William Steig was an amazing children's book author and illustrator. He's the fourth author I'm featuring in my All About Authors series. So far, I've introduced you to Leo Lionni, Bill Peet, and Julia Donaldson. Steig is one of our favorite authors because his stories are captivating and complex, feature a bit of magic, and have wonderful illustrations. You're probably familiar with some of his work, and I'd love to encourage you to go and find some more of his books to enjoy with your children.
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A Bit About William Steig & His Books
William Steig was born in New York in 1907. He worked as an illustrator for The New Yorker, completing thousands of drawings and over 100 covers for the magazine. At the age of 61 Steig began writing and illustrating children's books. He wrote over 30 books and won Caldecott, Newberryy, and National Book Awards. Steig passed away in 2003 at the age of 95.
Steig's books are not all flowers and rainbows, which I think is why so many children love them. There is just a hint of darkness, mischief, danger, or sadness in most of his stories. It isn't ever overwhelming and the stories all have happy endings, but children are drawn to reality and can relate to many those themes.
Steig also uses wonderfully rich language that is full of complex sentences and challenging vocabulary. During one story, I read aloud the words, "odoriferous wretch" and the girls immediately asked what those words meant. After I had explained them, Lena asked, "Then why doesn't he just say, 'Stinky bad person?!'" I explained that she had just learned two new words because Steig had chosen to use them!
Our Favorite William Steig Books:
This is probably Steig's most famous book, and it won a Caldecott medal! Sylvester is a donkey who finds a magic pebble and manages to accidentally turn himself into a giant rock. After a year of waiting through the changing seasons, Sylvester's parents find him and miraculously restore him back to his usual self. The first time I read this story, I went through waves of emotion- enjoying the pleasant story, terribly sad for his parents, anxious that they would all be reunited, and then overjoyed at the reunion. I actually cried. Silly, I know, but this is one of those books that perfectly captures and conveys emotions and makes us feel (even though it's about a donkey). It's a great story for older preschoolers or early elementary children.
Doctor De Soto has been a favorite in our house for years. It does feature a mouse as the main character, after all! Doctor De Soto is a dentist who works alongside his wife. The two are faced with a challenging patient; a fox wants to eat them for supper after they've repaired his tooth. Instead, the De Sotos are able to cleverly outsmart the fox. I think that kids enjoy this book because of the anticipation it builds. Will the mice be eaten? What is their clever trick? My girls have heard it dozens of times, but still sit on the edge of their seat every time! There is also a sequel, Doctor De Soto Goes To Africa.
I had no idea that the DreamWorks movie series about Shrek was based on this William Steig book until I started gathering library books for this post! The movies are funny, but the book is downright hilarious. There were lots of giggles as we read about the world's ugliest monster and his adventures.
Amos & Boris is a sweet story about an unlikely friendship. Amos the mouse and Boris the whale become friends, and they are able to treasure and maintain their friendship despite years and distance between them. When Boris finds himself in trouble, Amos is able to save his friend even though he is very small. This story will remind you a lot of the Julia Donaldson book The Snail And The Whale. Since there was a mouse involved, Maggie was an instant fan.
Here's another magical story! Pearl the pig finds a magical talking bone as she walks home through the forest. When Pearl and the bone are captured by a wily fox, the two concoct a plan and manage to escape. This book is probably the scariest of the ones we read. Pearl is put into some genuinely tricky situations that some young readers may fine frightening. While the story is clever and turns out okay in the end, you may want to preview this one before reading it to your kids.
C D B! is a great book about word play for your early elementary children to enjoy. The title, C D B! is actually supposed to be read and interpreted as "See the bee!" Each page is nothing but several letters, along with an illustration to help children decipher what the text is supposed to be. Lena LOVED trying to figure these out! It's a great introduction to word puzzles.
Here's another book that features clever word play. I love acting confused as my girls talk about Pete's A Pizza and making them try to get me to understand that they're NOT saying, "Pizza Pizza." In the story, Pete is in a foul mood so his father decides to turn him into a pizza. He kneads him, sprinkles various toppings all over him, puts him in the oven (the couch), and cuts him into slices. It's a sweet story that may inspire some parents to play with their children in a creative and playful way.
Wizzil is a funny little off-beat story about a witch. Wizzil is nasty old witch who thinks she's supposed to be bothering someone. She goes after a local farmer, and through a series of mishaps ends up falling in love with him. My girls thought this was a silly story, and I love the rich vocabulary. William Steig does most of his illustrations himself, but Wizzil was illustrated by Quentin Blake whose work you may recognize from many Roald Dahl books like Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and dozens of other picture books.
William Steig also wrote several short chapter books for children. The girls enjoyed listening to Abel's Island as an audiobook as we travelled in the car the last several weeks. It features a very distinguished mouse (imagine that) who is stranded on an island, desperately trying to get home to his wife. Abel attempts to escape the island, struggles to survive, reexamines many of his ideas about his cushy life at home, and eventually makes it back to his wife. This made a great story to experience together- I probably wouldn't have wanted Lena to read it without discussing it with her along the way.
Activities to Accompany William Steig's Books:
Sylvester And The Magic Pebble
Magic Rocks from Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers
Magic Pebble Science Experiment from We've Got Our Hands Full
Pete's A Pizza
Read It And Cook It (Pete's A Pizza) from Teach Preschool
Pizza Costume from Fremont Libraries
Pete's A Pizza Party- Kids' Yoga Lesson Plan from OMazing Kids (not pictured)
Tea Box Boat (Amos & Boris) from Moomah
African Silhouette Art (Doctor De Soto Goes To Africa) from Lextin Academy
Amos & Boris Vocabulary and Comprehension Guide from Chickabiddy Book Units (TPT) (not pictured)
Other William Steig Resources:
- Pete's A Pizza and Other William Steig Stories (DVD)- We are HUGE fans of this series of movies produced by Scholastic. They feature simple animation, along with a narration of the text of many wonderful stories. I consider them "guilt free" television for my kids, since they're basically just hearing a story.
- MacMillian Publishing- Steig's official author page with MacMillian publishing.
- William Steig Author Study Many ideas about how to complete an author study about William Steig's books.
- Web English Teacher - Lesson plans, printable worksheets, and activities for Steig's books.
There you have it: loads of info about William Steig! I hope you'll fine some of his books during your next library visit!