Gaber, Susan 1956-

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Gaber, Susan 1956-


Born June 23, 1956, in Brooklyn, NY; married Richard Barkey, 1988; children: Elias. Education: C.W. Post College of Long Island University, B.F. A., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, herbology.


Home—Huntington, NY. E-mail—[email protected]


Freelance illustrator, 1978—.


Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.



Alvin Silverstein, The Story of Your Ear, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan (New York, NY), 1981.

Jay H. Heyman, The Gourmet Guide to Water Cookery, Avon (New York, NY), 1983.

Heather Forest, The Baker's Dozen, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1988.

Heather Forest, The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1990.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin, The Finest Horse in Town, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Briggs Martin, Good Times on Grandfather Mountain, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Elizabeth Enright, Zeee, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.

Emma Bull, The Princess and the Lord of Night, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.

Lee Bennett Hopkins, Small Talk, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Steve Sanfield, Bit by Bit, Philomel (New York, NY), 1995.

Alma Flor Ada, Jordi's Star, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

Liz Rosenberg, Eli and Uncle Dawn, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Rafe Martin, The Brave Little Parrot, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

Forest, Stone Soup, August House (Little Rock, AR), 1998.

Erica Silverman, Raisel's Riddle, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.

Rhonda Gowler Greene, The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.

Jennifer Armstrong, Pierre's Dream, Dial (New York, NY), 1999.

Rafe Martin, The Language of Birds, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

Nancy Van Laan, When Winter Comes, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.

Rhonda Gowler Greene, The Very First Thanksgiving Day, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.

Phyllis Root, Ten Sleepy Sheep, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Heather Henson, Angel Coming, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.

Dianna Hutts Aston, Mama Outside, Mama Inside, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2006.

Heather Forest, reteller, The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable, August House (New York, NY), 2006.


As an illustrator of children's picture books, Susan Gaber is noted for watercolors and acrylics that at times give a folksy feel to stories, at others impart a lushness and vividness of tone, and at still others become elegant fine art reproductions. Her versatility is well suited to mythic and folk tales as well as to romantic and fanciful stories.

Gaber began her freelancing career in 1978, working as an illustrator for card companies as well as newspapers and magazines. By 1988 she had enlarged her repertoire to included illustrations for children's books.

Gaber's first children's titles as an illustrator were Heather Forest's tales The Baker's Dozen and The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies, followed by Stone Soup, a traditional tale about two hungry travelers who declare they can make soup from a stone when they are denied food at a mountain village. But they explain they just need a carrot for taste, and then perhaps a little potato would also help. In this way the duo manage to outwit the villagers and create a pot of steaming soup. "Gaber's bold acrylic paintings emphasize the black soup tureen and the brightly colored vegetable ingredients," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while Kathleen Whalin commented in School Library Journal, "Gaber's brilliantly colored paintings illuminate a mountain village with a multicultural population."

Gaber teamed up with the writer Jacqueline Briggs Martin for two titles, The Finest Horse in Town and Good Times on Grandfather Mountain. The first book, a fictionalized memoir of Martin's two great-aunts, tells of two sisters who run a dry goods store in nineteenth-century Maine and of their carriage horse, Prince. Publishers Weekly felt that "Gaber's exquisite watercolors have the naive beauty of early American folk paintings," and Charlene Strickland noted in School Library Journal that the "full-color paintings illustrate the mild humor of the incidents and capture the essence of small-town concerns." Good Times on Grandfather Mountain tells of Old Washburn who always looks on the bright side of things: when the cow runs off he has a drum instead of milk bucket; when the pig follows suit, the former fence posts become drum sticks. Told in the cadences of a folk tale, the book is a "rustic narrative," according to Publishers Weekly, and "Gaber's watercolors imbue this cautionary tale with a folksy flavor that suggest good times indeed." Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis noted: "The imagery of humans in communal harmony with nature is carried through in illustrations," while Kate McClelland remarked in School Library Journal on Gaber's watercolors "in a pleasing palette" which "harmoniously depict Washburn's farm as a laissez-faire kind of place."

Gaber turned from rustic to fanciful with illustrations for Elizabeth Enright's Zeee, the story of an ancient misanthropic fairy whose hatred for humankind changes when he is befriended by young Pandora who offers Zeee the comfort of her dollhouse. Writing of Gaber's illustrations in School Library Journal, Valerie F. Patterson noted that they were "colorful and attractive," and "feature colored shadings of brown and green with occasional flashes of red." Booklist contributor Ellen Mandel commented: "Gaber's lush watercolors delight in their conjuring of Zeee's first tidy home, with its milkweed pod bed, clamshell bathtub, and chrysalis lantern." More fairy tales are served up in Gaber's illustrations for Emma Bull's The Princess and the Lord of Night. The eponymous lord puts a curse on the princess at birth, so that if she ever wishes for something she can not have, then the kingdom will fall and her parents will die. Reviewing the book in School Library Journal, Lauralyn Persson felt Gaber's "romantic watercolor-and-colored pencil illustrations are lush yet delicate, with clear, rich colors and lovely, flowing lines," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer called attention to the "elegant illustrations" which "contain a Renaissance luminosity and precision" as well as "fantasy images." The reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded: "Stylish and visually intriguing, this lyrical fairy tale is enchanting."

Thirty-three short poems are collected by Lee Bennett Hopkins in Small Talk, a celebration of simple moments in life for which Gaber contributed the illustrations. The verses deal with the seasons, growing up, the process of a day to night, the birth of a kitten, and dozens of other domestic joys from the pens of poets such as Langston Hughes, Sara Teasdale, and Carl Sandburg, among others. Dot Minzer, reviewing the picture book in School Library Journal, felt "Gaber's watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations appear as little gems at the top of many of the poems and as double-page backgrounds for others." Minzer concluded that the Gaber and Hopkins collaboration produced a "stunning little book." Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis commented: "This small, well-designed book with its lovely watercolor spots and double-page-spread illustrations has copious depths to be mined."

A trio of folktales, two Yiddish, and one Indian, inspired Gaber's brush and palette in collaboration with Steven Sanfield, Erica Silverman, and Rafe Martin. In Sanfield's Bit by Bit, a Russian Yiddish folk song was adapted to tell the story of a tailor who wears out his favorite coat and then turns the scraps into further favorite garments which he proceeds to wear out bit by bit. "Imaginative pictures embroider the story line in this suitably homespun adaptation," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Barbara Kiefer, writing in School Library Journal, commented, "Gaber's folk-like paintings, done in strong, clear colors, echo the brightly painted threads that are central to the tale." Kiefer went on: "Best of all, Gaber shows us what the words don't tell us, that as [the tailor] Zundel's garments become smaller and smaller, his life becomes richer and fuller." Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman similarly noted that the "pictures extend the song, showing the tailor with his loving family through the years, as each piece of clothing wears out."

The Cinderella tale got a revamping in Silverman's Raisel's Tale, a Yiddish tale from Poland. Finding work in the kitchen of a famed rabbi, Raisel, the orphan of a scholar, is mistreated by the cook and kept from the Purim party. But Raisel disguises herself as Queen Esther, attends the party, and there charms the rabbi's son. Booklist reviewer GraceAnne A. DeCandido commented on Gaber's artwork in a starred review: "The illustrations in velvety, muted colors make use of strong geometric shapes and varying perspectives." DeCandido concluded: "This universal story fits into its Jewish milieu as neatly as a key in a lock." Susan P. Bloom, reviewing the title in Horn Book, noted: "Artist Gaber conveys a folkish simplicity with a sophisticated line to evoke a Poland of dreams and reality in which, at book's end, the happy couple float Chagall-like among flower blossoms, living and learning ‘happily ever after.’"

A traditional jataka tale from India is at the heart of Martin's The Brave Little Parrot, with illustrations by Gaber, in which a small gray parrot takes on a raging forest fire. Watching the spectacle of this hapless parrot trying to battle the fire with minuscule drops of water, a god takes the form of an eagle whose tears ultimately quench the flames. "Gaber's paintings are rich with lush greens and flaming oranges," remarked Judith Gloyer in School Library Journal. "The artwork strongly reinforces the message of this lively story," Gloyer concluded. "Gaber's moving, full-page, color illustrations increase the drama of the fire," commented Booklist writer Karen Morgan, "showing the seeming impotence of even the most powerful forest creatures and emphasizing the precious beauty of water and its relationship to continued life." Gaber also teamed up with Martin on The Language of Birds.

A further trio of books illustrated by Gaber illuminate the activities of a young boy, his uncle, and his toy elephant in Eli and Uncle Dawn, the tireless work of a shepherd in Jordi's Star, and the laziest man at a circus in Pierre's Dream. In the first book, written by Alma Flor Ada, Jordi, the lonely shepherd, falls in love with the reflection of a star he sees in a well he has dug: simple Jordi actually believes the star has fallen from the sky. "The gently humorous illustrations make the tale of Jordi's spiritual growth shine with joy," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke felt the "touching, lyrically told story is given substance by Gaber's earthy illustrations, which show Jordi as a poignantly real man, his broad face and large hands in sharp contrast to the delicate flowers and twinkling star."

Fantasy takes over in Liz Rosenberg's Eli and Uncle Dawn when young Eli understands that his uncle's magic is for real. Forgetting his stuffed elephant at a picnic, the boy is able to float through the night to retrieve him, thanks to Uncle Dawn. A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that Gaber "crafts a stimulating backdrop to this imaginative tale" by deploying "a color-saturated blend of watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil, and setting a lively visual pace that skips from full-page illustrations to small insets." In Pierre's Dream, by Jennifer Armstrong, another nighttime, dream-like pursuit results in a rescued animal—this time real—when lazy Pierre recaptures a lion from the circus. Reviewing this last title, the Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that "Gaber fills in any gaps in narrative logic with a soft impressionistic touch that gracefully moves between the real and imagined."

Whether working in muted impressionistic tones, in more vibrant colors, or in a folksy, homespun medium, Gaber has built an impressive list of illustration credits and has received much critical acclaim for her work. Working with watercolors, acrylics, or colored pencils Gaber's illustrations "captivate the eye," as Barbara Elleman noted in School Library Journal.

Gaber has continued her prolific career, illustrating several books each year in styles that can vary widely according to the subject matter of the stories. This ranges from cozy sleepy-time tales to traditional (and not so traditional) folk tales and beyond, and her style can vary from soft and whimsical to stunning and loud. An example of the latter is The Language of Birds. This is a retelling of an ancient Russian folk table about two brothers who are sent into the world to seek their fortunes. One brother wastes his money in the quest for fame and power and comes home full of lies about his success. The other saves his coins and returns home with nothing to brag about, but he has learned the language of birds, and this seemingly modest achievement will ultimately earn him the kind of success that money cannot buy. Though some reviewers noted a lack of consistency or continuity in Gaber's style, most seemed impressed with the illustrations as stand-alone pieces of art. a Horn Book reviewer noted that Gaber's "lush, stylized scenes are rendered in a richly saturated palette whose subtle gradations recall old oriental rugs." a Publishers Weekly contributor noted the powerful impact of the artwork, wherein "faces stiff as wooden relics, ornamented floors and arched castle windows … are unexpectedly combined with intriguing, free-flowing designs."

In contrast, Angel Coming depicts the excitement of an Appalachian community preparing for the arrival of a new baby, as seen through the eyes of a little girl about to become a big sister. "Gaber's acrylic paintings portray the characters and their surroundings with finesse," commented Carolyn Phelan in Booklist. To a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the illustrations "seem lit from within," from the "glowing faces" to the "green and blue landscape." Mama Outside, Mama Inside offers another look at impending arrivals, comparing the bird lining her nest outside the window to the Mama decorating the bedroom that will soon belong to her own newborn. The joy of childbirth is enhanced, wrote Andrew Tarr in the School Library Journal, by Gaber's "warm, expressive paintings," artwork described by a Kirkus Reviews contributor at "lovely and textured," with "soft touches of blue [that] connect the bird" with the people inside.



Booklist, June 1-15, 1993, Ellen Mandel, review of Zeee, pp. 1830-1831; March 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Bit by Bit, p. 1336; December 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Jordi's Star, p. 652; February 15, 1998, Karen Morgan, review of The Brave Little Parrot, pp. 1014, 1016; May 1, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Raisel's Riddle, p. 1590; July, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Language of Birds, p. 2011; September 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The Very First Thanksgiving Day, p. 245; April 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Ten Sleepy Sheep, p. 1370; July, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of Angel Coming, p. 1922; February 15, 2006, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Mama Outside, Mama Inside, p. 101.

Horn Book, May-June, 1992, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Good Times on Grandfather Mountain, pp. 332-333; May-June, 1995, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Small Talk, pp. 338-339; March-April, 1999, Susan P. Bloom, review of Raisel's Riddle, p. 215; July, 2000, review of The Language of Birds, p. 470; May-June, 2004, Lauren Adams, review of Ten Sleepy Sheep, p. 319.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2002, review of The Very First Thanksgiving Day, p. 1530; January 15, 2004, review of Ten Sleepy Sheep, p. 88; May 15, 2005, review of Angel Coming, p. 590; March 1, 2006, review of Mama Outside, Mama Inside, p. 226; September 15, 2006, review of The Little Red Hen: An Old Fable, p. 953.

Publishers Weekly, February 3, 1992, review of Good Times on Grandfather Mountain, p. 80; June 22, 1992, review of The Finest Horse in Town, p. 61; February 28, 1994, review of The Princess and the Lord of Night, p. 87; March 20, 1995, review of Bit by Bit, p. 59; November 4, 1996, review of Jordi's Star, p. 75; February 3, 1997, review of Eli and Uncle Dawn, p. 105; May 25, 1998, review of Stone Soup, p. 89; May 31, 1999, review of Pierre's Dream, p. 92; June 19, 2000, review of The Language of Birds, p. 79; October 23, 2000, review of When Winter Comes, p. 74; February 9, 2004, review of Ten Sleepy Sheep, p. 79; May 2, 2005, review of Angel Coming, p. 198.

School Library Journal, August, 1992, Kate McClelland, review of Good Times on Grandfather Mountain, p. 144, and Charlene Strickland, review of The Finest Horse in Town, p. 144; June, 1993, Valerie F. Patterson, review of Zeee, pp. 74-75; May, 1994, Lauralyn Persson, review of The Princess and the Lord of Night, p. 89; May, 1995, Dot Minzer, review of Small Talk, p. 99; August, 1995, Barbara Kiefer, review of Bit by Bit, p. 128; May, 1998, Kathleen Whalin, review of Stone Soup, pp. 131-132, and Judith Gloyer, review of The Brave Little Parrot, p. 135; June, 1999, Barbara Elleman, review of Pierre's Dream, p. 85; July, 2000, Denise Anton Wright, review of The Language of Birds, p. 96; November, 2000, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of When Winter Comes, p. 136; October, 2002, Jody McCoy, review of The Very First Thanksgiving Day, p. 111; July, 2005, Maryann H. Owen, review of Angel Coming, p. 75; March, 2006, Andrea Tarr, review of Mama Outside, Mama Inside, p. 174; November, 2006, Kathy Krasniewicz, review of The Little Red Hen, p. 120.