- Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing by Leonard S. Marcus, and: Maurice Sendak: A Celebration of the Artist and His Work ed. by Leonard S. Marcus, and: Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation by Gregory Maguire
Maurice Sendak argued that Randolph Caldecott’s work “heralds the beginning of the modern picture book” (Caldecott & Co. 21). Sendak’s deep admiration for and acknowledgement of Caldecott as one of his chief artistic mentors is well documented in Caldecott & Co.: Notes on Books & Pictures (1988), his marvelous collection of articles and interviews. Beatrix Potter was another admirer and careful student of Caldecott’s style. Leonard Marcus, in his brief illustrated biography Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing, mentions that Potter considered Caldecott “one of the greatest illustrators of all,” that she had a “jealous appreciation” of her colleague’s picture books, and wished that she could draw as well as he did (59). Recognizing the significance of Caldecott to children’s book illustrations, the American Library Association called upon his name and reputation when it named its annual award for the most distinguished achievement by an American children’s book illustrator. While many readers can easily identify the Caldecott Medal and recognize the status that prestigious award confirms on a book and its illustrator, they may not be familiar with the nineteenth-century British book illustrator for whom it is named.
Marcus has written a richly illustrated biography of Caldecott that, while accessible to adolescent readers, provides a solid introduction for those working in children’s literature. While the book is not as scholarly or comprehensive as Marcus’s Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon (1992) or Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature (2008)—the winner of Children’s Literature Association’s book of the year award—Randolph Caldecott provides a more effective overview of the illustrator than Rodney Engen’s Randolph Caldecott: Lord of the Nursery (1988). While it is recognized that children’s literature has a dual audience of children and adults, Marcus is one of the few critics in the field who has been able to write [End Page 299] critical studies, such as Side by Side: Five Favorite Picture-Book Teams Go to Work (2001) and A Caldecott Celebration: Six Artists and Their Paths to the Caldecott Medal (1998), that appeal to both children and adults.
The book features a strong selection of Caldecott’s illustrations, including some images from previously unpublished sketchbooks from the British Museum. Marcus gives an insightful historical context for Caldecott’s picture books. Caldecott’s artwork has been celebrated for its ability to convey movement; Marcus shows that he was part of a Victorian society in which the steam engine was one of the most important inventions of the age. Steam engines not only powered the railroads that transformed England in the nineteenth century; they also ran the printing presses that produced the newspapers, magazines, and picture books that would make Caldecott’s reputation. When designing the covers for his picture books, he took into account that they would be sold in railway bookstalls and designed covers that would catch the eye “from the top of an omnibus or out of the passing window of a railway carriage” (50). Having worked as a bank clerk in Manchester, the heart of the British Industrial Revolution, Caldecott understood the Victorian obsession with speed. Marcus astutely connects Joseph Turner’s painting, Rain, Steam, Speed—The Great Western Railway (1844) to Caldecott’s lively illustrations. More compelling is Marcus’s comparison of Eadweard Muybridge’s famous photographs of a galloping horse with Caldecott’s memorable image of the galloping rider from The Diverting History of John Gilpin (1878), which is reproduced on the Caldecott Medal. As the...