Caldecott-winning author Chris Van Allsburg (born today in 1949) began his creative career studying and making sculpture. Some of his pieces from the 1970s have a puckish, off-key humor that would later be familiar to his readers (1974’s Event at the Observatory shows a B-movie flying saucer crashed into an observatory dome). He only took up writing and drawing children’s books later.
His first book, The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (1979), in which a boy stumbles into a fantastical garden with surreal and somewhat threatening topiary, established the signature grey-toned look he would use in later books like Jumanji (1982) and The Polar Express (1986). But it was less a conscious choice than a practical one, as Van Allsburg’s schooling had only really acquainted him with using pencil and charcoal pencil.