JOSE ARUEGO (1932-2012)
Author and illustrator José Aruego is known for his "imaginative and witty" illustrations, as Booklist contributor Emily Melton noted in a review of Birthday Rhymes, Special Times. In his self-illustrated books, and the many titles he has illustrated in collaboration with his former wife, Ariane Dewey, Aruego has built a body of work noted for its inventiveness, colorful approach, and enduring appeal. Aruego combines humor and sensitivity in the pen-and-ink drawings of funny animals that have become his hallmark. The award-winning titles Look What I Can Do! and We Hide, You Seek—both coauthored with Dewey—are representative of his minimalist approach: Look What I Can Do! consists of twenty words, while We Hide, You Seek is told in three sentences. In his text and illustrations, Aruego's "appeal lies in the universality of his themes, his deep understanding of human nature, and his positive outlook on life," according to Ida J. Appel and Marion P. Turkish in Language Arts.
Aruego was born in Manila, Philippines, into a family of lawyers and politicians. His early interests ran not to matters of law, but to comic books and pet animals. At one time, his household included three horses; seven dogs and their puppies; half-a-dozen cats and their kittens; a yard full of chickens, roosters, and pigeons; a pond of frogs, tadpoles, and ducks; and three fat pigs. The happy times Aruego spent in the company of such animals is still apparent in his work. As Appel and Turkish pointed out in their Language Arts profile, "Aruego creates unusual animals which have endeared themselves to children as well as adults. With a touch of magic and genius, he manages to change a commonplace theme into an object of irresistible charm."
Despite his lack of interest in legal matters, Aruego followed his father's example and earned a law degree from the University of the Philippines in 1955. However, it did not take long for him to realize that he was not suited to the legal profession. He practiced law for only three months, handling one case, which he lost. After abandoning his legal practice, he moved to New York City to pursue his boyhood interest in humorous illustration. He enrolled at the Parsons School of Design, studied graphic arts and advertising, and developed an interest in line drawing. Aruego's first job after graduating in 1959 was at a Greenwich Village studio, where he pasted feathers on the angel wings of mannequins. Laid off shortly after the Christmas season, he found work with advertising agencies, design studios, and magazines. Once he began selling original cartoons to magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Look, he left advertising in favor of a riskier freelance cartooning career. "Every Wednesday I would go to the cartoon editor with fifteen or sixteen drawings in hand, from which he might select one for publication," Aruego recalled in a biographical portrait released by Greenwillow Books. "The tension was terrible, because selling cartoons was how I made my living. But I learned a lot from the rejected work, so it wasn't wasted. The sink-or-swim experience of drawing cartoons was how I learned to make the most of a small amount of space."
By 1968 Aruego had turned most of his attention to writing and illustrating books for children. His first book, published the following year, was The King and His Friends. Illustrated with cartoon-like drawings in red, pink, gray, and tan, The King and His Friends is a fantasy about a griffin and two dragons who entertain their friend King Doowah by styling themselves into decorative objects—such as a book stand, a throne, and a bed. Although School Library Journal reviewer Elma Fesler dubbed the book "a non-story that serves only to showcase the artistic dexterity of Mr. Aruego," the book's success landed him illustration work and also launched his writing career.
Many of Aruego's most popular books are collaborations with Dewey in which he draws the outlines and designs the pages while Dewey paints the colors, often using vivid school poster paint. Despite their 1973 divorce, the couple has found success in their professional partnership, producing such popular books as We Hide, You Seek, Weird Friends: Unlikely Allies in the Animal Kingdom, and Splash! Eight years in the making and published in 1979, the twenty-seven-word We Hide, You Seek uses a popular children's game to present a lesson in camouflage that both instructs and entertains. A clumsy rhino, joining his East African animal friends in a game of hide-and-seek, bumbles through the jungle, accidentally flushing out the hiders by sneezing, stepping on their tails, or tripping over them. Through their careful use of shape and color, Aruego and Dewey hide the animals in their natural settings in such a way that young children can still find them, and then show them clearly jumping out of their cover. "This is done in a series of double-page spreads," explained New York Times Book Review contributor William Cole. "First spread a scene full of animals blending with their habitation, second spread with [a] clumsy rhino barging in and sending them fleeing." The story ends playfully with the rhino taking a turn at hiding—cleverly concealing himself in a herd of rhinos. Endpapers identify each species pictured. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, We Hide, You Seek "combines an invitation to develop one's powers of observation with the entertainment evolving from antic play." "Even in scenes with the wildest unscrambling of creatures … the chaos is controlled," noted Wilson Library Journal critics Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard of the book, which was re-released in a boardbook edition in 2002. As McCann and Richard concluded, with We Hide, You Seek "Aruego and Dewey have made an inspired and ingenious book."
In Splash!, an easy reader, youngsters are introduced to Sam and Nelly, a pair of bears whose attempts to fish for dinner in a river turn to play as a result of their clumsiness. "New readers will enjoy the slapstick of the klutzy friends," wrote Booklist contributor Hazel Roch- man, while School Library Journal reviewer Anne Knickerbocker cited the "short sentences, simple vocabularies, and colorful illustrations." Weird Friends focuses on over a dozen animal twosomes that rely on each other for survival in the natural world they both share. The team of Aruego and Dewey take on bullying in The Last Laugh, which finds a snake slithering up to other animals and giving them a sneaky scare, until his habitual tormenting renders him ridiculous. In Kirkus Reviews, a critic wrote that The Last Laugh is "silly enough" to generate "a great belly laugh" among readers, and School Library Journal contributor Rachel G. Payne dubbed the illustrations a "droll and accessible" complement to the duo's "lighthearted tale."
As an illustrating team, Aruego and Dewey have contributed to the texts of many popular authors, including Robert Kraus, Larry Dane Brimmer, Mirra Ginsburg, Mitchell Sharmatt, George Shannon, Judy Sierra, Raffi, Crescent Dragonwagon, and the father-and-son team of Joseph and James Bruchac. In league with Kraus, the artistic duo has produced a bevy of humorous and popular picture books: Leo the Late Bloomer, Herman the Helper, Owliver, Boris Bad Enough, Musical Max, Mouse Work, and Little Louie the Baby Bloomer, and among others. Musical Max tells the tale of a musical hippo whose eternal grooving to music drives his neighbors crazy. When Max decides to put his instruments away, however, his neighbors complain of the quiet. MacCann and Richard, writing in the Wilson Library Bulletin, commented that Aruego and Dewey "help Kraus delineate and lampoon Max the Mighty." The two critics praised the "bright, bulbous images" that fit together like a "jigsaw puzzle" and which include "minute mouth and eye details that suggest individuality."
In Leo the Late Bloomer a tiger finally blooms under the watchful eye of his parents, while Little Louie the Baby Bloomer finds Leo worried when his little tiger brother is also unable to do anything right. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly drew attention to the "splashy" illustrations that help to make Little Louie the Baby Bloomer "as endearing as Leo's attempts were in the original incarnation." Lisa S. Murphy, reviewing the same picture book for School Library Journal, predicted that "young readers will appreciate the engaging visual humor as the illustrations show the results of [Leo's] attempts."
A mouse is at the center of many of Kraus's rhyming texts, including Mouse in Love, in which a "simple rhyming text is enhanced by Aruego and Dewey's ink-watercolor-and-pastel illustrations," according to School Library Journal contributor Holly Belli. A contributor for Publishers Weekly paid special attention to the "endearingly sketchy mouse" that inhabits "brilliantly blended multicolor backdrops," and further commented that Aruego and Dewey "know how to pack a wide range of experience into a child-size universe."
Working with Ginsburg, Aruego and Dewey have illustrated several books of international folktales, among them Two Greedy Bears, which was adapted from a Hungarian tale about two animals with a bad case of sibling rivalry. "Popular illustrators José Aruego and Ariane Dewey bring the story to life with their artwork," asserted Stephanie G. Miller in a School Library Journal review of the book. In Merry-Go-Round: Four Stories Ginsburg collects several animal fables. Her "simple, spare stories are well served by the bouncy, bright illustrations," noted Booklist contributor Annie Ayres, the reviewer further commenting on Aruego and Dewey's "amusing" depiction of Ginsburg's animal characters. Virginia Opocensky wrote in School Library Journal that, "as is typical of the artists' work, bright, incongruous colors prevail in their depiction of expressive, animated creatures."
Collaborating with Shannon, Aruego and Dewey have created lizards and frogs and snakes in a handful of picture book titles. In Lizard Song, a bear tries to copy the very personal song of a lizard, but can only memorize it when he makes its lyrics fit his bear life. Reviewing the Spanish translation of the title, Rose Zertuche noted in School Library Journal that the "bright and cheerful" illustrations feature "colors [that] jump off the pages." Lizard also stars in Lizard's Home, which finds Snake usurping the protagonist's favorite rock. Because no amount of pleading will get rid of Snake, Lizard proposes a public contest to determine the rock's true owner. "Shannon's sprightly, pointed story once again is happily illustrated by Dewey and Aruego's bright watercolors outlined in ink," wrote Donna Beales in a Booklist review of Lizard's Home. "Aruego and Dewey's characteristic art, favoring high-intensity colors and cartoonlike lines, supports a cast of appealing and expressive characters," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Patricia Manning, reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, praised the illustrators' "ebullient watercolors of flower-filled landscapes and colorful critters." More such critters abound in Shannon's April Showers, which Horn Book critic Mary M. Burns described as "bright, splashy, and fun—a spring tonic." Although Booklist critic Lauren Peterson felt that Shannon's simple storyline "doesn't quite measure up," she appreciated Aruego and Dewey's illustrations, writing that "bright, cheerful watercolors splash across the pages, and … make for lots of fun."
In their work for other authors, Aruego and Dewey have teamed up on picture books ranging from alphabets to folk tales to birthday rhymes. Reviewing Bobbye S. Goldstein's Birthday Rhymes, Special Times in School Library Journal, Dot Minzer praised the "oversized, whimsical animals that literally leap across each bordered page." A chameleon's protective coloration is the subject of Craig Strete's They Thought They Saw Him, which features illustrations that "perfectly complement … [the] witty text," according to Jerry D. Flack in School Library Journal. "Children will love the bright and bold colors splashed cheerfully across the double-page watercolor paintings that are … humorous and sly," concluded Flack. Also reviewing They Thought They Saw Him, Horn Book reviewer Hanna B. Zeiger wrote that the humor of the chameleon's game and the frustration of those trying to find him "are captured perfectly in Aruego and Dewey's striking watercolor-and-ink drawings." A book of months is served up in Dragonwagon's Alligators and Others All Year Long, for which Aruego and Dewey provide "fluid, exuberant art," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, Judy Constantinides felt that Dewey and Aruego's "pen-and-ink and gouache illustrations are some of the best they've done."
More animals are served up in Antarctic Antics by Judy Sierra, Safe, Warm, and Snug by Stephen R. Swinburne, and both How Chipmunk Got His Stripes: A Tale of Bragging and Teasing and Turtle's Race with Beaver: A Traditional Seneca Story, the last two by the Bruchacs. A colony of penguins take center ice in Antarctic Antics, and "whimsical, cartoonlike pen-and-watercolor illustrations of cavorting penguins reinforce the playful mood of the verses," according to School Library Journal reviewer Sally M. Dow. Eleven animal species are portrayed in Safe, Warm, and Snug, "an interesting beginning science book" that, according to Marian Drabkin in School Library Journal, is transformed into a "celebration of the animal world" by Aruego and Dewey's "brightly colored, humorous, and distinctive illustrations." A Native American porquoi tale is featured in How Chipmunk Got His Stripes, for which Aruego and Dewey "create lush landscapes," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. "While the story begs to be told, Aruego and Dewey's vibrantly hued trademark watercolors add significantly to the humor," concluded Grace Oliff in a School Library Journal review of the Bruchacs' folk-tale adaptation. Reviewing Turtle's Race with Beaver, which presents a variation on Aesop's fable about the tortoise and the hare, Rosalyn Pierini wrote in her School Library Journal review that the illustrators' "cheerful" ink, pastel, and opaque watercolor images provide "a wonderful match for this well-told tale" by the Bruchacs.
Although he has written and illustrated more than sixty children's books, Aruego told his publisher that he is still learning his craft. "Each project teaches me something new and makes me a better artist," he stated in Greenwillow's biographical profile. "Each book brings me closer to children." As Appel and Turkish concluded, "With each succeeding book, Aruego's magic grows, enchanting and delighting both young and old."