TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Fred Marcellino

Fred Marcellino

Fred Marcellino (1939-2001) started out as an abstract-expressionist painter. After a year (1963) in Venice on a Fulbright Scholarship, he launched a new career as an illustrator and designer, focusing on the record album covers associated with sixties rock. In the mid-seventies, he began making his mark in the publishing world and quickly became the preeminent jacket artist of the 70's and 80's, designing and illustrating book jackets, including some very famous ones: The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Handmaid's Tale, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

All the while, Fred had been interested in children's books, but had never found the perfect project. This changed in mid-eighties, when he illustrated A Rat's Tale by Tor Seidler. For Fred, narrative illustration was a dramatic departure from book jackets. As he says, "each picture is a link in a chain, and they all exist in counterpoint with the text. And although you want each picture to have impact, just like a jacket, the book illustration can also be much more subtle. It can be pondered and savored over a period of time. It's a very different discipline from what I was used to, but I must say it was love at first sight."

For his first full-color picture book, Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault, Fred was awarded a 1991 Caldecott Honor. He then went on to publish The Steadfast Tin Soldier, an ALA Booklist Children's Editors' Choice, one of The New York Times's Ten Best Picture Books, and one of Booklist's Best Children's Books of the Year; The Wainscott Weasel by Tor Seidler, an ALA Notable Children's Book; The Pelican Chorus and Other Nonsense by Edward Lear, a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; The Story of Little Babaji, an ALA Notable Book; and Ouch!, (a Grimm tale also known as The Devil and His Three Golden Hairs), retold by Natalie Babbitt, an ALA Notable Book.

Having mastered picture-book illustration, a dramatic turning point occurred—Fred discovered that he could also write, and I, Crocodile, published in 1999, was a huge critical and commercial success. It was one of The New York Times's Best Books of the Year, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, a Child magazine Best Book of the Year, one of the New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Illustrated Picture Books, and an ALA Notable Book.

But Fred loved challenges, and immediately after I, Crocodile, he agreed to re-illustrate E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan—a monumental task that at one point resulted in a book dummy four inches thick!

During this time in 1998, Fred was diagnosed with colon cancer; while struggling physically, he not only finished The Trumpet of the Swan, but began a sequel to I, Crocodile titled Arrivederci, Crocodile or See You Later, Alligator. Arrivederci would be his freest and funniest book yet, and his immense joy in creating it is evident in every word and every picture.

Halfway through the finishes, Fred died in July of 2001, to the great sorrow of the entire publishing world.