• Happy birthday Penelope Lively (Dragon Trouble), Zibby Oneal (The Language of Goldfish), Keith Baker (LMNO Peas), Ralph Fletcher (Fig Pudding), Riley Carney (The Fire Stone), and Patrick McDonnell (The Gift of Nothing).
  • It’s the birth date of Kate Greenaway (1846–1901), Under the Window; Ennis Rees (1925–2009),Brer Rabbit and his Tricks); and Lillian Moore (1909-2004), My First Counting Book.
  • It’s St. Patrick’s Day, first celebrated in the United States in 1756 in New York City at the Crown and Thistle Tavern. Read Saint Patrick by Ann Tompert, illustrated by Michael Garland, and Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie dePaola.

Today illustrator Wendell Minor celebrates his birthday. Both Wendell and his wonderful wife Florence, one of the great teams in children’s books, happen to be good friends of mine. Normally, that would stop me from writing this post because it is hard for me to be objective. But I think Wendell has worked so hard and given so much to the children’s book field that I decided to use his birthday to sing his praises.

Someone who suffers from dyslexia, Wendell discovered that he had a particular talent for drawing. He pursued a career in graphic arts and in 1968 illustrated his first cover for an adult book. Over time he crafted fifteen hundred book jackets—including all the works of David McCullough, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, James A. Michener’s Alaska, and Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini. But that incredible output marked only the beginning stage of Wendell’s career.

As Wendell says in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book, he believes that children’s books “are the last pond in the Serengeti. They are the one place we go to drink for inspiration.” In the next stage of Wendell’s work, he became a children’s book illustrator. His natural love of the land brought him time and time again to depicting wildlife, and he has worked over the years on fabulous books with naturalist Jean Craighead George. Recently he and Florence created If You Were a Penguin, perfect for the preschool set.

Following in the tradition of N. C. Wyeth, Edward Hopper, and Norman Rockwell, Wendell became an accomplished and brilliant re-creator of American history for children. Known for his attention to historical detail, he always reaches for the emotional power of historical events. His figures are real people, not cardboard icons. And he goes the extra mile in research. For a book I wrote, Henry Knox: Bookseller, Soldier, Patriot, Wendell discovered from David McCullough the exact breed of oxen that Knox used to carry the cannons of Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. Then Wendell visited a farm in New York State where they raised that breed, the Randall Lineback. Since an ox had just been born on the day the Minors arrived, it was named “Wendell” in his honor. Only in children’s books! Whether he is illustrating stories like The Last Train by Gordon Titcomb, or showing the details of America’s landscape in America the Beautiful, Wendell attempts to get every small visual reference right because children deserve only the best.

Someone with an amazing work ethic, Wendell will no doubt be working on his birthday. Please join me in wishing him happy returns of the day.

Here’s a page from The Last Train:


Originally posted March 17, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Animals, History, Nature, Penguins, Revolutionary War, Trains, Transportation


  1. G.Perry says:

    I love reading about writers, illustrators and their work. This illustrator is new to me and I can’t wait to go find his work.

    The quote about children’s books being the last pond in the Serengeti.. is the kind of remark I put on my writer’s creative cork board. Up it goes! And I love the train drawings.

    Happy Birthday Wendell!

  2. Pam Price says:

    Just ordered Wendell’s beautiful book, Cat, What Is That, from David Godine publishing. Classic Minor!

  3. Star says:

    Happy Birthday to Mr. Minor…an amazing artist! Wishing him many more years of creativity and astonishing talent!

  4. Anita says:

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. I just heard from Wendell, who truly appreciated everyone’s kind words and birthday wishes. Anita

  5. sharon says:

    Heartland came out right around the time I started working in a children’s bookstore and has always been my favorite Wendall Minor book. His depiction of the heartland of our country sang to me as much as Diane Siebert’s words. Thank you for this site…

  6. kkosko says:

    Happy Birthday Wendell
    thanks to Wendell and Anita for the wonderful book “Henry Knox”
    It is a valuable title in teaching about Evacuation Day.

  7. Erica S. says:

    The story about the oxen detail is wonderful! I love that it shows how much we can all still appreciate picture books well after we move from childhood to adulthood – they are truly works of art, not just “things to amuse children”!

  8. Greetings everyone!

    Anita has me blushing this morning. Thank you so much for your very kind words. You have made my day, and my year too! And how did you guess I’d be working today? One of my art teachers gave me some very important advice many years ago: “If you make your art your life and your life, your art….you will never work a day in your life!” He was right!

    Thanks, Anita, and thanks to all of you for making my day a brighter one! Cheers, Wendell Minor

  9. Anita says:

    Wendell: I love that quote — and you have lived it.

  10. suzi w. says:

    Happy birthday to one of my favorite illustrators!! How fun to hear how Wendell does his research, and I’m not surprised that he goes to such lengths.

    Suzi W.

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