Ehlert, Lois 1934- (Lois Jane Ehlert)

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Ehlert, Lois 1934- (Lois Jane Ehlert)


Born November 9, 1934, in Beaver Dam, WI; daughter of Harry and Gladys Ehlert; married John Reiss, 1967 (separated, 1977). Education: Graduated from Layton School of Art, 1957; University of Wisconsin, B.F.A., 1959.


Home—Milwaukee, WI.


Writer and illustrator. Layton School of Art Junior School, Milwaukee, WI, teacher; John Higgs Studio, Milwaukee, WI, layout and production assistant; Jacobs-Keelan Studio, Milwaukee, WI, layout and design illustrator; freelance illustrator and designer, 1962—. Has also designed toys and games for children, a series of basic art books, banners for libraries and public spaces, posters and brochures, and sets for the Moppet Players, a children' theater. Exhibitions: Creativity on Paper Show, New York, NY, 1964; Society of Illustrators shows, 1971, 1989, and 1990; International Children's Book Exhibit, Bologna, Italy, 1979.


American Institute of Graphic Arts.


Three gold medals for outstanding graphic art, a best-of-show citation, and fourteen merit awards, Art Directors Club of Milwaukee, 1961-69; five awards of excellence, five merit awards, one gold medal, and one bronze medal, Society of Communicating Arts of Milwaukee, 1970-72 and 1976; Graphic Arts awards, Printing Industries of America, 1980 and 1981, for posters for Manpower; Paul Revere Award for Graphic Excellence, Hal Leonard Publishing Corp., 1983; grant from National Endowment for the Arts/Wisconsin Arts Board, 1984; Design Award, Appleton Paper Co., 1985; grants from Wisconsin Arts Board, 1985 and 1987; Award of Excellence citations, Art Museum Association of America, 1985, 1986, and 1987; Best Children's Book citations, New York Public Library, 1987, for Growing Vegetable Soup, and 1989, for Planting a Rainbow; Pick of the Lists citations, American Booksellers, 1988, for Planting a Rainbow, and 1989, for Color Zoo and Eating the Alphabet; Eating the Alphabet was selected by the Book-of-the Month Club, and as one of the year's ten best books by Parenting, 1989; Caldecott Honor Book citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1989, for Color Zoo; Growing Vegetable Soup was placed on the Museum of Science and Industry book list of children's science books, 1989; Planting a Rainbow was placed on the John Burroughs list of nature books for young readers, 1989; Notable Children's Book citation, ALA, 1989, and Book-of-the-Month Club selection, both for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault; Wisconsin Library Association Citation of Merit, 1989; Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children citations, National Science Teachers Association, 1989, for Planting a Rainbow, and 1990, for Color Farm; John Cotton Dana Award, Summer Reading Program—State of Wisconsin, 1990; Color Farm and Fish Eyes were named best books by Parenting, 1990; Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award, 1990, for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; Parents' Choice Honor Awards for story book, 1990, for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Fish Eyes; Parents' Choice Award for paperback, 1990, for Growing Vegetable Soup; Feathers for Lunch was named one of Redbook's ten best picture books, 1990; Fish Eyes was named one of the ten best illustrated books of the year by the New YorkTimes, 1990; Certificate of Merit, Graphics Arts Awards, 1990, for Fish Eyes; Certificate of Excellence, Parenting magazine, 1991, Outstanding Science Trade Book, National Science Teachers Association, 1991, Elizabeth Burr Award, Wisconsin Library Association, 1992, Boston Globe/Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Book, 1992, and California Children's Media Award for Nonfiction, 1992, all for Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf; Gold Award, Dimensional Illustrators Awards Show, 1991, for Color Zoo; First Place, New York Book Show, for Juvenile Trade Specialty, and Reading Magic Award, Parenting magazine, the year's ten best books, both 1992, both for Circus; New York Public Library Best Children's Books, Notable Book selection, ALA, and Booklist Editors' Choice, all 1992, and Horn Book's Fanfare list, 1993, all for Moon Rope; Boston Globe/Horn Book Nonfiction Honor Award, 1992, and Outstanding Science Trade Book, National Science Teachers Association, 1993, both for Feathers for Lunch; Best Book—Children's Books, Printing Industry of America, 1994, for Nuts to You!; Gold Seal Award, Oppenheim Portfolio, 1996, for Eating the Alphabet; New York Show Award, 1996, for Snowballs; Best Books of 1997, Book Links, Reading Magic Award, Parenting magazine, and Booklist Editors' Choice, 1997, for Hands; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, 2006, for Leaf Man. D.H.L., University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1994.



Growing Vegetable Soup, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1987, 2004.

Planting a Rainbow, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1988.

Color Zoo, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.

Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1989.

Color Farm, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

Feathers for Lunch, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1990.

Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1990, Red Wagon Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1991.

Circus, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Moon Rope: A Peruvian Folktale, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1992.

Nuts to You!, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1993, Voyager Books (Orlando, FL), 2004.

Mole's Hill: A Woodland Tale, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.

Snowballs, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1995, Red Wagon Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Under My Nose (autobiography), photographs by Carlo Ontal, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 1996.

Hands, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1997.

Cuckoo: A Mexican Folktale, translated into Spanish by Gloria de Aragon Andujar, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1997.

Top Cat, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Market Day: A Story Told with Folk Art, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.

Waiting for Wings, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.

In My World, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Pie in the Sky, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.

Leaf Man, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2005.

Wag a Tail, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.

Oodles of Animals, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2008.


Patricia M. Zens, I Like Orange, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1961.

Edward Lear, Limericks, World Publishing (Chicago, IL), 1965.

Mary L. O'Neill, What Is That Sound!, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1966.

Mannis Charosh, Mathematical Games for One or Two, Crowell (New York, NY), 1972.

Andrea Di Noto, The Great Flower Pie, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1973.

Vicki Silvers, Sing a Song of Sound, Scroll Press, 1973.

Nina Sazer, What Do You Think I Saw? A Nonsense Number Book, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1976.

Diane Wolkstein, The Visit, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

Jane J. Srivastava, Number Families, Crowell (New York, NY), 1979.

Richard L. Allington, Shapes and Sizes, Raintree Publishers, 1979.

Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

Gene Baer, Thump, Thump, Rat-a-tat-tat, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, Words, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1993.

Sarah Weeks, Crocodile Smile: Ten Songs of the Earth as the Animals See It, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994, 2003.

Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, Chicka Chicka Sticka Sticka: An ABC Sticker Book, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1995.

Stuart J. Murphy, Jr., A Pair of Socks, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

Ann Turner, Angel Hide and Seek, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Bill Martin, Jr., and Michael Sampson, Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2004.


Also illustrator and designer of "Scribbler's" products for Western Publishing. A selection of Ehlert's papers is housed in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota.


Chicka Chicka Boom Boom was adapted for video, Weston Woods, 2000, employing Ehlert's illustrations.


Known for her vibrant collage artwork that features colored paper and found objects, Lois Ehlert has entertained and educated children for over four decades. Initially providing illustrations for the books of others, Ehlert began writing her own material to accompany her artwork in the mid-1980s and has created books on subjects such as birds, flowers, weather, work, retellings of folktales, and the alphabet. These books include pictures that feature bold colors and clear, crisp shapes. She wrote and illustrated Color Zoo, which was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 1989. A year later, her illustrations helped Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, written by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, win a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award. She has gone on to win numerous other awards for her artwork and books. In an article for Horn Book she discussed her attraction to picture books and described her work: "I didn't want to be gimmicky; I wanted to distill, to get the essence of what it was that was so exciting. I hope I'm still exploring that idea. I don't see any sense in creating books otherwise. I get a lot of joy out of it."

As a child, Ehlert received both the encouragement and the environment to develop an interest in art. Her mother, who liked to sew, supplied her with scraps of cloth, and her father gave her wood from his woodworking projects. They also provided her with a place to work by setting up a card table in a little room in their house. She spent a great deal of time at the table, both as a small child and through high school, working on projects that helped her to develop her talent. Finally, she sent some of her work to the Layton School of Art and received a scholarship that allowed her to become a student there. After taking the table with her to Layton, she made it into a drawing table by placing a wooden breadboard on top of it and then giving the board a slant by propping a tin can underneath it. The table has traveled with her during her career as an artist. "It's got holes drilled in it and ink slopped on it and cuts from razor blades," she noted in Horn Book, "but I still use it."

After graduating from art school in 1957, Ehlert did graphic design work and illustrated some children's books. She did not enjoy working on picture books, however, mainly because she could not approve the final color selections for her illustrations when her books went to the printer. In disappointment, she stopped working on picture books and concentrated on graphic design projects. But her friends eventually convinced her to go back to illustrating children's books. In Horn Book she acknowledged: "I began to see an emphasis on graphics in picture books, and I thought that the time might be right for my work. I could see that there was a lot more care being taken in the production of children's books."

After providing artwork for many children's books, Ehlert decided to try both writing and illustrating a book of her own. While working as a freelance graphic designer, she created Growing Vegetable Soup, a book that combines pictures and words to show the steps involved in growing a vegetable garden. Then she wrote and illustrated Planting a Rainbow, which tells the story of a mother and a child who cultivate a flower garden. Both of these books show Ehlert's passion for using bold colors. Andrea Barnet noted in the New York Times Book Review that Ehlert's "colors are tropical, electric and hot—the grape purples and sizzling pinks children tend to choose when they paint. Often she pairs complementary hues … to startling effect, giving her illustrations a vibrant op-art feel, a visual shimmer that makes them jump off the page."

After achieving success with Growing Vegetable Soup, Ehlert took a class at the University of Wisconsin and found new ways to design books by using such eye-catching techniques as cutting holes in the pages and using different combinations of light and dark colors in the illustrations. She made use of methods that she learned in this class in Color Zoo, a book that introduces children to a wide range of colors and geometrical figures through the use of different-shaped holes cut in sturdy paper and placed on top of a design. Each new cutout shape—circle, square, triangle—is decorated with the features of different animals that make readers think of the whole figure as a tiger, then a mouse, and then a fox. Ehlert repeats this routine with two more sets of shapes and ends Color Zoo with a summary of all of the shapes and colors used in the book. Ehlert reprises this technique with Color Farm, another award-winning title in which she "uses an array of brilliant graphics with carefully planned die-cuts to introduce geometric shapes," according to Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns.

For another self-illustrated work, Feathers for Lunch, Ehlert regularly used numerous pieces of paper to create collages that tell the story of a hungry cat at mealtime that chases after a dozen birds. A bell, worn around the cat's neck, alerts the birds of his presence. Ehlert's artwork is accompanied by a rhyming text, a list of the birds that are presented, and printed representations of their calls. In order to create a book that was both educational and attractive, she presents the birds in natural settings with flowers that are harmonious with the birds' actual colors. Since she wanted to make sure that her collages of the birds were the right colors and sizes, she checked them against the skins of birds kept at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Ehlert also wanted to make life-size pictures of the birds for the pages of Feathers for Lunch, but that meant that she also had to make a cat that was life-size. Instead of trying to make such a big book, Ehlert decided to show only parts of the cat on certain pages and to replace him entirely with the "JINGLE JINGLE" of his bell on others. Such practice is routine in Ehlert's books. "If I say something with words, I don't need to describe it with the art, and vice versa." she wrote in Horn Book, later noting, "I really use typography as just another design form, another element of the art."

In Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On, Ehlert uses the patterns and shapes of sea creatures in order to teach kids about arithmetic. Holes cut in the pages encourage youngsters to touch the book while they learn about numbers by counting fish. Ehlert also puts black type on blue pages, hoping that children will find the subtle, hidden text. She explained in Horn Book: "I purposely didn't want that design element to be dominant because I already had a dominant theme. So I worked on my layout, and then I stood in front of a full-length mirror to see how close I had to come to the mirror before I could read that second line. I wanted the type to be a surprise to a child discovering it. I try to work on a lot of different levels in every book. Some things are more successful than others." Ehlert's efforts were rewarded by Andrea Barnet, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Fish Eyes has "enough novelty to hold a child's interest, and enough complexity to sustain repeated readings."

Other animals are served up by Ehlert in Circus, Nuts to You!, Top Cat, and Waiting for Wings. Hugo the elephant, Fritz the wonder bear, and Samu, the fiercest tiger in the world are just part of the amazing menagerie she presents in Circus, a book that is "a most joyous use of the graphic-art style which Lois Ehlert continues to expand and refine," according to Horn Book critic Margaret A. Bush. With Nuts to You! Ehlert presents a cheeky squirrel who gets braver and braver as it approaches an opening in an apartment window and finally goes inside. Horn Book reviewer Ellen Fader dubbed this an "imaginatively designed book," calling special attention to the title page and verso which were camouflaged to look like tree bark. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that Nuts to You! is a "work of extraordinary visual splendor with an effectively simple, active plot."

In Top Cat Ehlert features a feline who rules the roost until a striped kitten makes an appearance. At first angry and spitting at the youngster, Top Cat finally figures out that the kitten is here to stay and makes the best of the situation by becoming a teacher and mentor to the younger animal. "Children and other feline fans will quickly warm to this spunky story of rivalry and acceptance," wrote a contributor for Publishers Weekly. Reviewing the same title in Booklist, Linda Perkins noted, "Ehlert's distinctive collages portray a remarkable range of expression and movement and are sure to tickle funny bones."

A butterfly takes center stage in Waiting for Wings, "a marvelous presentation of the butterfly life cycle," according to a reviewer for Horn Book, and one that will "engage children curious about a seemingly magical process." Ehlert accompanies her usual cut-paper illustrations in this 2001 title with simple rhymes in large black letters. "Ehlert again spreads her creative wings to deliver this inventively designed picture book," noted a contributor for Publishers Weekly. Tracing the development for the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into the graceful flying creature readers will recognize as a butterfly, Ehlert created a "beautifully woven blend of information," according to Lisa Gangemi Krapp, writing in School Library Journal, and an "original and vivid introduction," as Booklist's Carolyn Phelan observed.

For the illustrations in Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf and Snowballs, among other titles, Ehlert constructed her characteristic collages not only out of colored paper, but also from found objects including ribbons, seeds, bottle caps, twigs, and pieces of string and clothing, in addition to layered paper. She also found inspiration in native and folk cultures for her illustrations in several of her books. For the bilingual Moon Rope: A Peruvian Folktale she drew on designs in ancient Peruvian textiles, jewelry, ceramics, and even architecture. For Mole's Hill: A Woodland Tale, Ehlert took inspiration from the beadwork designs of Woodland Indians. And in Market Day: A Story Told with Folk Art, a celebration of Latin America's rural markets, she follows a peasant family's day at market in text, accompanied by illustrations that come from traditional and folk art of the region—Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico—as well as from farther afield in China and Mali. Shirley Lewis, reviewing Market Day in Teacher Librarian, felt that Ehlert's artwork "blazes through this handsome tour."

Critics and readers alike have responded enthusiastically to such titles. In Moon Rope, a retelling of a Peruvian folk tale, Fox talks Mole into climbing on a braided grass rope with him—a rope he has hooked to the moon. As Fox climbs, he keeps his eyes upward, but timid Mole keeps looking back to the Earth until he falls, thus explaining his preference for life in solitary tunnels. A critic for Kirkus Reviews felt that Moon Rope "may be [Ehlert's] handsomest book yet," and appraised the work as "altogether outstanding." Mole's Hill, a Seneca Indian tale, is a "whimsical story of overcoming the might of an adversary through ingenuity," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The same reviewer also applauded Ehlert's illustrations, in which she "achieves dazzling effects with simple geometric shapes and strong, pure hues." Fox and Mole are at it once again in this story, in which Fox is so frustrated at having to walk around Mole's hill that he sends Raccoon and Skunk to tell her to move out. However, Mole uses her cleverness to defeat Fox, enlarging the hill and planting seeds to create such a pretty spot that Fox cannot bring himself to destroy it. In a Horn Book review, Margaret A. Bush praised Ehlert's illustrations in Mole's Hill, which depict the flowers and trees of Wisconsin woodlands "as primitive abstractions in folk art style." Bush concluded that the book is "vivid and spare … a feast for the eye."

From rivalries, Ehlert turned to the natural world in Snowballs. "Only an artist as gifted as Ehlert could take so well-worn a topic as building a snowman and make it as fresh as—well, new-fallen snow," remarked a reviewer for Publishers Weekly regarding this title. The same critic dubbed Snowballs a "joyful and inventive book." In Cuckoo: A Mexican Folktale, Ehlert retells a folktale about the evolution of the vain cuckoo. "Sombreros off to this innovative artist for yet another eye-catching work," wrote a contributor for Publishers Weekly. Carolyn Phelan, reviewing Cuckoo in Booklist, called it an "exhilarating adaptation" with "arresting artwork, some of [Ehlert's] best to date."

With Hands Ehlert celebrates such crafts as gardening and art through the use of photo collage. The easy text is told from the point of view of a child who watches his father creating things in his workshop and his mother sewing wonderful creations. Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin felt that Hands "is full of lovely surprises," a "thoughtfully designed book, wonderful for lap sharing." A tribute to Ehlert's own parents, both of whom enjoyed working with their hands and who encouraged Ehlert in her pursuit of a career in art, Hands grew out of an earlier project "to create a portrait of someone without using photographs" of that person, as she told Connie Goddard in a Publishers Weekly interview. Instead of portraits, Ehlert uses mementos, such as pigskin work gloves, screws, and a folding ruler to call up the sense of that person. Approaching the realm of the toy book, Hands employs die-cut pages, including one with the image of a tin box with screwdrivers inside. More tools of the trade pop up throughout this innovative book. A Publishers Weekly critic noted that Ehlert "works visual magic" in this "inventive effort that deserves nothing less than a big hand."

Following Hands, Ehlert has gone on to write or illustrate a number of other children's books, including Waiting for Wings, Pie in the Sky, Leaf Man, Wag a Tail, and Oodles of Animals. In Waiting for Wings, Ehlert traces the lifespan of a butterfly as it moves through the various stages from caterpillar to gloriously winged butterfly in search of a place to lay its eggs. Ken and Sylvia Marantz, in a review for the Children's Lit Web site, called the book a "visual tribute to nature's handiwork." Pie in the Sky depicts a father explaining to his child how the cherry tree in their yard is a pie tree from the point of view of the birds and insects who feast upon it. Again reviewing for the Children's Lit Web site, Ken and Sylvia Marantz found the book to be "a natural history lesson with a reward at the end."

Ehlert herself is unsure where most of her ideas come from, though occasionally they are sparked by a hobby or occurrence in real life. Regardless, she considers her ability to share her creativity with others to be a blessing. In a letter to the Web site Scoop, Ehlert wrote: "I think being creative is a part of a person's makeup. It's something I feel very lucky about. I've worked hard to make this gift as fine as I can make it, but I still think I was born with certain ideas and feelings just waiting to burst out!"

Although Ehlert wants children to learn from her books, she does not think of herself as an educator. She admitted in Horn Book that "it's like being a grandmother in a way—setting down something that might, if I'm lucky, be remembered after I'm gone. And also to communicate what I think is important. Look for those birds! Plant a garden or a tree! They are very homely, ordinary subjects—yet spiritual." Such concerns have made Ehlert one of the key illustrators of her generation. "There is a sense of adventure, fun, and experimentation in all of Ehlert's books that inspires and encourages readers to try their own artistic experiments," concluded a contributor to St. James Guide to Children's Writers in a critical assessment of the author-illustrator's work. "Yet, her books are infused with an artistry and design, and a careful attention to detail that makes them much more complex that they at first appear."



Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.

Children's Book Illustration and Design, edited by Julie Cummins, Library of Applied Design (New York, NY), 1992.

Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.

Children's Literature Review, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Cummings, Pat, Talking with Artists, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1991.

Ehlert, Lois, Under My Nose, photographs by Carlo Ontal, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 1996.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Booklist, April 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Cuckoo: A Mexican Folktale, p. 1330; November 15, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Hands, p. 558; May 15, 1998, p. 1633; August, 1998, Linda Perkins, review of Top Cat, p. 2014; July, 2000, p. 2048; March 2, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Waiting for Wings, p. 1276.

Horn Book, January-February, 1991, Mary M. Burns, review of Color Farm, p. 55; November-December, 1991, Lois Ehlert, "The Artist at Work: Card Tables and Collage," p. 695; March-April, 1992, Margaret A. Bush, review of Circus, p. 189; May-June, 1993, Ellen Fader, review of Nuts to You!, p. 315; July-August, 1994, Margaret A. Bush, review of Mole's Hill: A Woodland Tale, p. 461; March-April, 2001, review of Waiting for Wings, p. 346.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1991, review of Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, p. 1019; September 1, 1992, review of Moon Rope: A Peruvian Folktale, p. 1128.

New York Times Book Review, May 20, 1990, Andrea Barnet, review of Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On, p. 40.

Publishers Weekly, February 12, 1992, Connie Goddard, "Alive with Color: An Interview with Lois Ehlert," pp. 18-19; August 17, 1992, review of Moon Rope, p. 499; February 15, 1993, review of Nuts to You!, pp. 372-373; February 21, 1994, review of Mole's Hill, p. 252; October 16, 1995, review of Snowballs, p. 60; January 20, 1997, review of Cuckoo, p. 401; June 30, 1997, review of Hands, p. 76; August 3, 1998, review of Top Cat, p. 84; April 2, 2001, review of Waiting for Wings, p. 63.

School Library Journal, April, 2001, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of Waiting for Wings, p. 129.

Teacher Librarian, June, 2000, Shirley Lewis, review of Market Day: A Story Told with Folk Art, p. 50.


Children's Lit Web site, (January 22, 2008), numerous reviews of Ehlert's books.

Scoop Web site, (January 22, 2008), letter from Lois Ehlert.