Bill Peet Essay - Critical Context

Critical Context

It is unusual that this book was a Caldecott winner because, although it was honored for its illustrations, it is not really a picture book. The drawings go hand in hand with the text to show readers what it was like growing up poor in Indiana, making a living in the Walt Disney empire, and becoming a successful illustrator and writer of children’s books. Adults should enjoy the nostalgia for a time when a person could buy “a chocolate bar, a hot dog, a sack of peanuts, an ice cream cone, a box of Cracker Jack with a prize in it, a root beer, or a Coke” for a nickel. Young readers can learn of steam trains, trolley cars, and open fields and rivers where children could safely explore.

Young readers who are interested in art, animation, or writing children’s books will find this autobiography engaging and very different from their usual reading fare. Many will enjoy reading this true story of a real person, the creator of such children’s books as The Whingdingdilly (1970), Huge Harold (1961), and Big Bad Bruce (1977). The problems that Peet had at first with finding the right words should also give encouragement to children who have writing problems. His honesty about being a poor student in grade school and of failing the first year of high school should be of interest to young readers. Peet describes growing up in a one-parent family without much money and reveals the importance of reading books from the library. While the book provides insights into ways of dealing with difficult circumstances, Peet makes no attempt to preach to young readers and tells his story in a simple, straightforward narrative.