Tomfoolery!: Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-Of-Age of Children's Books

by Michelle Markel (Author) Barbara McClintock (Illustrator)

Tomfoolery!: Randolph Caldecott and the Rambunctious Coming-Of-Age of Children's Books
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade


"Exuberant."―Horn Book Magazine, starred review

"Excellent."--Booklist, starred review

"Storytelling at its best."--Kirkus, starred review

"Enduringly appealing."--School Library Journal, starred review

"[A] lively portrait."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

Meet Randolph Caldecott, the artist who revolutionized picture book illustration and for whom the prestigious Caldecott medal is named! From acclaimed picture book creators Michelle Markel and Barbara McClintock comes a lively, humorous, and energetically informative biography that celebrates the spirit of storytelling in art. Quick! If you don't move fast, you'll miss him--there he goes--Randolph Caldecott, future famous illustrator. His sketchbook is full of hurly-burly: wild weather, frisky animals, and people so sprightly they can barely hold onto the pages. But in the 1850s, there were no children's books like that. Not yet. Many books are published, but their pictures look stiff, full of pretty poses and cluttered scenery. No one has imagined how much fun an illustrated book could be because the future hero of children's book illustration is still just a lad.

Join Michelle Markel and Barbara McClintock for a riotous adventure through the seminal history of children's books--their art, their joy, and the man who changed them for good. [Tomfoolery noun: silliness, shenanigans, buffoonery, skylarking, or pranks]

FASCINATING TRUE STORY: This picture book biography introduces readers to the man who redefined children's books, transforming the reading experience of people all around the world! Anyone who loves history, biographies, or books for children will find themselves charmed by this lively look at the life of Randolph Caldecott. WHIMSICAL AND ENGAGING: Full of verve and fun, humor and dynamic vocabulary, this book is history with pure delight, sure to engage even the most reluctant readers! FUN AND INSPIRING GIFT BOOK: With compelling visual storytelling and an inspiring role model for aspiring writers, illustrators, and creatives, this picture book makes a great gift for any giving occasion. PERFECT FOR MOCK CALDECOTTS: Teachers and librarians who introduce the Caldecott Medal and its voting process to kids will find this invaluable as an introduction to looking at, thinking about, and celebrating art. Perfect for: Anyone who loves or wants to learn more about kids' books and children's book illustration Librarians, educators, and parents of kids who love history and nonfiction Aspiring picture book writers and illustrators of any age Fans of true stories, biographies, and fascinating facts Special occasion or thank you gift for teachers and librarians

Select format:

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review
A cacophony of verve and frolic, this is biographical storytelling at its absolute best.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 1-3—In a history that gallops along like John Gilpin's horse, Markel traces the career of a lad mad for drawing, who switched careers midstream from banking to art and after some low points ("Sometimes, on his letters, he draws himself as a sad, frumpled cartoon") went on to replace the "pretty poses and cluttered scenery" of the Victorian era's picture books with images still notable for their unrestrained energy and humor. McClintock evokes that energy by incorporating samples of Caldecott's art (and, for contrast, examples from stodgier tomes) into her finely drawn views of livestock scurrying underfoot or streaming from sketchbook pages. She also dresses up a busy multiethnic crowd of city and country folk first in period dress, then in modern attire to link past audiences to present ones. In end notes the author fills in some biographical details, with nods to Caldecott's publisher and contemporaries Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane. Readers open to more than just a taste of his distinctive works and sketches of his life and times will find Leonard Marcus's Randolph Caldecott: The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing well worth the plunge—but this brief tribute gets to the heart of what makes his work so enduringly appealing. VERDICT If Marcus still rules the roost, here's a high-stepping alternative for younger readers.—John Edward Peters

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) was one of the first artists to illustrate children's books with an eye toward merriment rather than morality, so it's not surprising that this action-oriented biography by Markel (Out of This World) offers "a hero so chipper he can barely hold still on the paper." Working in watercolor and pen and ink, McClintock (Vroom!) first shows Caldecott as a bearded young man pulling back an outsize book page to reveal a throng of his drawings come to life. As a boy, Caldecott sketches the animals he loves in motion; as a young man, he confounds his father's efforts to make him a banker, draws during work hours, and works to improve his skill. Soon, he's an artist with an offer to illustrate books for children, and "he likes what kids like--action!" Here, reproductions of Caldecott's own real-life images enter the book as he enjoys his first publishing success. The historical moment of this innovation is captured with verve and verb-forward flourishes in this lively portrait of a person whose illustration style still inspires contemporary picture book creators, some of whose portraits are slipped into a final scene. Characters are presented with various skin tones. Ages 5-8. (Nov.)

Copyright 2023 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"[An] exuberant tribute to the illustrator who revolutionized children's books." — Horn Book Magazine, starred review

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Chronicle Books
Publication date
November 20, 2023
BISAC categories
JNF007020 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Historical
JNF007030 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Literary
JNF063000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Books & Libraries
Library of Congress categories
Caldecott, Randolph

Subscribe to our delicious e-newsletter!