William Pène du Bois

William Pène du Bois

William Pène du Bois, (May 9, 1916February 5, 1993), was a French American author and illustrator. He was best known for "The Twenty-One Balloons", published in April, 1947 by The Viking Press. From 1953 to 1960, he worked with George Plimpton as the Art Editor for "The Paris Review".

He died of a stroke on February 5, 1993, in Nice, France.

Early life

Pène du Bois was born in Nutley, New Jersey. His father, Guy Pène du Bois, was a noted art critic and painter known for his landscapes and portraits. When he was eight, his family moved to France and he attended the Lycee Hoche at Versailles and the Lycee de Nice. His family returned to Nutley when he was 14. After high school he accepted a scholarship to the Carnegie Technical School of Architecture. But college plans dissolved when he sold a book he wrote to pass the time during a vacation. "The Great Geppy" was published before his 19th birthday.

Writing career

By the time he entered the army at age 25, he had written and illustrated five more books. He spent his years in the army (1941-1945) with an artillery unit stationed in Bermuda. He worked as a correspondent for "Yank" magazine. He also edited the camp newspaper and illustrated strategic maps.

In addition to writing and illustrating his own books Pène du Bois illustrated books written by Jules Verne, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Rumer Godden, and John Steinbeck. He also illustrated magazine articles and advertisements. He was the founding editor of "The Paris Review". In 1960 he developed an interest in vintage cars, going to great pains and expense to refurbish a 1931 Brewster Croydon Coupe Rolls-Royce P11. Many of his papers are in the collection of the New York Public Library, Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Among the highlights of his career were winning the Newbery Medal in 1948 for "The Twenty-One Balloons", and Caldecott Honors in 1952 for "Bear Party" and 1957 for "Lion".

Some of his books ("Bear Party", "Lion") are picture books with a minimum of text, and properly classified as children's literature.

Others, however, such as "The Three Policemen", "The Great Geppy", "The Twenty-One Balloons", "Squirrel Hotel", "Peter Graves", "The Giant", appeal to all ages. These books exhibit whimsical ingenuity in story and illustrations.

Though not usually so classified, these books seem to qualify as science fiction. Their interest lies more in their imaginative elaboration of ideas than in their characters. These ideas are exhibited in great detail. Some are fantastic, but many are plausible, and some (such as the Balloon Merry-Go-Round in "The Twenty-one Balloons") might well be feasible.

Personal life

Pène du Bois married debutante Jane Bouche in 1943; they later divorced, and in 1955 he married theatrical designer Willa Kim.


*"The Great Geppy" (1940)is about a striped horse (NOT a zebra) that is hired to solve a robbery at a circus. To investigate the crime, Geppy poses as a variety of circus entertainers, including a freak, a tightrope walker, and a lion tamer. In the end he discovers that there never was a theft; the culprit broke into the safe to donate money to the struggling circus, not steal any. For his success Geppy is honored as a hero and is even appointed the circus's newest star-- he gives an extraordinary performance when shot from a cannon.

*"The Twenty-One Balloons" (1947) concerns a schoolteacher who decides to spend a year in a balloon, but, due to an accident, lands on the island of Krakatoa. It turns out that the island is populated by twenty families who share the wealth of a secret diamond mine. They have used their wealth to build elaborate houses which also serve as restaurants. They have a calendar with a 20-day month. On A day, everyone eats in Mr. and Mrs. A's American restaurant; on B day, in Mrs. and Mrs. B's British chop house; on C day, in Mr. and Mrs. C's Chinese restaurant; on D day, in Mr. and Mrs. D's Dutch restaurant, and so forth. Mr. M's Moroccan house features many ingenious (and well-depicted) inventions, such as a living room in which the furniture is electrified like amusement-park bumper cars. When Krakatoa explodes, the families and the protagonist escape on a flying platform lofted by twenty balloons.

*"Peter Graves" (1950) is a novel about marketing. The title character is a well-meaning but mischievous boy who encounters a gentlemanly and not-very-mad scientist named Houghton Furlong. Furlong is the inventor of an antigravity material named Furloy, and a Furloy-based invention called "the ball that bounces higher than the height from which you drop it." In an unfortunate accident with the latter invention, Peter destroys Houghton's house. Little of value is left in the wreckage except six balls of Furloy, each about the size of a tennis ball, with an antigravity pull of 25 pounds-force (110 newtons) each. Peter commits himself to spending the summer with Houghton in an attempt to earn the $45,000 necessary to rebuild his house. The implied puzzle is: how can Peter and Houghton make use of the six Furloy balls to earn $45,000?

*"Squirrel Hotel" (1952) is a bittersweet story about a man who builds an elaborate hotel for squirrels, with illustrations of the dollhouse-like structure full of squirrels sniffing, playing, sliding down spiral slides, and generating electricity for the lighting by running around a squirrel cage. The man disappears and the narrator tries to find him by tracing his purchases (48 four-poster canopied beds-- in miniature, of course; 1 gross flashlight bulbs; 2 electric motors, Meccano; 6 American flags; etc.)

*"The Giant" (1954) is a story about an eight-year-old boy who has grown to be seven stories tall. This is because he has "a perfect digestive system", which the text explains as follows: if the boy eats one pound of food, he gains one pound of body mass. Illustrations show the various arrangements family and friends have designed in order to take care of him. He is sweet and well-mannered but great effort is taken to conceal him because of the fear and hostility giants arouse. The narrator befriends him and comes up with a plan to introduce him to the public in such a way that they will accept him so he will not need to spend his life in concealment.

The Lion (1957)

*"Lazy Tommy Pumpkinhead" (1966)

*"The Alligator Case" (1965)

*"The Horse in the Camel Suit" (1967) The town policeman, in a huff, locks up a show troupe and a young detective contrives to set them free without hurting the policeman's feelings. He discovers, however, that they actually are criminals, and he must get them behind bars again.

*"Porko von Popbutton" (1969) A 274 pound thirteen-year-old boy whose sole passion is food is miserable when sent to boarding school until he accidentally gets on the hockey team.

*"The Forbidden Forest" (1978) Lady Adelaide, a boxing kangaroo, helps to defeat the German army, thus becoming a heroine of the "Great War."
*"The 3 Policemen,(1965) or, Young Bottsford of Farbe Island" The ingenuity of ten-year-old Bottsford enables the three policemen of an isolated idyllic isle to catch thieves who have been stealing the islanders' fish and fishing nets.

*"Otto at Sea" (1958)

*"Otto in Texas"(1959) Otto the giant dog visits Texas, where he discovers a dinosaur skeleton and a tunnel used by oil rustlers.

*"Otto In Africa" (1961)

*"Otto And The Magic Potatoes" (1970)

*"Bear Party" (1951)

*"Elizabeth The Cow Ghost" (1964)

*"Bear Circus" (1971)

External links

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