The Illustrative Life of Caldecott, 173 Year Later

Cover of a journal Caldecott illustratedEvery year we eagerly await the release of award-winning books to add to The Urbana Free Library’s growing collection. Now, there are certain awards that we always honored here at the library, but one of the most prestigious is the Caldecott award given to the best illustrated children’s book. The books that win the Caldecott medal are instant classics and are quick to join the shelves and bed time routines of children everywhere. We even have a hidden corner of all the Caldecott winners by the games section in the children’s department. So, it is safe to assume that most everyone has heard of the Caldecott book award, but how many of us know who the award is named after?

Randolph Caldecott was born March 22nd, 1846, in Victorian London. He was an avid drawer in his youth and continued practicing drawing as a hobby while working at the Whitechurch and Ellesmere Bank. Eventually, he went back to school and began publishing some illustrations on the side, gaining the attention of the publisher of some of London’s most illustrative journals. Emboldened by his newfound success Randolph became a full-time illustrator, creating fantastical detailed drawings for pieces of children’s literature that changed the course of illustrations for children’s books. His book of Nursery Rhymes sold over 867,000 copies and his bi-yearly release of special children’s books was eagerly anticipated every Christmas. Unfortunately, Randolph Caldecott’s life was cut short due to illness and he died in February of 1886 at 39 years of age. Years later, in 1937, the American Library Association decided to create the Caldecott medal in honor of Randolph Caldecott’s illustrative achievements and to all the children’s book artists he inspired. So, this March grab a Caldecott book and help us honor the legacy of Randolph Caldecott on what would be his 173rd birthday.