Bernard Waber (1924-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1924, in Philadelphia, PA; Education: Attended University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia College of Art, 1946-50, and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1950-51. Hobbies and other interests: Playing piano, cooking, Broadway theatre.
Commercial artist for Condé Nast Publications, New York, NY, and Seventeen, New York, NY, 1952-54; graphic designer for Life, New York, NY, 1955-72, and People, New York, NY, 1974-88; author and illustrator of children's books, beginning 1961. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942-45; became staff sergeant.
Children's Spring Book Festival picture book honor, New York Herald Tribune, 1962, for The House on East 88th Street; An Anteater Named Arthur selected among American Institute of Graphic Arts Children's Books, 1967-68; Notable Book designation, American Library Association, 1970, and named Boston Globe-Horn Book honor book for illustration, 1971, both for A Firefly Named Torchy; Ira Sleeps Over included in Children's Book Council Children's Book Showcase, 1973; But Names Will Never Hurt Me selected among Child Study Association's Children's Books of the Year, 1976; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1979, for Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile; International Reading Association's Children's Choice designation, 1979, for The Snake: A Very Long Story.
Lorenzo, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1961.
How to Go about Laying an Egg, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1963.
Rich Cat, Poor Cat, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1963.
Just like Abraham Lincoln, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1964.
"You Look Ridiculous," Said the Rhinoceros to the Hippopotamus, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1966.
Cheese, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1967.
An Anteater Named Arthur, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1967.
A Rose for Mr. Bloom, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1968.
A Firefly Named Torchy, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1970.
Nobody Is Perfick (collection of short stories), Houghton (Boston, MA), 1971.
Ira Sleeps Over, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1972.
I Was All Thumbs, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1975.
But Names Will Never Hurt Me, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1976.
Good-bye, Funny Dumpy-Lumpy, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1977.
Mice on My Mind, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1977.
The Snake: A Very Long Story, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1978.
Dear Hildegarde, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1980.
You're a Little Kid with a Big Heart, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1980.
Bernard, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1982.
Ira Says Goodbye, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.
Do You See a Mouse?, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.
Gina, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.
A Lion Named Shirley Williamson, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.
Bearsie Bear and the Surprise Sleepover Party, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1997.
The Mouse That Snored, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2000.
Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp!, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2001.
Courage, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2002.
Evie and Margie, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2003.
Betty's Day Off, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2005.
Waber's manuscripts are included in the Kerlan Collection, University of Minnesota.
The House on East 88th Street, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1962, published as Welcome, Lyle, Chatto, Boyd & Oliver (London, England), 1969.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1965.
Lyle and the Birthday Party, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1966.
Lovable Lyle, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1969.
Lyle Finds His Mother, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1974.
Funny, Funny Lyle, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1987.
Lyle at the office, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.
Lyle at Christmas, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1998.
The House on East 88th Street, Lovable Lyle, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, and Lyle and the Birthday Party were adapted as filmstrips with record or cassette by Miller-Brody; Lyle was adapted as a stage play and produced at the McAlpin Rooftop Theatre, 1970; Ira Sleeps Over was filmed by Phoenix/BFA Films; Ira Sleeps Over and Ira Says Goodbye were adapted as a filmstrip with cassette by Live Oak Media, 1984 and 1989 respectively; Lyle, the Musical, an animated film, was televised by Home Box Office, 1987; Lyle, a musical stage production, was produced in Chicago, IL, 1989; Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, was adapted from The House on East 88th Street and was produced as a stage play by Michael Slade and recorded on videotape by Hi-Tops Video.
Noted for the quirkily titled The Mouse That Snored, A Lion Named Shirley Williamson, and Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp!, popular picture-book author and illustrator Bernard Waber is perhaps best known for his books about a crocodile named Lyle. The humorous and endearing cartoon reptile appears for the first time in The House on East 88th Street, where he is discovered in the Primm family's bathtub. "With aplomb and dazzling showmanship, Lyle entertains and enchants" the Primms, according to Twentieth-Century Children's Writers contributor Martha J. Fick. Along with the Primms, a host of young readers have responded with enthusiasm to Waber's other picture books featuring Lyle. "It's hard to go wrong with Lyle," asserted Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper after reading Lyle at the office. Cooper's sentiment was echoed by a Kirkus Reviews critic, who maintained that "most would follow the lovable Lyle anywhere." "The croc is so darn … lovable, and Waber's pictures are so much fun to look at" that each new installment in the "Lyle" series is eagerly awaited, explained Michael Cart in his Booklist review of Lyle at Christmas.
Featuring the author's penchant for rhymes and word-play together with his characteristically droll, understated wit, many of Waber's stand-alone stories for primary graders have been similarly well received. "Armed with a clear understanding of the anxieties, taunts, and humor that go hand in hand with childhood," as Children's Books and Their Creators contributor Lynn Sygiel noted, "Waber provides the readers of his … books with a mirror of their childhood experiences." Fick similarly asserted that in the "Lyle" books, "text and illustrations merge dynamically to balance fantasy with the exploration of feelings and relationships" that are central to the lives of younger children.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1924, Waber credits an early interest in motion pictures with his evolution as an author and illustrator. "When I was about eight years of age," he once recalled to Something about the Author (SATA), "I had the astonishing good fortune to obtain after-school employment in a neighborhood movie theater. It was my job to raise seats and pick up discarded candy wrappers after daily matinee performances. Admission to a movie theater free of charge was living and breathing my own fantasy. It was also my first experience doing work I enjoyed." "Each day," he continued, "I raced from school to theater … and caught the final ten or fifteen minutes of … a daily new feature film. Following the performance, having seen only the ending, I would try to reconstruct what I imagined to be the middle and beginning. It occurs to me that this was my earliest attempt at plotting, which may or may not account for the frequency with which endings to my own stories come to me before I have realized earlier developments."
During Waber's childhood, his family moved frequently because of business failures. The author once commented to SATA: "Each time relocation was necessary, I sought assurance from my parents that a neighborhood library and a motion picture theater existed within roller-skating distance. Availability of prospective playmates was a serious matter too, of course, but by my reasoning the library and cinema were life-giving urgencies, a survival kit for any new neighborhood."
Although he started a degree in finance at the University of Pennsylvania, when World War II began he left school to serve his country. After the war he returned to college, this time to study art, and earned his degree in 1951. Waber began his career as a commercial artist, but was nudged into the illustrating of children's books by encouragement from his colleagues. "My involvement with children's books originated with some illustrations of children I carried in my art portfolio," he wrote in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers. "Several art directors suggested that my drawings seemed suited for children's books. At the same time, I was also having read-aloud sessions with my own three children. I am afraid my enthusiasm for 'their' books began, in fact, to cause them occasional discomfort. 'Daddy, why don't you look at the grown-ups' books,' they once chided as I trailed after them into the children's room of our local library. Before long I was mailing out stories and ideas to publishers."
In the spirit of his highly regarded "Lyle" books, Waber has written a number of comical fantasies for children revolving around the adventures of a variety of other endearing anthropomorphic animals. A showcase for his whimsical, cartoon-style art, such works as Do You See a Mouse?, Evie and Margie, and A Lion Named Shirley Williamson have been praised for their ability to capture the imagination of beginning readers. In Do You See a Mouse? a complaint has been registered at the elegant Park Snoot Hotel: someone has seen a mouse. "Do you see a mouse? I do not see a mouse" is the common refrain throughout, as employees and other guests find it difficult to imagine a rodent at Park Snoot. "Delighted youngsters, however, will squeal 'Yes!' as they spy the mouse on the subsequent pages of this predictable yet engaging tale," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Hanna B. Zeiger of Horn Book asserted: "Waber's characterizations are full of sly humor, and readers of all ages will have to smile at the antics of the little rascally rodent who successfully bamboozles one and all in this comic adventure."
Rodents again make an appearance in The Mouse That Snored, the title a play on the novel The Mouse That Roared by Leonard Wibberly. Into a hushed household where a husband and wife live in silence, quieting their footfalls with slippers and sharing their home with a silent cat and a parrot whose muffled caw is "Hush! Be still" comes a mouse. While by day the newcomer masters the ability to live up to the traditional adage "Quiet as a mouse," when sleep takes over, his snores shake the roof. Praising Waber as a "master humorist," Susan P. Bloom noted in Horn Book that the author's illustrations bolster "the drama between a roaring, snoring city mouse and the silent country home he disrupts"; "Hilarious banter builds up noisily," Bloom added of Waber's easy-to-read tale.
A Lion Named Shirley Williamson begins with the odd naming of a new lion at the public zoo due to a miscommunication between the zoo director and a representative of the Wildlife Trading Company. Shirley joins the zoo's other lions—Goobah, Poobah, and Aroobah—and is an instant hit with the public and with the zookeeper, who gives her special treatment. However, the jealousy of the other lions and the firing of the zookeeper, along with the humiliation of the zoo director's renaming her "Bongo," causes Shirley to run away. "Waber is back in full form with a story that is both hysterical and poignant," enthused Ilene Cooper in a review for Booklist. Cooper added that the book "succeeds at every level," citing its lively plot, "characters that show the inevitable tangle of emotions life elicits," and artwork that appeals to both children and adults.
A pair of hippos is the focus of Evie and Margie, which sheds a humorous light on the ups and downs of being best friends. Evie and Margie know they will always be friends, even when they both grow up and become famous actors. However, a casting decision for a school production of Cinderella threatens their connection: Margie gets the role and Evie is assigned to be Margie's understudy, as well as being cast in the role of a talking tree. Any tensions between the two hippos is resolved on the day of the play, in a book that a Publishers Weekly contributor dubbed "an entertaining and subtly edifying portrait of a robust friendship." Ilene Cooper in Booklist described Evie and Margie as a "satisfying, well-plotted picture book" and commended Waber for his sense of humor and including the "lessons about friendship and jealousy [that] are an important part of the story." Calling the work "vintage Waber," School Library Journal reviewer Bina Williams praised the illustrations for their "great facial expressions and humorous, child-friendly images," and added that the story "gets to the heart of what is important to children."
Although he opts for animal characters more often than not, humans also figure in books by Waber. Ira Sleeps Over tells the story of a young boy who, chided by his older siblings, struggles to determine whether he really should leave his teddy bear behind for an overnight visit to his friend Reggie's house. Ira makes a second appearance in Ira Says Goodbye, which explores a somewhat similar dilemma: best friend Reggie is moving away, and his initial excitement over the move hurts Ira's feelings. "The author's portrayals of the confusing array of emotions are wryly accurate," maintained a Publishers Weekly reviewer, describing the book as "warm, wise, and ultimately reassuring." Elizabeth S. Watson noted in Horn Book that Waber "uses an understated style that is perfect for suggesting the grief of parting with a best friend, without putting a burden on the story."
Gina is another of Waber's books for very young children dealing with moving and friendships—in this case, creating new friends. Gina has just moved into a new apartment building in Queens, and to her dismay there are no other girls in the building but only "boys, boys, boys galore … on every floor." After tiring of playing alone, the spunky young protagonist gains new friends by demonstrating her skills in such important particulars as baseball, tree climbing, and biking. "Another winner from the redoubtable Waber," exclaimed School Library Journal contributor Virginia Opocensky, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised "the domesticated daffiness of [Waber's] action-packed watercolors."
On a more serious note, Waber responded to the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath with Courage. A "simple book with a complex message," as it was described by Booklist reviewer GraceAnn A. DeCandido, Courage begins with the statement "There are many kinds of courage," and then goes on to illustrate the courage that people can exhibit in their everyday lives. From riding a two-wheel bicycle for the first time and taking that first jump off the high diving board to trying a new kind of food, Waber shows children that a hero can be hiding in almost anyone. Calling Courage "poignant yet entertaining," a Publishers Weekly reviewer added that the volume "is a natural read-aloud likely to spark valuable adult-child dialogue and to help youngsters conquer their own fears." Despite the seriousness of the message, Waber's characteristic "wobbly-lined cartoons add touches of humor," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic, while DeCandido concluded that the author/illustrator successfully depicts "an abstraction in concrete ways that will resonate with children."
As he explained in an interview posted on the Houghton Mifflin Web site, Waber was inspired about courage not only by September 11th, but by memories of growing up during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As he noted, courage is "the summoning of core strengths, faith, and idealism in confrontation with life's challenges. My parents' bracing themselves against all odds during the Great Depression taught me valuable lessons in this regard. However, because we are humans with frailties, courage can also mean asking for help and support in the face of overwhelming circumstances." While Waber had begun writing the book Courage prior to the fall of 2001, "that tragic day was so deeply affecting, and so defining of courage for us all, it influenced the book's inclusion of firefighters and a police officer."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995, pp. 666-668.
Kingman, Lee, and others, compilers, Illustrators of Children's Books: 1967-1976, Horn Book, 1978.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 987-988.
Waber, Bernard, Gina, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.
Waber, Bernard, Courage, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2002.
Booklist, August, 1987, p. 1753; June 1, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of Lyle at the office, p. 1846; September 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of A Lion Named Shirley Williamson, p. 128; September 1, 1998, Michael Cart, review of Lyle at Christmas, p. 135; August, 2000, Tim Arnold, review of The Mouse That Snored, p. 2150; December 15, 2002, GraceAnn A. DeCandido, review of Courage, p. 765; October 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Evie and Margie, p. 409.
Horn Book, September-October, 1987, p. 604; November-December, 1988, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Ira Says Goodbye, p. 779; July-August, 1995, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Do You See a Mouse?, pp. 454-455; September-October, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of Bearsie Bear and the Surprise Sleepover Party, p. 565; November, 1998, Ann A. Flowers, review of Lyle at Christmas, p. 721; November, 2000, Susan P. Bloom, review of The Mouse That Snored, p. 750; September-October, 2003, Betty Carter, review of Evie and Margie, p. 604.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1987, p. 1246; July 15, 1994, review of Lyle at the office, p. 997; October 1, 2001, review of Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp!, p. 1435; October 15, 2002, review of Courage, p. 1539; October 15, 2003, review of Evie and Margie, p. 1227.
New York Times Book Review, March 5, 1989, p. 31.
Publishers Weekly, July 8, 1988, review of Ira Says Goodbye, p. 54; January 23, 1995, review of Do You See a Mouse?, p. 70; August 14, 1995, review of Gina, p. 83; September 15, 1997, review of Bearsie Bear and the Surprise Sleepover Party, p. 75; August 7, 2000, review of The Mouse That Snored, p. 94; October 15, 2001, review of Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp!, p. 70; October 7, 2002, review of Courage, p. 72; December 1, 2003, review of Evie and Margie, p. 55.
Reading Today, December, 2001, Lynne T. Burke, review of Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp!, p. 32.
School Library Journal, September, 1995, p. 188; October, 1995, Virginia Opocensky, review of Gina, p. 123; December, 1996, pp. 108-109; October, 2000, Kathie Meizner, review of The Mouse That Snored, p. 140; September, 2001, Joyce Adams Burner, review of Fast Food! Gulp! Gulp!, p. 208; December, 2002, Jessica Snow, review of Courage, p. 131; October, 2003, Bina Williams, review of Evie and Margie, p. 140.
Houghton Mifflin Web site, http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (October 26, 2004), "Bernard Waber, Author/Illustrator.*"
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