Gail was a girl who loved stories. She wrote them and illustrated them from a very young age and created stories told with puppet shows to entertain her little sisters. She spent part of her childhood in the North Carolina countryside in a place called Shuffletown. Both of her parents were artists, and her father worked for the newspaper The Charlotte Observer. Visiting him at his workplace inspired her to pursue a career in art, too. She wanted to study in New York but compromised with her parents and attended schools in Virginia.
"I hope to make people realize how totally helpless animals are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must that we will be kind and take care of their needs." —James Herriot
James Herriot was the pen name of James Alfred (“Alf”) Wight, a Scottish vet who practiced in England’s Yorkshire countryside, beginning in the days just before World War II. He wrote with humor and warmth, and, once he finally started writing, he soon found himself on the bestseller lists for stories about his work with animals and their people, beginning with If Only They Could Talk (known in the U.S. as All Creatures Great and Small). Additional volumes followed, each one filled with wise and wry observations.
If you are looking for picture books with charming rhymes that tell funny stories to amuse preschoolers and their adults, Julia Donaldson is your author. She got to fame as a children’s author in a roundabout way. Before she set down words between book covers, she used to write children’s songs and plays for British TV and radio.
Julia has written well more than 100 books, and it all began with A Squash and a Squeeze, which was originally written as a song for children’s television. It’s the story of an elderly woman who is unhappy that her house seems so small. Fortunately, a neighbor has a very clever solution!
As a musician, Julia was happy to set her stories down for all to see—and keep: “It was great to hold the book in my hand without it vanishing in the air the way the songs did.”
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.”*
Provensen and Provensen. Alice and Martin. Martin and Alice. Two illustrators and writers working so closely together that their styles were indistinguishable. It was the same style really, gentle drawings so delightful in their clarity that they subtly underscored the text of the dozens of children's books that they illustrated.
"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.
Maya Angelou is famous today for her memorable words. She should also be remembered for her indomitable spirit.