The Eloise series, written by Kay Thompson and illustrated by Hilary Knight, has brought delight to little girls for 60 years. On this anniversary, some new information has been shared about the writing and illustrating of these beloved books. We want to share four interesting facts, old and new, about the famous resident of The Plaza Hotel.
1. Who is Eloise? Lots of people think that Eloise is based on the childhood life of Liza Minnelli. Author Kay Thompson was godmother to Judy Garland’s daughter, Liza, and Liza lived with Thompson on-and-off throughout her childhood. While Liza might have provided some inspiration, the actual character of Eloise was an alter ego of Thompson. Often while talking on the phone with her friends, Thompson would suddenly start talking in the voice of a 6 year old girl named Eloise. One friend, D.D. Ryan, enjoyed the character so much that she put Thompson into contact with illustrator Hilary Knight so the two could write a book.
2. It was Hilary Knight’s first picture book. The first Eloise book was published when Knight was just 29 years old. Son of two famous illustrators, Knight had provided illustrations for various magazines prior to meeting D.D. Ryan, who worked for Harper’s Bazaar at the time. After Ryan introduced him to Thompson, Knight illustrated 3 Eloise books with Thompson and another one following Thompson’s death. As of today, Knight has illustrated over 50 books, 9 of which he authored, as well as magazines, Broadway posters, and album covers. After all of this, he is still most remembered for his drawings of the little girl in the The Plaza.
3. The book was originally intended for adults. Even though the cover of Eloise says “A book for precocious grown-ups,” few people realize that the book was not intended for children. The New York Times didn’t review Eloise when it was published because they were not entirely sure what category it fit in: adults or children?
4. Thompson and Knight worked very closely together. This is uncommon for most authors and illustrators. While writing Eloise in Paris, the duo took a trip to Paris together and spent many hours collaborating on the text and art. This close relationship turned volatile during the creation of the fourth Eloise book. Knight describes instances where Thompson would destroy his illustrations or grab his hand while he was drawing. He decided to leave the team, and Thompson did not allow the fourth book to be finished or Knight to use the Eloise image elsewhere. After Thompson’s death, her estate allowed Knight and the publishers to finish the fourth book, Eloise Takes a Bawth. Subsequent attempts by Knight to continue the series were met with difficulty from Thompson’s estate, and more modern Eloise productions are handled by a different artist.
We hope you learned something new about the making of these classic children’s books. Happy reading!
Jocelyn Wildhack and Amanda Farenthold
Shire, Emily. (2015, March 3). The man who brought Eloise to life: Hilary Knight’s fairytale of New York. The Daily Beast.
Stanley, Alessandra. (2015, March 22). ‘It’s Me, Hilary’ documentary spotlights Eloise’s illustrator. The New York Times.