Rathmann was born on March 4, 1953, in Minnesota and grew up with her four brothers and sisters in a suburb of St. Paul. Though she illustrated campaign posters for her brother's successful campaign for a student council seat, Rathmann wasn't sure what she wanted to be when she grew up. First she settled on being an anthropologist because her dad was a scientist. Then she turned to art, but an instructor told her that she probably wouldn't make any money in the profession. Eventually she attended the University of Minnesota and earned a psychology degree. Wanting to learn sign language to communicate with gorillas, Rathmann discovered she'd rather draw the gorillas. Still unsure of her future, Rathmann also dabbled in medicine, commercial art at the American Academy in Chicago, and next fine art at the Atelier Lack in Minneapolis with an emphasis on portraits.
Her seven years of higher education helped prepare her for entertaining her nieces. On a car ride she developed and drew characters to help pass the time. It may have won her kudos from the children, but as a book it was lacking plot and conflict. She attempted to have it published and discovered with rejection after rejection that she needed more schooling. This time she enrolled in a course for writing and illustrating children's books at the Otis Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. That decision changed Rathmann's life, as one assignment after another she turned into an award-winning picture book.Ruby the Copycat
came from an assignment to write about an embarrassing personal characteristic. Then she illustrated a book for Barbara Bottner, her writing teacher. Another assignment led to Good Night, Gorilla
, though it took two years in the revision stage and at least ten different endings before she was completely satisfied with the story. Her Caldecott Medal-winning book Officer Buckle and Gloria
was also inspired from the classroom.
Since then Rathmann has continued to combine her artwork with her story-telling so that one part is dependent on the other part. She continues to bring humor to several more books for children that she has created from her home on a ranch in California.
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