MacDonald, Suse 1940–

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MacDonald, Suse 1940–


Given name rhymes with "news"; born March 3, 1940, in Evanston, IL; married Stuart G. MacDonald (an architect) July 14, 1962; children: Alison Heath, Ripley Graeme. Education: Attended Chatham College, 1958-60; University of Iowa, B.A., 1962; also attended Radcliffe College, Art Institute, and New England School of Design.


Home—P.O. Box 25, South Londonderry, VT 05 155. Agent—Phyllis Wender, 3 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017. E-mail—[email protected]


Caru Studios, New York, NY, textbook illustrator, 1964-69; MacDonald & Swan Construction, South Londonderry, VT, architectural designer, 1969-76; author and illustrator, 1976—.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild.

Awards, Honors

Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year inclusion, and American Booksellers Association Pick of the List, both 1986, and Caldecott Honor designation, American Library Association, and Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, both 1987, all for Alphabatics; Gold Medal in preschool category, National Parenting Publication Awards, 1997, and Missouri Building Block Award nomination, 1998, both for Nanta's Lion.



Alphabatics, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1986.

(With Bill Oakes) Numblers, Dial (New York, NY), 1988.

(With Bill Oakes) Puzzlers, Dial (New York, NY), 1989.

(With Bill Oakes) Once upon Another, Dial (New York, NY), 1990.

Space Spinners, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.

Sea Shapes, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.

Nanta's Lion: A Search-and-Find Adventure, Morrow (New York, NY), 1995.

Peck, Slither, and Slide, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1997.

Elephants on Board, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Look Whooo's Counting, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

Here a Chick, Where a Chick?, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

(Adapter) Edward Lear, A Was Once an Apple Pie, Orchard (New York, NY), 2005.

Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2007.

Alphabet Animals: A Slide-and-Peek Adventure, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2008.


Hank de Zutter, Who Says a Dog Goes Bow-wow?, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.

Jean Marzollo, I Love You: A Rebus Poem, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

Jean Marzollo, I See a Star, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.


Children's book author and illustrator Suse MacDonald has a unique graphic style. Familiar shapes—whether they be letters, numbers, or other symbols—limber up and transform into new objects, stretching young imaginations in the process. Among MacDonald's works for children are the Caldecott Honor award-winning Alphabatics, as well as Sea Shapes, Elephants on Board, and Peck, Slither, and Slide, the last a guessing game about animals and their habitats. Seeking to expand her audience's visual sense, MacDonald finds the process of illustrating children's fiction to be full of opportunities and challenges for expanding creativity.

Born in 1940, MacDonald grew up in Glencoe, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Her father, a professor at Northwestern University, took his family during the summer months to an old farm in Weston, Vermont, where MacDonald enjoyed swimming and collecting specimens in the pond, horseback riding, and investigating the mysteries of an old barn in which she kept a playhouse, several forts, and numerous catwalks and perches. She also worked at the local summer theater handling the box office, pounding nails, and painting sets.

By the time MacDonald graduated from high school and enrolled at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, Penn-

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sylvania, she was certain she wanted to be an artist. During her junior year in college she transferred to the art school at the University of Iowa, where she received her B.A. in 1962. During MacDonald's college years her classes were limited to fine-art techniques and art appreciation, because the concept of studying "commercial" art was not deemed appropriate for an academic institution. So the building blocks of her degree consisted of a traditional art curriculum: life drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and painting. While each of these areas of study intrigued her, MacDonald was a pragmatic young woman and had difficulty envisioning where such expertise would fit into a future career.

Married to Stuart MacDonald shortly after completing her bachelor's degree, Suse and her husband settled in New York City, where she hoped to get a job using her artistic talents. However, competition for art-oriented jobs was fierce, and it took several years before she landed a position. In 1964, she accepted a job illustrating textbooks at Manhattan-based Caru Studios.

In 1969 the MacDonalds decided they needed a change from fast-paced city life. They moved to the MacDonald family farm in Vermont and ran a construction company for ten years, during which time they raised their two children. When their second child entered first grade, MacDonald decided to return to school and study illustration. She drove between Vermont and Boston for four years and attended classes at Radcliffe, the Art Institute, and the New England School of Art and Design. "It's hard to pinpoint the time when I decided that children's book illustration was the field in which I wanted to concentrate my energies," she later recalled. "My interests always seemed to lean in that direction."

While enrolled in a class in children's book writing and illustration at Radcliffe College, Macdonald became serious about children's books. By writing and illustrating several stories, she learned how to make sketched and colored "dummies," which are the first stage of life for a picture book. After completing her studies, she and two other artists bought an old house in South Londonderry, Vermont, renovated it, and created five artists' studios: one for each of the women and two for rental. MacDonald assembled a portfolio of her illustrations and began to look for work, in both advertising and the children's book field. Her first assignments were paper sculpture for advertising. These jobs kept her going financially as she began to make the rounds of the publishers.

The idea for MacDonald's first book, Alphabatics, emerged while she was enrolled in a typography course. Working with letter forms, she discovered a technique for manipulating their shapes in various ways. Intrigued by the process, she felt there were possibilities for a book. Bradbury Press saw the possibilities as well, and Alphabatics was published in 1986, to positive reviews and many awards. "Alphabatics relates the shape of each letter in the alphabet to an object whose name starts with that letter," MacDonald once explained. "By changing the letter's shape, it evolves into something which is familiar but exciting to a child. This removes the alphabet from the adult world of letters on pages and brings it into the child's world of action and visual image." Margaret Hunt, in a review in School Librarian, noted: "Very few alphabet books … can be said to be as versatile and imaginative as this … one."

Encouraged by the success of her first book, MacDonald followed Alphabatics with several other books in which familiar shapes transform into something else. In Numblers, one of several books MacDonald created with fellow artist/author Bill Oakes, the numbers one to ten evolve into familiar objects. School Library Journal contributor Judith Gloyer deemed Numblers "a stretch for the imagination and an enjoyable way to introduce children to numbers."

In Sea Shapes ocean-dwelling creatures are distilled into geometric shapes: triangle, diamond, heart, circle, and oval. Each creature is described in a section of "sea facts" which provides information about each animal's behavior and physical characteristics. Horn Book reviewer Margaret A. Bush praised MacDonald's use of "shades of blue, green, and tan [that] illuminate the watery terrain and complement warm, unconventional tones of pink, orange, and purple."

MacDonald has used her cut-paper artistry to illustrate several narrative tales for young listeners. In her picture book Space Spinners, spider sisters Kate and Arabelle become the first arachnids to survive space travel, spinning a beautiful web during a NASA space voyage. Calling MacDonald's collages "a wonder," Booklist contributor Abbott maintained that Space Spinners "blasts off with a lively story line and first-rate artwork."

Nanta's Lion: A Search-and-Find Adventure takes young listeners to Africa, where a Maasai girl goes in search of a lion that has stolen cattle from her small village. A "search and find" story, Nanta's Lion allows readers to participate in Nanta's search by hiding the lion figure amid the African landscape; Nanta never finds her lion but readers certainly do. Equally challenging is Peck, Slither, and Slide, which provides clues about ten different animals, each characterized by a different action verb. The word "Build" pairs with a depiction of beavers in a stream, while "Wade" finds the long legs of the initial picture attached to pink flamingoes on the next page. Comparing MacDonald's cut-tissue-paper work to that of popular illustrator Eric Carle, a Kirkus reviewer praised the "simple, uncluttered wildlife scenes" in Peck, Slither, and Slide, while School Library Journal contributor Kate McClelland praised the "engaging art and inventive format" of a work that Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic Elizabeth Bush hailed as "an enticing gallery of animals on the move."

Look Whooo's Counting and Alphabet Animals: A Slide-and-Peek Adventure both contain a seek-and-find element. In Look Who's Counting, each page shows an increasing number of animals, and the numeral itself is used to form part of the animal's body. A bat's crooked wing is in the shape of the number seven, and a ram's horns form the shape of the number six. In addition, the owl narrator's wing feathers reveal the numbers from previous pages, so young learners can keep track of the numbers they've already seen. "Young audiences should have a fine time plumbing the subtle beauty and humor," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Kathie Meizner concluded in her School Library Journal review, "This is an owlishly clever approach to counting and looking at number shapes." Alphabet Animals is both an alphabet book and a puzzle or guessing game. Each animal hints at the uppercase letter of the alphabet that begins its name. The book contains moving parts, so that young readers can pull out cards with hints to the animal or letter's identity. "A coup of concept, color and construction," concluded a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.

Here a Chick, Where a Chick? is another of MacDonald's titles with moving parts. The story begins as the hens of the chicken coop search for a missing chick. Each page features different animals—not the hiding chick—hidden under flaps that readers can lift. The animal entourage grows as all of the animals join in the hunt for the chick. "MacDonald's illustrations are the main attraction," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Describing the repeated refrain of the title and the response of the uncovered animals with their appropriate noises, Be Astengo wrote in School Library Journal that "the narrative and animal sounds invite participation."

MacDonald returns to an under-the-sea setting in her counting book Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!: Counting Round and Round. After guiding readers in a count upward to ten, the book then encourages readers to flip the volume upside down and count backward down from ten to one; the underwater setting allows images to be viewed in either direction without confusion. Joy Fleishhacker, writing in School Library Journal, called Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash! "a fun book for beginning counters that will be enjoyed again and again," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that "the clever construction of this counting book guarantees a repeat audience."

In addition to her self-illustrated titles, MacDonald has provided illustrations for other authors, including Jean Marzollo. Their first book together, I Love You: A Rebus Poem, has text and small illustrations on one page and a full spread of illustration, demonstrating the actions described, on the other. Their second collaboration, I See a Star, shows children preparing for a Christmas pageant. MacDonald "provides humorous asides in her illustrations with the pageant participants getting into minor mischief," noted a contributor to Kirkus Reviews.

MacDonald has also adapted the work of nineteenth-century humorist Edward Lear. Accompanying Lear's popular limericks with her signature illustrations, A Was Once an Apple Pie, bringing the famous poet's work to a generation of new readers. The original alphabet poem

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is nonsensical, and features many objects young readers might not be familiar with, which MacDonald replaced with new refrains for the appropriate letters. Noting that MacDonald's illustrations keep early characters, such as the bear representing the letter B, interacting with further letters, a Publishers Weekly critic felt the artist "skillfully counterbalances the ruminative nature of the verse." Although Karin Snelson wrote in Booklist that the substitutions in the text might bother some purists, she concluded that "nonpurist book lovers and preschool storytime readers, embrace this colorful introduction to Lear's classic poem." Teresa Pfeifer, writing for School Library Journal, deemed MacDonald's illustrations "a perfect match for Lear's sheer daring," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor described A Was Once an Apple Pie "an upbeat trip from A to Z."

As she noted on her home page, one of MacDonald's greatest joys as an author/illustrator has been "encouraging my readers to go beyond their usual stopping points and make their own artistic discoveries." "Children are inventors," she added. "They just need situations that bring out that quality of inventiveness. In my books I create those opportunities."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 15, 1989, Deborah Abbott, review of Puzzlers, p. 186; December 15, 1991, Deborah Abbott, review of Space Spinners, p. 770; March 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Elephants on Board, p. 1334; December 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of I Love You: A Rebus Poem, p. 787; October 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Look Whooo's Counting, p. 445; October 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of I See a Star, p. 412; August, 2005, Karin Snelson, review of A Was Once an Apple Pie, p. 2034.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of Peck, Slither, and Slide, pp. 366-367.

Horn Book, November-December, 1994, Margaret A. Bush, review of Sea Shapes, p. 722.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1989, review of Puzzlers, p. 1247; April 15, 1997, review of Peck, Slither, and Slide, pp. 643-644; November 1, 2002, review of I See a Star, p. 1621; August 1, 2005, review of A Was Once an Apple Pie, p. 852; June 1, 2007, review of Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!; May 1, 2008, review of Alphabet Animals: A Slide-and-Peek Adventure.

Publishers Weekly, January 3, 2000, review of I Love You, p. 74; October 16, 2000, review of Look Whooo's Counting, p. 75; February 9, 2004, review of Here a Chick, Where a Chick?, p. 79; August 15, 2005, review of A Was Once an Apple Pie, p. 56.

School Library Journal, November, 1988, Judith Gloyer, review of Numblers, p. 92; August, 1989, Margaret Hunt, review of Alphabatics, p. 100; April, 1997, Kate McClelland, review of Peck, Slither, and Slide, p. 128; December, 2000, Kathie Meizner, review of Look Whooo's Counting, p. 114; October, 2002, Susan Patron, review of I See a Star, p. 61; June, 2004, Be Astengo, review of Here a Chick, Where a Chick?, p. 114; August, 2005, Teresa Pfeifer, review of A Was Once an Apple Pie, p. 99; June, 2007, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Fish, Swish! Splash, Dash!, p. 114.


Scholastic Web site, (October 2, 2008), "Suse MacDonald."

Suse MacDonald Home Page, (September 29, 2008).

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MacDonald, Suse 1940–

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