Paul O. Zelinsky

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Paul O. Zelinsky (born 1953) is an American illustrator and writer who illustrated children's picture books. He won the 1998 Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration, for Rapunzel. His most popular work is Wheels On the Bus, a best-selling movable book.[1]

Zelinsky had been runner-up for the Caldecott Medal in 1985, 1987, and 1995, the latter for Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs (Dutton, 1994). Twenty years later, they were joint runners-up for the Phoenix Picture Book Award from the Children's Literature Association, which annually recognizes the best picture book that did not win a major award 20 years earlier. "Books are considered not only for the quality of their illustrations, but for the way pictures and text work together."[2]


Early life[edit]

Paul O. Zelinsky was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in Wilmette. As a child, he spent much of his time drawing. With his friends, he would make up imaginary worlds, and draw them. When he was only four, he submitted work to Highlights magazine, and this is when his artwork was first showcased. Influential early childhood books included The Color Kittens, and The Tawny Scrawny Lion. About his memories of childhood reading, Zelinsky has said: "Feelings come to me as a sort of flavor. I know that when I call up my earliest memories, what I remember seeing and hearing is accompanied by a flavor-like sense of what it felt like to be there and see that."[3] (This phenomenon is known as synesthesia.) In later childhood, his favorite authors were William Pène du Bois, and Robert Lawson. He especially loved the books The Twenty-One Balloons, by du Bois, and The Fabulous Flight by Lawson.[4]


At New Trier High School, Zelinsky was interested in natural history as well as architecture and saw himself following one of those paths for a career. However, he went to study at Yale. He took a class taught by Maurice Sendak on the history and art of children's books, and it inspired him to a career in the area. Zelinsky went to graduate school at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and Rome. The Renaissance and Italian art always fascinated him, and this time in his life influenced this love as well. His career in children's books began in 1978 with the illustrations for Avi's Emily Upham's Revenge. Since then, he has continued to illustrate others' work, as well as creating his own books. He won the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, and three Caldecott Honors (for Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995)). His most popular book is Wheels On the Bus, which has sold millions.[1]

Artistic style[edit]

Zelinsky does not have a recognizable style, suiting his artwork and techniques to the particular nature of the book to be illustrated. According to Linnea Lannon in a Detroit Free Press profile of the artist, "what has raised Zelinsky into the first rank of children's book illustrators is not just the pictures but the way they integrate with text."[5] Zelinsky says, "I want the pictures to speak in the same voice as the words. This desire has led me to try various kinds of drawings in different books. I have used quite a wide stretch of styles, and I'm fortunate to have been asked to illustrate such a range of stories."[6] Wheels On the Bus and Knick-Knack Paddywhack! are engineered books with moving parts. Zelinsky is not a paper engineer himself, Rodger Smith engineered Wheels On the Bus and Andrew Baron Knick-Knack Paddywhack!.[7]


As writer and illustrator
  • The Maid and the Mouse and the Odd-Shaped House: A Story in Rhyme (1981) – adapted from a school exercise
  • The Lion and the Stoat (Greenwillow Books, 1984) – based in part on natural history by Pliny the Elder LCCN 83-16326
  • Rumpelstiltskin, retold (1986) – Brothers Grimm
  • Wheels On the Bus, paper engineer Rodger Smith (Dutton, 1990) – adapted from the children's folk song OCLC 22582572; "A Book with Parts that Move" — Cover OCLC 850027738
  • Rapunzel, retold (1997) – from the Brothers Grimm (1812)
  • Knick-Knack Paddywhack!, paper engineer Andrew Baron (Dutton, 2002) – adapted from the nursery rhyme "This Old Man"; "A Moving Parts Book Adapted from the Counting Song" — Cover OCLC 865205168
As illustrator


  1. ^ a b "All-time Bestselling Children's Books". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  2. ^ "Phoenix Picture Book Award" Archived 2016-12-19 at the Wayback Machine. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2014-07-11.
  3. ^ Silvey, Anita (1995). Children's Books and their Creators. Houghton Mifflin Juvenile Books. ISBN 0395653800. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  4. ^ "Paul O. Zelinsky: author essay". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  5. ^ Linney, Laura (6 July 1998). "Detroit Free Press". Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  6. ^ "Paul O. Zelinsky". Retrieved 2023-04-19.
  7. ^ Larson Bluemel, Nancy (2012). Pop-up Books: A Guide for Teachers and Librarians. Libraries Unlimited. p. 12. ISBN 978-1591583981. Retrieved 6 June 2021.
  8. ^ "SWAMP ANGEL by Anne Isaacs {...}". Kirkus Reviews. October 15, 1994. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
  9. ^ "Toys meet snow: being the wintertime adventures of a curious stuffed ...". Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
  10. ^ "Review of the Day: Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs". Elizabeth Bird. August 27, 2010. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
  11. ^ "DUST DEVIL by Anne Isaacs {...}". Kirkus Reviews. September 1, 2010. Retrieved 2014-07-16.
  12. ^ "Paul O. Zelinsky's Bookmaking Saga". Sally Lodge. July 29, 2010. Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 2014-07-16.

Further reading[edit]

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