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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

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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 The Story Book of . . . Series

Chapter 6 Appreciating America: American Folklore and History / 138
Portfolio: Americana

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

Notes / 174

List of Illustrations / 181

Acknowledgments / 188

Index / 190


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