Ed Young was born on November 28, 1931 in Tianjin, China. When he was three years old, he and his family moved to Shanghai. His mother would ring a bell at mealtimes, and he would slide down the banister with his brothers and sisters. “I have never lost the child in me. My father would spin endless tales of his own to entertain our imaginations on summer nights lying on the flat roof of our house. I have never forgotten the images I saw in my mind.” From an early age, Ed loved to create stories and draw pictures and thought he could "disappear" into his own world, brought to life through his illustrations.
In 1951, Young came to America to study architecture. Instead, he grew more interested in art, and soon switched his major. Young’s first job was with a New York advertising agency where he spent his lunch breaks sketching animals at Central Park Zoo. During that time, he received a letter from his father which said, “A successful life and a happy life is one measured by how much you have accomplished for others and not one measured by how much you have done for yourself. “Young said, “I understood then that to realize my potential as an artist was subservient to my worth as a human being. To be truly successful, I needed to find a place where my work would also inspire others to fuller and happier lives. I wished to share with everyone my father’s words about success — work can, in fact, be the rooftop from which we launch ourselves to higher places.” In search of something more expansive, expressive, and timeless, Young discovered all this, and more, in children’s books.
Young’s first book, The Mean Mouse and Other Mean Stories, was published by Harper & Row in 1962. He expected it to be his first and last book, but it won an American Institute of Graphic Arts award and launched a career that has resulted in over eighty books for children. Most of his books are visual masterpieces using colors and images to convey hidden symbolism.
“A Chinese painting is often accompanied by words. They are complementary. There are things that words do that pictures never can, and likewise, there are images that words can never describe. I feel the story has to be an exciting and moving experience for a child. Before I am involved with a project, I must be moved, and, as I grow, I try to create something exciting. It is my purpose to stimulate growth in the reader as an active participant. To get the story across for me, mostly it’s the feeling. I think that if the book evokes a reaction of some sort, either positive or negative, I think it would have done what it is supposed to do.”
The subject and style of each story provide Young with the initial inspiration for his art and with the motivation for design, sequence, and pace. Accuracy in research is essential to his work, too — whether he is illustrating fantasy, folk tale, or fact. According to Young, a strong foundation of credibility must be established in order to create new and exciting images. Through such images, he hopes to capture his readers and ultimately expand their awareness.
In 1990, his book Lon Po Po, a Red-Riding Hood story from China, was awarded the Caldecott Medal. He has also received two Caldecott Honors — for The Emperor and the Kite and Seven Blind Mice — and was twice nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the highest international recognition given to children's book authors and illustrators who have made a lasting contribution to children's literature.
According to Young, “Producing a book becomes part of the spirit of each person who touched it and those who’d touched them.” During a Horn Book acceptance speech, Young spoke about the “Eight Matters of the Heart,” the place where he said that he puts his mind before he does his work (for more information, read Young’s book, Voices of the Heart.) When asked to elaborate, he said, “We put ourselves in jeopardy in life if we don’t have our mind and body in the right place. The eight matters must accompany me wherever I tread so that I know the time that I have in this world is well spent.”
In 1961, Young met the renowned tai chi master, Cheng Man-ch'ing. He became one of Cheng's top disciples in America, and was one of his two principal translators. Besides being a master of tai chi and Chinese medicine, Cheng was a highly respected master of Chinese painting, poetry and calligraphy. Being Chinese and an artist, Young was able to appreciate and absorb much of what Cheng had to say in those fields. Young is now a respected tai chi master in his own right, and has been teaching tai chi students for over three decades. He also enjoys swimming and says that his favorite sound is the sound of waves lapping the shore.