Thursday, 12:00pm
23 January 2020

Drawing stories

Children’s Picturebooks: The art of visual storytelling. Second edition

By Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles. Laurence King, £29.99. Designed by Mariana Sameiro. Cover art by Beatrice Alemagna

This updated study of children’s picturebook illustration, by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, is visually rich and grounded in sound research

If you have any interest whatsoever in illustration for picturebooks, this excellent book is worthy of a place on your shelves, writes Clare Walters.

Like a great picturebook where a well matched author and illustrator have created something uniquely special, Children’s Picturebooks is the result of a successful partnership of two people, both of whom are hugely respected in the field of children’s literature.

Martin Salisbury is Professor of Illustration at Cambridge School of Art in Anglia Ruskin University, and Morag Styles is Emeritus Professor at the University of Cambridge. This means the book is grounded in sound research. Yet it is never difficult or stuffy – and that is partly because there are so many visual examples of each topic that you could just read the pictures and their captions without ever venturing into the main text.

Cover of Children’s Picturebooks. Design by Mariana Sameiro, cover art by Beatrice Alemagna. 
Top. Spread from Children’s Picturebooks showing picturebook illustrations (from top left to bottom right) by Brian Wildsmith, Gerald Rose, and Ezra Jack Keats.  

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But that would be a shame, as Children’s Picturebooks has so much to offer. It is divided into eight chapters, covering topics such as the history of picturebooks; their place as works of art; children’s reactions to them (often surprisingly astute, with even quite young children being alert to the use of colour and visual metaphor); academic theory; suitability of subject matter (wide-ranging and including death, grief, war and sadness); printing processes; and the publishing industry itself. New to this second edition is a chapter on non-fiction picturebooks for children, an area of publishing that has seen substantial growth over recent years – so much so that IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) devoted a whole conference to the subject in November 2019.

Spread from Children’s Picturebooks showing illustrations by Jenni Desmond, Ana Sanfelippo and Anna Doherty.

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That’s a lot of material to cover, and some sections feel as if they could be easily expanded. But space has been allowed for a particularly pleasing aspect of this book – a range of interviews with current practitioners in the field, from artists to editors to publishers.

These are displayed on pages with grey backgrounds, so are easy to spot, and feature such heavyweights as Jon Klassen, Sydney Smith, Sam Winston (see Eye 94), Oliver Jeffers, Beatrice Alemagna, Blexbolex, Anuska Allepuz, publisher Roger Thorp (Thames & Hudson), Rachel Williams from Wide Eyed Editions, and Claudia Bedrick from Enchanted Lion Books. All of these first-person comments provide fascinating insights and make the book feel rooted in real-life, up-to-date practice. And this is confirmed by the addition of many recent examples of work published since the first edition in 2012.

Final spread from Children’s Picturebooks, showing illustrations by José Sanabria, Bo Yang and Yang Xiaoting. 

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Readers of Eye may especially enjoy the sections on screenprinting, etching, lithography and digital printmaking, as well as one on the rise of the ‘studio publisher’, i.e. work that has originated from design studios. Illustrators and authors who would like to get their picturebooks published will find plenty of practical advice on publishers and agents, contracts and fees, and sales, marketing and booksellers.

Spread from Children’s Picturebooks that deals with print processes, showing illustrations by Sarah Lodge, Hannah Webb and Anna Gordillo.

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So, whatever your interest in this rich subject – as author, illustrator, publisher, designer, editor, scholar, historian or teacher – Children’s Picturebooks is likely to have something to interest you. You may choose only to dip into the bits that are directly relevant to your practice, or you may, like me, read the book from cover to cover – and then want to start all over again.

Clare Walters, author of children’s picturebooks and journalist, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.

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