Barbara Cooney was born in Room 1127 of the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn, New York. Since then, she has illustrated over one hundred books for children, winning two Caldecott Medals alon the way. Her first Caldecott was for the Chanticleer and the Fox (T. Y. Crowell, 1959), her second for Ox-cart Man, by Donald Hall (Viking, 1979).
After growing up on Long Island and spending cherished childhood summers with her family in Maine, she took every course offered in studio art and art history at Smith College. Ms. Cooney's mother, herself an artist, took her daughter's painting seriously, giving her the encouragement she needed to make art a life-long passion. After Barbara Cooney graduated from college she knew she wanted to be an artist and that she wanted to illustrate children's books. She studied briefly at the Art Student League in New York City and showed her portfolio to publishers.
A year after graduation, her first book, Ake and His World (Farrar and Rinehart, 1940)by the Swedish poet Bertil Malmberg was published. A year later, Farrar and Finehart published King of Wreck Island, the fisrt book Ms. Cooney both wrote and illustrated. She continues to illustrate books written by other people as well as illustrating her own texts and has worked closely with the animators of The Story of Holly and Ivy (Viking, 1985), which was recently broadcast on network television.
"Of all the books I have done", she says "Miss Rumphius (Viking, 1982), Island Boy (Viking, 1988), and Hattie and the Wild Waves (Viking, 1990), are the closest to my heart. These three are as near as I ever will come to an autobiography". Like Miss Rumphius, Barbara Cooney has travelled the world, settled down by the sea, and tries to make the world more beautiful. Also like Miss Rumphius, she loves the lupines that bloom in early summer in her favorite place on earth - Maine.
Maine obviously loves Barbara Cooney, too. In 1989, the Maine Library Association created the Lupine Award to recognize outstanding children's books by state residents. Their opening ceremony honored Miss Rumphius and its creator. A bit farther south, Island Boy was made a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book in the same year.
Ms. Cooney lives in Maine and is married to "an old-fashioned country doctor", who is now retired. Her four children, all grown, have inherited their mother's independent spirit. One daughter was a rigger in an Indiana coke plant, and a younger son, having circumnavigated Cape Horn in a kayak, is now a glacial geologist in Patagonia.
In 1979, Ms. Cooney was given the Smith College Medal. At about the same time, she and one of her sons designed and built her studio/home on the Damariscotta River in Maine. There, sitting at her immense drawing board, just feet away from the sea, Ms. Cooney continues to work away. "I plan," she says, "to live to be one hundred years old".