Gilman, Phoebe 1940-2002

views updated

GILMAN, Phoebe 1940-2002

PERSONAL: Born April 4, 1940, in New York, NY; immigrated to Canada, 1972; died of breast cancer (some sources cite leukemia), August 29, 2002, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; daughter of John (in sales) and Hannah (Slatoff) Gilman; married Emanuel Deligtisch (divorced); married Brian Bender (a computer consultant); children: (first marriage) Ingrid (some sources cite the name as Leora); (second marriage) Melissa, Jason. Education: Attended Art Students' League and Hunter College (now of the City University of New York), 1957-59; studied with Ernst Fuchs at Bezalel Academy, Jerusalem, Israel, 1968. Religion: Jewish.

CAREER: Freelance artist, author, and illustrator, 1967-2002. Worked as an artist in Rome, Italy, and in Israel; Ontario College of Art, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, instructor in fine arts, 1975-90. Canadian Children's Book Center, board member, 1992-97; gave readings from her works. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at Old Jaffa Gallery, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970-71, Le Theatre du P'tit Bonheur, Toronto, 1973; Galerie Heritage, Toronto, 1974; Prince Arthur Gallery, Toronto, 1982; Mabel's Fables, 1991; Art Gallery of Peterborough, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, 1991; and Art Gallery of Algoma, 1993.

MEMBER: Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Writers' Union of Canada.

AWARDS, HONORS: Merit Award, Art Directors Club of Toronto, 1984, for The Balloon Tree; Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award, Ontario Arts Council and Canadian Booksellers Association, and Sydney Taylor Book Award, Association of Jewish Libraries, both 1993, for Something from Nothing; Vicky Metcalf Award, Canadian Authors Association, 1993, for entire body of work.


author and illustrator

The Balloon Tree, Scholastic Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

Jillian Jiggs, Scholastic Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985, Scholastic (New York, NY) 1988.

Little Blue Ben, Scholastic Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.

The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs, Scholastic Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.

Grandma and the Pirates, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.

(Adaptor) Something from Nothing, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.

Jillian Jiggs to the Rescue, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

The Gypsy Princess, Scholastic Canada (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 1995, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.

Pirate Pearl, Scholastic Canada (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Jillian Jiggs and the Secret Surprise, North Winds Press (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow, North Winds Press (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

The Balloon Tree, Jillian Jiggs, The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs, Grandma and the Pirates, Something from Nothing, The Gypsy Princess, Pirate Pearl, Jillian Jiggs and the Secret Surprise, and Jillian Jiggs and the Great Big Snow have all been translated into French. Something from Nothing has also been translated into Japanese, Spanish, Korean, and Hebrew.


Jean Little and Maggie De Vries, Once upon a GoldenApple, Viking Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

ADAPTATIONS: The Balloon Tree, Jillian Jiggs, Grandma and the Pirates, Something from Nothing, and The Gypsy Princess have been recorded as audio cassettes.

SIDELIGHTS: Phoebe Gilman once commented to CA: "I wonder if being creative has anything to do with being extremely gullible. My husband kids me about this all the time. He says that you can tell me anything and my first reaction is usually . . . 'WOW! Isn't that amazing!' I am used to moving about in my imagination without barriers; inhabiting a 'what if' world where anything is possible. I walk between the worlds of possibility and fact, weaving them together, a bit from here salted with a bit from there.

"When I finish writing something, I can't wait till someone reads it. I anxiously await a response. I want to hear them chuckle and laugh out loud over what I've written. I want to touch them in some way. Sharing stories, we come to understand our world and ourselves. When we enter the world of another's imagination, we come back a little different, a little changed. I like to think of books as windows through which the creator allows you to peer into the soul. Or, to quote the immortal Emily Dickinson: 'This is my letter to the world. . . .'

"If you want to know who I am, read what I have written, for it is through my work that I am continually revealing myself. If you smoosh together all the characters I've created, you'll come up with a fairly accurate picture of who I am . . . a messy, creative creature, like Jillian Jiggs, who once dreamed of being a princess like Cinnamon in The Gypsy Princess, and who now lives happily ever after . . . weaving stories out of my life just as Joseph did in Something from Nothing."

Born in New York City, Gilman grew up in the Bronx, taking advantage of an extensive library system. "My mother loved to read," she recalled, "so it was only natural that my brothers and I got our own library cards as soon as we were able to print our names. My favorite books were fairy tales. When the pictures didn't match the images that the words had painted in my head, I would cover them up with my hands." This early exposure to picture books in some ways inspired Gilman's interest in art, an occupation she later found suitable to her passion for travel. "One of the nice things about being an artist," she said, "is that it is a very portable profession. I have lived for extended periods of time in both Europe and Israel." In fact, she seemed headed toward a career as an artist rather than a writer, but as she once said, "I prefer the words to the pictures, which is a little odd. . . . It still surprises me to be called a writer." According to Gilman, her daughter Ingrid provided her with the impetus to begin writing: "When her balloon burst on a tree branch, I wished the tree would magically sprout balloons. It didn't . . . what sprouted was an idea in my head. Why not write a story about a tree that blossoms balloons?" That, she said, was how she came to write her first book. "It was not how I came to be published," she continued. "That took fifteen years and umpty-zillion rejection slips to accomplish."

That first picture book appeared as The Balloon Tree in 1984. The classic tale of a princess locked in a tower by an evil captor, The Balloon Tree follows the story of Princess Leora, captured by an archduke who seizes control of the kingdom while her father, the king, is away. The Princess Leora wants to send a message to her father, and the only way to do so is by sending up a balloon from her tower. However, the archduke has seized all the balloons in the kingdom—all but one from which a helpful wizard is able to create a tree that spawns millions of balloons.

Gilman's character Jillian Jiggs made her first appearance in a book by the same name. Writing in Canadian Children's Literature, Lisa MacNaughton attested to the popularity of the book, claiming that "Jillian Jillian Jillian JIGGS! is a chant heard frequently among children in child care centres." Jillian was back in The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs. This time she has developed an industry of sorts, making little stuffed pigs and selling them. The only problem is that she loves her pigs too much to part with them. However, this leads her to a crafty solution, sharing her sewing skills with friends. MacNaughton suggested that the idea of a money-making business would particularly appeal to older readers.

Little Blue Ben is, as Frieda Wishinsky noted in Quill & Quire, a "warm, inviting book" about three lovable elfin creatures who share a blue house: Ben, his brother, Blue Cat, and their mother, Blue Hen. A dispute with Blue Cat over a dish of shish-kebabed eggs leads the two youngsters into a competitive game of hide-and-seek. "Children will enjoy searching for Little Blue Ben," claimed Wishinsky, while a critic in Canadian Children's Literature praised Little Blue Ben as "a delightful book for four-to-six-year-olds."

Grandma and the Pirates finds the young heroine Melissa going to battle with pirates to rescue her grandmother and Oliver the parrot. Instead of trying to escape from the amusingly gruesome pirates, the three prisoners decide to take a different approach to freedom. In addition to admiring the blend of text and illustration, Canadian Materials reviewer Jane Robinson called Gilman's gentle prose "as rhythmic as the waves," and Kathleen Corrigan, contributor to Canadian Children's Literature, observed that "Phoebe Gilman not only knows a good story, she knows how to write it well and draw it superbly."

A retelling of an old Yiddish tale, Something from Nothing resurrects an old story and with it a vanished way of life in the small Jewish towns that once dotted Eastern Europe. In the story, young Joseph is saddened when he must give up a favorite blanket, decorated with stars, when it becomes frayed and worn; but his grandfather helps Joseph keep his precious blanket by remaking it as a jacket. When this too wears out, the grandfather successively reshapes it as a vest, and later a tie. Each time, the amount of fabric becomes smaller, until ultimately it is only a button, which Joseph then loses. Meanwhile, a family of mice living in a hole in the wall have begun to acquire an ever-expanding wardrobe of star-spangled clothes. Something from Nothing makes use of "pleasing rhythm and repetitive language," according to Norma Charles in Canadian Materials. In a Booklist review, Stephanie Zvirin found the book visually pleasing, pointing out "the red-gold tones of the background and the rich browns of the artwork" which "lend a feeling of warmth that perfectly replicates the flavor of this sweet, funny tale."

Gilman reintroduced her spunky character Jillian in Jillian Jiggs to the Rescue. In this episode, Jillian's little sister, Rebecca, is frightened because of a bad dream about a monster. The ever-resourceful Jillian designs a "monster machine," which will catch and shrink the monster. Thinking they have trapped the monster, the two girls try to squash it, but to everyone's surprise, the monster turns itself into a cat! As with its predecessors, this installment in the Jillian Jiggs saga is also told in rhyme. Joanne Findon, writing in Quill & Quire, called it "a delightful sequel to the other Jillian Jiggs books," showing readers how "Rebecca is able to confront her fears and take positive action against them." Once again, the book's visual aspects received praise as well: "Gilman's use of vivid colours and intricate detail in each scene," wrote J. R. Wytenbroek in Canadian Literature, "make the book a visual feast and enhance the text in many ways."

As The Balloon Tree had covered territory familiar to fairy tale readers, The Gypsy Princess reinvents elements of stories which carry the moral that "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," or "There's no place like home." The gypsy girl Cinnamon wishes she could be a princess and live in a castle, but when her dream comes true, she realizes she was most happy when she was with her family. To get back home, she must surrender all the trappings of her royal life, including her slippers and crown, a decision she has trouble making. "Gilman extends characterization through her use of facial expressions," wrote Susan S. Verner in a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review, while Quill & Quire contributor Janet MacNaughton concluded, "This is truly an admirable book."



Booklist, September 15, 1990, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Something from Nothing, p. 178; September 1, 1993, p. 64; February 1, 1997, pp. 945-946.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1994, pp. 186-187; March, 1996, Susan S. Verner, review of The Gypsy Princess, p. 267.

Canadian Children's Literature, vols. 39-40, 1985, Murray J. Evans, review of The Balloon Tree, pp. 145-148; vol. 45, 1987, Margaret Pare, review of Little Blue Ben, p. 94; 1990, Lisa MacNaughton, review of The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs, pp. 145-148; 1991, Kathleen Corrigan, review of Grandma and the Pirates, pp. 114-115; vol. 72, 1993, Marjorie Gann, review of Something from Nothing, pp. 52-54; winter, 1997, Martha J. Nandorfy, review of The Gypsy Princess, pp. 78-81.

Canadian Literature, winter, 1992, pp. 189-190; winter, 1995, J. R. Wytenbroek, review of Jillian Jiggs to the Rescue, p. 205.

Canadian Materials, November, 1990, Jane Robinson, review of Grandma and the Pirates, p. 267; September, 1992, Norma Charles, review of Something from Nothing, pp. 207-208.

Horn Book, November-December, 1993, pp. 770-773.

Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1993, p. 72.

Quill & Quire, February, 1985, pp. 10-11, 14; October, 1985, p. 22; December, 1986, Frieda Wishinsky, review of Little Blue Ben, pp. 14-15; March, 1994, Joanne Findon, review of Jillian Jiggs to the Rescue, p. 80; December, 1995, Janet MacNaughton, review of The Gypsy Princess, p. 37.

School Library Journal, January, 1991, p. 72; March, 1997, p. 152.



Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 26, 2002.

Quill & Quire, October, 2002, p. 11.

Toronto Star, October 21, 2002.

[Sketch reviewed by Scholastic Canada publishing director Diane Kerner.]

About this article

Gilman, Phoebe 1940-2002

Updated About content Print Article