History of Children's Book Illustration
and the Role Women Played

Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Jeremy
Fisher, London,
Frederick Warne, 1906.
Modern Printing 
The Turn-of-the century saw the four-color printing process as an alternative to chromo-lithography, especially suited to the reproduction of watercolors. This eliminated the need for the middleman, but presented it’s own problems. Because the process required shiny paper to print on, illustrations had to be hand tipped-in while the rest of the book was printed on the letterpress. 

Gift Books
Beatrix Potter was one of the first illustrators to benefit from this new printing process. She had her critics for both her writing and her artwork but there can be no doubt that, as in Potter’s case, the words and pictures match best when the author and illustrator are the same person. 

A flood of children’s gift books, aimed more for adults, were being illustrated by Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen and others. Publishers were eager to oblige an enthusiastic public. When the copyright ran out on Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in 1907, there were no less than seven new versions that year in England alone, all lavishly illustrated in color. Bessie Pease Gutmann and Millicent Sowerby both illustrated a version that year, Margaret Tarrant and Mabel Lucie Attwell following a few years later.

Bessie P. Gutmann
Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s
Adventures in
Wonderland, New York,
Dodge, 1907. Image
courtesty of David Neal.

Margaret W. Tarrant
Carroll, Lewis, Alice in
Wonderland, Ward Lock,
After the War
World War I brought an end to the Victorian sentimentality of the gift book era. Only Rackham found continued success with gift books. World War I and World War II created an upheaval that caused many leading European artists to immigrate to America. New York soon became the center of the art world. Artist-immigrants such as Fritz Eichenberg, Boris Artzybasheff, Feodor Rojankovsky, Roger Duvoisin, Ludwig Bemelmans, Kate Seredy, and others infused American children’s books with a new graphic quality and removed them forever out of the 19th century. What they contributed was a European folk art tradition and the influences of artistic movements such as Impressionism and Expressionism. Power presses and other printing innovations allowed for larger number of books to be printed. A younger generation of artists was starting to emerge. 

Newly Formed Libraries
In 1893, Anne Carroll Moore, of the New York Public Library, established the first children’s book room in a public library. As more librarians brought attention to excellent children’s books, the publisher’s responded. 1916 saw the opening of the first Bookshop for Boys and Girls by in Boston Bertha Mahoney Miller. Her booming business caused her to produce catalogs for her customers which in 1924 she expanded into The Horn Book, the first publication devoted to reviewing children’s books.

Publishers started Children’s Divisions
The end of World War I brought with it a booming economy. Macmillan was the first major publisher to establish a children’s book department in 1919, placing Louise Seaman Bechtel at the lead. Other publishers soon followed. Publisher’s Weekly and the American Booksellers Association started the annual Children’s Book Week that same year. 

The 1920s was a time of great experimentation. New techniques, binding methods, formats and layouts were being tested by open-minded editors and artists. In order to give children’s books the recognition they deserved, the American Library Association established the Newbery Medal, in honor of John Newbery, for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Although picture books were eligible, it wasn’t until 1937 that the Caldecott Medal was established for picture books, Dorothy Lathrop being the first recipient.

Milicent Sowerby
Carroll, Lewis, Alice's
Adventures in
Wonderland, Chatto &
Windus, London, 1907.

Mabel Lucie Attwell
Carroll, Lewis, Alice in
Wonderland, Raphael
Tuck, 1910. Image
courtesy of David Neal.
The Depression Years
Understandably, when the depression hit, children’s literature was the first to feel the pinch in the publishing industry with a decline in staff and production. Gone were the experimental days; economizing was the order of the day. Americans’ focus drifted from internationalism to a new-found patriotism as they struggled to deal with every day life. Children’s books reflected this change by rejecting the European fairy-tale for the American tall-tale. A new genre grew around the folklore of Paul Bunyon, Pecos Bill and the like. American children were being introduced to American heroes for the first time.

To the horror of librarians everywhere, comic books and animated cartoons were beginning to flourish. Mary Tourtel’s Rupert the Bear (1920) and Hergé’s Tintin (1929) have become classics. Mickey Mouse made his first big screen appearance in 1928. Walt Disney was seen as a threat to children’s literature yet many illustrators received good training in the Disney studios.

Dorothy P. Lathrop
de la Mare, Walter,
Bells and Grass, Viking,
Women in Victorian England
The 19th Century American Woman
Early Children’s Books
Early Color Printing
Publishing in America
After World War II
© 2000–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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