Paul O. Zelinsky: Always Drawing

When he was two, Paul Zelinsky’s family moved from an apartment near Chicago to a house in Kyoto, Japan.  Most of the Japanese houses had walls made of paper. Though his was an exception, he does wonder if all that paper might have influenced him to become an artist. While in Kyoto, he drew the stylish and elegant geisha ladies.  When they came back to Chicago, their family home overlooked a construction site, so he took to drawing tractors and steam shovels being driven by geishas!*

He kept on drawing and kept on getting better and found a market for his work after college.  Through the years, he has illustrated many, many books and written some himself.  Today, his life, as chronicled on Facebook, is a happy blend of family, visiting schools, and, of course, drawing!

Many Styles, One Artist

“An art director once commented that my portfolio looked more like that of an artist’s agent than of a single artist. I hope I’ve gotten better over the years, the whole tribe of me.”**

The Wheels on the Bus is one of his most popular books and has sold over a million copies through the years. It’s perfect for a playful storytime, especiallyRumpelstiltskin for kids who are interested in wheeled things because it has real wheels.

While that book has rather simple but exciting illustrations, Paul Zelinsky’s other projects, including his award-winning Rapunzel, have a lot in common with fine art.  He uses all sorts of materials and sometimes will switch them out if he is stuck on deciding how to illustrate a book.

Employing so many styles with different sorts of books means that he must try new methods and mediums constantly. “Sometimes I disappoint myself.  Sometimes I surprise myself.  When I do, it keeps me feeling young; a nice feeling, now that I’m not as young as I was when I was young.”*

Fast Facts:
Born: February 14, 1953, in Evanston, Illinois. Son of Daniel (mathematics professor) and Zelda (a medical illustrator; maiden name, Oser)
Childhood home: Wilmette, Illinois
Education: Yale University, B.A., 1974; Tyler School of Art, M.F.A., 1976.
First illustrated book: Emily Upham's Revenge, or How Deadwood Dick Saved the Banker's Niece, a Massachusetts Adventure, written by Avi
Married: Deborah Hallen, a musician, on December 31, 1981
Children: Anna and Rachel
Office: 54 Orange Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Web site:

Hansel and GretelSelected Awards:
Best Books Award, School Library Journal, 1979, for How I Hunted the Little Fellows; 1981 for The Maid and the Mouse and the Odd-Shaped House, A Story in Rhyme;1986, for Rumplestiltskin; Caldecott Honor Book award and Bologna International Children’s Book Fair exhibition, both 1985 for Hansel and Gretel; Ten Best Children’s Books Award, Redbook, 1986, Caldecott Honor Book Award, 1987, and White Raven Book Award, International Youth Library, all for Rumpelstiltskin; Caldecott Award, American Library Association, 1998, for Rapunzel

Research Sources (CRRL):
Use your card to access these and other articles online:

"Paul O. Zelinsky." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

"Paul O. Zelinsky." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.

Also in the library:

The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF’s 40th Anniversary. pp. 62-63.
Mr. Zelinsky writes about a children’s book that influenced him greatly as a child, Margaret Wise Brown’s The Color Kittens.

*Talking with Artists, Volume 3. pp. 82-87.
The artist/author tells about growing up and shares--in the appendix--a favorite drawing technique called chiaroscuro, Italian for “light-dark.”

Web Sites:

Five Questions for Paul O. Zelinsky
The Horn Book magazine asked about his favorite medium, how he gets in the mood for silly drawings, the basics of ABC books, the importance of “doing nothing,” and how it felt to “grow up at the end of the alphabet.”Earwig and the Witch

Interview: Caldecott Medal and Honor winner Paul O. Zelinsky talks with SLJ
School Library Journal asks the author/illustrator about his experience winning the medal for Rapunzel and how it affected his career.

**National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature: Paul O. Zelinsky
Half of this page is the artist’s witty comments on his work and half is a brief biography.

Paul O. Zelinksy
The author’s own site has information about the author and his books, including how he creates them.

Paul O. Zelinsky on Facebook
Frequent friendly updates make this an easy page to Like.

Weston Woods/New Hampshire Public Television produced this beautiful video retelling and have posted it as part of their Caldecott Literature Series.

SLJ Leadership Summit 2010: Paul O. Zelinsky's High/Low Tech Show
"...a fascinating look at Zelinsky's process of illustrating the book Swamp Angel (Dutton, 1994) written by Anne Isaacs and its follow up Dust Devil (Random House, 2010). Demonstrating the merging of old and new technology, Zelinsky described his search for the perfect organic materials for his illustrations (real wood veneers), while later in the program he revealed his drawing technique, perfecting the round contours of a horse in Photoshop. However, the best mashup was his steampunk-inspired tracing machine." Video of said machine included.

Why Picture Books Are Important by Paul O. Zelinksy
The author/illustrator talks about picture books as a bridge to art in this short article.