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Development of Picture Books

Updated on October 30, 2015

Illustrations from children's books have always been a source for gathering information about the values and social and economic conditions of a particular period - a window to the change and diversity of social and cultural trends.

Early children books were of moral or religious natures created to control and improve children. They often portrayed only examples of the well-behaved child and the family of two parents. The message was largely confined to the text, because of limited printing technology.

Let us take a closer look at the development of picture book.

The nineteenth century illustrators found an avid audience eager for rich texts accompanied by quality illustrations. For the first time illustrators had the technical means to produce many of the illustrated books with children in mind.

In 1878 English illustrator Randolph Caldecott created the image of galloping John Gilpin.

In 1902, The Tale of Peter Rabbit was written and drawn by Beatrix Potter. She started drawing in her childhood and her drawing and text in the Peter Rabbit books still charm children today.

The 1920s were greatly affected by World War I and the social and economic consequences of the war resulted in a reduction in book publishing. However the decade of the 1920s did produce such talent as AA. Milne, the creator of the famous Winnie-the-Poo.


The Depression Era of the 1930s was a productive time in terms of creativity, but artist still felt the effects of the battered society. World War II and its effects resulted in a severe shortage of books.

The 1950s heralded a new breed of artists who looked behind to the past and forward to the future. Post-war years saw a renewal in the interest of the children literature.

Theodore Geisel (a.k.a Dr Seuss) created The Cat in the Hat from a list of 225 basic vocabulary words. The result was a new kind of picture book which became the prototype of the best selling Random House series of Beginner Books.

The picture book as we know it, took off in the 1960s, artist were discovering the limitless possibilities of the picture book as an artistic outlet.

The recognition of the unity of words and pictures in the development of children placed the picture book on the pedestal where it was given serious consideration.

The 1980s saw a rising consciousness on subjects such as AIDS and devastating disease that touches the lives of many children. By 1990s we saw a rise of multicultural literature for children.

John Marsden & Shaun Tan "The Rabbits" (1998) is a good example of contemporary picture book about ecological and cultural destruction, told from the viewpoint of native animals and illustrated with remarkable and highly stylised art.
John Marsden & Shaun Tan "The Rabbits" (1998) is a good example of contemporary picture book about ecological and cultural destruction, told from the viewpoint of native animals and illustrated with remarkable and highly stylised art.

Picture Books Today

Today, over thousand titles are published annually and modern techniques and production capabilities no longer inhibit the illustrator. Talented illustrators are taking the picture book from a format to an art.

Pictures books can be written for children of all ages, even adults. The work for older readers may deal with complex subjects and may have visual texts-pictures that show something that varies or that is quite different from the written text.

The nature and scope of picture book is changing with the result that many which are published today have wide appeal from young children to young adult. Picture books with sophisticated content, more complex text, art and realistic themes of interest to teens and young adults are being published in increasing numbers.

Picture books are especially useful to promote the core values to generate thoughtful debate on a range of issues. They also provide ideal material to develop student's visual literacy.

As we enter the information age, picture books have benefited from advances in printing and mechanical production techniques with the result that illustrators are able to be more creative than ever before.

Because of the advances of paper engineering, there are picture books that lift up, fold, pop up, rotate and move. The hologram adds another dimension to the visual experience in book.

The technology has had enormous impact on children's book because it released artist from the limitations of illustrating with only a few techniques and colours into a bold new capability; they were able to illustrate in any medium they desired.

Contemporary illustrators of picture books are using all the techniques of representations found in art, impressionism , surrealism, collage and photograph.

Beatrix Potter Slideshow

Through the display of picture book illustrations, it will be able to promote skills of aesthetic appreciation and interpretation and ultimate understanding of the diverse culture in which we live.

Further Reading . . .

  • What is a picture book?

    An article about the different types of picture books and how it can help develop the critical skills exploration, reflection and observation of the young readers.


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    • profile image

      relationships 9 years ago

      Good article. I agree that good illustrations with a good story will help the reader visually see and paint a picture.

    • crazycat profile image

      crazycat 9 years ago from Philippines

      Since pre-school, I'm an fan of illustrated books for children. And there are better books nowadays for except for those introducing adult content and more of action with less moral lessons.