“In Pat Cummings’s Talking with Artists, many of the picture book authors and artists interviewed speak about how they grew up being encouraged by the adults around them to build things and draw pictures and read books…eventually leading directly to an interesting creating illustrated books for children. If anyone had interviewed me, there would have been blank pages for the stories I never made up and the pictures I did not draw and the books that were not there to inspire me when I was three or four or five.” ~ Anita Lobel
Anita Lobel's name is synonymous with the best in children's literature. She is the creator of such classics as Alison's Zinnia and Away from Home, and has received a Caldecott Honor for her illustrations in On Market Street. Born in Cracow, Poland, award-winning picture book author-illustrator Anita Lobel is best known for her distinctive theatrical approach with all of the intensity and richness of an opera. As an artist, she is well known for creating evocative, detailed paintings in line-and-wash or watercolor and gouache that reflect her signature style of opulent costumes and tapestries, richly patterned landscapes, and colorful flowers.
Lobel’s world was turned upside down when she was only 5 years old. World War II began. The Nazis burst into her home and stole many of the family’s possessions. Anita and her brother spent years in hiding with their nanny, a loving Polish woman, first in the relatively safe countryside, then in the ghetto, and eventually in a convent, where the Nazis captured Anita and her brother. The two children were imprisoned in a succession of concentration camps, including Plaszow and Auschwitz. Miraculously, Anita and her brother lived to witness the allied takeover of Ravensbruck. Red Cross workers transported the pair to Sweden, where they were later reunited with their parents. In 1952, the family immigrated to the United States. "I had a wonderful nanny and when ... I was five years old ... the nanny took me and my younger brother into the Polish countryside—which was primitive, nasty, raw, and Catholic. That was on one side and the Nazis on the other. Aside from the fact that there was an outside force that hated us and chased us, I always felt my brother and I were protected by this person who chose to protect us. I loved her and she loved us, and I think that this was very important. I really feel Nanny's affection colors my work, because I don't feel I have to portray the awful bleakness of the time."
After graduating from high school, Lobel entered Pratt Institute to study for her B.F A. in fine arts. There, she became interested in the theater, where she met her future husband, Arnold, when she was cast in a play he was directing. The couple was married in 1955.
For several years after graduation Lobel worked as a textile designer. Susan Hirschman, who had discovered Arnold, asked Anita to do a book. Although hesitant herself, encouragement from them resulted with Sven's Bridge, published in 1965. Potatoes, Potatoes by Lobel, the story for which was partly inspired from her childhood memories in Poland, has been considered one of her most affecting works.
Unlike many husband-and-wife teams, the Lobels did not initially collaborate on their books. They first combined their talents on How the Rooster Saved the Day, a book written by Arnold. They later collaborated on three more books, before Arnold’s death in 1987. Their third collaboration On Market Street, received several prizes, including the Boston Globe/Horn Book award for illustration and a Caldecott Medal honor in 1982.
Since then, Lobel has won much recognition. Her memoir of her childhood No Pretty Pictures was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1998.
Lobel lives and works in New York City.