Tomi Ungerer (1931- 2019)

Otto. Autobiographie eines Teddybären

Otto. The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear

Transl. into German by Anna von Cramer-Klett 
Zurich: Diogenes, 1999

33 S., pencil, watercolour
29,5 x 21 cm, pictorial cardboard covers 

“I am my own child. If I write a book I do it mostly for myself for the child in me and for the adult in me.”
The book and its history

Ungerer lets a teddy bear tell his own life story: Of his moving into David's family, of David's friend Oskar, of the separation of the friends by the Nazis. Bombing raids destroy the city. Picked up by a soldier in the rubble, Otto becomes the mascot of US soldiers. Eventually Otto ends up at a junk dealer's, in whose shop window the aging Oskar finds and recognizes him. Through a newspaper article, David learns of the find, which brings the old friends together.


With realistic, often brightly colored watercolor drawings and concise text, Ungerer tells a German-American story, with restraint and without using his familiar sharp cartoonish line. He only uses expressive strokes and somber, mixed colors for the scenes of destruction, rubble, injury, and death. The face of war remains terrible even in the children's book.

Ungerer knows what he is talking about. As a nine-year-old, he experienced the Nazi invasion of Alsace, France. As a child, he documented the war, looting and indoctrination at school at that time in drawings. These early experiences led to his conviction that, as an enlightened person, he should also show all facets of life, including the terrible ones, in his books for children. With "Otto" he returns to his childhood after almost 60 years, following the publication in 1993 of his childhood memoirs "Tomi. A Childhood under the Nazis". 

Biographical note

Tomi Ungerer, born 1931 in Strasbourg, died 2019 in Cork, Ireland, spent most of his life in Ireland. He is one of the most internationally known and admired contemporary illustrators. Large parts of his diverse oeuvre of over 140 books and some 40,000 drawings have found a home in the Musée Tomi Ungerer in Strasbourg since 2007.

Ungerer began drawing as a child. He attended the École Municipale des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg only briefly in the years 1953 -1954, then worked as a decorative painter and printmaker and saw himself as a self-taught artist. His move to New York in 1956, where he initially made his living as a commercial artist and cartoonist, became formative. Impressed by illustrators such as Edward Gorey, William Steig, and Saul Steinberg, his first children's book, "The Mellops Go Flying," appeared in 1957 and immediately won an award. More picture books followed, an award in 1959 with the gold medal of the New York Society of Illustrators, numerous independent works such as social satires and cartoons, revealing, satirical-erotic drawings and many more children's books, a total of about 70.

In 1971, Ungerer moved to Nova Scotia, Canada, leaving behind the New York art world to live in the countryside. In 1976, he moved to Ireland. From the mid-70s until well into the 90s, Ungerer did not draw any children's books. With "Otto" (1999), a children's story about the expulsion of the Jews by the Nazis, he returned as one of the great children's book artists. In 1998, he received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the most prestigious international award in this field, for his life-time achievements in the field of children's and youth literature. In the spring of 2015, the New York Drawing Center honored him with the retrospective "All in One".

In the video “Tomi Ungerer on Writing for Children” on his official homepage, Ungerer emphasizes the importance of words for his children's books: "every word is a part of a possible poem"; it is "the greatest luxury in the world to be able to write and to draw". His stories start with an idea, then he draws and writes "and with the writing then things are coming together".


Official homepage -


Musée Tomi Ungerer
Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg, 2007

Museum Tomi Ungerer
Werkkatalog zur ständigen Ausstellung
Zürich: Diogenes 2008

Tomi Ungerer et New York
Straßburg: Musées de Strasbourg et Éditions La Nuée Bleue 2001
Maurice Sendak, 
Caldecott & Co. Notes on Books and Pictures.
New YorK: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988 (pp. 133).

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