Eloise, one of the most iconic six-year-olds in children’s literature, celebrated her 60th birthday in style at, where else, the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The 89-year-old illustrator, Hilary Knight, joined colleagues from Simon and Schuster and others from the world of children’s books in the hotel’s Palm Court to celebrate the character that he and Kay Thompson created in 1955. In addition to the anniversary of the famous picture book, the group fêted the release of Knight’s new book, The 365 Days of Eloise: My Book of Holidays (S. & S., 2015), which features all-new illustrations that take readers through a year of holidays with the precocious New Yorker.
“Eloise is a classic that comes down to two things: that audacious voice and those enchanting drawings,” said Jane Bayard Curley, an independent curator specializing in the art of children’s literature. Curley has curated exhibits on William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, Hardy Grammatky, and most recently, Ludwig Bemelmans. She believes that it’s Knights’ drawings that give Eloise her staying power.
Knight, who was right at home in the Plaza, reminisced about meeting Kay Thompson in the formerPersian Room night club at the hotel when he was 28. “It was a joy ride with Kay. [She was] a very witty woman who was on top of everything. We traveled the world together, lived together, and did four books together,” he remembered. “It was a joy; it was never work.”
In a recent article in Vanity Fair about the anniversary, author Patrick Monahan focuses on a bottle of gin in a Eloise bedroom illustration which he calls “an illusive indiscretion.” Knight was anxious to set the record straight and clarify “the gin bottle issue.” The illustrator explained, “It was unfortunate that ever got in there. It belongs to her mother’s lawyer and he finished it.” He compared the bottle to Winnie the Pooh’s honey pots, which Pooh uses for storage. “Eloise sees this empty gin bottle and thinks it would look great on her shelf” because she loved the label, clarified Knight. Gin controversy aside, The Plaza created a signature cocktail for the celebration called The Eloise.