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If Clement Hurd (1908–1988), the illustrator of Goodnight Moon, led a charmed life, it was not the one his parents had predicted for him. The son of a prosperous New York mortgage banker, Hurd attended St. Paul's and Yale, and seemed destined to join his father's firm when, in the spring of 1931, he announced his plan to become an artist and sailed for France.

The next two years proved to be a revelatory experience. In Paris, Hurd studied with Fernand Leger, absorbed the modernist painters' revolutionary new approach to composition and color, and generally immersed himself, as he later recalled, in "French civilization and the wealth of European treasures." Returning to New York when his money ran out in 1933, he was freelancing as a decorative artist when Margaret Wise Brown first saw two of his paintings and suggested that he try his hand as a children's books illustrator.

Brown at the time was not only a rising star among the picture-book authors of the day, but was an editor at Young Scott Books, an innovative New York juvenile publisher, and was thus in a position to give Hurd his chance. When the artist expressed tentative interest, Brown, with characteristic brio, wrote a manuscript to order for her promising new friend. Bumble Bugs and Elephants (1938)—perhaps the first modern board book for babies—resulted from this initial collaboration. Within months, Hurd had won the plum assignment to illustrate Gertrude Stein's first children's book, The World Is Round (1939), a project that Brown was proud to have initiated.

It was also at this time that Clement Hurd married another talented picture-book writer and friend of Brown's, Edith Thacher.

Over the next forty-five years, the Hurds—Clem and Posey, as everyone called them—became one of the field's best-known teams, collaborating on dozens of projects, including such picture-book favorites as Johnny Lion's Book (1965), The Day the Sun Danced (1966), and Wilson's World (1971). The couple moved to Vermont, where their son, Thacher, was born in 1949. Years later, an accomplished picture-book author and artist in his own right, Thacher Hurd would recall the "wonderful aura of creativity" that surrounded his father and the magical feeling of the family's Vermont farm, which their friend, the illustrator Leonard Weisgard, had named Peaceable Kingdom.

But it was as the illustrator of two picture books written by Brown—The Runaway Bunny (1942) and Goodnight Moon (1947)—that Hurd achieved his greatest fame. For those two little bedtime books, the artist produced work of incomparable tenderness, gentle wit, and pictorial enchantment.

As the years passed, Goodnight Moon grew steadily in popularity, attaining classic status as the quintessential first book with which to introduce the very young to the lifelong pleasures of reading. As a New York Times editorial observed at the time of his death in February 1988: "Some things are inexplicably magical. One is Goodnight Moon . . . How many little children, cheeks freshly scrubbed, snuggly in pile pajamas, have gone sleepily into Mr. Hurd's enchanted evening? How many mothers and fathers have led them there, just as entranced as the children?" A half century after that book's original publication, the magic of Clement Hurd's vivid, childlike art remains.

© 1997 by Leonard S. Marcus
Dear Genius, The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom

See all books illustrated by Clement Hurd

  Illustrations © Clement Hurd