William Pène du Bois

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William Pène du Bois (May 9, 1916 – February 5, 1993) was an American author and illustrator of books for young readers. He is best known for The Twenty-One Balloons, published in April 1947 by The Viking Press. He was a winner of the Newbery Award, and twice was runner-up for the Caldecott Medal.

From 1953 to 1960, he was art editor of The Paris Review, working alongside founder and editor George Plimpton.

Early life[edit]

William Pène du Bois was born in Nutley, New Jersey.[1] His father, Guy Pène du Bois,[2] was a noted art critic and painter known for his landscapes and portraits. When Wiliam was eight the family moved to France where he was educated at the Lycée Hoche at Versailles and the Lycée de Nice. They returned to Nutley when he was 14. After high school he accepted a scholarship to the Carnegie Technical School of Architecture; but college plans dissolved when he sold a book he wrote to pass the time during a vacation. In 1935, when he was nineteen, Thomas Nelson & Sons accepted Elizabeth the Cow Ghost and published it in 1936.

Writing career[edit]

By the time he entered the army in March 1941 at age 24, he had written and illustrated five more books. He spent his years in the army (1941–1945) with an artillery unit stationed in Bermuda. He worked as a correspondent for Yank magazine. He also edited the camp newspaper and illustrated strategic maps.

In addition to writing and illustrating his own books, Pène du Bois illustrated books written by Jules Verne, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Rumer Godden, Claire Huchet Bishop and John Steinbeck, as well as magazine articles and advertisements. In 1960 he developed an interest in vintage cars, going to great pains and expense to refurbish a 1931 Brewster Croydon Coupe Rolls-Royce P11.

He was one of the founding editors of The Paris Review along with Thomas Guinzburg, Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen, George Plimpton and John P. C. Train. He illustrated "The Rabbit's Umbrella," written by George Plimpton, published in 1955.

The highlight of his career was winning the Newbery Medal in 1948 for The Twenty-One Balloons.[3] As an illustrator he was a runner-up for the companion Caldecott Medal in 1952 for Bear Party and in 1957 for Lion.[4]

Some of his books (Bear Party, Lion) are picture books with a minimum of text, and properly classified as children's literature. Others, however, such as The Three Policemen, The Great Geppy, The Twenty-One Balloons, Squirrel Hotel, Peter Graves and The Giant, appeal to all ages. These books exhibit whimsical ingenuity in story and illustrations. Though not usually so classified, these books seem to qualify as science fiction. Their interest lies more in their imaginative elaboration of ideas than in their characters. Some of his fictional ideas are fantastic but many are plausible, and some (such as the Balloon Merry-Go-Round in The Twenty-one Balloons) might well be feasible.

Many of his papers are in the collection of the New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Personal life[edit]

Pène du Bois married Jane Bouche, daughter of artist Louis Bouche, in 1943; they later divorced, and in 1955 he married theatrical designer Willa Kim.

He died on February 5, 1993, in Nice, France,[1] from a stroke.

Books[edit]

  • Elizabeth the Cow Ghost (1936)
  • The Great Geppy (1940): A striped horse (NOT a zebra) is hired to solve a robbery at a circus. To investigate the crime, Geppy poses as a variety of circus entertainers, including a freak, a tightrope walker, and a lion tamer. In the end he discovers that there has not been any theft; rather, the culprit has been breaking into the company safe to contribute money to the financially struggling circus. For his success, Geppy is honored as a hero and is even appointed the circus's newest star: he gives an extraordinary performance when shot from a cannon.
  • The Flying Locomotive (1941)
  • The Twenty-One Balloons (1947): A schoolteacher who decides to spend a year in a balloon but, because of an accident, crashes on Krakatoa. It turns out that the island is populated by twenty families who share the wealth of a secret diamond mine. They have used their wealth to build elaborate houses which also serve as restaurants. They have a calendar with a 20-day month. On A day, everyone eats in Mr. and Mrs. A's American restaurant; on B day, in Mrs. and Mrs. B's British chop house; on C day, in Mr. and Mrs. C's Chinese restaurant; on D day, in Mr. and Mrs. D's Dutch restaurant, and so forth. When Krakatoa explodes, the families and the protagonist escape on a flying platform lofted by twenty balloons.
  • Peter Graves (1950): A well-meaning but mischievous boy who encounters a gentlemanly and not-very-mad scientist named Houghton Furlong. Furlong is the inventor of an antigravity material named Furloy, and a Furloy-based invention called "the ball that bounces higher than the height from which you drop it." In an unfortunate accident with the latter invention, Peter destroys Houghton's house. Little of value is left in the wreckage except six balls of Furloy, each about the size of a tennis ball, with an antigravity pull of 25 pounds-force (110 newtons) each. Peter commits himself to spending the summer with Houghton in an attempt to earn the $45,000 necessary to rebuild his house. The implied puzzle is: how can Peter and Houghton make use of the six Furloy balls to earn $45,000?
  • Bear Party (1951)
  • Squirrel Hotel (1952) is a bittersweet story about a man who builds an elaborate hotel for squirrels, with illustrations of the dollhouse-like structure full of squirrels sniffing, playing, sliding down spiral slides, and generating electricity for the lighting by running around a squirrel cage. The man disappears and the narrator tries to find him by tracing his purchases (48 miniature four-poster beds; 1 gross flashlight bulbs; 2 electric motors, Meccano; 6 American flags; etc.).
  • The Giant (1954): An eight-year-old boy is seven stories tall because he has "a perfect digestive system": if the boy eats one pound of food, he gains one pound of body mass. Illustrations show the various arrangements made by family and friends to take care of him. He is sweet and well-mannered, but great effort is taken to conceal him because of the fear and hostility giants arouse. The narrator befriends him and comes up with a plan to introduce him to the public in such a way that they will accept him, so he will not need to spend his life in concealment.
  • Lion (1956): An angel tries to design the animal known to us as a lion. This angel is new to the skill of designing animals, and his first few attempts are reviewed by his fellow artists as lacking for one reason or another. The angel perseveres and eventually Lion is perfected. It is a story about art, artists, creativity, and finding one's place in the world – for both the angel (amidst his fellow angels) and the lion.
  • Castles and Dragons (1958)
  • Otto in Texas (1959): Otto the giant dog visits Texas, where he discovers a dinosaur skeleton and a tunnel used by oil rustlers.
  • Otto In Africa (1961): Further adventures of Otto the giant dog.
  • The Three Little Pigs (1962): The familiar story is told in verse.
  • The Alligator Case (1965)
  • Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead (1966): A boy lives in an electric house that automatically tips him out of bed into the bath, dresses him and feeds him breakfast every morning without requiring him to move a muscle. After each morning routine he yawningly climbs up a staircase that takes him until bedtime to reach the top of, at which point he tiredly goes to bed and sleeps until next morning's automatic wakeup. However, a power failure incapacitates the entire house and causes Tommy to sleep for seven days. When the power resumes, his bed tips him into seven-day-cold water. Shivering and struggling to get out of the tub, he lands upside-down in his clothes, is showered with a seven-day backup of breakfast food, and ends up sitting in a big mess on the floor. This serves as a moral to children not to be lazy, but to arise promptly every morning, take their own bath, and dress and feed themselves.
  • The Horse in the Camel Suit (1967): The town policeman, in a huff, locks up a show troupe and a young detective contrives to set them free without hurting the policeman's feelings. He discovers, however, that they actually are criminals, and he must get them behind bars again.
  • Pretty Pretty Peggy Moffitt (1968): A vanity obsessed girl who loves looking at herself suffers many accidents.
  • Porko von Popbutton (1969): A 274 pound thirteen-year-old boy whose sole passion is food is miserable when sent to boarding school until he accidentally gets on the hockey team. Also published under the title of Beat the Queen in Sports Illustrated of December 23, 1968.[5]
  • Otto And The Magic Potatoes (1970): Further adventures of Otto the giant dog.
  • Bear Circus (1971)
  • The Forbidden Forest (1978): Lady Adelaide, a boxing kangaroo, helps to defeat the German army, thus becoming a heroine of the Great War.
  • Gentleman Bear (1985): The touching story of a London gentleman and his inseparable companion of over seventy years, his teddy bear.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "William Pène du Bois". Encyclopedia Brittanica. Retrieved 2013-05-15.
  2. ^ The Du Bois Family. Life. April 29, 1940. Retrieved 2010-05-29. 
  3. ^ "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922–Present". Association for Library Service to Children. American Library Association. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  4. ^ "Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938–Present". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2010-02-24. 
  5. ^ "Video". CNN. 23 December 1968. 

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