Icons and Legends-Leo and Diane Dillon

I am sad to have to offer my condolences as I post this Icons and Legends article. Leo and Diane Dillon easily made my list of Icons and Legends. I was saddened to learn that Leo Dillon passed away on May 26th. So I’m posting this as a tribute to him, his wife and their numerous contributions to the art world. He will be missed.

I first became familiar with the Dillon’s through their magical Caldecott award winning book, “Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.” Their artwork was African inspired and perfectly captured the tone and content of the book. I only wanted to learn more about them. I got the chance in college when they were the subject of Illustration History.


Leo and Diane Dillon are a married couple who have collaborated artistically for the length of their five decade relationship. They met while attending Parsons School of Design in New York in 1954. Initially they were artistic rivals!  Rivalry evolved into competitive friendship which then evolved into a romantic relationship and eventually a lasting marriage and artistic partnership. They graduated in 1956 and married the next year. They graduated in 1956 and married the next year. They have one son, Lee who is also an artist and has worked collaboratively with his parents.

“They call their collaborative artistic approach the “third artist”, viewing themselves as a single artist composed of the greatest strengths of the two individuals, and more capable together than either could be individually. Though not unique, this kind of artistic cooperation is rare and difficult to manage, usually because of the issues artists have with clashes of ego.” taken from Lines and  Colors post here.

Their work and style varies from project to project taking on the qualities and aesthetics that the story requires but remaining infused with influences from their individual cultures and collective experiences. They have worked on both children’s literature and adult paperbacks.


They won two consecutive Caldecott Medals the first for Why Mosquitoes Buzz In People’s Ears in 1976 and the very next year for  Ashanti To Zulu: African Traditions in 1977. They also went on to win a plethora of awards and recognition for the duration of their careers including a Hugo Award in 1971.  They  received their Doctorate of Fine Arts in 1991.  Some of their more notable works being many of the C.S. Lewis Narnia books in 1994.


A biography was written of their work and styles  by Byron Preiss in a book he edited in 1981, The Art of Leo & Diane Dillon.

Their is a site dedicated to their work at
A complete list of their  awards and published titles, here.

Please enjoy below a narrated variation of their book, Why Do Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears in the below video narrated by James Earl Jones.

Watch Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears on PBS. See more from WENH.


  1. Mary Ferris

    As an artist and Illustrator, this is a sad bit of news. Thank you for sharing and revisiting their work, I am going to go through my library and reread a couple.

    • WilsonWJr

      Thanks so much Mary. I confess to having a limited amount of their work. Largely covers and the two award winning Childrens Books. Which means I’ll be putting a nice little dent in my library card! Thanks so much for stopping by and please do come back often!

  2. P.J. Wallace

    I love their work and will miss such great talent….this video is wonderful.


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