Fancher, Lou 1960-

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Fancher, Lou 1960-


Born 1960, in MI; married Steve Johnson (a commercial artist and illustrator. Education: University of Cincinnati, B.F.A. (dance).


Home—Moraga, CA. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, illustrator, children's book designer, ballet mistress, and choreographer. Freelance illustrator with husband, Steve Johnson, c. 1979—; co-creator of pre-production set and character designs for animated films, including Toy Story, 1995, and A Bug's Life, 1998. Alberta Ballet, former ballet mistress; New Dance Ensemble, former associate artistic director; James Sewell Ballet, Minneapolis, MN, ballet mistress; Company C Contemporary Ballet, Walnut Creek, CA, ballet mistress; choreographer, coach, and instructor to dancers and companies throughout the United States.

Awards, Honors

(With Steve Johnson) International Reading Association Childrens Book Award 1989 for No Star Nights by Anna Smucker; Minnesota Book Award for Children's Books, 1992, for The Salamander Room, by Anne Mazer; gold medal, Society of Illustrators, 1993, for Up North at the Cabin by Marsha Wilson Chall; Minnesota Book Award for Children's Books finalist, 1993, for Up North at the Cabin, 1996, for Cat You'd Better Come Home by Garrison Keillor, 1997, for My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, 1998, for The Lost and Found House by Michael Cadnum, 1999, for Coppélia by Margot Fonteyn, 2002, for both The Day Ocean Came to Visit by Diane Wolkstein and Silver Seeds by Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer; Nestlé Children's Book Prize shortlist, 2005, for The Dancing Tiger by Malachy Doyle. Solo awards include Minnesota State Arts Board artist fellowship for choreography, 2002.



The Quest for the One Big Thing (based on the animated film A Bug's Life), Disney Press (New York, NY), 1998.

(Adapter) Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit; or, How Toys Become Real, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.

Star Climbing, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Anna Smucker, No Star Nights, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.

Douglas Hill, Penelope's Pendant, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.

Anne Mazer, The Salamander Room, Knopf (New York, NY), 1991.

Jon Scieszka, The Frog Prince Continued, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.

Marsha Wilson Chall, Up North at the Cabin, Lothrop, Lee & Shephard (New York, NY), 1992.

B.G. Hennessy, The First Night, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

Sarah S. Kilborne, Peach and Blue, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Garrison Keillor, Cat, You Better Come Home, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

Dr. Seuss (pseudonym of Theodore Geisel), My Many Colored Days, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Michael Cadnum, The Lost and Found House, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.

Margot Fonteyn, Coppélia, Harcourt Brace (San Francisco, CA), 1998.

Craig Kee Strete, The Lost Boy and the Monster, Putnam's (New York, NY), 1999.

Janet Schulman, adaptor, Felix Salten's Bambi, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.

Lois Duncan, I Walk at Night, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.

Alice Hoffman, Horsefly, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer, Silver Seeds: A Book of Nature Poems, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.

Diane Wolkstein, The Day Ocean Came to Visit, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.

Margaret Wise Brown, Robin's Room, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Louise Erdrich, The Range Eternal, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Mary Pope Osborne, New York's Bravest, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

Mavis Jukes, You're a Bear, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

Kathleen Krull, The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew up to Become Dr. Seuss, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.

Dori Chaconas, Momma, Will You?, Penguin (New York, NY), 2004.

H.L. Panahi, Bebop Express, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Malachy Doyle, The Dancing Tiger, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.

Karen Hill, All God's Creatures, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2005.

Dan Gutman, Casey Back at Bat, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

Margie Palatini, The Cheese, Katherine Tegen Books (New York, NY), 2007.

Diane Wright Landolf, What a Good Big Brother!, Random House (New York, NY), 2008.

Warren Hanson, Bugtown Boogie, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2008.

Stephen Mitchell, reteller, The Ugly Duckling, Candlewick Press (New York, NY), 2008.

Maya Angelo, Amazing Peace, Random House (New York, NY), 2008.

Diane Wright Landolf, What a Good Big Brother!, Random House (New York, NY), 2009.


Trained in ballet, Lou Fancher has gone on to work on two very different yet equally creative stages. A choreographer and dance teacher, she has served as both artistic director and ballet mistress at many ballet companies in her home state of Minnesota. In addition, Fancher is also one half of the respected artistic collaboration that, with her husband, commercial artist Steve Johnson, produces evocative, vibrantly colored illustrations for dozens of children's books. As well as creating art for text by popular writers such as Mavis Jukes, Dr. Seuss, Margie Palatini, and Maya Angelo, Fancher has also created and co-illustrated the original picture book Star Climbing. Praising the book's "rhythmic, lyrical" verses, which follow a child's make-believe journey up among the constellations on the way to dreamland, a Publishers Weekly reviewer predicted that Fancher's "dreamy bedtime poem with its magical, moon-dappled illustrations may well dazzle star-struck young readers." According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the couple's "lush, rich illustrations highlight [Fancher's] … fanciful nighttime adventure," making Star Climbing a "peaceful, vivid visual treat" for young listeners.

In their collaborations, Fancher and Johnson work together on all facets of each illustration project: initial conception, drawing, designing, and painting. As a testament to their skill, they were the first illustrators selected by the estate of Theodore Geisel (the man known as Dr. Seuss) to illustrate My Many-Colored Days, a manuscript that remained unillustrated and unpublished at Geisel's death. Their work here, which Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman dubbed "glowing and lively," is mirrored in a related work, Kathleen Krull's picture-book biography The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew up to Become Dr. Seuss. An exploration of Geisel's experiences as a German immigrant in the early twentieth century, Krull's book was deemed a "winner" by Anne Chapman Callaghan, the critic adding in her School Library Journal review that Fancher and Johnson's "lovely, full-page illustrations" successfully

integrate Seuss's own art. The couple has also created art for posters, business publications, commercial advertising, and periodicals and served as part of the creative team that produced the animated films Toy Story and A Bug's Life. Fancher's book The Quest for the One Big Thing, a counting book, is based on A Bug's Life.

Born in Michigan, Fancher took classes in art history at the University of Cincinnati while working toward her B.F.A. in dance. After she met and married Minnesota native Johnson, she relocated to the Minneapolis area, where the couple lived until moving to Moraga, California. Among the many collaborations for which Fancher and Johnson share credit are new versions of some childhood classics. One, Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit; or, How Toys Become Real, features a text Fancher adapted for younger readers, while another is Janet Schulman's adaptation of Felix Salten's classic Bambi. Commenting on the latter book, Elizabeth Spires wrote in the New York Times Book Review that the couple's "luminous paintings" in this "richly illustrated" work "capture, by turns, the radiance of Bambi's forest world, its beauty, terror and stillness." Working again with Johnson, Fancher combines her passions for dance and art in illustrating Margot Fonteyn's picture-book adaptation of the ballet based on E.T.A. Hoffman's Coppélia. Reviewing this work, Carolyn Phelan dubbed it "a rich, visual interpretation and a wonderful introduction to a performance of the ballet" in her Booklist review.

Fancher and Johnson's other collaborations include creating illustrations for I Walk at Night by Lois Duncan; New York's Bravest, Mary Pope Osborne's tribute to heroic firefighters everywhere; Horsefly by Alice Hoffman; and Dan Gutman's retelling of a well-known American fable in Casey Back at Bat. The unusual media used in illustrating Duncan's story about the world as seen through the eyes of a nocturnal cat—string and oil paint—prompted a Publishers Weekly critic to note that the couple's use of "twilight tones" and a textured surface produce an "overall effect [that] is dreamy and atmospheric, and makes for grand bedtime fare." While framed as the story of Moses Humphreys, a volunteer firefighter who, in nineteenth-century New York, heroically saved countless lives before losing his own, New York's Bravest is also a timely tribute to the firefighters who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. As a Publishers Weekly contributor noted, Fancher and Johnson's oil paintings combine with Osborne's text to "carefully and respectfully balance" the historic and mythic elements of Humphreys' life, resulting in "a loving tribute … that may well help youngsters cope with the loss of these brave leaders." In their illustrations for Horsefly the couple "chart the emotional movement" of Hoffman's story about a girl who loses her fear of horses during a magical flight, using what Booklist reviewer Connie Fletcher described as "rich artwork" that ranges from "dark and angular…. to brightly glowing." Working with author Dan Gutman to revision the American saga of Casey at the Bat, Fancher and Johnson also received critical praise. In Booklist, GraceAnne A. DeCandido wrote of the illustrators that "the fab team … makes wonderful, nineteenth-century-inspired paintings" that reflect the mood of Gutman's nostalgic tale through "their amber glow, Victorian colors, and newsprint shadows."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of My Many Colored Days, p. 510; October 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Coppélia, p. 416; December 1, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Horsefly, p. 721; April 15, 2002, Kay Weisman, review of Robin's Room, p. 1406; July, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of New York's Finest, p. 1847; December 1, 2003, Louise Brueggemann, review of You're a Bear, p. 684; February 15, 2006, Carolyn Phelan, review of Star Climbing, p. 101; January 1, 2007, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Casey Back at Bat, p. 114.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 2004, Krista Hutley, review of The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew up to Become Dr. Seuss, p. 284.

Horn Book, November-December, 1993, Mary M. Burns, review of The First Night, p. 724; November-December, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of New York's Bravest, p. 737.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of New York's Bravest, p. 951; August 15, 2002, review of The Range Eternal, p. 1222; September 15, 2002, review of The Velveteen Rabbit, p. 1389; December 15, 2003, review of The Boy on Fairfield Street, p. 1451; April 15, 2005, review of The Dancing Tiger, p. 472; June 1, 2005, review of Bebop Express, p. 642; February 15, 2006, review of Star Climbing, p. 182.

New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1999, Elizabeth Spires, review of Bambi.

Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1993, review of The First Night, p. 37; November 7, 1994, review of Peach and Blue, p. 77; May 8, 1995, review of Cat, You Better Come Home, p. 294; October 13, 1997, review of The Lost and Found House, p. 74; November 16, 1998, review of The Quest for the One Big Thing, p. 77; January 10, 2000, review of I Walk at Night, p. 67; August 13, 2001, review of The Day Ocean Came to Visit, p. 311; May 20, 2002, review of Robin's Room, p. 65; June 24, 2002, review of New York's Bravest, p. 56; September 9, 2002, review of The Range Eternal, p. 67; January 23, 2006, review of Star Climbing, p. 206.

School Library Journal, April, 1999, review of The Quest for the One Big Thing, p. 94; August, 2001, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Day Ocean Came to Visit, p. 174; October, 2002, Susan Oliver, review of The Range Eternal, p. 104; December, 2003, Laura Scott, review of You're a Bear, p. 118; January, 2004, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of The Boy on FairfieldStreet, p. 119; November, 2004, Rebecca Sheridan, review of Momma, Will You?, p. 94; July, 2005, Grace Oliff, review of The Dancing Tiger, p. 88; April, 2006, Susan Weitz, review of Star Climbing, p. 105; January, 2007, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Casey Back at Bat, p. 94.


Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson Home Page, (March 15, 2007).