Randolph Caldecott (March 22, 1846 – February 12, 1886) was a British artist and illustrator. As a child he liked to draw animals, and Caldecott continued this pastime for the rest of his life. On leaving school at the age of fifteen, Caldecott went to work at a bank. It was a habit of his to decorate letters, papers, and documents with marginal sketches to illustrate the content or provide amusement. In his spare time he would go walking and riding around the countryside, sketching scenes, and painting in oil and watercolors.
Caldecott’s drawings are considered among the best of 19th century art for children in England. He is famous for his idyllic representations of nature and English country life, and for his charming and humorous illustrations. Caldecott was not the first to depict animals wearing clothes and behaving like humans, but he was the one who popularized it. His style of illustration influenced the next generation of children’s artists, including Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator of the “Peter Rabbit” series.
Caldecott’s illustrations were unique to their time in both their humor, and their ability to create a sense of movement, vitality, and action that complemented the stories. His work includes many illustrations of nursery rhymes, fiction, verse, and fables. The stories and rhymes were all of Caldecott’s choosing and were often accompanied by witty captions and narrative written by himself. Perhaps his best works are the colored illustrations for a series of 16 children’s picture books.
Renowned 20th-century children’s book illustrator Maurice Sendak wrote: “Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it.” Caldecott is also believed to be the first author/illustrator to have negotiated with his publisher to receive a “Royalty” instead of a fixed fee: he received one penny per book sold.
Caldecott liked to travel, partly for the sake of his health (he suffered much from gastritis and a heart condition), and to make drawings of the people and places he visited. He took many winter trips to the Mediterranean and other warm climates. On such a trip to the United States in 1886, he died in St. Augustine, Florida. He was not quite 40 years old. A headstone still marks his grave in the cemetery there. Caldecott had no children of his own.
English writer G. K. Chesterton inscribed in a Caldecott picture book that he presented to a young friend:
This is the sort of book we like
(For you and I are very small),
With pictures stuck in anyhow,
And hardly any words at all.
. . .
Stand up and keep your childishness:
Read all the pedants’ screeds and strictures;
But don’t believe in anything
That can’t be told in coloured pictures.
The Caldecott Medal
The Caldecott Medal, named in honor of 19th-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, has been awarded annually since 1936 by the American Library Association to the artist who created the most distinguished picture book of the year. The illustration on the medal is taken from Caldecott’s “The Diverting Story of John Gilpin” (1878). The illustration shows John Gilpin astride a runaway horse accompanied by squawking geese, braying dogs, and startled onlookers. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal. Treat your child to these eye-pleasing books that are perfect for reading together:
Caldecott Winners and Honor Books, 1990-present (Amazon list)
Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938-present (ALA list)
Works by Randolph Caldecott at Internet Archive (color illustrated scanned books)
http://www.rcsamerica.com/rc.html – Randolph Caldecott, Who Was He? (Randolph Caldecott Society of America)
http://www.randolphcaldecott.org.uk/rhymes.htm – Randolph Caldecott Society UK
http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal – Caldecott Medal Home Page
http://www.ala.org/alsc/Caldecott75 – Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Medal!