Kasza, Keiko 1951–

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Kasza, Keiko 1951–


Name pronounced "Kay-co Kaza"; born December 23, 1951, in Japan; daughter of Tomizo (a businessman) and Masuko (a homemaker) Tanaka; married Gregory J. Kasza (a professor), June 22, 1976; children: Edward Kosuke, Alexander Taisuke. Education: California State University, Northridge, B.A. (fine arts), 1975.


Home and office—Bloomington, IN. E-mail—[email protected].


Artist and children's book author and illustrator.

Awards, Honors

Notable Book designation, American Library Association, 1987, and Kentucky Bluegrass Award, both for The Wolf's Chicken Stew; 100 Noteworthy Children's Books of 1992, Library of Congress, for A Mother for Choco; Prix Chonos, 1997, for Grandpa Toad's Secrets; Children's Choice selection, International Reading Council/Children's Book Council, and Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book, Cooperative Children's Book Center, 1998, both for Don't Laugh, Joe!; Reading Magic Award, Parenting magazine, for Dorothy and Mikey; several awards for art and design.



The Wolf's Chicken Stew, Putnam (New York, NY), 1987.

The Pigs' Picnic, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.

When the Elephant Walks, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.

A Mother for Choco, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.

The Rat and the Tiger, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.

Grandpa Toad's Secrets, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.

Don't Laugh, Joe!, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

Dorothy and Mikey, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

The Mightiest, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

My Lucky Day, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

The Dog Who Cried Wolf, Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.

Badger's Fancy Meal, Putnam (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of picture books published in Japan.

Author's work has been translated into French, Spanish, German, Danish, Polish, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese.


Born and raised in Japan, Keiko Kasza brings her childhood influences to bear on the books she both writes and illustrates for young children. Her works, which contain what a Publishers Weekly contributor described as "characteristic cleverness and droll art," include A Mother for Choco, The Pigs' Picnic, Dorothy and Mikey, and My Lucky Day. In each book, animal characters act out a variety of human situations with a combination of humor and poignancy, making Kasza's illustrated stories resonate with impressionable young readers. Citing My Lucky Day as among the author/illustrator's most outstanding works, Horn Book critic Martha V. Parravano noted that "humor, surprise, and wit" all feature in Kasza's unusual fox-and-pig story, and her use of "lively dialogue" and repetition result in a story that is "pitched perfectly to preschooler."

Kasza was born in Japan in 1951, the daughter of a businessman and his wife. "Growing up in Japan, I remember I used to read a lot and play with my friends in the neighborhood," the author and illustrator recalled to SATA. "In retrospect I think these are two of the most important contributions to what I do: writing and illustrating picture books. By reading a lot, I learned what makes a good story, and by playing a lot, I learned the pain and the joy that kids experience when they interact with one another."

Kasza found herself in the United States by the time she was ready for college; she attended California State University's Northridge campus, where she majored in fine arts and earned her bachelor's degree in 1975. Within a year Kasza had married, and together she and her husband, a college professor, raised two sons. Her first picture book, The Wolf's Chicken Stew, was published in 1987, marking Kasza's transition from artist and homemaker to artist, homemaker, and published author. It also garnered the first-time author/illustrator an American Library Association commendation when it was cited among the notable children's books of 1987.

In The Wolf's Chicken Stew, a wily wolf has his eye on one hen in particular, whom he plans to fatten up so she'll make a more satisfying meal. True to fairy-tale form, his plan backfires, when he finds that his gifts of goodies have been gobbled up by the hen's chicks, who now hold him in high esteem as "Uncle Wolf." Using what Wilson Library Bulletin contributors Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard described as "parallel phrases that create a playful, songlike quality in the text," Kasza tells an entertaining tale, complementing it

with sketchy pen-and-ink-and-watercolor renderings that transform Wolf into "a charismatic rascal." Commenting that "Kasza's illustrations far surpass the story," David Gale nonetheless maintained in his School Library Journal review that "children will enjoy both the wolf's scheming … [and] the story's repetitive form."

Kasza paints a gentle portrait of acceptance in A Mother for Choco. In this self-illustrated work, a small yellow bird with a bright blue beak has misplaced its mother and now must search other animals for signs of a family resemblance. Despite the lack of physical similarities—no feathers, no wings—a bear is willing to adopt the small creature. In fact, Choco the bird quickly finds that his family has expanded to include other creatures as well: an alligator, a hippo, and a pig. Kasza's "emphasis on caring and sharing despite superficial differences will surely find a wide audience," commented School Library Journal contributor Lisa Dennis, who also praised the book's "cheerful, energetic illustrations."

When the Elephant Walks is a circular story in which the movement of a lumbering elephant causes a chain reaction among other creatures that ends with a frightened mouse startling the elephant into the same sequence of events all over again. In Horn Book, Mary M. Burns called Kasza's depiction of animal characters "skillfully handled" and described When the Elephant Walks as an "unpretentious, thoroughly engaging book, executed with charm and elan." Ilene Cooper also had a positive reaction to Kasza's text and illustrations, commenting in her Booklist review that the "adorably drawn" animals serve as an effective "hook for this lighthearted picture book."

Animals take the place of people in illustrating an experience common to many children in Kasza's picture book The Rat and the Tiger. Tiger is much larger and stronger than Rat and tends to be a bit of a bully, taking the larger pieces of treats for himself and always getting his way in the games the two play together. However, when Rat finally stands up for himself and threatens to end the friendship, Tiger regrets his forcefulness, and the relationship between the pair realigns itself on a basis other than size. Reviewer Joy Fleishhacker praised Kasza's ink and watercolor illustrations and noted in School Library Journal that the book's "simple text and repetitive plot elements make [The Rat and the Tiger] a good choice … for story times." Equally impressed, Horn Book contributor Ellen Fader predicted that this "story of how two friends work through one of childhood's perennial problems will delight young listeners."

A runaway pet in search of excitement is the focus of The Dog Who Cried Wolf. In Kasza's entertaining tale, Moka is a white dog with brown spots who learns about the carefree life of wild wolves from his human companion, Michelle. Deciding to try the wolf lifestyle on for size, Moka runs away, but ultimately decides that life on the run is far less comfortable—and far more lonely—than life with his human family. In Booklist Kathleen Odean noted Kaszka's use of an "effective variety of page layouts," and added that the author/illustrator's "expressive" watercolor and ink images bring to life a story that features "excellent pacing" and a surprise ending. In School Library Journal Kristine M.

Casper concluded that young storytime audiences "will howl with delight when they meet this engaging pup," and a Kirkus Reviews writer maintained that in The Dog Who Cried Wolf "Kasza's simple story and expressive watercolor and ink illustrations are spot-on."

Featuring what a Publishers Weekly critic described as a "wittily ironic tale," Badger's Fancy Meal finds Badger tired with his cache of apples, worms, and root veggies. The creature emerges from his burrow and attempts to hunt down some more interesting fare, but a mole, rat, and rabbit each escape his attempts to capture and eat them. After the hungry badger returns to his underground home, he is met with a surprise that will entertain young readers. The Publishers Weekly critic praised the "cleverly designed gouaches" Kasza creates for Badger's Fancy Meal, and Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan concluded that the book's "confident, sometimes comical ink drawings are brightened with colorful washes." "Both pace and pitch are perfect," concluded School Library Journal contributor Teresa Pfeifer, the critic dubbing Badger's Fancy Meal "excellent for reflection, explication, and retelling, not to mention the teaching of maxims and irony."

Kasza continues to write and illustrate stories featuring animal characters and has published some of her titles in her native Japan. "How lucky for me that I chose an occupation requiring such simple training: read and play," she once exclaimed to SATA. "So much easier than getting a Ph.D. or spending years of study in medical school! I'm grateful for the kind of childhood I had in Japan, which I'm afraid today's ‘wired’ children are experiencing less and less."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Ward, Martha E., and others, Authors of Books for Young People, third edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.


Booklist, March 1, 1990, Ilene Cooper, review of When the Elephant Walks, p. 1344; August, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of Don't Laugh, Joe!, p. 1906; May 1, 2000, Amy Brandt, review of Dorothy and Mikey, p. 1678; October 15, 2003, Louise Brueggemann, review of My Lucky Day, p. 419; September 1, 2005, Kathleen Odean, review of The Dog Who Cried Wolf, p. 144; May 1, 2007, Carolyn Phelan, review of Badger's Fancy Meal, p. 98.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1987, Betsy Hearne, review of The Wolf's Chicken Stew, p. 170; May, 1990, Zena Sutherland, review of When the Elephant Walks, pp. 215-216; April, 1992, Deborah Stevenson, review of A Mother for Choco, p. 211; April, 1993, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Rat and the Tiger, pp. 254-255.

Horn Book, May, 1990, Mary M. Burns, review of When the Elephant Walks, p. 326; May, 1993, Ellen Fader, review of The Rat and the Tiger, p. 319; March, 2000, Kathleen T. Horning, review of Dorothy and Mikey, p. 186; September-October, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of My Lucky Day, p. 598; May-June, 2007, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Badger's Fancy Meal, p. 267.

Junior Bookshelf, April, 1989, review of The Pigs' Picnic, p. 57.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1992, review of A Mother for Choco, p. 185; April 1, 1997, review of Don't Laugh, Joe!, p. 558; August 1, 2003, review of My Lucky Day, p. 1018; August 15, 2005, review of The Dog Who Cried Wolf, p. 916.

Publishers Weekly, March 9, 1992, review of The Pigs' Picnic, p. 58; April 10, 1995, review of Grandpa Toad's Secrets, p. 62; March 17, 1997, review of Don't Laugh, Joe!, p. 83; April 24, 2000, review of Dorothy and Mikey, p. 90; October 6, 2003, review of My Lucky Day, p. 84; April 30, 2007, review of Badger's Fancy Meal, p. 160.

School Library Journal, August, 1987, David Gale, review of The Wolf's Chicken Stew, p. 70; April, 1992, Lisa Dennis, review of A Mother for Choco, p. 94; April, 1993, Joy Fleishhacker, review of The Rat and the Tiger, p. 98; September, 2003, Wendy Woodfill, review of My Lucky Day, p. 182; December, 2005, Kristine

M. Casper, review of The Dog Who Cried Wolf, p. 116; July, 2006, Teresa Bateman, review of My Lucky Day, p. 50; July, 2007, Teresa Pfeifer, review of Badger's Fancy Meal, p. 78.

Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1987, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of The Wolf's Chicken Stew, p. 67.


Penguin Group Web site,http://us.penguingroup.com/ (July 29, 2008), "Keiko Kasza."