Robert McCloskey

2011 Lifetime Achievement Award (Posthumous): Robert McCloskey

Robert McCloskey (1914-2003) was born in Hamilton, Ohio. His first love as a child was music, and he learned to play the piano, harmonica, drums, and oboe. Later he became interested in all things electrical and mechanical and filled the house with his inventions. But it was in art that he found his life calling. He won a scholarship to the Vesper George Art School in Boston, then moved to New York City to attend the National Academy of Design. Almost by chance he turned to children’s books, drawing on the passions of his early life to create memorable characters and illustrations.

Robert McCloskey’s first book was Lentil, a story about a boy and his harmonica, published by Viking Books in 1939. Soon after, he moved to Boston to paint outdoor murals amidst “traffic problems” caused by local ducks. This was the inspiration for Make Way for Ducklings (Viking, 1941). To create the pictures, he bought some ducks and followed them around his apartment, sketch book—and Kleenex—at the ready. Then he wrote the text. It may have been an unusual way to work, but the book was an instant success. It won the 1942 Caldecott Medal and has sold over two million copies since.

In all, Robert McCloskey illustrated eighteen books for children: ten by other authors, and eight he wrote himself, including three chapter books about Homer Price, a small town boy who’s an inventor. After serving in WWII, he and his wife and two daughters moved to an island off the coast of Maine, the setting for most of the books that followed. He received Caldecott Honors for Blueberries for Sal (1949), One Morning in Maine (1953), and Journey Cake, Ho! (1954). And in 1958 he received his second Caldecott Medal for Time of Wonder.