Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Kuplink, Kuplank, Kuplunk: A Celebration of the Life of Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey is one of our favorite children's authors here at BFB and today, Kathy shares information on the man behind the endearing and enduring classics Make Way For Ducklings, Homer Price, One Morning in Maine and many other favorites. 

As the school bell rang, our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Bortorff motioned for us to gather around her in a circle for story time. As we clambered for places near her chair, she showed us the book she had selected for our first read aloud, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.  “One day, Little Sal went with her mother to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries…” our teacher began reading aloud. During the next thirty minutes I was magically transported to the state of Maine, accompanying Sal and her mother as they picked blueberries for the winter. Along the way, they met up with Little Bear and Mother Bear which leads to a befuddling and bewildering adventure for all four involved. I had never seen illustrations such as these before. The artwork was done in blue ink on a white background. The story line was reminiscent of the previous summer experience my own mother and I had had while picking grapes to make juice and jelly for the coming winter. After the book was closed, I knew I had found a new favorite author and illustrator. 

Over the next week, our teacher read through McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, Lentil, and One Morning in Maine. A few years later in the third grade, I was introduced to McCloskey’s Homer
Price and The Centerburg Tales.  Who could ever forget the donut machine gone haywire? Or the slick talking con-man turned salesman in the Ever So Much More episode? McCloskey was a prolific illustrator, and is known throughout the world  as the  illustrator for the Henry Reed book series by Keith Robertson and children’s book Journey Cake Ho! authored by his future mother in-law, Ruth Sawyer. I would like to take a few moments to introduce you to the individual who is largely responsible for the modern illustrated children’s picture book. 

As the old saying goes, “From little acorns grow great oaks.” Robert McCloskey was born in the Midwestern town of Hamilton, Ohio on September 15, 1914. While attending public school he became interested in art, music, and inventing mechanical devices. Interestingly enough, these hobbies would play a future role in his children’s books. In 1932 he won a scholarship to the Vesper Art School in Boston. Two years later he received his first important commission, creating bas-reliefs for the municipal building in his hometown. 

Upon visiting children’s book editor, Mae Massey, she gave him some sound advice to “get wise to myself and to shelve the dragons, Pegasus, and limpid pool business and learn how and what to 'art' with.” Massey’s advice sent McCloskey back to his home state of Ohio, where he began to draw and paint the landscape and people around him. In 1940 the fruits of his labor were born in the children’s book, Lentil, a semi-autobiographical story of a boy in a small Midwestern town that is reminiscent of the author's formative years. In 1941 came his Caldecott Medal award winner, Make Way for Ducklings which was inspired by the ducks he met while walking through the Boston Public Gardens each morning. 

The world was introduced to Homer Price in 1943 and in 1945 when he, his wife Peggy and daughter Sal were expecting the arrival of the next McCloskey family member. Blueberries for Sal made its debut in 1948. The family life on an island near Maine became the basis for One Morning in Maine, Burt Dow, Deep Water Man, and A Time of Wonder. In addition to illustrating books, McCloskey designed puppets and enjoyed painting portraits of family members. In 1991 he traveled with President and Mrs. George W. Bush to Russia to present a set of Make Way for Ducklings statues to the children of Russia on behalf of the children of the United States of America. 1992 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Make Way for Ducklings, and in 2000 he was named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. McCloskey died in 2003 after a brief illness.

In closing, I would like to leave you with the words of the author himself, “It is just sort of an accident that I write books. I really think up stories in pictures and just fill in between the pictures with a sentence or paragraph of a few pages of words.”

McCloskey, Robert. “Make Way for McCloskey” pp. 139-144. New York: Viking, 2004

Marcus, Leonard S. “Robert McCloskey at 100” September/October 2014 “The Horn Book”

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