A FEW OTHER EVENTS FOR
JANUARY 29:

  • Happy birthday Rosemary Wells (Max and Ruby books) and James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier (My Brother Sam Is Dead).
  • It’s the birthdate of Sylvia Cassedy (1930–1989), Lucie Babbidge's House.
  • In 1845 "The Raven" is published in the New York Evening Mirror, the first story printed with the name of the author, Edgar Allan Poe.
  • Happy birthday Kansas, which became the 34th U.S. state in 1861.
  • In 1891 Lili‘uokalani is proclaimed Queen of Hawaii, its last monarch. Read The Last Princess: The Story of Princess Ka’iulani of Hawai’I by Fay Stanley, illustrated by Diane Stanley.
  • It’s National Puzzle Day. Read The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin.

In the next two days, I’m going to celebrate the birthdays of two of the twentieth century’s great creators—one an illustrator, one an author. For several decades January 29 has been a birthday dear to me. In the last week of January, during Bill Peet’s lifetime, thousands of cards and greetings arrived from children across America to his publisher’s office in Boston. He never wrote for, nor cared much about, critics. But he loved his audience—and they loved him in return.

Born in 1915 in Grandview, Indiana, Bill attended the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, where he met his wife Margaret. Recruited by Walt Disney for his new film company, Bill moved to Los Angeles and worked for twenty-seven years on classic Disney films—Fantasia, 101 Dalmations, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland. In 1959 he wrote and illustrated Hubert’s Hair Raising Adventure—the first of many books with great storytelling, cartoon-style illustrations, and animal characters engaged in fantastic adventures. Eventually, he was able to work on the books full-time and leave behind his often conflicted relationship with Disney. Although Bill’s stories can be read for their light-hearted nonsense and memorable verse, he created characters who experienced universal problems—fear, loneliness, and self-doubt. Bill also tackled timely issues—both The Wump World and Farewell to Shady Glade address environmental concerns.

In 1989 Bill created one of the best autobiographies published by a children’s book author, Bill Peet: An Autobiography. In it he honestly addressed the personal issues of his life and filled the pages with his spirited and extremely funny drawings. I was fortunate to work with Bill for many years. Whenever I was on the West Coast, I would see Bill and Margaret, usually at their beautiful home located in the Hollywood Hills. A magnificent lemon tree grew on their property, and I always came back to the East Coast bearing lemons for the publishing staff in Boston. It was just the sort of thoughtful and kind gesture that made Bill such a joy to be with.

At one conference, when Bill was about to appear for an autographing, I was alone in a booth setting up stacks of books. Two eager seven- or eight-year-old boys approached the table. “Is Mr. Peet here yet?” they asked. I said he would be right along. “And will he have his bodyguard with him?” they inquired. “Oh, no,” I said. “Well why not?” came the quick retort. “The president has a bodyguard, and Mr. Peet is more important than the president.” To these children and to so many others Bill Peet has truly been much more important than the president. His books—filled with humor and action and an understanding of childhood—continue to make young readers laugh as they turn the pages.

Happy birthday Bill! I am so glad that children today still have these glorious books.

Here’s a page from The Wump World:

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Originally posted January 29, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, Humor
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COMMENTS

  1. G.Perry says:

    What a wonderful story Anita.

    Though you’ve earned it, how blessed you are to write and share the world of such people as Bill Peet. It makes me think of Warren Buffett who says he loves his work so much, he tap dances to work daily. It also reminds me that having a friend like Bill Peet is one of the great things in life.

    I’m sitting here at my keyboard thinking your little review today has the making a good book.

    And to top it all off, it’s my daughter’s birthday as well!

    Thank you so much for doing this children’s book almanac. I read it with great pleasure every single morning.

  2. Tom Angleberger says:

    One of Bill Peet’s most incredible achievements is taking 101 dalmations — which I think is a not so great book — and turning it into one of the most popular movies if all time. (see inflation adjusted movie grosses to validate this claim.)
    Yet he did it with dignity and style rather than cheap gags, etc.

    I also really like the Capybara book.

  3. Anita says:

    Tom and Gordon:
    Peet’s work for Disney really was exceptional.
    Thanks so much for these comments. You have both made my day special!

  4. Rea Berg says:

    Good Morning Anita! What a wonderful way to start the day, reading this delightful post about the beloved Bill Peet! It is my daughter Tatiana’s 16th birthday, and I can’t wait to tell her she shares her birthday with Bill. Thank you for sharing your personal insight into a life which brightened and continues to brighten the lives of so many!

  5. Carol says:

    Great column! I feel as if I knew Bill, simply through his heartfelt writing – I read Chester the Worldy Pig, Capyboppy, and Bil’s autobiography with my second graders every year at about this time. One of the coolest things is reading Capyboppy after Chester, and the sharp-eyed among the group will notice pictures from Chester hanging on the wall in the illustration of Bill’s studio, which “Cappy” is eyeing and thinking of eating.

  6. Danni says:

    Bill Peet: An Autobiography is probably my favorite autobiography for a young audience. It is a fantastic read and is gorgeously illustrated in Peet’s wonderful style.

  7. Erica S. says:

    Bill Peet: An Autobiography was one of two nonfiction books I remember loving as a kid. What a treasure! His whimsical drawings suck me in and make me smile every time, yet I appreciate that there is a lot of depth to them as well. Sophisticated yet fun, sentimental without being sappy. Love it.

  8. Jamie Tan says:

    I also liked Bill Peet: An Autobiography. I loved his illustrations of a moody Walt Disney, which were respectful but felt deliciously taboo.

  9. I will forever love The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock, which I ” discovered” only five or so years ago. It contains one of the funniest visual jokes I’ve seen in a kids’ book. Yay for Bill Peet!

  10. Libby says:

    Hi Anita —

    To the list of Bill Peet favorites I wanted to add Big Bad Bruce. My two oldest boys, who are now teenagers, first discovered BBB on audiocassette and would spend hours listening to the action between Roxy the witch and BBB. They especially loved the picture of the tiny BBB with the cat sleeping under Roxy’s stove.

  11. Happy Birthday Mr. Peet!

    I feel so silly for not knowing who Bill Peet was before this year. His autobiography was on our syllabus for nonfiction. At first I wasn’t too excited to have to read it, my copy was very old and dusty. But to my amazement I couldn’t put it down. It was so funny and honest! It was interesting to learn about going ons behind the scenes of Disney in the 30s and 40s, especially with the animators’ relationships with Walt. It was a fantastic read that I’d recommend to anyone!

  12. Anita says:

    Lilia: Yes, the information on the Disney years in Bill Peet: An Autobiography is fascinating.

  13. suzi w. says:

    maybe i’ll start with the autobiography. i’ve known about him for years, what children’s librarian or bookseller could not? And by folks who loved him, they wax on and on. But he wasn’t a part of my childhood…I love the picture you shared. You are always opening my world of books wider. Thanks!

    (and how fun it is to see comments from a year ago. I guess that girl is now 17!)

  14. I love Bill Peet’s autobiography. Like his fiction, it goes to the heart of things.

  15. Anita says:

    Suzi: The autobiography is a great way to start.

  16. Linda Elsner says:

    My son & I checked out every Bill Peet book we could find! Don’t remember if he had a favorite, but we loved them all.

  17. Dorrie says:

    I’m so happy to see Bill Peet here! My dad’s name is Bruce and my grandfather was Harold, so Big Bad Bruce and Huge Harold loomed large in my childhood.

  18. I loved “The Wump World” when I was a kid! I remember having such empathy for the wumps! Granted, I was a very sensitive child, but I had such an emotional connection to those poor little guys who lost their home! But I think the book is so lovely because it ends with hope! And really, that’s the most important thing in life, and I think that’s the most important thing to teach our children. Even when your world falls apart, there is always hope.

    Happy birthday Mr. Peet!

  19. Karen says:

    Looking forward to reading this one. My favorite Bill Peet book: “Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpant”. Happy Birthday, Bill Peet!

  20. S.Matt Read says:

    A harsh look in the mirror, but so very needed, especially today.

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