When William Steig published his first children’s books with
Farrar Straus & Giroux in the early 1970s, he had already been working as
an illustrator for forty years, most notably at The New Yorker, where he published 117 covers, and 1,600 drawings. His
first career was born of necessity, as he left school early to become the main
breadwinner for his family at the start of the Great Depression.
But during the last three decades of his life, until his
death in 2003, Steig enjoyed a second career for which he is now perhaps best
known, writing and illustrating more than twenty-five picture books and chapter
books which went on to win Caldecott and Newbery Honors, a National Book Award
nomination, and inspired DreamWorks’s blockbuster Shrek films.
But more important than commercial success or critical
acclaim, William Steig delighted generations of children with magical stories “peopled”
with pigs and donkeys, mice and whales, ogres and witches. In Steig’s books,
the impossible becomes plausible: from the clever mouse-dentist who cures a
toothache while out-foxing a fox, to the talking bone who rescues a piglet from
being eaten, and the touching friendship between a mouse lost at sea and the
whale who rescues him.
The same sensibilities, alternately playful and
sophisticated, occur in Steig’s language, where Otchky-potchy, itchky-pitch,
and Adoonis ishgoolack keebokkin yibapp
appear alongside varlet, odoriferous, sequestration, and ensconced.
Also available are a number of early titles, such asTiffky Doofky,andYellow & Pink, some of which have been long out of print. We are
happy that a new generation of readers, whether children or those who are still
kids at heart, will now be able to discover them.