In Minders of Make: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), Leonard Marcus writes, “To those who worked in the children’s book industry of the early 1940’s, New York could seem as small as a fairy-tale village.” By the 1950’s and early 1960’s, many writers, illustrators, and editors of the children’s book world had moved to my corner of Connecticut, trading one fairy-tale setting for another. Renowned illustrator Leonard Weisgard was among them. Although I didn’t know until Saturday that he had lived nearby, Weisgard’s books were a staple of my childhood.
Weisgard illustrated classics such as The Golden Egg Book and The Golden Bunny. My sister and I loved Pussy Willow so much we wore out several copies. Weisgard won the Caldecott Medal in 1947 for The Little Island, written by Golden MacDonald, a pseudonym for Margaret Wise Brown.
Last Saturday, neighbors, friends, and family gathered for “Modernist in the Nursery: The Art of Legendary Illustrator Leonard Weisgard, a talk by children’s literature historian Leonard Marcus. (Connecticut is still a mecca for the children’s book world; I sat next to Lane Smith!) Marcus talked about Weisgard’s love of color and nature. He discussed Weisgard’s many collaborations with Margaret Wise Brown and how her work at the Bank Street Writers Laboratory influenced his art. Weisgard loved folk art, and Marcus shared several examples of how that love influenced his art.
When Marcus concluded his remarks, Weisgard’s daughter, Abby, answered questions and shared memories of her father. Neighbors and friends shared recollections of Weisgard’s generosity and humility, then told stories of wonderful meals with Weisgard and his family.
Throughout the afternoon, it was clear from both his art and everyone’s memories that Weisgard respected children and trusted their ability to “see and hear and feel with simple intensity.” In his Caldecott Medal Acceptance Speech, Weisgard said that “books…have always been a source of real magic in this wildly confusing world.” Thank you, Leonard Weisgard, for sharing your singular magic with the world.
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