New Trier High School inducted 11 alumni into its Hall of Honor on March 12 at an event hosted by the New Trier Educational Foundation. Paul O. Zelinsky, distinguished children’s author and illustrator, was among the Alumni Achievement Award honorees.
Zelinsky and his peers were chosen because they have personified New Trier High School’s motto: To commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.® Zelinsky has done just that in his retelling and illustration of several classic children’s books.
Winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal for his book “Rapunzel,” and recipient of Caldecott Honors for “Hansel and Gretel,” “Rumpelstiltskin” and “Swamp Angel,” Zelinsky is well-recognized in his field. He has illustrated over 30 beloved and award-winning books to date.
In addition, Zelinsky actively serves several literary organizations, including The Golden Baobab Foundation, which works to inspire, nurture and develop African children’s literature. In 2012, he led a workshop for Ghanaian illustrators. Since then, Zelinsky has worked with Golden Baobab to develop two new prizes for African illustrators and rising illustrators, and he served on the inaugural panel of judges.
Zelinsky first found his passion for children’s books in 1972, while in his second year at Yale University. It was a period when bias against children’s authors and illustrators existed in publishing and literary circles.
“At the time I went into children’s books, they were extremely low in status,” Zelinsky says. “But it has changed tremendously since then. It used to be something that nobody would have gone into except out of love.”
Fortunately, Zelinsky recognized the profound value of children’s literature, including its significant role in fostering a love of reading that’s passed down from one generation to the next, and followed his passion. “There’s something wonderful about these books that you grew up with and loved . . . they can be perpetual . . . you can then share that [love] with children,” Zelinsky says.
Today, parents who treasured Zelinsky’s “The Wheels on the Bus” in their youth now share it with their own children. This year marks the 25th anniversary of its first release in 1990. To celebrate, Zelinsky is creating a new cover for old and new fans alike.
Two of Zelinsky’s other upcoming illustration projects have captured the interest of his fans. The first, a picture book entitled “Toys Meet Snow” is devoted to the cherished “Toy” characters from the award-winning series of chapter books “Toys Go Out, Toy Dance Party” and “Toys Come Home.” Zelinsky anticipates its release this fall. A second illustration project, only in its infancy at this time, is a new “Moose” book that will follow its popular predecessors: “Z is for Moose” and “Circle, Square, Moose.”
Zelinsky says he feels most honored to be a New Trier Alumni award recipient and part of a group of past and present awardees whose accomplishments are so impressive. In turn, New Trier can take pride in its alumni who, like Zelinsky, have gone out into the world and made a positive difference.
Photos were provided by Marianne Breen, Executive Director, New Trier Educational Foundation