- Virginia Johnson
Provensen and Provensen. Alice and Martin. Martin and Alice. Two illustrators and writers working so closely together that their styles were indistinguishable. It was the same style really, gentle drawings so delightful in their clarity that they subtly underscored the text of the dozens of children's books that they illustrated.
Theirs was a pleasant life together. Through the years with their daughter at Maple Hill Farm in New York's open countryside, they saw the seasons change and observed how their animals adapted to the sun's coming and going. They captured their simple love for farm life in their books, A Year at Maple Hill Farm and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, which have become classics for storytimes about barnyard friends.
In 1982, the Newbery Award winner was A Visit to William Blake's Inn, by Nancy Willard. The Provensens chose to illustrate this collection of fanciful poetry inspired by Blake's works ("Tyger, tyger burning bright in the forests of the night....") with sepia-toned illustrations of the cheery Mr. Blake and all his sundry friends-- the King of the Cats, Cow, Rabbit, children, and, of course, the Tiger. The drawings charmed the Caldecott Award committee who named it an Honor Book the same year.
The Provensens had become fascinated with airplanes—how they worked and how people came to invent them. They discovered that the history of aviation had many dashing pioneers, and one whose story begged to be told was Louis Bleriot. A man of independent means because of a successful earlier invention, Bleriot designed no less than eleven airplanes. The first one was too small and flapped like a chicken. The second, a glider, crashed into the water. But Monsieur Bleriot did not give up. He went on take the prize awarded by an English nobleman to be the first to cross the entire English Channel. He did it in thirty-seven minutes and brought the world a little closer together by his flight. The Provensens told the story so well with their words and pictures that The Glorious Flight won the Caldecott Medal for best-illustrated children's book of the year in 1984!
When Martin died of a heart attack in 1987, Alice thought about selling her beloved Maple Hill Farm, not certain if she would ever want to write or draw again. But her fondness for history drew her to back to writing and illutrating The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States. Its success and that of My Fellow Americans: A Family Album revived her interest in writing and illustrating, and she decided to stay at Maple Hill Farm. Alice has enjoyed traveling, and her love for exotic places came into play in her 2001 book, The Master Swordsman & The Magic Doorway: Two Legends from Ancient China. Her colors have never been brighter, her illustrations never sweeter, and she tells the tales beautifully for both young listeners and independent readers to enjoy.
In 2015, her picture book Murphy in the City was published. A sequel to A Day in the Life of Murphy, it follows the adventures and opinions of her fiesty terrier as he takes a trip from his beloved farm to an urban environment.
Click here for a list of books illustrated by Alice Provensen that are available at Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Library card holders may reserve books to be picked up at any of our branches.
Born: Alice Rose Twitchell on August 14, 1917 in Chicago, Illinois
Education: The Art Institute of Chicago and the University of California
Work: Walter Lantz Studios, Hollywood, CA, employed in animation, 1942-43; Office of Strategic Services, Washington, DC, graphics, 1943-45. Currently, a children's book illustrator and author
Married: fellow illustrator Martin Provensen in 1944
Selected awards: Caldecott Honor for A Visit to William Blake's Inn (with Martin); Caldecott Medal for The Glorious Flight, the story of the first aviator to cross the English Channel (also with Martin)
Alice on the Web
"Alice and Martin Provensen’s Stunning Vintage Illustrations for Twelve Classic Fairy Tales"
An enthusiastic (and interesting!) examination of one of the Provensens' classic books.
"Alice Provensen." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Accessed 22 June 2017. Available to CRRL cardholders through our research portal.
"Children's book illustrator Alice Provensen busy as ever at 91"
This interview with Alice in 2009 touches on a lot of ground, including "terrible dog" Murphy.
"A Collaborative Effort" in Publishers' Weekly
An article on well-known teams in publishing gives much detail on the professional lives of the Provensens.
"Today's Inspiration: The Provensens & Tony the Tiger"
In 1952, Alice and Martin created the iconic purveyor of frosted flakes, Tony the Tiger. Here's the story, complete with pictures.
Below, you can watch a brief and cheerful retrospective on some of the Provensen's works: