Jan Wahl (1931-2019)

Jan Wahl, children’s book author and silent film historian extraordinaire, grew up in Toledo’s elegant neighborhood of Westmoreland. At the tender age of ten years old he began collecting old films, writing to movie stars, and collecting art. He was a very worldly kid. As a bright young student winning awards for his writing, a recipient of scholarships and also a Fulbright for study in Copenhagen, he might have been a novelist, or maybe a film director. But he found his calling as being an “extraordinarily prolific author” (as his New York Times obituary put it) of children’s books. “If we can get through to children, there’s a chance to shape a sort of better future,” he told The Blade in 1971. He authored over 130 books for children and also wrote some insightful books about the history of silent film through his own direct experiences.

Jan Wahl drew his inspiration from his own childhood in Northwest Ohio. At various times in his life he lived in New York, Mexico, and Copenhagen, but settled in Toledo (for better or worse, as only the artists of Toledo would understand) for his final 30 years. He gave back to the Toledo community every chance he got, through showing his old silent films including commentary only he could provide, at Bowling Green State University, the Toledo Museum of Art, and the Sylvania Senior Center. At libraries and schools, he gave talks to children about his books. He hosted a regular “movie night” in his basement for his friends.

Jan Wahl’s latest book came out one week after he passed away, Hedy Lamarr and Her Amazing Invention, about a beautiful movie star whose invention led to cell phones and more. He knew her personally, too.

Jan Wahl, Children’s Writer Who Attracted Top Artists, Dies at 87  The New York Times, Feb. 8, 2019, excerpt:

Jan Wahl is a children’s author known for his nimble prose whose work over many decades was illustrated by eminent artists like Maurice Sendak, Norman Rockwell and Edward Gorey. …All of his books were characterized by lucid writing.

The author Joe McGinniss, reviewing “Peter and the Troll Baby” in The New York Times Book Review in 1984, said that “what particularly distinguishes this book is something quite rare in the genre — the spare, fine precision of Jan Wahl’s writing. There was a gentleman named Hemingway who used to write language like that and for a long time people thought it was pretty good,” Mr. McGinniss continued. “I still do, and it is a wondrous surprise to find it in a book I get to read aloud at bedtime.”


Prize Author, The Blade, May 20, 1955
The Blade, May 23, 1965


Ex-Toledoan Finds Success as Writer, The Blade, August 30. 1964

Jan Wahl’s Pen For Children, The Blade, June 9, 1968

Growing Up in Ohio Makes Books, Ohioana Quarterly, 1969
Growing Up in Ohio Makes Books, Ohioana Quarterly, 1969
Growing Up in Ohio Makes Books, Ohioana Quarterly, 1969

Jan Wahl Acceptance Speech for Ohioana Book Award for Juvenile Fiction, Ohioana Quarterly, Spring 1971

A Jan Wahl Story, The Blade, April 1971
A Jan Wahl Story, The Blade, April 1971
A Jan Wahl Story, The Blade, April 1971
A Jan Wahl Story, The Blade, April 1971
A Jan Wahl Story, The Blade, April 1971


Author Stars Animals in Books, The Blade, Nov. 24, 1980

Confessions of Somebody Who Believes Animals Do Talk, Ohioana Quarterly, Autumn 1980
Confessions of Somebody Who Believes Animals Do Talk, Ohioana Quarterly, Autumn 1980
Confessions of Somebody Who Believes Animals Do Talk, Ohioana Quarterly, Autumn 1980
Confessions of Somebody Who Believes Animals Do Talk, Ohioana Quarterly, Autumn 1980

A Story For Toledo’s Children, The Blade, Sept. 22, 1985
A Story For Toledo’s Children, The Blade, Sept. 22, 1985
A Story For Toledo’s Children, The Blade, Sept. 22, 1985
Living in the World of the Imagination, The Blade, Sept. 22, 1985

Louise Brooks: The saga of a silent star , The Blade, March 18, 1990
Louise Brooks: The saga of a silent star , The Blade, March 18, 1990
Louise Brooks: The saga of a silent star , The Blade, March 18, 1990
Louise Brooks: The saga of a silent star , The Blade, March 18, 1990
Louise Brooks: The saga of a silent star , The Blade, March 18, 1990
Louise Brooks: The saga of a silent star , The Blade, March 18, 1990Author draws on animation and imagination, The Blade, August 23, 1992

Artist draws on memories to illustrate children’s book, The Blade, April 1991

Artist draws on memories to illustrate children’s book, The Blade, April 1991

Author draws on animation and imagination, The Blade, August 23, 1992

Local family is pictured in book for kids, The Blade, August 12, 1993


1993-1994


Dossier/Author The Blade, April 9, 1994

Jan Wahl’s picture books are a delight for all ages, The Blade, Sept. 12, 1994
Jan Wahl’s picture books are a delight for all ages, The Blade, Sept. 12, 1994
Jan Wahl’s picture books are a delight for all ages, The Blade, Sept. 12, 1994

Toledo author to get BG honorary degree, The Blade, Feb. 16, 1996

Children’s author got his roots from Toledo, but his wings from world travel, The Herald, Dec. 18, 1996

Film collector Jan Wahl guest for Modern Art Group event, The Blade, Jan. 22, 1998

The Blade, 1998
Children’s book from Jan Wahl, The Blade, Feb. 20, 2000
Author Jan Wahl writes a book to go with Chicago dinosaur exhibit, The Blade, May 20, 2000
New book by Wahl, The Blade, July 28, 2008

Jan Wahl, 87, Prolific Children’s Author Whose Work Attracted Eminent Artists, New York Times, February 11, 2019
Children’s writer with a ‘gentleness,” just finished book, The Blade, February 1, 2019


Hedy and her Amazing Invention, Jan Wahl’s book released one week after his death, is the number one “Hot New Release” on Amazon today, February 11, for Children’s American History of the 1900’s. WOW!

Most of the clippings on this page are thanks to the amazing ongoing “Authors Scrapbook” created by the Toledo Public Library Local History Department, and the fabulous Jan Wahl Collection, MS 69, at the Center for Archival Collections, Bowling Green State University, which was also the source of the featured photo at the top showing Jan Wahl standing in front of display cases of his books at Bowling Green State University for the special event, “BGSU Friends of the Library presents Day with Jan Wahl,” on May 1, 1980.

Toledo Public Library Sight & Sound Series interview with Jan Wahl, April 2018 on youtube