Monday, August 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Alice Provensen

Alice Provensen turned 90 on August 14th.

She was born in Chicago but resettled in California. There she worked for Walter Lantz Studios of Woody Woodpecker fame. When World War Two started, the studio making training films for the military. While making one for the Navy, she met Martin Provensen, a Disney artist on loan to the Lantz studio. They married and moved to New York City, embarking on a joint career in children's book illustration.

They moved to rural Staatsburg, New York and converted a barn into a studio. The two collaborated on book after book. Their home inspired several books, including A Year at Maple Hill Farm. Although its roots in Fifties design are unmistakable, it still remains an engaging visual treat.

In 1884, Alice and Martin won the Caldecott Medal for The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Blériot, July 25, 1909. The remarkable history book should remind everyone that liveliness and effervescence are not the sole domain of fiction. I have no doubt it inspired readers of all ages; It certainly inspired me to pursue a career in children's non-fiction.

In 1987, Martin died. Alice rejected the idea of retiring and in 1990 released The Buck Stops Here, a history of the American presidency. Combining her routinely superb art work with cleverly presented facts and information, the book was a well deserved hit.

Other books followed including A Day in the Life of Murphy, and Klondike Gold.

I hope she's still working hard at Maple Hill Farm, still setting the bar for excellence in children's literature.

Happy BIrthday, Alice!

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