Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing
by Leonard S. Marcus
Foster/Farrar 64 pp.
8/13 978-0-374-31025-7 $24.99
Randolph Caldecott (1846–1886) is especially known for his ability to make his subjects “jump off the page,” and Marcus is able to do the same for his subject here. With wit and fluency, he tells how a sickly English child who liked to doodle on the margins of his school books escaped an uninspired life as a bank clerk to become a celebrated artist. Caldecott enjoyed early success with his illustrations in newspapers and magazines, such as Punch and Graphic; in travel books; and in two collections of Washington Irving’s tales. His work caught the eye of printer Edmund Evans, who was especially known for his fine children’s picture books. Together he and Caldecott worked out a format using a small number of full-color pictures interspersed with “rapid-fire” line drawings printed in brown ink, and from there Edmunds allowed the artist to experiment, leading to several firsts in the picture book form that we take for granted today. Caldecott produced just sixteen picture books, his career cut short by poor health that led to his death at age thirty-nine. Marcus has skillfully selected quotes from Caldecott’s personal correspondence that give readers a good sense of him as a person. After a rough transatlantic crossing, for example, he wrote to his friend that he hoped there would be “an overland route discovered by the time of our return.” Just as judiciously selected by Marcus are Caldecott’s original illustrations from his books and his unpublished sketchbooks, with captions that provide context and guide our eyes. And the book itself is so beautifully designed and printed, with subtle colors suggesting Caldecott’s own work, that both Randolph Caldecott and Edmund Evans themselves would be pleased.