Of Thankfulness, Children’s Books, Illustrations, Education, and the Internet

Walter Crane beauty and the beastLike most collectors of children’s picture books, I have a number of books I chose for their illustrations without ever looking at the text.

Walter Crane is one of my favorite illustrators of children’s books, and I show neither originality nor perspicacity in feeling that way. Appreciating his work is akin to recognizing that blue skies, rainbows, and oceans are lovely.   For instance, look at what beauties greet the eye if you merely plug “Walter Crane” into a search engine (I used Bing), choose ‘images,’ and take a screen shot of the results:

Walter Crane search screenshot

As Wikipedia says:

Walter Crane (1845–1915) was an English artist and book illustrator. He is considered to be the most prolific and influential children’s book creator of his generation[1] and, along with Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, one of the strongest contributors to the child’s nursery motif that the genre of English children’s illustrated literature would exhibit in its developmental stages in the latter 19th century. His work featured some of the more colourful and detailed beginnings of the child-in-the-garden motifs that would characterize many nursery rhymes and children’s stories for decades to come. He was part of the Arts and Crafts movement and produced an array of paintings, illustrations, children’s books, ceramic tiles and other decorative arts.

walter crane red riding hood woodcutHe wrote a book about illustration in books, Of the Decorative Illustration of Books Old and New (Online at Gutenberg), where he says this about children’s books:

walter crane 3As, until recently, I suppose I was scarcely known out of the nursery, it is meet that I should offer some remarks upon children’s books. Here, undoubtedly, there has been a remarkable development and great activity of late years. We all remember the little cuts that adorned the books of our childhood. The ineffaceable quality of these early pictorial and literary impressions afford the strongest plea for good art in the nursery and the schoolroom. Every child, one might say every human being, takes in more through his eyes than his ears, and I think much more advantage might be taken of this fact.
If I may be personal, let me say that my first efforts in children’s books were made in association with Mr. Edmund Evans. Here, again, I was fortunate to be in association with the craft of colour-printing, and I got to understand its possibilities. The books for babies, current at that time—about 1865 to 1870—of the cheaper sort called toy books were not very inspiriting. These were generally careless and unimaginative woodcuts, very casually coloured by hand, dabs of pink and emerald green being laid on across faces and frocks with a somewhat reckless aim. There was practically no choice between such as these and cheap German highly-coloured lithographs. The only attempt at decoration I remember was a set of coloured designs to nursery rhymes by Mr. H. S. Marks, which had been originally intended for cabinet panels. Bold outlines and flat tints were used. Mr. Marks has often shown his decorative sense in book illustration and printed designs in colour, but I have not been able to obtain any for this book.

It was, however, the influence of some Japanese printed pictures given to me by a lieutenant in the navy, who had brought them home from there as curiosities, which I believe, though I drew inspiration from many sources, gave the real impulse to that treatment in strong outlines, and flat tints and solid blacks, which I adopted with variations in books of this kind from that time (about 1870) onwards. Since then I have had many rivals for the favour of the nursery constituency, notably my late friend Randolph Caldecott, and Miss Kate Greenaway, though in both cases their aim lies more in the direction of character study, and their work is more of a pictorial character than strictly decorative. …

Children’s books and so-called children’s books hold a peculiar position. They are attractive to designers of an imaginative tendency, for in a sober and matter-of-fact age they afford perhaps the only outlet for unrestricted flights of fancy open to the modern illustrator, who likes to revolt against “the despotism of facts.” …


Miss Charlotte Mason had this to say about these ‘toy books’ and illustrations in Children’s picture books:

The art training of children should proceed on two lines. The six-year-old child should begin both to express himself and to appreciate, and his appreciation should be well in advance of his power to express what he sees or imagines. Therefore it is a lamentable thing when the appreciation of children is exercised only upon the coloured lithographs of their picture-books or of the ‘Christmas number.’

…the minds of children and of their elders alike accommodate themselves to what is put in their way; and if children appreciate the vulgar and sentimental in art, it is because that is the manner of art to which they become habituated.

Volume 1, chapter 21

Walter Crane 4

And also this:

We make a great point of giving play to the intelligent curiosity of the children about all that lives and grows within their ken. For instance, I should think most of ‘our’ mothers would feel disgraced if her child of six were not able to recognise any ordinary British tree from a twig with leaf-buds only. It’s Nature’s lore, and the children take to it like ducks to the water; the first six or seven years of their lives are spent out of doors––in possible weather––learning this sort of thing, instead of pottering over picture-books and A B C.

Volume 5, section 5

Two of my interests intersected in my reading this morning, as Crane includes a few illustrations of the work of artist HEywood Sumner, about whom he says,

Mr. Heywood Sumner shows a charming decorative sense and imaginative feeling, as well as humour.

Sumner sounded familiar to me, so I spent some time looking up more information about him, and learned that, not only was he a respected illustrator and artist, and the father of five,  according to this website :

Quote:In the 1890s Sumner broke away from ‘the elitism of the William Morris clique’ and helped set up the Fitzroy Picture Society, ‘a group of artists dedicated to producing boldly coloured prints that could be sold cheaply to liven up the walls of public institutions such as schools and hospitals’.

That reminded me that Miss Mason says this, volume 1, page 309:

Quote:By the way, for schoolroom decorations, I know of nothing better than the Fitzroy Pictures [see Appendix A.], especially those of the Four Seasons, where you get beauty, both of line and colour, and poetic feeling.


Oh, so THAT’S what she meant by the Fitzroy Pictures.  No wonder Mason recommended them- their goals were a perfect match for somebody who wanted ‘a liberal education for all‘ during a time when social status was inherited and the only education most people thought suitable for children of the lower classes was strictly utilitarian- what would they need to know for a job (hmm, not so very different from today, sadly).

Here is one of the Fitzroy Pictures of the Four Seasons (Summer) by Sumner himself:

Sumner's Summer


And this is fall, or rather, autumn:autumn by Sumner for the Fitzroy Pictures
Today is November 4th, and in keeping with a number of my friends who are listing things they are thankful for each day of this month, I would list these things- not that they are the most important things in my life, but they are little things for which I am thankful, things that sometimes are taken for granted:

Children’s books

The internet and the ability that comes with it to search these things out

The illustrations of Crane and Sumner

A blog with which I can share my esoteric and eclectic interests and rabbit chases with others who might also share them, but if not, who also at least humour me.=)

Walter Crane 2


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  1. 6 arrows
    Posted November 4, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    A thoroughly delightful post, this, in words and pictures. Loved that last sentence — keep the esoteric and eclectic coming! It’s one of the reasons this blog is on my daily rounds. Enriching, entertaining, thought-provoking, laughter-inducing; I never know what I’ll find here next, but this has become a favorite spot for me to come sit for a spell and unwind. Thank you, DHM and crew. 🙂

  2. Grainne
    Posted November 5, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Very intriguing – I’ve come across children’s literature awards under the names of both Caldecott and Kate Greenaway (with whom I’m much more familiar having a couple of titles) but I’ve never heard mention of Walter Crane before, at least not to my knowledge.
    I heartily share your passion for children’s literature and have an extensive collection in the thousands outnumbering my adult literature four to one at least I should think. My husband indulges me fortunately and while I shall be placing an order in the morning for many more recent titles (including six Malory towers books written to follow on from the excellent series by Enid Blyton) which shall form part of my own and my toddler son’s Christmas presents, my dear Hubby has decided oart of his present shall be more shelving for our lounge to accommodate my obsession 🙂
    We all joked that my son would have to love books when he was born or his childhood would be miserable and at 23months he will happily sit for an hour “reading” by himself and has many story times throughout the day. Following an operation he underwent last week the undivided attention of his Nanny had him requesting book after book until she had read him sixteen in a row and he had little voice left. I simply delighted in the scene.
    Sorry this “comment” has rather become an essay, but I must also agree with your point:
    “during a time when social status was inherited and the only education most people thought suitable for children of the lower classes was strictly utilitarian- what would they need to know for a job (hmm, not so very different from today, sadly).”
    It is too sad how small and stifling the world is for so many and how so many are bored with home life without any idea of how to engage themselves with learning and reading.
    Thank you for your posts; you challenge me to read deeper texts and articles and not to stagnate in the kiddie pool (i.e. the lowest common vocabulary works not a reference to great children’s literature). I fear for the future of our faith/worldwide church as we (as a whole) become less able to grasp the deep text of the Bible having been raised with spoonfeeding texts, not solely through schooling but throughout our working lives/outside world interactions. I only pray I can introduce enough good literature within our home to counteract outside forces (I hope to homeschool though my husband is only 99% there and I have conceded his decision that we won’t unless we are blessed with another child) and that I can improve my own learning to facilitate this, I really fear I’ve lost the ability to follow a full train of thought since my son was born, a carriage or two is always derailed along the route.
    Sorry again that this is rather a ramble; it is entirely too long and much too late/early for me to re-read this before I hit post so I only hope it has some semblance of sense. Keep up the good work Common Room Family.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted November 5, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

      I LOVED your ramble. I’m glad you didn’t second guess yourself.=)

  3. Donna
    Posted November 6, 2013 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Hm, I ran across an Uncle Wiggily’s Story Book for my granddaughter (or at least to read to her) at a thrift store the other day but not sure I would have even thought much about it had I not heard about him from you – Thank you – I hope she enjoys it

    Although the very first story so appropo with its timing for my youngest son – it’s about a boy with a toothache and he just had his wisdom teeth out – (yes, he’s older but still what is it they say about still enjoying children’s books)

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