“Noah’s Ark” brought Mr. Spier the Caldecott Medal, the highest honor for illustrators of picture books.
He said that he created children’s books “for the kids and the child within myself.”
One of his earliest books was inspired by a trip to Vermont with his wife, Kathryn. They were singing the old English folk song that begins, “The fox went out on a chilly night,” when Mr. Spier suddenly told her that the song — about a fox who steals a duck and a goose from a farmer to feed his and his wife’s 10 cubs — would be the ideal source for a children’s book.
“When we reached home a week later, I grabbed a few sketchbooks and drove back to New England,” he recalled. He filled the pages with notes about colors, weather and locations, and later added drawings of the covered bridges, cemeteries and farms of Newfane, Vt. Back home, he fleshed out his vision for the book with three full-size paintings.
“My editors at Doubleday took one look at them and said, ‘Great, go ahead,’ ” he wrote in 2012, the year “The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night” (1961) was released as an e-book. For that reissue, he colored the pages that had originally been printed in black and white to save money.
“He went back to his original line drawings,” said Frances Gilbert, editorial director of Doubleday Books for Young Readers. “He took the old drawings, scanned them and used them as the starting point for the colorizations.”
Peter Edward Spier was born on June 6, 1927, in Amsterdam and grew up in the small town of Broek in Waterland. His father, Jo, was a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist, and his mother, the former Albertine van Raalte, was a homemaker. His formal…