Friday, September 18, 2009

Author Spotlight: Bill Peet

Though Bill Peet's professional accomplishments included author, illustrator, and animator/filmmaker, drawing was his most cherished hobby - from as far back as he can remember. He said,
"I drew for hours at a time just for the fun of it, and yet I was hoping to find some practical reason to draw for the rest of my life."
His "drawing habit" frequently got him in trouble in school. He kept a small notebook in his desk, and stole as many moments as he could to sneak drawings in it. He was caught unawares by his teachers many times, mid-draw, and his notebooks ended up confiscated. But one teacher, instead of putting the discovered notebook in her desk, strode to the front of the classroom and smiled as she showed his drawings to the entire class. Then she returned it right back to him and said, "I hope you will do something with drawing someday." Luckily for legions of fans of all ages, he did.

By high school, he knew drawing was something he "coudn't possibly give up," and he was determined to find a way to make it his livelihood. In 1933, he won a scholarship to the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he studied drawing, painting and design for three years. It was there that he met Margaret Brunst, and they decided to marry once Bill could find gainful employment.

In 1937, he headed to Los Angeles, California, after having heard that Walt Disney needed artists for his animated films. He got the job, and once it seemed secure, he married Margaret - his biggest supporter. Bill Peet started as an "inbetweener" (a low-level animator who copies the hundreds of drawings needed to make them appear to "move" on-screen), then moved up to sketch artist. When he began making up bedtime stories for his two small sons, it prepared him well to move on to become storyman and, ultimately, Disney's top writer/illustrator on animated features. In fact, he was the only storyman in the history of Disney studios to do all the storyboards for an entire animated feature film. He accomplished this feat twice: for The Sword in the Stone, and for One Hundred and One Dalmatians.

It was toward the end of his time at Disney that he began writing and illustrating children's books. His first book, Hubert's Hair-Raising Adventure, was published in 1959. He continued to write and illustrate books in his spare time, until 1964, when he left Disney for good to concentrate on the books full-time. All told, Bill Peet wrote and illustrated over 30 books for children, with all but two of them fantasies. His last picture book, Cock-a-Doodle Dudley, was published in 1989.

His awards include the Annie Award - For Distinguished Contribution in the field of Animation (1981), the Pioneer Award - For Innovation in the Field of Animation (1994) and the Caldecott Honor for his book, Bill Peet: An Autobiography (1990).

Bill Peet was born January 29, 1915, in Grandview, Indiana, and died May 11, 2002, at the age of 87.

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