The world of literature has lost an iconic illustrator.
Leo Dillon passed away on May 26th, 2012 at the age of 79. Together with his wife and collaborator, Diane, Leo Dillon created memorable cover art and interior illustrations for the works of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Madeleine L’Engle, as well as many Ace Science Fiction Specials.
Dillon was an award winning artist, and the first African-American to receive the Caldecott Medal. In fact, the collaborative couple are the only illustrators in history to have won it two years consecutively for “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: A West African Tale” (1976) and “Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions” (1977). Their extensive list of awards also include a Hugo Award for science fiction illustration and an NAACP Image Award.
As an interracial couple who wed in the mid-fifties and raised their child in the early sixties, the Dillons were in a prime position to recognize the lack of diversity in children’s literature. They offered a solution by representing their own histories and heritages in their art to show their son that the variety of people in the world should be reflected on the pages of our literature.
There is a particular look to the Dillon’s work, and in learning more about Leo Dillon, I have come to realize that many of my favorite book covers and illustrations from childhood reading were done by these amazing artists. I had a copy of their 1979 “A Wrinkle in Time,” and many of the Narnia books that I avidly borrowed from my library were graced by their art.