Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happy Birthday Bill Peet - January 29

Happy Birthday Bill Peet - January 29
(January 29, 1915 - May 11, 2002)

Our bedtime reading routine is that my oldest two children and I each select one book.  Most of the time I read all three books aloud, but on occasion my daughter will choose to read her selection.  This has been the routine for over a year and a half.  Tonight, I tried something new after learning that Bill Peet told stories to his children before bedtime.

"When my two sons, Bill and Steve, were very small I would make up bedtime stories for them almost every night.  With so much storytelling practice I began to contribute more to the Disney stories, but always with illustrations. I couldn't possibly give up drawing.  Finally I became Walt's top writer-illustrator on his animated features." ( 

I was nervous to tell an original story.  So, I reached out to fellow participants in the 12 x 12 writing challenge to ask if they would share their experiences telling original stories to their children.  I received many helpful suggestions:

1. Encourage your children to contribute to the story. (Thanks Jodi!)
2. Have a reoccurring set of characters. (Thanks Denver!)
3. Start your story with "When you were little..." (Thanks Julie!)
4. Use picture book illustrations as a guide for your story telling. (Thanks Stacy!)
5. Take turns with your children telling parts of the story. (Thanks Mindy!)

I had thought of a main character and a problem for my story -- a bear who couldn't fall asleep for the winter -- but that is all I had! So I decided to try the suggestion of having my children contribute to the story.  I began the story by describing the setting (it was snowing) and the main character (a bear who tried many ways to fall asleep but couldn't).  My daughter introduced a bird who wanted to show the bear how much fun it was to play in the snow.  The bear and the bird went sledding, skiing, and ice skating.  My son said, "They need to build a snow fort!" This provided a great way to end the story with the bear falling asleep in the fort after a fun but exhausting day playing in the snow. This story will certainly not become an animated classic film for Disney or a storybook loved by thousands of children, but it certainly was fun -- and I would try it again!

Over the past 60 years Bill Peet has been a part of telling many of the most popular stories that children have grown to love.  He spent 27 years working at Disney, where he developed the stories of Dumbo, 101 Dalmations, and The Sword in the Stone for animated feature films. Additionally, he collaborated on other Disney films including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland (Disney).  After his time at Disney, he published over 30 storybooks including popular titles like The Whingdingdilly and Big Bad Bruce.  He also was awarded a Caldecott Honor in 1990 for his autobiography, Bill Peet: An Autobiography.

I wanted to celebrate Bill Peet's birthday with his books and a movie. My children absolutely love watching a movie with the lights off, a blanket on the floor with pillows, and POPCORN!  I knew the perfect movie to watch would be The Sword in the Stone -- a movie they had never seen before.  Bill Peet was "the only storyman in the history of Disney who did all the storyboards for an entire animated feature film, and he did it for two of them: The Sword in the Stone and 101 Dalmations." (

This week we read a number of books by Bill Peet before the birthday celebration and the book that resonated with my son was No Such Things. This book is full of strange creatures with funny names. My son laughed out loud for names like Flubduds, Grabnabbits, and Magawks.  Each page spread highlights a creature and a description written in rhyme. Here is an excerpt from the book:

The reason the Flubduds all sigh in despair--
They stand on their feet and can't go anywhere.
Since they're much too befuddled to figure things out,
They're stuck in one spot and can't move about.

After reading No Such Things for a second time, I told my children that it was going to be Movie Night!  Then, I said, "I have a few ideas to make our Movie Night special for Bill Peet's birthday." The first idea was to make a special cup for our juice. We traced Starbucks cardboard cup sleeves with a pencil on white paper.
After tracing the sleeve they cut out the shape.
Then, carefully glued it on the sleeve.  This gave us a blank slate for creating a Bill Peet commemorative cup.
My daughter chose to write "Happy Birthday Bill Peet" and my son chose to write his name on one side.
On the other side, they drew their favorite creature from No Such Things.  My daughter chose a Flumper which resembles a car tire and my son chose a Snoof which has backward feet and therefore cannot be tracked by hunters in the snow.
Here are the official Bill Peet Birthday Movie Night Commemorative Cups.  I made a cup for my youngest son which featured a Sneezaboo, a bighorn sheep whose horns wrap around as skis.  This creature is also featured in Buford the Big Horn Sheep.
The next activity was to design homemade popcorn containers. I gave them the freedom to decorate the containers however they desired.  My son stayed with the theme by adding a few more creatures. My daughter drew designs around the word POPCORN.
To make the container we folded a large piece of construction paper in half.
Then we folded each half into the center to make four equal panels.
For each panel we cut along each crease about 3 inches up.
I then folded the panels together and taped on the bottom.
Once all the bottoms were folded, I had two panels that met together.  I added tape here to complete our popcorn container.
This was just an example.  Remember to have your children decorate their container before you tape it together.
Movie Night was a success. The kids thought the commemorative cups and popcorn containers were really cool!  I couldn't believe I remembered parts of The Sword in the Stone, I hadn't see it since I was a kid. I love the part in the movie where Merlin and Arthur become fish and encounter the giant Pike! 
1. Home Page for Bill Peet - Packed full of information.
2. IMDb Page for Bill Peet
3. In Memoriam - Flak Magazine, NY Times
4. Biography -
5. Children's Book-A-Day Almanac - January 29
6. Bill Peet Biography - Disney


  1. I love the projects you do with your kids to bring the books and authors to life. Bill Peet wrote and illustrated Wump World - one of the first picture books about environmental awareness. When I was a student getting my defree in toy designer, I used that book to create a World of Wump game, toys,and plush.

    1. Alison, We also read the Wump World. I loved the name "Pollutians"! My kids thought the book was a lot like the movie WALL-E.

      You should blog about the World of Wump Game and accessories! I would love to see it if you have pictures! Very cool!

  2. What a great dad you are and I love the idea of the kids sharing in the bedtime storytelling! Love your blog!

    1. Sandra, Thank you! So glad you keep coming back to read my posts! I love having you!

  3. SO fun, Eric! I am definitely making special cups and popcorn holders for our next movie night. I LOVED this post -- super cute pics of the kiddos in their pjs enjoying the movie, too. :)

    1. Colleen, This was an activity that I thought they would enjoy, but they really got into more than I expected. I guess they see us with Starbucks coffee cups all the time and this was their chance to act like us!

  4. I guess the Whingdingdilly and Wump World are my favorites from Peet, though we have a big selection in our library.

    Love that you responded to the 12x12 suggestions and launched into your own story! My Dad used to tell variations on the Wind in the Willows to us during our bath time!

    What concentration for craft and movie!

    1. Joanna, Thanks for reading the blog. Thanks for sharing your favorites. After I wrote this post my son has picked a new favorite - The Kweeks of Kookatumdee. Our library is a little light on Bill Peet books but we found a whole slew at the library!

      Another great idea for storytelling too - variations of famous stories! Love it!

      Thanks Joanna!

  5. I like your new story idea (and the crafts you do with your kids are always great!). Did the Google Hangout group ever happen? I'm not on Google+ much and the end of my month got crazy fast. I'd be up for it next month if you want to try again.


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