Twin Cities Business Listing

226 N Washington St, New Ulm, MN 56073
Visit Wanda Gág’s childhood home $5/adult; Kids Free
Hours of Operation:
Mon. Closed
Tue. Closed
Wed. Closed
Thu. Closed
Fri. Closed
Sat. 10:00 AM – 04:00 AM
Sun. 11:00 AM – 02:00 AM
Open weekends May – October or by appointment. This is a volunteer-run site. We recommend calling ahead.

Wanda Gág is one of Minnesota’s most famous children’s book authors. Families can tour her childhood home when visiting New Ulm. Though her other books may not be as well known as her classic book Millions of Cats, her artwork is distinctive enough that you’ll recognize her books immediately. Her artwork has even been featured in an exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

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Books by Wanda Gág

Shop our Bookshop* Wanda Gág shop to find in-print books:

Some of Gág’s books are out-of-print and hard to find.

University of Minnesota Press released the board book version of ABC Bunny by Wanda Gág in April 2022. Originally published in 1933, I was surprised to learn that it had not been published as a board book until now! It is an ideal book for the board book style and will age well with kids, making it a good addition to your own bookshelves.

Book Review: ABC Bunny Earns Its Space On Your Bookshelf

Joy had a chance to review the new board book version of ABC Bunny in April of 2022. Read her review below:

I’m excited to add this book to my permanent collection. Although my kids are older, I think the artwork is fun to study at any age and I love the idea of having a small set of baby-friendly board books available for visitors and future grandchildren.

Reading ABC Bunny with Babies:

According to Michigan State University1, babies birth through four months have an easier time focusing on high contrast images – like black and white contrasting images. These image may help infant vision development. The Department of Health’s Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center2 also recommends choosing books with high contrast images until around six months. With its black and white drawings and bright red alphabet letters the pages of this book would be appealing to babies.

Letter M of ABC Bunny Book by Wanda Gág
Babies focus best on high contrast images

ABC Bunny For Pre-Readers:

The rhyming text makes it an easy book for toddlers and preschool kids to memorize so they can “read” it, too. Scholastic Books suggests this memorizing phase is an indication that your child is ready to take the next step on their reading journey. When you see this happening, Scholastic offers fun ways to build on their interest in it’s article, Your Preschooler Is ‘Reading’ — But Has Just Memorized the Words. Now What?3. Find a link at the bottom of this article.

To facilitate memorization, I like to use songs. Wanda’s sister, Flavia Gág, wrote a nursery song using the Lyrics of ABC Bunny. You can hear it sung on YouTube4.

Grade School Fun

My grade school kids also appreciated the way the text flowed. They are big enough to dig deeper into Wanda Gág, herself. Of course, you can add Gág’s most famous book, Millions of Cats, to your kids shelves by grade school. Also, on my wish list are her fairytale books and Gone is Gone. Grade school kids will appreciate the art of all of her books and can have fun deep diving into her life and her art:

1. Explore Printmaking
The MIA has a collection of Wanda Gág’s artwork, including many of the lithograph drawings created for ABC Bunny. Unfortunately, these are not currently on display, but you can view them online5. It’s fun to see that each picture had to be drawn backwards, including letters and words, so they would print correctly to the page! This would be fun to pair with your own printing project. The Highpoint Center for Printmaking website has ideas for printing at home, we have a link at the bottom of this page6.
2. Visit the Wanda Gág House

Located in her childhood home in New Ulm, Minnesota, the Wanda Gág House Museum is traditionally open from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October. Admission is $5/pp for adults. (Kids are free.) Families can choose to explore on their own or take a 45-minute guided tour.

For Adults and Teens

Children’s book geeks like me or those interested in the art of illustrating may want to take a explore into Wanda Gág even deeper. We are so lucky to have a ton of information in the Twin Cities. To start with, Growing Pains7 – her journal from about age 15-25 – is available through Hennepin County Library.

1. The Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature

The University of Minnesota maintains a collection of materials related to children’s books and authors. Learn more about materials related to Wanda Gág, including ABC Bunny at the Kerlan Collection webpage8.

2. KFAI’s MinneCulture

Then listen to the podcast, Meow! The Kids Book That Changed The Genre Forever9, from KFAI.

I received a copy of The ABC Bunny Board Book from the University of Minnesota Press to facilitate this review.

More About Wanda Gág

The following information has been reprinted courtesy of MNopeda and its author Phil Anderson10 under a Creative Commons License and may be reprinted under the same license.

Wanda Gág was determined to be an artist from an early age, and ultimately she succeeded. Her talent steered her through family hardship and hesitant early artistic efforts until she created Millions of Cats, her 1928 children’s book. It has never been out of print.

Gág and her family were Bohemian in both senses of the word. Her father was from the region called Bohemia that is now part of the Czech Republic. Both of her parents were also bohemian in spirit, being artists and freethinkers. In the late nineteenth century they married in New Ulm, where Wanda was born in 1893.

Anton Gág was a painter, photographer, musician, and mentor. He and his wife Elisabeth (Lissi) encouraged all of their children to read, to draw, and to make music. The family was close, and Wanda grew up believing that every child had an innate ability to draw. Anton struggled to find work, painting church interiors, taking photographic portraits, and even trying to start an art school.

Wanda had to grow up fast. In 1908, when she was fifteen, Anton died of tuberculosis. His dying words were reported as, “What Papa was unable to accomplish, Wanda will have to finish.” Years of hunger and deprivation followed, but all of the Gág children went to high school.

Wanda Gág’s ambitions were always strong, and she won drawing competitions as a teenager. In 1913, she won a scholarship to the St. Paul School of Art. From 1914 to 1917 she attended the Minneapolis School of Art (later Minneapolis College of Art and Design), also on scholarship. In addition, she won prizes given by her fellow students, drew portraits for income, and gained local patrons. One was Herschel V. Jones, publisher of the Minneapolis Journal, who paid for her supplies and schooling.

In 1917, Gág won a full scholarship to the renowned Art Students League in New York. In the same year, her mother died, and the Gág siblings arranged to stick together. Eventually, some of them lived with her in New York, and she began to sell both fine-art prints and illustrations for books and ads. She was a friend to many famous artists of the time, including lithographer Adolf Dehn, with whom she had a brief romance.

Gág was successful with commercial assignments, but she preferred more independent work. In 1928, after two successful gallery shows of her prints and drawings, a children’s book editor invited her to write and illustrate a book for “juvenile readers.” Gág swiftly produced the manuscript for Millions of Cats, and once it was published her ambitions for independence were realized.

Millions of Cats is considered a prototype of the modern children’s book. It uses poetic wordplay and vivid, horizontal imagery to engage readers of all ages. In the story, an old man can’t choose just one cat for his wife, so the landscape swarms with felines.

The imagery in each of Gág’s ten books evokes Old World folk art, yet her plot twists are odd and modern. In Gone is Gone, a man insists on doing housework because he thinks his wife has it too easy. In Nothing at All, an invisible dog follows its two siblings to a new home, gradually acquiring physical form due to the advice of a magical bird.

Gág was a pioneer in many arenas beyond the “new” children’s book. She created award-winning prints of common objects, adding slight distortions that made them seem alive. She experimented with painting on sandpaper. She was also feminist in her beliefs about women’s relations to men, and about their rights to independent careers.

Apart from her picture books and fine-art prints, another of Wanda Gág’s legacies was her five-hundred-page autobiography, Growing Pains. This 1940 book, based on her detailed diaries, covers just her life through art school, and is alternately impulsive and honest. “I will have to be clever! It nearly breaks my heart,” she writes in one entry.

In 1931, Gág bought a small farm in New Jersey that she named “All Creation.” There, she hosted friends and family, worked, and enjoyed life with her husband, Earle Humphreys. After being diagnosed with lung cancer in 1945, she took a winter trip to Florida before her beloved spring returned again. She died in New York City on June 27, 1946.

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