During more than four decades of illustrating children's books, two-time Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon have received nearly every award and honor in this genre. They have illustrated scores of books written by others, and they have written two titles, Rap a Tap Tap: Here's Bojangles, Think of That! and the Coretta Scott King honor book Jazz on a Saturday Night.
"The musicians we included in Jazz on a Saturday Night are some of our favorites," state the Dillons, "but there are many more great musicians we didn't have room for in the book, but would have loved to include. We started with the idea and the text first, but after the art was done the text was altered to fit better with the images. Our editor was part of that process. The art was done in gouache, which is great for a graphic technique of flat shape and color."
Leo Dillon and Diane Sorber were born eleven days apart in 1933 — Leo in Brooklyn, New York, and Diane near Los Angeles, California. When they met at Parsons School of Design in New York City in 1954, each already aspired to a life of art. Meeting first through each other's artwork, each immediately recognized the talent and mastery of the other. Over the years, their competitive friendship evolved into a lasting marriage and artistic partnership. "In terms of our art, it is virtually impossible to consider us separately," say the Dillons."On every project we undertake, we hash out ideas together. In 1997 we celebrated our 40th anniversary and in 1997 we completed our 40th book which is "To Everything There is a Season."
The Dillons have produced an incredible variety of drawings and illustrations for prints, book jackets, textbooks, album covers, and of course children's books. Among their many honors, they have received two Caldecott Medals — for Ashanti to Zulu and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears - four New York Times Best Illustrated Awards, four Boston Globe/Horn Book Awards, two Coretta Scott King Awards, three Coretta Scott King Honors, and the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal.
There are two major statements they want to convey. "The first is all people, whatever the culture or race, experience the same things in living on this planet. We all have a lot in common," state the Dillons. "It is our beliefs that divide us. We have little control over what life brings us but we can change our thoughts.The second statement is that since the beginning of history, people have expressed themselves graphically in wonderful and unique ways. Art in its many forms has survived to inform us of lives long gone. Art inspires, lifts our sprit, and brings beauty to our lives. We wish to pay homage to it and the people that created it."
As illustrators, designers, and craftsmen, the Dillons comment on a “third artist” who emerges as the combination of the two of them. In 2002, they published the first picture book they wrote themselves, Rap a Tap Tap: Here’s Bojangles—Think of That!, followed by Jazz on a Saturday Night (2007). As well, they collaborated with their son, sculptor Lee Dillon, on their award-winning title Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch, by Newbery Medalist Nancy Willard, an ALA Notable Book and a Parents’ Choice Honor Book.
Leo Dillon died in Brooklyn, NY, on May 26, 2012. He was 79.
At the time of his death, the Dillons were finishing up art for a fanciful book entitled If Kids Ran the World, about children happily helping other children to feed those in need, get medical aid to all who need it, and to provide shelter for the homeless. The book will be published by the Blue Sky Press/Scholastic in 2014, and proceeds will be donated to various charities.