Monday, February 18, 2008

The New Yorker Connection

Since the 1920's, consistently, some of the great lights of American literature have been counted among the contributors to the great literary magazine, the New Yorker. So, too, with the world of children's literature in America. Turns out that the same sense of humour and drawing style that works so well in the magazine's famous cartoons, decorative illustrations, and covers is a perfect match for children's books. They are intelligent, funny, and just wry enough to make the kids' parents laugh, too. Perhaps that's why some of my very favourites are counted among the contributors. Here is a roundup of some names you may recognize if you've been a fan yourself.

E.B. White
Hired in 1921 as editor, he was one of the magazine's most famous editors and the co-author of the iconic guide to writing style known as Strunk & White (though actually titled Elements of Style). He is also the author of a trio of the most beloved of children's novels. Responsible for the sweet and simple joys of Stuart Little, the bittersweet take of Charlotte's Web, and the lesser-known but not lesser Trumpet of the Swan. He has a wonderful way with touching detail, with great characters, and with creating deep connections.

William Steig
Well, you know, I've mentioned Steig before and love him dearly, but have I mentioned that he is not only a brilliant children's author of more than thirty picture books and novels (including the Caldecott winner Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and kids' fave Doctor DeSoto), but also a cartoonist and regular contributor of both cartoons and covers to the New Yorker? His work appeared beginning as wearly as 1931 and he continued to work with the magazine until his death in 2003. Well, it seems his gently comic stylings span the ages, darlings, and he wins at any point, if you ask me. It seems I'm not alone, as New York's Jewish Museum is running an exhibition of his work that is on until March 16th. Man, I wish I could get there.

James Thurber

James Thurber was kind of an accidental addition to the magazine, a discovery of E.B. White's who ended up contributing a goodly body of work in the form of cartoons and covers in the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, he became so beloved a fixture that a section of wall covered in his drawings was moved with the magazine's offices more than once. In children's literature circles, though, he is best known for his Caldecott-winning fairy tale Many Moons. Lesser known but no less delightful are the equally wonderful tale of The Great Quillow, The Night the Ghost Got In, The 13 Clocks (fiction), The Wonderful O (fiction), and many adult titles, as well.

James Stevenson

James Stevenson joined the roll of contributors in the 1950s, quickly becoming so prolific that one editor said he turned in more material than they could print, and could easily have filled a whole magazine on his own each month. Indeed, he continued to contribute for decades, in cartoons, written pieces, and covers alike. His picture books reflect this fertile mind, and cross-pollination occurs, as he used a lot of comic book techniques in many of them, with frames and speech bubbles adding another layer to the text. I find his picture books hilarious, though hard to share with a group because of the comic strip elements. Included are The Worst Person In the World, What's Under My Bed?, Monty, Clams Can't Sing, Don't Make Me Laugh, and about a hundred other picture or poetry books, all illustrated in his inimitable style.

Robert Kraus

Robert Kraus was a noted New Yorker cartoonist in the 1950s and 60s, sketching out over 400 cartoons and some 21 covers before turning more of his attention to picture books. He is the author of beloved childhood standards Whose Mouse Are You, Musical Max, and Leo the Late Bloomer.

Sydney Hoff

Hoff brought his recognizable bold-lined style to numerous cartoons in the 1930s to about 1960. He is also an old favourite among children's authors, one whose books remain as popular today as they were when our parents were children. They include Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal, Julius, Barkley, Stanley, and host of other goodies, mostly found in the beiginning to read section.

J.J. Sempe

Sempe may not be familiar from the children's literature you grew up with unless you were in a more intensive french programme. He is the author of the French children's favourite series about Petit Nicholas, along with Goscinny (of Asterix & Obelix fame). As well as cartoons, he contributed a regular humourous travel piece for some time, as well as many covers. In fact, I saw one of his on an issue just last month, and he is still going strong.

Frank Modell

Modell was a prolific cartoonist for decades, with pieces published from the 1950s to the 1990s. He illustrated children's books for other authors as well as his own, which include picture books such as Seen Any Cats?, Skeeter and the Computer,and Ice Cream Soup. He also created books celebrating New Year's, April Fool's Day, a book for Valentine's Day that remains one of my favourites, One Zillion Valentines.

In addition to these prolific and long-time contributors, several major children's figures have been regular creators of covers and smaller inside artworks. They include:

Ludwig Bemelmans

You do know this name, don't you? Let me refresh your memory: In an old house in Paris, all covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines. The smallest one was Madeline. His stunning artwork has graced covers and added charming accent to many a page over the years.

Jules Feiffer

A contributor of cover art, Feiffer is also the author of picture books Bark, George! (a favourite of mine), I Lost My Bear, and Meanwhile ---, as well as fiction for older children, plays and humour for adults, and so on. The man has range, people. Plus, he's hilarious.

Maurice Sendak

Another major star in children's literature, Sendak was a contributor of covers and decorations, as well as occasional collaborations. Sendak, of course, being the author of everything from The Night Kitchen to Where The Wild Things Are, as well as illustrating everythign from Little Bear to Swine Lake. The man is a mcuh-hailed genius.

Edward Gorey

Gorey was another contributor of artworks, as well as the illustrator of many books both for children and adults. He has written some books as well, though many of them have a slightly more adult sensisbility, or at least will suit a child somewhat older or more sophisticated then your average preschooler. His illustrations for many of Edward Lear's nonsense verses work brilliantly, and perhaps my favourite among his picture books is The Shrinking of Treehorn, while the middle-grade mystery The House With a Clock In Its Walls benefitted from his atmospheric penwork, as well.

Douglas Florian

A fantastic comic poet, Florian also has lovely simple picture books perfect for early vocabulary or rhyming, not to mention contributing a cartoon or two to the magazine.

Ian Falconer

The author of the much-loved Olivia books has also contributed a handful of covers over the past decade or so.

William Joyce

The wonderfully warped mind that created Dinosaur Bob, George Shrinks, and Rolie Polie Olie has also turned out a number of New Yorker covers since the mid-nineties. I love his retro-futuristic sensibility.

William Wegman

His hilarious and instantly recognizable wiemeraner photo art was used for the cover of the 75th anniversary issue. Somehow the sense of humour exhibited in his kids books fits like a glove here.

Maira Kalman

The illustrator of Ooh La La! Max in Love! and other fun children's books brought her wild and kinetic painting style to New Yorker cover art several times in the past dozen years.

Roxie Munro

Munro's detailed, precise style is what makes her a great illustrator for kids books like The Inside Outside Book of New York and others. Detail is also something that has been a feature of those cover artists who have really drawn people in and contibuted over and over again through the years. With over a dozen covers to her credit, she's no exception.

J. Otto Siebold

Siebold has one of those styles that is impossible to mistake for someone else's. Kooky, cool, and somewhat disjointed, he often brings his offbeat sensibility to children's books like the newer holiday favourite Olive, the Other Reindeer, as well as a suitably bizarre recent pop-up of Alice in Wonderland.

Originally posted on MommyBlogsToronto/Better Than a Playdate.

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