Robert McCloskey was born on September 14, 1914 in Hamilton, Ohio. At an early age, his parents were very supportive of him and his interests. At first he was fascinated by music, taking piano lessons, and also the harmonica, drums, and oboe. Then his next passion was for inventing things. He loved anything that was mechanical and electrical, and trying to figure out how to make things work. When he started making drawings for the high school paper, he realized that the artist life was what he really wanted to pursue. He felt a strong love for art, working his way through several art schools.
After unsuccessfully trying to support himself as an artist by selling his paintings, he had a very life-changing meeting with a children's book editor in New York City. She told him to draw what he really knew about. This is exactly what he did. He drew the scenes that reflected his own small-town Midwestern upbringing. He wrote and illustrated 8 books, and won a Caldecott medal for 2 of them -- Make Way for Ducklings, and Time of Wonder.
Robert McCloskey told the story of how he came to produce the wonderfully authentic characters of Make Way for Ducklings during his 1942 Caldecott Medal acceptance speech. The Natural History Museum in New York was where he studied the stuffed mallards that were on display. However, most importantly, he acquired live models. Early one morning while visiting a poultry market, McCloskey bought four ducklings and brought them back to his apartment. "I spent the next weeks on my hands and knees, armed with a box of Kleenex and a sketch book, following ducks around the studio and observing them in the bath tub." He filled sketch book after sketch book with drawings of "happy ducklings, sad ducklings, inquisitive ducklings, bored ducklings, running, walking, sleeping ducklings." (Isaac,2004).
Robert McCloskey's books seem to reflect his own keen observations about life, and his own experiences. Most of his adult life was spent on a small island off the coast of Maine. His experience while there influenced his writing other books and their characters, which are based on his wife and children.
He has even described his writing career as "sort of an accident." He says, "I really think up stories in pictures, and just fill in between the pictures with a sentence or a paragraph or a few pages of words" (Ohio Reading Road Trip). He was very dedicated and meticulous with his illustrations, carefully researching his subjects. He was a very private man, and we learn so much about him through his books.
Books of InterestEdit
Lentil is a story about a young boy in fictional Alto, Ohio, who wanted to sing more than anything, but was a terrible singer. He learned how to play the harmonica, and practiced everywhere he went, and became very good at it. He saved the day by being able to play when Colonel Carter, Alto's most respected citizen, came off the train, when the band was unable to because of puckering lips. The illustrations in this story remind readers of small-town America, with great artistic detail on each page. The storyline is fun, and has interesting characters that make this a great book.
One Morning in Maine has a main character, Sal, who is based on Robert McCloskey's daughter Sarah. In this book Sal loses her tooth while digging for clams with her father and is unable to find it. She still is very active and does many things with her father that day, though she is still sad her tooth is lost. She finds a gull's feather and makes a wish on that instead of on her tooth. Her wish eventually comes true, as she is able to still have a wonderful day with her dad and little sister. This story shows the fun side of living in Maine, and the many wonderful activities a young child can do there. The artwork and illustrations are just breathtaking, especially those pictures along the shoreline. This is a classic, timeless story.
Make Way for Ducklings is a classic story about a pair of mallards looking for the perfect place in Boston to raise their family. They encounter hazards along the way, but are befriended by a pleasant policeman named Michael. The brown and white illustrations depict some famous landmarks in Boston while lending a comfortable atmosphere to this story. The cars in this story remind readers of a bygone era and add a hint of nostalgia to the book.
Blueberries for Sal - In 1949, this charming book was designated a Caldecott Honor Book. The two characters in the story, little Sal and her mother, are said to be based on McCloskey's wife, Margaret, and daughter, Sarah. When Sal and her mother climb Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries another "child" and mother, a bear cub and a bear, are climbing up the other side of the hill to pick blueberries. This story contains the perfect blend of humor and suspense for young children as the story of how Little Sal and Little Bear's mother and Little Bear and Little Sal's mother were all mixed up with each other. Robert McCloskey's navy blue and white illustrations are full of life and movement.
Homer Price is a book that tells six preposterous tales about a boy who lives in Centerburg, one of which is entitled The Doughnuts. Homer's Uncle Ulysses owns an "up and coming" lunchroom and asks Homer to fix his doughnut machine. A rich lady from out of town comes into the diner and offers to make up a huge batch of her "marvelous" doughnuts. The "Stop" button is stuck on the machine and pretty soon the diner is full of hundreds of doughnuts. How are they going to sell of those doughnuts? A fun tale that will delight readers of all ages, The Doughnuts mixes in some humorous and small-town characters with Robert McCloskey's warm and classic illustrations.
Time of Wonder is a beautiful book with wonderful illustrations and text. McCloskey captures the islands of Maine with his prose and pictures. From the busy boats on the sea, to exploring the island, to preparing for a hurricane, we are treated to a wonderful, simple story. The watercolor pictures in this book are a bit different than other McCloskey illustrations, yet they are amazing in their own way. This book takes the reader to the island getaway, imagining the many exciting activities to experience during the summer in Maine.
Robert McCloskey's books have a nostalgic feel to them. The reader is taken back to a time when life was simple. The sketched illustrations reflect the warmth of the characters. The storylines had a familiar ring, and were fun and lighthearted. Even though these stories were written several generations ago, children today can still connect with their humor and tension of the characters.
Isaac, Megan Lynn. "Remembering a Legend, The Life and Works of Robert McCloskey" Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, April 1, 2004, (p. 31-34).
Ohio Reading Road Trip. 
Ohioana Authors. "Robert McCloskey, Highlights of a Life" 
Kennedy, Elizabeth. Maine Caldecott Winners by Robert McCloskey 
McCloskey, Robert, Homer Price, Penguin Books, New York, New York, 1943
McCloskey, Robert, Make Way for Ducklings', Penguin Books, New York, New York, 1941
McCloskey, Robert, Blueberries for Sal, Penguin Books, New York, New York, 1948
McCloskey, Robert, Time of Wonder, The Viking Press, New York, New York, 1957.
McCloskey, Robert, One Morning in Maine, Puffin Books, New York, New York, 1952.
McCloskey, Robert, Lentil, The Viking Press, New York, New York, 1940.