Late author of Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (Houghton Mifflin, 1965) Bernard Waber—who died May 16 of last year at the age of 91 and was the creator of the legendary storybook character Lyle the Crocodile—is being honored with an exhibit of his work “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile & Friends: The Art of Bernard Waber” at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. The exhibit encompasses 85 of Waber’s original picture book art and runs until June 8.
Waber published several books about Lyle—all published by Houghton Miffin—including Lyle Finds his Mother (1978), Lovable Lyle (1977), and Lyle at the Office (1996).
In celebration of the exhibit, the museum hosted a reception March 29 that brought together authors, illustrators, librarians, and lovers of children’s books. At the event children literature historian and curator of the exhibit Leonard Marcus moderated a discussion with librarian-turned-children’s book author Johanna Hurwitz, 2014 winner of the Sibert Medal for Parrots Over Puerto Rico (Lee & Low, 2013) Susan L. Roth, and Waber’s daughter Paulis Waber.
Both Hurwitz and Roth knew Waber through their affiliation with a Long Island writing group that included children’s science book writers Seymour Simon and Larry Pringle—as well as Caldecott-winning children’s author Laura Vaccaro Seeger—who were all in attendance at the event.
During the panel, the three discussed Waber’s grandfatherly qualities and his quest for perfection that caused him to “redraw and redraw.” Hurwitz, a former-librarian at Great Neck (NY) Library, stressed his strength as an author highlighting the strong text of his books that included Ira Sleeps Over (1975), Nobody is Perfick (1971), and Do You See a Mouse (1995) all published by Houghton Mifflin.
“He had a love of typeface,” said Paulis who’d collaborated with her father in his later years and mentioned that their only artistic disagreement was over typeface.
As for his art, it was loose and spontaneous “in feeling more closely attuned to the kinetic, free-wheeling image-making of the illustrators in Waber’s pantheon—Ludwig Bemelmans, William Steig, Tomi Ungerer and James Marshall,” Marcus is quoted in the exhibit’s catalog.
Also in attendance at the exhibit was Anita Silvey, creator of Book-A-Day Almanac. She enjoyed the exhibit, because it showed Waber’s versatility, his attraction to the modern art of his time, and the dedication that went into creating each book.
“Although Bernie could make art look spontaneous, so much thought and consideration proceeded each page,” said Silvey who worked for Waber’s publisher Houghton Mifflin. “The exhibit helps fans of [Waber’s characters] Lyle and Ira understand the process that made these classic characters possible.”
Waber will also be honored on May 14 with the dedication of a Literary Landmark at the Yorkville Community School on East 88th Street in New York City. The United for Libraries plaque will honor Waber and his creation Lyle. Waber’s The House on East 88th Street (Houghton Mifflin, 1962) first introduced Lyle the friendly crocodile who wandered onto Mrs. Primm’s New York City doorstep.