“This biography looks at the lives of two of the most influential illustrators of children’s books in the 20th century and will be of interest to scholars, librarians, and art students. In lively prose, Websterrecounts how two artists with disparate beginnings (Miska, an impoverished Hungarian immigrant,and Maud, daughter of a minister and descendant of the Mayflower), met in a New York art institute in 1912, married, and collaborated on exquisite award-winning children’s books for more than 40 years. Comprehensive research including the artists’ own correspondence and letters from children; commentary from authors, reviewers, educators, and businessmen; and interviews with family members results in an endearing account of the process, dedication, and joy that went into each project. Numerous texts and illustrations are discussed at length and are accompanied by vibrant, colorful reproductions. The author emphasizes the artists’ originality and significance, noting that their work presents a picture of the cultural trends of their times. Webster discusses the criticism as well as the accolades. She acknowledges that today’s critics, more sensitive to cultural stereotypes, find some of the books outdated. The 1946 Caldecott award winner The Rooster Crows (Macmillan) was reissued in the 1964 printing minus two pages of offensive stereotyping. —Jackie Gropman (formerly at Fairfax County Public Library System, Fairfax, VA) for School Library Journal
“Under the North Light belongs on the desk of every illustrator of children’s stories, accomplished or aspiring, as well as in the hands of anyone who loves children’s books or appreciates biographies of interesting people. Its no-nonsense descriptions of the hard work necessary to a successful career in collaborative art are sobering. But the real story here doesn’t focus on paying homage to the Puritan work ethic. Rather, Under the North Light is a tender and inspiring love story, one delivering on the promise that a couple can simultaneously nurture career, marriage, and family.” —ForeWord Reviews
Favorite Books of 2012
“Loaded with ravishing illustrations, this book is a labor of love, recounting the life and work of Maud and Miska Petersham. If you love children’s books and the art of illustration, order a copy without delay.” —Books and Culture
“This book pays testament to their [the Petershams’] still-felt influence on children’s literature and is a worthwhile read.” —Antiques and The Arts Weekly
“The book has many colorful illustrations interspersed with a story that reflects the deep collaboration of a husband and wife in the studio as well as in life. In an age where more people are working remotely and setting up shop in the midst of their home, the Petershams are an enduring example of the integration of life and work instead of its modern delineation. This is a truly beautiful book to look at, read and hold; it’s the reason books are still printed.” —Green Door Magazine
“Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham is a sensitive and complete visionary biography of famed children’s literature artists Maud and Miska Petersham. Many of the pages of illustrations in Under the North Light will be familiar to adult readers from beloved old children’s books treasured in their youth. [It] offers a new look at a priceless legacy from a gifted union of artists.” —Midwest Book Review
“What a splendid volume! Lawrence Webster has provided a fascinating life and evaluation of two extraordinary picture book artists. The reproduction of their art is exceptional and this volume will do more than anything else to revive the reputation of the Petershams as important 20th Century children’s book illustrators. Leafing through the beautiful color illustrations is like visiting old friends. I know it will be enormously helpful in the course I teach on the picture book.” —Michael Patrick Hearn, author, The Annotated Wizard of Oz
“The Petershams books have always been important to me: I loved The Rooster Crows when I was very young, I often used The Circus Baby in story-time when I was a young children’s librarian, and of course I knew about a number of others. But not until I read this stunningly beautiful and thoroughly researched book did I have any idea of the depth and breadth of their work, or of how important and influential they were in the early days of children’s books in America. Webster has made an important contribution to the history of children’s literature.” —Grace Worcester Greene, Youth Services Consultant, Vermont Department of Libraries
“This beautifully written history of young talent, love and lives filled with creative joy could just as easily be contemporary as twentieth century. The research is excellent; fact and fancy combine in the image of Maud and Miska’s work. This a must-read for anyone in love with art and literature!” —Dr. Samantha K. Hastings, Director, School of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina
“Under the North Light is an ardent and beautifully produced tribute to two of the early twentieth century’s most important children’s book illustrators. The Petershams’ pioneering work with Poppy Seed Cakes, Miki, and Get-A-Way and Háry János introduced a new level of craftsmanship to the modern children’s picture book, and focused attention on internationalist and folk themes. This book is a must for all who are interested in the evolution of children’s book publishing in this country.” —Thomas E. Hill, Art Librarian, Vassar College
Under the North Light: The Life and Work of Maud and Miska Petersham
By Lawrence Webster
Winner of 2013 Independent Publisher Book Award in biography category
Winner of 2013 Benjamin Franklin Award (IBPA) in biography category
Winner of 2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award in biography category
This title is now available as an iBook at $19.99. Search for Under the North Light on your iBooks app or click here.
The unusual and enduring partnership of Maud and Miska Petersham will intrigue everyone who is interested in the integration of life and work, values and livelihood. Maud and Miska met when they were young, aspiring artists working in their first New York City jobs. Maud, a 1912 Vassar graduate, had deep Yankee roots; Miska immigrated from Hungary in 1912 after rigorous study at the Royal National School for Applied Arts in Budapest.
They met while working at a commercial design studio in New York City and married in 1917. The couple moved to Woodstock, New York, in 1920. Pioneers in a golden age of children’s book publishing in America, the Petershams were among a handful of people who set the direction for illustrated children’s books as we know them today. They worked closely with such legendary editors as Louise Seaman Bechtel and May Massee, and with such inventive printers as Charles Stringer and William Glaser, greatly advancing the art of the illustrated children’s book.
Under the North Light
Under their studio’s north light they produced more than a hundred books, as illustrators or author/illustrators, during a career that spanned five decades. They had a deep collaboration of complementary backgrounds and temperaments, and a marriage that created a warm and welcoming household. Their books were not only immensely popular with children, but also admired by critics, librarians and tastemakers. In the years before the founding of the Caldecott Medal, their contributions were recognized by the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA).
Four of the Petershams’ books were selected for inclusion in the highly competitive AIGA exhibitions in the late 1920s and early 1930s. During the 1940s the Petershams won a Caldecott Honor (in 1942, for An American ABC) and a Caldecott Medal (in 1946, for The Rooster Crows). The abiding value of their work and the principles they espoused are the subjects of this book.
More About the Book
Published 2012; first edition; ISBN 9780967926865; hard cover/cloth; 8 x 10 inches; 192 pages, 146 color photos, 56 black and white images. Front matter: foreword and prologue. Back matter: epilogue, notes, list of illustrations, acknowledgements and index.
List price: $39.50 / Sale price on this site: $31.60; shipping within U.S. only.
About the Author
Lawrence Webster knew the Petershams while growing up in Woodstock during the 1950s and 1960s and has always loved and admired their books and the lives they led. A librarian and nonprofit consultant, Ms. Webster currently lives in Vermont. Under the North Light is her first foray into writing for love of the subject rather than to meet a deadline.
Table of Contents
by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead / 6
Prologue Different Journeys, Same Destination / 8
Chapter 1 Artful Lives / 10
Chapter 2 Hardworking Artists Illustrating the Work of Others / 50
Portfolio: Early Career
Chapter 3 All Ours: Early Picture Books, 1929–1934 / 78
Portfolio: Pioneering Picture Books
Chapter 4 Illuminating the Bible for Children / 102
Portfolio: Bible Stories
Chapter 5 The World Around Us: Learning, Science and Technology / 124
Portfolio: More from TheStory Book of . . . Series
Chapter 6 Appreciating America: American Folklore and History / 138
Chapter 7 A Grandparent’s Perspective: Later Picture Books / 158
Portfolio: Later Picture Books, 1948–1958
Epilogue The Legacy of Maud and Miska Petersham / 172