100 Great Children’s Picture Books by Martin Salisbury

posted in: Martin Salisbury | 9

100Martin Salisbury is a Professor of Illustration and course leader for Anglia Ruskin University’s MA in Children’s Book Illustration. To say he knows a thing or two about art in children’s books is something of an understatement. So back last Christmas, when I first heard rumours of his new book, 100 Great Children’s Picture Books, I knew it was going to be a 2015 highlight, a book that would open doors into new worlds, spark curiosity and… likely cause a run on my bank account.

Having enjoyed his past books (Illustrating Children’s Books, Play Pen: New Children’s Book Illustration and Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, written in collaboration with Morag Styles), I knew Salisbury’s selection wouldn’t focus on books which you’d find on sale in supermarkets or filling the weekly Top 10 list in The Bookseller. But I also knew I would make lots of discoveries and that I’d be challenged (so many books and illustrators I perhaps hadn’t heard of before, so much art which I might wonder about how children would respond to rather than adults). I knew it would be an exciting book.

And indeed it is.

Salisbury has chosen 100 books from approximately the last 100 years, using a “luxuriously subjective approach... [with] rather un-academic, unscientific criteria, ultimately based on the ‘wow’ factor.” Whilst the curator of this collection acknowledges that “the successful picture book is about much more than good art and design“, his focus is illustration alone. These books have not been chosen because they work well as complete books, where the storytelling and the interplay between words and illustration is as important and finely honed as the artwork. Rather, they have been highlighted because Salisbury is passionate about the pictures.

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Gloriously international in its coverage, with books from Italy, France, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, Japan, China, Belgium as well as a large UK and US contingent, and with the added bonus of some historical contextualisation (the books are presented in chronological order so you can follow changes in printing techniques and the impact that’s had on illustration), this is a gourmet buffet for those with an adventurous palette. Even the inclusion of illustrators you’d place bets on having entries comes with surprises; Salisbury chooses books that are generally not the first associated with these big names. So Bemelman’s Hansi, and not Madeline is highlighted, Sendak’s The Moon Jumpers rather than Where The Wild Things Are, Velthuijs’s The Monster from Half-way to Nowhere rather than his Frog books.

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Some illustrators get two entries, whilst others you might anticipate being included are absent (Shaun Tan and Anthony Browne for example), but this doesn’t matter. The aim of this book is not the provision of a definitive list; this is not a best 100, but rather a more honest and subjective, more playful simply great 100. Alongside interior spreads from the book in question Salisbury explains his choice, flavoured with opinions (you can look for entries including “appalling” or “extraordinarily naive“, for example), often with a brief biography of the artist.

This is a book for making discoveries, brilliant for collectors, those with a passion for viewing or creating art, and anyone with an inquisitive mind. It isn’t really a book for parents wanting to find the next great book to read to their four year old however. Many of the books included are not available in English translation, some are out of print and extremely expensive to buy and Salisbury’s tastes are probably more avant-garde than most who don’t live and breathe children’s books. I would have preferred the more honest title “Art from 100 Great Children’s Picture Books”.

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But this is a minor quibble. 100 Great Children’s Picture Books, an intellectual and visual treat, does what every exceptional book does: it nurtures deeper engagement and sets you off on paths you didn’t previously know about but now want to follow.

9 Responses

  1. SIMONE FRASER

    Zoe, I too was so excited when I learnt about this one I almost ceased breathing. I ordered it weeks ago and am waiting with waning patience for its arrival.
    Considering Salisbury is drawing (no pun intended but I’m glad it’s there) from the international realm it must have been tricky to keep it to one hundred books. Though Brown and Tan are absent in this book, hopefully they and others omitted here will feature in his future publications. When poring over ‘100 Great’ in my local bookshop I was pleased to see Lisbeth Zwerger, who I was a little sorry wasn’t featured in ‘Children’s Picturebooks,’ co-authored by Morag Styles.
    I use that book regularly for the joy of the content and help with composition problems in my own work. It most significantly taught me about the world of picturebooks that has and continues to enrich my life, (I found ‘Playing By The Book’ in its the ripple effect!) and I’ve bought many non-English books by illustrators I would have missed out on knowing about. I consider them accessible artworks!
    And I love that I can gush forth on this forum knowing it will be read by like-minded people!
    Thankyou for another delicious post, Zoe!

    • Zoe

      Hi Simone, I hope you really enjoy this book. You’ll definitely discover some new joy in it! I do wonder how much Salisbury thought about his previous books when preparing this one, and whether that at time influenced his choice of books; perhaps some illustrators featured in his previous books weren’t included in this one, having previously been highlighted, in order to create space for others.

  2. Victoria

    If Shaun Tan isn’t it, is any Australian illustrator? Robert Ingpen or Bob Graham perhaps?

  3. Zoe

    Hi Victoria, Neither Ingpen nor Graham is in this book. Tan is featured in an earlier book by Salisbury (the one co-authored by Morag Styles. The illustrators’ nationalities aren’t given in this new book, and there are many new to me, but as far as I can tell there are no books featured which were published in Australia.

  4. Barbara

    Hello Zoe, this looks absolutely fascinating, thank you for the information. I must order up a copy right away – it’s just my kind of thing. Barbara.

    • Zoe

      Hi Marjorie, yes I liked the subjectivity. Makes it more personal and engaging.

  5. caroline@learningparade

    Oh I can’t wait to get my hands on this one… really loved Play Pen and first discovered Marc Boutavant via Martin Salisbury. Agree it’s a shame that Anthony Browne isn’t included; the illustrations in My Dad and Silly Billy have such powerful visual messages! Thanks for the peek inside!
    caroline@learningparade recently posted..Funnybones Skeleton Craft

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