“At school, I was often in trouble for drawing under my desk,” Bob Graham says. When not drawing—or being scolded—the author-illustrator spent much of his childhood in Sydney, Australia, reading books and comics, collecting trading cards, and going to the movies on Saturday afternoons. But drawing has been the constant theme of his life, even though he didn’t begin illustrating children’s books until he was out of work due to an illness.
“My first picture book wasn’t planned. It just happened. I’ve been making books ever since and can’t believe what a good job I have,” Bob Graham says. “The trick is to take everyday events and make them interesting to kids.” For example, he once had a pet hen. “She was definitely classified in our family as ‘pet,’ not ‘poultry,’ which left the surrounding farmers scratching their heads in wry amusement,” he says. This experience inspired him to write Queenie, One of the Family, a quirky story about a rather atypical chicken who adopts a family.
Bob Graham also depicts families who adopt a pet of the more common variety. About his inspiration for Benny, he says, “We once got a dog from a shelter, a victim of a broken home, we were told. The dog told me the rest of the story one day when he was sitting on a pillow in my workroom. So it’s all true!” “Let’s Get A Pup!” Said Kate—winner of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award—had similar beginnings. “Our family went to a dog shelter, looking for a small pup,” he recalls. “We came away with not one dog but two.” Bob Graham satisfied his eager readers with the sequel to “Let’s Get A Pup!” Said Kate, called “The Trouble With Dogs . . .” Said Dad.
Since Bob Graham likes his stories to be quiet and focused on small, seemingly insignificant events of family life, imagine his surprise when the inspiration for Max, the award-winning story of a superhero boy and his family, flew onto his desk. “Suddenly, from out of the blue,” he recalls, “I had a very extraordinary family on my hands, and in a reversal of process, I set out to make them ‘ordinary.’” Later, he was astonished when another flying family found its way into a picture book, this time Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, which received the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal for children’s book illustration. “I don’t see fairies too often these days, certainly during working hours,” the author explains. “To see fairies you need time to spare, time to think about not too much at all.” Still, the “flying” fad continued with Dimity Dumpty. A whimsical and warm story, Dimity Dumpty stars the Tumbling Dumpties, an egg family that is a traveling circus troupe.
Bob Graham returned full force to the realm of animals with Tales From The Waterhole, a series of five whimsical stories about a mischievous gang —crocodiles, tortoises, zebras, hippos, giraffes, elephants, warthogs, and, of course, wildebeests—that love to mess around down by a waterhole on the African plains. “At this waterhole,” the author says, “there is no ‘nature red in tooth and claw.’ Here they string up colored lights at dusk, dance, and take party photos. I might just go and live there.”
Meanwhile, Bob Graham lives in Australia with his wife, two children, and—of course—various pets, as he continues to create stories for children, ordinary and extraordinary, around the world.