Illustrators Born in December

Notes on some fine illustrators whose birthdays fall in December
James Thurber dog

James Thurber dog

James Thurber drawing

James Thurber drawing

James Thurber was born on December 8th, 1894. He was not a children’s book illustrator, but his distinctive style and the humor of his drawings, particularly of animals, transcend age limits. Much of his work was done for The New Yorker, though he published a number of very successful books, including The Seal in the Bedroom, The Thurber Carnival and Thurber Country. He suffered from serious and deteriorating eye problems from his 40s onward, and actually became blind in his last decade of life.

Jean de Brunhoff, (1899-1937)

Jean de Brunhoff is best known as the creator of Babar the elephant, one of the most beloved characters in twentieth-century children’s literature. Brunhoff wrote and illustrated six stories about Babar and an alphabet book featuring the character. He boldly included death, war, nightmares and other problems and was sometimes criticized for this, but children have embraced with enthusiasm the world of Babar, Celeste, and their family, friends, and adventures ever since the Old Lady took in Babar in 1931.

Author/illustrator Maurice Sendak wrote, "Babar is at the very heart of my conception of what turns a picture book into a work of art.… Beneath the pure fun, the originality of style, and the vivacity of imagination is a serious and touching theme: a father writing to his sons and voicing his natural concern for their welfare, for their lives … Jean's bequest to his family, and the world, shines from the books."

After Jean’s death, his son Laurent continued to delight the world with Barbar’s adventures.

Eeyore, Piglet and Pooh

Eeyore, Piglet and Pooh

E.H. Shepard, born on December 10th, 1879, is best known for his illustrations for A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin books.

He attended school at St. Paul’s where his uncle was headmaster. It was clear to his teachers from a young age that Ernest would excel at art, so he was enrolled in an advanced drawing class. He won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools where he continued his art studies in “irrepressibly high spirits.” Shepard’s friendly personality, fondness for practical jokes, and theatricality earned him the nickname “Giddy-Kipper,” of which the shortened version of “Kip” stuck with him for the rest of his life. He worked as a book illustrator and for Punch. During World War I he regularly submitted drawings made at the front to {Punch}.

When Milne submitted his collection of children’s versed to the publisher, Methuen, in 1923, Shepard was recommended to him as an artist and the children’s classic, {Now We are Six}, was born.

Shepard’s son Graham had a teddy bear named Growler, and it was this bear in particular that inspired Shepard’s memorable Pooh bear. In order to follow Milne’s clear instructions for the illustrations, Shepard travelled to his country house on Cotchford Farm to observe the area which inspired Milne to write about the Hundred Acre Wood.

Shepard died in 1976

Quentin Blake was born in London in 1932 and has always made his living as an illustrator, as well as teaching for over twenty years at the Royal College of Art, where he was head of the Illustration department from 1978 to 1986. His first drawings were published in {Punch} while he was 16 and still at school. He continued to draw for {Punch}, {The Spectator} and other magazines over many years, while at the same time entering the world of children's books with {A Drink of Water} by John Yeoman in 1960.

He has illustrated the works of a variety of children’s writers, but is probably best known for his illustrations for the books of Roald Dahl.

He won the 2002 Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, the highest international recognition given to creators of children's books. In 2004 Quentin Blake was awarded the 'Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres' by the French Government for services to literature and in 2007 he was made Officier in the same order. In 2014 he was admitted to the Legion d'Honneur, an honor accorded to few people who are not French nationals. In 1999 he was appointed the first ever Children's Laureate, a post designed to raise the profile of children's literature.

He wrote a marvelous book about his life and work as an illustrator entitled {Words and Pictures} in which he describes his methods of working and some of the thoughts that went into his illustrations.

Raggedy Ann and Andy

Raggedy Ann and Andy

Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938) was an American artist, political cartoonist, children's book and comics authors, illustrator, and storyteller.

His first child, Marcella died at the age of 13 and legend has it that her rag doll was the inspiration for the Raggedy Ann stories and that the stories were a tribute to her memory. In any case, his wife remembers that he wrote the stories around some of the things Marcella did.

Whatever the origin of the idea, Raggedy Ann and Andy quickly became beloved characters, not only for the fine books Gruelle created about their adventures but in the form of the dolls he designed and copyrighted in 1915. Raggedy dolls are still being made, both at home and commercially, and their hearts always say, “I love you.”

Gennady Spirin was born on Christmas Day, 1948. He is a Russian painter and children's book illustrator who emigrated to the United States in 1992. He is a graduate of the Surikov School of Fine Art in Moscow and the Moscow Stroganov Institute of Art. His oil paintings hang in public and private galleries throughout the world.

His unique style is clearly influenced by the great Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin, sharing with that artist a love of density and beautiful design as well as a superb skill in both draftsmanship and color. His watercolor paintings have accompanied classic stories of Chekov, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy, and his numerous illustrations of books of folk tales and legends are classics in their own right.