Thursday, March 14, 2013

Celebrating Women in Picture Books

March 14 - Today's post contributed by Dianne de las Casas

Celebrating Women in Picture Books
By Dianne de Las Casas

In England, in 1879, a 21-year-old by the name of Kate Greenaway published a book called Under the Window, written in simple rhyme. Having previously only illustrated books, Greenaway was pleased that her first solo book effort became an instant bestseller. Working with the firm of Edmund Evans, Greenaway’s art was reproduced using a method called chromoxylography, in which the colors were printed from hand-engraved wood blocks. This gave her books vibrant color and her subsequent books became as popular as established authors/illustrators Walter Crane and Randolph Caldecott. Greenaway’s contribution to children’s literature in the 19th century led the way for women in what would become the children’s book publishing industry. Her body of work has been recognized with creation of the Kate Greenaway medal in 1955, an award that honors an outstanding illustrated book for children in England.
A few years later, in 1901, a young woman named Beatrix Potter self-published a collection of stories about a little rabbit called Peter. In 1902, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was published by Frederick Warne & Co. Her books, celebrating meadow and farm animals and the English countryside, became wildly popular. She wrote and illustrated 23 books over 20 years, becoming one of the best-selling picture book authors in the world. Today, Beatrix Potter’s books have been transformed into songs, ballets, plays, film, and animation. Potter was also one of the first children’s picture book authors to parlay her characters into a successful line of merchandise.
Across the pond in the United States, a book of feline nature would change children’s literature. Wanda Gàg’s picture book, Millions of Cats, was published in 1928 and won a Newbery Honor. Gàg went on to win several more awards including another Newbery Honor for her book, The ABC Bunny, and two Caldecott Honors for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Nothing at All. Millions of Cats is the oldest American picture book in print.
Also in the United States, a 27-year-old author/illustrator named Margaret Wise Brown published her first book with Harper & Brothers, When the Wind Blew. Little did she know that one of her picture books would change children’s bedtime rituals forever. One of her most popular titles, The Runaway Bunny, was published in 1942. In 1947, the same year Goodnight Moon was published, Brown won a Caldecott medal for her book, Little Lost Lamb. The book was written under the pseudonym, Golden MacDonald. Over her lifetime, and under four pseudonyms, Brown published over 100 picture books. Goodnight Moon went on to become one of the most beloved picture books of our time with over 4 million books in print. It was named one of the “Top 100 Best Picture Books” by School Library Journal.
Charlotte Zolotow is an editor of more than 100 books and author of more than 90 books for young readers. In recognition of her distinguished career, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, established an annual award honoring the best picture book text, “The Charlotte Zolotow Award.” Zolotow says, “…radio, computer, TV, or any future technology will never replace the personal experience of reading a book. It is a private experience between writer and reader, which cannot be replaced.”

These exceptional women paved the way for modern female picture book authors such as Jane Yolen, who has published over 300 books. With two Caldecott medals and many more awards for her work in children’s literature, Yolen is one of the most influential modern picture book authors. Her picture book series, How Do Dinosaurs?, sold millions of copies worldwide. Yolen says, “I have always believed that literature begins in the cradle — the poems we say to the babies, the stories we tell them — prepare them to become part of the great human storytelling community.”
Likewise, the dynamic duo of Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser became internationally acclaimed with their Fancy Nancy picture books, celebrating all things French and fancy. The series grew into a publishing phenomenon with bookstores throwing Fancy Nancy parties and young girls dressing up in tutus, boas, and tiaras. They made being “girly” fashionable and introduced “fancy” vocabulary words to young girls.

Women have made an indelible mark on children’s literature and continue to change the way picture books impact the literary landscape. Exciting new picture book authors like Tammi Sauer (Princess in Training) and Jesse Klausmeier (Open This Little Book) give us books that encourage us to celebrate the wonder in the world. Established writers like Jacqueline Woodson, who won the 2013 Charlotte Zolotow Award for her book, Each Kindness, continue to write books that inspire us and make us think. We are lucky to live in an age where technology makes it easier to access information about the best picture books the women of our world have to offer.

March is Women’s History Month so celebrate by reading a picture book written and/or illustrated by a phenomenal woman!

About Dianne de Las Casas

Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month, who tours internationally presenting author visit/storytelling programs, educator/librarian training, and workshops. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of more than twenty books, her children’s titles include The Cajun Cornbread Boy, Madame Poulet & Monsieur Roach, Mama’s Bayou, The Gigantic Sweet Potato, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The House That Witchy Built, Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate, Dinosaur Mardi Gras, Beware, Beware of the Big Bad Bear, and The Little “Read” Hen. Her 12-year-old daughter is the culinary star, Kid Chef Eliana. Visit Dianne’s website at Visit Picture Book Month at