If life has taught me anything, it’s things most often don’t turn out the way I think they will. If you had told a younger me where I would be today, my younger self would have told you to jump in a lake.
I’m not the only person whose life turned out unexpected. Peggy Rathmann, the award-winning children’s books author who wrote books children demand to be read over and over, didn’t plan to be an author.
Although it was unplanned, there’s no doubt she was made to write books for young children. Her books are clever, fun, and contain a perfect balance of words and illustrations to tell enthralling and lovable stories. These are essential bedtime stories to add to your collection!
Peggy Rathmann didn’t always intend to be a children’s book author.
For quite a long time, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She changed colleges and majors several times. The idea to become a children’s author didn’t strike her until she was vacationing with her nieces.
She started drawing stories to entertain the niece forced to sit next to her in the backseat. Her niece was enthralled. The seeds were planted for Rathmann to begin her career.
What makes Ms. Rathmann’s books so fun and relatable is that they were pulled from moments in her own life.
Peggy Rathmann was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and grew up sculpting snow animals in the winter. During the summer, her favorite thing to do was run around in the dark and play games. She often found herself watching other people’s houses and wondering what it would be like to go home there instead of her house. This idea eventually came out on paper in her picture book, Goodnight, Gorilla.
Not all Rathmann’s books are based on childhood memories. And she had an important lesson to learn before she was ready to become an award-winning author.
Rathmann studied writing and illustrating children’s books at Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. At first, she had a hard time inventing a character. She stole characters from her classmates’ stories until a teacher advised her to write an original character motivated by Rathmann’s unknown quirks or embarrassing secrets.
“Eureka!”, jokes Rathmann reflecting on the creation of her first original character,” A little girl with a passion for plagiarism!”
Eventually, this little girl would be printed as Ruby in Rathmann’s first book, Ruby the Copycat, which won Rathmann the 1991 “Most Promising New Author” title in Publisher’s Weekly.
In her Caldecott medal acceptance speech (won in 1996 for her book Officer Buckle and Gloria), Rathmann confessed that since the birth of Ruby “all of my books have been based on embarrassing secrets.”
Plot for Goodnight, Gorilla
This tale about bedtime at the zoo follows a gorilla who sneaks the keys to his cage away from the sleepy zookeeper. The short furry guy lets himself out and follows the keeper as he wishes the zoo and all the animals a goodnight.
As the guy with the keys, the gorilla takes it upon himself to let all the other animals out. Soon, gorilla, elephant, giraffe, lion, hyena, and armadillo are following the keeper home. As the keeper gets into bed and the animals settle in, he bids his wife goodnight.
As the animals are going to sleep, the keeper’s wife realizes their presence. She gets up and has them back to the zoo and in their cages faster than you can say, “goodnight, elephant.”
She then heads back home, unaware that the gorilla still has the keys, and has followed her back to her house. The story ends as the gorilla crawls up to sleep with the zookeeper and his wife.
This cute story has no words except for those spoken by the characters. It relies solely on pictures, allowing children to be more involved in the story.
Goodnight, Gorilla received the ALA Notable Children’s books for 1994 along with several other awards. It, also, received several positive reviews, being starred reviewed by Horn Book, School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and BCCB.
Explore Peggy Rathmann’s Books
Goodnight, Gorilla is just one of Peggy Rathmann’s extraordinary picture books. Like Goodnight, Gorilla, many of her other books are hilarious. Rathmann’s illustrations are essential to understanding the story, and they enthrall kids. These are books children will love and read again and again!
Books by Peggy Rathmann:
- Goodnight, Gorilla
- Officer Buckle and Gloria
- Ruby the Copycat
- 10 Minutes till Bedtime
- The Day the Babies Crawled Away
- Bootsie Barker Bites
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By: Emeline Haroldsen