A Love for Illustration Inspires a Website and Book

Judith Saltman (editor)

My relationship with illustration has a long history. In pre-school, as the family story goes, I didn't talk to the other kids. Nor did I play with dolls, trucks, or dress-up clothes.

According to the teacher, I spent my time obsessively drawing pictures -- of Moses on the Mount. She was certain I would end up a rabbi or an artist

Jump ahead 30 years. Neither a rabbi nor an artist, I am a children's librarian drawn into the field by my love of the literature, particularly picture books. I still make pictures, but Moses has lost his mysterious appeal. I am a student at Simmons College's Center for the Study of Children's Literature where I am taking a course in the creation of picture books from the Caldecott award-winning artist and author of Writing with Pictures, Uri Shulevitz.

Mr. Shulevitz loved and hated my final picture book project. He approved of the story of a child artist's quest to visit the ocean so she can see it and draw it. But he intensely disliked my illustrations for the story.

"Your pictures have a tortured Germanic line," he said. "You should study the Italian Renaissance artists".

Patsy Aldana, publisher of Groundwood Books, also liked the story and decided to publish it, but turned down my illustrations with the comment that they were "not commercially viable." Eventually published as Goldie and the Sea, the story was illustrated with gentle humour by Kim LaFave, and with nary a tortured Germanic line.

Jump ahead another 10 years. My early childhood fascination with pictures and my later life with children's books have merged as I work on a book for the University of Toronto Press on Canadian children's illustrated books. With the help of my students at the University of British Columbia's School of Library, Archival & Information Studies, I have recently launched a web site celebrating the diversity and success of Canadian picture books.

The site features an extensive annotated list of multi-media resources on Canadian children's literature and illustration: print, video, and electronic, including an annotated list of picture books that won national awards between 1970 and 2001 in Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and the United States. We hope to add examples of illustrators' art and excerpts of interviews with Canadian children's picture book authors, illustrators, designers and others involved in the picture book and publishing industry. We also intend to add a searchable database of award-winning and short listed Canadian picture books. The web site has drawn responses from many countries, and has been featured as a School Library Journal web site of the week.

The web site is one part of a three-year project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I chose the Canadian picture book as a focus for research because, although Canadian children's literature critic, Perry Nodelman has written a fine work on illustration -- Words About Pictures - there is no monograph on the historical development and contemporary state of Canadian children's book illustration, such as the Barbara Bader's American Picturebooks from Noah's Ark to the Beast Within.

In addition to the web site, with my co-author Gail Edwards, sessional lecturer in the Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, I am compiling the research into a book on Canadian children's illustrated books, featuring interviews with selected award-winning Canadian picture book authors and illustrators, as well as editors, book designers, booksellers, and academics.

The picture book is a condensed literary and artistic genre, where form and content are more concentrated and immediate than in the broader genres of fiction and nonfiction. The perceptions of individual authors and illustrators are naturally distilled to a personal or cultural essence. It is natural then, that the Canadian picture book would portray in bold relief the themes of a specific Canadian literature for children.

We hope this project will provide Canadians with a comprehensive examination of the historical context and current state of Canadian children's illustrated books in English from an interdisciplinary perspective. Together, the site and the book will explore the historical development of illustrated books for children in Canada, and will provide a critical understanding of Canadian identity as presented in picture books.

We hope that the web site and book will raise Canadian and international awareness of the rich tapestry of culture, history and character that exists in Canadian picture books for children.


Judith Saltman

Volume 7, Issue 2 The Looking Glass, April, 2003

Site design and content, except where noted, © The Looking Glass 2003.
"A Love for Illustration Inspires a Website and Book" © Judith Saltman, 2003.
Send general correspondence regarding The Looking Glass c/o The Editor


The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680