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Alphabet Soup: How Picture Books Are Made, From A to Z

B is for book dummy, S is for storyboard, V is for variant… 

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art kicks off the new year with an exhibition about the processes that bring picture books to life. Alphabet Soup: How Picture Books Are Made, From A to Z opens January 13, 2024, and is on view through June 2. The exhibition covers 100 years of illustration history, featuring artwork from the early 20th century to today’s born-digital art.

The Carle holds more than 9,000 illustrations and objects in its permanent collection. The Carle’s assistant curator Isabel Ruiz Cano mined the Museum’s collection to select 80 representative examples. Ruiz Cano says, “The Carle has a rich collection. I wanted to show pieces that people do not typically get to see—preliminary materials such as sketches, storyboards, and printing blocks. Guests often ask how artists, writers, and editors work together. This is a clever way to introduce and answer those questions.”

To create the exhibition, Ruiz Cano came up with key concepts in picture book making, selecting one term for each letter of the alphabet. Based on those terms, she started looking through the collection. She found color separations, layout roughs, and more. Original illustrations highlight the variety of techniques artists use, from delicate ink drawings to sweeping watercolor landscapes. “I decided to call it Alphabet Soup because guests can go to any artwork in any direction and learn something,” explains Ruiz Cano.

Ruiz Cano hopes that such a varied list of terms will appeal to guests of all ages. Artists can appreciate the behind-the scenes look, and the historically curious can learn about changes in printing technology. “Even younger children,” she hopes, “will see themselves in the unfettered creativity of early sketches and book dummies—an artist’s first mockup of a picture book.”

Exhibition highlights include a special edition of Peter Rabbit, with an introduction by Maurice Sendak, that includes illustrations made with the original printing blocks from 1901. Also on view are new acquisitions of artwork by Pat Cummings, Juana Martinez-Neal, Bonnie Christensen, Lulu Delacre, and Remy Charlip. Creative touches include letter-shaped exhibition furniture like an “X” reading bench and a “Y” gallery wall. A “Z” activity table (where guests are invited to make their own miniature books to contribute to the exhibition’s zine library) bookmarks the exhibition and encourages everyone to find their place within the pages of a picture book.

Featured Artists

José Areugo, Mary Azarian, Cicely Mary Barker, Cece Bell, Howard Berelson, Ashley Bryan, Remy Charlip, Bonnie Christensen, Kinuko Y. Craft, Pat Cummings, Lulu Delacre, Ariane Dewey, Tony DiTerlizzi, Jane Dyer, Ed Emberley, Antonio Frasconi, Don Freeman, Madeleine Gekiere, Hardie Gramatky, Kate Greenaway, Trina Schart Hyman, Leo Lionni, Arnold Lobel, Juana Martinez-Neal, Jennifer Mazzucco, Barbara McClintock, J. P. Miller, Barry Moser, Roxie Munro, Innosanto Nagara, Marian Parry, Leslie Patricelli, Jerry Pinkney, Beatrix Potter, Alice Bolam Preston, Ellen Raskin, Virginia Stroud, Susanne Suba, Simms Taback, Brinton Turkle, Leonard Weisgard

About the Museum

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is the international champion for picture books. We collect, preserve, and exhibit original illustrations, encourage guests of all ages to read and create art, and foster an ever-growing audience passionate about children’s literature.

The late Eric and Barbara Carle co-founded the Museum in November 2002. Eric Carle was the renowned author and illustrator of more than 70 books, including the 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Since opening, the 43,000-square foot facility has served over one million visitors. The Carle houses 9,000 permanent collection illustrations. The Carle has three art galleries, an art studio, a theater, picture book and scholarly libraries, and educational programs for families, scholars, educators, and school children. Bobbie’s Meadow is an outdoor space that combines art and nature. Educational offerings include professional training for educators around the country and master’s degree programs in children’s literature with Simmons University. The Museum offers digital resources, including art activities, book recommendations, collections, exhibition videos, and workshops for online visitors. Learn more at and on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram @CarleMuseum.

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