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Verna Aardema Papers

Identifier: DG0002

Scope and Contents

The collection contains both autobiographical material and material related to seven books by Aardema. The autobiographical material consists of a typescript autobiography written for the Something About the Author Autobiography Series in 1988 and related correspondence. In the typescript, Aardema not only relates the story of her life but also mentions specific anecdotes connected to several of her published stories. Correspondence related to this autobiography includes letters between Aardema and the editor for Something About the Author, letters to Aardema from her agency, and a letter to the de Grummond Collection from Aardema which documents the donation of these materials.

The seven titles by Aardema represented in the collection are: Bimwili and the Zimwi, Half-a-Ball-of-Kenki, More Tales from the Story Hat, The Riddle of the Drum, The Vingananee and the Tree Toad, Who's in Rabbit's House?, and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears. All of these except More Tales from the Story Hat (1966) were published between 1979 and 1985. For each of the six later titles, the collection contains multiple typescript drafts and correspondence between Aardema, her agent at Curtis Brown, and the book's editor concerning revisions and publication details. In most cases, Aardema meticulously dated each typescript and on many of them, before she donated the material in 1979, she noted the date of the draft and other information. Material for the seven books is arranged alphabetically by title; for each title, the correspondence is first and the other material is organized in the probable order in which it was created.

Bimwili and the Zimwi: A Tale from Zanzibar (1985) is the story of a girl who, on her first trip to the beach, is kidnapped by the Zimwi, an old, ugly ogre. The eight typescript drafts and the extensive correspondence between Aardema and a Dial Press editor document the creative process involved in writing the book.

Another African folktale, Half-a-Ball-of-Kenki: An Ashanti Tale (1979), recounts how the leopard got his spots. For this title the collection contains a copy of the 1930 publication upon which Aardema based the story, correspondence with an editor at Dial Press, two typescript drafts, and two reviews. Aardema first published this story along with ten others in More Tales from the Story Hat (1966). The collection has an edited typescript of a 1966 draft of "Half-a-Ball-of-Kenke."

In contrast to Aardema's many African stories is The Riddle of the Drum: A Tale from Tizapan, Mexico (1979), which tells of the efforts of Prince Tuzan to solve the riddle of the drum so he can marry a beautiful princess. For this title there is correspondence between Aardema and a Four Winds editor, three typescript drafts, and an unbound copy of the book, including dust jacket. In the correspondence, Aardema provides background information about the dedication. The correspondence also discusses last-minute changes necessary to reconcile Tony Chen's illustrations and Aardema's text.

Aardema wrote The Vingananee and the Tree Toad: A Liberian Tale (1983) in 1979. The collection contains extensive correspondence between Aardema, her agent, and editors at Frederick Warne, as well as six typescript drafts produced during the four years that elapsed between the first draft and publication. The selection of Ellen Weiss to illustrate the book is also discussed in the correspondence.

Who's In Rabbit's House? A Masai Tale (1977) is the story of a brave frog who claims to be a cobra and tricks The Long One (a.k.a., caterpillar) into coming out of Rabbit's house. The collection contains two typescripts, including the final draft, and correspondence relating to publication details. The correspondence includes letters in 1979 between Aardema and a Dial editor about textual changes made, without Aardema's knowledge, in the page proofs and revisions to be made in the text of all subsequent editions. Also included for this story are two unpublished, shorter versions prepared for Cricket and correspondence concerning its inclusion in a fourth grade reader series.

The Caldecott Medal winner Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (1975), illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, is the story of the chain of mischief initiated when Mosquito tells Iguana a tall tale. It was Aardema's eighth book of African folktales. In letters with her agent and editors, she discusses the possibility of a British edition and the publication of the book in Afrikaans. There also is a copy of a congratulatory letter to the Dillons for their receipt of the Caldecott. The collection contains two typescripts of the story, the final draft and another version written with ideophones.


  • Creation: 1965-1991

Conditions Governing Access

Non-circulating; available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U. S. Code). Reproductions can be made only if they are to be used for "private study, scholarship, or research." It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.

Biographical / Historical

Verna Norberg Aardema Vugteveen, who wrote under the name of Verna Aardema, was born in New Era, Michigan on June 6, 1911. She received a B.A. in journalism from Michigan State University in 1934. She was a grade school teacher in Michigan from 1934 to 1973 and staff correspondent for the Muskegon Chronicle from 1951 to 1972.

From the age of eleven, Aardema wanted to be a writer. She won three writing contests as a Michigan State senior. Later, when her daughter refused to eat without a story, Aardema began writing for children. These "feeding" stories tended to be set in Ashantiland or the Kalahari because she often read about Africa. Her first published stories, Tales from the Story Hat (1960), were very successful, and she continued to adapt and retell folktales from other lands for young American readers. Hallmarks of Aardema's stories are expressive animal characters speaking in ideophones (groups of sounds intended to capture a spoken word and that convey a particular idea).

In the 1970s Aardema teamed up with illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon to produce three picture books. Their Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (1975) received the Caldecott Medal in 1976 and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award in 1977. Who's in Rabbit's House? (1977) was the 1977 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award winner in 1978. Aardema received the Children's Reading Round Table Award in 1981, and several of her works have been selected as Notable Books by the American Library Association. Her Oh Kojo! How Could You! won the 1984 Parents' Choice Award for Literature.

Verna Aardema passed away on May 11, 2000.


.60 Cubic Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials



Verna Aardema was born in New Era, Michigan on June 6, 1911. In the 1970s Aardema teamed up with illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon to produce three picture books. Their Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (1975) received the Caldecott Medal in 1976 and the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award in 1977. The collection contains both autobiographical material and material related to seven of her books.


This collection consists of two boxes divided into two series:

Series I: Autobiographical Material

Series II: Books

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials received from Verna Aardema between 1977 and 1991.

Verna Aardema Papers
In Progress
Julia Marks Young and Sharon Miller
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note
This finding aid is the product of a grant funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Repository Details

Part of the de Grummond Childrens Literature Collection Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001