CRF Blog

Seal of Approval

by Bill Hayes

In Seal of Approval, an essay for the New York Times Book Review, Leonard S. Marcus profiles illustrator Randolph Caldecott, whose name is on the annual prize for best children’s picture book.

Once an immensely popular author whose picture books sold by the tens of thousands from British rail station bookstalls, Caldecott was revered by his peers. Beatrix Potter called him “one of the greatest illustrators of all.” Maurice Sendak went even further, crediting Caldecott as the modern picture book’s inventor. In homage to the master, Sendak titled his collected essays on the tradition of illustrated literature for children “Caldecott & Co.” Sendak’s assessment of the artist makes it clear why the image of the galloping horseman — adapted from Caldecott’s “Diverting History of John Gilpin” — is so apt an adornment for the medal that bears his name: “The word quicken, I think, best suggests the genuine spirit of Caldecott’s animation, the breathing of life, the surging swing into action that I consider an essential quality in pictures for children’s books.” Sendak’s Wild Things took their marching orders from the footloose escapades of Caldecott’s jovial huntsmen, gamboling country dancers and cow jumping over the moon.

Caldecott, like Sendak, was a self-taught artist and a child of the provinces. [more]