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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Today’s New York Times quotes Tomi Ungerer as saying:
Look, it’s a fact that the children’s books that withstand the grinding of time all come from authors who did both [writing and illustrating]. Because the author has a vision, and there’s an osmosis between the oral and the visual, which come together and mix.
Is that true? Context suggests Ungerer was talking about picture books rather than illustrated novels like Carroll and Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland, Baum and Denslow’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or Milne and Shepard’s Winnie the Pooh. But even in the picture book genre, is it too reductive?

I bopped over to Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Picture Books poll from 2009. Second on the list is Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon (and #74 is their Runaway Bunny, which I prefer). Other titles from author-illustrator teams in the top forty that have lasted over a generation include:
  • Ferdinand the Bull, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson.
  • The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin (and, of course, all the uncredited collaborators who helped to create your lovable furry pal Grover).
  • Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban.
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz.
  • Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle.
  • Tikki Tikki Tembo, by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent.
  • Eloise, by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight.
  • Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham.
In some of those cases, we know the author and illustrator worked together closely. In others, I suspect, picture-book publishing traditions kept them apart, so that only the text, the editor, and a few notes guided their collaboration. Yet they still produced “books that withstand the grinding of time.”

Then again, that list may not be Ungerer’s list. (None of his work appears on it.)

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