Kirk, David 1955–
Kirk, David 1955–
Born 1955, in Columbus, OH; married; wife's name, Kathy; children: Violet, Primrose, Wisteria. Education: Graduated from Cleveland Institute of Art, 1977.
Author and illustrator. Toy store owner and founder of Ovicular Toys and Hoobert Toys, 1979; cofounder of Callaway & Kirk Company; developer of "Sunny Patch" line of apparel for Target; executive producer of Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids, an animated television series that appears on Nick Jr. and CBS networks.
Parents magazine named Miss Spider's Wedding to its list of top-ten children's picture books, 1994.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED; "MISS SPIDER" SERIES
Miss Spider's Tea Party, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Miss Spider's Wedding, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1995.
Miss Spider's New Car, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
Miss Spider's Tea Party: The Counting Book, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
Miss Spider's ABC, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Little Miss Spider, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Miss Spider's New Car, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Little Miss Spider at Sunny Patch School, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.
Little Miss Spider: A Christmas Wish, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
All Pupa'ed Out, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
"NOVA THE ROBOT" SERIES
Nova's Ark, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Nova's Ark Book and Toy Set, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Nova the Robot Fixes His Spaceship, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Nova the Robot Builds a Friend, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Dog Trouble, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Friends and Family, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2005.
Twinkle Twinkle, Little Hedgehog, Callaway & Kirk (New York, NY), 2005.
"BIDDLE BOOKS" SERIES
Little Pig, Biddle Pig, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Little Bird, Biddle Bird, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Little Mouse, Biddle Mouse, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
Little Bunny, Biddle Bunny, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
Miss Spider's Tea Party was made into a CD-ROM game by Simon & Schuster Interactive. Several lines of toys, games, and other merchandise based on Kirk's characters have been released.
During the mid-and late 1990s, author, artist, and toy maker David Kirk took the children's book world by storm with his high-color picture books featuring Miss Spider. Within six years, over four million copies of the "Miss Spider" titles were in the hands of readers worldwide. According to Belinda Luscombe in Time, Kirk "paints Miss Spider's rotund little body and curlicue hair in bold, almost hallucinatory colors, with outsize eyes and eyelashes and her world in equally poppy hues—just garish and cutesy enough that children lap it up. And not only children. Miss Spider moved from moderately well-known fictional character to pop-culture stardom when Madonna read Tea Party at a nightclub event that was broadcast live on MTV in 1995." Kirk had not imagined such popular success; his accidental discovery by a children's book publisher is the dream of many would-be writers.
Kirk grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where he collected toy robots. After he earned a degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1977, he lived in England until his art scholarship support ended. Upon the invitation of his brother Daniel, a children's book author and illustrator, Kirk settled in New York. There he opened a toy store to showcase his own creations, including art, furniture, and toys such as animal figures sold in elaborately illustrated packages. After book publisher Nicholas Callaway bought a toy baby alligator for his daughter, he began to wonder about the toy maker. Kirk was working on a spider character when Callaway approached him about writing and illustrating picture books for children. Kirk launched his literary career in 1994 with Miss Spider's Tea Party. In this story, told in rhyme and glossy oil-paint illustrations, a lonely flower-eating spider wonders why her insect guests will not come to tea. Finally, at the end of this "sweet tale," to quote School Library Journal critic John Peters, Miss Spider convinces a moth that it is safe to visit.
A big attraction of the "Miss Spider" books is the artwork. "All of the Miss Spider books are oil paint on paper," Kirk noted in an interview on the Scholastic Web site. "Sometimes I personally work on the com-puter to do black and white sketches, and I do a lot of manipulating of the sketches on the computer. But still the Spider books are basically done by hand." In her review of Miss Spider's Wedding for School Librarian, Jane Doonan described the illustrations as "luminous" and "surreally intense." Likewise, in School Library Journal, Karen James called Kirk's artwork "extraordinary."
Miss Spider and her husband Holley test-drive vehicles made from insect parts in Kirk's next work, Miss Spider's New Car. Writing in School Library Journal, Cynthia K. Richey praised Kirk's "energetic verse [which] conveys the movement of the vehicles" as well as his "lavish, enthusiastic pictures." In Miss Spider's ABC Kirk tells the story through such alliterations as "fireflies fandango" and "owlflies ogle," as well as through his signature illustrations. By the end of the book, readers realize that all of the insects and the few other garden creatures in the story are gathering for Miss Spider's birthday party. Even without Kirk's usual rhyming texts, "the juiced-up, color-saturated illustrations are thrilling," enthused a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In School Library Journal, Martha Link, remarking that the "text complements the paintings," predicted that this "child-friendly" book would appeal to younger readers more than the earlier Miss Spider books.
Kirk looks at Miss Spider's childhood in Little Miss Spider at Sunny Patch School. During her first day at school, Miss Spider has trouble with basic activities, including leaf eating and stinging. When a classmate gets stuck in a spout, however, Miss Spider comes to the rescue with her climbing and web-spinning skills. The author's "rhyming story reads aloud well and is accompanied by his signature eye-catching oil paintings," observed School Library Journal contributor Denise Reitsma. The charming arachnid's own children are the focus of Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids. Miss Spider and Holley become the proud parents of ten newborns, but they receive a scare when their youngest, Squirt, discovers a chicken egg and decides to track down its mother. "There is plenty of fun wordplay that lightens the mood of Squirt's perilous journey," noted School Library Journal reviewer Wendy Woodfill, who also remarked that the illustrator's "highly stylized digital art … leaps off the page."
In 1999, Kirk departed from the "Miss Spider" series when he published Nova's Ark, the story of a square-headed robot named Nova who embarks on a mission to save his home planet, Roton. In an interview on the Nova's Ark Web site, Kirk stated that his interest in robots began at an early age: "I found that some of my earliest drawings—ones I did when I was three or four years old—were of robots. When I was six I got my own first robot for Christmas. It was Mr. Mercury. After that I spent all my time drawing robots or searching them out in the dime stores." Kirk added that part of the thrill of creating Nova's Ark was the opportunity to marry his literary interests with his toymaking skills. "It was great fun to design all those robots and space ships in three dimensions on the computer and then get to see them from any angle or position and in the sorts of situations that robots ought to be getting into. It was like the world of my childhood (and adulthood) toys had come to life."
As with his "Miss Spider" books, Kirk's artwork in Nova's Ark captured critics' attention. Both Booklist reviewer John Peters and a Publishers Weekly critic noted the three-dimensional effect of Kirk's computer imaging. The plot, told in unrhymed prose this time, "may be rudimentary," remarked Peters, "but children will barely notice because of the dazzling visual effects and stylish machinery." Nova's Ark finishes with a happy outcome for the robots. "What sets Kirk's work apart from other visions of the future is a combination of adult sophistication and childlike innocence," remarked Marriott. "His robots are sweet and almost cuddly, rendered in a bright, warm palette and a style that appears both antique and futuristic." In 2005 Kirk began a new series of works based on the adventures of Nova, including a board book titled Nova the Robot Builds a Friend and a sticker book titled Dog Trouble.
Kirk has worn many hats during his varied career, but creating books is his passion. As he noted on the Scholastic Web site, "Whatever I end up doing next, I know I love making stories." Kirk added, "I think the life of a children's book author is bliss."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1997, pp. 482-483; December 1, 1998, p. 671; February 1, 1999, John Peters, review of Nova's Ark, p. 980; December 1, 1999, John Peters, review of Little Miss Spider, p. 712; January 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Little Pig, Biddle Pig, p. 866.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1997, p. 1459.
New York Times, December 21, 1995, Timothy Jack Ward, "Where Spiders Are Welcome," p. C5.
New York Times Book Review, July 31, 1994, p. 20; September 10, 1995, p. 35; November 21, 1999, George Seminara, "Mightier than the Pen?," p. 51.
Publishers Weekly, March 24, 1997, p. 85; October 5, 1998, review of Miss Spider's ABC, p. 89; November 23, 1998, review of Nova's Ark, p. 65; March 8, 1999, p. 70.
School Librarian, spring, 1998, Jane Doonan, review of Miss Spider's Wedding, p. 34; spring, 1998, Jane Doonan, review of Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Kids, p. 34.
School Library Journal, June, 1994, John Peters, review of Miss Spider's Tea Party, p. 107; October, 1995, Karen James, review of Miss Spider's Wedding, p. 105; January, 1998, Cynthia K. Richey, review of Miss Spider's New Car, p. 88; December, 1998, Martha Link, review of Miss Spider's ABC, p. 86; September, 2000, Denise Reitsma, review of Miss Spider at Sunny Patch School, p. 201; July, 2001, Piper L. Nyman, review of Little Bird, Biddle Bird, p. 84; November, 2001, John Sigwald, review of Little Pig, Biddle Pig, p. 126; April, 2002, Sally R. Dow, review of Little Bunny, Biddle Bunny, p. 113; August, 2004, p. 89.
Time, January 20, 2003, Belinda Luscombe, "Toy Boy: Author David Kirk Weaves a Children's Empire with His Swarm of Big-eyed Bugs," p. 131.
Nova's Ark Web site, http://www.novasark.com/ (June 1, 2005).
Scholastic Web site, http://www2.scholastic.com/ (June 1, 2005), interview with Kirk.