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Legendary Cartoonist and Children's Author Syd Hoff--An American Original and an Inspiration For YOU to Mine the Gems in YOUR Family Tree

Jul 2, 2008
"Even in tough times, everyone is waiting to be amused, to laugh, to smile!"

Those were the words of Syd Hoff -- one of the 20th Century's most endearing children's authors, illustrators and gag cartoonists -- whose humor and talent touched the lives of generation after generation during our nation's darkest days AND finest hours.

Whether you're 5 or 95, the chances are you've probably come in contact with one of Syd's nearly 200 books, including Danny and the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal, and his syndicated cartoon Laugh it Off which appeared in more than 200 magazines. His comic strip Tuffy, about a little girl who did funny things, was declared essential for national morale during WWII by William Randolph Hearst.

Regarded as one of the world's foremost and most prolific cartoonists, Syd contributed 571 cartoons to The New Yorker between 1931 and 1975. He always said that the best humor comes from the familiar. Drawing on his own experiences, the immigrant Jewish population and the Depression became the arena of focus in which he managed to bring lightness and humor.

Trained as a serious painter, yet inspired by the quirkiness of real life, his cartoons never stepped over the boundaries of decency and good taste as he celebrated the individual, triumphing over struggles of everyday life. According to Syd, "A good cartoon has got to remind people of something they're faced with. They won't laugh unless it's something they've seen or experienced."

Syd has worked in diverse genres. He had the distinct honor of working with Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen as a contributor of short fiction writing. He was awarded national advertising commissions for large companies such as Chevrolet, Maxwell House Coffee and others. He had his own TV show (Tales of Hoff on CBS), traveled the world as entertainment on cruise ships, and entertained children and teachers in schools and libraries across the country.

While Syd may be regarded as one of the great humorists of the 20th Century, in the eyes of children he will always be celebrated and remembered as the author of Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal and many more. Imagination, humor and simplicity are hallmarks of Syd's work. "I like to make kids laugh. A lot of people think it's easy to write for children, but children are critical and have their own requirements. They know immediately whether a book is 'real' or not. It can be fantasy, but it must be believable," Syd said in a 1982 newspaper article. He has also written books with historical themes, as in Boss Tweed and the Man Who Drew Him (about Thomas Nast, political cartoonist) and The Man Who Loved Animals (about Henry Bergh, founder of SPCA).

Speaking of Family -- What Hidden Treasures Might You Discover in Your Own Family History?

Have you ever wondered what Aunt Bea did besides bake apple pies? Or what life was like when Uncle Max was a little boy? Today, family picnics and holiday gatherings are becoming less frequent as our lives are becoming more hectic. As a result, we're losing our connections with family -- to our roots and lineage -- and missing hidden treasures, inspiring stories and connections related to the loved ones who helped pave the road for us.

Don't wait! Strengthen your family connections NOW!

5 Easy Steps for 'Mining the Gems' in Your Family Tree:

1. Decide who to interview. Write some key questions and listen to "stories" from their early years... what was going on in the world at that time... what touched their hearts... what were their favorite books? ... what were their favorite family gatherings? Let one story guide you into the next as they share insights, memories and wisdom gained along the way.

2. Invite other family members to share what they know about that person. Let this become a family project.

3. Record your family interviews on video or audio tape, or keep notes in a special notebook, which can be divided into sections representing different phases or decades. With Syd, I kept everything in a notebook which eventually became www.SydHoff.org

4. Gather as many family photos as possible and look for related articles on the Internet about historical events related to a particular time/generation. You can also explore genealogy Websites to help fill in the blanks about your family.

5. Create a finished product: a video or DVD, a Website, scrapbook, or a self-published book that chronicles your family's journey. Make this a gift to yourself and to others in your family. Let this become a treasured gift that passes from one generation to the next.

My Own 'Modern Day Nancy Drew' Detective Experiences

Passionate about preserving the rich legacy of my own uncle, Syd Hoff, I had a mission to unearth the buried treasures about "the man behind the dinosaur", especially this year, as Danny and the Dinosaur celebrates its 50th anniversary (with more than 10 million copies since its release in 1958).

I created a website dedicated to Syd Hoff and in my research discovered that Syd and I shared common views about social issues, separated only by the different times in which we lived. In his early years many of Syd's adult cartoons dealt with issues challenging the status quo -- dealing with class, race and gender issues. While Syd was able to impact the world using pen and paper, I became a voice for various causes as a social activist. Unfortunately, Syd passed away before we could share and compare our stories. Here are more of my discoveries about Uncle Syd Hoff, 1912-2004:

1. He drew propaganda cartoons for the Office of War Information during WWII, which were dropped behind enemy lines in the China-Burma-India Theater.

2. He helped raise money for the Spanish Civil War by posing with other New York City artists for photographers.

3. He was involved in a protest to ban the Atomic Bomb.

4. In 1938, Syd painted a mural for a very famous NYC nightclub - Café Society, where Billie Holiday made famous the song Strange Fruit.

5. He was a master at exploring Depression-era humor, including New York tenement life. He turned the hard times into a funny idea and gave people hope. He showed the lighter side of poverty, while never ignoring the desperation felt during the Depression - especially as seen through the eyes of the children.

Final thoughts from Carol Edmonston

When Syd Hoff passed away in 2004, we lost a treasured icon -- one of the great humorists of the 20th Century. Through my research, I have come to appreciate that the more we deeply know our family members, the more deeply we'll know ourselves. Now, instead of wondering where some of my personality traits and values have come from, I look no further than my beloved uncle -- Syd Hoff.

Do the same in YOUR OWN FAMILY. Don't wait! Strengthen your family connections NOW.
About the Author
Contact Carol Edmonston: http://www.SydHoff.org ~ (714-870-5695) ~ info@SydHoff.org
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