“Before I wrote romance, I was a children’s librarian and I truly enjoy children’s literature. I also enjoy finding out the story behind the story. For example, did you know that author L. Frank Baum was attempting to create a truly American fairy tale when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz?
One figure in children’s literature, that I admire and who is all but forgotten today, is Wanda Gag (pronounced Gog.) She is the author and illustrator of Millions of Cats, a Newberry Honor book in 1929 and the oldest American children’s book still in print. Wanda Gag was, in her own time, a successful artist as well as a children’s book author and illustrator. Success did not come easily, though. She was born in New Ulm, Minnesota in 1893. When she was 14, her artist father passed away, leaving Wanda as the head of the household. At that young age, she became responsible for six younger siblings and her seriously ill mother. Neighbors criticized her for continuing with school instead of working full time. But Wanda insisted that she and her siblings would all get a good education. She even rejected offers to adopt her younger siblings, insisting that they should all stay together. Wanda worked hard to support her family, raise her sibling and pursue a career in art.
Eventually, Wanda was able to leave home and attend art school in St. Paul, Minneapolis and New York. She settled on the east coast and became first a fashion illustrator and then an artist, producing drawings, lithographs and watercolors and finally after much rejection, a children’s book author and illustrator. Wanda died of lung cancer in 1946. Two of her books, Millions of Cats in 1929, and The ABC Bunny in 1934, were Newbery Honor Books. Two more books, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1939, and Nothing at All in 1942, were Caldecott Honor Books. She also received the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award posthumously for Millions of Cats.
Wanda was undoubtedly successful in her career and I enjoy her work, but I think her greatest accomplishment was in raising her six younger siblings and insisting that they all get an education. Perhaps conquering the worlds of art and publishing seemed easy after that!
Kara Lynn Russell is the author of the Orchard Hill Romance Series from White Rose Publishing. The stories are available for download now and in three print volumes on December 4. Also in December, ask for The Prodigal Father from Five Star Expressions at your local library. Visit her on the web at www.karalynnrussell.googlepages.com.