February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Harry the Dirty Dog” Illustrator Margaret Bloy Graham Dies at 94

Margaret Bloy GrahamBeloved children’s book illustrator Margaret Bloy Graham, best known for the “Harry the Dirty Dog” series, died January 22 at age 94 in Cambridge, MA.

The “Harry” books kicked off in 1956 with Graham’s husband Gene Zion’s Harry the Dirty Dog (HarperCollins). The title was one of many upon which the husband-wife, author-illustrator team collaborated, and this treasured picture book tells the story of a troublesome pooch who runs away from home to avoid taking a bath, only to become so covered in grime and filth along the way that his own family fails to recognize him. Graham’s delightful artistic style has a nostalgia-inducing quality that made Harry the Dirty Dog an instant classic and that easily calls to mind the idyllic tone of a 1950s childhood. Harry was one of many books that Graham worked on with Zion.

A mischievous, black and white-spotted scamp of a dog, Harry was described by SLJ “Fuse #8” blogger Betsy Bird as the “canine Dennis the Menace of his generation,” and the polled educators and librarians voted the book #43 on Bird’s “Top 100 Picture Book Poll Results.” The book also made the National Education Association’s Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.

“When we look at classic books for kids, the cream really does rise to the top,” said Bird. “Margaret Bloy Graham? She was the cream, and her Harry is going to be remembered for a very long time to come.”

Other titles in the series included No Roses for Harry! (1958), Harry and the Lady Next Door (1960), and Harry by the Sea (1965, all HarperCollins).

Harry the Dirty DogThough “Harry” remains Graham’s most well-known collaboration, it was far from her only one. Her illustrations for legendary children’s book author Charlotte Zolotow’s The Storm Book (Harper, 1951), a gentle look at a child’s first thunderstorm, won her a Caldecott Honor. A versatile artist, she also provided the illustrations for renowned poet Jack Prelutsky’s humor collection Pack Rat’s Day (Macmillan, 1974), while in the 1980s, she collaborated with longtime friend and “Little Bear” author Else Holmelund Minarik on What If? (1987) and It’s Spring (1989, both Greenwillow).

Born in Toronto in 1920, Graham developed an interest in the arts at an early age, training at Toronto’s Art Gallery when she was 10. She attended the University of Toronto in 1942, earning a BA in art history.

Graham moved to New York City soon after graduating and began working at Condé Nast, as well as doing freelance illustration and design, where she met Zion. The two married in 1948 and at Graham’s encouragement soon began teaming up to create picture books. Inspired by Graham’s drawing of a group of children picking apples, Zion penned their first title, All Falling Down (HarperCollins, 1951).

Theirs was a fruitful collaboration, yielding 13 books and one Caldecott Honor, for the sweetly charming Really Spring (HarperCollins, 1956), about a group of city dwellers who, tired of awaiting spring, rely on pencil and paints to bring on the season a little early.

Though the couple divorced in 1966, Graham continued to illustrate and even began writing her own books, including Be Nice to Spiders (1968) and yet another canine series, the “Benjy” books (both HarperCollins). She remarried in 1972, to Oliver W. Holmes Jr.

Graham made her mark on the world of children’s literature, and her works are still celebrated.

“Harry the Dirty Dog is a character who generations of children have embraced as if he were their own beloved pet,” said Kate Jackson, editor in chief at HarperCollins Children’s Books, in a prepared statement. “We at HarperCollins will miss our long time treasured author and friend.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.

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