Wendell Minor was born and raised in Illinois, where both his parents grew up on farms. One of his earliest memories is of watching a mother robin feed her young in a tree just outside his schoolroom window when he was in first grade. He was supposed to be reading from his Fun with Dick and Jane reader but was more interested in watching the robins. His teacher, Miss Cottington, reminded him that he should not daydream, but pay attention to his reading! Minor’s world was always been visual, and reading appreciation came later in life. Drawing and painting were always an integral part of his life, and his mother was the first to nurture this interest.
By the time he was in fourth grade, Minor knew he would be an artist someday. The praise he received for his drawing ability gave him a sense of self-esteem which furthered his desire to excel. He credits his father, who was an avid outdoorsman, with teaching him to be a keen observer of nature as they sat for hours waiting for a fish to bite or a squirrel to appear on a high branch in an oak tree. Later in life, squirrels, chipmunks, and all manner of wildlife would figure prominently in his children’s books.
Minor’s sixth-grade teacher, Mr. Gilkey, brought the art of the written word to him by reading aloud in class the works of some of America’s greatest writers. Jack London was his favorite. Mr. Gilkey’s deep voice made the words of The Call of the Wild come alive with vivid pictures of the Far North, and it was then that Minor’s visual world and reading came together. In retrospect, he is sure that it was that particular experience which forged his future as an illustrator of books.
After completing his studies at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, Minor moved to New York City and began creating original designs for book publishers. Although his focus had been on illustrating and designing book jackets for authors including David McCullough, Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg and James Michener, to name but a few, in 1986 art director Al Cetta at HarperCollins handed Minor a manuscript for a picture book entitled Mojave by Diane Siebert. Minor loved the poem, and felt that Siebert’s words were the written equivilant to his pictures. That was the first of 35 children’s books to follow.
One of his most satisfying assignments was painting full-color pictures for a new edition of The Call of the Wild, published as a Scribner’s Modern Classic in the fall of 1999. It was with great pleasure that he dedicated those illustrations to the memory of Mr. Gilkey, the sixth grade teacher who so influenced his future.
Minor’s children’s books reflect his love for the land and environment. Illustrating books for naturalist authors Jean Craighead George and Diane Siebert, among others, he approaches his art by researching and experiencing each environment he illustrates. His travels have taken him from the tropical Everglades of Florida to Barrow, Alaska in the Arctic Circle, from the Midwest to the Grand Canyon in the Southwest, and throughout the United States. In addition to picture books, Minor has created cover art and interior illustrations for novels for young people, including Jean Craighead George’s Julie and Julie’s Wolf Pack, and redesigned the cover for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the Newbery award-winning Julie of the Wolves. He has also authored several of his own books, and in 2005, Christmas Tree!, his first collaboration with his wife and business partner, Florence, was published.
Minor is a member of The Children’s Book Council (CBC), a non-profit trade organization dedicated to encouraging literacy and the use and enjoyment of children’s books. He refers to himself as a “recovering dyslexic” and when he speaks in classrooms across the country, he shares with students of all ages the difficulties he experienced with reading as a child, and for those who have similar difficulties, how they too can overcome them.
Wendell and his wife Florence spend many hours each day in their studio in Washington, Connecticut, which they share with their cats Sofie and Cindercat. They love every minute of it!