A Dilly of a Birthday

A Whingdingdilly, anyway. I have been off the posts now for too long, with several that need to be written to conclude some chapters of life, but when I realized that today is the anniversary of my very first foray into blogging I ditched all of those self-reflective essays in favor of something more fun, and a far more important anniversary: today is Bill Peet’s birthday!

Many of you will know who Bill Peet is. A few of you may not know, but will recognize his work. For those of you now wondering who Bill Peet is and don’t recognize his art, you are in for a treat. You are in an almost enviable position of getting to discover this stuff for the first time. You’re going to love it, and if you don’t, you probably aren’t the kind of person enjoying (or tolerating) reading my drivel on here.

Bill Peet was born in 1915 in Grandview, Indiana. Standard love of art at a young age, it propelled him to a Disney “try-out” where he eventually brought his talents to Dumbo, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and The Jungle Book, among others I believe he is credited with creating Mad Madame Mim. There is a great interview with Peet over at Hoganmag.com and A much deeper dive into his past and works can be found at billpeet.net and in the autobiography., this is more of an appreciation post.

My first exposure to Bill Peet’s work was The Whingdingdilly, which was read to us in the second grade. By then the work was twenty years old, but I had never heard of it, or seen anything like it in the books I was getting from the library. It was wonderful, and made such an impression on my class that we named our chili for the carnival chili cookoff after the title character. Which now, in retrospect is both macabre and genius.

And that was about it with my experience with Peet’s repertoire. I stumbled across his autobiography in a used bookstore sometime in the early 2000s and remembered he wrote the book we read in school. I picked it up, but I still haven’t read it, though I am hoping to remedy that this year.

Fast forward almost another twenty years and I am looking for books to read to my son at bedtime and we’ve been going through all the old Disney Wonderful World of Reading titles, and through that and an algorithm I get the Whingdingdilly pushed back up into my purchase suggestions. We got it, we read it, we loved it. We saw the list.

Over thirty more books written and illustrated by Bill Peet were just waiting to be experienced. I started scraping up the ones that I could find–many are still in print and you can get new copies at almost any bookstore– and have saved the few that are out of print that are reselling for $20 or more.

Some are written in rhyme, though I’ve read he abandoned that limitation, but everything we’ve read has been an absolute delight. The morals or life lessons are just an added bonus. The stories read wonderfully aloud and there are times I often end up losing my place because I get caught up in the amazing artwork that fills the pages.

You can’t go wrong with these books, and the plot twists are clever and fun. They are well written and they don’t scrimp on the vocabulary. My only regret is that we won’t be able to get all of them in hardcover.

So, happy birthday Bill! Though he passed away in 2002, his books will continue to be gifts to us all. As timeless as they are entertaining and as wonderful as they re beautiful they will continue to inspire imaginations for decades to come. Definitely check out the billpeet.net site as it has many background stories to his publications including the Peet family capybara pet which inspired Capybobby.

As we work our way through these, having recently finished a dissertation about showmen in America, and having written a master’s thesis on live animal collecting for zoos I am beginning to wonder if I may have been imprinted for that line of investigation all those years ago.

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