Disney and Me:A Memoir

A memoir is usually focused on a specific thread or time period of a writer’s life, whereas autobiography is “my chronological life story.”

One of my favorite books is an autobiography that I would argue is a memoir because of its focus on the writer’s artistic life as an artist and writer. It’s a children’s book that is also a book for adults.

I’ve mentioned the book here in a previous post: Disney animator, illustrator, and writer Bill Peet’s Caldecott Honor BookBill Peet: An Autobiography.

Autobiography for children and adults of one of Disney's great illustrators, Bill Peet

Autobiography for children and adults of one of Disney’s great illustrators, Bill Peet

The book is 190 pages–longer than a traditional picture book; however, it won an award as a Caldecott Honor Book in 1990 because the book is fully illustrated–there is at least one illustration on each page, along with engaging text.

Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney on many movies, shorts, TV shows, books–even Peter Pan peanut butter. He wrote the original (1961) 101 Dalmatians, working from Dodie Smith’s book. Disney asked Peet to “plan the whole thing: write a detailed screenplay, do all the story boards, and record voices for all the characters. That had been a job for at least forty people on Pinocchio in 1938, but if Walt thought I could do it, then of course there was no question about it.”

Throughout the book, Peet’s desire to pursue his own artistic endeavors is constantly at odds with first school and then his job at Disney. If you are an artist or a writer, you will feel that, in some ways, his story is your story.

In many great memoirs, readers learn about other characters in addition to the narrators. Peet’s book presents a complicated and somewhat frightening Walt Disney. The simplest disagreement could cause Disney to put an employee “in the doghouse,” and then other employees would give that person “the silent treatment.” He even shows a scene where Disney comes in to Peet’s office and unburdens himself about his own difficult childhood. While there isn’t anything in the book that isn’t appropriate for children, there is enough texture–enough “teeth”–to the book that makes for a fascinating read for adults, too.

Pear Blossom checking out Bill Peet's book

Pear Blossom checking out Bill Peet’s book

The illustrations are all by Peet himself, and you will recognize the classic Disney look. By the story, you will learn how much of Peet’s creations are part of that Disney look and of the Disney stories you or your parents have grown up with.

Something about this book stimulates my mind and my heart. I think I have a crush on the book. I love chatting about it.


Filed under Book Review, Children's Literature, Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Memoir writing theory, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing, Writing

29 responses to “Disney and Me:A Memoir

  1. Such a gifted artist. I loved 101 Dalmatians when I was a kid…still do! 🙂
    Nice review, Luanne!

    • I did too! It was the one that seemed the most uncartoonlike for some reason. I mean, I really almost thought they were all real people and dogs up there!

  2. LOL, only a writer could have a crush on a book. I totally get it Luanne! 🙂

  3. What a great illustrator he was. So talented!

  4. Will definitely check it out, Luanne. I wasn’t aware of Disney’s darker side.

  5. You find some really interesting memoirs, Luanne.

  6. You makes me want to read all the memoirs you review! 🙂

    • Seyi, there are so many great memoirs I can’t even believe it. I probably assumed when I started reading them that there would be maybe 20 or 30 good ones, tops. Hahahah, laughing my head off about that now. I could keep reading forever, and I would still find wonderful memoirs.

  7. I love the presentation of it! The merging of art with autobiography, especially as it meshes so well with his lifestory as an illustrator.

    • Yes, exactly: the merging of art with autobiography. It’s just gorgeously done. Plus it manages to combine what feels like an exciting but down to earth life with the playfulness of children’s literature.

  8. I have always liked Bill Peet’s unique talented drawings with such intricacies and details. His mind was such a fantastic source of imagination, Luanne! I am glad you featured this book, especially now, when we all need to think about geniuses and their impact on our world. He brought lots of wonderful stories “to Life!” Wow! Thanks for this one, Luanne!
    I liken Steven Kellogg’s illustrations to this man, Bill Peet. I was extremely lucky to have met S. K. at a children’s author’s convention. My brother and I got to take him to dinner and drive him from BGSU to Detroit, MI for his plane trip home. Check out his drawings, and you will see! (“My Mama is a Llama,” “The Day the Boa ate Jimmy’s Wash…” but as far as I know, no Disney movie ‘deals!’) Glad that Bill Peet created those imaginary dwarfs with such cute faces and the 101 dalmations’ drawings, among his life’s work!)

    • I can see that Steven Kellogg’s work is similar, although not as busy, and I wonder if Peet was an inspiration for him! I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, Robin! It’s such a favorite of mine! xo

    • Oops! I should have written ‘dwarves!’ I am glad you mentioned that maybe Steven K. was influenced and inspired by Bill Peet! I am sure many illustrators have been!

  9. I am always fascinated with all things Disney. Such talent and imagination I can’t comprehend.

  10. Great to hear about a “different” kind of memoir. Will definitely put this on my to-read list!

  11. stunning illustrations! reading your blog is an education Liuanne 😀 had never heard of Bill until now. Another memoir to add to my reading list.

  12. Sounds like a super book. I love the insider look at Walt Disney, the enormous task of completing “101 Dalmatians,” the connection to Dodie Smith, and, always, the desire to do one’s own work. Without having read this book, I have an inkling that Disney’s relationship with Peet was somewhat like Duke Ellington’s with Billy Strayhorn.

    • I’ll have to look that up as you’ve made me curious! Peet and Disney definitely had a difficult and in some ways one-sided relationship.

  13. Luanne it sounds fascinating, what a life he must have lived. My daughter all of eleven wants to be an illustrator one day, I told her you need to work for someone else first, learn the ropes and then become a freelance illustrator. i am sure we would both enjoy this book.

  14. What fun to have a daughter who wants to follow in your footsteps, Kath! To see beauty being created by your child all the time, and then ultimately to see her work blended with the work of a writer. You’re a lucky mama! Definitely check out this book with her!

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