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As the people of the United States began to form a clear identity of themselves as Americans in the decades following the Civil War, they were creating the conditions for what was to be a major contribution to the golden age of picture books around the world from the 1920s onward. “The American Picture Book: Prologue to the Golden Years,” sixth in the Digital Picture Book Gallery series, traces the path of distinctively American picture books in the years leading up to the golden age.
The great saga of the United States is its forging from a multiplicity of peoples. Sustaining the amalgam of diverse cultures were the American traditions based on the principles of democracy—freedom, equality, and brotherhood—that go back to the country’s founding in 1776, and the spirit of the new United States. Freed from harsh religious and moral restraints and dominance of Europe in literature and the arts, a distinctively American type of picture book began to appear.
The diverse visual expressions of American picture books gave birth to fantasies rooted in the vastness of the country and brought forth new styles linked to the commercial arts that evolved for a market of settlers migrating westward. Yet, just as the uniquely American fantasy The Wizard of Oz, published at the turn of the twentieth century, would not receive a fair critical appraisal until decades later, it was a long time before those who purported to lead the country intellectually, in literature and ideas, could bring themselves to recognize the value of that which was distinctively American.
Developments in transportation technology, allowing people to move about more freely, and growing interest in the unknown were among the factors that spurred the rapid advance of children’s books. “The American Picture Book: Prologue to the Golden Years” is a record of a rare period during which the quintessence of American culture left its indelible mark on the emerging world of picture books.
Note: The texts of some of the picture books introduced here include expressions that are today considered inappropriate. Because of their significance in the history of literature, however, these expressions have been retained both in the originals and the translations.
Music / Shinzawa Ken’ichiro (Composition and Piano)
Commentary about the program / Shima Tayo, Kitamura Hiroaki
Reference and Source Materials/ Shima Tayo, Sybille A. Jagusch,
Authoring / Shimokihara Yasuhiko
The International Library of Children's Literature / National Diet Library