guided by his example. Under the spell of Turner and Monet alike, James McNeill Whistler, the American-born bad boy of English painting in Caldecott's day, stripped and stream-lined his canvases to such an extent that in 1877 the great—if also mentally erratic—art critic and Kate Greenaway supporter, John Ruskin, publicly accused him of artistic fraud. (Later that year, Whistler sued Ruskin for libel; though he won, he was soon forced into bankruptcy.)

Caldecott, who had moved to London in 1872, was by then a member of Whistler's circle, sharing key artist-friends and two London galleries in common with him. And although he and the famously self-dramatizing painter were not close, the illustrator also shared some of the older artist's most basic ideas about picture making. Caldecott's most often quoted comments on drawing—"the art of leaving out [is] a science" and "the fewer the lines, the less error committed"—read like notes straight from Whistler's own play-book. And in an 1883 letter, Caldecott sounds the Whistler-note again as he explains why the work of Walter Crane always leaves him cold: "He is a clever man; but he does not enough follow his natural bent. He is in the thrall of the influence of the early and most intellectual Italian painters and draughtsmen"—artists of the type, that is, who met with fussy Ruskin's, but not Whistler's, approval.

Caldecott also shared Whistler's fascination with the Japanese woodblock prints that had only just become widely known in the West. Caldecott's inventive use of the three major design-elements in his picture books—text type, color plates, and sepia line drawings—often gives his page layouts a beguiling asymmetry clearly derived from Japanese prints.

Still, vast differences separate Whistler's work from Caldecott's. Whistler was an art-for-art's-sake firebrand. Caldecott, though he exhibited his paintings and sculptures with modest success, was quite content to be known as an illustrator-for-hire. Caldecott was a storyteller, who set several of his picture books in the eighteenth-century English countryside. In this one important respect, Caldecott applied the brakes to the modernizing tendencies in his art, offering his contemporary readers an idealized backward glance at their grandparents' less hurried world. Whistler, in contrast, believing that art ultimately should be about itself, was suspicious of narrative and "subject matter" generally.

Whistler could nonetheless get off a fine portrait now and then. As an instinctive caricaturist, Caldecott made a point of turning down portrait commissions. As he told a friend, "I fear that I ought not to approach Mrs. Green brush in hand—my brush is not a very reverent one." Everyone knows "Whistler's Mother." But take a look at "Caldecott's Mother," as seen in the picture book An Elegy on the Glory of Her Sex: Mrs. Mary Blaize, based on a text by Oliver Goldsmith.

During Caldecott's lifetime, photography turned traditionally labor-intensive portraiture into instant art for nearly everybody. Critics at first were uncertain whether images produced by mechanical means should be considered art at all. Lewis Carroll, who was sure photographs could be art-worthy, countered with a tongue-in-cheek fantasy called "Photography Extraordinary" in which he imagined a machine for the mechanical production of novels. Whistler became an avid photographer in his later years; it is a good bet that had he lived a while longer, Caldecott, with his keen interest in reproduction techniques and growing impatience with printers, might have also.

The photographer whose work bears the most striking affinity with Caldecott's is Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), an Englishman living in California who in the years just before Caldecott published his first picture books began a series of pioneering stop-action photographic studies of animals and humans in motion. Muybridge's fascinating experiments forged the missing link between still photography and the soon-to-be-invented motion picture. Caldecott's picture books can be seen as having a comparable historical role as the bridge, or certainly one of the bridges, between traditional print illustration and animation. Consider, for instance, the helter-skelter sequence in The Three Jovial Huntsmen, in which Caldecott has his hard-riding comic protagonists—and us—literally going in circles. No wonder that Maurice Sendak, though he grew up not on Caldecott's The House that Jack Built but Disney's Steamboat Willie, is the American artist who has had the most to say about Caldecott's preeminence (about which more later).

Caldecott never considered himself a writer, but he had the confidence to make small changes to suit his purposes in the traditional texts he chose for illustration. In Sing a Song for Sixpence, for example, one of his pair of picture books for 1880, he replaced the of in the title of the traditional rhyme with for. In making this small revision, he sharpened the focus of the cryptic old verse so that it could be fairly read as a story about singing for one's supper or, more plainly, working for a living. To sing a song for sixpence could mean to earn one's living as an artist for hire; Caldecott's Picture Books sold for a shilling—twice sixpence. (Walter Crane, who had advised Caldecott to demand a royalty from Evans, was nonetheless said to have been bothered when Caldecott succeeded in having his compensation pegged to "results"; Crane himself received a flat fee.) In addition to altering the title, Caldecott added a last couplet—"But there came a Jenny Wren and popped it on again"—in which the Maid gets back her nose. By 1880, Caldecott, who had just married, may have been thinking more closely about his young audience than he had before.

He had made no such concessions a year earlier, when he illustrated The Babes in the Wood, the plotline of which can be summed up as "Hansel and Gretel" minus the gingerbread house and the happy ending. Everyone in that strange little book just ups and dies. What emerges from the carnage, however, is the realization that the last thing Caldecott wanted a children's book to be was sentimental, and for setting that precedent we have a lot to thank him for. Here is his response to a letter from a writer-friend who had offered some advice about an illustration-in-progress:

What you say of chins is true—I make a note of it—but the suggestion to 'give a touch more size to the eyes' makes one think that one must be careful in accepting—or rather in acting upon—criticisms of this kind…. I have altered the eye of the lady in question: but I have made it rather smaller…. It is a very cheap way of making a pretty face to draw large eyes….

Another time, after a proud parent tried to foist her children off on the artist as models, Caldecott wrote a friend: "A history of the twins was kindly given by the mother, how they lived together, ate together, slept together, walked together, did everything together. Interesting. My opinion was that they were 2 fat, ugly children…."

One of the artist's most devoted contemporary fans, it turns out, was Rupert Potter, father of Beatrix, who purchased from him the complete set of original drawings for The Three Jovial Huntsmen as well as two from Sing a Song for Sixpence, and hung them in his young daughter's nursery. The old story told about Beatrix Potter's early years was that she largely "lived" in her room as the cloistered prisoner of domineering Victorian parents. That may have been partly so. But her childhood was far from uniformly grim. She and her father, who was an accomplished amateur photographer, often visited London galleries and artists' studies together. And she learned to draw in part by copying her very own Caldecotts. Later in life, as the author and illustrator of some of English children's literature's most tough-minded tales, Beatrix Potter revealed a very Caldecott-like impatience with Victorian primness and sentiment. If the emotional undercurrents running through picture books could be tracked, there would be a straight line from Caldecott to Beatrix Potter, and from Potter to Margaret Wise Brown and Maurice Sendak.

Brown, as a nonillustrator, may seem the odd man out of the group. But it was Brown who once told the Russian émigré artist Esphyr Slobodkina, when the latter woman expressed doubt in her own ability to author a picture-book text, "Don't worry, Phyra, you write like a painter!" Brown did, too. And Brown, perhaps more than any writer before her, understood how to leave Caldecott-style openings in a picture-book text for the illustrator to elaborate on—as for example in the opening line: "Night is coming. Everything is going to sleep," trusting that Jean Charlot would come up with a suitably all-encompassing image for the first page of A Child's Good Night Book. And it was Brown who, in the Caldecott spirit again, wrote the line for which the perfect illustration was no illustration at all: "Goodnight nobody."

Nor was it just Margaret Wise Brown's lively grasp of the interplay between pictures and words that links her work to Caldecott's. The Runaway Bunny and Little Fur Family are every bit as much hunting stories as Caldecott's own Three Jovial Huntsmen and The Fox Jumps over the Parson's Gate, and in fact cut a lot closer to the bone as tales about quickness and cunning. Like Caldecott, Brown, who hunted rabbits on Sundays and wrote books about bunnies during the rest of the week, took care not to idealize her subjects, who ultimately of course were not rabbits at all, but vulnerable, resilient, flesh-and-blood boys and girls.

Margaret Wise Brown's career had just begun in 1938, the year that the American Library Association awarded the first Caldecott Medal to Dorothy P. Lathrop for Animals of the Bible, a picture book with biblical quotations selected by Helen Dean Fish. By the late 1930s—the time of Lawson, Bemelmans, Burton, Flack, and so many others—the American picture book was coming of age as an art form independent of, yet still strongly influenced by, British models. The establishment of the medal was meant both to celebrate and help solidify the achievement. It is surprising to realize that in 1938 Beatrix Potter was still alive, as was L. Leslie Brooke, the English illustrator most often mentioned at the time as Randolph Caldecott's immediate successor. There was even some talk of a Brooke Medal rather than of a Caldecott one. But Frederic G. Melcher, the publishing visionary who put up the money for the award (as he already had done for the Newbery), held out for the artist he rightly considered the founding father of the genre in question. One consequence of this was that when the British decided in the mid-1950s to follow the American lead and create an illustration prize of their own, the best name for the award was already taken; English illustrators must be content to win the Kate Greenaway Medal.

In another sign of Americans' continued reverence for English cultural models, The Horn Book Magazine had long since adopted Caldecott as its unofficial house artist, posting an image redrawn from The Three Jovial Huntsmen on every cover. In March 1946 the Horn Book devoted a special issue to a celebration of the hundredth anniversary of both Caldecott and Kate Greenaway's birth. The number's best piece, "Caldecott's Pictures in Motion," was by Hilda van Stockum, a prolific Dutch-born American author and illustrator, who wrote perceptively about Caldecott's special achievement:

When leafing through his Picture Books it is [the] ebb and flow of perpetual motion which strikes one first. Other artists like to dwell on the scenes they are creating, either from contemplative joy in their beauty or from a psychological joy in their social values. Not so Caldecott. He is always aiming at the next picture; his very figures seem to be pointing to it; one cannot wait to turn the page and see what happens next…. As an artist, I am interested to see how Caldecott achieves this effect of continuous movement. I think he does it through a lavish use of horizons; his people are either coming at you, large as life, or vanishing over a hill. You can never be sure of them; now they're here, now they're gone … It is this vigorous action which endears Caldecott to children, who don't look at pictures to admire, but to participate. As a daughter of mine put it, they want to be "in the book."

By mid-century, Caldecott's example had left its mark on the American picture book in numerous ways. His legacy could be glimpsed in the vibrant wordless sequence in Helen Sewell's A Head for Happy (Macmillan, 1931); in the warm, sepia line and adventurous shifts in perspective of Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941); and in the balletic interplay of pictures and words in Ruth Krauss's A Hole Is to Dig (Harper & Brothers, 1952), illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

The story of how Harper's editor, Ursula Nordstrom, met Sendak at New York's F.A.O. Schwarz toy store, where the latter was then employed in the display department, has become well known. Such was her first impression of his talent that Nordstrom immediately began contemplating the possibility of a Margaret Wise Brown/Maurice Sendak collaboration, a dream-project that failed to materialize only because of Brown's unexpected death in the fall of 1952.

With her death, Sendak assumed Brown's mantle of boldness and experimentation. In 1955, he produced a dummy for a picture book that aimed at giving the Head Boy of the grand English picture-book tradition a run for his money.

The book Sendak was after was not going to be a Caldecott nostalgia-fest, decked out with hunting horns and crumpets. Nowhere in Caldecott is there anyone like the hero who (eight years later) finally emerged as Max; nowhere is there anyone or any thing like Sendak's Wild Things. But the energetic pacing in Where the Wild Things Are unmistakably bears the Caldecott mark—as does Sendak's sure grasp of the sonnet-like picture book form. In his 1964 Caldecott acceptance speech, Sendak, taking up where Hilda van Stockum had left off, pointed to the elements of Caldecott's work that he had learned from:

No one in a Caldecott book ever stands still…. Characters who dance and leap across the page, loudly proclaiming their personal independence of the paper—this is perhaps the most charming feature of a Caldecott picture book … [But] for me, his greatness lies in the truthfulness of his personal vision of life. There is no emasculation of truth in his world. It is a green, vigorous world rendered faithfully and honestly in shades of dark and light, a world where the tragic and the joyful coexist, the one coloring the other. It encompasses three slaphappy huntsmen, as well as the ironic death of a mad, misunderstood dog, it allows for country lads and lasses flirting and dancing round the Maypole, as well as Baby Bunting's startled realization that her rabbit skin came from a creature that was once alive.

To which one might add that, placed beside the books being published today, one of the most striking features of Caldecott's picture books is the seldomness with which child characters become the major focus in them. Caldecott's books have less to do with the world children know than with the alluringly off-limits adult world about which they wish to know more. The promise of a stroll—or gallop—into that forbidden territory is central to the Caldecott appeal.

All his life, Randolph Caldecott suffered from weak lungs and a weak heart, and it was in search of better health that he and his wife Marian set sail for the United States in late October 1885. Landing in New York a day late following a stormy crossing, they immediately boarded a train and headed south for the Florida sun. Caldecott was fascinated by America, and hoped to bring home a big book of drawings based on his travels, which were to have taken him all the way to California and back, after which he planned to settle in for an extended East Coast visit. Caldecott's work was well known in the United States, and had the trip gone as planned, he doubtless would have been the toast of literary New York and Boston. Instead, after stopping briefly to sketch in Philadelphia, Washington, and Charleston, he fell ill, took a sudden turn for the worse, and died in St. Augustine in February 1886.

A rush of posthumous publications followed the famous artist's death. Among these was a picture-book Jack and the Beanstalk, retold by Hallam Tennyson, son of the poet laureate, and a book of Caldecott's lightning sketches for The House that Jack Built. Caldecott's widow is said to have tried at first to discourage the publication of the sketches. The drawings look so hurried, the argument went. Perhaps recalling the Whislter-Ruskin lawsuit, Marian Caldecott feared that the revelation of drawings executed with such apparent freedom and speed would be put down as un-art-worthy and would damage her late husband's reputation.

Quickness and freedom were of course what Caldecott's art was all about. His reputation as an illustrator's illustrator—an artist whose work held a treasure trove of innovative pictorial narrative techniques and ideas—continued to grow as English illustrators, and later also Americans, scrambled to lay claim to his legacy.

That legacy—Caldecott's ongoing influence on the world of children's books—remains great today, notwithstanding the fact that few contemporary picture book artists study his work. Artistic influence, like the party game of Telephone, can take untraceable twists and turns. Some modern illustrators "meet" Caldecott without ever knowing it, via the work of Beatrix Potter, for instance, or Sendak. Others may share with Caldecott a common source of inspiration, such as Japanese Ukiyo-e prints. Whatever their provenance, the underlying ideas about pictorial storytelling that Caldecott developed still work, and they continue to define the picture book as an art form.

And what of Caldecott himself—artist of "lightning sketches" and bold, spare, action-packed images; freelancer with a keen grasp of publishing economics and a roiling impatience with traditional printing methods? If Caldecott could be fast-forwarded in time into our media-saturated world, what place would he find in it? Would he be illustrating children's books? Designing websites? Drawing New Yorker covers? Storyboarding big-budget Hollywood animations? All these possibilities are implied in his still-resonant hundred-plus-year-old illustrations.

For his own amusement, Caldecott once drew a parody of a Kate Greenaway illustration in which he played up for comic effect the latter artist's tendency to idealize cute little girls in oversized bonnets. It is not hard to imagine that, were he among us today, Caldecott might take similar aim at the grandiosity of much contemporary illustration. One reason that his picture books are so supercharged with life is that Caldecott held his own ego in check as he made them. Caldecott drawings suit their occasion—robustly, modestly, and with a fine sense of proportion. Friends and critics alike who claimed more for his art than that left themselves open to his subtle scorn. As he once wrote a fawning but self-important collector:

Dear Sir:

Your note of 22 May is very complimentary to me—in it you tell me that you are going to preserve for future generations a copy of my volume of Picture Books. I am very glad. I hope others will do the same, and that future generations will feel blessed, be content, and not knock the nose off my statue.

Yours pictorially, Randolph Caldecott

Anne Lundin (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Lundin, Anne. "Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886)." In Victorian Horizons: The Reception of the Picture Books of Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway, pp. 129-65. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2001.

[In the following excerpt, Lundin presents individual appraisals of Caldecott's most famous picture books as well as providing commentary on Caldecott's enduring literary legacy.]



In 1878 the first of Caldecott's much-celebrated picture books published by Routledge appeared: The House that Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin. The popular accumulative rhyme, "The House that Jack Built," which first appeared in print in 1766, was earlier published in 1865 as one of Walter Crane's books for Ward, Lock & Tyler's New Shilling series. The complete title of William Cowper's story, first published in 1785, was "The Diverting History of John Gilpin: Showing how he went farther than he intended, and came back safe home again."

These two books were commissioned by the virtuoso color printer Edmund Evans, who was attracted to Caldecott's illustrations of the two Washington Irving volumes, although the artist had not done any prior work in color. Caldecott was to continue what Walter Crane had started in the way of toy books; after twelve years or so, Crane was unwilling to do more sixpenny titles under the same financial arrangement. Caldecott was able to receive the much-desired royalty, although it was small and mounted slowly. This new toy book series would be priced still at a shilling, but the initial print run would be increased to 10,000. Blank pages would be replaced by colored illustrations, black and white drawings, and more text. Evans's Reminiscences (1967) described their first meeting and financial, artistic, and printing arrangements. This passage is historically significant as a reference to how the picture books were made:

I thought Randolph Caldecott would be just the man to do some shilling toy books which I was anxious to do, so I appointed a meeting with him at his lodgings in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He liked the idea of doing them as I proposed, and fell in with me very pleasantly, but he would not agree to doing them for any fixed sum: feeling sure of his own powers in doing them, he wished to share in that speculation—said he would make the drawings—if they sold and paid, he would be paid, but was content to bear the loss if they did not sell, and not be paid: so I agreed to run all the risk of engraving the key blocks which he drew on wood: after he had coloured a proof I would furnish him, on drawing paper, I would engrave the blocks to be printed in as few colours as necessary. This was settled, the key block in dark brown, then a flesh tint for the faces, hands, and wherever it would bring the other colours as nearly as possible to his painted copy, a red, a blue, a yellow, and a grey. (I was to supply paper, and print 10,000 copies, which George Routledge & Sons have published for me.) I asked him to come and see me at my house at Witley, which he did, and we talked over the subject of the first two books. We agreed to publish together, in the Autumn of 1878, The House that Jack Built and John Gilpin. Shilling toy books, at that time, generally had blank pages at the back of the pictures: I proposed to have no blanks at all in these books: these slight illustrations were little more than outlines, but they were so racy and spontaneous. R. C. generally drew them from his friend when a man was wanted: his cats, dogs, cows, showed how thoroughly he understood the anatomy of them. If the sketches came all right, he let them pass—if he was not satisfied with the result, he generally tore them up and burned them. They were made in pen and ink on smooth-faced writing paper, post 8vo size, photographed on wood, and carefully engraved in "facsimile"—Process work was not sufficiently perfected at this time to reproduce the drawings by this method.1

As these last comments suggests, Evans used the more traditional method of engraving Caldecott's works: key blocks that would produce line-proofs, which would culminate in color blocks and a careful treatment with inks and tints. That Evans felt personally engaged with this new project is evidenced by the fact that he personally engraved several of the drawings, as his initials indicate, rather than delegating them to staff, which would have been more customary. Speaking of the success of these first two Caldecott books, Evans writes, "These two Caldecott books took immediate possession, or rather, the Public was very anxious to get possession of them."2

Others agreed as well. The reviews began to appear just when Caldecott was vacationing in Cannes, France, where, in Caldecott's words, "2 or 3 notices have been read by the visitors to this hotel and I am asked if I am any relation to the gifted artist. 30,000 of each book, Giplin and House, delivered to Xmas—50,000 of each expected to sell straight away. Hope so. I get a small royalty—a small, small royalty."3 The critic William Henley writes in an 1881 Art Journal:

They made more noise and gave more pleasure than all the pictures of the year, and between old folks and young there was a contest of admiration over them. They were better than popular, they were fashionable; and under their shadow a crop of imitations and adaptations sprang up like mushrooms. Old England entered into a kind of pictorial apotheosis.4

The lavish praise for these shilling toy books abounds in journals as diverse as Graphic, Academy, All the Year Round, Athenaeum, Saturday Review, Academy, and the Times, in a glowing review of over three hundred words. What is particularly noteworthy is that these reviews articulate aesthetic standards for picture books, something being defined in its very development. To some, like the Academy (1878), it was his genius as a humorist and a draftsmen and colorist that marks his work.5 To the Times:

Mr. Caldecott has the admirable faculty of informing his pictures with plenty of life and variety, and yet never confusing or overloading them. The untutored eye of a child can catch at a glance the true meaning of all he has drawn as easily as it can the take in the distinct utterances of its big alphabet. In a few strokes, dashed off apparently at random, he can portray a scene or an incident to the full…. This we hold to be the very essence of all illustration for children's books.6

The critics most touted his drawings of animals, which became a strong motif in subsequent criticism. The Times (1878) particularly praised his illustration of the dog in The House that Jack Built, which became for them a touchstone of his art, mentioned in other reviews that followed. In this review, which was probably the most important one he ever received, the critic singles out the

inimitable dog chuckling over his late successful passage of arms with the cat, unconscious of the near approach of the avenging cow whose crumpled horn he is soon so painfully to feel. The expression of satisfaction on that dog's face no words can adequately portray; Landseer himself never infused more soul into an animal's features.

The writer compares Caldecott to Evans's former protégé: "In a few strokes, dashed off apparently at random, he can portray a scene or incident to the full as correctly and completely, and far more lucidly than Mr. Crane in his later and more elaborate style."7 This kind of comparison, which was rare in reviews, surely must have stung Crane.

The press continued to rave. In a significant review, William Henley discussed Caldecott's work in the Academy (1878) and hailed his genius, saying, "I do not know of anything so comic in art, indeed, as Mr. Caldecott's Dog."8 Henley then proceeds to describe his very motions through the pages in the kind of art criticism that was meant to guide readers of a new art form. Henley articulated what has been known as "economy of line" in modern estimations of Caldecott's work. This was his description of that quality: "Mr. Caldecott is one of those rare artists who never waste a stroke, who give you in a dozen scratches the effect that some men fail to produce by an elaborate system of composition and design. A fine suggestiveness is his…."9All the Year Round (1878), which only sporadically covered children's books, admired the dog as well, saying, "I really doubt if the great Van Dyck of dogdom himself could have improved upon his portrait, as we first catch sight of him under the corner of the wall, meditating what mischief he shall be up to next."10 Again, the actions of the dog are chronicled in great detail and emotion, indicating a close reading of the images. In a review that was excerpted as an advertising blurb, the Nation (1878), one of the few American journals to cover Caldecott's work, called these titles "sui generis, and irresistibly funny as well as clever," and added, "One hardly knows what to admire most—the full page color-prints, or the outline sketches in the brown ink of the text."11 The Nation also paired Caldecott with Crane as masters raising the new generation; this was one year prior to the publication of Kate Greenaway's first picture book, after which the press would change the coupling.

These two pictures books—his first—remain his most popular and best known titles. An 1880 Gentleman's Magazine article on Caldecott drew numerous examples from John Gilpin to demonstrate Caldecott's "extraordinary breadth" and ability to "transcribe the landscape":

The scene of Gilpin's flight across the high-road affects one like a farce. We almost hear the galloping of the horses, the flapping and screaming of the ducks. But anyone who has been at Edmonton will recognize the fidelity of the picture—the faint red of houses by the roadside overlaid with dust, the old-fashioned faded tone of the whole, the bare highroad, the curious tone of sleepiness. Here, again, is feeling.12

Later, Fitzgerald cites John Gilpin for its expression of motion and drama. In a lively descriptive line, he writes, "I defy the most rigid anchoritish muscles not to relax after gazing for a few moments at the large picture in John Gilpin, where the geese are fluttering and flapping in the air under the horse's feet in their strange composite motion, half flying, half running, with idiotic plunges." In the Mad Dog, the same critic notes details of the landscape, "a sort of fringing to a common, a row of old red-brick houses, half hidden by trees, delicately tinted…. The lie of the ground is wonderfully given, and offers the rich sinuosities of such places."

In obituaries and memorials to Caldecott in 1886, these titles were often cited as most representative of the body of work. In a review of an exhibition on "English Humourists in Art," the critic in the Art Journal (1889) finds these two works to be representative of the meticulous care that Caldecott put into his work—even when they seemed so spontaneous, even trifling, hailing Caldecott's first two picture books with these words: "Caldecott's drawings should be studied carefully by those artists who have no other idea of building up a picture than a multitude of lines and a technique laborious and involved."13 In a Times (1889) review of Joseph Pennell's book on pen drawings, the author draws attention to Caldecott's cat and dog in The House that Jack Built as expressive of his "extraordinary powers." The economy of line is key: "It would be impossible in fewer lines to communicate a more intense suggestion of steathliness. And so it is with the complacent expression on the face of the dog, when, unsuspected Nemesis was coming round the corner in the shape of the cow with the crumpled horn."14 These books show a change in Caldecott's style: from cross-hatching and densely worked sketches to terse, sharply defined outline figures filled in with broad expanses of color. In the specificity that marks the best of Victorian children's book criticism, William Henley in the Art Journal (1881) notes the advances in Caldecott's artistry and points in particular to the following:

Never before had Mr. Caldecott drawn such fresh and winsome girls as the Maiden All Forlorn, John Gilpin's customers and servant-maid, and some of the spectators of the ride. Never before had he produced figures so true in gesture and so full of spirit as the Man All Battered and Torn and the Calendar, the bruised and broken Gilpin, the wandering Waiter, and the horsemen in their hue and cry. Never had he contrived to make animals so comic and personal and so true. The Rat that ate the Malt is a kind of creation; so is the Cat that ate the Rat, so is the humorsome, illfavoured, sulky, cynical ruffian—a Quilp among curs!—that worried the cat.15

Caldecott continued to illustrate two picture books a year until his death in 1886, although his correspondence suggests that he had intended to publish three books a year. During the spring or summer of each year, Caldecott would select titles and plan and design the original drawings and even the advertising on the back cover. A contemporary interview (1885), reprinted in the Critic from the Pall Mall, revealed Caldecott's creative process:

When Mr. Caldecott is contemplating one of his children's picture-books, he chooses his own subjects, and after a good deal of serious consideration as to the method of treatment to be applied, he makes a blank book of the required size, and rapidly draws a number of sketches in the rough, page for page, as they will appear. This he uses as a guide when doing the actual work. Many of the finished sketches are done with a pen and brown ink on ordinary sheets of smooth note paper.16

Caldecott clearly had a mind of his own on the selection of titles as revealed through his correspondence and through his seeming indifference to the suggestions of critics such as William Henley, who offered texts for the illustrator to consider in an possible texts in an 1881 Art Journal.17

These first two books also inspired Juliana Horatia Ewing, the originator in 1886, with her mother, Margaret Gatty, of Aunt Judy's Magazine, to seek Caldecott as illustrator for her children's fiction. In a letter to her husband, Ewing writes:

Do you remember those books that came out this Christmas—children's books, 1s. each, John Gilpin and The House that Jack Built, illustrated by a man called Caldecott? I was daft about them—the draughtmanship so nervous and fine—the whole artistic satisfactoriness so completely free of trick and so thoroughly the outcome of labour.18

Caldecott illustrated three books for Ewing: Jackanapes (1883), Daddy Darwin's Dovecoat (1884), and Lob Lie-by-the-Fire (1886), which were engraved by Edmund Evans and published by the prodigious publisher, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK). Only the frontispieces were in color, with fairly traditional black and white drawings. Caldecott received, at best, but a passing nod from critics for his illustrations. The Academy (1883), which called Jackanapes "the book of the season" found "only three or four of the drawings which quite satisfy us—the old general is throughout inadequate."19 About Daddy Darwin's Dovecoat, the Academy declared Caldecott's illustrations "to fail deplorably, as he has sometimes failed before, when he tries to give us a man sans phrase. The pictures on page 23 and page 28 we cannot away with."20 Indeed, Gleeson White, in his book on English illustrators of the 1860s (1897), concluded: "Neither in the drawings nor in their engraving do you find anything which is above the average of its class."21

Despite the rather negative impression of his Ewing illustrations, the book sold well. The first edition run of 10,000 copies, which was the standard first-run printing, quickly sold out, and various composite volumes were reissued that contained these titles. Caldecott's and Evans's figures differed on the initial print run, with Caldecott suggesting 30,000 copies.


After a spectacular reception to his first two picture books, the atmosphere was charged for his next offerings. The two toy books to appear for the 1879 Christmas book trade were The Babes in the Wood and An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog. Caldecott created these particular picture books while in ill health, as he wrote to a friend: "Some of these designs were made when I was very very stomachily seedy at Florence and most were arranged and planned there. I scribbled out the plan of 1 book in the train between Florence and Bologna."22The Babes in the Wood is a sad tale of abandoned children who find brief solace in the forest, populated by the birds, rabbits, and foxes that Caldecott liked to draw. The Mad Dog, written by Oliver Goldsmith, is set in Islington, where a dog competes with a cat for the affection of his master, who is bitten by the dog but lives, unlike the fateful dog.

These two books by Caldecott—again revisions of common tales given uncommon treatment—received uneven favor by the critics. The books were covered by most of the regular British reviewing venues: The Times, Academy, Athenaeum, Saturday Review, and the Art Journal. Each one vastly preferred the humorous Mad Dog; Babes in the Woods was "too sad a tale for Mr. Caldecott's pencil and colours."23 The Nation admired the mirthful Mad Dog but disapproved of the other folktale: "The artist has shown a grievous want of taste in treating humorously the tragedy of the Babes."24 To the Times, the Mad Dog was nothing less than a "treasure-house of art … surely the most wonderful work that any firm has ever issued … for a shilling."25 As to the folkloric story of the tragic babes, the influential Times was less impressed: "Caldecott's pencil is lively rather than severe, to be employed rather on the light than the dark side of life…. The subject seems out of harmony." Writing in an 1881 Art Journal, Henley observed that these books were less successful than their predecessors, largely due to their subject matter. He analyzed what worked—and did not—in the two books:

The Wicked Uncle and the Ruffians of the first are not at all good; but the Babes themselves are very pretty and innocent and touching, and the friends they make in the woods are friends worth knowing. The Mad Dog is altogether superior. The Man is a veritable creation; and the Dog—whether philandering with the Man, or listening to the promptings of the fiend Jealousy; or going off his wits, with infinite determination and a humour of frenzy in every hair on his coat; or fading away, as one who has seen a Boojum, into the quiet sunset—is even better than the Man.26

Caldecott must have read what these critics wrote, for he never ventured far again from the comic style regarded as his forte. However, even in this serious tale, he interjected some humor by modelling the father—"a gentleman of good account, sore sick and like to die"—after himself and making one of the "ruffians strong" resemble Edmund Evans.

This year was also the first occasion of Kate Greenaway's concurrent publications—her landmark picture book, Under the Window—and critics began to discuss their works together. After a year of swelling praise for his new kind of picture book, Caldecott would now share the limelight with Greenaway (and occasionally Crane). This period was when the sense of "the triumvirate" began to be constructed. Although their styles were quite different, their mutual publishing by Edmund Evans and Routledge often aligned them in reviews and in subsequent criticism.


The Three Jovial Huntsmen and Sing a Song for Sixpence appeared in 1880, which was also the year of Caldecott's marriage to Marian Brind. The Jovial Huntsmen is a traditional Lancashire tale of the mis-adventures of three men on horseback in the countryside, which includes encounters with pigs, one of Caldecott's favorite animals to draw. Song for Sixpence (Caldecott altered the traditional preposition "of" to "for") is an old popular rhyme deriving from at least the Elizabethan age and referenced in Shake-speare. Crane had earlier illustrated the rhyme in two versions: The Song of Sixpence (Massé, 1865) and Aunt Louisa's Sing a Song of Sixpence (Spencer, 1866). Caldecott's twists were in picturing the King and Queen as children and in adding a final couplet in which the maid's nose is restored. Pictures adorn the walls, with paintings of Jack and the Giant, Robinson Crusoe, Little Red-Riding Hood, the Babes in the Wood, and Little Bo-Peep. Blackbirds, which were another popular figure of Caldecott's illustrative art, abound, and the children dress in Regency clothing, suggesting the influence of Greenaway. Caldecott rendered in Sixpence a familiar rhyme that had been illustrated in one drawing in Crane's Baby's Opera (1879); here Caldecott develops the simple fare into a full story with eight colored and twentytwo black and white illustrations.

The reviews were favorable, but less extensive in coverage or commentary. The Graphic admired the Huntsmen and, in particular, the image of the children departing from school; they were not as impressed with Sixpence, which they attributed to "the difficulties of the subject."27 The Times disagreed, rating the Sixpence superior, recalling images of the childlike king and queen, the surprised family faces at the musical dinner, the punishment awaiting the blackbird. The critic only regretted the lack of "those graceful female figures in which Mr. Caldecott is so supreme."28 On the whole, the Times viewed the two books as less than Caldecott's best, ill-suited to his own fancy and humor, but admitted that he has only himself as rival. However, William Henley wrote appreciatively of both works in the Art Journal:

The Song of Sixpence with its wonderful noise of Blackbirds, its delightful King and Queen, its charming Washer-Maiden, and its heaps of comic Courtiers: to say nothing of its value as exegesis, and its freshness and novelty as a commentary on an ancient and most mysterious legend—and of The Three Jovial Huntsmen, with its Gothamitish heroes, its exquisite glimpses of landscape, its fine differentiation of character, and its varied spirit of adventure.29

Caldecott received some criticism for the authorship of the Jovial Huntsmen text. The Manchester Guardian chided Caldecott for not acknowledging Edwin Waugh as the author.30 Caldecott responded that he had been granted permission by Waugh to use the verses and had altered as he saw fit. The critic Emilia Dilke of the Art Journal (1895) quoted Caldecott deliberating over the text to The Three Huntsmen : "There are no end of verses 'known' of the three huntsmen's adventures. I have used six of a version by Edwin Waugh, the Lancashire poet, a friend of mine—which is partly original—and I have added two of mine own. I fancy that the real old original song is of 'Three Jovial Welshmen, who all went up a-hunting on St. David's Day.'"31

These two books have become associated with Caldecott in the twentieth century, with the Horn Book adopting the huntsmen for its cover in 1924 (remaining so until 1985), and with the scholar Brian Alderson naming his 1986 commemorative exhibition book on English illustration in the Caldecott tradition, Sing a Song for Sixpence.


The reviews of 1881 announced two more picture books: The Queen of Hearts and The Farmer's Boy. Queen of Hearts illustrates Caldecott's sense of animation where he begins with the traditional text but invents comical complications. For these books, Caldecott received a slight raise in royalty, increased to a penny farthing. Caldecott wrote in a letter to Frederick Locker, "I am hesitating about making a shilling Picture Book like my last of it, or making a more decorative & complete thing of it (in the future)—introducing the various Kings, Queens, Knaves & their little games & costumes."32Farmer's Boy is a bucolic tale by Robert Bloomfield set on "the banks of the Aire" with shepherds, sheep, and hens, pigs, ducks, dogs, turkeys, and children—a new animal introduced on every page. The setting recalls Caldecott's childhood landscapes near Whitchurch. The Times (1881) questioned whether these new titles were compatible to the artist's humor and freshness of treatment "which so eminently distinguished some of his earlier work, perhaps reaching their height in the masterpiece of the Mad Dog's Elegy. "33Graphic (1881) admired the Queen of Hearts as "irresistibly comic," but slighted Farmer's Boy as "less entertaining." In the former work, the paper declared that Caldecott's talent "has its cunning, and that in his own peculiar artistic line he still remains unsurpassed."34 The "still" suggests the prevalence of much competition in the field of illustration—as well as his run of two picture books a year for the fourth year in a row. The Athenaeum (1881) liked some images from the Queen of Hearts, particularly "the dames d'honneur seated on the garden dais and witnessing the apologies of the peccant Knave"; other scenes were deemed "too pretty."35 The reviews were pale in comparison to his lively start.


In 1882 Caldecott's contributions were The Milkmaid and Hey, Diddle, Diddle. The Milkmaid tells of a rejected suitor who is cast away on a wild bull. Hey, Diddle, Diddle combines two sets of rhymes in one volume: "Bye, Baby Bunting" and "Hey, Diddle, Diddle," which first appeared in print in Mother Goose's Melody; or, Sonnet for the Cradle (circa 1765). In The Milkmaid, Caldecott took a familiar tale, "My Pretty Maid," and offered a new version, which the New York Times noticed: "The young Squire, after that familiar quotation of the pretty maid, 'Nobody asked you, Sir,' is seized by the infuriated girls, put on a cow's back, and he may be seen, Mazeppa-like, whirling off in the distance, while the maids dance around, delighted at his rapid disappearance."36 For the first time, Caldecott received attention in the American press, which had been slow to write about his work, although it quickly picked up on Greenaway's. The Nation appreciated Caldecott's ability at "extracting material for illustration from the most unpromising verse."37 The Critic hailed Caldecott as "one of the best living illustrators of children's books" and followed with brief but glowing words about his new picture books, including mention of Edmund Evans's masterful color printing.38 The Dial tied Caldecott's latest books together with the line, "They are among the most artistic of the children's books in colors."39

The British press debated the issue. The Academy was singular in its appreciation of both books, mentioning the scene of the "the cat and the dish and the spoon" (a scene much celebrated in modern texts as a touchstone of Caldecott's art) while criticizing the lack of uniformity of Caldecott's dogs. To this critic, Caldecott showed no waning of powers: "He differs from all other illustrators by the creative genius with which he breathes new life into an old-world story…. After Mr. Caldecott, all else palls."40 The Athenaeum (1882) wasn't enamored of either book, although it admired the scene from Hey, Diddle, Diddle of the pig dancing while the cow jumps over the moon, which "will make a deep impression."41 [That has proven a popular image that has been frequently reproduced in recent years on a range of products and publications.] In a lengthy essay on "Art in the Nursery," the Magazine of Art (1882) found Caldecott's books of this season wanting: "His invention is less singular and complete than before; his execution is more careless and less expressive; his subjects are less popular and affecting." The Times (1882) selected a few favorite images:

There is an indefinable grace as well as extraordinary suggestion in the back of the lackadaisical-looking young squire, leaning out of the casement on the title-page. The frog, who, like the young squire, would go a-wooing, reminds us of many a middle-age young gentleman: and in The Parson's Gate, we are ready promptly to order a bran mash for the horse pumped out by a hard gallop.

However, the critic found these works "slighter efforts than usual, and which do not compare with the memorable Mad Dog or the House that Jack Built. "42 The Spectator announced the titles with little comment other than noting their similarity to "the style which has had such a well-deserved success."43 The Saturday Review was characteristically British in its critical specificity:

Pray observe the French graces and affected attitude of the Cat who plays on the Fiddle, while the children (not in the least surprised—as why should children be?) dance to the music of Puss. The old amateur who owns the violin is ludicrously like an eminent (but unmusical) scholar. The friendly pigs have expressions rich in mirthful interest, and the cow actually, and not incredibly, "jumps over the moon." The amorous glances of the Dish are clearly not distasteful to the Spoon, who is giving him a good deal of encouragement. The father of Baby Bunting, like our sportsmen as described by an American critic, has "gone to his fall-shooting on horseback, in a pink coat." Even better is Mr. Caldecott's illustrated editions of that early English pastourelle, the Milkmaid's wooing. Never was there such a long and listless boy as the cautious wooer; never was milkmaid prettier, or more scornful, and Mr. Caldecott has added a terrible "nemesis" all out of his own head.44

Of the much-touted image of the dish running away with the spoon in Hey Diddle Diddle (which recalls Walter Crane's similar image on the cover of The Baby's Opera), Kate Greenaway wrote to Frederick Locker upon seeing some of Caldecott's drawings for the book: "They are uncommonly clever. The Dish running away with the spoon—you can't imagine how much he has made of it. I wish I had such a mind."45


The last three years of Caldecott's picture books inspired a somewhat lackluster response from the press. In terms of his own rewards, Caldecott, after much effort, began to receive a more lucrative arrangement with the publisher, increasing his royalty to three halfpence—twelve and a half percent. [The Fox Jumps over the Parson's Gate ] is reported to be a story which Caldecott heard from colloquial conversation on a walk or while riding of a wooing that takes place between the frog and Miss Mouse, aided by the rat. The book includes what has become a famous sketch of the wedding procession, with a graveyard nearby, and a stone vaguely engraved "Caldecott," with a lively child perched and pointing the way. [The Frog He Would a-Wooing Go ] is an old tale attributed to an old spinning song. Aesthetic touches appear, such as peacock feathers adorning a gilt frame and some smartly dressed frog fellows, the images suggestive of Oscar Wilde, who had just returned from his America tour. The Nation was unimpressed with these 1883 offerings, seeing the quality of the color drawings as almost counterfeit to the illustrator's style—"below his average" and "unworthy of the series."46 The Graphic felt otherwise, praising Caldecott's "comic pencil" that invests "old friends with new faces." The critic guides the reader's eye:

Look at Froggy's airy gallantry when he takes leave of his fond mamma, or woos Mistress Mouse, and his prompt exit on the arrival of cat and kittens—a very study of tails. But perhaps the most genuine humour is shown in the cuts of the sporting person, who, overcome by the sound of "Tally-ho," flings his clerical gear to the winds and springs over the church gate, while a bridal party, left in the lurch, gape vacantly after their flying pastor.47

The Magazine of Art found the two books to be "in his best and pleasant vein," noting the creation of the Frog and the Rat as very real, the highly dramatic character of Anthony Rowley, and the assault of the Cat and her kittens, along with the characterization of the Fox, the Parson, and the Bride and Bridegroom.48

While not part of the picture book series, Some of Aesop's Fables with Modern Instances also appeared in the spring of 1883. Originally conceived in 1874, the book, which seemed so fitting to Caldecott's interest in animal lore and his wry humor, was put aside for almost a decade. Caldecott's brother Alfred translated the texts from Greek, Roman, and French originals, which were not necessarily congruent to Caldecott's more English-based designs. Alfred Caldecott included a preface note in which he alluded to differences between illustrations and text: "the Designer and Translator have not always been on terms of equal authority; the former has stood unshakably by English traditions, and has had his own way." The engraver, J. D. Cooper, suggested that each fable be accompanied by "modern instances," which would consist of contemporary social or political commentary. Caldecott was not sanguine about the book as he wrote to a friend, "Do not expect much from this book. When I see proofs of it I wonder and regret that I did not approach the subject more seriously."49

As pen and ink drawings, the book did not fare well with the public, which had become accustomed to his colorful drawings. The "moral instances" were marginally received. To the Art Journal (1883), they were too ephemeral of interest to warrant inclusion in a book of universal truths. The slighter vignettes, such as "Fox without a Tail," were considered superior to the elaborate drawings. Some Japanese touches were noted, in particular the gamecock in the "Cock and the Jewel" series.50 In an unfavorable review, the Academy considered the book beneath his abilities and the "modern instances" to be a complete failure, adding, "It is to be hoped that Mr. Caldecott will not be encouraged to let his fancy condescend to the rough work of the political caricaturist."51 However, that view was not shared by all. The Athenaeum (1883) found the fables to possess "piquant satire and genial touches," noting favorite scenes:

Some of the animals could hardly have been better; see the Irish frogs and patriots, who are croaking and vociferating for a "Land Bill," and desire King Stork instead of King Log. The stag looking into the water would please Bewick; "The Lion and Other Beasts," the vignette of a shareholders' meeting to receive the report of the directors of a bubble company, and the lion scampering before the braying ass, are superior examples. The "advanced" female lecturing three pretty damsels on the undesirability of the "Fox without a Tail"; so is "The Ass in the Lion's Skin," a critic lecturing on an antique statue.52

Joseph Pennell considered the book to contain the best examples of the artist's "marvelous power in expressing a whole story in a few lines." In Pen Drawing and Pen Draughtsmen (1889), he wrote, "It would be impossible to give a better idea of bounding free motion than in this stag from the Aesop, with the whole of Scotland stretching away from him."53


The two 1884 titles—Come, Lasses and Lads and Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross, along with A Farmer Went Trotting upon His Grey Mare —were reviewed by the Graphic and the Athenaeum, with the former hinting that the humor had declined a bit, and the latter extolling the delicacy of the designs, "almost worthy of Stothard, the highest praise they could claim."54Lasses and Lads is based on the celebration of May Day and a country fête. The Saturday Review found that "his peculiar vein of artistic humour shown no sign of flagging. The pictures in Come, Lasses and Lads are extremely pretty as well as funny."55 The Spectator (1885) was not amused, finding "not a smile to be raised. It is true that the figures march and dance with their accustomed spirit, but the spirit of fun seems to have evaporated."56 Arthur Locker, editor of the Graphic in 1888, wrote of Caldecott's folk figures:

Then how especially charming are the girls! And they are the best type of English girls. Healthy, innocent, yet refined creatures, who keep good hours, and spend much time in the open air. He is less kind to his own sex. Not infrequently they are ugly, or at all events queer-looking, yet, if he pleases, he can draw the very beau ideal of a manly yet unassuming young Englishman.57

Ride a Cock Horse is a favorite Mother Goose rhyme designed to be sung while bouncing a baby on a knee. A Farmer is based on Caldecott's Farnham, Surrey landscape, which (from 1882) he drew upon for his picture books.

In November of 1884, Caldecott wrote Evans that he was disinterested in doing further picture books in the series, which now totaled fourteen. "I wish to turn my attention to something else," he added, without stating his intention other than to produce a more expensive book. America seemed a better prospect for sales, and he alluded to a book which had sold well there recently, "the subject being thoroughly English and beautifully treated."58 An apt description of his own work.


Despite his determination to pursue other endeavors, Caldecott did two more picture books—his last—for the holiday season of 1885: An Elegy on the Glory of Her Sex, Mrs. Mary Blaize by Oliver Goldsmith and The Great Panjandrum Himself by Samuel Foote. Mary Blaize is a satirical look at the varied responses of an eighteenth century town to a local harlot, written by Goldsmith, who was a familiar author to the Victorians even a century later. An edition of Goldsmith's poetry had been earlier published in 1859 by Routledge and engraved by Edmund Evans. Austin Dobson, a biographer of Goldsmith and frequent critic, wrote that Caldecott's genius here was to reinterpret the story for humorous effects: "Who, for example, ever before conceived of Madame Blaize as a pawnbroker, because—'She freely lent to all the poor—Who left a pledge behind'?"59The Great Panjandrum is a somewhat surreal fantasy about an academic, accompanied by other eighteenth century personages. The obscure story is based on a farce written by Samuel Foote as a satire on the actor Macklin, who in his retirement frequented the lecture circuit and boasted of his powers of memorization, which this particular nonsensical tale was meant to challenge. Caldecott included scenes from the town of Whitchurch where he had lived as a young man, and the walking wedding suggests his own wedding to Marian Brind, when she walked to the church of St. Martin of Tours, Chelsfield, Kent. The strangeness of the tale disaffected some readers. "There is not, to our humble judgement, a really funny picture in the book," noted the Spectator (1885), scrutinizing the designs: "The great Panjandrum himself is made into a schoolmaster in cap and gown, but somehow he fails to amuse; the Picinnies—a wedding party of children—are rather funny, but the Jobilies and the Garyulies, etc., are dull to stupidity."60 The Athenaeum (1885) was lukewarm about the designs in The Great Panjandrum, admiring the figure of Mary in the garden and the dancing bridesmaids while chiding the figure of the best man with the gunpowder in his boots.61 The Graphic (1885) enjoyed the humor in the barber shop scenes of the "Panjandrum"; the Times (1885) noted the absence of dogs and cats, their favorite Caldecott characters, but appreciated the horses and ponies and cited the choicest of these postures to accompany the verse.62 The Times (1885) added that Caldecott was preparing to leave for a trip to the United States, "whence he is sure to return with note books crammed with new inspirations."63 Alas, that was not to be.


Caldecott died on the trip to the United States, in St. Augustine, Florida, at age thirty-nine, on February 12, 1886, due to a chronic rheumatic heart ailment and tuberculosis. The heart condition limited his life to a short span, in which he tried to recoup his health with frequent visits to warmer climates. His correspondence contains references to his health, which was a subject of concern among his close friends and family. He was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in St. Augustine, Florida, and a memorial tablet to Cal-decott was designed by Sir Alfred Gilbert, R.A., and consecrated in the artist's corner of St. Paul's Cathedral. The memorial tablet, planned by Caldecott's wife, Marian, in 1887, shows a Breton child holding Caldecott's picture. An exhibition of his work—one of many to follow—was held at the Brasenose Club, Manchester, England, in 1888, with an accompanying catalogue and proceedings. Obituaries to the artist appeared in numerous British papers, such as the Spectator, Academy, Times, Saturday Review, Art Journal, Blackwood's Magazine, and Illustrated London News, many of which were reprinted in American journals.

The obituaries are, on the whole, lengthy and lavish; they clearly highlight the various "spots of time" in Caldecott's brief artistic career and conjoin his life and legacy as children's book illustrator par excellence. In more of a personal than formal obituary, the Times (1886) emphasized his enormous appeal, not only with the fashionable aesthetics of the day, but also with his animal characters and his hunting scenes, "in his own half-antiquarian spirit." His personal associations are evoked: the wide circle of friends and admirers who would feel his loss.64 The Academy (1886) obituary was poignant, beginning with his name and the line, "whose life seems often to have hung upon a thread." His toy books are cited as his most memorable work, one in which no one could have earned more attention for so simple an art. Called "a genius," in the line of Cruikshank and Doyle, Caldecott's artistry was "comprehensive, humane, and pleasure-giving" in all of its action and humor.65 The Saturday Review (1886) appreciated his contribution to art as a certain cachet, an individuality that set him apart from those whose work he resembled. He had imitators, but no equals. His greatest triumph was in his Washington Irving illustrations and in his picture books, the latter of which should long survive the former. Some of Aesop's Fables is mentioned, with some criticism of the work, and the comment that it did not attain the merit it should have, nor was the work as accomplished. The article ends with a litany of memorable scenes from his picture books, which recall his "manly, kindly humour, the joy of life and landscape, the pure and playful types of childish and feminine beauty."66

The Spectator (1886), in a lengthy article, reiterated the statement about Caldecott being able in few touches to reach the heart of his subject, drawing on details from The House that Jack Built as an example. Caldecott's work is compared to the avantgarde of French fashion, with much dismay over these trends. Instead, Caldecott presented an essentially English landscape, with memorable scenes and redolent images recalled.67 This obituary, in a similar vein to the Saturday Review, demonstrated through the immediacy and passion of their prose the impact of the artist on his audience. Punch (1886) eulogized the artist with a poem showing great affection and grief for "that happy hand / that limned old English life, love, leisure."68 Curiously, little appeared about Caldecott's death in the American literary press, even though he died in the United States. More tributes to Caldecott appeared in the following year, along with Henry Blackburn's biography of Caldecott's early art career and in 1895 a two-part article in the Art Journal.

In the forty years after Caldecott's death and before the inauguration of the Caldecott Medal, his reputation was perpetuated by art critics and historians. Henry Blackburn, close friend and collaborator, published in 1886 a biography of Caldecott's early art career, from 1861 to 1880. While Blackburn's interest was largely to illustrate Caldecott's work, in his narrative he provided a childhood history of the artist, which is the only historical evidence remaining. Blackburn's memoir emphasized "the grace and beauty, and wealth of imagination in Caldecott's work" rather than art criticism.69 In fact, Blackburn's interest was more in the works done in 1874 and 1875, which would be largely the Old Christmas illustrations. One singular contribution that has entered the critical discourse on Caldecott was a quote he included about and from Caldecott, who studied "the art of leaving out as a science" and whose critical refrain was "the fewer the lines, the less error committed."70 Blackburn suggested in his preface that "the consideration of his later work is reserved for a future time," yet no such study emerged for almost a century.

Others touted his work in historical surveys and art histories. The first book-length historical study of children's books, The Child and His Book by Mrs. E. M. Field (1891), spoke of Caldecott as an "ideal artist" in his imaginative renderings, especially of the animal world, and tied him to the related works of Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway, executed by the artistry of Edmund Evans. Joseph Pennell's Modern Illustration (1895) cited the excellence of Caldecott's picture books, which he felt were "given secondary rank to his Bracebridge Hall and Old Christmas, of far less artistic importance."71 Gleeson White, in his landmark survey, "Children's Books and Their Illustrators," in The Studio (1897–8), highlighted Calde-cott's rare artistry, in particular, "the peculiar subtlety of his pictured comment upon any bare text…. He studied his subject as no one ever studied it…. Then he portrayed it simply and with irresistible vigour, with a fine economy of line and colour…."72 Martin Hardie's study, English Coloured Books (1906), celebrated Caldecott in conjunction with Crane and Greenaway, noting Caldecott's "delicate colouring and astonishing freshness of invention," exemplified in the famous mad dog dancing figure, so beloved by the Times, as "consisting of over two hundred and fifty separate strokes of the pen, each spare yet significant."73 F. J. Harvey Darton's Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life (1932) framed the personality of the artist, always a person first—"robust" and "humane" with a feel for "folk and lovable dogs and horses and flesh-and-blood hybrids like his fellow-Englishmen."74 Darton's influence has shaped the public impression of the artist for over half a century.

A visual boost to Caldecott's reputation appeared on the covers of the new professional journal, the Horn Book, instituted in 1922. By 1924, the journal designed a cover drawing based on Caldecott's three jovial huntsmen, chosen, in the Horn Book's words, "to blow the horn for fine books for boys and girls and because the trio could not blow the horn hard enough, Caldecott's artwork—sometime in large format and sometimes small—heralded the arrival of each new issue for subscribers."75 The journal continued to use this cover for fifty-nine years, until it changed for the centennial of Caldecott's death (1986) to an adaptation of a Caldecott drawing—one of the artist in Brittany surrounded by Breton children and their elders, titled "Sketching under Difficulties"—with Maurice Sendak additions: a "Wild Thing" over Caldecott's shoulder, accompanied by a cat with a fiddle, a dog, and a blackbird. Since then, illustrators in the Caldecott tradition—called "Caldecott's Heirs"—have been chosen to design the cov-ers; such artists "value the text, treat it reverently, balance it with art, keep a continual dialogue running between text and art, and in the process create something that is as rare in its own way as opera—a true picture book."76

The Horn Book promoted Caldecott's work through graphic images as well as textual matter. Founder and editor, Bertha Mahony (Miller), wrote a tribute in 1938, in which she celebrated Caldecott's "spontaneous quality of reality and fun" and "country life" and quotes from Harvey Darton's description of Caldecott. The article closes with a list of Caldecott's picture books and a note stating that all are published by Warne, in print, and cost sixty cents each.77 Eight years later, the Horn Book staged a centennial celebration of the births of Caldecott and Greenaway (who were both born in March of 1846)—called "Their First Hundred Years." The March-April issue, which was issued as a reprint, was devoted to articles on both artists and on Edmund Evans. Bertha Mahony's editorial cited Caldecott's "ageless vitality," mentioned her two favorite titles, The Farmer's Boy and The House that Jack Built, and suggested that future Caldecott Award committees reexamine Caldecott's picture books before they cast a final vote for the medal winner and "try to see their choice one hundred years hence."78 Hilda Van Stockum's article on Caldecott in that issue centered on what the title suggests—"Caldecott's Pictures in Motion"—and traced his perpetual motion through the Jovial Huntsmen and John Gilpin. 79 Moore would mention Caldecott in several of her "Three Owl" columns. A 1961 article by Joan Bodger, which traced the author's pilgrimage to Caldecott landmarks, mentioned in passing that Bretano's bookstore was then selling first editions of Caldecott's picture books at a premium but not stocking them in the children's section as they were "crowded out by all the galaxy of bright new stuff."80 The magazine regularly publishes the Caldecott Award acceptance speeches and has produced a calendar with Caldecott illustrations (for 1974). A letter to the editor alerting readers to the possible demise of Caldecott's Bloomsbury residence led to a strong letter-writing response from readers and the preservation of the building at 46 Great Russell Street, along with a commemorative plaque.

Caldecott's reputation continued to soar through the Horn Book's graphic and textual matter, which often centered on the identity of Caldecott and the award in illustration named in his honor by critics and historians, instituted in 1937. No other event so staked the claim for Caldecott's canonical status as did the Caldecott Award. The choice of an award for picture book illustration and of Caldecott as the designee of the award reveals some of the intricate relations between publishers, teachers, and librarians in promoting literature. Awards in children's books began in the booming children's book decade of the 1920s with the advent of the Newbery Medal, named and funded by Frederic Melcher (1879–1963), editor of Publishers Weekly (and later president of Bowker), active in the American Booksellers Association, and a book collector in his own right. Earlier, in 1919, he helped to organize "Children's Book Week," the first national reading initiative in this country. In 1921, Melcher instituted the Newbery Medal to help promote the publishing of quality children's books. The success of that award in coalescing the nascent children's services community, in building coalitions between publishers and librarians, and in attracting public visibility to the importance of children's reading, led Melcher to consider another largesse. He felt that picture books were not receiving their due in terms of the award consideration, particularly the stunning picture books of the 1930s. Thus, the Caldecott Medal was inaugurated in 1937, with the medal designed by René Paul Chamberlain, of an image from John Gilpin.

Children's books in the mid-1930s were recovering from the crisis of the Depression. In contrast, the 1920s was a boom period with several significant publishers creating children's book divisions and hiring editors: Louise Seaman Bechtel at Macmillan, and May Massee at Doubleday. The Horn Book was founded in 1924 by Bertha Mahony Miller, who also opened the first children's bookstore. Children's libraries were spreading across the country, due to pioneer efforts of librarians like Anne Carroll Moore and library school programs like those at the University of Wisconsin, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and Pratt Institute. By the end of 1929, Publishers Weekly said of children's books that they were "demanding and winning the finest talent creating today. Not only in writing is this true but in illustration and decoration, and in production. The standards are new standards."81 Firms like Holiday House and William R. Scott began publishing books distinguished by innovative design and printing. Although the lean years of the 1930s deflated the output of titles and the sanguine rhythm of growth, distinguished picture books continued to appear by illustrators such as Wanda Gag, Helen and Kurt Wiese, Feodor Rojankovsky, Roger Duvoisin, Munro Leaf, Lois Lenski, Rene D'Harnoncourt, Ludwig Bemelmans, Maude and Miska Petersham, Boris Artzybasheff, and Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), among others. By the mid-1930s the output of books had surged again, and attention to this extraordinary talent and artistry was due.

With only one award to acknowledge quality in children's books, and that quality often being associated with narrative, picture books, in all their brilliance in image and design, could be easily overlooked. Melcher, with his editorship of Publishers Weekly and his intimate role with children's book creators and librarians, was certainly aware of the challenge, the opportunity. If another award, who would bear its name? Who would be another John Newbery, the first who made children's book publishing a serious business in mid-eighteenth century England? Among the many possibilities (and Howard Pyle seemed a likely candidate as a distinguished American illustrator), Melcher chose the name and reputation of Randolph Caldecott to bear the honor of this new award. He explained his reasons in this way:

The advantage of the name "Caldecott" is not only that it has pleasant connotations for everyone, but … his work was very definitely the kind of thing where the interest was in the pictures, yet there never was a book where the text was inconsequential. It would be my impulse to say that we should include in the wording of the final statement that we suggest that the books be judged by the pictures but that the text should be worthy of the pictures.82

Caldecott may have been prominent in mind because the first definitive historian of the field, F. J. Harvey Darton, had recently lauded his name. Darton's monumental study, Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life (1932), was the first scholarly work to be published on the subject and was widely reviewed. Darton speaks of Caldecott as part of "The Triumvirate of Edmund Evans," which included Walter Crane and Kate Greenaway, as the three who "made the modern picture book." Darton singles out Caldecott:

Of the three, Caldecott had the most robust and, so to speak, humane personality. The other two seem like artists first and ordinary people afterwards. You always feel that Caldecott is not thinking of a picture, but of folk and lovable dogs and horses and flesh-and-blood hybrids like his fellow-Englishmen.83

The announcement of the new Caldecott Medal in the Library Journal of July 1937 quoted from this passage from Darton's Children's Books of England, thus illustrating the powerful influence of Darton in image-building. As no such critical work extolled the might and majesty of American children's book artists—and would not until the publication of Barbara Bader's American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to the Beast Within (1976)—the English tradition in picture books was paramount, particularly to an American book public that still seemed to privilege British art and literature. And Caldecott was still popular, as Michael Patrick Hearn noted:

Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane were the rage on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps to gain legitimacy for the award, the American Library Association took the name of a British illustrator, for its annual medal given to the most distinguished contribution to picture books published in the United States. Certainly Caldecott's series was then better known than any designed by American artists; already by 1920, copies of his toy books were selling better in the United States than when they were first published over forty years before.84

The choice of Caldecott to bear the prize name suggests some of the inner workings of reputation-making: the imprimatur of an influential authority figure (Darton) conjoined by the sanction of practitioners (teachers and librarians) and the economic prowess of publishers (Melcher and publishing industry).

Librarians were—and continue to be—historically significant in furthering Caldecott's reputation. The first-ever bibliographic guide to reading by the indefatigable Caroline Hewins appeared in 1883: Books for the Young: A Guide for Parents and Children (Leypoldt, 1883). Among her recommendations were eight Caldecott picture books, all of the series that had appeared up to that point. Hewins was the mentor of children's librarians, particularly Anne Carroll Moore, who followed Hewins's imperative to write on children's books and prepare useful guides to the literature. Moore's influence in the field was prodigious. As the superintendent of children's services for the New York Public Library, Moore trained a cadre of librarians whose influence extended across the country and internationally.85 As an example, Lillian Smith began her library work under Anne Carroll Moore and then moved to Canada, where she was instrumental in developing library service to children; Smith also wrote a landmark text, one of the first of its kind as literary criticism, The Unreluctant Years (1953), in which she held Caldecott's art to be higher than that of Crane or Greenaway in "his power to give personality to both human and animal characters."86

Moore was very fond of the work of Caldecott and spoke of his art glowingly in her various book columns, which were then reprinted in book format. Moore decorated the walls of the elegantly designed and fitted Central Children's Room with prints, including several small pictures from Caldecott's books which hung on the wood paneling of a window seat. She celebrated Caldecott's birthday every year (March 22), along with those of Kate Greenaway, H. C. Andersen, Walter de la Mare, L. Leslie Brooke, and Marie Shedlock. These annual birthday fetes, which were encouraged in each branch, were important, as Moore biographer Frances Clark Sayers notes, in "endowing certain writers and artists with new life in the contemporary world."87 During Caldecott's centennial year, librarian Mary Gould Davis, a protégé of Moore, published the first American text on the artist, which recounts the author's identification with Caldecott's work and ties the life and legacy of Caldecott to the Caldecott Medal.88 The encomia even spread outward into the popular press, with articles on Caldecott and Greenaway in magazines such as Time, which touted Caldecott for his "sure sense of movement, which set a new standard for fast action on paper."89 The British children's book journal, The Junior Bookshelf, also celebrated the centennial with a special issue (March 1946) on Caldecott and Crane, with articles on Caldecott by Alice Jordan, "H. J. B. W.," and Eleanor Graham.

After much hoopla in 1946, Caldecott's reputation lay largely dormant until the 1970s. An important stimulus then and later was Brian Alderson, a British scholar whose work centered on the revival of serious scholarship of the picture book. Alderson arranged an exhibition for the National Book League in London entitled "Looking at Picture Books" (1973) and prepared a catalogue, in which he identifies Caldecott in line with an English school of book illustration, which includes Blake, Mulready, Cruikshank, Lear, and Doyle, among others. Caldecott and Sendak are raised to the pantheon of "presiding geniuses" for "their agreement on the essential principles of illustration and, nonetheless, their assertion of a completely individual personality." While this catalogue did not receive much circulation, it was cited by Aidan Chambers in a Horn Book column and, due to Alderson's reputation as a definitive critic, helped to solidify Caldecott's canonical standing.90

Between 1976 and 1978, three important works were published on Caldecott, the timing of which stimulated new reprinting of his works. Rodney Engen's Randolph Caldecott: "Lord of the Nursery" (1976) suggests in its title Caldecott's ascendance in the literary marketplace. As an artist himself, Engen presents an illustrated biography of the artist that emphasizes his early habit of recording life in quick sketches and emphasizes, through the reproductions, Caldecott's versatility in lesser known art mediums. Michael Hutchins's Yours Pictorially: Illustrated Letters of Randolph Caldecott (1976) offers a short biography and presents a large collection of letters written by the artist, many of which were originally illustrated. The collection is invaluable in its delineation of the many friends and associates with whom Caldecott corresponded, each of whom is identified. This book, perhaps more than any other written about the artist, furthers the image of Caldecott as "the person first, the artist next," which Darton suggested in his 1932 text. The letters provide anectodage, which helps to generate an affective response to the artist. The letters are profusely illustrated as well, which showcase Caldecott's quick mind and sure hand. The book has also proved a boon to scholars, who frequently cite letters from the collection that were gathered from numerous archival sources.

These two books augured well for the reception of Elizabeth Billington's The Randolph Caldecott Treasury (1978), an anthology of tributes to Caldecott, which was inspired by the author's discovery that the picture books were going out of print. The essay most often cited in reviews is one by Maurice Sendak, some of which appeared earlier in his 1964 Caldecott Medal acceptance speech. Sendak values Caldecott's power "to quicken, to create an inner life that draws breath from the artist's deepest perception…. It suggests something musical, something rhythmic and impulsive … the beginning of a dance." To Sendak, Caldecott offers a wholeness of vision, "a world where the tragic and the joyful coexist, the one coloring the other."91 The advocacy of Sendak—the best known modern children's book personage—has continued to be an authoritative voice that has reached a broad public; a collection of his writings appeared in 1988 under the title Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures. Sendak's prestige has clearly enhanced Caldecott's own image. Reviews of the Treasury often included mention of the need to keep Caldecott's books in circulation. "Every boy and girl should be exposed to the fresh, comic, and beautiful art created by the legendary Caldecott," opined Publishers Weekly.92 Another commemorative event was a Caldecott Exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1977–78.

Reprints of his work coincided with this revival of interest in Caldecott. The titles that were reprinted include John Gilpin, Sing a Song for Sixpence, Hey Diddle Diddle, The Queen of Hearts, Aesop's Fables, Washington's Irving's Old Christmas, and Ewing's Jackanapes. Several collections of tales appeared through Warne; six titles are currently in print. Some of these new editions included scholarly essays, such as Michael Patrick Hearn's introduction to Caldecott's Aesop. Mostly paperback or inexpensive (rather than fine art) editions, these reprints were regularly reviewed or given notice in the reviewing sources for librarians, which would increase the likelihood of their being purchased and circulated. The Caldecott Aesop (1978), introduced by Hearn, is in large, hardbound, picture book size, based on a handcolored copy of the first edition. However, the standard reprints could at best only approximate the high quality coloring that was the mark of Edmund Evans's artistry.

Literary scholars as well have explored Caldecott, even though literary or art criticism of picture books tends to be slighted by academicians. One of the earliest collections of criticism, Only Connect (1969) includes an essay by Frederick Laws on Caldecott, written in 1956, in which the author, after discussing the work of Crane and Greenaway, commends Caldecott on his pictorial storytelling style—conversational, natural, fluid.93 John Cech explores one of the picture books in particular in an essay that appeared in the journal, The Lion and the Unicorn (1983). Acknowledging the neglect of the artist, Cech commented on the vagaries of canonical status in academia:

Caldecott's "problem" is one shared by many other "classic" writers or author-illustrators: their works simply are not read today, let alone analyzed and pondered, debated, and reevaluated. This neglect is especially true for artists working in the mixed media of the picture book form. With the exception of a few major figures, the hierarchy of subjects in children's literature criticism deemed acceptable for acceptable for serious scrutiny has tended, until rather recently, to leave out picture books in favor of what are thought to be more verbally complex and sophisticated forms. And when the critic's attention has turned to the picture book, it is usually not to the work of nineteenth-century author/illustrators like Caldecott, but rather to contemporary figures who are making use of the most modern printing and reproduction techniques and speaking directly to current tastes. As one of my students once quipped, Caldecott might very well not win the award that was named after him.94

Calling The Three Jovial Huntsmen "quintessential Caldecott," the author delineated Caldecott's simplicity of style, economy of line, a freedom of movement, interplay with his reader, and visual and verbal play. The author called this particular picture book exemplary in its "celebration of movement and humour, of the countryside and its characters, of language and line."95 The author ended by suggesting that if Caldecott is neglected, it is because modern readers have lost the ability to look. This essay was unique not only in its consideration of one picture book, but with commentary on reputation and reading practices. His last comment on why Caldecott might be neglected resounds with my own reflection on the aesthetic training that Victorian readers received from criticism. Victorian readers were educated to appreciate Caldecott in a cultural discourse that rarely happens today.

Academia has, if anything, embraced Caldecott in the subsequent years. Caldecott is included in the "Touchstones" series published by the Children's Literature Association in 1985–1989. In three volumes, this series highlights the titles that the association deemed most significant in the development of children's literature. The books included were to be innovative texts that were "paradoxically both the most unconventional and the most representative of conventions."96 Of the approximately sixty-five books chosen, Caldecott's picture books as a group were included as one text and commended for "inventing a genre," by which picture book illustrations interpret the text rather than merely depict events or decorate the page. In her essay on Caldecott, Ellin Greene singles out Caldecott for "his personal vision of life, his gentle humor and gaiety, and his use of detail, [which] must have appealed to children immediately."97

The centennial of Caldecott's death in 1986 was marked by much scholarly and popular attention. The Houghton Library at Harvard University published a checklist, Randolph Caldecott, 1846–1886, of the Caroline Miller Parker Collection, which is the largest collection of Caldecott's work. Brian Alderson designed an exhibit at the British Museum and wrote the catalogue, Sing a Song for Sixpence (1986), which as homage to Caldecott also surveys a continuing tradition in illustration. Alderson argues "that this 'English' style is a touchstone for the judging of all picture-book art, embodying as it does a flexible and richly responsive interplay between text and illustration with an emphasis throughout on the quality of the line rather than on less essential features of chiaroscuro and colouring."98 Alderson stresses the collaboration with Evans, by which the key blocks could be used as line-proofs which would be marked by Caldecott in the making of color-blocks and subtle tints and inks. Caldecott represents the apotheosis of this craftsman tradition through the mastery of draftsmanship. Alderson continues the tradition into the present with an inclusion of modern examples representative of a variety of illustrators of nursery literature, who when "faced with a variety of interpretive exercises the artists have found satisfying answers."99 Caldecott also received attention from the press for the centennial events marking his death and life's work. In a commemorative article, the Christian Science Monitor (1986) notes: "There is growing interest in the life and work of the man who not only set the course for modern illustration, but also gave us a vivid, sometimes wry portrayal of English country life in the 1870s."100 The fiftieth anniversary of the Caldecott Award in 1988 prompted a special issue of Youth Services in Libraries, an American Library Association professional publication, which discussed the history of the award, resources for research on Caldecott award winners, and tributes to Caldecott. In 1996, the 150th anniversary of Caldecott's birth was marked by events in St. Augustine, Florida, and in Chester, England, both organized by the respective Randolph Caldecott Societies of the United States and of the United Kingdom, with some attending pilgrimages and epistles from the American Library Association. These commemorative events—starting with the centennial of his birth in 1946 and culminating most recently with the sesquicentennial, have all been focal points of Caldecott visibility.


Could Caldecott have won the Caldecott? Yes, emphatically, he could and most likely would have carried away the laurels of any competitive illustration match conceived in the 1880s. Greenaway was more popular than Caldecott, but she never received such encomia. Caldecott was touted as the most distinguished illustrator of his day—the artist of the picture book for children, the romanticist of the folkloric past for adults. Some of his titles were more warmly received than others, and his picture books did wane in critical acclaim with the Times even suggesting that he find new material. His first picture books—The House that Jack Built and The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1878)—were the most celebrated, and subsequent work perpetuated the style so well received. No other artist of his day received such high praise as did Caldecott. For no one else did the Times state: "This we hold to be the very essence of all illustration for children's books" (1878).101

The choice of Caldecott for the big prize in children's book illustration was and is fitting. The criteria for selection to judge excellence is still extant after sixty years. The current fit is in Caldecott's "less-is-more" approach to his art. In a period now complicated by technical tricks and color virtuosity, his simple yet sophisticated renderings are valued anew. Anita Silvey, in the editorial that kindled the opening question of this chapter, wondered how far afield modern books have strayed in their "high art, high gloss, decoration, emotionless embellishment" that make of the Caldecott Medal more of the "Madison Avenue Medal."102 Despite these changes, Caldecott still represents for many the "very essence of all illustration for children's books." That Times reviewer wrote earlier in the same review of December 14, 1878, these revealing words:

Mr. Caldecott has the admirable faculty of informing his pictures with plenty of life and variety, and yet never confusing or overloading them. The untutored eye of a child can catch at a glance the true meaning of all he has drawn as easily as it can take in the distinct utterances of its big alphabet.103

This standard might still prevail today for "the essence" as it communicates the purpose of illustration and its connection to text. An "informing" process in "the big alphabet" of literacy.

Another implication drawn from the study of Caldecott's reception is the impact of the complex of circumstances pertinent to a work's publishing and reception. Caldecott enjoyed the mentoring of significant figures in Victorian publishing, such as Edmund Evans, who befriended the artist and furthered his cause during and after his lifetime. Caldecott was befriended by a host of influential artists in Manchester and London, such as Henry Blackburn, who made contacts for him, wrote about him, and promoted his name. Caldecott's early death—after only about a decade of concentrated artwork—created an aura over the artist's life, which was perpetuated by the critics and historians who wrote about him in the subsequent forty years before the Caldecott award, especially the landmark scholarly work of Harvey Darton. The establishment of an American award for distinguished children's book illustration in his name valorized Caldecott as an illustrator nonpareil. Most Caldecott Medal winners evoke Caldecott's memory in their acceptance speeches, which are well publicized in the field of librarianship. The subsequent discussion of Caldecott by award winners, such as the authoritative Maurice Sendak, has only increased his visibility and prominence. Scholars like Brian Alderson and John Cech have elevated his stature in terms of past and present, positioning Caldecott in an English tradition of illustration and in a modern posture aligned with Sendak. Several significant popular works on Caldecott have brought his name to public attention, have stimulated scholarship, and have revived reprinted editions of his works. In terms of Caldecott's life and legacy, his own images of two figures—one tall, one short, walking hand-in-hand—in their economy and prescience suffice. In writing to his friend, William Clough, in 1874, Caldecott mused on his own mortality, "Art is long: life isn't."104


1. McLean, 55-56.

2. McLean, 58.

3. Hutchins, 33.

4. Henley, 210.

5. "Mr. Caldecott's Picture-Books," Academy (November 16, 1878), 481-82.

6. "Christmas Books," Times (December 24, 1878), 9.

7. Ibid.

8. "Mr. Caldecott's Picture-Books," Academy (November 16, 1878), 481.

9. Henley, 210.

10. "Christmas Literature," All the Year Round (December 21, 1878), 18-19.

11. "Christmas Books," Nation (December 13, 1878), 27.

12. Fitzgerald, 631-32.

13. "English Humourists in Art," Art Journal (September 1889), 276.

14. "Christmas Books," Times (December 20, 1889), 13.

15. Henley, 211.

16. "Three Christmas Fairies," Critic (January 24, 1885), 46.

17. Henley, 211-12.

18. Horatia K. F. Eden, Juliana Horatia Ewing (Detroit: Gale, 1969), 211.

19. "Gift-Books," Academy (November 17, 1883), 328.

20. "Gift-Books," Academy (November 29, 1884), 355.

21. Gleeson White, English Illustration: The "Sixties," 1855–1870 (Bath: Kingsmead, 1897), 86.

22. Hutchins, 38.

23. "Children's Books," Saturday Review (December 6, 1879), 704.

24. "Children's Books," Nation (December 18, 1879), 427-28.

25. "Christmas Books," Times (December 17, 1879), 3.

26. Henley, 211.

27. "Children's Books," Graphic (December 25, 1880), 670.

28. "Christmas Books," Times (December 14, 1880), 4.

29. Henley, 211.

30. Hutchins, 5.

31. Emilia Dilke, Art Journal (May 1895), 142.

32. Hutchins, 234.

33. "Christmas Books," Times (December 23, 1881), 4.

34. "Christmas Books," Graphic (December 10, 1881), 598.

35. "Art for the Nursery," Athenaeum (December 17, 1881), 821.

36. "Holiday Books," New York Times (November 26, 1882), 6.

37. "Children's Books," Nation (November 30, 1882), 468-69.

38. "Children's Books," Critic (December 2, 1882), 327.

39. "Children's Books," Dial (December 1882), 180.

40. "Gift Books," Academy (November 18, 1882), 360.

41. "Art for the Nursery," Athenaeum (November 18, 1882), 667.

42. "Holiday Books," New York Times (November 26, 1882), 6.

43. "Current Literature," Spectator (November 17, 1883), 1487.

44. "Christmas Books," Saturday Review (December 2, 1882), 740.

45. Spielmann, 235.

46. "Children's Books," Nation (December 13, 1883), 494.

47. "Christmas Books," Graphic (November 10, 1883), 478.

48. "Art Notes," Magazine of Art (December 1883), xii.

49. Blackburn, 96.

50. "R. Caldecott's 'Aesop's Fables,'" Art Journal (August 1883), 251.

51. "Fine Art," Academy (September 15, 1883), 184.

52. "Fine Arts: Illustrated Books," Athenaeum (July 28, 1883), 119.

53. Joseph Pennell, Pen Drawing, 179.

54. "Christmas Books," Graphic (November 29, 1884), 582; "Art for the Nursery," Athenaeum (November 29, 1884), 701.

55. "Christmas Books," Saturday Review (November 29, 1884), 706.

56. "Current Literature," Spectator (December 5, 1885), 1623.

57. Rodney Engen, Randolph Caldecott: "Lord of the Nursery" (London: Oresko Books, 1976), 75.

58. Hutchins, Yours Pictorially, 72.

59. Austin Dobson, "Preface," The Complete Collection of Randolph Caldecott's Pictures and Songs (London: Routledge, 1887), ii.

60. "Current Literature," Spectator (December 5, 1885), 1623.

61. "Fine Arts," Athenaeum (November 21, 1885), 673.

62. "Christmas Books," Graphic (December 12, 1885), 662.

63. "Christmas Books," Times (December 21, 1885), 13.

64. "Death of Mr. Caldecott," Times (February 15, 1886), 7.

65. "Obituary: Randolph Caldecott," Academy (February 20, 1886), 137-38.

66. "Randolph Caldecott," Saturday Review (February 20, 1886), 260-61.

67. "Art: Randolph Caldecott's Work," Spectator (February 20, 1886), 256.

68. "In Memoriam," Punch (February 27, 1886), 106.

69. Blackburn, Randolph Caldecott, 210.

70. Blackburn, 126.

71. Pennell, Modern Illustration, 86.

72. Gleeson White, "Children's Books and Their Illustrators," 35-36.

73. Hardie, English Coloured Books, 280.

74. Darton, 277.

75. Anita Silvey, "A Homage to Randolph Caldecott," Horn Book (November/December 1985), 683.

76. Anita Silvey, "Caldecott's Heirs," Horn Book (November/December 1987), 693.

77. Bertha Mahony Miller, "Randolph Caldecott," Horn Book (July 1938), 218-23.

78. Bertha Mahony, "Their First Hundred Years," Horn Book (March-April 1946), 95.

79. Hilda Van Stockum, "Caldecott's Pictures in Motion," Horn Book (March-April 1946), 119-125.

80. Joan H. Bodger, "Caldecott Country," Horn Book (June 1961), 237.

81. Publishers Weekly (January 26, 1929), 408.

82. Irene Smith, History of the Newbery and Caldecott Medals (New York: Viking, 1957), 64.

83. F. J. Harvey Darton, Children's Books in England: Five Centuries of Social Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 277.

84. Michael Patrick Hearn, "Before the Flood: Notes on Early Twentieth-Century American Children's Illustration," The Calendar (Children's Book Council) (November 1979–June 1980), n.p.

85. For more on Anne Carroll Moore's influence, see Anne Lundin, "Anne Carroll Moore (1871–1961): 'I Have Spun Out a Long Thread,'" in Reclaiming the American Library Past: Writing the Women In, ed. Suzanne Hildebrand (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1996), 187-204.

86. Lillian Smith, The Unreluctant Years: A Critical Approach to Children's Literature (Chicago: American Library Association, 1953).

87. Frances Clark Sayers, Anne Carroll Moore (New York: Athenaeum, 1972), 206.

88. Mary Gould Davis, Randolph Caldecott.

89. "New Country," Time (April 1, 1946), 55.

90. Aidan Chambers, "Letter from England: Looking at Pictures," Horn Book (April 1974), 130-35.

91. Maurice Sendak, "Randolph Caldecott: An Appreciation," in The Randolph Caldecott Treasury, ed. Elizabeth T. Billington (New York: Frederick Warne, 1978).

92. "Children's Books," Publishers Weekly (August 6, 1978), 82.

93. Fredrick Laws, "Randolph Caldecott," in Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature, ed. Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs, and L. F. Ashley (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1969).

94. John Cech, "Remembering Caldecott: The Three Jovial Huntsmen and the Art of the Picture Book," Lion and the Unicorn 7/8 (1983/84), 110-11.

95. Cech, 118.

96. Perry Nodelman, ed. Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, vol. 1 (West Lafayette, IN: Children's Literature Association, 1985).

97. Ellin Greene, "Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books: The Invention of a Genre," in Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature, vol. 3 (West Lafayette, IN: Children's Literature Association, 1985), 38-45.

98. Brian Alderson, Sing a Song for Sixpence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 8.

99. Alderson, 106.

100. Lisa Lane, "Caldecott: New Look at a Picture-Book Pioneer," Christian Science Monitor (February 21, 1986), 16-17.

101. "Christmas Books," Times (December 24, 1878), 9.

102. Anita Silvey, "Could Caldecott Win the Caldecott?" Horn Book, 405.

103. "Christmas Books," Times (December 24, 1878), 9.

104. Blackburn, 97.



[Text Not Available]


Ruth M. McConnell (review date May 1979)

SOURCE: McConnell, Ruth M. Review of The Caldecott Aesop: Twenty Fables, by Randolph Caldecott, edited by Alfred Caldecott. School Library Journal 25, no. 9 (May 1979): 58.

Gr. 4 Up—This handsome facsimile, made from one of a few hand-colored copies of the first edition [of The Caldecott Aesop: Twenty Fables ] (1883), will be of more historic interest than it will be a first-choice Aesop for children. Originally published for adults, as the excellent introduction bears out, the text was translated from original sources by the artist's Oxford brother. The choice of 20 fables was almost random, further collections having been contemplated. Small sketches in soft hues are centered on the cream-colored pages preceding and following each fable, providing a setting and lending the format a spacious look. After each tale and its illustration there is a small commentary-sketch that pictures a contemporary example of each, and displays Caldecott's gift for satiric cartooning on political or social themes. While this does date the treatment, and many references will be lost to children, there are so few examples to hand of this aspect of Caldecott's art that this Aesop is especially welcome for the profuse instances of his skill and imagination as well as of the wit and bite of his pen.

Additional coverage of Caldecott's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Children's Literature Review, Vol. 14; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 163; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; and Something about the Author, Vols. 17, 100.



Barr, John. "Randolph Caldecott." In Illustrated Children's Books, pp. 54-5. London, England: The British Library, 1986.

Provides a brief biographical and stylistic analysis of Caldecott's career.

Dalby, Richard. "Randolph Caldecott." In Golden Age of Children's Book Illustration, pp. 30-2. London, England: Michael O'Mara Books Limited, 1991.

Biographical entry on Caldecott.


Bodger, Joan H. "Caldecott Country." Horn Book Magazine 37, no. 3 (June 1961): 227-38.

Offers a retrospective of how Caldecott's home in Whitchurch is reflected in his artwork.

Cech, John. "Remembering Caldecott: The Three Jovial Huntsmen and the Art of the Picture Book." Lion and the Unicorn, nos. 7-8 (1983–1984): 110-19.

Analysis of The Three Jovial Huntsmen that examines how Caldecott's use of wit, action, and a harmonious balance of art and text made him a galvanizing force for change among picture book artists.

Engen, Rodney K. "Randolph Caldecott." In Randolph Caldecott: "Lord of the Nursery," pp. 1-25. London, England: Oresko Books Limited, 1976.

Comprehensive overview of Caldecott's career which precedes a book-length set of his illustrations.

Meyer, Susan E. "Randolph Caldecott." In A Treasury of the Great Children's Book Illustrators, pp. 95-107. New York, N.Y.: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 1983.

Critical essay on Caldecott's artistic style and legacy.

Simon, Howard. "Randolph Caldecott, 1846–1886." In Five Hundred Years of Art in Illustration from Albrecht Dürer to Rockwell Kent, pp. 124-25. New York, N.Y.: Hacker Art Books, 1978.

Offers a brief overview of Caldecott's life and works.

About this article

Caldecott, Randolph 1846–1886

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