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Home > Children's Authors > Paul Goble

Paul Goble
Photo of Paul Goble

Paul Goble (1933–2017) was an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. He won both the Caldecott Medal and The Library of Congress’ Children’s Book of the Year Award. Goble illustrated over 30 books in his lifetime. Some of his award-winning books for Wisdom Tales include The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi and The Woman who Lived with Wolves & Other Stories from the Tipi.

In the order of their publication, from most recent to oldest, Goble’s books for Wisdom Tales (and World Wisdom) were: Red Cloud’s War: Brave Eagle’s Account of the Fetterman Fight (2015), a retelling of the events of this war as seen through the eyes of Brave Eagle, a fictional young Lakota warrior. Previous to that was Horse Raid: The Making of a Warrior (2014), an exciting coming-of-age story of Lone Bull, a young Lakota boy eager to join the warriors on a horse raid against the Crow tribe. Before that was Custer’s Last Battle: Red Hawk’s Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn (2013), which is an account of the famous battle from authentic Indian sources, but told by a fictional narrator who is a boy. Earlier, there had been The Man Who Dreamed of Elk Dogs: & Other Stories from the Tipi (2012), Goble’s final collection of “stories from the tipi,” in which he brought to life 23 traditional stories from the Blackfoot, Lakota, Assiniboin, Pawnee, Winnebago, Omaha, Hidatsa, and Cheyenne nations. A previous collection in the series was The Woman Who Lived with Wolves: & Other Stories from the Tipi (2010). Earlier that same year (2010), World Wisdom also published Goble’s The Boy & His Mud Horses: & Other Stories from the Tipi, again a collection of traditional stories from different Native American tribes. Paul Goble focused on the special character of American Indian attitudes towards virgin nature in The Earth Made New: Plains Indian Stories of Creation (2009), which followed his book Tipi: Home of the Nomadic Buffalo Hunters (2007), a retelling of old-timers’ stories showing how the tipi not just a home, but an expression of spiritual beliefs. Goble’s first book for World Wisdom (before the Wisdom Tales imprint existed), was All Our Relatives: Traditional Native American Thoughts about Nature (2005), another book of stories related to American Indian concepts of nature and spirituality.

Almost all of the wonderful books written and illustrated by Paul Goble for Wisdom Tales and World Wisdom won at least several awards, which are listed below.

Paul Goble gave his entire collection of original illustrations to the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings, South Dakota, where it is permanently on display.

Before his passing in January, 2017, Paul wanted to share with his readers some interesting details of his long life as an artist and author:

I love my work, but I have to work every day, and for long hours. I can be at my desk from early morning until late at night. My thoughtful wife, Janet, encourages me and I often ask her advice about my books.

I use an old-fashioned typewriter, not a computer. It was the same when I was young, and I use the same equipment that I used in my childhood: pens, pencils, and watercolors. An American Indian lady once wrote to me: “I’ve always thought the wanagi (spirits) are close to you. Some of your illustrations reveal that the ancestors come to visit you in your dreams.”

When I was growing up in England, near Oxford, I loved nature and would often walk to the lake at the end of our garden. I enjoyed the trees, flowers, birds, and insects. I spent much of my time in search of wild flowers for my pressed-flower collection, and watching birds. I drew and painted birds and butterflies from books in our home, and from things I saw in museums. I was a stamp and coin collector and had many rocks, horseshoes, and feathers. I grew up during World War II, and so I also collected bullet shells and pieces of German bombs, two of which fell so close that our house had to be re-roofed twice.

I grew up in a musical family. My mother was a musician and my father made harpsichords and other musical instruments. As I work, I listen to classical music. Bach is my favorite composer. I used to play duets with my son, Robert, on recorders which my father made during the 1930s and 1940s.

Since my childhood my greatest interest was in everything related to the American Indians and I read many books about them. My mother encouraged me in my fascination with the Indians and she read me books about Indians. She made me a tipi, and painted it with designs, and sewed a fringed shirt and leggings for me to wear.

I have often enjoyed walking and every day I would walk about four miles. In the British Army, I was a good marcher in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry!

I also enjoy camping and Janet, Robert, and I have camped in beautiful and remote places in the Rocky Mountains, or out on the Great Plains of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Alberta, Canada. We meet American Indian people who live there. Those who know the Great Plains will recognize some of the hills and buttes, birds and plants in my books.

My books and paintings are about things which happened long ago. I try to get details right in my stories and illustrations, because mistakes would be rude to American Indian people, and to my readers. may need to know the colors and designs of blankets made a hundred years ago, or the designs that were painted on rawhide storage bags. I have my own library to refer to. I also have albums of photographs, which I have taken over the years, of American Indian artifacts in museum collections. When I am working on retelling a traditional myth or legend, I often ask American Indian people to tell me the story. I want to hear them tell it in their own words.

Goble studied at the Central School of Art in London. He began living in the United States in 1977 and became a citizen in 1984. In 1959, he traveled to the American West, where he was able to meet with many of the old-timers for the first time. During the trip, Goble was adopted into the Yakima and Sioux tribes (with the name Wakinyan Chikala, “Little Thunder”) by Chief Edgar Red Cloud.

Goble’s illustrations accurately depict Native American clothing, customs, and surroundings in brilliant color and detail. He also researched ancient stories and retold them for his young audiences. Goble lived with his late wife in Rapid City, SD. They had one adult son.

An Interview with Paul Goble


Kathy Floyd from Wisdom Tales Press interviewed award-winning author/illustrator Paul Goble in April, 2014 about his life and work:

What do you think it is about your books that have attracted children, parents and librarians over the years? What makes them so special to readers?

I am indeed glad to think that the books are special to people. Is it the color, the layout? Is it the difference from the general genre of “children’s books”? (I have always felt a bit of a square peg in a round hole as far as children’s books are concerned.) Is it that I have always tried to add an extra dimension of spirituality, or of wonder to the story, for I very much feel it when working on the stories, and I like to think it might be the same with the artwork as well. Is it something to do with that I am old-fashioned?

What has been the most challenging aspect of illustrating the stories that you have chosen?

Figures, people, men and women, children! It has sometimes taken me all day to get the drawing of a figure “right”, or as near as I can get it. During the early years I used to think, and hope, that drawing would become easier in time, but it never did. All drawing is difficult, but figures in particular. I defy any artist to say drawing is easy, because if it is no struggle then the capabilities are not being stretched.

What do you hope that children, in particular, will get out of your books?

As a child, before I could read, my mother read often to me, specially the books by Beatrix Potter. When I could read for myself I had few books written just for children, but instead struggled through “chapter books”, like Treasure Island, and Masterman Ready, Mr Midshipman Easy, mostly stories to do with the sea. When working on books, it was never my intention to write just for children but for adults as well. Perhaps this was because I never really knew what constituted a book for children! I have always thought that children rise to what they can take in from a book, and adults take in what they read at their own level of understanding. Most authors and illustrators seek to make the children laugh. I must just be more serious than most.

Is there any book you have not written or illustrated that you always wanted to do?

Having written and illustrated my first two books: Custer’s Last Battle and The Fetterman Fight, I wanted to do a book about the Ghost Dance and the Massacre at Wounded Knee. It is a depressing slice of history and perhaps would have made a good book.

You were born in England but have a great love for the American Indians. What attracted you in particular to the Plains Indians from North America?

In the early years my mother read me the books by Grey Owl, and she made me a play tipi and outfit, complete with buzzard feather warbonnet. Later, as a teenager, and having read Black Elk Speaks – Being the life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, by J.G. Neihardt, and the Letter and Notes by George Catlin, (and much more), I was fortunate to come into contact with people who knew Indian people: Fr Gall Schuon, a Trappist monk of the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Scourmont in Belgium, adopted by Black Elk and given the name Lakota Ishnala, Lone Sioux; Joseph Epes Brown who authored The Sacred Pipe and was adopted by Black Elk with the name Chanumpa Yuha Mani, He Who Walks with the Sacred Pipe. At an impressionable age, these and others helped to shape my life.

Your books include retellings of the sacred myths and legends from the Plains Indians. What kind of research do you do for each of your books?

Over the years I have read many myths. When one or another comes to mind, it is usually because I feel I understand its inner meanings, rather than just something quite foreign. Probably the myth exists in several quite different published forms or accounts. I am a traditionalist and I seek to go back to the oldest published sources because I feel those are likely to be the truest. I go to my Native American contacts and ask them to tell me the story, but usually they have no memory of it; ‘not one of ours, another tribe’s’, etc…, even if I know it was part of their tribal memory at one time. The oldest sources are to be found in museum and society records, usually rather difficult to obtain. These were authored by scientists who often had little knowledge of the story’s context and saw it merely as a whimsical tale. But it was told for a reason by the “buffalo eaters”, during the period around 1880 to 1920, a period when scientists were eager to record whatever they could before it slipped from memory, and the “buffalo eaters” were similarly eager to leave a record because their children and grandchildren were learning the ways of white people, and were no longer interested. It was an interesting period of cooperation, although today is little countenanced by Indian people, because, like all of us, they find the thought process too foreign, and certainly very much in the culture has changed since buffalo days.

Your Illustrations incorporate influences from American Indian ledger book art. Could you say a little more about this?

When I first saw ledger book art (Cohoe 1964; Bad Heart Bull 1967), I fell in love with its bright colors and its drawing. In my innocence I felt I could copy it! And looking today at my early books, Custer, Fetterman and Horse Raid, the influence of ledger book art is plain to be seen. But thereafter I slowly began to find my own style. The signature “white lines” were my attempt to brighten the art rather like bead and quillwork.

Where is your favorite place to work? What is your studio like, if you have one?

At home with my beloved wife, Janet! North light, south light, any window so long as the light is good. It has never mattered, so long as I can be quiet and listen to Bach as I work. I once complained to Marco Pallis that my conditions of work were not good and that I had difficulties. Never wait for conditions to be right, they never will be, he told me. He told how he once met a painter in Tibet of beautiful thangkas on silk. He worked in a corner near the kitchen in a three- or four-generation household, but when he painted he was totally cut off mentally from his surroundings. Marco told me I should try to be like that man. My work desk has been from just 4 feet to 18 feet wide, depending on the space I had. Nothing special.

Write or paint about whatever you love best! Get excited about it! Let yourself become obsessed in it! Even monomania?!

Your career as an author has been incredibly successful. If you hadn’t become an author/illustrator, what other career would you like to have pursued? Do you think you would have been good at it?

Furniture designer. I had already won several competitions, but my designs were considered on the whole to be too avant-garde, too modern, and I had already gone more into teaching in an art college than working freelance.

Do you have any special message for your readers?

I hope that children, parents, grandparents, teachers will all like the books. Nobody is too old, or too young to think about the inner meanings of a sacred myth. That is why I prefer books to be listed as for “all ages”. If it is not of interest to parents they will not read it to their children, for being read to is as important as reading to oneself. Ignore the designations which publishers so love to give their books!


References

Blish, Helen H., and Amos Bad Heart Bull, 1967. A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Cohoe, WIlliam, 1964. A Cheyenne Sketchbook. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Awards Won by Goble and his Books


  • The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses: The prestigious Caldecott Medal
  • Star Boy: The Library of Congress’ Children’s Book of the Year Award
  • The Earth Made New: Plains Indian Stories of Creation: Gold Midwest Book Award for “Child/Young Adult Fiction”
  • All Our Relatives: Traditional Native American Thoughts about Nature:
    • Silver Midwest Book Award for “Nature”
    • Nomination for James Madison Book Award
  • Tipi: Home of the Nomadic Buffalo Hunter:
    • ForeWord Book of the Year Award Finalist for “Juvenile Nonfiction”
    • 2 Silver Midwest Book Awards for: “Child/Young-Adult Non-Fiction” and “Nature”
    • Winner of the Benjamin Franklin Silver Award for “Interior Design, Children’s/Young Adult”
  • The Boy & His Mud Horses: Winner in the “Children's Mind/Body/Spirit” category of The USA “Best Books 2011” Awards, sponsored by USA Book News
  • The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi:
    • Gold Midwest Book Award for “Children’s Fiction”
    • Gold Midwest Book Award for “Illustration: Graphic”
    • ForeWord Book of the Year Bronze Medal award for “Juvenile Fiction”
  • The Woman who Lived with Wolves & Other Stories from the Tipi:
    • Silver Midwest Book Award for “Children's Fiction”
    • Finalist for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award for “Children's Juvenile Fiction”
  • Custer’s Last Battle: Red Hawk’s Account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn:
    • Gold Medal winner of the 2014 Benjamin Franklin Award in the category “Young Reader: Fiction (8-12 Years)”
    • Silver Midwest Book Award for “Children’s Fiction”
    • Finalist for 2013 Foreword Review “Book of the Year” Award in the category “Juvenile Fiction”
  • Horse Raid: The Making of a Warrior:
    • Finalist in the “Children's Fiction” category of The USA “Best Books 2014”
    • Finalist in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Award for Young Reader: Fiction (8-12 years)
    • Gold Medal in the “Total Book Design” category of the 2014 Midwest Book Awards
  • Red Cloud’s War: Brave Eagle’s Account of the Fetterman Fight:
    • Award-Winning Finalist in the “Children's Fiction” category of the 2015 USA “Best Book” Awards
    • Gold Medal in the 2016 Benjamin Franklin Book of the Year Awards, in the “Young Reader: Fiction (8-12 years)” category
    • Gold Medal in the “Children’s Fiction” category of the 2015 Midwest Book Awards
    • Silver Medal in the “Interior Design” category of the 2015 Midwest Book Awards
  • In 2006, Paul Goble received the Regina Medal, an American literary award of the Catholic Library Association, for his “continued, distinguished contribution to children’s literature.”


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