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About Tomi Ungerer

Readers of American children's literature may well be more familiar with the name Shel Silverstein than the name of Silverstein's friend, Tomi Ungerer.  Silverstein credits Ungerer, who was already writing for children, with insisting that Silverstein could write and draw for children also.[i]  Ungerer and Silverstein have much in common:  both are/were cartoonists; both served in the military (Silverstein for the U.S. in Korea; Ungerer for France [in Algeria] in a camel caravan); both wrote for children as well as adults; and both had their risqué side, Silverstein as a cartoonist for Playboy, and Ungerer as a painter of erotica.


Given Ungerer's career path, it is somewhat surprising that he writes for children.  Born Jean Thomas Ungerer in 1931 in Strasbourg, Alsace (France), Ungerer's father died when Tomi was only four years old.  Tomi and his family endured the German occupation of Alsace, the Nazi influence in Tomi's school, and the requisition of their house by German soldiers during World War II.  Some years after the war, Ungerer was established in advertising.  He moved to the U.S., where he worked for television and for The New York Times.  Ungerer wrote satirical, humorous books for adults and was known for his anti-Vietnam War posters.


Becoming disillusioned with life in the U.S., Ungerer moved with his wife to a remote area of Nova Scotia.  There, he worked to rediscover his Alsatian roots, a foundation which Ungerer has built upon.  Currently living in Ireland, Ungerer works to improve French-German relations and was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for Childhood and Education[ii] by the Council of Europe.


The City of Boston, Massachusetts, enjoys a sister city relationship with Strasbourg, France.  As part of the cities' cultural exchange, in February 2006, an exhibition of Tomi Ungerer's work opened at Boston Public Library.  As part of the opening day festivities, the Consul General of France in Boston, François Gauthier, spoke these words in admiration of Tomi Ungerer:


This spirit of partnership, of mutual understanding and tolerance, is also the message that Tomi Ungerer gives us.  A great traveler, passionate about America, where he spent many years, he has never stopped spreading a message of freedom and of dialogue between cultures.  His is a free spirit that uses humor to denounce injustice and violence . . . he is also an apostle of peace and reconciliation, particularly between France and Germany.[iii]


Ungerer was awarded the Society of Illustrators Gold Medal (1960); the New York Times' Choice of Best Illustrated Children's Book of the Year (1962 and 1971); and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1998.[iv]


[i] Shel(don Allan) Silverstein. 2005. Contemporary Authors Online. [Detroit]: Thomson Gale. 

[ii] See Council of Europe site at

[iii] Gauthier, François. 2006. Speech at the "Opening of the Tomi Ungerer exhibition - February 7, 2006 - at the Boston Public Library."

[iv] Jean Thomas Ungerer. 2002. Contemporary Authors Online. [Detroit]: Gale. 



This review was written for a graduate course in Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, International Literature for Children and Young Adults. 

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