The Daily Heller: TGIF. Now for Something Completely Cheerful

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Like every pandemic day, there are ups and downs. Today, the beginning of the Labor Day weekend and the official end of summer, I choose to look up (go higher) and show an optimistic face (rather than my usual dour grimace). So I am celebrating the 88-year-old Ed Emberley, one of the most prolific and influential drawing teachers and illustrators of children’s literature, a treasure in our popular arts. Among his most notable works are the Caldecott-honored One Wide River to Cross (1965), the Caldecott-winning Drummer Hoff (1967) and the bestselling Go Away, Big Green Monster (1992). He also created the teaching book Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals (1970), which launched a series and remains one of the bestselling books of its kind.

Mockup pages for Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals

In 2017, I wrote about Emberley's retrospective at the Worcester Art Museum and the Massachusetts-based artist’s personal archive of original hand-drawn sketches, woodblock prints, final proofs and first-edition books.Reflecting Emberley’s decades of work, KAHBAHBLOOOM was an interactive exhibition for intergenerational audiences—parents and grandparents who may have enjoyed his books when they were kids, and a current generation of young readers and artists who continue to learn from him. The show was organized into sections that represent the primary media and methods of Emberley’s work as a picture-book artist, and featured the largest collection of his books ever assembled for display.

He is an inspirational, brilliant artist/illustrator/letterer/designer, who does not get nearly enough plaudits from those of us raised on the rigor of Swiss and the clamor of the new. Just look at these to see the children's book styles of the mid-century Moderns and the 21st century post-post-post moderns.

Mockup for The Great Thumbprint Book
Ed Emberley’s ABC (cover), 1978
Cock-A-Doodle-Doo cover
Above and below: Simons Song woodblock

“KAHBAHBLOOM,” woodblock print for production of Drummer Hoff, written and illustrated by Emberley, 1967
Go Away Big Green Monster (cover), written and illustrated by Emberley, 1992

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →