Saturday, 1 August 2015


This week, for a mix of reasons, I’m culling my picture book collection. All the favourites, the books that visiting children return to again and again are safely tucked in a couple of boxes, while others are in the pile awaiting a new home or shop counter..

However, I  was also looking through a set that I call my “talk books”. These are books I’ve used for occasional talks to writer’s groups, when I’ve tried to suggest the vast range of picture books available. As I went through my pile, I was struck by how often developments in technology have affected children’s books over the years. Here are a few of my examples:

 TITCH by Pat Hutchins.
A whole generation of picture books had black lines around the different sections of the drawings, as in this example. Back then, these lines acted as guidelines for the artists as they created the three different layers needed for the colour printing process of the time.

The same black outline lines occur, too, in Pat’s ROSIE’S WALK, but the advances in printing made this task obsolete and the heavy lines disappeared. .

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendakometimes new writers still think in terms of text on one page, illustration on the other, as used for the Ladybird books. This book is a wonderful example of the use of both pages and spreads. It starts with a small, single ”picture in a box on a page” image of Max, but the area increases until the artwork becomes the entire  edge-to-edge full-spread of Max processing across the pages as the glorious King of all the Wild Things. The drama of the “dream” story line is powerfully increased by the growth of the pictures.
Much later, giant and quadruple last pages became popular,  bringing endings where the illustration unfolds to show an image even larger than the area of the book. 

ERNEST by Catherine Rayner is a book about a very, very large moose!.


PEEPO by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. The technique of cutting holes through book pages might have been popularised through THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle, but it was also used to great effect in this lovely, cosy book.

The reader - young or old - can peep through the single hole on one page and glimpse moments from working-class babyhood in the forties and fifties on the page ahead. The round hole gives a kind of baby’s eye view, a visual version of that favourite baby game.

I’ve heard PEEPO is used as a history book now, based as it was on the authors childhoods.

There's also THE RAINBOW FISH by Marcus Pfister. The picture book I have comes from that surge of shiny, laminated paper/printing suddenly used both on and inside the covers. 

For a while, every infant classroom – as they were called then – seemed to have its own Rainbow Fish topic, sparkling away in the corner,,

Additionally, writers for older children grew irrationally overjoyed at any morsel of sparkliness or shine appearing on their new book's covers.

Meanwhile, THE VERY QUIET CRICKET, another by Eric Carle is an example of the use of sound technology. All the insects in the forest greet the cricket, who can’t respond in sound until – for the final spread –our “he” meets a “she”, and he starts to chirp. A tiny device is activated by the fully opened spread.

By the bye, I recall the final moment an award ceremony where a prestigious children’s writer’s important & serious novel was beaten by the novelty of a picture book about a noisily “farting” teddy bear. Sounds were very popular in books for a time but now seem confined to birthday cards.

I have selected these titles from books I own and use as part of talks. I'm sure there are other and earlier examples of some of these technologies so if you can think of any other examples, or anything to add, please do comment.
A big thing now seems to be the revival of colour decoration on the edges of a closed children’s novel, as if the solid block of colour makes the “3D” existence of the book more emphatic and important than the kindle version. 

Additionally, springing out of picture books, there's the rise of illustrations set creatively within the pages of text. In one way, these black and white pages can seem quite old-fashioned, but in another, surely it’s the sheer flexibility of the modern print layout that makes such delight possible, and makes the gap between picture book and junior fiction a more open journey? 

Probably  the new Children's Laureate Chris Riddell and his GOTH GIRL would think so!.

And of course there are picture book apps now, but not within my boxes of books. Back to find my Book-Sorting Hat.

Penny Dolan


Penny Dolan said...

Musing on this post around 2am, I'm not sure I really stressed that these titles are a mere smidgen of the variety of books available for children. Hooray for illustrators and designers!

Susan Price said...

I loved this, Penny - found it fascinating. There are several picture books I admire tremendously, but I don't know the field as well as you, and hadn't really considered how changing technology had affected them.

Dawn Finch said...

Great post, and your comments and thoughts really add a lot. It's fascinating how much has changed in such a short time.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Sue & Dawn. Although I'm a writer, I find the link between picture books and the whole world of art & creative technology extremely interesting.

Joan Lennon said...

A very interesting post - art and design are everywhere and it's great to have some analysis of what we see! Thanks!

John Dougherty said...

Yes, fascinating! Thanks, Penny.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. One of my favourite moments of print technology wonderfulness is the cleverly spot-varnished imaginary friend Soren Lorenson in Lauren Child's "I am absolutely too small for school". So subtle and so perfect.

Sue Purkiss said...

Very interesting, and much of it new to me - thanks, Penny.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, all. Carol - re dots - did you know that Lauren Child had worked as one of the artist Damian Hirst's assistants?

Anonymous said...

No, I didn't know that, Penny!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

All wonderful Penny! A lovely cross section of picture books... and of course even the double-page spread was seen once as avant garde and cutting edge! Fascinating! We have come so far but the changes are often incremental and without a blog like this, we so easily forget!
Now I will need to cull my own collection to collect only the finest of examples in the world of developing picture books! How to begin?????

Becca McCallum said...

When I first saw this post, I thought it was going to be about how technology was reflected in picture books (!)

I still have my 'old favourites' that I've kept from my childhood. Hopefully someone else will be able to enjoy them in the future. (I read and enjoyed the books that my parents had kept from theirs...despite the fact that they were quite old fashioned!)