Classic Children’s Book Illustrations


By Victoria Chick


Do you remember reading “Peter Rabbit” as a young child or, maybe, when you were a bit older, being fascinated by “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass?” New editions of these classic books are still being published with their original illustrations.


Peter Rabbit and other books were both written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter, born in 1866 in the rural Lake District of England. She and her brother were schooled at home by their mother. They had numerous pets and were familiar with all kinds of domestic and farm animals. Drawing and watercolor painting were especially enjoyed by Beatrix Potter. She developed great powers of observation and was able to visually record not just details, but also the actions of animals.

Potter did not begin writing and illustrating children’s literature until she was in her mid-30s. Prior to that time, she used her drawing skills to scientifically illustrate botanical specimens and was respected in the scientific community for her extensive study of fungi and reproduction by spores. It may seem then, a bit of a leap, to “Peter Rabbit.” But Beatrix Potter had continued drawing animals for her enjoyment during her years of scientific illustration. In 1901, “Peter Rabbit” was published with her drawings of Peter and his adventures showing her triple talent of storytelling, drawing anatomically correct animals, and giving the animals human characteristics that made children able to relate so easily to their experiences and feelings.

Potter wrote 22 other books for children using different animal characters. With her book profits and an inheritance from her aunt, she bought a farm in the Lake District. She was an excellent businesswoman who invented the “spin-off” idea of marketing other merchandise based on her book characters. By increasing her wealth, she was able to buy more property adjoining hers so that, when she died, her legacy to England was the gift of her land to the National Trust which made it the core property that became the Lake District National Park.

  • Beatrix Potter by King
    Beatrix Potter by King


Sir John Tenniel spent most of his life as an illustrator for the British editorial magazine, PUNCH. As such, he had a great deal of influence in both reflecting and forming public opinion through his editorial cartoons. He was a master of caricature. In 1865, he met with Lewis Carroll, who already was familiar with his cartoons for PUNCH. Carroll presented him with the offer to be the illustrator of his fantasy books. Tenniel did 92 illustrations for “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”

His illustrations were done as wood engravings by professional engravers. As printing technology changed, the wood engravings were used to make electroplate engravings. The publisher first printed 2000 copies but Tenniel was so dissatisfied with the print quality, that he rejected them. When they were reprinted and appeared for sale for the first time, they were an immediate success, and his reputation came to rest as much on these two books as on the over 2300 cartoons he did for PUNCH. Later, Carroll asked him to illustrate other books, but he refused. From comments he made, it would seem the energy he put into “Through the Looking Glass” and the successful result of his illustrations either totally satisfied his desire to be involved in that genre, or he was burned out with the effort. Whichever way it was, he did not want to do any more book illustrations.

It is interesting to keep in mind that Sir John Tenniel, during his entire career, had the use of only one eye. During a fencing exercise as a youth with his father, his father’s sword struck his eye, injuring it so that he gradually lost sight in that eye completely. It shows his own great compassion that he never let his father know the extent of the injury because he knew how sorry his father was already.

Literature and book illustration that has been enjoyed by multiple generations for more than a century truly reflects intrinsic universal qualities along with the talent of authors and illustrators that allow us to recognize their work as classic.

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico. She received a B.A. in Art from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and was awarded an M.F.A. in Painting from Kent State University in Ohio. Visit her website at 



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the Author:

Victoria Chick is the founder of the Cow Trail Art Studio in southwest New Mexico.

Website Link Visit Link Here
Category , , ,
No Feedback Received