As a young man, William Steig proclaimed his ambition to be a writer, but he turned his talents to cartooning as a way to make a living. At the suggestion of Robert Kraus, a children’s writer and colleague at The New Yorker, Steig began writing books for children. Doctor De Soto was named a Newbery Honor Book in 1982, the second of his books to receive that honor. Steig’s The Amazing Bone (1976) was named a Caldecott Honor Book and Abel’s Island was named a Newbery Honor Book. Before that, he won the Caldecott Medal in 1969 for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a fantasy featuring a stone that grants wishes.
Seemingly defenseless animals who survive by their own wits or magic are featured in other books by Steig. He created Amanda the pig, who uses a talking bone to escape capture in The Amazing Bone, and Solomon the rabbit, who turns himself into a nail in order to avoid a cat in Solomon the Rusty Nail (1985). In folktale fashion, Steig’s protagonists are transformed in some way for the better by their experiences, developing patience, insight, courage, or a sense of humor out of the ordeals that they face.
Doctor De Soto Goes to Africa, the sequel to Doctor De Soto, features Mrs. De Soto in a more prominent role and provides her name (Deborah) for the first time. Both books portray the De Sotos in the classic tradition of husband-and-wife teams: warm and loving, quick-thinking and courageous. They encounter serious problems but retain their sense of adventure with unfailing humor.