Erlbruch, Wolf 1948–

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Erlbruch, Wolf 1948–


Born 1948, in Wuppertal, Germany. Education: Folkwang Hochschule (Essen, Germany), degree (graphic design), 1967.


Home—Wuppertal, Germany.


Illustrator, author, and educator. Freelance illustrator, beginning c. 1970; Fachhochschule Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany, professor of illustration, beginning 1990; Bergischen Universität, Wuppertal, Germany, professor of illustration and design, beginning 1997.


Art Directors Club (New York, NY).

Awards, Honors

Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, 1992, for Das Bärenwunder; Schnabelsteherpreis, 1996, and Silver Paintbrush award, 1998, both for Frau Meier, die Amsel; Luchs des Jahres, 1999, for Nachts; Silver Paintbrush award, 1999, for Loenoard, and 2004, for Die groβe Frage; Troisdorfer Bilderbuchpreis, 2000, for Neues ABC Buch für Kinder; Von der Heydt-Kulturpreis (Wuppertal, Germany); German Children's Literature Award, and Gutenberg prize (Leipzig, Germany), all 2003; Silver Pencil prize, 2004; Bologna Book Fair Ragazzi Award, 2004, for The Big Question; Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Illustration, International Board on Books for Young People, 2006.



Die fürchterlichen Fünf (title means "The Terrible Five"), Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany) 1990.

Leonard, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1991, translation published under same title, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Das Bärenwunder, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1992, translation by Michael Reynolds published as The Miracle of the Bears, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2006.

Ratten, Maro (Augsburg, Germany), 1993.

Zehn grüne Heringe, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1995.

Frau Meier, die Amstel, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1995, translation published as Mrs. Meyer, the Bird, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Engel und anderes Geflügel, 1998.

Nachts (title means "Nighttime"), Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1999.

La grand question, Éditions Être (Paris, France), 2003, German translation published as Die groβse Frage, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 2004, translation by Michael Reynolds published as The Big Question, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2005.

Das Adressbuch, Kunstmann (Munich, Germany), 2006.

Ente, Tod und Tulpe, Kunstmann (Munich, Germany), 2007.

Author's books have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, French, Italian, Swedish, and Danish.


James Aggrey, Der Adler, der nicht fliegen wollte, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1985, translation published as The Eagle That Would Not Fly), Little Tiger Press, 1985.

Werner Holzwarth, Vom kleinen Maulwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat, Peter Hammer Verlag (Wuppertal, Germany), 1991, translation published as The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1993, published as The Story of the Little Mole, Who Knew It Was None of His Business, Bennett Books (St. Albans, England), 1994.

John Saxby, Die Abenteuer von Eduard Speck, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1993.

Leo Brawand, Manager sind auch nur Menschen, Moskau (Düsseldorf, Germany), 1994.

Rafik Schami, Das ist kein Papagei!, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1994.

Giocanda Belli, Die Werkstatt der Schmetterlinge, Peter Hamer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1994, translation published as The Butterfly Workshop, Europa Editions (New York, NY), 2006.

Thomas Winding, Mein kleiner Hund Mister, Rowohlt (Hamburg, Germany), 1996.

Valérie Dayre, Die Menschenfresserin, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 1996.

Thomas Winding, Mein kleiner Hund Mister in der Nacht, Carlsen (Hamburg, Germany), 1998.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Das Hexen-Einmal-Eins, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1998.

John Saxby, Neue Abenteuer von Eduard Speck, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1998.

Dolf Verroen, Der Bär auf dem Spielplatz, Beltz & Gelberg (Weinheim, Germany), 1998.

Miriam Pressler and Yaakov Shabtai, Die wundersame Reise des kleinen Kröterichs, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 1998.

Hermann Schulz, Auf dem Strom, Carlsen (Hamburg, Germany), 1999.

Carli Biessels, Benni und die Wörter: eine Geschichte vom Lesenlernen, Beltz & Gelberg (Weinheim, Germany), 2000.

Karl Philipp Moritz, Neues ABC Buch, Künstmann (Munich, Germany), 2000.

Bart Moeyaert, Am Anfang, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 2003.

Dolf Verroen, Ein Himmel für den kleinen Bären, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 2003.

Erik Orsenna, Die Grammatik ist ein sanftes Lied, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 2004.

Ljudmila Ulitzkaja, Eiin glücklicher Zufall und andere Kindergeschichten, Hanser (Munich, Germany), 2005.

Lee Bennett Hopkins, editor, Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters (poems), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Bart Moeyaert, Olek schoβ einen Bärem und nähte sich aus dem Pelz eine Mütze, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 2006.

Rufus Beck, editor, Geschichten für und Kinder, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 2006.

Ein Baum von deiner Gröβe kann dir keinen Schatten spenden: Weisheiten aus Afrika, Peter Hammer (Wuppertal, Germany), 2006.

Contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including Playboy, Esquire, and Stern.


Several of Erlbruch's stories have been adapted for the German stage. Book illustrations have been collected and reproduced as calendar art and on notecards.


Considered one of Germany's most beloved illustrators, Wolf Erlbruch has received many prestigious awards for his work, among them the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis, the 2003 Gutenberg prize, and the 2006 Hans Christian Andersen Medal for Illustration. In his art for children's picture books, Erlbruch creates a unique mix of collage and drawing, captivating both children and adults alike, and his images have also appeared on calendars and cards. Incorporating humorous, over-the-top characters and imaginative details in his mix of collage and line, Erlbruch also incorporates both wit and emotion. His books, which include the German-language classics Die fürchterlichen Fünf, Das Bärenwunder, Frau Meier, die Amstel, Nachts, and Die groβe Frage, have been translated into numerous languages. English-language editions include The Big Question, The Miracle of the Bears, Leonard, and Mrs. Meyer, the Bird.

Erlbruch's style as an illustrator has developed since his first picture-book project: creating art for Ghanaian author James Aggrey's Der Adler, der nicht fliegen wollte (published in English as The Eagle That Would Not Fly). As Konrad Heidkamp noted in an essay for the New Books in German Web site, "there are a number of ingredients that we've come to associate with Erlbruch: the squared maths-book-style paper, the green kitchen-wall-like paper, the topographical maps, the rubber stamps, the animals cut out of picture encyclopaedias. The material is used so sparingly that there's space and time to see, to take in both content and substance," Heidkamp continued, concluding that "these … much-loved Erlbruch recipes … have been served up many times." The first book to exhibit the classic Erlbruch "recipe", according to Heidkamp, was The Story of the Little Mole, Who Knew It Was None of His Business, a quirky 1989 book by German journalist Werner Holzwarth. Other classics include Erlbruch's own Die fürchterlichen Fünf the self-illustrated Nachts, about a little boy who cannot sleep, and Frau Meier, die Amsel, the last published in English translation as Mrs Meyer, the Bird. In addition to being the illustrator's first original story, Die fürchterlichen Fünf features "a number of new components … [in] Erlbruch's personal mythology," according to Heidkamp: "the ever-present moon that illuminates his dusky drawings, his love of offbeat music, his attention to typography, and the careful design of the end-papers."

In another early self-illustrated picture book, Leonard, Erlbruch tells the story of a boy who loves dogs despite his fear of them. Hoping to overcome this fear, the boy wishes that he could become a dog, and his wish is granted. A similar story about overcoming fear is recounted in Mrs. Meyer, the Bird, as a woman overlooks her own worries while teaching an abandoned young bird to fly. In Publishers Weekly a contributor wrote that in Leonard Erlbruch "sketches a telling psychological portrait." Another Publishers Weekly reviewer cited

the "down-to-earth warmth" of Mrs. Meyer, the Bird, noting that the author/illustrator "ground[s his] … agreeable fantasy in a firm foundation of homey humor."

Erlbruch focuses on the cycle of life in The Miracle of the Bears. One spring, waking from a long hibernation, a bear cub goes in search of companionship after realizing that life only has meaning when it is shared. The author/illustrator grapples with another universal theme in the award-winning picture book The Big Question, which poses the quandary: "Why am I here?" In presenting a world of answers from a host of creatures, Erlbruch encourages each child to ponder and celebrate his or her own purpose on Earth. Calling The Big Question "striking in its simplicity," Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper added that the book's "amazing images" and "inventive" text will spark "conversation" and "musings." A Kirkus Reviews contributor echoed Cooper's assessment, calling Erlbruch's book "certain to leave even younger readers in a reflective mood." "Existentialists, and those who enjoy the occasional Zen koan, will appreciate this volume's inquisitive spirit and multiplicity of possible answers," concluded a Publishers Weekly reviewer of the work.

While noting the range of award-winning artwork Erlbruch has contributed to the texts of authors such as Gioconda Belli, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Karl Philipp Moritz, Heidkamp maintained that the illustrator's original stories, such as Nacht, Mrs. Meyer, the Bird, and The Miracle of the Bears, are the "most moving. No fantasy adventures, no social problems and no heroes," the critic added." "Just simple, quiet stories. About not being able to sleep at night, about grandpa dying, about wanting to have someone to hug, about taking care of the bird that can't fly. Or about getting up every day and having to create a bit more world. Just simple stories that become great books."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Wolf Erlbruch, Institut für Buchkunst (Leipzig, Germany), 2005.


Booklist, May 1, 1992, p. 1613; April 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Mrs. Meyer, the Bird, p. 74; February 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters, p. 1082; January 1, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of The Big Question, p. 111.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1995, review of Leonard, p. 51; February, 2005, Deborah Stevenson, review of Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters, p. 252.

Children's Bookwatch, June, 2007, review of The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit.

Horn Book, May-June, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters, p. 337.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2005, review of Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters, p. 121; October 1, 2005, review of The Big Question, p. 1079; October 15, 2006, review of The Miracle of the Bears, p. 1070.

Publishers Weekly, August 28, 1995, review of Leonard, p. 112; January 13, 1997, review of Mrs. Meyer, the Bird, p. 74; September 19, 2005, review of The Big Question, p. 66; November 27, 2006, review of The Miracle of the Bears, p. 50.

School Library Journal, January, 1996, Kate McClelland, review of Leonard, p. 83; February, 2005, Lauralyn Persson, review of Oh, No! Where Are My Pants?, and Other Disasters, p. 122; November, 2006, Margaret Bush, review of The Miracle of the Bears, p. 90.

Times Educational Supplement, April 23, 2004, Geraldine Brennan, review of The Big Question, p. A17.


New Books in German Web site, (August 10, 2007), Konrad Heidkamp, "How Simple Stories Become Great Books."