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.
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.
Margret Rey and her husband, H.A. Rey, had no children themselves, but thousands of kids across the world have made friends with their little monkey, Curious George.
Margret was born in Hamburg, Germany, on May 16, 1906. She studied art at the famous Bauhaus School and elsewhere before moving to Brazil in 1935. Margret married a fellow German artist, Hans Augusto (H. A.) Rey, and together they started the first advertising agency in Rio de Janeiro. They came back to Paris during some of its cruelest days, just before the Nazi occupation. Somehow, funny and delightful Curious George was created during those difficult times.
Two-time Caldecott medalist Nonny Hogrogrian grew up in a stone house in the Bronx, New York which had belonged to her family for three generations. She came from a hard-working and artistic family with strong Armenian roots. When very young she would settle into a big chair in the home library and page through books of beautifully illustrated children’s stories dreaming about one day drawing such pictures herself.
The guy hanging car doors at the GM plant in Flint, Michigan, for 13 years was taking home a decent wage, but he wanted much more out of life than that. There was another side to Christopher Paul Curtis—a creative side. On his job breaks, he kept a journal and wrote stories. The first of those, he said, were “just plain bad,”* but he got better. A lot better. His second wife encouraged him to keep writing, so he quit the job at the plant, moved the family just a little way to Canada, took other jobs that were less mind-numbing, as well as courses in creative writing. Ten years later, his first book, The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963, won the Newbery Honor, the Golden Kite Award, and the Coretta Scott King Award.
Peter Sis grew up in Czechoslovakia when the country was still a satellite of the Soviet Union. He remembers not having enough paper for drawing and only one kind of ink. Once a teacher caught him sketching in his notebook at school. She made him write over every page. In Czechoslovakia, there was not enough of anything, and drawing in a notebook was considered to be very wasteful. There were other sad things about living behind the Iron Curtain. The government controlled what could be said in public and written in books, especially if what was written criticized the people in charge.
Odell Scott (Scott O'Dell) grew up in a California that was still wild and natural. No freeways, no asphalt, no hundred-story buildings. People got around by walking, taking a trolley or train, or riding horseback. His family lived in a house on stilts that was so much a part of the landscape that the waves at high tide splashed against its supports. He loved the outdoors and decided to become a writer as a youngster after he learned that he was related to the classic British historical novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott.
Eleanor Ruth Rosenfeld (Estes) loved to tell stories to children. She began by working as a children's assistant in her hometown library, but when she became sick with tuberculosis, she spent the quiet days of her recovery writing down her childhood memories as a series of stories for young readers.
In The Moffats, a terrific family, growing up during tough times in Cranbury, Connecticut in the 1910s, face calamity when the landlord puts a "For Sale" sign on their beloved yellow house. Janey's widowed mother works as a seamstress every day to put food on the table, coal in the grate, and clothes on their backs, but there isn't enough money left to buy a home. Week after week, month after month, the kids—fifteen-year-old Sylvie, twelve-year-old Joey, nine-year-old Janey, and five-year-old Rufus—expect the worst: that someone will buy their house, and then what will happen?
Buffalo, New York. It's cold up there near the Canadian line, the kind of place where houses often have sun porches to catch what heat they can get in the blustery winters. In the 1940s, most families would content themselves filling it with a couch, some houseplants, and a radio. In the Lewin household, the sun porch was filled with gym mats and weights.
When she was a very young woman, Eloise asked her grandma to tell her stories about growing up in the countryside of North Carolina. Eloise was born there, too—in a little place called Parmele. In her grandparents' day, the Parmele lumber mill provided lots of work for people. But with the trees gone and the mill just a memory, the mostly black families who lived there got by as best they could.