Esphyr Slobodkina

Honoring the Life and Art of a Pioneer of American Abstraction

The Little Cowboy

written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina.

Originally published in 1948 by William R. Scott. 

SYNOPSIS: This is a story about two cowboys – one who is very big and one who is “knee high to a grasshopper.” Children follow the two cowboys through a day at the ranch and learn that size doesn’t matter, only hard work.

About the Illustrations: The Little Cowboy was produced using the collage technique employed by Slobodkina throughout the “big/little” series. Slobodkina later explained her choice of medium by saying that cutouts “enforce” a “simplicity of line that cannot be achieved by pen.”

Author Margaret Wise Brown collaborated with Slobodkina on many books.

About the Story: In 1937, on a tip from a New York friend, Slobodkina presented her portfolio to Margaret Wise Brown, a glamorous young editor known for her iconoclastic approach to book making. Brown worked for W. R. Scott & Company, a fledging publishing firm with a small office within the Greenwich Village headquarters of one of America’s centers of progressive education, the Bank Street School. Dedicated to publishing distinctively modern, Bank Street-inspired picture books that challenged children to think and see for themselves. At the time the Bank Street article of faith considered that children under seven lived in a “here and now” realm of immediate sensory experience that left little room or need for fantasy. Books that dealt in simple reality such as the “big/little” series presented children with real world experience.

Sample of Inside Pages: