Barbara Cooney and her twin brother were born on August 6, 1917 in Brooklyn, New York, where they lived for only two weeks before moving to Long Island. Cooney’s father was a stockbroker; her mother was an artist. She attributes her interest in art to the fact that tubes of paint, brushes, paper and other art supplies were readily available as she grew up. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in art history from Smith College in 1938, Cooney studied lithography and etching at the Art Students’ League in New York City. In 1940 she illustrated Bertie Malmberg’s Ake and His World. In 1941 the first of her own books, King of Wreck Island, was published.
In 1942 Cooney joined the Women’s Army Corps and later that same year married Guy Murchie, a war correspondent and author. They had two children. Murchie and Cooney divorced in 1947, and in 1949 she married C. Talbot Porter, a medical doctor. They also had two children.
Cooney draws what is familiar to her. Many of the plants drawn for her Caldecott-winning book Chanticleer and the Fox, an adaptation of Chaucer’s “Nun’s Priest Tale,” were from her own garden. Chickens, borrowed from a neighbor, also served as models. Many of her more than eighty books have resulted from her travels to Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, England, France, Haiti, India, Tunisia and Greece. Early in her career, Cooney worked primarily in scratchboard. Later she began working in pen and ink, pen and ink with wash, casein, collage, watercolor, and acrylic, illustrating books written by both herself and others.
Cooney won the Caldecott Medal in 1959, the University of Southern Mississippi’s Silver Medallion in 1975 and the Smith College Medal in 1976. She has illustrated a number of award-winning books, including Green Wagons, Kildee House, Miss Rumphius, Ox-Cart Man,Too Many Pets, When the Sky Is Like Lace, and Squawk to the Moon, Little Goose.