Elizabeth Cleaver, William Toye, and Oxford University Press: Creating the Canadian Picturebook

Article excerpt

In a series of four Aboriginal stories published in the late 1960s and early 1970s by Oxford University Press Canada, William Toye, the influential editor at the Press, and Elizabeth Cleaver, artist and illustrator, worked together to create the first full-colour picturebooks with identifiable Canadian themes and images. This fruitful collaboration between Toye and Cleaver, and its role in nurturing Cleaver's career as an innovative children's book illustrator, is an important part of the history of the development of Canadian children's book publishing.

William Toye as Children's Book Editor

As trade editor at Oxford University Press Canada, Toye played a significant role in the growth of Canadian children's book publishing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He had been inspired by the fine illustration, design, and writing in the British parent firm's children's list, and determined to create books of similar quality in Canada. As Toye stated, at the time "there were a number of Canadian children's books, but they weren't very good ones." (2)

Toye determined to remedy the situation by seeking out and nurturing fine illustrators who would add a level of visual pleasure to Oxford Canada's books for children. The majority of illustrations in these early books were in black and white, sometimes highlighted with spot colour, limited in number, and distributed throughout the text. A self-taught book designer, Toye was responsible for their distinctive modern look, and in some cases wrote or rewrote the texts. (3) Oxford illustrators of the 1950s and 1960s included Theo Dimson (James McNeill's The Sunken City and Other Tales from Round the World, 1959; The Double Knights, 1964), Donald Grant (Dorothy M. Reid's Tales of Nanabozho, 1963), John A. Hall (Cyrus Macmillan's Glooskap's Country and Other Indian Tales, 1956), Arthur Price (Marius Barbeau and Michael Hornyansky's The Golden Phoenix and Other French-Canadian Fairy Tales, 1958), and Leo Rampen (William Toye's The St Lawrence, 1959; Anne Wilkinson's Swann & Daphne, 1960).

The genre of the picturebook, in which text and illustration are fully integrated, was slow to develop in Canada, primarily due to the high production costs of printing in full colour and the limited number of experienced illustrators who could work with the cumbersome process of manual colour separations. Just as he had challenged the perception that Canadian children's illustrated books were dull and pedestrian, Toye collaborated with talented artists with European experience in book design to create picturebooks comparable in quality to those published in England and the United States. Frank Newfeld was already an established graphic artist when Toye asked him to illustrate The Princess of Tomboso: A Fairy-Tale in Pictures (1960) in full colour and black and white, with a text based on a folktale from Marius Barbeau's The Golden Phoenix, and Other French-Canadian Fairy Tales (Oxford, 1958). Toye and Newfeld later collaborated on Simon and the Golden Sword (1976), an adaptation of a Canadian fairy-tale first told by Wilmot MacDonald. Laszlo Gal, who had worked as a set designer for the CBC, and had illustrated books for the Italian publisher Mondadori in the 1960s, created meticulously researched full-colour paintings for Toye's Cartier Discovers the St Lawrence (1970), a unique illustrated picturebook of Canadian history.

Toye's involvement with the Friends of the Toronto Public Library's Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books resulted in the first publication of An Illustrated Comic Alphabet (1966), a hand-lettered text illustrated with humorous and delicate drawings by Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon. Although Howard-Gibbon had created the work in Ontario in 1859, the manuscript, which is considered Canada's first picturebook, had never been published, and its issue stimulated interest in the historical study of Canadian children's book illustration. …