Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia – Philadelphia County, Philadelphia County
David Wiesner was born in New Jersey in 1956 and was known as “the kid who could draw” while growing up. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Illustration from the Rhode Island School of Design and is the second person to have ever won three Caldecott Medals, awarded to his works: Tuesday (1991), The Three Pigs (2001), and Flotsam (2006). His books have been translated into over a dozen languages, and he has illustrated many books for other authors, including the 1994 editions of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Wiesner continues to illustrate fulltime while living near Philadelphia with his wife and two kids.
David Wiesner was born in Bridgewater, New Jersey, on February 5, 1956, and began drawing and painting in childhood. As a kid, he read comic books, watched old movies, and experimented with visual storytelling by creating his own silent movies, including one about a kung-fu vampire he titled, “The Saga of Butcula.” According to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt web site, Wiesner was known as “the kid who could draw.” He later studied with mentors Tom Sgouros and David Macaulay while attending the Rhode Island School of Design and earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Illustration. Today Wiesner is a picture book creator with worldwide acclaim.
“Doing books for children started out for me as an artistic exploration,” he told Beverly Goldberg of the American Library Association (ALA). “[It] really just concerned me and the kind of visual things that I liked to do. I loved storytelling, visual storytelling. And I discovered, particularly in art school, wordless storytelling. Lynd Ward’s books from the early 1930s, novels and woodcuts for adults, just amazing, amazing works – had a huge impact on me.”
Over several years, Wiesner sketches and revises many versions of a book until its storyline and images really flow and oftentimes “creates three-dimensional models of objects he can't observe in real life, such as flying pigs and lizards standing upright, to add authenticity to his drawings,” according to his Houghton Mifflin Harcourt web site.“…Flotsam,” he shared with Goldberg. “Grew out of, well, in a subtle, and maybe unconscious way, grew out of a childhood love of the ocean, finding stuff at the beach. As it turns out, my family, we go back [to Surf City, New Jersey on Long Beach Island] every summer now that I’m an adult and have kids myself.”
Free Fall (1991) was Wiesner’s first authored picture book and won a Caldecott Honor (1989). He later won Caldecott Medals for Tuesday (1991), The Three Pigs (2001), and Flotsam (2006) (in 1992, 2002, and 2007, respectively) and an additional Honor for Sector 7 (1999). He is only the second person in the award’s history to have won the Caldecott three times. In addition, he has received awards in the US and abroad, includingtheIrma S. and James H. Black Award, and has been nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he has also illustrated books for other children’s authors, including creating the cover art for the 1994 editions of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.
When asked by Philadelphia Stories how storytelling with pictures was different than with words, Wiesner said, “It’s mostly in the reading — the reader is telling the story rather than the author. It’s a different kind of experience. The story has more ambiguity to it, and I like that each reader can bring new things to it.” He also explained that all of his ideas are born in a sketch book. “I do lots of doodles, and try and find out the story behind them. I come up with visual stories: who is the character? They reveal themselves to me. There always comes a point where suddenly I realize, ‘oh, that’s what this is all about.’”
He spent 20 years exploring concepts for his latest book, Mr. Wuffles! (2013), in which a cat is confronted with a miniature alien invasion.
David Wiesner lives near Philadelphia with his wife, a surgeon, their two children, and two cats. He illustrates fulltime, and his advice to those pursuing a similarly competitive career is: “Do the work that is really personal, that interests you — not what you think others want, or what the market wants. The truly personal work is what will probably resonate most.”
The Loathsome Dragon. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), 1987.