STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
The green crocodile that first appeared in “The House on East 88th Street” back in 1962 has popped up again.
The exhibit, “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile and Friends: The Art of Bernard Waber,” is at the National Museum of American Jewish History through Nov. 1. The museum is in Waber’s hometown of Philadelphia. The children’s author/illustrator passed away in 2013 at the age of 91.
Curated by children’s literature historian Leonard S. Marcus for The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. (Carle is famous for “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” and “The Grouchy Ladybug”), the exhibit honors Waber’s whimsy and imagination with 90 of his illustrations, including newly discovered sketches and manuscripts.
In a press release from the Eric Carle Museum about “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile and Friends,” Marcus said, “The funny thing about Bernard Waber … was that for the first 38 years of his life, people warned him constantly against daydreaming. ‘Wake up!,’ they would scold. ‘Snap out of it! (Daydreaming) is … bad, bad, bad.’ Then Waber published his first children’s books and people began urging him to daydream more.”
Waber produced more than 30 illustrated children’s books in his career, including “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile,” “Ira Sleeps Over” and “Courage.” His cast of characters includes mice, hippos, pigs, an exuberant porcupine, and a lion named Shirley Williamson. However, Lyle is Waber’s most well-known character, returning in the sequels “Lyle Finds his Mother,” “Lovable Lyle” and “Lyle at the Office.” An animated musical version of “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile” appeared on HBO in the ‘80s.
The statement from the Carle Museum requoted remarks Waber made in an interview: “I don’t know why, but I always liked drawing crocodiles. I liked their eyes, their teeth, the way they walked, the way they sometimes lay on top of one another while basking in the sun. I liked everything about them — and I thought they were funny.”
How did he develop his style?
Would you believe Waber drew freehand, without doing preliminary sketches? According to the Carle Museum: “He perfected his illustrations through relentless drawing and redrawing of his subjects. The exhibition will display some of these early iterations and examine the evolution of his style as he experimented with different media and drew from different artistic influences, including Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. On view will be an array of his children’s book illustrations, filled with playful words and amusing details, as well as a sampling of his early design work for Time Inc. and Condé Nast.”
Did he go to art school in Philly?
Waber attended the Philadelphia School of Art — the present-day University of the Arts. He eventually moved to New York.
How did Bernard Waber go from magazines to children’s books?
From the Carle Museum: “It wasn’t until he began reading bedtime stories to his children that picture book writing became his calling. Waber began submitting his stories to publishing houses, and eventually Houghton Mifflin offered him a two-book contract for ‘Lorenzo’ and ‘The House on East 88th Street’.”
Where is the NMAJH?
Fifth and Market streets on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.
When is it open?
Tuesdays through Fridays hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It’s closed for Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 14 (closing early at 3 p.m. Sept. 13) and Yom Kippur on Sept. 23 (closing early at 3 p.m. Sept. 22).
What’s the admission cost?
It’s $12 for adults, $11 for ages 13-21 and seniors 65 and older. After 5 p.m., it’s pay-as-you-wish.
How can I learn more?
NMAJH’s phone number is (215) 923-3811, and they’re online at www.nmajh.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.