Children's book author, illustrator dies at 89

Robert McCloskey, the first children's book author and illustrator to win two Caldecott Medals, one of the highest honors given for children's literature, has died. He was 89.

McCloskey, who won the prizes in 1941 for "Make Way for Ducklings" and in 1957 by "Time of Wonder," died Monday at home in Deer Isle, Maine.

Of the eight books he wrote and illustrated, the story of Mrs. Mallard and her baby ducks as told in "Make Way for Ducklings," is his best known. The idea came to him when he was working as a muralist in Boston in the late 1930s and noticed a family of ducks waddling along the city street. His story is about how the family moves to the Public Garden and takes up residence at the pond.

To get a closer look at his subjects, McCloskey bought four mallards, let them loose in his apartment and put them in the bath tub to watch them swim.

The book was officially recognized by the city of Boston in 1987 when artist Nancy Schoen made a sculpted version of McCloskey's ducks for the public garden and dedicated the work to him. By then, Boston's annual "Duckling Parade," where children dress like their favorite characters from the book, was 7 years old.

McCloskey first discovered his love for art when he took up printmaking, engraving and woodcutting in high school in his home town, Hamilton, Ohio. In his senior year he won an art contest sponsored by Scholastic, the magazine for young students. His prize was a scholarship to Boston's Vesper George School of Art, in 1932.

"After that, I tackled everything I could in drawing and painting, thinking I might become an illustrator of children's books some day," he told the Bangor Daily News in July, 1996. "I had no thoughts of being a writer."

He finished art school in Boston and moved to New York City where he entered the National Academy of Design in 1936. After graduation he found jobs as a muralist in Boston and at home in Hamilton.

He won the Prix de Rome in 1939 to further his art education in Italy. World War II interrupted his studies. He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945 and finally went to Italy to study in 1949.

McCloskey also illustrated 10 books by other authors, including "Journey Cake, Ho!" by Ruth Sawyer, who was the mother of Margaret Durand, a children's librarian whom McCloskey married in 1940.

The couple had two children, Sarah and Jane and the family lived in several small towns north of New York City but spent summers in Maine.

From then on he found most of the subjects for his stories close to home. Readers got to know the McCloskey daughters, (Sarah's nickname was Sal) and the local sites -- Maine lobster boats, quaint shops, the town gas station -- in stories such as "Blueberries for Sal," "One Morning in Maine" (1952) and "Time of Wonder" (1957).

Set in Maine, "Time of Wonder," describes the beauty of the area and how it is threatened when a hurricane blows toward Penobscot Bay. McCloskey was awarded his second Caldecott Medal for this work.

Many of his books were adapted as films in the '50s and '60s. After he gave up illustrating and writing around 1970, he continued to win awards for his contributions to children's literature. In April, 2000, he was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress.

McCloskey is survived by two daughters and two grandchildren.

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