It was 50 years ago this year that Peggy Parish brought one of children’s literature’s most memorable characters to life in Amelia Bedelia, illustrated by Austrian émigré Fritz Siebel. Parish, who had spent years teaching, was inspired by her third grade students’ occasional frustrations in learning vocabulary. After sharing and discussing this with her editor, Susan Hirschman, the character Amelia Bedelia was born.

In her debut, it’s Amelia’s first day of work as a house maid for Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, who have left her a list of chores. Given that she follows directions literally, things don’t go precisely as Mrs. Rogers had planned. Change the towels? Draw the drapes? Dress the chicken? Sure thing; Amelia cuts holes in the towels, gets out her paper and pencil to sketch the curtains, and grooms the chicken, decking it all out in overalls and socks.

Fifty years later, children are still laughing over the ebullient Amelia—af indeed, not much seems to get her down—and her very literal mind. I recently read Greenwillow’s new 50th anniversary edition of the 1963 story to a group of children, curious to see if they’d still take to it, and it was met with great laughter.

Peggy went on to write 11 more books about Amelia. Her nephew, Herman Parish, has kept Amelia’s legacy alive in further tales. Various illustrators have brought Amelia to the page over the years, including Lynn Sweat and Lynne Avril. The anniversary reissue closes with a look at Peggy’s and Fritz’s careers, as well as images of Fritz’s early dummies of the book, whose art was pre-separated. Also included are some of Fritz’s editorial illustrations, as well as a note about his iconic 1938 World War II poster, “Someone Talked!”

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I took some time to chat with Herman Parish about the Amelia legacy and what’s next for the character.Amelia Bedelia cover

What do you think it is about these stories that make the character of Amelia so enduring?

I think that kids find it funny when a grown-up makes mistakes. They laugh when Amelia Bedelia mixes up the meanings of words and idioms. And they laugh when The Rogers get so frustrated with her.

Grown-ups are always telling kids, "please do what I tell you to do" or "just do what I say." Well, Amelia Bedelia does exactly what you tell her to do and, due to the complexities of the English language, that creates a problem.

I like that Amelia Bedelia may make mistakes, but she never lets that bother her. She just forges ahead, taking the world at face value and baking her way out of difficult situations.

What's one thing about Peggy Parish that most readers don't know and/or that would surprise them?

Here is an odd bit of history that few outside the family know: Her brother, my father, became a doctor. Peggy's mother had really wanted her to become a nurse.

Peggy Parish was a wonderful woman but, believe me, she would have made a terrible nurse. She had no inclination for nursing whatsoever. You would be far better off if your nurse were Amelia Bedelia!

In the 50 years of Amelia, do you have a favorite incarnation, a favorite version of Amelia, out of the handful of illustrators who have brought her to life?

My favorite illustrations are still those drawn by Fritz Siebel for the very first book. I think he truly captured Amelia's spirit and brought the character to life. You can tell that from the very first sketch he did of her, which is among the additional materials in the back of the 50th Anniversary Edition.

Also included is the sketch of Amelia Bedelia literally drawing the drapes with a pencil, instead of drawing them closed. Fritz had originally shown the drapes closed, already "drawn," and the note from the editor says "Fritz—don't have drapes 'drawn' i.e. —not closed!" Since Fritz immigrated here from Austria, I think that he could relate to Amelia Bedelia's difficulties with the English language.Dressed-Up Chicken

What's in Amelia’s future? What new stories of hers have you penned?

I am still writing adventures for Amelia Bedelia as a housekeeper. And now there is a Young Amelia Bedelia—actually two young incarnations. There is Amelia Bedelia as a first-grader, who has literal mix-ups in I-Can-Read books, and in picture books as a series of "firsts," such as her first day of school, her first Valentine's Day and so forth.

Then there is a slightly older Young Amelia Bedelia, in the third or fourth grade, who is appearing in two chapter books that have just been released. I love writing these chapter books, because this Amelia Bedelia has none of the responsibilities of a grown-up and is independent enough to get into lots of trouble. As far as I am concerned, that is a perfect combination for fun stories.

AMELIA BEDELIA: FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION. Copyright © 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers, New York. Images used with permission of the publisher.

Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.