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Caldecott Winning Illustrators Series: Peggy Rathmann

By Adrienne Rivera. May 4, 2024. 7:47 PM.

Topics: Caldecott Medal, Children's Books

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually to an illustrator whose work represents the best in the field that year. One of the considerations for the award is how well the illustrations and story mesh together. 1996's Caldecott winner was widely praised for the connection between text and illustrations, with critics praising how the illustrations were necessary for the story and that one could not exist or thrive without the other. Let's take a closer look at the work of Peggy Rathmann in this edition of our Caldecott Winning Illustrators Series:

Who is Peggy Rathmann?

Margaret “Peggy” Rathmann was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1953. Unlike many of our featured illustrators, she did study art in college but rather focused on psychology, which she decided on after realizing she wasn't particularly sure what she wanted for a career. After graduation, she studied fine art and commercial art at the American Academy in Chicago and the Atelier Lack. While studying at what is now the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, she took classes on writing and illustrating children's books and finally found her direction. Based on the temptation to take and expand upon her classmates' ideas, she wrote and illustrated her first book, Ruby the Copycat, in 1991. She was named “most promising new author” by Publishers Weekly. Throughout her career, she has illustrated seven books, only one written by someone else. She earned the Caldecott Medal in 1996 for her charming book, Officer Buckle and Gloria.

Where else have you heard of Rathmann?

officer buckle and gloriaBesides winning the Caldecott Medal, Rathmann was named “most promising new author” by Publishers Weekly in 1991. Her book Good Night, Gorilla, originally released in 1994, was recognized as an Honor book by the Phoenix Picture Book Award, which recognizes the best books published twenty years early but which may have flown under the radar. She also illustrated Bootsie Barker Bites by noted children's book writer Barbara Bottner, also known for her recent young adult novel in verse, I Am Here Now.

Examining Rathmann’s Artistic Style
Rathmann is known for her cartoon-style art that delights children and works as an extension of the story, not just illustrating but as an essential part of understanding her books. Rathmann utilizes watercolor and ink for her illustrations. She honed her craft by studying at the American Academy, Atelier Lack, and the Otis College of Art and Design.

Collecting Rathmann

Officer Buckle and Gloria

The first stop for those looking to collect Rathmann has to be her Caldecott-winning book, Officer Buckle and Gloria. This adorable book tells the story of Officer Buckle, a serious police officer who cannot get the children at the local school to take his safety instructions seriously. It is not until he is assigned a police dog, Gloria, that the children listen to his lecture rather than fall asleep. Unbeknownst to him, Gloria demonstrates his safety tips behind him with entertaining tricks, causing his lecture to be a hit. When Officer Buckle realizes Gloria is the one the children care about instead of safety, he stops his lectures, resulting in an accident. After a concerned student writes him a letter, he and Gloria team up to teach safety lessons to many schools, combining his knowledge with her skills as an entertainer.

Good Night, Gorilla
good night gorillaGood Night, Gorilla, inspired by Rathmann's experiences with gorillas, is another can't-miss book. It was named an Honor book for the Phoenix Picture Book Award. This almost wordless picture book follows Gorilla as he follows the zookeeper on his rounds, not yet ready to go to bed. Gorilla's pranks and the night owls accompanying him as he plays jokes on the zookeeper throughout pages of hilarious illustrations make this a guaranteed favorite for young children.

The Day the Babies Crawled Away

The Day the Babies Crawled Away (2003) showcases an artistic departure for Rathmann. Instead of clearly-rendered characters, this book depicts the babies and the little boy that follows them as they wander away from the town fair and into all sorts of dangerous locations as blackened silhouettes with brightly colored skies and landscapes coming into focus with more detail and color. A beautiful book, this unique approach makes it a visually unique and fantastic addition to any collector's or child's shelf.

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Adrienne Rivera
Adrienne Rivera received her MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She currently lives in southern Indiana.


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