Tafuri, Nancy 1946-
Tafuri, Nancy 1946-
Born November 14, 1946, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Otto George (a retired naval officer and an engineer) and Helen Haase; married Thomas Michael Tafuri (a graphic designer), June 14, 1969; children: Cristina. Education: School of Visual Arts (New York, NY), graduated, 1967.
Author and illustrator of children's books. Simon & Schuster (publisher), New York, NY, assistant art director, 1967-69; One Plus One Studio (graphic design firm), Roxbury, CT, cofounder, graphic designer, and illustrator, 1971—. Exhibitions: Work exhibited by Society of Illustrators, 1977.
Authors Guild, Authors League.
Children's Choice citation, International Reading Association, 1982, for The Piney Woods Peddler; Best Books of 1983 citation, School Library Journal, 1983, for Early Morning in the Barn; Jane Addams Honor Book designation, 1983, for If I Had a Paka; Caldecott Honor Book, American Library Association, 1985, for Have You Seen My Duckling?; Fanfare Honor Book citation, Horn Book, 1986, and Please Touch Museum Book Award, 1987, both for Who's Counting; Ten Best Children's Books citation, Redbook, 1988, for Junglewalk; Recognition of Excellence, California Children's Book and Video Awards, Preschool and Toddler Category, 1990, for Follow Me!; Recommended Picture Book Honor, Parents' Choice, 1999, and Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, 2000, both for Snowy, Flowy, Blowy: a Twelve Months Rhyme; Reading Magic Award, Parenting magazine, for Silly Little Goose.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
All Year Long, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.
Early Morning in the Barn, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.
Have You Seen My Duckling?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.
Rabbit's Morning, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.
Who's Counting, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.
In a Red House, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Where We Sleep, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
My Friends, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Do Not Disturb, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Spots, Feathers, and Curly Tails, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.
Two New Sneakers, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.
One Wet Jacket, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.
Junglewalk, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.
The Ball Bounced, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.
Follow Me!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.
This Is the Farmer, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.
The Barn Party, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.
The Brass Ring, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.
I Love You, Little One, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.
Counting to Christmas, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Snowy Flowy Blowy: A Twelve Months Rhyme, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Will You Be My Friend? A Bunny and Bird Story, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.
Silly Little Goose!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Where Did Bunny Go?, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Mama's Little Bears, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
The Donkey's Christmas Song, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
You Are Special, Little One, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Goodnight, My Duckling, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.
Five Little Chicks, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.
Whose Chick Are You?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2007.
The Busy Little Squirrel, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2007.
Blue Goose, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2008.
The Very, Big, Scary, Storm, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2009.
Jean Holzenthaler, My Hands Can, Dutton (New York, NY), 1977.
George Shannon, The Piney Woods Peddler, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1981.
Charlotte Zolotow, The Song, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.
Mirra Ginsburg, Across the Stream, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.
Charlotte Pomerantz, If I Had a Paka: Poems in Eleven Languages, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.
Charlotte Pomerantz, All Asleep, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.
Crescent Dragonwagon, Coconut, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.
Helen V. Griffith, Nata, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.
Mirra Ginsburg, Four Brave Soldiers, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.
Charlotte Pomerantz, Flap Your Wings and Try, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.
Mirra Ginsburg, Asleep, Asleep, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.
Patricia Lillie, Everything Has a Place, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.
Kevin Henkes, The Biggest Boy, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.
Sharon Phillips Denslow, In the Snow, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2006.
Illustrations included in Children's Book Illustration and Design, edited by Julie Cummins; Literature and the Child, 2nd edition, by Bernice E. Cullinan; and 1990 Children's Writers and Illustrators Market. Designer of poster for U.S. National Children's Book Week, Children's Book Council, 1987.
Artist and writer Nancy Tafuri has been creating books for very young children since the late 1970s. Whether providing illustrations for writers such as Charlotte Pomerantz, Kevin Henkes, and Mirra Ginsburg, or creating art for her original picture-book texts, Tafuri is consistently praised by critics for her simple and uncluttered yet imaginative art. Noting her use of "tiny details," generously sized shapes, and "sunny colors," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Tafuri's picture book Five Little Chicks "proves once again why Tafuri … is a favorite with youngsters." If I Had a Paka: Poems in Eleven Languages, which Tafuri illustrated for Pomerantz, was selected as a Jane Addams Honor Book, and Tafuri's own Have You Seen My Duckling? was runner up for the prestigious Caldecott Medal.
Growing up as an only child, Tafuri spent a great deal of time drawing and coloring. As a teen, she decided on an artistic career and in 1964 she enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. There she followed a course of studies in journalistic design, which included classes in graphic design, type, book design, magazine illustration, and children's book illustration. Although the book-illustration class caught her interest, she still concentrated on her other studies, viewing them as more practical in light of her need to make a living. Tafuri's first job after graduation was as an assistant art director for the publisher Simon & Schuster. Two years later, she left this post to marry Thomas Tafuri, a fellow artist whom she had met during her college years.
Working together, the Tafuris opened One Plus One studio in 1971. Although the studio was originally founded in New York City, the Tafuris established enough of a reputation creating book-jacket art to be able move north to rural Roxbury, Connecticut. In addition to working with her husband, Tafuri also built up a portfolio of children's illustrations, then took them around to various publishing houses. "At first," she revealed in Horn Book, "publishers felt my images were too graphic, and I got a lot of rejections. Now, when I read my early work, I realize that it wasn't half as good as I thought it was then. I was still learning a craft, the process of putting a book together, but I was determined to make things work."
In 1977 Tafuri received her first illustration assignment: creating art for Jean Holzenthaler's My Hands Can. Then came an assignment for Greenwillow Books illustrating The Piney Woods Peddler by George Shannon. For this book she modeled her illustrations on her husband and the old Pennsylvania gristmill they were living in at the time. "I had never really concentrated on human shapes until then," Tafuri recalled in Horn Book. "Tom helped me. I took photographs of him, and he became the model for the peddler." Tafuri also illustrated Charlotte Zolotow's The Song and Charlotte Pomerantz's If I Had a Paka for Greenwillow, and in 1983 she gained her first writing credit with her self-illustrated picture book All Year Long. Meanwhile, The Piney Woods Peddler earned a Children's Choice citation from the International Reading Association, marking the first of many awards Tafuri has received throughout her prolific career.
Several of Tafuri's self-illustrated books have been inspired by life on her Roxbury farm. Early Morning in the Barn was inspired by her move from New York City to rural New England and Whose Chick Are You? is one of many books to focus on farm animals. Tafuri's Caldecott Honor Book Have You Seen My Duckling? and its companion volume, Goodnight, My Duckling, both stem from a more specific incident. "We have a pond on our property," Tafuri explained in Horn Book. "Tom and I went down to look at it one day, and there was a mallard mother and her ducklings. Tom said, ‘There's a story here for you, Nancy.’ Have You Seen My Duckling? came the most easily to me of all my books and was the most pleasurable to work on." A Parents' Choice reviewer called Have You Seen My Duckling? "beautifully precise, yet emotionally affecting," and a Horn Book reviewer called the book "as fresh as spring—a delightful variation on a familiar theme."
Featuring woodland creatures and a rhyming text, Tafuri's self-illustrated I Love You, Little One was praised as a "tender bedtime book" by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The book features seven little critters who in turn ask their mother, "Do you love me, Mama?" The same reviewer praised Tafuri's "stunningly detailed … dusky, downy-coated animals." Tafuri's signature warm animals also star in Will You Be My Friend? and its sequel, Where Did Bunny Go? In the first book, a "simple yet comforting story," according to Ilene Cooper in Booklist, a little bunny wants to become friends with a rather shy bird. The results of a rainstorm finally provide the proper impetus for their friendship to blossom. In the sequel, Bunny and Bird are involved, along with other animals, in a game of hide and seek one snowy day. When Bird is fearful that Bunny has run away, the friend lets Bird know that he would not do that. A "reassuring story," Will You Be My Friend? "probes both the joys and challenges of developing friendships," Patricia A. Crawford wrote in Childhood Education. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews concluded of Where Did Bunny Go? that Tafuri's "underlying warmth of tone is as enjoyable as the appealingly depicted wildlife" in her self-illustrated picture book.
With their spare, simple texts, Tafuri's books rely primarily on illustrations to show plot and movement. Set in farm country, Rabbit's Morning grew out of an encounter Tafuri had with a jackrabbit. Early Morning in the Barn employs a similar strategy, with a text featuring animal noises and illustrations featuring baby animals, while Do Not Disturb focuses on activities in rural fields and ponds. In Silly Little Goose! readers enjoy "a likeable tale about a wayward goose on a quest to find a home," in the words of a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Goose needs a place to lay her eggs, but all of the warm, soft, dry spaces have already been taken by other barnyard animals and their babies. Although Goose attempts to settle into each of these spaces, she is repeatedly ejected amid the sounds of the baby animals and the refrain, "Silly little goose!" Eventually, a farmer's hat, which has blown under a bush, becomes the perfect nest for Goose. Tafuri's "large, uncluttered illustrations" combine with her simple text to make the book "perfect for lap-sits and toddler storytimes," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor JoAnn Jonas.
Other stories featuring wild animals include The Busy Little Squirrel, in which a small brown squirrel prepares for the coming cold weather, and Mama's Little Bears, which finds Mama Bear at watch while her three small cubs venture out into the world surrounding their cozy den. Like I Love You, Little One, You Are Special, Little One introduces several different animal relationships—including a human one!—that find a parent encouraging the special qualities of their young. You Are Special, Little One "reads like a love song," noted a Kirkus Reviews writer, calling the book "a gratifying read to be shared while cuddling." With its clear-toned colored pencil-and-water color art and "soothing" repetitive text, The Busy Little Squirrel was deemed "a worthwhile addition to Tafuri's growing treasury of … satisfying stories" by School Library Journal contributor Martha Topol.
Concepts provide the focus in several books by Tafuri. Counting is the focus of both Five Little Chicks and Counting to Christmas, the latter in which holiday rituals are met with numerical skills as an eager child counts down the days to Christmas Day, baking cards, making cookies, getting the tree ready, and singing in a recital. In Blue Goose, Farmer Gray's drab gray farm is colorfully transformed by creative farmyard residents—such as the titular goose, Red Hen, White Duck, and Yellow Chick—after they obtain the colored paints required to complete their barnyard makeover. The months of the year are investigated in rhyme with Snowy Flowy Blowy: A Twelve Months Rhyme, a "sumptuous" book, according to a critic for Publishers Weekly. "As usual," wrote Shirley Lewis in her Teacher Librarian review of Counting to Christmas, "Tafuri's artwork is the centerpiece," and Booklist critic Carolyn Phelan dubbed the book a "holiday treat for Tafuri fans." Praising the author/illustrator's "low-key" approach, Phelan noted of Blue Goose that the book provides children with "an appealing introduction to primary and secondary colors." With a story line that focuses on creativity, Blue Goose allows Tafuri to be "more visually playful … than usual," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer, citing the book's upbeat artwork and "pithy text."
Tafuri has received critical acclaim for the artwork she has contributed to texts by other writers. Her illustrations for Ginsburg's Four Brave Soldiers, depict four mouse soldiers who cavort while the house cat is asleep. The cat in Four Brave Soldiers was the inspiration for the tiger cat in her original self-illustrated Junglewalk.
Tafuri is careful to base each of her animal characters on detailed research, commenting that she makes it a priority to "get … all the facts correct in my illustrations. Each animal or rock formation has to be correct. Even though my books aren't nonfiction, the feeling of accuracy has to be there." "My main concern is always how the book will look when it is printed," she explained in Horn Book. "I think about the final form—that is the training that doing [book] jackets provided for me. I have never felt that all that time I spent trying to get started in this field was wasted. I also usually pick out my own typefaces for books and work the illustrations around the type. I see so many books with blocks of type just dropped onto the art. One of my major thoughts is how I'm going to work text and art together."
Nancy Tafuri contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
Having a child makes you look back on your own childhood … remembering how it was to be young and growing up with all its special beginnings and trials, but most of all remembering the good and bad that have helped you be the person you are today.
This process started for me after Cristina was born, when I would sit with her for hours: rocking, talking, reading, and sleeping with her in my arms, realizing what a special person I had been transformed into—a mother—and how it must have been for my mother when I was born some forty-two years ago on a fall day in November 1946. My father was a career officer in the navy and spent most of my childhood overseas. Which meant I was a very important part of my mother's life and she was my life. We lived my first years in an apartment in Ridgewood, New York, which was in the borough of Brooklyn. I had a little French friend named Joseph, and we made the halls, the stairs, and basement of a very ordinary building into the most fascinating place, sharing secrets and excitement together. How different that will be for Cristina. We are all together—father, mother, and child—in a natural setting in the midst of an orchard. Pond, meadows, and woods make up our Connecticut world, surrounding us with everything I love to paint and write about, everything I want to expose the young child to through books.
I don't really know how all that began in me, that extreme love of nature, the feel of the seasons, the yearning: to draw animals and, actually, not always for myself, but for children.
When we moved from Ridgewood, Brooklyn, to Richmond Hill, Queens—still a borough in New York—I was nearly five years old. Now we were near parks with sprinklers, sand, and trees. But my favorite pastime was coloring and drawing. My mornings were spent very happily making a white page glow with color. Our neighbor's child could never understand this devotion, but I could—it was my time. Actually, mornings are still very important to me and now, with Cristina, even more so. It's the kind of quiet time we need to cuddle, play, read, and color, the latter being a great favorite of Cristina's also, even at this young age.
Like Cristina, I was an only child … but that all changed when my father retired from the service. I was ten years old and our family started to grow. First came
my brother, Douglas, and my sister, Dianne, shortly after … and then a move to the country to a small town in northern New Jersey.
It was a big change for all of us. Gradually we each adjusted at our own rate. I think my mother was the one that had the most change: a husband home from the service, a new family, and a location so foreign from her New York City background. We really didn't have as much time to give each other and I missed that. Starting in a new school and making friends, on top of getting used to my new big-sister status, was all so challenging. My dad worked hard to tie us all together and also adjust to civilian life.
As we became accustomed to our new roles, the opportunity to share time with my mother returned … and in high school when the time came to decide what direction to take, it was my mother who encouraged the art field and helped persuade a very German father. In high school I took every opportunity to involve myself in art. I even persuaded my home economics teacher to let me paint a mural in her classroom instead of the assignment of sewing a new spring outfit! I gathered paintings à la Modigliani—sketches of horses (my favorite animal), life studies, etc., to form my first portfolio. It weighed forty pounds. Off I went to the School of Visual Arts, by Third Avenue on Manhattan's Twenty-third Street. With moist palms and arms aching from the extra baggage, I sat watching my inner soul being thumbed through by the school's director. He was encouraging, but you had to be reviewed and that took six weeks. I was working in a dress shop in a shopping center, and every chance I had I'd call home to hear if I was accepted. It was torture. Six weeks was starting to turn into six years.
The day came in July when I called home and had Mom rip the envelope open to find that I had been accepted. My art training would begin in September and my major would be children's book illustration. Just the thought of having a major that would deal in creating books for young children was overwhelmingly exciting.
I commuted into New York City from Kinnelon, New Jersey. The trip was a long one, so rise-and-shine time was generally around five in the morning, even before the roosters. I'd meet the bus along the side of the highway with pads, portfolio, and canvases wrapped under my arms. But just to enter the school with its smell of oil, paint, and turpentine lingering through the halls made it worth all the travel. I thrived in the environment. I had never been exposed to anything quite like it before, and it managed to shape my entire life. The people, the teachers, the informality were all so different from everything I had ever experienced.
You were the shaper of your own destiny, you were in control, the harder you worked the greater your chances were in finding new ways to do the same thing—it was all experimental, all new. Just to see how differently we could all see and interpret was exhilarating. Painting, design, typography, media, children's book illustration, and academic classes were but a few of the many courses I took over the three years.*
The first part of my second year I found myself in love and, oddly enough, with a boy my own age. Up until now I had made a point of never dating anyone my own age. They all seemed so silly and immature, but
Tom was different. Rather quiet and soft-spoken, he won me over. He was a dedicated student and I admired his determination—even to this day it's still a strong point. Tom lived not too far from the Richmond Hill area that I grew up in and actually was born in Brooklyn five months earlier than myself. We dated all through school, making trips up to New Jersey and down to Queens. It was a commuters' romance. We shared all the artists' haunts, the galleries, museums, and shows. Manhattan was our campus and we relished the thought of being successful artists some day.
After fantasizing how it would be once we graduated, the day finally came and when it was over and the dust
had settled, I hustled out into the world to show publishing what I had learned. Tom rented a studio in Union Square and started illustrating and painting.
My first job was freelancing at Random House, doing pasteups and mechanicals for their educational book department for young readers. It was a summer job and actually prepared me for the nine-to-five world I knew I needed to enter for experience.
With the knowledge I gained from freelancing, I answered an ad through an agency for assisting an art director of trade-book jackets at Simon & Schuster. The appointment was set and I gathered together samples of pasteups and mechanicals from my freelance job and my art-school works concerning graphic design. The interview was successful and I started my first real full-time, art-related job the following Monday.
The salary was minimal and the commute a long one, but I knew I'd never receive the type of experience locally that I would obtain in Manhattan. I relaxed and found myself more and more comfortable with design and type, and fascinated by book jackets—each one a small poster of art wrapped around a piece of literature, drawing the reader into its grip. My excitement influenced Tom and he, too, enjoyed working with me on freelance projects from the publisher until he also branched out into the world of graphic book design.
We worked together building our portfolios, making them strong in the hopes of someday forming our own graphic design studio.
Three years after Tom and I graduated from the School of Visual Arts, we were married on a rainy day in June of 1969. For us rain was good fortune!
We made our home in Forest Hills, New York, minutes from Manhattan, and started our own graphic art studio, One Plus One Studio. Tom would go around during the day gathering freelance projects, and we would work every chance we got to complete our jobs. Business was coming along slowly. We really had enough clients to keep just one of us very busy, so when Tom received a very promising position as assistant art director at a top paperback publisher, he took the job. After a couple of years, our client list started growing. Tom would come home now and the two of us would have our dinner and go right back to work.
Then fate stepped in one afternoon. I was going to have lunch with Tom in Manhattan and was a bit early, so I decided to walk to the Museum of Modern Art. On the way I noticed a row of brownstone buildings with some vacant apartments. I looked up and started to imagine how wonderful it would be to have a studio right in the middle of New York City. I entered the art store to ask with what agency one would inquire about a possible rental. My heart was throbbing. Tom and I often spoke of moving to the city with the studio and
giving up his full-time position, but until now it had been only a dream. I proceeded to the penthouse door of Aeon Realty and I was face-to-face with the rental agent. She informed me that there was one front apartment left that was on hold for a photographer, and I should call back in a few days. Being optimistic, I took all the information down and ran to tell Tom. Several days passed and I called to find out the photographer had passed on the space and it could be opened for us to look at.
The superintendent met Tom and me in front of the building and we rushed up what felt like a thousand steps into two rooms requiring much-needed repair. We walked through the two front rooms with visions of how the unit could be transformed into our ultimate dream. The floors were so blackened from grime and soot, it was a shock to find out that they were wood parquet. The fireplace was boarded and plastered over. The kitchen area had been ripped out, but the bathroom was there (dirty, but there at any rate). A large closet which a previous owner had divided for his shirts stood in the entry area. We looked with such delight. What a perfect place for all our type and art books: WE'LL TAKE IT!
A big plunge, but we did it. We jumped into a complete lifestyle change. We started renovation on the studio after all the necessary arrangements were made with rent and leases.
Tom left his full-time assistant's position at New American Library, and we now had One Plus One Studio running again in full gear. Our dear mascot, a keeshond dog that couldn't or wouldn't be left alone, came with us on our city commute every day. A short ride into a metropolis can very often be transformed into hours of impatience, exhaustion, and wasted time. So after a year of coming home to take-out and a dark apartment, Tom and I lit up when we discovered a rental available on the top floor of an adjacent building. Just about forgetting all the work we had completed on our studio, we walked into this new space with open hearts, It seemed like heaven—of course it could have been … it was up five flights of stairs!
When I walked in, it was hard to believe I was still in Manhattan. The ceilings were low with windows encased in shutters, giving them a built-in feeling. The floors were wood, not parquet like the studio, but in running widths. There were two fireplaces, one in what became our living room and another in one of the two bedrooms. It was an open but very cozy feel, and we just knew it was perfect for us.
By this time we were starting to be real hands at plastering, painting, and woodworking. We stripped off bags of plaster to expose the brick on the chimneys and kitchen-wall area. We had been collecting American antiques along the way, so this floor, having been part of the maid's quarters at the turn of the twentieth century, really lent itself to the warmth of the furniture. We started to grow there … Tom with his designing and then me with illustrating. Living in New York City helped us develop our ideas and become independent. Combing galleries and visiting museums, libraries, and bookstores made me yearn for the field I started out in. Even though my publishing credits by now included a book I had illustrated in for E.P. Dutton—My Hands Can written by Jean Holzenthaler—as well as a coloring book for Dover Publications of R.L. Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses and several small illustration assignments, recognition was still very slow in coming.
The studio was successful now. The time had come when I could devote my energies to just illustration. But the illustration I found myself doing wasn't really what I had seen being published. I adored shapes—big, round, inviting shapes. My work was being drawn into the world of large, sparse, and colorful, which I felt would be perfect for the very young. But in the late seventies the youngest reader was not a priority. Getting somewhat discouraged, I put my work down for a time only to find myself drawn back to it with the same devotion.*
It wasn't until the spring of 1980 that my career in children's books took a wonderful turn. I had been working on my portfolio of samples for a time and had made several appointments with publishers in New York City, one of them being Greenwillow Books. Their parent company was William Morrow & Company. At this time, Greenwillow was a relatively new house devoting much of their list to the very young child. Ava Weiss, the art director, had given us several adult trade-book jackets when she was at Macmillan Publishing. So when I called to set up an appointment, she was warm and inviting and asked to see me right away. I was so thrilled, I couldn't get out of the door and into a cab fast enough. Our greetings were joyful, even though my heart was up around my throat. Ava listened to every word and looked at every piece. Then, taking several pieces with her, she disappeared for a time. I sat and told my hopes not to get too high. When she returned, it was with a manuscript for The Piney Woods Peddler by George Shannon. Shannon had retold an American folktale from the Appalachian region, and the direction Greenwillow wanted this book to go in was one with humor, an early American feeling, and a strong structure. One artist had at- tempted to illustrate this manuscript already, so right there I knew this was going to be a tough one. That, coupled with the fact that my experience with the human figure wasn't the strongest … but I had to take it, I had to try, even though Ava said if I didn't there would be other chances. At that moment I felt it was a now-or-never situation. Beaming with joy, I scooped up my work and flew back to the studio in record time to share the good news with Tom, ringing the buzzer to our studio and running up one hundred steps yelling, "I've got a book—I've got a book!"
What followed weeks later was an ideal situation. Tom and I were just about to rent an old gristmill in the midst of Amish farmland in Pennsylvania, in a town called Millbach. The owners were moving across the road into an early restoration and needed someone to care for the old mill. We knew it would be a great place to work and antique, so we took the offer. I knew it would make working on The Piney Woods Peddler authentic, but I needed a peddler, someone I could sketch and pose to really give this book a special flair. Moments later I saw Tom coming out of one of the back rooms with a large straw hat, pants pushed up, a finger in the air, and a smile on his face: my peddler!
Before Tom would leave for Manhattan on Mondays, I made sure to take enough poses and gestures to carry me through the week. It was exhilarating for me to be working on a book that I could be putting my real design feelings into. Even if it didn't get accepted, I would still know the feeling of trying to make it work.
I completed eight pages and a cover sketch for approval. I mounted my vellum tissue sketches on a folded dummy, simulating the correct size of the book, slipped it into a manila envelope, and off I went … for the verdict.
Susan Hirschman (editor-in-chief), Elizabeth Shub (senior editor), and Ava Weiss were all there to greet me. Our hellos were all cordial, and then out came the sketches from their manila home. I looked at their faces while they looked at what I was hoping to be my next book. When the words "May we give you a contract?" rang out from Susan, the breath came back to my lungs and my voice managed a "yes." "Well," she said, "we'll draw one up right away."
The summer of 1980 marked the true start of my illustrating career. Working on The Piney Woods Peddler, pulling in people from the rural area to model, gave me that self-assurance I needed to make me confident that this was the path I wanted to take professionally. To know that a publisher had given me the chance to prove that meant everything. I spent the summer sketching people from this rural area, walking the outstretched roads, passing cornfields and farms, antiquing with Tom, and cooking Pennsylvania German meals from the area. It was a summer I'll never forget. So much has passed since then, but a part of me still reacts the same every time I sit down at the drawing board to start a new book. It's that exuberance which comes over me, making every book just like the first one.
During our stay at Millbach House Tom and I received news that our studio building had been taken over by new owners, and we were given notice to find different space. At first the news was heartbreaking, and going back and forth from Pennsylvania difficult; but we were able to find space in a building not far from our home apartment that would suit our needs. That first studio, however, has always held a special place in our past, as where it all started for One Plus One.
After the completion of The Piney Woods Peddler and the move back to Manhattan, my hopes were high as to the possibility of receiving another manuscript for a picture book. When The Piney Woods Peddler was completed, it was a preseparated book. The color was indicated with shades of gray on vellum overlays in degrees of percentages. It involved a certain amount of guess work and a great deal of patience, unlike today when one can do separate colorful paintings for each spread. Due to printing advancements and more demand for children's books, the prices have become more competitive, enabling artists to project their images more freely.
The Piney Woods Peddler was printed in the U.S.A. at a plant in New Jersey, and Ava asked if I could go! You bet! What a thrill to watch the presses rolling off large sheets of Tom—the smiling trader.
It was educational watching Ava working with the printers, lightening, darkening, aligning, and cleaning every page under her watchful eye; and rewarding to see the care that went into the printing. I'm happy I was able to see the process, since most of my books from 1986 on have been printed in Hong Kong and overseeing them is impossible. Proofs are always sent, however, and checked and rechecked here with Ava. Results are compared to original art and treated with the utmost care, as if you were there in person. Ava goes over to Hong Kong twice a year and personally oversees every book on Greenwillow's ever-growing list.
For me The Piney Woods Peddler was the book that opened the starting-gate doors. From then on my relationship with Greenwillow has been a strong one.
The books that followed were The Song by Charlotte Zolotow, If I Had a Paka by Charlotte Pomerantz, and Across the Stream by Mirra Ginsburg. Each one in its own right helped stabilize me in the field of books, but Across the Stream enabled me to take animals (in this situation a fox, hen, chicks, a duck and her ducklings) and project them through an entire book with feeling, humor, and kindness.
So, Across the Stream was another milestone in my illustrating career, culminating in uniting illustration with writing, which started to surface in 1983 with All Year Long, a book combining the months of the year with the days of the week. Mixing numbers, colors, holidays, and seasons with an open-ended almanac adds to learning fun for the youngest reader.*
As I was working on All Year Long, Tom and I found the country house of our dreams. After combing the countryside with maps, clippings, and guidance from realtors, we found our dwelling. We knew it as soon as we saw it—an old, center-chimney colonial, built in 1800, which sat on fields with an orchard and barn. Our realtor was not familiar with the house, since it had been on an exclusive listing and just went on multiple. So going through the house together and exploring the possibilities was just as new to her as it was to us both. When we responded, "We really love it," she turned to us with a surprised "You do?"
Tom and I never saw the house the way it actually was—we envisioned it the way it is now. It was right for us, since the owners had never touched any of the original details. The floors, fireplaces, windows were all there, and in an old house that's quite rare. No one had built huge additions that made the house too large for us, or put in new bathrooms or a kitchen just to sell. No, it was in a rough stage, a stage that took some getting used to since we were so settled in New York. But the change was truly worth it. We took one day at a time and adjusted accordingly. At first we went back and forth, bringing our most cherished belongings along with us.
We cleaned one area and stored everything in that space, then proceeded, as in the four apartments before, to take one room at a time and tackle the scraping, plastering, sanding, painting—techniques we had become so proficient in along the way. So, in the middle of chaos, a jewel emerged as "the dining room." We had just painted the floors tan with a red border stripe, the windows and doors with warm grey trim, and the freshly plastered and painted walls in buff white. One at a time, with sighs of pleasure and exhaustion, we placed each piece of our collection in. Carefully measuring and nailing in place the appropriate paintings, watercolors, and theorems, we transformed the room into the vision we had both imagined that cold December day when we first stepped into it.
Work on the house went slowly—I had completed All Year Long just prior to moving. I was even able to place drawings of the house in several spots throughout the book, which, of course, made me glow. Now I waited anxiously for its outcome in the reviewers' columns.
At home we cleared space for me to work with good light and the right surfaces to be able to spread everything out. At this point I was working on a book about a barn … being so excited about our big barn structure and, of course, loving the farmyard aspect. Knowing how much I enjoyed Across the Stream, the birth of Early Morning in the Barn came about quite naturally with its feisty rooster arousing all the barnyard critters with his cock-a-doodle doo, and the little chicks taking their morning jog through the barn to greet all their friends.
Midway through the completion of Early Morning in the Barn, our own barn went up in flames. It was 11:30 on the eve of Halloween, 1982, when the blaze lit up the entire hill. We were awakened by pounding on the front door—weekenders who were unable to pass due to the blaze and who, by glancing at the house, knew we were totally unaware of what was happening.
At the pounding, we jolted out of bed to see, straight ahead, right outside our own bedroom window, the entire corner of our big old brown barn aflame. It was an experience I feel no one should go through. That night, only five months after the purchase of our new home, was the worst I had ever experienced. The flames blanketed the 2,000-thousand-square-foot square structure like bees making honey. The conflagration was fast and furious. The barn was covered with a tight new roof and, with its breezy vents of siding and disjointed windows, it was virtually a hot box, topped with hundreds of bales of hay for the horses and two cords of wood I had just stacked myself. So there wasn't a chance, even though the volunteer fire department answered only nine minutes later, that our barn would survive. Hoses were stretched to reach the north side of the house to stop the paint from blistering under the heat. Then, amidst this tragedy, on the horizon a large glow appeared … another fire. This occurrence led everyone to believe arson was the cause. The distant flames were coming from a farm in the next town belonging to an old resident farmer who worked the hills and meadows with his cows to supply the local dairy with his milk.
As the sun rose the following morning, our hearts sank. Our land had been violated, our hopes spoiled, and our feelings numbed by thoughtlessness and disregard.
In the following weeks we stood up and dusted ourselves off. We decided that this was where we wanted to stay and proceeded to turn our lives around. Insurance forms were filled out; excavators leveled land and planted seed. Our house now stood alone on top of the hill as plans for another barn were made.
That winter passed quickly. Rides into the surrounding towns to search for old structures to erect on the barn site proved fruitful. One was found in New York State just over the Connecticut/New York line.
Early Morning in the Barn was completed in full color with black line overlays. Reviews of All Year Long were favorable, and a new manuscript by Charlotte Pomerantz, All Asleep, was on my drawing board ready to be worked on.
Tom was designing and holding up the studio name in New York on weekdays, then zooming up to Connecticut every chance he could. We hated being apart, but knew until we made some headway on the place it was the only way.
As plans were being made on the construction of our new (old) barn, I was also searching for a new book idea of my own. Nature around our perimeters was alive with wonderment to my country-starved eyes. Walks into outstretched meadows past the pond and into the nearby woods were so easy on mind and body. One crisp, early spring day, when Tom and I were nearing the pond's edge, we heard rustling and then a splash. As we approached, we came upon a brightly colored mallard with its mate, swimming contentedly among the reeds. We sat quietly watching their every move. Then Tom turned with a smile and said, "There's a book here for you, Nancy." A book—I wondered—could there be? I loved all the elements, but one needs more than objects and location. Yet I knew he was right. I felt it, too. There was so much in this small body of water waiting to be captured.
I visited the pond site continuously for several weeks after discovering our feathered residents; and I was rewarded by a grand finale. What Mama and Papa had been preparing themselves for these long weeks was the hatching of fluffy brownish yellow babies: eight fine ducklings.
I started to sketch, putting down my thoughts for a book called "The Pond," having our feathered mother delightedly showing off her young babies to all the pond residents. Since I had just completed All Asleep, I was enthusiastic over this idea and dashed into New York to share it with Susan and Libby. Their lack of enthusiasm wasn't what I had expected and I knew something must be missing. I really wanted to make it work. The appropriate self-doubt entered my thoughts but then left, leaving me with only seven ducklings. Where was the eighth duckling? Back to the drawing board to hide the adventurous fuzzy offspring from Mama, but not from the young viewers' eyes.
I was optimistic about the way the dummy was coming along and couldn't wait until its completion to share it with my publisher. As the time neared, I needed a title and Have You Seen My Duckling? seemed a natural. I was greeted back at Greenwillow with excitement and so was Have You Seen My Duckling? … I was on my way!
And so was the construction of the barn. Its foundation was dug (much closer to the house than the original) and plans for a potting shed, work area, and garage were incorporated into a 1,100-square-foot frame. Dating from approximately the same time time period as our home, the barn had been carefully disassembled from its New York State location and trucked to its new site. Photos of Tom were taken atop one of the twenty-foot hand-hewn beams just after positioning. What a change from midtown Manhattan! Our world truly had shifted, and we were experiencing all of its challenges.*
The stimulation of our environment and our work continued. Duckling was going to be a full-color picture book. My line needn't be separated and I was both excited and apprehensive of its outcome, although once I started working on the friendly, warm, round, fuzzy bodies with watercolor, pastels, and ink, I soon lost my fear and enjoyed the results. When the book was finally finished, I missed having the ducklings on my board, greeting me every morning. Have You Seen My Duckling? has rewarded me through its pleasantries. In January of 1984 it was chosen as a Caldecott Honor Book, which was a thrill and an incredible moment for me.
It was midweek and I was in the midst of training our two-month-old keeshond puppy, Tavo, named after dear Tara who had passed away in December. I was huddled up in muffler, hat, and sweaters while running to the phone just after a snowy escapade with the furry youngster.
When the voice on the other end announced my name and started in with the formal dialect, it was somewhat muffled through the many layers of clothing still on my head. Being polite and listening carefully while catching my breath, I couldn't believe my ears. I had to ask, "Is that the silver seal?" "Yes, it is," answered the friendly voice of Karen Hoyle, chair of the Caldecott committee.
What a moment, what a thrill! The awards were given in Chicago that year in July and the experience of meeting teachers and librarians from across the country was really an enriching experience, not to say a heck of a lot of fun … and something I sure wouldn't mind doing again!
The barn was finished, but excavation around its outside continued—a stone wall leading to the house connecting the two structures, a graveled driveway, and an herb garden tucked below with raised beds that would be planned in the winter for early spring planting.
The herb garden became the backdrop for Nata, Helen V. Griffith's work about an unusual fairy. The format and layout of Nata was very different for me. Having designed dust jackets, I was at home with rules and spacing type. I placed Nata in a miniature garden on the right while her story was held together by decorative rules and bees on the left. Quite different from my large double spreads in Have You Seen My Duckling?, a format to which I returned in Rabbit's Morning.
One very early morning, as Tom was leaving for the week, he found one of our side apple trees coming down with a fungus. Its leaves had all turned yellow
and were falling. In order for the fungus not to spread to any of the trees in the orchard, Tom wanted me to rake up the leaves as soon as possible.
That misty, wet morning is when it happened: I heard a pounding and then, out of thin air, a huge jackrabbit appeared not more than three feet from my rake. His leaps were outstretched, his direction zigzag and very playful. Not more than seconds later, a second rabbit followed in his tracks. What a morning—they dashed up the hill and down and around. What fun … for them and me! They danced in the wet foliage, performed for nature, and then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.
That night I sat trying to put the morning's experience down on paper. A rabbit, let's see, one rabbit's morning, yes, a rabbit's morning—and Rabbit's Morning was born. Slowly I felt him explore the countryside and pass families, lots of families, until he, too, came to his own home with his own family.
While I was working on Rabbit's Morning, Tom and I talked about fixing up the small building on the property. It had been used as a chicken shed by the previous farmer and turned rental apartment by the last owner; now we wanted to make it into a studio so that One Plus One could incorporate itself back into its original working status. Tom had been giving thought to leaving New York City, and when our landlord gave us a new rental increase, we figured the time was right. We could always find space if need be—if it didn't work.
The construction was barely over when Tom and I moved into this lovely space, which looked out into the orchard and fields and up to the hills. Nervous at first, but encountering less interruption and feeling a sense of calmness, Tom felt it would work. And work it did, some six years later. With the aid of stat machine, fax, and express mailings, working outside the city became a reality.
We both liked creating together again—being involved in each other's career—for support or for just knowing the other was near.
My first book in the new studio was Who's Counting? Tavo, our exuberant puppy, gave me all the needed reference for that book … large watercolor paintings of an adventurous puppy teaching us all the numbers in big bold letters.
Do Not Disturb, an environmental book for the very young, came next—a brightly colored book showing a family as they reach a campsite and proceed to set up their tent, start a fire, lay out a blanket, and change into their bathing gear to begin their outdoor day. But little do they know that along the way many woodland inhabitants are being disturbed, until the tables are turned after nightfall and the reader gets a surprise and a chuckle when the animals show them whose home it really is!
It had been a while since I had had a Mirra Ginsburg manuscript on my drawing board, and now I was enthusiastic about drawing up sketches for Four Brave Sailors—a tale of four fearless sailors in a white ship. Their adventure started out in my mind on a shelf in a young child's room and slipped off into a large blue wave on an open sea of imagination. Animals and birds I had always wanted to place in a book came to life in Four Brave Sailors. Fearless as they were, our furry mouse sailors only feared the child's tiger cat.
That tiger cat planted himself in my mind and turned himself into the tiger in Junglewalk. In this book a dream transforms an ordinary night into an adventure for both cat and boy through the animal- and bird-infested rain forest, ending with a warm hug and a walk to share his adventure-filled book with a friend.
After Junglewalk, Susan had a wonderful suggestion: a series of board books for the very young child. The thought was appealing, but what should the subject matter be? "Animals," Susan replied. Well, wouldn't that be fun! So, my thoughts turned to farmyard animals on my long bus ride home. Bunnies, a fawn, a puppy, a kitten, chicks, a colt, a piglet, and a lamb are all babies … all babies like me! That's it, what a great ending … then I could put a round smiling infant on the last page. And the title My Friends was all it needed.
My Friends needed a couple of companion books: In a Red House, a book containing all the familiar objects in a young child's room, and Where We Sleep, holding images of all the cozy places where bunnies, fawns, puppies, kittens, ducklings, chicks, lambs, cubs, and babies sleep!
I was so enthusiastic over the series that after Spots, Feathers, and Curly Tails, a barnyard question-and-answer book, I started to work on two more in the board book series: Two New Sneakers, about a little boy putting on all of his new clothes to go outside, and One Wet Jacket, in which a little girl takes off all her wet clothes before her bath.
Back at the house, a bathroom was added downstairs, taking from one area and giving to another. The kitchen came next, a rather messy job but so rewarding when the commercial range was placed into position. Tom's eyes glowed with delight and my mouth watered. Tom's culinary abilities are superb. He started to feel an interest in cooking when we experimented with foods from the market areas in New York, duplicating some of the entrees from the varied restaurants we'd search out in and around the city. Even now Tom grows a garden that with proper preparation lasts us through the winter with tomatoes, peppers, and greens. I'm in charge of the herbs and flowers, the first being a treat to dry and enjoy all through the inclement weather; the flowers are a joy just to look at and cut for the house.
The rooms were all starting to come together now and our collection was filling them up with the right amount of objects. Our policy has always been one of "less is more," with a cozy feel.
Just like Tom and I were trying to bring our new life together with effort, love, and respect, my new manuscript by Charlotte Pomerantz, Flap Your Wings and Try, was about that same topic, simplified but straight to the point. After reading the text, I focused on a large, round sea gull for my lead. Knowing this may be a bit unusual, I approached Susan to see if she, too, could imagine my large feathered friend and his seashore home for Flap Your Wings and Try. Her reply was an exuberant "Yes!" … and my awkward young sea gull was soaring through the skies before you knew it.
Working on children's books, whether totally my own or another author's, has always been one of life's joys for me… being able to take short lines of text or, in most cases, none at all and turn them into a package that can be held by small hands. My author appearances in many parts of the country are especially enjoyable when they involve the children that my books are intended for.*
My work, my life with Tom, our country surroundings, the dogs, our friends and families, all make up me. But a time came in my life when I unselfishly wanted more. Tom and I both wanted someone else to share in all of this with us. We wanted a child.
But unlike apartments or houses and books, wanting and trying are not always the answer, and many years passed along with many disappointments. There was just enough encouragement, however, to make us feel assured we would someday be rewarded for all of our efforts.
My nurturing emotions were starting to overflow when Follow Me! made its way to the drawing board. A young baby seal taking a nap under Mama's flipper finds herself distracted by a red crab passing by. Anxious to cohort with a friend, she slips away and follows the crab through groups of sea gulls, hills of rocks, tidal pools of sea urchins, crayfish, and others. But unknowingly, Mama is always keeping a watchful eye on her adventurous young explorer. And it turns out that the young seal's crab joins up with many, many more crabs on the shore, so many more that her nearly new friend is lost in the group and then soon swims out to sea. Such a disappointment for the young seal.
Saddened by her loss, baby turns to discover what we knew all along. Mama was always with her and, after consoling her, Mama knows just what she needs—a
group of young seal friends for her to be a part of—and with a smile on her face, our young seal stands surrounded by friends.
The summer Follow Me! was being conceived, we found out that our daughter, Cristina, was, too! A feeling of much joy filled the house, along with a little anxiety as to whether we could fill our roles as parents in the years to come. But that soon passed and a glow of excitement filled our hearts and souls in the following nine months.
Work on Follow Me! seemed more realistic. I was actually starting to feel like that mama seal, sitting at my drawing board and enthusiastically completing the book before its due date … and Cristina's.
May 9, 1991, I walked into Greenwillow with the completed pages for Follow Me! What joy we all shared—it was wonderful being in the fold again after what seemed so long an absence. Great anticipation was in the air, not only for the book, but also for the nearing arrival of still another "little reader."
We laughed and talked, looked at Follow Me! again and again, until the time came for kisses and departing good wishes and home again to the warm "little room" waiting for Cristina.
The wait was not long. Cristina started entering this world that same week and blessed us with her arrival on the eve of Mothers Day with wide eyes, dark hair, and a delicate little six-pound, fifteen-ounce body. Her birth was an experience matched by none. Exalted emotions filled us with pride, love, and endearment.
The months ahead were made up of Tom and I getting to know Cristina with tender touches and warm embraces, smiling and talking and just looking at the miracle that was before us.
My life immediately changed. Priorities shifted and our little infant moved to the top of the list. To this day; two years later, that hasn't changed, but Cristina's life integrated into ours so that we're all living and working entirely in sync with one another.
I find I need to plan ahead more, work stranger hours, put some things on hold. But when I place myself at that drawing table now, I'm a different person from before. I feel that what I'm doing is more important; what I'm trying to say means more. My life has more depth, more responsibility, more meaning.
I feel honored to be creating literature for young children. Seeing how very important these early years are in a person's life, I can only hope that my books can contribute in some small way to that growth, with the feelings that I so hope I project within those pages, through line, color, shape, and story.
Since Cristina's birth, my books have taken on a different feel. Now I have a model to work into my drawings … and a very patient one, I could add. Mirra Ginsburg's manuscript for Asleep, Asleep was a perfect book to put me back at the drawing board, a perfect book at the perfect time. Talk about really feeling your part! Sleep habits seemed my only concern. So when this gentle book came into my hands, I was eager to begin. Tender and rhythmic, it could lull you to sleep. There were times I wished it were completed and printed so I, too, could lull my bouncy baby to sleep. Cristina's modeling debut can be found on the last pages of this twenty-four page, full-color, nighttime journey.
During the first year of babyhood, I could see the fondness Cristina had for farmyard animals … the sounds they made, their looks, and where they lived. Since we are right in the middle of lots of farms, she would point to the different creatures and make the appropriate moos and baas. That made the wheels want to start turning, but, boy, did they need oil. I couldn't repeat Early Morning in the Barn and didn't want to come close to Spots, Feathers, and Curly Tails. I wanted more words, but without becoming too complicated. First I started with the sun, the sun coming up; no, the rooster should be first; no, that's what I did in Early Morning in the Barn. Then I forgot about it, put the thoughts out of my head, and just waited.
I waited so long that I forgot what I was waiting for, and then he appeared, The Farmer … on a big blank page of my tissue pad. Along with his wife and dog and cat and ducks and donkey and cow. One right after another, all helping me form one great big long sentence.
I was thrilled with the outcome and couldn't wait until Susan read it. But unlike the days before Cristina, hopping on a bus to discuss a book had become a luxury now. So, with a phone call and a fax, I waited for the reply quite anxiously. Susan and Libby met and went over my lines and got back to me with a positive response. I was so pleased because now I could look forward to another book somewhere down the line that would be entirely my own. This Is the Farmer has the farmer that cuts our fields for hay as the lead, with his straw hat and Amish-type beard, along with local animals and structures to add color to this barnyard tale.
In the interim I had begun taking photos of Cristina for Patricia Lillie's book, Everything Has a Place. When the lines were read to me over the phone, even before my reply to accept, visions of the pages were flashing in my mind's eye.
At that moment, I knew Cristina would be just the model for this very young picture book. I was happy
to say I wanted to illustrate Patricia Lillie's book and Susan was thrilled. Contracts were drawn up and work began on Everything Has a Place.
Taking photos of an eighteen-month-old for a twenty-four-page book was a task in itself. It actually stretched out for months. Changing positions, changing ideas, and editorial changes are all part of putting even what seems like the easiest of books together.
I've been most successful working with tissue overlays. My first attempt at visualizing a book begins with a small storyboard on a large tissue pad, picturing the size best suited for the book, oblong or upright. When size is decided, vellum pages (a heavier type of tissue) are ruled up. Then research begins. Since photos of situations were being used for Everything Has a Place, I used the three-by-five snapshots as reference for my drawings, along with the proper props for the different situations. In such cases as Have You Seen My Duckling?, Junglewalk, or Follow Me, for instance, area, location, animals, plant life, and bird life all need careful consideration before being placed in a book. Then, working on separate smaller sheets of tissue, I sketch my drawings and slide them under my vellum frame for the proper placement. If a finished drawing does not meet my page requirement, I then make a black-and-white stat to enlarge or reduce my image. So tissues are worked around my pages until they obtain the graphic image I would like to project. With tissues in place, a finished sketch is then transferred onto the vellum overlay. When this process is repeated through the twenty-four or thirty-two
pages, plus cover, title page, and sometimes endpaper format, the book dummy is completed and ready for editorial and art approval.
A meeting is set up and we all go over the completed dummy. If any changes are to be made, this is the best time to do them since the next step is color.
To date, most of my books have been in watercolor with a black Rapidograph pen line. Some added pastel touches are needed at times for effect. I place the vellum drawing on my lightbox and transfer it onto the ruled-to-size watercolor paper (140-pound hot-press D'Arches). I do this for the entire book. Then I go through the entire book again with my black line outline. In the case of Junglewalk, during the dream sequence the black line was eliminated and a pastel line was integrated after the watercolor wash was put down.
When I have all the colors chosen and mixed for the page, I begin with the largest area of a single color and start washing clear cool water over the entire surface, making certain no water bleeds into any other area. If so, the color, when put down, would seep into another section. I have been using water color inks or dyes for most of my work. The color is very luminescent and color reproduction has been very true to the original. It has been noted by some to fade after extensive time in a framed situation, but I have been very successful in this area, just by avoiding direct sunlight and fluorescent bulbs. I like using gouache, pastels, colored pencils, and watercolor in tube form for accenting purposes. Very often I write my formulas down when mixing, so at a later date, when the mind fades, I still have a record of colors used earlier on that page.
I enjoy working with type in combination with my illustrations. I find working images around type a chal- lenge. I also enjoy the way the printed letter form complements the colorful images. The cover always needs special attention, since its impact will attract a child, parent, librarian, etc., at first glance. The format is smaller than a double spread, with added type for author, illustrator, title, etc. So it's very important to make it a strong element of design. I always like to do a separate piece of art for the cover so it works in the allotted space given, with type that will balance with the art.
I've often been asked if I enjoy working on another author's work as much as my own. I truly enjoy working on both. Many books I've taken on have been a challenge and have enabled me to grow both as an artist and a writer of picture books for young children. I look forward to growing more, improving my skills, in the years to come, and adopting new techniques.
Being involved in children's literature has been a special part of my life. I encourage anyone who feels strongly about entering the world of books for the natural world around me and, in turn, I hope I can help young children to do the same.
Tafuri contributed the following update to CA in 2007:
Fifteen years have passed since I was asked to write my original autobiography. And now I am being asked to add a decade and a half to the series in chronological order. I'm not a journal writer, my books have always been the markers in my life. They have become the benchmarks of my life. When I completed my autobiography fifteen years ago, I had cast Cristina as the little toddler in Patricia Lillie's Everything Has a Place. This Is the Farmer was also underway.
When delivering the completed artwork for This Is the Farmer, I was bubbling with enthusiasm over the plans for Cristina's upcoming fourth birthday party. I explained that we were having the same farmer and his wife from This Is the Farmer, come to our barn with their resident animals—rooster, rabbits, ducks, sheep, chickens with chicks, and one goat, to help Cristina celebrate turning four!
After listening to all the details, my editors exclaimed that they would make a terrific book! So in 1996 Cristina's fourth birthday party was documented in The Barn Party, and in the story that lone goat is the one to add to the surprise ending.
My next book had a very similar beginning. Since Cristina was a toddler we had gone to a small seaside town in Rhode Island called Weekapaug for our summer holiday. We would stay in an old inn, which had been reconstructed after the 1938 hurricane. It had been placed on the neighboring salt pond, away from the ocean's strong tides. After several years of shell picking, wave hopping, and sand castle building, Cristina was old enough to ride the historic flying-horse carousel in the nearby town of Watch Hill. She was strapped in place and mother was asked to stand on the other side of the white picket fence. Cristina was to go it alone. Away she went, with a smile on her face. Holding on tightly, she took off on her first ride on the country's oldest carousel. Every year since, she would reach for the brass ring. Ride after ride, the carousel arm would come down, loaded with the shiny silver rings among which there was a single golden brass piece that, if grasped, would entitle the bearer a free ride. Winner or not, Cristina's ride on the Watch Hill carousel became the ultimate summer tradition, and in my book The Brass Ring I documented Cristina's childhood summer holidays. The book was very popular in coastal southern New England, since the carousel is such an endearing landmark, but the sales were not strong enough in the rest of the country to warrant reprinting. The Brass Ring went out of print.
As time passed, Tom and I received continued requests for the local book, until we decided to publish The Brass Ring ourselves. After many phone calls and written permission letters, the rights were released and we searched for a printer. In 2005, The Brass Ring was published under our imprint, Duck Pond Press.
In this way, we became publishers. Storing, signing, packing and sending out yet another printing of The Brass Ring!
Along with The Brass Ring and The Barn Party, Cristina also appeared in another book, but not as a girl. This time she was a very eager little boy in Kevin Henkes' The Biggest Boy. This book was too delicious to pass up. Cristina was the perfect age to become the story's growing protagonist, a boy who has puppies and kittens living in his pockets while wearing a house for a jacket. I fastened Cristina's short bob back with hair clips, found her short jeans and a pair of suspenders, and she was ready to model yet again. It's so tender knowing I have these sweet shots of her being so patient and expressionist during her young life … and knowing that The Biggest Boy is really a little girl!
Cristina has definitely had a strong influence in the creation of my books. One night, after reading several of her favorite stories, she had finally fallen asleep. It was an evening with a full moon, and it was shining directly across her body. She was encased in a silvery glow. I sat looking at her in admiration and muttered the line, "What the moon sees." What the Moon Sees … what a great title!
A title and a vision for the last page do not make a book, so the wheels started turning. What if I divided the book into two sections, reserving one half of the book for the daytime—What the Sun Sees—and then closed the book, turned it around, and opened it to show a similar situation in the nighttime for What the Moon Sees? Then at the end I can put the visual that started the whole book: Cristina's moonlit body. What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees was published in 1997.
During the time I was working on What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, I received a package from an edi-
tor at Scholastic Press. It contained numerous promotional posters and cards to show that they were a house that promoted their authors and illustrators. It also contained a manuscript titled Deep in the Woods.
What a tempting approach. In the past, when I had received a request to illustrate a book from another publisher, I would decline. Those were the days when loyalties prevailed, and an author or illustrator stayed with the publisher they began their career with. But then I started to read the words, "Yes, little one, I love you as the pond loves you, forever and ever and always." The visuals were that of deer, ducks, rabbits, mice, bears, owls, and a child. The book began to unfold in my mind as I read each page. I was hooked. Deep in the Woods became I Love You, Little One, my first book for Scholastic.
Truth be told, I had been having growing pains for some time, and working with a new house was exhilarating. It was the spark I needed to take some chances and experiment with medias along with ideas. The hardcover edition of I Love You, Little One was eventually reduced to board-book size for those little hands to handle.
I always wanted to do a Christmas book, but never had a concrete foundation for an idea. Then one year I was watching Cristina doing a craft project during the holidays when the idea struck: Creating an advent calendar of events and crafts that lead up to that all-important day: the 25th of December. The book was titled Counting to Christmas. It contains recipes for spicy gingerbread cookies, pomander treats for outside wildlife, yuletide cards, and popcorn-cranberry garlands to decorate the Christmas tree. As the days pass by, readers watch the excitement grow through all the activities and events occurring in preparation for the big day. And the finale is found on the last
page, which shows all the outdoor animals enjoying the treats the book's young protagonist have prepared for them.
Counting to Christmas was the last book Cristina was able to model for. But while growing out of my books, our daughter was turning into a young lady. And amid this bittersweet turn into the next decade, a wonderful turn of events evolved.
Cristina and I began traveling together. My husband had seen the itinerary for Rose Tree Cottage Tours in Victoria magazine. It was a literature tour covering the northern section of England. The tour would include visiting the homes and surrounding countryside, villages, and cities of writers from Wordsworth to Beatrix Potter, from Jane Austen to the Brontës. Along the way, participants would visit Chatsworth, the home of the Duchess of Devonshire.
We were thrilled with the prospect of exploring a new world together. We were able to walk along Beatrix Potter's stone garden paths, have tea in the parlor of William Wordsworth, and peek into the study of John Ruskin, along with visiting the stables and office of James Herriot and peering into the room where the Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—wrote their memorable books. This was the first of many trips for the two of us—we were bitten.
For Cristina, it was enriching for her to see life outside her Roxbury home. The experiences she has had have helped her grow into the confident young lady she is today. For me, our travels have not only contributed to my work as an illustrator and lover of nature, but have also forged friendships along the way that I know I will have for a lifetime. Not to mention the memories Cristina and I have to look back on. Thank you, Tom!
Now that my young model has grown up on me, she asked if I could just draw animals instead. I love drawing animals, especially round ones! From 1994 to the present, 2007, I have completed twenty books. My characters have ranged from bunnies to bears and donkeys to chicks. I enjoy working with the different shapes and personalities of animals, but I know now that if other little child models came along for my books, Cristina will be right there to guide them.
I am sitting in my studio fifteen years after its completion. It is filled with too many books, notes and the memorabilia that comes with life. It's still my favorite place to be. I look forward to coming over here every day. My work still presents its challenges but I'm not growing tired of creating books for the youngest reader. At times it's somewhat daunting thinking in pure, simple terms in a world that is so complex. But drawing shapes and writing words that can be read to a small child is still very rewarding.
And when I go to a reading and I finish a story and I hear, "Read it again"—I just smile.
Maybe in some way I've helped create another reader.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Everything Has a Place, p. 1595; October 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Brass Ring, p. 360; November 15, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, pp. 567-568; February 1, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of I Love You, Little One, p. 924; September 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Counting to Christmas, p. 240; January 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Will You Be My Friend?, p. 938; February 1, 2001, Marta Segal, review of Silly Little Goose!, p. 1058; December 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Where Did Bunny Go?, p. 651; March 1, 2002, Ellen Mandell, review of Mama's Little Bears, p. 1144; September 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of The Donkey's Christmas Song, p. 247; November 1, 2003, Karin Snelson, review of You Are Special, Little One, p. 506; January 1, 2005, Julie Cummins, review of Goodnight, My Duckling, p. 875; December 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Five Little Chicks, and Julie Cummins, review of Whose Chick Are You?, both p. 52; June 1, 2007, Gillian Engberg, review of The Busy Little Squirrel, p. 80; November 15, 2007, Carolyn Phelan, review of Blue Goose, p. 47.
Childhood Education, winter, 2000, Patricia A. Crawford, review of Will You Be My Friend?, p. 110.
Horn Book, April, 1984, review of Have You Seen My Duckling?, p. 188; November-December, 1989, Nancy Tafuri, "The Artist at Work: Books for the Very Young," pp. 732-735; May-June, 1992, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Asleep, Asleep, p. 326; May-June, 1993, Mary M. Burns, review of Everything Has a Place, pp. 321-322; September-October, 1994, Martha V. Parravano, review of This Is the Farmer, p. 582; May-June, 1995, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Biggest Boy, p. 325; March-April, 2002, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Mama's Little Bears, p. 206.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2001, review of Silly Little Goose!; September 15, 2001, review of Where Did Bunny Go?, p. 1369; November 1, 2002, review of The Donkey's Christmas Song, p. 1626; August 1, 2003, review of You Are Special, Little One, p. 1024; January 15, 2005, review of Goodnight, My Duckling, p. 126; November 15, 2005, review of Five Little Chicks, p. 1236; July 15, 2007, review of The Busy Little Squirrel; December 15, 2007, review of Blue Goose.
Library Talk, March-April, 2001, Susan Shaver, review of Silly Little Goose!
Publishers Weekly, April 26, 1993, review of Everything Has a Place, p. 76; September 1, 1997, review of What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees, p. 103; January 5, 1998, review of I Love You, Little One, p. 67; November 8, 1999, review of Snowy Flowy Blowy: A Twelve Months Rhyme, p. 67; January 10, 2000, review of Will You Be My Friend?, p. 67; March 12, 2001, review of Silly Little Goose!, p. 88; September 15, 2003, review of You Are Special, Little One, p. 67; February 13, 2006, review of Five Little Chicks, p. 87; December 10, 2007, review of Blue Goose, p. 54.
School Library Journal, May, 1994, Lee Bock, review of This Is the Farmer, p. 105; March, 1998, Marianne Saccardi, review of I Love You, Little One, p. 188; October, 1998, Lisa Falk, review of Counting to Christmas, p. 45; March, 2000, Karen James, review of Will You Be My Friend?, p. 214; April, 2001, JoAnn Jonas, review of Silly Little Goose!, p. 123; October, 2002, Linda Israelson, review of The Donkey's Christmas, p. 64; October, 2003, Jane Barrer, review of You Are Special, Little One, p. 140; February, 2006, Marge Loch-Wouters, review of Five Little Chicks, p. 110; February, 2007, Susan Weitz, review of Whose Chick Are You?, p. 98; November, 2007, Martha Topol, review of The Busy Little Squirrel, p. 101.
Teacher Librarian, November, 1998, Shirley Lewis, review of Counting to Christmas, p. 48.
Nancy Tafuri Home Page,http://www.nancytafur.net (January 10, 2008).