The exhibit illuminates the cross cultural connections between the two continents as well as the rich diversity that makes each country unique. Although both have roots as British colonies, the British influence on children’s books has manifested itself in different ways. In Australia early picture books strongly reflected English and European flora and fauna, evident in Outhwaite and Maltby. The pictures portrayed a romanticized version of what was seen. In America, however; European influence is represented by the importation of foreign books, including elaborately illustrated "gift" books by Rackham, Dula and Nielsen. N. C. Wyeth was the first illustrator to depict American settings with the same romance, richness and sense of drama as the European "classics" in books like The Last of the Mohicans and Rip Van Winkle.
A significant change took place in both Australian and American children’s books in the 1940s. Picture books began primarily to reflect the native landscape and people of each country in everyday settings—in a meadow, on Main Street, at the public garden. Instead of offering children romanticized and exotic views of the world, they could now see and read about people and animals "in their own backyard." Dorothy Wall stands out as an early pioneer in these indigenous reflections of Australian settings. In America, Robert McCloskey and Lois Lenski lovingly portrayed a variety of settings across the country. This appreciation for domestic, regional settings has continued with many contemporary American and Australian illustrators like Barbara Cooney, Wendell Minor, Tomie De Paola, Alice and Martin Provensen, Julie Vivas, and Robert Ingpen.
In the 1960s, for the first time, a few books began to portray racially mixed neighborhoods or focused on families from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, reflecting significant social movements that were taking place at the time. Another noteworthy trend has occurred in the last decade with a virtual explosion of books reflecting a wide range of cultures within each country. Not only is there an awareness of people from different backgrounds but, more significantly, an appreciation and celebration of the rich tapestry of a multicultural society. In the work of Brian Pinkney, Carmen Lomas Garza, Lin Onus, and Pat Torres, one can see a pride in both contemporary and traditional life styles.
The exhibit offers an intercontinental journey through the rich heritage of children’s book illustration in Australia and America, featuring intimate moments and vast landscapes, the quiet beauty of rural settings and the vitality of city life, and even some fantasy places that exist only in the artist’s imagination.Dodd Research Center