It's hard to think of many writers or illustrators, with the exception of Dr. Seuss, who influenced picture books for the last three generations more than Robert McCloskey (September 15, 1914 – June 30, 2003).
A list of the books he wrote and illustrated pretty well describes my childhood library checkouts, and then my own bookshelf. Starting with Lentil in 1940 (one of my first Scholastic Book Club books), and then continuing with Make Way for Ducklings, Homer Price (still one of my favorite books), Blueberries for Sal, Centerburg Tales, One Morning in Maine, Time of Wonder, and Burt Dow - Deep-Water Man, McCloskey set the bar high for writer/illustrators, with two Caldecott Medals and two more Caldecott Honors awards.
That would be more than enough to make his birth worth celebrating, but there's more. In addition to his own books, he also illustrated several books for other authors, including one of my favorite childhood reads, Journey Cake, Ho by his mother-in-law, Ruth Sawyer.
Not bad for somebody who described himself as an accidental writer. McCloskey's early dream was to be a musician (reflected in Lentil), and he played several instruments. He was also a life-long mechanical tinkerer and inventer. As a child he invented a machine to whip cream. Unfortunately, just like with Homer Price's doughnut machine, something went wrong when he tried and he sprayed cream over all four walls of his mother's kitchen.
Finally, he developed an interest in illustrating. He wrote that he had never intended to write, but when he drew, stories came out between the pictures.
Celebrate this great author's life today by digging out one of his books and reading it to your kids, or just curl up and read it to yourself.