Friday, January 3, 2014

Peter Spier and His Picture Books

A visual sampling of picture books with illustrations by Peter Spier, as an accompaniment to my article about his picture book Noah's Ark, and a forthcoming article featuring his book The Legend of New Amsterdam



Island City: Adventures in Old New York


revised cover 


Based on the song "Low Bridge" 

by Thomas S. Allen (1905)












1988, the story was first published in 1963

"Take care of the little riders," says Johanna's father to the eleven-year-old when Johanna is sent to the safety of her grandparents in Holland during World War II. She loves helping her grandfather care for the little riders.  The riders are a set of figures that live in the town clock.  Each hour, on the hour, music plays and the little riders emerge from the clock.

"They would ride up to each other, lift their swords in a salute and then go in the opposite door. In and out as many times as the clock had struck.  While they rode in and out of the doors, the carillon of the church played old Dutch folk tunes."

One day German soldiers march into the town.  The little riders are no longer safe. "Grandfather started to think again about a safe hiding place for the little riders because now, more than ever, the Germans needed every scrap of metal for ammunition."

A German soldier has moved into the house and even into Johanna's room.  In this same room there is a hidden space inside the cupboard.  When her Grandparents are taken by the soldiers Johanna has only minutes to hide the precious riders.  The only place she can think to hide them is in this cupboard which is filled with German uniforms!  Johanna must risk her own life to save the little riders. 

(story summary from


Peter Spier was born on June 6th, 1927 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His father, a journalist and illustrator, influenced Spier to draw. He decided at 18 to make art his career and attended Rijksacademie, an art school in Amsterdam. His education was interrupted by service in the Royal Netherlands Army from 1947 to 1951. He worked for Elsevier's Weekly, the largest Dutch weekly newspaper, before moving to New York to begin a career illustrating children's books. His first was Cocoa by Margaret Otto, published in 1953. He has since illustrated nearly 150 books with his special combination of humor and integrity.

Spier has also written and illustrated fourteen books for children with his descriptive black line and watercolor wash. His black line is actually executed in pencil and overexposed in the printing process before adding color.

The Fox Went out on a Chilly Night won a Boston Globe Horn Book Award. Noah's Ark was awarded a Caldecott Medal, Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, and Christopher Award in 1978. His books have been published in 24 languages. Peter Spier lives and works in Long Island, New York.

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