I remember reading and rereading A Apple Pie when I was a little girl, and I recently went looking to see if I could find a copy for my kids. Whilst looking for it, I discovered that the author-illustrator, Kate Greenaway was one of the most influential children’s book illustrators of the 19th century.
For any parents of little girls who are looking for some way to break their little daughters’ obsession with Disney princesses, try offering a copy of this book, which is available on Amazon. It is full of adorable, almost doll-like children dressed in quaint, Regency-era outfits. Girls wear dresses with long skirts and wide sashes around their waists, and have poofy bonnets over their hair. The boys wear outfits with ruffled, white collars and have curls like Little Lord Fontleroy.
It is not surprising to learn that Greenaway was first employed as an illustrator for greeting cards. Every image is charming and pleasant, like a present wrapped up with extra goodies tied on top. Her style of illustration was apparently so popular that it was widely adopted and copied by contemporaries, and even inspired a line of children’s clothing by a London department store.
Kate Greenaway was one of the three authors who were at the forefront of the emergence of children’s picture book genre in the second half of the 19th century, according to Wikipedia. The other two were Walter Crane, and Randolph Caldecott. This blossoming of excellent works can be linked to their collaboration with an expert in color printing named Edmund Evans, a fine example of how technological and artistic advancements often go hand in hand.
All three of these authors did the majority of their work in the 1880’s and 90’s. Here is an example from each, to give an idea of how their styles were different.
Greenaway’s career path looks remarkably similar to what any book illustrator of today might experience. She was exposed at a young age to illustration because her father worked as an engraver, making the woodcarvings that were used to illustrate weekly newspapers and books of their day. She attended art school, and was able to land work as a freelance artist for a greeting card company. She started receiving commissions to produce illustrations for books, and then published her own book, Under the Window, which was her breakout success.
Yes, she faced gender discrimination, notably in the lack of equal access to instruction in life art drawing. But she persevered, changing schools and studying great works of art in museums. She managed to achieve both commercial success and professional recognition, being elected as a member of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.
Honestly, the appeal of her books such as A Apple Pie is entirely in the illustrations. The characters are not 100% beautiful, there are a few that lean more toward caricature, such as this one.
Greenaway’s illustrations are uniformly beautiful. What saves them from being boring is the constant sense of movement in the characters. Children run, fight, climb, cling to each other, carry babies, curl and hunch in all sorts of reactions to what is going on around them. Sometimes they stop and stand still, but they are still surrounded by others in motion. It all reminds me of watching a ballet, and makes me curious whether Greenaway herself often watched dancers for inspiration.
I’m very glad that I happened to go looking for this book for my little ones. I have caught them sitting and paging through it on their own – a very good indicator that the appeal continues through generations.