Bill Peet, Author and Illustrator of Children's Books

A Laughing Bear Illustration by Bill Peet
Artwork by Bill Peet. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Bill Peet, A Man of Many Talents

As well known as Bill Peet became for his children's books, Peet was even more well known for his work at Walt Disney Studios as an animator and writer for major Disney movies. It's not often that a person achieves national recognition in two careers but such was the case with Bill Peet who truly was a man of many talents.

A Brief Biography of Bill Peet, Picture Book Creator

Bill Peet was born William Bartlett Peed (later changing his last name to Peet)  on January 29, 1915 in rural Indiana.

He grew up in Indianapolis and from childhood on was always drawing. In fact, Peet often got in trouble for doodling in school, but one teacher encouraged him, and his interest in art continued. He received his art education through an art scholarship to John Herron Art Institute, which is now a part of Indiana University.

In 1937, when he was 22 years old, Bill Peet began working for Walt Disney Studios and shortly thereafter married Margaret Brunst. Despite clashes with Walt Disney, Peet stayed at Walt Disney Studios for 27 years. While he started as an animator, Peet quickly became known for his ability to develop a story, having honed his storytelling abilities telling nightly stories to his two sons.

Bill Peet worked on such animated classics as Fantasia, Song of the South, Cinderella, The Jungle Book. 101 Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone and other Disney movies. While still working at Disney, Peet began writing children's books.

His first book was published in 1959. Unhappy with the way Walt Disney treated his employees, Peet finally left Disney Studios in 1964 to become a full time writer of children's books.

Children's Books by Bill Peet

Bill Peet's illustrations were at the heart of his stories. Even his autobiography for children is illustrated.

Peet's love for animals and his sense of the ridiculous, coupled with a concern for the environment and for the feelings of others, make his books effective on several levels: as enjoyable stories and as gentle lessons on caring for the earth and getting along with one another.

His clever illustrations, in pen and ink and colored pencil, often feature funny looking imaginary animals, like the wumps, the kweeks, and the fandangos. Many of Peet's 35 books are still available at public libraries and bookstores. A number of his books are award winners. His own story, Bill Peet: An Autobiography, was designated a Caldecott Honor book in 1990 in recognition of the quality of Peet's illustrations.

While most of Peet's books are picture books, our family's favorite is Capyboppy, which is designed for intermediate readers and is 62 pages long. This entertaining book is the true story of the capybara who lived with Bill and Margaret Peet and their children. We discovered the book, which has black and white drawings on every page, just at the time our local zoo acquired a capybarra and that gave it a good deal of extra meaning for us.

Other children's books by Bill Peet include The Wump World, Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, The Wingdingdilly, Chester, The Worldly Pig, The Caboose Who Got Loose, How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head and his last book, Cock-a-Doodle Dudley.

Bill Peet died on May 11, 2002 at home in Studio City, California at the age of 87. However, his artistry lives on in his movies and his many children's books that have sold millions and continue to be enjoyed by children in the United States and many other countries.

(Sources: Bill Peet website, IMDb: Bill Peet, New York Times: Bill Peet Obituary, 5/18/2002)