William Steig

2008 Lifetime Achievement Award (Posthumous): William Steig

William Steig (1907-2003). Called the “King of Cartoons” by Newsweek, William Steig carved out dual careers as a highly respected and entertaining cartoonist and as an award-winning, bestselling author and illustrator of children’s books. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent his childhood in the Bronx. His father, a house painter by trade, dabbled in fine arts, as did his mother, and he was given his first lessons in painting by his older brother, Irwin. He spent two years at City College, three years at the National Academy, and five days at the Yale School of Fine Arts before dropping out. When his father went broke during the Depression, he put his artistic talents to work to help support the family.

Steig began selling his illustrations to The New Yorker in 1930, eventually producing more than 1,600 drawings and 117 covers. Then at 61, he launched a career in children’s books, bringing to that medium the same tongue-in-cheek humor, vivid characterization, distinctive line, and wide-eyed enthusiasm that made his adult work so popular. His third picture book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, won the Caldecott Medal. His first novel, Dominic, won the Christopher Award, and two others, Abel’s Island and Doctor De Soto, were designated Newbery Honor Books. His picture book Shrek was the inspiration for the internationally popular Dreamworks Animation films Shrek and Shrek 2.

As James E. Higgins noted in Children’s Literature in Education, Steig had the unusual ability to present incidents of wonder and marvel as if they were everyday occurrences. He wrote and illustrated not out of a remembrance of childhood, but out of the essence of childhood—which no adult can afford to give up or to deny.