- Virginia Johnson
"I think of writing--particularly of writing picture books--as a kind of choreography. A picture book must have pace and movement and pattern. Pictures and text should, together, create the pattern, rather than simply run parallel." -- Beatrice Schenk de Regniers*
Born: in Lafayette, Indiana, on August 16, 1914
Favorite writing genres: picture books, folk tales, poetry, and plays
Well-known books: May I Bring a Friend?; What Can You Do with a Shoe?; Everyone Is Good for Something; David and Goliath; It Does Not Say Meow, and Other Animal Rhymes; Little Sister and the Month Brothers
Her last name is pronounced, “drain-yay”
Education: Attended University of Illinois, 1931-33; University of Chicago, Ph.B., 1935, graduate study, 1936-37; Winnetka Graduate Teachers College, M.Ed., 1941.
Career: Member of the Eloise Moore Dance Group, Chicago, 1942-43; copywriter, Scott Foresman, publishers, Chicago, 1943-44; welfare officer, UNRRA, Egypt, 1944-46; copywriter, American Book Company, New York, 1948-49; director of educational materials, American Heart Association, New York, 1949-61; editor, Lucky Book Club, Scholastic Book Services, New York, 1961-81.
Awards: May Children's Spring Book Festival honor book, New York Herald Tribune, 1958, for Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats; Boys' Clubs Junior Book Award, 1960, for The Snow Party; Indiana Authors Day Award, honorable mention, 1961, for The Shadow Book; Caldecott Award, 1965, for May I Bring a Friend? ‘s illustrations by Beni Montresor; certificate of excellence, American Institute of Graphic Arts, for communicating with children; Brooklyn Art Books for Children citation, 1973, for Red Riding Hood: Retold in Verse for Boys and Girls to Read Themselves.
Memberships: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Dramatists Guild, PEN, Society of Children's Book Writers.
Died: March 1, 2000, from a stroke at her home in Washington, D.C.
Beatrice grew up in Crawfordsville, a small town in Indiana, the daughter of Harry and Sophia Freedman who owned and ran a men’s clothing store. She remembered that her mother would read folktales and fairy tales to her three children every night. From these and other childhood recollections, Beatrice would later be inspired to write and retell some of those many stories, including her favorite--Little Sister and the Month Brothers.
Beatrice began writing very productively while still in high school. One of her favorite teachers was the sponsor for the school paper, and he let her be on the staff even though she was only a freshman. She began writing feature stories that first year and soon had a regular column, “Diary of a Cub Reporter.” By the time she was a senior, she was editor-in-chief of the paper, dubbed “The Gold and Blue.” In an article for the series Something about the Author, she called that time “the most important part of my school life.”
As a junior at the University of Illinois, she had studied philosophy but she thought to switch over to something related to the theater. But this plan disappointed her parents so she instead chose to attend the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She then went on to attain a Masters Degree in education from Winnetka Graduate Teachers College in 1941. After she graduated, she did go back to her theatrical roots for a little while and became part of Eloise Moore’s modern dance company from 1942 to 1943, part of the New Deal’s Federal Theatre.
Pas de Deux
Going back to her training in social work, she answered the call to go overseas and help with Yugoslavian refugees who had landed in Egypt’s displaced person camps during World War II. Working as part of United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, she supervised construction of and taught at a kindergarten in the camp as well as teaching “rather theatrical versions of American folk dances.” However, while on duty she became seriously ill and spent three months in a hospital in Cairo, Egypt, where she met the man who would become her husband, Francis de Regniers, an airline shipping manager. They married in 1946.**
In later years, fans of her books would want to know more about her family. Beatrice’s answer, in her Something about the Author entry is very telling as to why her books are still read and enjoyed:
“Do I have any children? Boys and girls and grown-ups all want to know that. I tell them, 'No, I don't have any children.'. . . I was a child, and I remember what I did as a child and how I felt as a child and what I dreamed as a child. Mostly, it is my feelings when I was three, four, five, six, seven, eight years old that are most vivid to me. Almost everything I write relates in some way to these early years. What was important to me then is important to me now.
"I think that the way young children feel today--the way they feel deep inside--is the way children have always felt: bewildered, happy, sad, scared, friendly, angry, jokey, lonely. I'm thinking of children say, from about two to eight years old. That is why a book for young people that honestly has its roots in the author's feelings as a child is not likely to seem old-fashioned or out-of-date. That is why, even though I have no children of my own, I think it is OK for me to write books that children will read or have read to them."
In the Limelight
After they came back to the United States, Beatrice veered towards the publishing industry, working as an editor and a copy writer and later managing the Scholastic Book Club, Lucky. In 1953, her first book, The Giant Story, was published with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, who would later become famous for his own book, Where the Wild Things Are.
Beatrice went on to write dozens of books, and always those clear memories of childhood inspired her to create stories that were not maudlin but still very true to children’s feelings—happy or not--even in the 21st century:
"Sometimes you just want everyone to leave you alone. No children. No grownups. Then it is a good thing to have a little house. A false face is a little house for your face." -- Beatrice Schenk de Reginier’s A Little House of Your Own
The children in her stories are hopeful and strong if not perfect. In Everyone is Good for Something, a little boy who is told over and over that he is useless goes on to find success because of his kindness. Likewise her retelling of the Bible story David and Goliath is very much from a youngest child’s point of view—the smallest brother who is laughed at and kept at home until the day he grows mighty enough to defeat a giant.
It is her young characters’ unexpected strengths that win the day. Beatrice’s own character was formed by an early love of language as well as her experiences at home and abroad:
"From the day, soon after my fourth birthday, that I suddenly realized that the words I had been 'reading' could really mean something--from that day I have loved words--what they can do for me, and what I can do with them." --Beatrice de Regniers, Something about the Author
Whether she danced to music as a young woman or with words throughout her life, this author’s gift of sharing rhythms and stories has left a gentle legacy for generations to come.
*"Beatrice Schenk (Freedman) de Regniers." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center.
"Beatrice Schenk (Freedman) de Regniers." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Gale, 2002. Biography In Context.
“Beatrice Schenk de Regniers, 1914-2000,” Publishers Weekly. 247.11 (Mar. 13, 2000): p35. Literature Resource Center.
Crawfordsville District Public Library: Montgomery County Writers http://www.cdpl.lib.in.us/newlib/writers/writers.html#bregniers