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Images of the Earth in American Children’s Books

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German Fellow Sibylle Machat has spent the past seven months at the Kluge Center researching images of planet Earth in American children’s books. How Earth looks from space is well-known today; satellite imagery of the planet is now a part of our collective consciousness. But before public access to photographic representations of Earth, how the planet appeared from space was collectively imagined through the imagery in children’s books. Machat has looked at the history of the depiction of the Earth in American children’s books held in the Library of Congress collections, from 1843 to the present. Here are some of her findings…

The Children's Book of the Heavens
Proctor, Mary. “The Children’s Book of the Heavens: with 120 Illustrations.” Illustrated by Anon. London: G.G. Harrap & Co, 1924. Frontispiece. Copyright G.G. Harrap & Co.

“One of the earlier illustrations I found, and a very typical one. The moon, as we all know from seeing it at night, shines bright yellow in the Earth’s sky–and so, for a long time, it seemed to follow that the Earth, too, would be bright yellow when one looked at it from the moon. This one is actually slightly atypical in that it does show some detail on the Earth’s surface, even if the planet, as a whole, seems more reminiscent of drawings of Mars. But no, whatever it might seem to you at first glance, this is clearly, and explicitly, the Earth.”

Ravielli - The World is Round 1963 - 46-47
Ravielli, Anthony. “The World is Round.” Illustrated by Anthony Ravielli. New York: Viking Press, 1963. Print. pg 46-47. Copyright Viking Press.
Ravielli - The World is Round 1970 - 46-47
Ravielli, Anthony. “The World is Round.” Illustrated by Anthony Ravielli. 1963. Revised edition. New York: Viking Press, 1970. Print. pg 46-47. Copyright Viking Press.

“These two images perfectly illustrate the influence that space exploration, and in this case NASA’s Apollo program, had on children’s books’ illustrations. The only difference between the 1963 edition and the revised 1970 edition are these two pages, and one can see the aesthetics of the photographs of the Earth from beyond Earth’s orbit as well as of the Apollo moon landings clearly in the changed aesthetics regarding not only the surface of the moon and the landing craft, but also of the planet Earth as it might be seen from the moon itself.”

Schneider - You among the Stars - 48-49
Schneider, Herman, and Nina Schneider. “You Among the Stars.” Illustrated by Symeon Shimin. New York: W.R. Scott, 1951. Print. Young Scott books. pg 48-49. Copyright W.R. Scott.

“Clouds gave artists a hard time for a long time. Initially they are missing entirely and then when they are included artists either didn’t know how to draw them in relation to the planet’s surface or (and this is my argument) struggled with including them while also leaving enough of Earth’s features visible so that children could easily connect the planet they were seeing to globes and maps of the Earth they might be familiar with and thus recognize the depicted planet as being the Earth. Hence one finds some unusual drawing of clouds, and this is a great one.”

Ames - Planet Earth - 12-13
Ames, Gerald, and Rose Wyler. “Planet Earth.” Illustrated by Cornelius DeWitt. New York: Golden Press, 1963. Print. pg 12-13. Copyright Golden Press.

“Most of the books that I’ve been looking at largely concern themselves with astronomy or with space exploration. But I also spent time investigating geology and geography books and found some interesting depictions of Earth in them. Then there are books like this one, which combine the different fields and look at the Earth both from above, from the ground, and even from within. I’ve seen a lot of drawings of the solar system over the recent months, and what I think is interesting about this one is the liberty that the illustrator took. He’s not attempting to draw it to scale, or to make the orbits even roughly circular, but rather Mr. DeWitt seems to have been inspired by the shape of the Milky Way Galaxy and have transferred that into his interpretation of the solar system, while also trying to impress upon the reader just how small the solar system is compared to the vast universe around us.”

Coombs - Project Mercury - 52-53
Coombs, Charles I. “Project Mercury.” Illustrated by Robert G. Smith. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1960. Print. Morrow junior books. pg 52-53. Copyright William Morrow and Company.

“Of all the illustrations I’ve found, this is one of my favorites. It is from a picture book about Project Mercury and the Mercury astronauts, and while it is not the loudest or strangest of images that I have found, nor even the most detailed one, what I really like about it is both its fine pencil work as well as the layout through which the illustrator tried to convey the idea of the vastness of space to the young readers. I think the idea of letting the image spread out over the whole two pages and inserting the text like this conveys the idea of endless space well.”

Draper - Wonder - Cover
Draper, Arthur. “Wonders of the Heavens: Astronomy for Young People.” Illustrated by Barry Bart. New York: Random House, 1940. Print. Cover. Copyright Random House.

“Something very prevalent in children’s book illustrations is the planet Earth–especially before 1946–with a distinctive lack of clouds. I sometimes joke that it must have always been sunny before 1946. Even the small amount of clouds that one can find here is less than typical and nicely done.”

Fuchs - Journey to the Moon - 8-9
Fuchs, Erich. “Journey to the Moon.” Illustrated by Erich Fuchs. New York: Delacorte Press, 1969. Print. A Seymour Lawrence Book. pg 8-9. Copyright Delacorte Press.

“This book is from 1969 and shows the voyage of Apollo 11 to the moon, all without including a single word on its pages. I love how much–yes, unrealistic–detail the artist included on the surface of the Earth, and how rough and tumble it nevertheless seems. (There is some explanatory text in the back of the book, but it is entirely separate from the illustrations).”

Meyer - Picture Book of Astronomy - 3
Meyer, Jerome S. “Picture Book of Astronomy.” Illustrated by Richard Flöthe. New York: Lothrop Lee & Shepard c, 1945. Print. pg 3. Copyright Lothrop Lee & Shepard.

“Comparing the Earth to a merry-go-round is one of the most common ways of explaining the fact that it turns around itself to children (the other one being that it spins like a top). However I only found this one illustration in which the Earth is explicitly part of a merry-go-round. It is one of my favorite images.”

German Fellow Sibylle Machat lectures on “Images of the Earth in American Children’s Books,” Thursday, September 17th at 4:00 p.m. at the Kluge Center. The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information.

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