'Noah's Ark'.

Peter Spier was a Dutch-American illustrator and author of children's books. Several of his works, like 'Noah's Ark' (1977), have little or no text and sequential narratives, balancing on the thin line between pantomime comics and traditional picture books.

Early life
Spier was born in Amsterdam in 1927. His father was Jo Spier, at the time one of the Netherlands' most prominent newspaper and advertising illustrators. Peter spent most of his childhood in Broek in Waterland. The Jewish Spier family was imprisoned during the final years of World War II. But since the leader of the Dutch national-socialist party, Anton Mussert, was a fan of Jo Spier's work, they got a rather priviliged treatment. In 1942 the Spier family was first held in Villa Bouchina, the parsonage of the Doetinchem Christian Reformed Church, and then sent to Theresienstadt in occupied Czecho-Slovakia. They all survived the war. Back in the Netherlands, Peter Spier got his artistic education at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam. He spent four years in the Royal Navy and was a reporter for Elseviers Weekblad.

United States
By 1952 the Spier family had moved to the United States, where they eventually settled on Long Island, New York. There, Peter truly followed in his father's footsteps. They both had successful careers as commercial illustrators, but Peter eventually drifted towards writing and illustrating children's books. One of the first books illustrated by Spier was 'The Cow Who Fell in the Canal' (1957) by Phyllis Krasilovsky. It brought Spier back to his Dutch roots, as it tells the story of a bored cow, who leaves her farm and moves on to explore the city. The illustrations presented a romanticized view of the Dutch landscapes and the city of Alkmaar. In the following year, he illustrated a new edition of Mary Mapes Dodge's 'Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates', another classic novel set in the Netherlands.


'We The People' (1991).

Picture books
Peter Spier continued to illustrate other people's stories well into the 1980s, but he made even more picture books on his own. These books were mostly published by either Doubleday, Dragonfly Books or Random House. Among his early works were new graphic approaches to well-loved rhymes and songs for Doubleday's 'Mother Goose Library' ('London Bridge Is Falling Down!', 1967, 'Hurrah, We're Outward Bound!', 1968). 'Of Dikes and Windmills' (1969) again presented the Dutch landscapes and their age-long battle against the water. Several of Peter Spier's books educated about American history, such as 'The Erie Canal' (1970), 'The Legend of New Amsterdam' (1979) and 'We the People: The Constitution of the United States' (1991), which he presented as accurate as possible in his detailed pen, ink and watercolour illustrations.

Later Spier books were often based on religion or human relations. One of his best-known books is 'Noah's Ark' (1977), a largely wordless retelling of the Bible story. Because of its lack of words and sequential pictures, the book can be considered a comic or graphic novel. Spier returned to biblical themes on several occasions, like for 'Peter Spier's Christmas' (1983), 'The Book of Jonah' (1985), his series 'Peter Spier's Little Bible Storybooks' (1983) and his advent calendars. Another one of Spier's stand-out books is 'People' (1980), which taught children about all the different people around the world and their customs and cultures.


'Noah's Ark' (1977).

Recognition
With his highly detailed watercolor technique, Spier is often compared to illustrators like Beatrix Potter and Christopher Wormell. As one the most widely praised illustrators in the USA, several of his books have won prizes. 'The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night' (1961) was named a Caldecott Honor Book by the American Library Association in 1962. 'Noah's Ark' (1977) won the annual Caldecott Medal from the American Library Association in 1977, the National Book Award in category Picture Books in 1982 and was named to the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award list in 1978. 'People' (1980) won a Christopher Award, and was adapted into a television special by Disney in 1995. It also received the National Mass Media Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews for "outstanding contributions to better human relations and the cause of brotherhood." Lemniscaat published most of Spier's books in his birth country, where they however didn't achieve as much fame as in the States.

Peter Spier remained active until the mid 1990s. He passed away in Port Jefferson, New York, in 2017, at the age of 89.


Spanish edition of 'People'.

Series and books by Peter Spier in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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