Leo Lionni was born into a family that appreciated art, and, from a very young age, he knew he wanted to be an artist. He loved nature and started keeping small creatures—minnows, birds, fish, and more—in his attic room in Amsterdam. He also created terrariums, and many of these natural details found their way into his later work. Like so many successful children’s authors, Leo Lionni was able to remember and tap into the things that were important to him when he was a child.
Vera Baker was born in Los Angeles, California, on January 28, 1927. She and her family moved to New York City when she was quite young. Luckily for Vera, they lived near a studio space called Bronx House where she learned painting, writing, acting, and dance. When she was nine-years-old, one of her paintings, called "Yentas," was put on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. She was filmed there explaining to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt the meaning behind her work. The Movietone film reel ran before the regular features at the movies. This, Vera recalled, made her quite a big shot in the neighborhood!
Born: January 28, 1927, in Los Angeles, California
Parents: Albert Baker and Rebecca (Porringer) Baker, Jewish immigrants
Attended: the High School of Music and Arts in Manhattan; bachelor's degree in graphic arts from Black Mountain College in North Carolina
Married: Paul Williams (divorced in 1970)
Children: Sarah, Jennifer, and Merce
First book (illustrated): Hooray for Me! with text by Remy Charlip and Lilian Moore; First Book (written and illustrated): It's a Gingerbread House: Bake It, Build It, Eat It
Selected Awards: Caldecott Honors for "More More More" Said the Baby and A Chair for My Mother; Parents' Choice Award (illustration) for Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe; Jane Addams Honor for Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart; Regina Medal of the Catholic Library Association for her body of work; NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature for her body of work
Arrested at a women's anti-war protest at the Pentagon in 1981 and served a month at a federal prison camp in Alderson, West Virginia.
Died: October 16, 2015
Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop grew up in a rambling house, surrounded by woods, and with a stream nearby for catching crayfish. With no television until she was twelve, she and her five brothers would make up all sorts of imaginative games. Their home was filled with books to feed that imagination. Among her favorites were C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, as well as books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Dickens. Both her parents loved to read, and her father was a journalist.
A Writer in the Wings
“My father read aloud from Shakespeare—he made us take parts and read from plays in the evenings sometimes… Reading was like breathing.”*
Elizabeth Fitzgerald was born December 28, 1927 in Baltimore. Her family was filled with successful, professional people who formed a loving and uplifting environment for Elizabeth. She had a great childhood filled with wonderful memories of taking The Train to Lulu's with only her sister for company to see her relatives further south.
By Robyn Porter, CRRL Intern
Candice Ransom, the author of more than 125 children's and teen's books, balances the responsibilities of a writing career with the creative energy necessary for reaching young readers. Her works include picture books, young adult books, and early readers. Many hold historical or biographical significance, such as Liberty Street, published in 2003.
"One of the most important things is to laugh with your children and to let them see you think they're being funny when they're trying to be. It gives children enormous pleasure to think they've made you laugh. They feel they've reached one of the nicest parts in you.... As a picture book artist, I don't think one can be too much on the side of the child."*
Helen Oxenbury understands babies. She knows that they are messy, cranky, and wonderful. She knows that few things fascinate a baby like, well, another baby. In the world of board books, those sturdy first books that are impervious to drool and can survive a few tasty chews, Helen Oxenbury reigns supreme.
The Owl and the pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl and the Pussycat is a funny sort of poem indeed and only one of Mr. Lear's many nonsense verses. Anyone who would travel along with a Pobble who has no toes or take a sail in a sieve with the blue-handed Jumblies is welcome to be a friend of Mr. Lear.
"...that’s the fun of it to create from scratch, it’s to me, it’s creative in one sense of the word. I try to make exciting books for children and of course, I do them for myself too, I put everything I have into them."*
There was a stuffed bear in a department store who was missing a button, but a little girl loved him anyway. She didn’t want a perfect companion. She wanted Corduroy. Don Freeman’s stories about the plucky bear and his friend are still treasured and shared decades after they were written. A true classic, Corduroy can found in pretty much every library and book store with space set aside for young ones.
A Solid Beginning
Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps was born on October 13, 1902, in Alexandria, Louisiana, a child of middle class parents of mixed racial heritage—what is sometimes called Creole. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, was descended from French plantation owners living in Haiti and their slaves. After coming to the United States, the Bontemps family lived free in Louisiana for decades, and the many of the men worked as skilled brick and stone masons for generations. In addition to working his trade, Arna’s father also played music with a popular band. Arna’s mother, Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-ah) Carolina Pembrooke was descended from an English planter and his Cherokee wife. Maria taught public school and enjoyed creating visual art.
Born February 13, 1932, Mr. Taback grew up in the East Bronx of New York City in the 1930s and 40s. His family was Jewish, and they had strong ties to Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood was made up of many such families who together created a community rich in the traditions of the Old Country. When he was a young boy, he spoke the Yiddish language. Although he remembered little of it as he grew older, the traditional songs, stories, and ways of life made a tremendous impact on the work of this Caldecott Award-winner. In old Poland, a village such as the one he grew up in would be called a shtetl.