Fleming, Denise 1950-

views updated

Fleming, Denise 1950-


Born January 31, 1950, in Toledo, OH; daughter of Frank (a realtor) and Inez (a homemaker; maiden name, Campbell) Fleming; married David Powers (a designer), October 9, 1971; children: Indigo (daughter). Education: Graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design, 1970. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, natural habitats.


Home—Toledo, OH. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Henry Holt Inc., 115 W. 18th St., New York, NY 10011.


Children's book author and illustrator.

Awards, Honors

American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book designation, American Bookseller Pick-of-the-List designation, Booklist Editor's Choice selection, School Library Journal Best Book citation, and Redbook Children's Picture Book Award, all 1991, and Boston Globe/Horn Book Award Honor Book designation, and International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choices selection, both 1992, all for In the Tall, Tall Grass; ALA Notable Book designation, 1992, for Lunch; Publishers Weekly Fifty Best Books of 1992 inclusion, for Count!; American Bookseller Pick-of-the-List designation, Publishers Weekly Best Books designation, and School Library Journal Best Books designation, all 1993, and Booklist Notable Book designation, Caldecott honor book, and ALA Notable Book designation, all 1994, all for In the Small, Small Pond; American Bookseller Pick-of-the-List designation, 1994, for Barnyard Banter; Booklist Notable Book designation, 1997, for Where Once There Was a Wood.



In the Tall, Tall Grass, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.

Count!, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.

Lunch, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.

In the Small, Small Pond, Holt (New York, NY), 1993.

Barnyard Banter, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.

Denise Fleming's Painting with Paper, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.

Where Once There Was a Wood, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Time to Sleep, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.

Mama Cat Has Three Kittens, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

The Everything Book, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Pumpkin Eye, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Maker of Things, with photographs by Karen Bowers, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 2002.

Alphabet under Construction, Holt (New York, NY), 2002.

Buster, Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

The First Day of Winter, Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

The Cow Who Clucked, Holt (New York, NY), 2006.

Beetle Bop, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.


Edith Adams, The Charmkins Discover Big World, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.

The Charmkins Sniffy Adventure, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.

Alice Low, All through the Town, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.

It Feels like Christmas! A Book of Surprises to Touch, See, and Sniff, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.

Peggy Kahn, The Care Bears Help Santa, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.

Ernie's Sesame Street Friends, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

This Little Pig Went to Market, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Count in the Dark with Glo Worm, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Deborah Shine, Little Puppy's New Name, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

Teddy's Best Toys, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.

The Merry Christmas Book: A First Book of Holiday Stories and Poems, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.

Linda Hayward, This Is the House, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.

Linda Hayward, D Is for Doll, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.

Linda Hayward, Tea Party Manners, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.

Natalie Standiford, Dollhouse Mouse, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.


In the Small, Small Pond was adapted as an animated video by Weston Woods/Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.


During the 1980s, Denise Fleming achieved some success illustrating children's books by other authors, including drawing licensed characters such as the Care Bears and Charmkins, but, as she told Shannon Maughan in Publishers Weekly, "It wasn't really what I ultimately wanted to do." Then she and her sister enrolled in a papermaking class, a subject Fleming found so fascinating she took a further course. It was with the knowledge Fleming gleaned there that she eventually developed her own technique of forcing cotton pulp through hand-cut stencils to make the distinctive art that accompanies her original picture books. Even though the techniques are completely different, Fleming's artwork has been compared to the collages created by children's book author and illustrator Eric Carle, and critics often single out the stunningly vibrant colors in her creations. She writes and illustrates, and does occasional gardening, from her home in Toledo, Ohio.

Fleming's first solo effort incorporating her stenciled art, In the Tall, Tall Grass, follows a caterpillar through a backyard jungle from afternoon until evening. The author's "bold, bright, stylized … illustrations" offer the caterpillar's point of view on the myriad of other creatures in the yard, from hummingbirds to bees, ants, and snakes, according to Virginia Opocensky in School Library Journal. As a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented, "the ultimate kaleidoscope effect makes this title ideal for sharing with young explorers." Fleming's illustrations are accompanied by a simple rhyming text that emphasizes the activity of each creature. Ellen Fader, writing in Horn Book, remarked that In the Tall, Tall Grass "holds appeal for a wide range of children."

Count! introduces young audiences to numbers with the help of Fleming's signature pulp paintings. Each spread features animals exhibiting characteristic behavior accompanied by a short, exclamatory phrase that identifies the animal and its behavior. "This introduction to the numbers … also serves as a lively romp through the wild kingdom," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor, while School Library Journal reviewer Liza Bliss dubbed Count! "very bright" and "very hip!" A small paperback edition of the book is included in Denise Fleming's Painting with Paper, a kit that contains instructions and equipment for making art with paper pulp and stencils, just like the artist.

Another of Fleming's picture books, Lunch employs a format similar to In the Tall, Tall Grass. In Lunch, a greedy mouse eats his way through a vegetarian feast and consequently teaches young children the names and colors of common foods. Booklist contributor Kathryn Broderick commented that "Fleming's vibrant handmade paper paintings … flaunt big blotches of colors and a funny, piggy mouse." Karen James, writing in School Library Journal, called Lunch a "well designed, joyous romp," and Horn Book reviewer Fader deemed the book "delectable fun, and, with the simple yet engaging plot, sure to be requested over and over by the youngest readers."

In the Small, Small Pond is similar to Fleming's earlier In the Tall, Tall Grass due to its close-to-the-ground view of an enclosed natural system. In this work, the author focuses on a frog and its interaction with other creatures associated with pond life. The rhyming text again emphasizes the activities of each of the animals depicted, and Fleming's illustrations lead readers through the seasons from spring to winter. Like many other critics, Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper emphasized Fleming's compositions in her review, concluding that the author/illustrator's "art has both a fluidity of design and a precision of definition that make it a pleasure to view." As Judy Constantinides commented in School Library Journal, In the Small, Small Pond serves as "another truly stunning picture book from Fleming."

Animal life is again the focus of Fleming's Barnyard Banter, in which each barnyard animal makes an appearance, then makes its characteristic noise accompanied by the refrain "Where's goose?" "Lush colors, startled, wide-eyed animals, and bold, black print make each page … jump with activity," observed a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. Reviewing Time to Sleep in School Library Journal, critic Marcia Hupp called Fleming's story about animals preparing for a long winter hibernation "a gem of a picture book." As in Barnyard Banter, the simple story related in Time to Sleep serves to introduce a wide variety of animals. Here, Bear realizes that it is time to hibernate for the winter and tells Snail, who tells Skunk, who tells Turtle, and so on until Ladybug wakes up the already-slumbering Bear to inform the creature that it is indeed, time to sleep. The book is "subtly informative and poetic in its simplicity," noted Hupp, the critic also predicting that Time to Sleep would make regular appearances at afternoon story-hours in the autumn months.

Mama Cat Has Three Kittens celebrates individuality in the form of one little kitten, Boris, who sleeps while Mama leads Fluffy and Skinny, her other two kittens, through their paces. When the rest of the family settles down for a nap, a well-rested Boris finally leaps into action. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that Fleming's love of cats is evident in every spread "as she accurately captures feline behavior and movement." Fleming adds visual interest to her signature poured-fiber art in jewel tones by placing small creatures in unobtrusive places in each illustration. "The repetition of simple phrases and actions is also sure to be a hit with toddlers," the critic continued. "Preschoolers will request repeat readings of this delightful story," Blair Christolon likewise predicted in School Library Journal.

Reviewers commended Fleming's seamless blend of artwork and text in Where once There Was a Wood, in which the author reminds readers that while a new housing development may mean a new community to humans, it also displaces a community of animals and other creatures. Fleming pairs a gently rhyming text with vibrantly colored and richly textured illustrations comparing and contrasting the animal habitat with that of humans. "An ecology lesson it surely is," remarked a contributor to Kirkus Reviews of the book, "but it's also a celebration of the earth and its creatures." Fleming does not abandon her audience to the dilemma she has exposed; the conclusion of Where once There Was a Wood includes simple suggestions that encourage the wildlife in one's own yard, such as planting butterfly or hummingbird gardens. Sarabeth Kalajian called the work "a book to be shared and enjoyed by a wide audience," in her review for School Library Journal.

For a much younger audience, Fleming has produced The Everything Book, a compendium of nursery rhymes, peek-a-boo, the alphabet, games involving counting ob- jects, naming body parts, playing with kitchen utensils, learning the creatures commonly found in one's own backyard, and other useful and amusing pastimes for parents and their very young offspring. "All the first concepts children learn are endearingly presented in Fleming's vibrant, distinctively textured style," recounted Julie Yates Walton in the New York Times Book Review. Walton jocularly compared The Everything Book to adult books purporting to contain all that one should know to be a well-rounded adult, and concluded that, "with her warm, intuitively childlike touch, Fleming's book could be properly billed as ‘What Every Pre-Kindergartner Wants to Know.’"

Fleming offers up a Halloween tale for young readers with her picture book Pumpkin Eye. The rhyming text follows a young group of trick-or-treaters as they walk through their neighborhood. Stephanie Zvirin complimented Fleming's "spectacularly atmospheric pictures" in a review for Booklist, and a Publishers Weekly critic dubbed the book "pleasingly spooky." Another seasonal tale, The First Day of Winter, uses the traditional carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas" as a basis for gift-giving from a child to a snowman. "The clever new words to a favorite old tune might become a new winter favorite in music classrooms," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Lauren E. Raece, writing in Horn Book, noted that the art is "filled with energy and movement." Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg found The First Day of Winter to be a "counting exercise with winter magic," while Shawn Brommer described it in School Library Journal as "quietly told and thoughtfully illustrated."

Alphabet under Construction brings back the mouse from Lunch to give youngsters a tour of the alphabet. Each letter from A to Z is paired with a construction verb, from airbrushing to carving to welding. Each letter appears to be fashioned out of materials most likely to be paired with the style of construction chosen. "The text presents the letters subtly and effectively," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who commented that "Fleming's trademark pulp paintings glow." A Publishers Weekly critic considered the title a "concept-book salute to hands-on … creativity," while Booklist reviewer GraceAnne A. DeCandido remarked: "The exhausted mouse's month of hard work is rewarded: the last page shows the completed alphabet."

Life changes dramatically for Buster the dog when a new pet joins his family in Buster. At first, the dog wants nothing to do with the cat, despite how much the feline tries to get Buster to be a friend. Finally, the dog runs away in order to get some time away from the cat, but ends up getting lost. The only way Buster can make it home is by following the familiar white puff guiding him from the trees—the very cat he has been trying to avoid! Fleming "brings a cheerful childlike tone to her text, along with abundant touches of humor and tenderness," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic. Joy Fleishhacker, reviewing Buster in School Library Journal, noted that the book's "format, as well as the use of repetitive language, makes this heartwarming tale a good choice for emergent readers." According to a critic for Kirkus Reviews, with Buster, "Fleming barks up the right tree."

Like Barnyard Banter, The Cow Who Clucked is a tale reverberating with barnyard noises. Cow has lost her moo, and she is determined to find out where it has gone! She interviews several of the barnyard animals, asking each if they have acquired her moo, but all each can utter is their own unique sound. Finally, Cow approaches Hen, and then learns who has stolen her moo. A Publishers Weekly critic found that Fleming's "signature cotton fiber illustrations are as sumptuous as ever" in this book.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 1992, Kathryn Broderick, review of Lunch, p. 519; September 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of In the Small, Small Pond, p. 67; March 15, 1994, review of In the Small, Small Pond, p. 1351; April 1, 1997, review of Where Once There Was a Wood, p. 1296; September 15, 2001, review of Pumpkin Eye, p. 237; August, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Alphabet under Construction, p. 1962; September 1, 2003, Lauren Peterson, review of Buster, p. 128; December 15, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of The First Day of Winter, p. 49.

Childhood Education, summer, 2004, Sue Grossman, review of Buster, p. 214.

Horn Book, January-February, 1992, Ellen Fader, review of In the Tall, Tall Grass, pp. 56-57; January-February, 1993, Ellen Fader, review of Lunch, pp. 74-75; September-October, 2003, Lauren Adams, review of Buster, p. 597; November-December, 2005, Lauren E. Raece, review of The First Day of Winter, p. 693.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1994, review of Barnyard Banter, p. 395; April 1, 1996, review of Where Once There Was a Wood, p. 528; July 1, 2002, review of Alphabet under Construction, p. 954; August 15, 2003, review of Buster, p. 1072; September 15, 2005, review of The First Day of Winter, p. 1025.

New York Times Book Review, November 19, 2000, Julie Yates Walton, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know," p. 36.

Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1991, review of In the Tall, Tall Grass, p. 78; December 13, 1991, review of Count!, p. 55; December 20, 1991, Shannon Maughan, interview with Denise Fleming, p. 24; September 7, 1992, p. 94; July 5, 1993, p. 69; October 10, 1994, review of Painting with Paper, p. 71; January 27, 1997, review of Count!, p. 108; July, 1998, review of Mama Cat Has Three Kittens, p. 217; September 24, 2001, review of Pumpkin Eye, p. 42; June 24, 2002, review of Alphabet under Construction, p. 54; July 14, 2003, review of Buster, p. 75; November 10, 2003, review of Buster, p. 36; July 2, 2006, review of Alphabet under Construction, p. 60; July 10, 2006, review of The Cow Who Clucked, p. 80.

School Library Journal, September, 1991, Virginia Opocensky, review of In the Tall, Tall Grass, pp. 232-233; March, 1992, Liza Bliss, review of Count!, p. 228; December, 1992, Karen James, review of Lunch, pp. 81-82; September, 1993, Judy Constantinides, review of In the Small, Small Pond, pp. 206-207; June, 1996, Sarabeth Kalajian, review of Where Once There Was a Wood, p. 116; November, 1997, Lisa Falk, review of Time to Sleep, p. 80; November, 1998, Blair Christolon, review of Mama Cat Has Three Kittens, p. 84; March, 2002, Shauna Yusko, videocassette review of In the Small, Small Pond, p. 78; September, 2002, Jody McCoy, review of Alphabet under Construction, p. 190; September, 2003, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Buster, p. 178; December, 2005, Shawn Brommer, review of The First Day of Winter, p. 112.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 13, 1992, p. 6; August 25, 2002, review of Alphabet under Construction, p. 5.

About this article

Fleming, Denise 1950-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article