"Willie Was Different (Woman Observing Bird)," Norman Rockwell, 1967. Oil on canvas, 16” x 8 1/8”. Illustration for "Willie Was Different." Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.. ©NRELC: Niles, IL.

“Willie Was Different (Woman Observing Bird),” Norman Rockwell, 1967. Oil on canvas, 16” x 8 1/8”. Illustration for “Willie Was Different.” Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©Norman Rockwell Family Agency. All rights reserved.

On view through May 27, 2013

Willie Was Different is a children’s story written and illustrated by Norman Rockwell. The story focuses on a wood thrush with a magical gift for music and tells of the trials of genius and the satisfactions of true friendship. Willie Was Different has been published in three different versions.

In 1966, Rockwell wrote a story outline about a little bird with a special talent. Rockwell’s wife Molly, a retired English teacher, rewrote the text and greatly expanded it.  “Willie, the Uncommon Thrush, a Picture Story” was published in an abridged version credited to Norman Rockwell in McCall’s magazine in 1967 with Rockwell’s original color illustrations. Willie Was Different, The Tale of an Ugly Thrushling by Norman and Molly Rockwell was published in book form by Funk and Wagnalls and intended for adult as well as adolescent readers.  Quotes from these earlier versions appear within the mats of the paintings.  The 1994 edition, co-published by the Norman Rockwell Museum and Berkshire House Publishers, returned as nearly as possible to Rockwell’s original manuscript, and it is once again clearly a children’s story.

Willie Was Different is not a true story, although Rockwell wrote it as if it were a narration of real events.  There is no monument to Willie and his musical genius in Washington, D.C.  The Willie Room, and Willie’s fame, exist entirely in the pages of Willie Was Different.