David Wiesners Caldecott
Acceptance Speech for Tuesday
Bufo marinus, the Australian
cane toad, secrets a toxic substance when it is attacked. This substance
is lethal to nearly all predators, including dogs and other large
animals, and it can have an incapacitating effect on humans.
In the early 1970s, some adventurous
young Australians discovered an interesting use for the cane toad.
After the toad is boiled down into a broth or resin, it can be ingested
as a liquid or smoked as a powder. The toxin, bufotenin, produces
a hallucinogenic reaction in the user. To this day, it is a criminal
offense to smoke a cane toad in Australia.
Im often asked where I got the
idea for Tuesday. The question is usually accompanied by
a suggestion or two. Did I have a pet frog while growing up? Do
I live near a swamp? Do I have a "thing" for frogs? I have discovered
only recently that quite a lot of people have a special affinity
for frogs. My favorite comment, though, was a rhetorical question
that came from Laurence Yep, who gave me a funny look and asked
if I had been importing cane toads.
The truth is that the imagination needs
no outside stimulus. To watch children at play is to see the mind
in all its uninhibited glory. Growing up in New Jersey, my friends
and I re-created our world daily. The neighborhood would become
anything from the far reaches of the universe to a prehistoric jungle.
To believe that giant Pterodactyls were swooping down on us required
only a small leap of faith.
Dinosaurs were an important part of my
world as a child. Just as the caves of Lascaux, France, are full
of images of the animals hunted by pre-historic man, so my room
was full of drawings of the dinosaurs I hunted in my backyard. In
an attempt to make them more real and alive, I drew them over and
I had many books about dinosaurs. My
favorites were the ones that had the best pictures, and the pictures
I liked were in a World Book Encyclopedia supplement about
the evolution of the Earth. It wasnt until many years later
that I realized the pictures in the book were by the artist Charles
Knight, the man who first visualized what dinosaurs looked like,
and on whose work all subsequent dinosaur renderings were based.
The dinosaurs were executed in exacting
detail, with solid musculature, giving the animals a real presence.
Thinking about it now, Im aware it probably wasnt the
greatest printing job, but back then the washed-out quality of the
black and white reproductions created a real sense of atmosphere
for me. I thought they were photographs. Even after I should have
known better, I thought they just might be photographs.
The realization that the pictures were
painted by an actual person was a revelation. The reality I perceived
in those scenes was totally captivating. At the time, I couldnt
imagine being able to paint so convincingly. But now, as I work,
Im continually trying to recapture for myself that total belief
in the world Im creating on paper.
As I moved from dinosaurs, I discovered
other imagery that exerted a powerful hold on me. In the stacks
of Bound Brook (New Jersey) Public Library, I would sit and pore
over the Time-Life books on the history of art. I was drawn immediately
to the Renaissance artistsDürer, for one, Michelangelo,
and Da Vincibefore they were Ninja Turtles. The Mona Lisa
is a compelling portrait, but its the landscape she sits in
front of that I found fascinating. Its a wonderfully alien-looking
place, more like Mars than Italy. Hieronymus Bosch made a deep impression
on me, too, and landscapes of Pieter Brueghel the Elder fascinated
me even more. Your eye can wander in and out of his paintings, from
the extreme foreground to the distant horizon, with incredible clarity
and detail. I was also intrigued by the surrealistsMagritte,
de Chirico, Daliwho depicted the dream world with an unsettling
Every painting seemed to be a scene in
a story, like a frame in a film. I longed to be able to switch on
a projector that would show me what happened before and after the
image that was captured on the canvas.
And, of course, I went on trying to put
my own reality down on paper, not always with welcome results. When
I was in the fourth grade, wed find a short assignment on
the blackboard every morning that we were supposed to work on until
the bell rang to start class. This was called "a.m. work," and we
did it on paper that was about six by nine inches and sort of an
ochre color. It was cheap paper, but it had a nice bit of tooth
to it and was great for drawing. One morning I looked up from a
scene I was creating to find our teacher, Miss Klingibel, standing
next to me. She was not amused. She took my picture and wrote an
angry note to my mother: "David would rather be drawing than doing
his a.m. work." In my opinion, that was the most astute comment
she made all year.
I went on to study at the Rhode Island
School of Design. I was finally in a place where everyone would
rather be drawing than doing "a.m. work."
During my freshman year, my roommate,
Michael Hays, casually described to me a book that would become
a catalyst for many of my own visual ideas. He had seen this book
in the rare books collection in the Hunt Library at Carnegie-Mellon
University. It was an allegorical novel for adults about good and
evil, life and death, and spirituality. And it had no words. The
story was told in a series of about 130 woodcuts.
I couldnt get the idea of this
book out of my head. A year and a half later, I visited Mike in
Pittsburgh. I arrived in the evening, and we were at the library
first thing the next morning.
The book is called Mad Mans
Drum and is by Lynd Ward, whose book The Biggest Bear,
won the 1953 Caldecott Medal. Sitting in the artificial air of the
librarys climate-controlled rare book room, I read the book
in amazement. Each turn of the page opened a door in my mind a little
Back at school, I began to explore the
possibilities of wordless storytelling in some of my assignments.
It was in my senior degree project that I had the chance to investigate
the form more fully. I created a forty-page wordless book based
on Fritz Leibers short story "Gonna Roll the Bones." I began
to understand the process by which a story is distilled, and the
essential information presented in visual terms.
When I graduated and began working as
an illustrator, my goal was eventually to publish a wordless picture
book of my own. I was very fortunate to make a connection with Dorothy
Briley, who believed in the vision I had and let me bring it to
fruition in an uncompromised form. Free Fall was the culmination
of many ideas about an impressionistic kind of storytelling that
I had been forming since art school.
There were many other possibilities I
wanted to explore. I longed to do a book that was wildly humorous,
almost slapstick. When I talked about this, people who knew my work
found it a little hard to believe. I was offered a number of manuscripts
to illustrate, but none that seemed to fit the particular mood and
tone I had in mind. I knew that I would have to make up my own story
someday. That "someday" turned out to be Tuesday.
So what was the inspiration for the book?
My first professional job, which I got
while I was a senior at RISD, was the March 1979 cover for Cricket
Magazine. So when I was asked to do the March
1989 cover for Cricket, I was very pleasedtwo Cricket
covers exactly ten years apart would make nice "bookends," for my
first decade in childrens books.
Another reason I was happy to accept
this job from Cricket is that their instructions for a cover
are the perfect assignment: "Do anything you want to do." They let
me know, as food for thought, that because this was the March issue,
there would be stories about St. Patricks Day and about frogsthe
link there being green, I think.
Patricks Day didnt strike a chordbut frogs, they
had potential. I got out my sketchbook and some old National
Geographics for reference. Frogs were great fun to drawsoft,
round, lumpy, and really goofy-looking. But what could I do with
I drew one on a lily pad. That shape . . . the round
blob with the saucerlike bottom. Suddenly, old movies were running
through my head: Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth
Stood Still. Together, the frog and lily pad looked like a fifties
B-movie flying saucer! As I drew, I saw that the frogs and toads
werent actually flying. It was the lily pads that had the
power of flight, like a carpet from The Arabian Nights.
For the Cricket cover I showed
a group of frogs rising up out of a swamp, heading off to who knows
what mischief. I liked the picture a lot, and I began to like the
frogs and toads themselves. They had distinct personalities. They
looked pretty silly, yet up in the air they clearly felt dignified,
noble, and a bit smug. I wanted to know more about them. As I did
when I looked at a painting as a child, I wondered what happened
before and after this scene. Now I could find out.
Appropriately, I was in midair when I
finally got around to thinking seriously about "the frog book."
I was sitting in an airplane, looking through my sketchbook, and
I thought, Okay, if I were a frog, and I had discovered I could
fly, where would I go? What would I do?
Images quickly began to appear to me,
and for fear of losing them I hastily scribbled barely legible shapes
onto the page; a startled man at a kitchen table; a terrified dog
under attack; a roomful of frogs bathed in the glow of a television.
A chronology began to take shape, and within an hour I had worked
out a complete layout, which remained essentially unchanged through
to the finished book. Everything was there, the use of the panels,
the times of day, and the title.
At least as often as people ask me where
I came up with the idea for the book, they want to know, "Why Tuesday?"
When I decided to punctuate the story with the times of the day,
it became clear that the mysterious element had to do with the particular
day of the week when these strange things happened. So I tried to
decide what the funniest day of the week was. I immediately discounted
the weekend; Saturday and Sunday had too many connotations, as did
Friday. Monday was next to go, being the first day of the work week,
which left Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Wednesdays spelling
had always bothered me, so it was out. Thursday was all right, but
the more I said "T-u-e-s-d-a-y," the more I like the "ooze" quality
it had. It seemed to go with frogs.
A wordless book offers a different kind
of an experience from one with text, for both the author and the
reader. There is no authors voice telling the story. Each
viewer reads the book in his or her own way. The reader is an integral
part of the storytelling process. As a result, there are as many
versions of what happened that Tuesday night as there are readers.
For some, the dog in the story is rightfully defending his territory
against amphibian invaders, and their sympathy lies with the dog
when the frogs get the best of him. For others, the dog is a humorless
bully who gets his comeuppance. As the author of a wordless book,
I dont have to concern myself about whether the readers
interpretation of each and every detail is the same as mine. My
own view has no more, and no less, validity than that of any other
viewer. Since my intent was for the book, as a whole, to make people
laugh, all that matters is that the pictures are funny.
A series of individually funny pictures,
however, does not necessarily add up to a successful story. The
book was very carefully plotted, and details were developed in ways
that move the story forward as logically as possible, from the full
moon that rises slowly in the sky that first Tuesday night, to the
gibbous moon that appears a week later at the end. By placing my
characters in the context of a familiar reality, I hoped to entice
readers to take that great leap of faith and believe that frogs,
and perhaps pigs, too, could flyif the conditions were just
One result of winning the Caldecott Medal
is the opportunity to travel and meet a wide variety of people who
are interested in my book. Readers can be quite passionate about
their perceptions. Ive heard heated arguments over what Tuesday
sounds like. Some people are sure its a silent squadron of
frogs gliding through a still summer night. Others are equally positive
its full of zooming cartoon sound effects accompanied by Wagners
"Ride of the Valkyries."
It has been great hearing children tell
me how much they love "those frogs" and how funny they think the
book is. One first grade class wrote their own book, Wednesday.
In it, their school is subjected to some interesting revenge fantasies
involving scissors and math papers.
I keep waiting for letters telling me
how frightening Tuesday is. Im waiting only because
many peopleand by people I mean adultskeep bringing
up this possibility, whether Im at a signing, a speaking engagement,
or on the "Today" show. Fortunately, kids know funny when they see
it. If, after reading Tuesday one evening before bed, they look
out the window and see frogs flying bywell, we should all
be so lucky.
Im always delighted when teachers
and librarians tell me about the ways they use wordless books. These
books have become springboards for all kinds of writing, bookmaking
and even drama classes. Teachers of English as a second language
tell me that wordless books are particularly useful in helping students
express their thoughts in English. The students arent inhibited
by the burden of having to translate literally. That kind of interaction
between books and children is very exciting. To know that my own
pictures may be inspiring imaginations with the same wonder I felt
as a child is a very satisfying feeling.
In 1989, when Free Fall was given
an Honor Medal, I felt supported in my interest in the wordless
format. By awarding Tuesday the 1992 Caldecott Medal, this
years committee has challenged the perception of the wordless
book as a novelty. I thank all the committee members for the great
honor of being included among the distinguished roster of medal
winners. I hope Lynd Ward would be pleased.
I would like to thank a few others who
have played a part in my being here tonight.
My thanks to my family for a lifetime
of encouragement and support.
To Tom Sgouros and David Macaulay, two
unfailingly generous teachers.
To everyone at Clarion for making it
such a fun place to publish books, and to Carol Goldenberg and Dinah
Stevenson for good advice and great humor.
To Dorothy Briley, who was the first
person to give me a chance to be an author. When I presented her
with the pencil dummy of Tuesday, which was not the book
she was expecting, I thank her for laughing.
To Dilys Evans, who has been with me
every step of the way, always ready with biscuits and a pot of tea.
Finally to my wife, Kim, who is a part
of every book I do. Thank you for asking me to the Sadie Hawkins