Margaret Bloy Graham is a Canadian author/illustrator most famous for a series of picture books that she illustrated and her husband authored in the 1950's and 1960's. Graham was born November 2, 1920 in Toronto, Canada. Her father was a medical doctor and her mother a nurse and she had a single brother. Graham was a true daughter of the Anglophone. She was raised in Ontario, but often spent summers either with her grandfather in Britain or with an aunt in the USA.
She indicated in her autobiographical entry of More Junior Authors that:
As a child, reading meant more to me than drawing, and when I grew older, reading became my favorite pastime.
When I was ten, we moved back to Toronto where I went to the Saturday morning classes at the art gallery. There we were never told how to draw, but were encouraged to draw things as we felt them. While in high school, I went to art classes taught by a sympathetic and encouraging teacher, and, as a result, my interest in sketching and painting grew.
After high school I went to the University of Toronto and majored in art history, with the vague idea of museum work or teaching as a career. I never considered I might become an artist until one summer when I worked in the display department of a large store. The artists working there were encouraged to paint freely and expressively. It was exciting to do big canvases and for the first time I began to think of myself as a creative artist.
It is interesting what a role local large department stores used to play in the artistic community. In doing these essays for the past year or so, I think I must have come across three or maybe four illustrators who at some point or another in their early careers, pulled a stint in large local department stores doing window displays and other creative presentations. It speaks volumes of a past, more localized age.
After graduating from University, Graham came to New York City to pursue her artistic studies for a summer and then ended up deciding to stay there. As often happens in an artistic career, the first few years were uncertain steps of artistic development melded with the practical need to earn money. She worked as a silk screen apprentice, worked for a printing company, and then in World War II worked as a naval draftsman. Later she was able to work in the art department of a fashion magazine before striking out into the uncertain world of free-lance work. She was successful in this endeavor and worked for such notable national magazines as Vogue, Glamour, Town and Country, House and Garden, and Seventeen.
While working for the Conde Nast magazine group, she met her future husband and collaborator, Gene Zion. They married in 1948 and later divorced in 1968. Graham subsequently married again in 1972 to a ship's officer, Oliver W. Homes. Gene Zion passed away in 1975.
New York in the 1940's and 50's had some sort of magic. Filled with nooks and crannies from the repeated waves of immigration over the prior sixty years and yet in many ways having some of the dynamics of a small town.
The intricacies and intimacies of small circles of people with shared interests is illumined by the path that led to the publication of Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham's first book. Soon after arriving in New York City from Toronto, Graham made the acquaintance of Hans and Margaret Rey, refugees from Europe and one of the original husband/wife teams that are such a feature in children's literature. The Rey's were the author/illustrators responsible for the enduringly popular Curious George stories. Hans Rey coached Graham in how to prepare an art portfolio and Margaret Rey encouraged the legendary children's books editor at Harper & Row, Ursula Nordstrom to take a look at Graham's work.
In 1951, Graham and Zion produced their first book, All Falling Down. The story is a simple one of a child observing the things that fall down in life (such as leaves from a tree), but the child does not fall down because his father is there to catch him. Graham illustrated it in pastel colors. Even though only her first book, All Falling Down received a Caldecott Honor Medal in 1952. Graham's next book was an illustration of a story by another famous children's author, Charlotte Zolotow, The Storm Book, published in 1952 which also received a Caldecott Honor Medal in 1953.
There followed three further books with Gene Zion. Then in 1956 came Harry the Dirty Dog, the first in what would ultimately be a series of four stories featuring Harry. In addition to the first story, the series includes No Roses for Harry (1958), Harry and the Lady Next Door (1960) and finally, Harry by the Sea (1965).
One day, on returning from running some errands, Graham was presented by her husband with the manuscript of a children's story which was shortly to become, Harry the Dirty Dog. Graham apparently immediately recognized that inherent attraction of the story (and indeed, it was ultimately published with scarcely any changes to the text.) If Harry appears to be a distinctive but unidentifiable canine, that is understandable. The model for Harry was actually a melding of Graham's aunt's two dogs - an Aberdeen Terrier and a Sealyham Terrier.
In both the Harry series, and then later the Benjy series (written and illustrated by Graham), we have a wonderfully innocent collection of stories. Set around small domestic issues (gifts we don't want, neighbors we don't like, etc.), the protagonists are dogs that know their own minds. They live in comfortable suburban settings and experience the positive side of the 1950's stereotype of domestic tranquility. Rendered in a simple cartoon style and with a limited color palette, the women look like they are Doris Day in a children's book, the houses, a couple of steps up from Levittown and the neighborhoods are from Charlie Brown or Beaver Cleaver. Iconic as it were.
The stories are gentle dramas with Harry (and later Benjy) basically having the personality of a five year old. There is definitely a lot with which a child can relate. Parents can enjoy the double laugh of Harry's antics as well as the fact that he is so like the child who is enjoying the story.
Graham wrote nineteen books in all, eleven with her husband, four on her own, and four with famous authors Zolotow, Minarik, Prelutsky and Gordon. She established two popular characters, Harry and Benjy. And then she finished. After 1970 she wrote two more books and illustrated a book for Jack Prelutsky and one for Else Holmelund Minarik and that was it. Not a lot of books in the scheme of things, but a style that so encapsulates an age and a decade.
If you are seeking simple, engaging stories which children consistently love, Harry is your dog and Graham is your author/illustrator.
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham Highly Recommended
The Storm Book by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham Recommended
Harry and the Lady Next Door by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham Recommended
Harry by the Sea by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham Recommended
Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham Recommended
All Falling Down written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1951
The Storm Book written by Charlotte Zolotow and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1952
Hide and Seek Day written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1954
The Summer Snowman written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1955
Really Spring written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1956
Harry the Dirty Dog written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1956
Dear Garbage Man written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1957
No Roses for Harry! written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1958
Harry and the Lady Next Door written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1960
The Meanest Squirrel I Ever Met written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1962
The Sugar Mouse Cake written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1964
Harry by the Sea written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1965
Be Nice to Spiders written and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1968
Benjy and the Barking Bird written and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1970
The Green Hornet Lunchbox written by Shirley Gordon and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1970
Benjy's Dog House written and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1972
The Pack Rat's Day written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1974
Benjy's Boat Trip written and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1977
What If? written by Else Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1987
Harry and the Lady Next Door written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham 1999