John Peterson was born and raised in the small town of Bradford in northwestern Pennsylvania. After high school, he moved to New York City to study illustration at Pratt Institute, but took a break from his studies to volunteer for the paratroopers in World War II. During his three years of service, he saw combat, fighting with the 11th Airborne Division in the Philippine Islands. Upon his return, Peterson finished his studies at Pratt, graduating in 1948.
Peterson came to writing accidentally; after spending nearly 20 years doing illustrations for advertising, magazines, and textbooks, he wanted to create a children's book and needed a story to go with the art. Tony's Treasure Hunt (later renamed Terry's Treasure Hunt), a collaboration with his wife, Holly, has since sold more than a million copies in paperback. Luckily for readers, Peterson enjoyed writing and continued doing it. Among his many books for children, the most popular have been the stories about the family of tiny people known as the Littles. Perennial favorites with generations of elementary-school children, the stories have been the inspiration for a Saturday morning cartoon show as well as two animated feature films.
When he is not writing or making school visits, Peterson enjoys photography, doing crossword puzzles, taping old movies, and gardening. He and his wife live in a century-old house in Hankins, New York. They have four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.