Like almost every kid--and especially every youngest child, we inheritors of hand me down toys and books--I grew up with the Beginner Books that Ted Geisel edited for Random House.
Ted also wrote many of the series under his most frequent pen name, Dr. Seuss. But although I loved Seuss, my absolute favorite author/illustrator was P.D. Eastman. "Are You My Mother?", "Go Dog Go!", "The Best Nest" and "Sam and the Firefly" among many others made a huge impression on me.
Like Bill Peet, Seuss, and a few others of their generation, Eastman had cut-to-the-heart appeal in his simple, friendly drawings--which were also often staged to great dramatic effect. I'm sure millions of children can remember the pentultimate image from "Are You My Mother?" with the baby bird, beak agape, perched on the edge of a huge digging crane's teeth.
Several years ago I was surprised (pre-Wikipedia) to find practically nothing about him on the internet. Via an old message on a librarian's website I stumbled upon an email for Tony Eastman, one of Phil Eastman's children and an animator in his own right, and we corresponded. It was from Tony that I learned that Phil had been a story artist at Disney's and UPA; well, I shouldn't have been surprised. It seems that virtually any illustrator whose sense of charm, staging and color were exceptional had worked in animation during it's golden age. Through Tony, I was connected with a woman who had a rare item: one of Eastman's original drawings, which she'd won at a charity auction over a decade ago. She'd kept it in her kids' room and was willing to let it go, and I'm happy to say it's now on my own wall:
Sorry for the poor image--it's framed, and I don't want to take it apart...but it gives a good look at one of Eastman's cover mock-ups; this one was an unused alternate for "The Best Nest"(it's so described and signed by Eastman in a notation at the bottom; it's also full sized in scale).
Interestingly, his first design was used--with some changes--for a later, popup version called "My Nest Is Best":
I'd be willing to bet almost all readers of this blog know Eastman, and that most of you liked his work as much as I did. It's a great example to me of the value of simplicity, and amazes me in how much he's able to suggest with very little in the way of detail. That's a story artist's dream.