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1) Biographic Information


Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham

A love of reading, sketching and seeing the world through the eyes of children served as foundations for the work of the husband-wife team author Gene Zion (1913-1975) and illustrator Margaret Bloy Graham (1920-). The couple is best known for creating Harry, a silly dog who loved adventure, getting dirty and his family’s attention. Harry was featured in multiple books, the most famous being “Harry the Dirty Dog.”

Childhood

Born in New York City in 1913, Zion attended elementary schools in rural areas of Ridgefield and Fort Lee, New Jersey. He grew up with a barn filled with farm animals including cows and chickens. Zion took up an interest in art when a kindergarten teacher admired a border drawn with crayon on his worksheet. Zion also loved to read and visited the local library often. He liked to sit outside and try to finish reading his books before carrying them home. To earn extra money, Zion painted oil pictures on the back of his classmates yellow rain jackets (Commire). 

Graham was born in Toronto, Canada in 1920. Her father worked as a medical doctor and her mother was a nurse. Graham traveled often as a child, visiting her grandparents in England and her aunt in the United States. The adults in her life encouraged creativity, providing Saturday art classes and free time to sketch. The art teacher encouraged students to draw by feeling and to not follow strict constraints. From this, Graham developed a keen interest in sketching and panting. However, reading still meant more to Graham than drawing and remained her favorite pastime as she grew older (Graham). 

Education and Early Work

Zion returned to New York City and attended Textile High School in 1931. He received a diploma in Pictorial Illustration from the Pratt Institute of New York in 1936 and took additional classes at the New School for Social Research in New York. During this time, Zion also worked as a staff member at Esquire Publications. After graduation in 1936, Zion won a trip to Europe from a national travel poster competition. This sparked his interest in book design (Commire). 

In 1942, in the midst of World War II, Zion joined the Army and served in the Anti-aircraft Artillery Visual Training Aids Section, designing training manuals and filmstrips. After the war, Zion landed at job at Columbia Broadcasting Company (CBS) and worked as an art designer from 1944-1946.

Graham attended the University of Toronto and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943. She majored in art history and initially planned to work in a museum or as a teacher. But while working in the display department of a large store during summer break, Graham observed artists painting on big canvases “freely and expressively.” She felt excited about their career and imagined herself as a creative artist doing the same type of work (Graham).

After graduation, Graham came to New York City to take a summer class at the Art Students League and decided to stay in the city to get more experience in the art world. She supported herself as a silk screen apprentice, worked for a printing company, and served as a naval draftsman during World War II. Although she experienced difficulty getting her foot in the door, Graham was talented and quickly moved up the ladder, finding work in the art department of a fashion magazine and later working as a free-lance illustrator for Vogue, Glamour, Town and Country, House and Garden and Seventeen (Graham).

Teamwork

Zion and Graham met while working for Conde Nast publications and were married in 1948. The couple developed a network of friends throughout the New York media scene, including Hans and Margaret Rey, another husband-wife team responsible for the Curious George stories. Hans Rey helped Graham refine her art portfolio and Margaret Rey introduced Graham’s work to Ursula Nordstrom, the celebrated children’s book editor at Harper & Row. (Bayless)

The couple produced their first book, "All Falling Down," in 1951 after Zion was inspired by Graham’s sketch of children gathering apples in an orchard. The book tells a simple story of a child observing that things fall down (like the apples in Graham’s illustration) but the child doesn’t fall down because his dad is there to catch him. "All Falling Down" was widely praised for its charisma and appeal to all children (Bayless). The New York Herald Tribune wrote “It might seem oversimple were it not the pictures have such charm and offer so many details for further talk. The scenes are in city or country, and the many moods so happily translated in to action are worth the long look.” Graham received a Caldecott Honor Medal for her illustrations in 1952. The next year, in 1953, Graham received a second Caldecott medal for her illustrations in "The Storm Book," written by Charlotte Zolotow (Klemin). 

In 1956, Zion wrote a manuscript about the adventures of Harry the dog. Graham recognized the appeal of the story and began to create illustrations, relying on memories of her aunt’s two small terriers. Later that year, Harper & Row published "Harry the Dirty Dog". Harry later appeared in a series of four books: "No Roses for Harry" (1958), "Harry and the Lady Next Door" (1960) and "Harry by the Sea" (1965). Harry was immediately loved. Reviewers hailed combination of Graham’s “bright, animated and expressive illustrations” complimented Zion’s “direct and charming text" (NY Times Book Review). The books were each written and illustrated in a similar style as the couple’s earlier works, with a focus on simple, appealing, lovable stories and cheerful, detailed cartoon images.

Librarians, parents and reviewers recognized the magnetic pull children had to Harry and found delight in each of his stories. He was a true individual who gave little thought to heading out on adventures, being carefree and playing in the mud. But when the day ended, Harry knew he needed the security of his family and a place to call home.  Others recognized the magic of the illustrations, noting that other texts “could be separated from their illustrations and depicted by other artists without any great loss to the spirit of the books” but that Graham embodied Harry in a way “no more separate than Snoopy would be from the line drawing Charles Shultz creates in the comic strip Peanuts (MacCann). 

Zion’s work is articulated well by a quote in St. James Guide to Children’s Writers:

“Gene Zion had exceptional talent for envisioning a story through the eyes of a child. The characters, whether a dog, a squirrel, or a garbage collector, have a child’s perspective on their world. Their predicaments and ensuing outcomes are frequently juxtaposed with an adult viewpoint of their dilemma. Thus, Zion enables a child to glimpse the feelings of others in a humorous and subtle way.”

Graham’s work is also well-recognized and best summarized in “The Art of the Art for Children’s Books”:

“Margaret Bloy Graham’s contribution is a major one because she adds busy little touches to the text and gives a sense of continuity of daily life…Children will follow these adventures with high hopes that they can have more of them.”

Together, Graham and Zion published 11 total books as a writer/illustrator team. Zion found great value in his work, commenting that “no creative effort has been more gratifying than writing books for children.” Graham illustrated an additional four books on her own with well-known children’s authors of the time. She also found great satisfaction in her work, writing “I find that children’s book illustration gives me great freedom for creativity and offers exciting possibilities for me as an artist.”

In 1968, Graham and Zion divorced. There is no available information on why their partnership came to an end. Zion never published another book, while Graham went on to write and illustrate additional books on her own. Graham remarried Oliver W. Holmes, a ship’s merchant, in 1972.

Zion passed away in 1975. His manuscript collection is part of the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. "Harry the Dirty Dog" remains in publication today and is viewed as an iconic children’s book of the 1950s.

Sources:

  • Zion, Gene. St. James Guide to Children's Writers. Gale, 1999. Biography In Context. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.
  • Commire, A. (1977). GRAHAM, Margaret Bloy 1920- . In Something about the author (Vol. 11, pp. 119-120). Detroit MI: Gale Research.
  • Commire, A. (1980). ZION, (Eu)Gene 1913-1975. In Something about the author (Vol. 18, pp. 305-306). Detroit MI: Gale Research.
  • "Eugene Zion." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 12 Sept. 2013.
  • Graham, M.B. (1963). Margaret Bloy Graham 1920- . In M. Fuller (Ed.), More junior authors (pp. 102-103). New York: H.W. Wilson.
  • Kingman, L., Foster, J., & Lontoft, R.G. (Eds.). (1968). Graham, Margaret Bloy. In Illustrators of children’s books: 1957-1966 (p. 116). Boston: The Horn Book.
  • Pitchford, T.R. (2006). Graham, Margaret Bloy. In J. Zipes (Ed.), The Oxford encyclopedia of children’s literature
  • Silvey, A. (Ed.). (2002). Graham, Margaret Bloy. In The essential guide to children’s books and the creators (p. 181). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Klemin, D. (1966). The art of art for children’s books: A contemporary survey. New York: Clarkson N. Potter.
  • MacCann, D., & Richard, O. (1973). The child’s first books: A critical study of pictures and texts. New York: H.W. Wilson.
  • Twentieth Century Children’s Writers
  • Charles Bayless blog (http://blog.moonshadowecommerce.com/WEBLOG-NAME/Featured_Author/2008/10/margaret_bloy_graham_1.html)
  • Ward, M.E., & Marquardt, D.A. (1975). GRAHAM, Margaret Bloy, 1920- . In Illustrators of Books for Young People (2nd ed., p. 69). Metuchen NJ: Scarecrow.
  • Literature Resource Center. (2002). Margaret Bloy Graham 1920- . In Contemporary authors online.
  • Image Source: Scan from Zion's Something About the Author entry. 

Zion's obituary was printed in the following publications: 
  • New York Times, December 9, 1975
  • Obituary, Publishers Weekly, December 29, 1975
  • A. B. Bookman's Weekly, March 22, 1976