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Don Freeman: Creator of Corduroy

"...that’s the fun of it to create from scratch, it’s to me, it’s creative in one sense of the word. I try to make exciting books for children and of course, I do them for myself too, I put everything I have into them."*

There was a stuffed bear in a department store who was missing a button, but a little girl loved him anyway. She didn’t want a perfect companion. She wanted Corduroy.  Don Freeman’s stories about the plucky bear and his friend are still treasured and shared decades after they were written. A true classic, Corduroy can found in pretty much every library and book store with space set aside for young ones.

A Pocket for Corduroy by Don FreemanBut if a train hadn’t left the station when it did, Corduroy might never have been imagined. Don Freeman was a young man just starting out in New York City in the 1930s with two great joys: playing the trumpet and scribbling pictures. He played with jazz bands and liked that life, but one night he got off a subway car without his trumpet. He remembered it almost in time, but the doors closed tight, the train took off, and Don never saw his trumpet again. If he wanted to make a living, he decided he had better take this drawing stuff more seriously.

So, he drew for magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times. For a while he did his own magazine, Don Freeman’s Newsstand, which captures the life and humor of ordinary people in the Big Apple in the late 1930s and early 40s. In 1931, he had married Lydia Cooley, another art student. Throughout their marriage, he and Lydia collaborated on stories, particularly ones for children such as their award-winning Pet of the Met, a picture book about the famous Metropolitan Opera.

Central Rappahannock Regional Library owns a number of Mr. Freeman’s stories, including Corduroy, A Pocket for Corduroy, Beady Bear, Fly High, Fly Low, Dandelion, Manuelo the Playing Mantis, The Chalk Box Story, A Rainbow of My Own, Earl the Squirrel, and Gregory’s Shadow. All are engaging, hopeful tales to share with young children, a wonderful legacy from a talented writer and illustrator. Click here to see a list of all of his titles that are owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Fast Facts:

Born: August 11, 1908, in San Diego, CaliforniaSpace Witch by Don Freeman
Education: San Diego School of Fine Arts; Art Students’ League, New Yo
Military Service: United States Army Infantry, Rainbow Division, for two years
Family: married artist Lydia Cooley in 1931; one son, Roy Warren
Career: trumpeter in jazz band; drama artist, New York Times, 1934-52; free lance artist; children’s author and illustrat
Awards: Pet of the Met, written with his wife, won the Book World Children’s Spring Book Festival Award in 1953; Fly High, Fly Low won the Caldecott Honor
Died: February 1, 1978, in New York, New York

Attention, Parents and Teachers!

A delightful tie-in art activity for young ones can be found in the pages of Storybook Art: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of 100 Great Picture Book Illustrators.

Want to know more about Don Freeman’s early life as an artist in NYC? His adult-level autobiography, Come One! Come All! may be borrowed through interlibrary loan.

Read More about Don Freeman Online:

 “Children’s Corner: A Toy Bear’s Big Anniversary” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Forty years later, Don Freeman’s classic children’s book is still treasured.

"Don Freeman." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 2002.Biography in Context. Web. (Biography in Context Dandelion by Don Freemandatabase—available through CRRL’s research page with your library card)

"Don Freeman." St. James Guide to Children's Writers. Gale, 1999. Biography in Context. (Biography in Context database—available through CRRL’s research page with your library card)

Don Freeman Illustrator Grants
Established by Freeman, these annual awards for both published and pre-published illustrators can be used to finance work in progress or continue education.

Don Freeman’s Newsstand
Many years before he began illustrating children’s books, Don enjoyed the freedom of his own magazine where he portrayed life in Manhattan in the late 1930s and early 1940s. This article has some illustrations, but a more complete archived edition is available at the Library of Congress (not online).

*Oral history interview with Don Freeman, 1965 June 4. Archives of American Art. The Smithsonian Institution.
A wide-ranging interview with the artist/writer before his most popular children’s books came out that discusses his W.P.A. and other graphic arts projects, his childhood, and his interest in music.

Storymaker: Don Freeman
This charming video from the 1970s follows Don as he puts together one of his books. It shows him taking on the sometimes difficult creative process at home with his wife, speaking with his editor, checking his manuscript with young readers, and playing music.

Works by Don Freeman: Smithsonian Institution
These sketches, created under the W.P.A., give a sometimes humorous insight into the daily lives of ordinary Americans.

“Welcome to the Official Site about Don Freeman”
Don’s son, Roy, maintains a very informative page on his late father. A must-read for anyone interested in this author/illustrator.

Photo Credit: Don Freeman via Penguin Young Readers on Amazon