A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
- Happy birthday Ed Young (Seven Blind Mice) and Stephanie Calmenson (The Principalâ€™s New Clothes).
- Itâ€™s the birth date of poet William Blake (1757â€“1827). Read A Visit to William Blakeâ€™s Inn by Nancy Willard and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen.
- Itâ€™s Red Planet Day (referring to Mars), commemorating the launch of Mariner 4 on this day in 1964. During its voyage, the spacecraft eventually came within just over six thousand miles of Mars. Read Cars on Mars: Roving the Red Planet by Alexandra Siy.
Today we celebrate the birthday of one of the most original, and certainly most creative, members of the childrenâ€™s book community. Tomi Ungerer was born in Strausbourg, France in 1931, and knew both poverty and tragedy at an early age. His father died when he was three. Then, because of economic hardship during the Great Depression and the onslaught of World War II, his mother was forced to move in with her own mother. In one telling quote, Ungerer said: â€śMy whole childhood was a schooling in relativity, in figuring out for myself who were the good guys and who were the bad.â€ť
In 1956 Ungerer emigrated to the United States and found work as a freelance illustrator, beginning his childrenâ€™s book career with The Mellops Go Flying. Susan Hirschman, who founded Greenwillow in 1974, felt that Crictor, one of Ungererâ€™s early offerings, should be the example for every young writer of picture books. She trained them by having them type the text and examine the page breaks to see how brilliantly Ungerer could pace a book. Ungererâ€™s attraction to the macabre can best be seen in his work in the seventies, in fascinating titles such as The Beast of Monsieur Racine. As a young reviewer, I championed his booksâ€”works like No Kiss for Mother, destined for far too short a life. After all, mothers tend to prefer to buy Guess How Much I Love You overÂ a Â title with the promise of no kisses.
In 1962 Ungerer created, The Three Robbers, one of the most graphically brilliant books in the canon. Now reissued in an attractive edition by Phaidon Press, the book can be studied for its use of black space, rather than white space, in a book. Drawing on his many fears in childhood, for this book of darkness and shadows Ungerer presents three fierce robbers who go about the world in dark capes and tall black hats. They carry a blunderbuss, a pepper-blower, and an ax, and search the highways and byways for victims. But one night, they make a fatal mistake. They stop a carriage with a cheerful orphan named Tiffany. As she is going to live with a wicked aunt, sheâ€™s delighted to meet the robbersâ€”and then she begins to change their castle. It becomes a place for orphans, for children without homes, and eventually grows into a village that honors the three robbers. Who are the villains, and who the good guys? This question from Ungererâ€™s childhood forms the core of his unforgettable story.
In 1998 Tomi Ungerer won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for the body of his work: In 2007 a new museum, Musee Tomi Ungerer/Centre International de Iâ€™Illustration, opened in his hometown to showcase his work, and he now lives there part of the year. Today Iâ€™d like to wish him happy birthday from all of his American fans. The books he created in the fifteen years while living in this country not only inspired children to read but also inspired artists like Maurice Sendak to face the dark side of their own psyches. Where the Wild Things Are appeared only two years after The Three Robbers. Ungererâ€™s books remind us that no matter what the scars of childhood, they can be healed and transformed by creative work.
Hereâ€™s a page from The Three Robbers:
Originally posted November 28, 2011. Updated for .