- Virginia Johnson
It was her third grade teacher who showed Peggy Rathmann that reading could be fun. She had spent the first two grades squinting at the blackboard, trying to make out the alphabet with her nearsighted eyes. But her third grade teacher used pictures to tell stories, and when Peggy grew up to be a famous illustrator, she made sure that her big, bold pictures were clearly outlined in black ink so the kids in the back of the class could see them clearly.
Peggy tried many things before becoming a happy and successful writer and illustrator for children's books. Her career took off after she had a class at the Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. Her teacher, Barbara Bottner, had been a stand-up comedian and she made her classes funny. Her teaching style inspired Peggy to loosen up and feel comfortable telling her own stories with words and pictures.
Her first book came out of one of these class assignments. She was to write and draw a story about something that was personal and embarrassing. Like Peggy in her early art classes, Ruby tries to copy everything the most popular girl in school does. At first, the other girl thinks it's nice and cute, but later it gets really old. Finally Ruby learns that being herself is really quite the best thing to be. Ruby the Copycat was awarded Publishers Weekly's award from booksellers for "Most Promising New Author."
Peggy also illustrated her teacher's very funny book, Bootsie Barker Bites, about a little girl with another annoying habit. She went on to write a now classic bedtime story, Good Night Gorilla. The lonely animals follow their keeper home, one by one, after the little gorilla pockets the keys to the zoo. Good Night Gorilla was named an ALA Notable Children's Book and is the perfect ending to a long day for little ones.
In another outstanding book, Police Officer Buckle loves to give out safety tips. Everyone in Napville agrees they are very helpful tips, but they are also kind of dull. When Gloria the police dog comes along for visits, she shows everybody how much fun learning safety can be. Sure, Officer Buckle is pleased with how much everybody loves his safety tips now, but he doesn't know that it's Gloria who's the popular one. Officer Buckle and Gloria won the Caldecott Medal in 1996. The following is taken from Peggy's acceptance speech:
Back when I was collecting the 101 safety tips for the endpapers and the bulletin boards in this book, I offered my nieces, my nephew, and a dozen other young friends twenty-five dollars for any safety tip that made it past my editor. The response was very expensive. It pleases me that these children contributed to an award-winning book while still in elementary school.
I wrote Officer Buckle and Gloria to fulfill an assignment in my writing class. The assignment was to write and illustrate a story which could not be understood by reading the text alone. I did it because the teacher told us to, but in the process I discovered that this challenge was the very definition of a picture book. Officer Buckle was the words; Gloria was the pictures; and neither could entertain or enlighten without the other.*
Peggy Rathmann's recent book, 10 Minutes Till Bedtime, has all the clever fun of her other titles. The hamsters take their own sweet time about winding down the party on the way to bed. 2003 brought another jolly read, The Day the Babies Crawled Away:
Remember the day
The babies crawled away?
We moms and dads were eating pies,
The babies saw some butterflies-
And what do you know?
The babies crawled away!
She chose to illustrate that one with lovely pastel colors, but the figures of the babies, the parents, and the brave rescuer are inked silhouettes so that any reader could find himself as the hero. It's another bedtime winner, dedicated to her many nieces and nephews who have inspired her through the years.
In an interview with The Horn Book Magazine, one of Peggy's nieces returned the favor by giving us a glimpse of her aunt's world:
Wherever she goes, Aunt Peggy carries a little watercolor set that fits in her hand. She is ready at any moment to paint what she sees….
Though Peggy looks like an adult and acts like an adult, she has a window into the world of children. With her words and pictures, she entertains us, teaches us, and cares for us. I have learned lots of things from my Aunt Peggy, but I think the most important thing is that you must do something you really enjoy. It may take you a long time to find it, but only settle for something that is right for you. I know Peggy is doing something that is right for her. **
*The Horn Book Magazine, July-August 1996 v72 n4 p424(4) "Caldecott Medal Acceptance." (Peggy Rathmann, 1995 winner for 'Officer Buckle and Gloria')(Transcript)
** The Horn Book Magazine, July-August 1996 v72 n4 p428(2) "Aunt Peggy." (Peggy Rathmann, 1995 Caldecott Medal winner for 'Officer Buckle and Gloria') Robin Rathmann-Noonan.
You can use your Central Rappahannock Regional Library card to find detailed biographical information on this author for your report. Click here to use our OneSearch tool. Hint: good stuff can be found in Reference Center Gold and Biography Resource Center.
More from the Web:
Bright Horizons: Peggy Rathmann
Listen to a podcast interview with the author.
Hamsters! Take the 10-Minute Bedtime Tour
Lots of fun stuff here: a snack-making demo by cute hamsters, an animated photo album, a hamster keep-away game, hamster r.v.'s to color, and "the Amazin' Hamsterscope," a cool animation toy. This site goes along with Peggy's book, 10 Minutes Till Bedtime.
KidsReads.com: Peggy Rathmann
The story of the dog that inspired the book, Officer Buckle and Gloria, and a childhood memory that led to Good Night, Gorilla.
Peggy Rathmann: Official Site
The About the Author page has funny details from her childhood, what inspires her, as well as the kind of stuff that helps with report writing. Also has information on each of her books: awards won, short reviews, and publication details.