April 10, 2015

Caldecott Books with Printmaking

        Today I’ve got for you a list of all the Caldecott Medal books that are illustrated with printmaking techniques.  I meant to have this post in time to celebrate Randolph Caldecott’s birthday on March 22, but many of the books on the list were available only through inter-library loan, and it took me a while to get hold of them all.  (It is rather interesting that these books are supposed to be among the best of the best, and yet many of them have utterly disappeared off library shelves.)  I’ve tried to describe primarily the printmaking, but of course I can’t help giving more general reviews while I’m at it.  What I haven’t discussed at all is the writing.  This is strictly about the illustrations.  That’s why I’ve listed the illustrator and not the author (although for quite a few of these books they are one and the same.)
        As you can see, there was a lull in block-printed books receiving any honors in the 1980s and 1990s, but there’s been a bit of a resurgence in the 2000s, which I find very exciting.  I’ve listed them in chronological order.

Dick Whittington and His Cat, Marcia Brown (linoleum block prints) 1951 honor
        I think these are my favorite of Brown’s block print illustrations, but you’ll be seeing a lot more of Brown coming up.  They’re clearly inspired by early renaissance wood block prints and have lots of cool details.  They’re done with a black block and a mustardy-brown tone block.  I don’t always like the tone, but in some of the pictures it’s used to excellent effect.  For example, I especially like how it subtly shows sea serpents in the ocean under the ship.

The House That Jack Built, Antonio Frasconi (woodcut, color) 1959 honor
        Black wood block prints overlaid with flat planes of rather harsh, too-bright color, there’s also one page (the dog) that looks like a glue collagraph rather than a carving.  See my post on Frasconi and you won’t be surprised that my favorite pages are the ones with the church, house, and barn.  I don’t like the people as much.

Once a Mouse, Marcia Brown (woodcut) 1962 winner
        Multi-block wood block prints, pure and simple!  Each page has two or three colors, sometimes with a white background, sometimes with backgrounds full of carving and visible woodgrain.  I don’t really like the colors, or the way they look where they overlap, but I do like the hermit’s face, and the fact that the carved wood is celebrated.

Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes, Philip Reed (wood engraving) 1964 honor
        This collection of nursery rhymes is illustrated in very traditional style, with relatively small individual pictures for each rhyme.  Reed’s wood engravings, however, have a good deal of humor and charm.  The colors are separate wood blocks, so they have texture, too.  Perhaps most amazing about this book is that there is slight embossing of the pages - the book was printed in the printing shop of the illustrator himself, apparently from the actual blocks!

Tom Tit Tot, Evaline Ness (woodcut) 1966 honor
        I can’t complain about lack of woodcarviness in these illustrations, but I can complain about the colors, which are often layered somewhat gratuitously, and the people’s skin is light blue, for some reason.  There are some interesting touches, like the pattern on the woman’s dress apparently made by stamping a screw head, and the text punctuated with exclamations that are in large carved lettering.  I also like the “impet” who plays the Rupelstiltskin-equivalent title role in the story, but on the whole these illustrations seem rather ugly to me.

One Wide River to Cross, Ed Emberly (woodcut) 1967 honor
        This one is a lot of fun, just straight-up black wood block prints of funny animals and delightfully busy patterns.  My only complaint is that the pages are colored, and while the bright rainbow colors may jazz things up and add to the rainbow theme of the story (Noah’s Ark), some of the background colors are so saturated that I can’t enjoy the details of the woodcuts as much as I’d like.  I’d have preferred plain black and white until the rainbow page, or even just light, pastel colors to set off the black ink.

Drummer Hoff, Ed Emberly (woodcut) 1968 winner
        The black woodcuts are full of rambunctious geometric patterns, lines swooping and zigzagging every which way and filling every space of the objects.  This, combined with the flat, vivid colors that fill in the objects, gives it almost a mosaic look.  As a kid I remember not particularly liking the stylized look of the people (I suppose I wasn’t much interested in army men, either) but now I do appreciate how fun it must have been to carve them!

A Story, A Story, Gail E. Haley (woodcut) 1971 winner
        Perhaps it’s just the reproduction, but the block printed shapes look completely flat, almost more as if they were done by computer than really carved, inked, and pressed onto paper.  There are areas that must be wood grain, but they look like the contrast was cranked up on photoshop.  Details are drawn in with ink.

If All the Seas Were One Sea, Janina Domanska (etchings, colored overlays) 1972 honor
        This one is cool.  I’m not sure whether its very modern-art-y illustrations appeal to children, but I enjoy them very much with their stylized shapes and rich geometrical patterns.  I especially like the title page, with its lovely lettering that really looks etched and inked, and its funny octopus-squid thing, who shows up on some of the other pages, too.

Shadow, Marcia Brown (collage, woodcuts, acrylics) 1983 winner
        These illustrations use a combination of techniques, mostly collaged painted paper, but also layered printing.  It’s especially noticible in the areas where the printing has been done with light-colored ink over dark paper.  I think this book is totally creepy and I imagine it would give a kid nightmares!

Snowflake Bentley, Mary Azarian (woodcut, watercolor) 1999 winner
        The wood block prints in black are painted in with watercolor.  A fair amount of the detail, not just the color, is provided by the watercolor, with its emphasis on the snow, which is largely white with watercolored blue shadows.  The large central picture on each page flanked by narrower borders give the pages interest and scope for a variety of woodcuts.  (I’m a big fan of Azarian’s work, and you can see more about her here.)

My Friend Rabbit, Eric Rohmann (colored relief prints) 2003 winner
        Black printed outlines, bright painted colors, bold and cartoony in style.  These illustrations are charming, with lots of movement and action and a generally happy vibe.

Ella Sarah Gets Dressed, Margaret Chodos-Irvine (“print-making techniques”) 2004 honor
        The printing in these illustrations is clearest in the background wallpaper patterns, where it actually looks like ink.  In some places you can see other printing, for example the rickrack trim on Ella Sarah’s sleeves, which appears to be real fabric rick-rack, inked and pressed.  There are no black outlines in these pictures, making them all about the bright, bold shapes.

The Song of the Waterboatman, Beckie Prange (wood-block, watercolor) 2006 honor
        Another with black wood block print outlines painted with watercolor.  Lovely rich colors make it look almost like stained glass.  Interesting views and details make these illustrations a delight to spend time with.  I love Prange’s work in all her books, but haven’t gotten around to doing a post on her yet.

A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Erin E. Stead (woodblock, pencil) 2011 winner
        The solid filled-in areas are printed with wood blocks, while the details and textures are drawn in on top with pencil.  Wood grain is visible in treetops, for example, but the over-all impression of these illustrations is of sketching rather than carving.  Also, I don’t care for the colors, which brings me full circle to some of the oldest books on the list!  (You can see Stead’s process here.)

        Not quite printmaking, but worth mentioning:
Song of Robin Hood, Virginia Lee Burton (scratchboard) 1948 honor
Just Me, Marie Hall Ets (paper batik) 1966 honor
        Ets illustrated four Caldecott honor books with a technique she called paper batik.  It’s black and white and looks very much like monoprinting.
Duke Ellington, Brian Pinkney (scratchboard with paint) 1999 honor
Swimmy, Leo Lionni (watercolor, rubber stamp, pencil) 1964 honor
        These illustrations are watercolors, but Lionni does use a stamp of some kind (presumably rubber) to add lots of tiny minnows to his pictures.  Lionni has done other books with some printmaking, too, notably The Alphabet Tree, which uses stamping for the tree’s leaves.
The House in the Night, Krommes (scratchboard, watercolor) 2009 winner
        (See my previous post on Krommes.)

        As the technology of book printing advanced and more types of illustration could be faithfully reproduced, it isn’t surprising that printmaking has become a less common technique.  I’m delighted, however, to see that it’s still getting some well-deserved love.  And as the “dull and dated” reputation of block printing is wiped away by more recent illustrators, I expect there will be many beautiful examples of block-printed picture books to come.

[Pictures: The hermit and the mouse, wood block print by Marcia Brown from Once A Mouse, 1962;
Noah’s Ark, wood block print byEd Emberly from One Wide River to Cross,  1967;
Rabbit getting help, watercolor painted wood block print by Eric Rohmann from My Friend Rabbit,  2003;
Elephant and Mr McGee, woodcut with multiple blocks and pencil by Erin E. Stead from A Sick Day for Amos McGee, 2011.]

4 comments:

  1. Interesting and helpful reviews, but I would have enjoyed an example from each of the books that are mentioned, or perhaps a link to finding more of each artist's work. Thanks, though, for reminding me of some old favorites and introducing a lot more with which I'm not familiar.

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  2. Well, yes, but it was already very long - and took a long enough time to put together! This blog isn't actually supposed to be a full-time job. =)

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  3. Thank you for this list! I'm excited to check these out. I have a post of some of my favorite printmaking & childrens books. http://www.femiford.com/blog/2010/11/more-great-vintage-kids-books/

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  4. Excellent! Thanks for your link, Femi - there are a few books on there I don't know and will definitely look for.

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