Jose Aruego, best known for illustrating Robert Kraus’s Leo the Late Bloomer (Windmill, 1971), died August 9 in New York City on his 80th birthday.
Born in the Philippines in 1932, Aruego practiced briefly as a lawyer before moving to New York City to study graphic arts and advertising at Parsons School of Design. Later, he worked as a cartoonist for The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post, which prepared him for a career as a children’s book illustrator.
Aruego published more than three dozen books, but many librarians, teachers, kids, and parents say his most beloved work was Leo the Late Bloomer. Aruego’s signature vibrant, colorful style was ideal for depicting Leo, a tiger cub who learns to speak, draw, and write at his own pace. This tale of a youngster who marches to the beat of his own drummer has resonated with many young readers for years.
During school visits, Aruego usually gave students a quick lesson in drawing an alligator, and teachers often reported seeing alligator sketches all over the schools after one of his appearances.
Aruego often teamed up with painter Ariane Dewey, who provided the color for his drawings. Their collaborations include Robert Kraus’s Where Are You Going, Little Mouse? (Greenwillow, 1986), Craig Kee Strete’s They Thought They Saw Him (Greenwillow, 1996), and Mary and Michael Sampson’s Star of the Circus (Holt, 1997).
In 2006, he and Dewey reunited to produce The Last Laugh (Dial), a picture book that conveys a strong anti-bullying message almost solely through images. SLJ called it “droll and accessible.”
“Jose Aruego was a gentle soul and an illustrator with a deep understanding of children and a true sense of fun.” said Aruego’s publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers. “He will be greatly missed.”