recess radio program

06/16/05
Animals of the Bible
    by Rita Smith

In 1938 Animals of the Bible became the first book to be awarded the Caldecott Medal given annually since then to the most distinguished picture book published in the United States. For this book, the recipient of the award, artist Dorothy Lathrop, drew thirty black and white illustrations with a lithographic pencil which accompanied Bible stories in which animals played a significant role.

In the forward to the book, the editor, Helen Dean Fish, suggests that Lathrop selected her favorites Bible stories for illustration, but in her acceptance speech, Lathrop says that not all her favorite stories made it into the work. She was convinced that she must have been a "ferocious child" because her favorite Bible stories as a youngster included the story of the 42 children who made fun of Elisha's bald head and were promptly torn to pieces and devoured by two female bears and she also liked the story of the swine who raced down the hill and into the sea after being possessed by the demons, but the editor feared that such stories were too dreadful for the children of the late 1930's and so they were not included. But many of her favorite Bible stories with animals did make it into the volume: Eve and the serpent, the pigs sharing food with the prodigal son, the ravens feeding Elijah and Daniel in the lions' den.

In order to make the drawings accurate, Lathrop actually brought many animals, (ravens, goats, and lambs) right into her studio to sketch, sometimes getting the animals to stay in the proper pose for only a few seconds before they wandered off and she would have to re-position them. She visited zoos for some of the larger animals, and for the picture of the Leviathan she filtered the vivid Biblical description through her artistic imagination.

She loved animals. "A person who does not love what [s]he is drawing," she said in her acceptance speech, "will not draw them convincingly ... simply because [s]he will not bother to look at them long enough to really see them....When we look again and again at any living creature, we cannot help but perceive its subtlety of line, its exquisite patterning and all its unbelievable intricacy and beauty. It's like trying to translate into an alien medium, life itself." She said the greatest compliment she ever received was when a child, looking at a drawing of a squirrel, reached out and stroked the pictured fur.

In Animals of the Bible, Lathrop's love and respect for and her familiarity with animals, combined with her artistic skill and her attention to detail to create a book filled with pictures that come to life and one that set a high standard for future Caldecott Award winners.

Sources:

Fish, Helen Dean. Animals of the Bible. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1937.
Lathrop, Dorothy P. "Caldecott Medal Acceptance," in The Hornbook Magazine, vol. 14, no. 4, July/August, 1938. p. 209-217.
Lathrop, Gertrude K. "Dorothy P. Lathrop" in Caldecott Medal Books: 1938-1957. Boston: Horn Book, Inc. p.


Copyright 2005 Rita Smith

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Monday, 02-May-2005 11:26:59 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."