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Blog 03.04.2024


A picture is worth a thousand words…

The History of Illustrations (in 19th Century England):

While there were children’s books during the 18th century, there wasn’t a boom in more sophisticated, detailed books with illustrations until the 19th century. These are charming little “toy books” that have great artistic significance, give us (and young readers) a sense of the past, are highly collectible, and will encourage children to read.

The importance of illustrations: Anything that encourages children to become curious, creative and to learn to read is a good thing. Before young children can read, images pull them in, engage their curiosity and tell a story without words. This is why story time is so wonderful, even for the smallest kids. They become enraptured with a story and want to follow along, although they don’t understand written language yet. Associating images with letters and words helps young children’s learning development and comprehension. It also enriches their imagination and inspires a love of books.

Toy Books”

Toy books were Victorian picture books that were hugely popular in 19th century England. The term “toy book” comes from the 18th century when “gift books” were printed (a small toy came with the book, such as a pin cushion). They were marketed and sold so brilliantly by publishers that they became a household name and sensation. They are essentially just illustrated children’s books, bound in paper, and started off as very simple. The drawings, however, were elaborate and sophisticated: this was new for children, and the idea of spending money on books for kids (that were educational but also beautiful) was novel at the time. It was also new that pictures dominated the book and stood alone instead of simply accompanying the text. Consisting of only six pages for sixpence, toy books usually illustrated the alphabet, nursery rhymes, and fables.

Great artists and children’s books illustrators to know: Rather than viewing these as simply children’s book artists or the product as something solely for children, these illustrations are high art and are enjoyed by everyone.

  • Kate Greenaway: “A Day in a Child’s Life,” 1881

A rare breed, Greenaway was an educated woman (this was not common in the 19th century) and had a career of her own designing greeting cards. As an artist, her legacy is that she illustrated children’s books in color and they became incredibly popular. Greenaway “produced an idealized and nostalgic image of rural childhood, dressing the children she illustrated in an eighteenth-century style that in turn became fashionable for children of her day.”

  • Walter Crane, a contemporary of Greenaway’s, is one of the most well-known names in 19th century children’s literature and art. His illustrations all embodied a similar theme of morality.

His most beloved works include his illustrations for Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1895–97) and The Shepheardes Calendar (1897) along with “The Baby’s Bouquet: A Fresh Bunch of Rhymes and Tunes,” 1878 (tunes collected and arranged by Lucy Crane) and “The Baby’s Opera,” 1877.

  • Randolph Caldecott (his genius was that his illustrations forced the reader to turn the page to see the entire image and story unfold). This was a precursor to pop-up books that we all know and love.

Other illustrators to look for:

  • Paul Vincent Woodroffe (also a stained glass designer)

  • Marie Madeleine Franc Nohain, (most well-known for “Le Journal de Bébé” or “The Baby’s Journal,” 1914, created during the 20th Century.

To learn more about the information cited in this blog, check out the links below:

Importance of Illustrations for Children’s Books – MAPSystems (

Toy book – The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Kate Greenaway | A Day in a Child’s Life | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (

Walter Crane | Victorian era, Arts & Crafts Movement, Children’s Books | Britannica

To learn more about Full Cycle Publications, their original books, authors, and literary insights, visit the website and read what’s on the blog.

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