Children's Picturebooks:
The Art of Visual Storytelling

Martin Salisbury + Morag Styles

Laurence King 2019
A book review by Danny Yee © 2020
In Children's Picturebooks Salisbury and Styles offer an attractive, accessible, and wide-ranging overview of the genre. It is not a guide to finding books for children, or aimed at parents or teachers, but it is restrained in its use of academic material and not at all theoretical, and should appeal to anyone with a broad curiosity about books. Generous visual excerpts make it possible to follow the discussions of specific books without having read them. Children's Picturebooks is also notable for its international coverage, extending beyond familiar British and American books and creators, to Europe and further afield.

Chapter one is a rapid overview of the history of the picturebook, from the late nineteenth century into the twenty-first. And chapter two considers the picturebook's status as art, looks at how illustrators are trained and employed and topics such as the use of sketchbooks. There are case studies of Jan Klassen, Sydney Smith and Beatrice Alemagna.

"The book as work of art is a concept that can be traced back centuries to the first handmade books. Today, the boundaries between the book arts, literature and 'commercial' graphic art can be seen to be merging in the children's picturebook. In What Do You See? International Perspectives on Children's Book Illustration Magdalena Sikorska claims: 'It is probably only a slight exaggeration to say that many contemporary picturebooks are the last bastions of visual culture in the medieval sense of coded messages.'"

Chapter three focuses on children, looking at how they respond to picturebooks, how those fit into broader education, and the concept of visual literacy. There follows an exploration of the interplay between word and text, wordless books, and pictorial text, with case studies of Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers' A Child of Text and Melissa Castrillón's Un Silenzio Perfetto. And chapter five considers topics that are problematic for children, such as domestic violence, depression and war, and picturebooks aimed at older children or even adults. Case studies include the Norwegian team of Svein Nyhus and Gro Dahle, Francesca Sanna's The Journey and Emily Haworth-Booth's The King Who Banned the Dark.

"Many people, particularly in the English-language publishing world, may see books such as Duck, Death and Tulip as a form of vanity publishing, indicative of the different, northern European attitude to death, and published to win awards for artistic brilliance and sensitivity. It certainly provides an extreme contrast to some of the over-sentimental picturebooks that have sometimes predominated in English-language publishing. Opinions differ over whether such a book has a place in a children's bookshop. Eribruch himself has strong views. He bemoans what he describes as 'the pinky aesthetics in English picturebooks' and speculates that this may be both a cultural and a marketing phenomenon. 'Where have all the Tenniels and Shepards gone?' he asks in despair.

Chapter six looks at different print processes, focusing on the revival of old methods and their integration with modern digital technologies and including case studies of Blexbolex, Anuska Allepuz and Beth Waters. Chapter seven considers non-fiction: the use of narrative, the rise of "very big" books, and case studies of Rachel Williams and Wide Eyed Editions, and Narisa Togo's Magnificent Birds. And chapter eight gives a quick overview of the children's publishing industry, along with case studies of Thames & Hudson, Enchanted Lion Books, and three new "studio" publishers from Portugal and Sweden: Pato Lógico, Planeta Tangerina and Magikon.

"With the attention of children being increasingly competed for across various screen-based media, general knowledge is acquired in many ways. But increased competition means increasingly diverse and experimental methods are being employed to engage the child. Weaving stories and storytellers as well as humour into 'educational' books ... is becoming a familiar approach. Juries judging international picturebook awards have sometimes deliberated in recent times over whether it is still meaningful to retain separate entry categories for fiction and non-fiction when the boundaries between the two are becoming increasingly porous."

I thought Children's Picturebooks found a good balance between broad overview and discussion of specific books and writers and artists, with the case studies working nicely.

July 2020

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%T Children's Picturebooks
%S The Art of Visual Storytelling
%A Salisbury, Martin
%A Styles, Morag
%I Laurence King
%D 2019
%O paperback, 2nd edition, further reading, index
%G ISBN-13 9781786275738
%P 200pp