Sanderson, Ruth 1951–

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Sanderson, Ruth 1951–

(Ruth L. Sanderson)


Born November 24, 1951, in Ware, MA; daughter of C. Kenneth and Victoria (Sasur) Sanderson; married Kenneth Robinson; children: two daughters. Education: Attended Paier School of Art, 1970–74. Hobbies and other interests: Horseback riding.


Home—P.O. Box 638, Ware, MA 01082. E-mail[email protected]


Illustrator of books for children.


Western Massachusetts Illustrators Group, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Society of Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Outstanding Science Book Award, National Association of Science Teachers, for Five Nests; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1982, for A Different Kind of Gold; School Library Journal Best Books designation, 1982, for The Animal, the Vegetable, and John D. Jones; Irma S. Black Award, Bank Street College of Education, 1992, and Young Hoosier Award, Association for Indiana Media Educators, 1995, both for The Enchanted Wood; Texas Bluebonnet Award, 2003, for The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring.



(Reteller) The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.

The Enchanted Wood, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.

The Nativity: From the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.

(Reteller) Papa Gatto: An Italian Fairy Tale, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

(Reteller) Rose Red and Snow White: A Grimms Fairy Tale, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

(Reteller) Tapestries: Stories of Women in the Bible, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.

(Reteller) The Crystal Mountain, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.

(Reteller) The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

(Reteller) Cinderella, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.

(Selector) Mother Goose, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.

Saints: Lives and Illuminations, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.

The Snow Princess, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2004.

More Saints: Lives and Illuminations, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, MI), 2006.

More Saints: Lives and Illuminations, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, MI), 2007.

(Selector) Mother Goose, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2007.

(Reteller) Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2008.


Ilka List, Grandma's Beach Surprise, Putnam (New York, NY), 1975.

Glenn Balch, Buck, Wild, Crowell (New York, NY), 1976.

Watty Piper (pseudonym of Mabel Caroline Bragg), reteller, The Little Engine That Could, new edition, Platt & Munk, 1976.

Mary Francis Shura, The Season of Silence, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.

Mary Towne, First Serve, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.

Clyde Robert Bulla, The Beast of Lor, Crowell (New York, NY), 1977.

Charles E. Mercer, Jimmy Carter (biography), Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.

Willo Davis Roberts, Don't Hurt Laurie!, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.

Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child's Garden of Verses, Platt & Munk, 1977.

Charlene Joy Talbot, The Great Rat Island Adventure, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.

Greta Walker, Walt Disney (biography), Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.

Lynn Hall, The Mystery of Pony Hollow, Garrard, 1978, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.

Beverly Hollett Renner, The Hideaway Summer, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.

Miriam Schlein, On the Track of the Mystery Animal: The Story of the Discovery of the Okapi (nonfiction), Four Winds (New York, NY), 1978.

William Cole, compiler, The Poetry of Horses, Scribner (New York, NY), 1979.

Susan Clement Farrar, Samantha on Stage, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.

Norma Simon, We Remember Philip, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1979.

William Sleator, Into the Dream, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.

Caroline Arnold, Five Nests (nonfiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.

Margaret Chittenden, The Mystery of the Missing Pony, Garrard, 1980.

Nikki Amdur, One of Us, Dial (New York, NY), 1981.

William Cole, compiler, Good Dog Poems, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.

Lynn Hall, The Mysterious Moortown Bridge, Follett, 1981.

Lynn Hall, The Mystery of the Caramel Cat, Garrard, 1981.

Cecily Stern, A Different Kind of Gold, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.

Betsy Byars, The Animal, the Vegetable, and John D. Jones, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982.

Linda Hayward, When You Were a Baby, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1982.

Peggy Archer, One of the Family, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Judith Gorog, Caught in the Turtle, Philomel (New York, NY), 1983.

Lois Meyer, The Store-bought Doll, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Joan Webb, Poochie and the Four Seasons Fair, Western Publishing, 1983.

Johanna Spyri, Heidi, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

The Pudgy Bunny Book, Grosset (New York, NY), 1984.

Linda Hayward, Five Little Bunnies, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Jane Yolen, reteller, The Sleeping Beauty, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.

Phyllis Krasilovsky, The Happy Times Storybook, Western Publishing, 1987.

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Fran Manushkin, Puppies and Kittens, Western Publishing, 1989.

Samantha Easton, reteller, Beauty and the Beast, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1992.

Bruce Coville, reteller, William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.

Clement Clarke Moore, The Night before Christmas, Turner, 1994.

The Story of the First Christmas: A Carousel Book, Turner, 1994.

Shirley Climo, A Treasury of Princesses: Princess Tales from around the World, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

Cats, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 1997.

Jane Yolen, Where Have the Unicorns Gone?, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

Also illustrator of revised editions of "Black Stallion" books by Walter Farley.


Carolyn Keene, The Triple Hoax, Wanderer Books, 1979.

Carolyn Keene, The Flying Saucer Mystery, Wanderer Books, 1980.

Carolyn Keene, The Secret in the Old Lace, Wanderer Books, 1980.

Carolyn Keene, The Greek Symbol Mystery, Wanderer Books, 1981.


Laura Lee Hope, Secret in the Pirate's Cave, Wanderer Books, 1980.

Laura Lee Hope, The Dune Buggy Mystery, Wanderer Books, 1981.

Laura Lee Hope, The Missing Pony Mystery, Wanderer Books, 1981.

Laura Lee Hope, The Rose Parade Mystery, Wanderer Books, 1981.


Sanderson's illustrated version of The Little Engine That Could was adapted as a filmstrip with cassette or book, 1976.


Ruth Sanderson's sumptuous illustrations for such classic fairy stories as The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Rose Red and Snow White have been applauded by critics and readers alike for their attention to detail and what Booklist contributor Phyllis Wilson characterized as a "sun-dappled, old-master-landscape feeling." In addition to bringing to life the works of a host of popular picture-book authors, including William Sleator, Jane Yolen, and Clyde Robert Bulla, Sanderson has also written the original fairy story The Enchanted Wood, which she illustrated and published in 1991.

Born in 1951, Sanderson was raised in the small town of Monson, Massachusetts, which she later recalled as "a magical place." As a child she spent the majority of her time in the woods and in the library; it was at the library that Sanderson's grandmother introduced her to Grimm's fairy tales. Sanderson also began drawing during childhood and shared her enthusiasm for her hobby with her friends. "I held an art class for my second-grade friends and taught them all how to draw horses. When my mother bought me How to Draw Horses by Walter Foster, I spent hours copying horses, trying to get them right." In addition to drawing horses, she also spent many years riding and caring for her favorite animal; in fact, Sanderson credits her love of horses with fueling her desire to become an illustrator.

Sanderson attended Paier School of Art in Hamden, Connecticut, where she studied anatomy, figure drawing and painting and majored in illustration. "I gravitated toward illustration because I liked having problems to solve," she later explained. "I preferred developing concepts and pictorial impressions of a manuscript to initiating my own ideas. As an exercise, we were asked to find a book in the library, read the story and come up with new ideas for the cover illustration. During my senior year, I studied with illustrator Michael Eagle. He made us think in new and different ways, stretching our imagination. Every teacher at Paier contributed something to our training. Thus our development was a group effort."

During her senior year at Paier, Sanderson accepted an apprenticeship with a corporate editorial illustrator for six months. Her mentor passed her portfolio to a children's book agent who was looking for new artists, and "within six months she had given me so much freelance work that I had to decide whether to follow in [my mentor's] footsteps and work in commercial adult magazine illustration or strike out on my own and try children's books. I opted for children's books. I started doing textbook illustration and then slowly worked my way up to trade books and then jacket illustration." As an illustrator, Sanderson has worked in every medium: watercolor, oils, acrylic, air brush, colored pencil, and alkyd.

Beginning with book covers, Sanderson graduated to picture-book illustration with Ilka List's Grandma's Beach Surprise, published in 1975. Since then, she has amassed numerous illustration credits, most notably in the fairy-tale genre because the medieval overtones of the stories complement Sanderson's own style. In the Grimm Brothers' The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which she both retells and illustrates, her oil paintings, rendered "in a realistic yet romantic style,… have the dark, rich texture of old velvet," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor Linda Boyles. Boyles went on to praise Sanderson's text as "coherent and fully fleshed out," adding that it reads "with a straightforward formality that is complemented by the classic nature of the illustrations." Similar accolades were bestowed upon Rose Red and Snow White, a Publishers Weekly contributor lauding Sanderson for her use of "rusty tones" to create "heroines whose warm coloring blends perfectly with the woods they roam in and with the firelit domesticity of their mother's neat cottage."

Parting company with the Brothers Grimm, Sanderson has also given new life to the Italian folk tale Papa Gatto: An Italian Fairy Tale, about a father cat in service to the king who hires two stepsisters—one beautiful but selfish and the other plain but giving—to care for his bewhiskered and motherless offspring. Sanderson's "elegant, richly descriptive language" enhances the charming story, according to Booklist reviewer Janice Del Negro, and her oil paintings "are as beautifully handled as the narrative." "Familiar elements in combination with new twists, the perennial appeal of intelligent animals interacting with people on equal terms, and the drama of treachery and romance" combine to make Papa Gatto "an especially good story," added a contributor to Quill & Quire.

Other works both written and illustrated by Sanderson include Tapestries: Stories of Women in the Bible, which includes tales from both the Old and New Testaments that profile ten biblical heroines. Each of the ten stories, "enlivened with dialogue" and accompanied by a detailed oil portrait done in a style resembling a woven tapestry, "allow … readers to visualize the choices these women made and for which they will long be remembered," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Sanderson illustrates another retelling of a classic story in The Night before Christmas, the poem by Clement Clarke Moore. Some of Sanderson's illustrations include oil-painting renditions of Christmas stockings hanging over the fireplace, children snuggled up and sound asleep, and Santa in his sleigh. Booklist reviewer Shelley Townsend-Hudson commented that "Sanderson's old-fashioned renderings … are refreshing in their own right. The oil paintings have a lovely twilight a glow that helps evoke the excitement of the season." Likewise, a writer for Publishers Weekly noted that "Old Saint Nick has rarely looked jollier than in Sanderson's edition of the traditional poem."

In Tapestries Sanderson details the stories of the Bible's most prominent females, intertwining those from the Old Testament and those from the New Testament. Some of the portraits featured in Tapestries include: Eve, Sarah, Mary of Nazareth, Rahab, Jael, and the Witch of Endor. Each portrait also reveals how the Biblical women wove tapestries by including well-researched details of the craft in the book's intricate oil paintings. "Sanderson's colorfully detailed sketches are so convincing that readers may well mistake them for genuine tapestry weavings," acknowledged a Publishers Weekly writer. Beyond Sanderson's detailed oil paintings, the critic added, the book is enhanced by "involving storytelling." While Ilene Cooper claimed in Booklist that the text of Tapestries has "little emotional range," she nonetheless concluded that "the artwork is more full-bodied … [and] conveys an impression of strength, durability, and beauty."

Based on a Chinese fairytale titled The Magic Brocade, and interwoven with details from the Norwegian tale Princess on the Glass Hill, The Crystal Mountain is an adventurous tale that centers on Anna, a weaver who creates ornate brocades for the nobility. One night Anna has a dream that revolves around a paradise that includes a marble mansion, rolling hills, and beautiful orchards. When Anna awakens she is determined to replicate her dream and begins creating a tapestry based on her visions. After three years she completes her inspired embroidery, but upon completion the tapestry is stolen by the fairies of Crystal Mountain. Anna then sends her three sons to rescue her beloved tapestry, but the two elder sons fail. Ultimately, it is Anna's youngest son, Perrin, who succeeds in climbing and conquering Crystal Mountain and recovers his mother's handiwork. Booklist reviewer GraceAnne A. DeCandido commented that the book's "beautiful oil paintings are rich with medieval allusion and full of flora, fauna, and details." Likewise, a Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that in The Crystal Mountain Sanderson "weaves a story as intricate and pleasant as the tapestry at the heart of this folktale."

Pairing a text with oil paintings that are characteristically rich in detail and color, Sanderson retells a classic Russian fairytale in The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan distinguished the book as a "romantic adventure … [that] will hold readers' attention." The story begins as young Alexi, a huntsman, leaves his home in search of adventure and fortune. During his quest Alexi encounters a magical mare that can talk. Alexi spares the mare's life and, in return, the mare vows to remain a loyal servant to Alexi. With the mare's help, Alexi soon becomes a successful hunter under the servitude of the local tzar. Seeing the magical powers of the mare, the tzar soon begins to covet the animal and in an effort to gain the creature orders Alexi to complete several impossible tasks. The Russian king threatens the young man with death if Alexi fails any of his missions. The story follows Alexi and his mare as they strive to complete the tzar's tasks and also attempt to overthrow the unreasonable monarch. In Publishers Weekly a contributor commented that Sanderson's "sumptuous oil paintings take immediate command of the double-page spreads." In a similar fashion, Margaret A. Chang noted in School Library Journal that Sanderson's oil illustrations recall "the painterly style of the old masters, [and] revel in the rich decoration of traditional Russian architecture and costume."

The Snow Princess, inspired by a famous Russian ballet, is another self-illustrated title that includes Sanderson's characteristic lush oil illustrations. The daughter of Father Frost and Mother Spring, the Princess explores the world outside of her home. Prior to leaving her home, the princess is forewarned by her parents to not fall in love with a mortal—if she does then she will die. Upon entering the world of the mortals the young woman falls in love with Sergei, but she hopes to disarm her feelings of love by creating a snow storm so that she can escape. When Sergei pursues his beloved, he becomes trapped in the snow storm the princess has created. When the princess sees Sergei, she realizes that she cannot escape her romantic destiny. In Kirkus Reviews a contributor acknowledged Sanderson for her "exquisite oil paintings, with their glowing textures and near-perfect detail."

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

Sanderson spends an average of forty hours a week in her studio, and often alternates work on three or four paintings. "That way, I always have the choice of a different subject to paint," she told SATA. "Some days I am in the mood to paint a portrait, some days a moody background, and some days if I am not in the mood to paint at all I will do the detailed pencil under-drawing for the next painting." Depending on the complexity of the piece, Sanderson spends from three days to three weeks on each illustration. Her medium is oils and she paints on canvas, board, and sometimes primed water-color paper, depending on the finished look she is trying to achieve.

Discussing her inspiration, Sanderson cites as her favorite illustrators N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, and Maxfield Parrish. "I'm also influenced by the artists of the English Pre-Raphaelite period whose work is illustrative and tells a story, as well as to the Hudson River School," she added. "Though my own style is representational, I love symbolic art, particularly the work of Magritte."

Symbolism in stories inspires Sanderson as well. As she told SATA: "The archetypal characters and the universal symbolism that are inherent in fairy tales can be as meaningful for children today as they have been for centuries past. I am drawn to 'rites of passage' stories, where the hero (child) leaves home to seek adventure or to go on an impossible quest, learning in the process how to become independent and form new relationships outside of parental influence. For instance, in The Twelve Dancing Princesses, the three magical woods that the princesses pass through symbolize their rite of passage into adulthood."

In addition to illustrating and writing, Sanderson devotes much of her time to speaking at school assemblies, "so that children will have an opportunity to see that it is a real person creating art and not a machine." Her advice to aspiring young artists: "Practice. The love of drawing is enough to keep you going until high school. If you decide to pursue a career in art, apply to a good art school. And remember, an artist can always improve: I still try new techniques after being a professional for over thirty years."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Kingman, Lee, and others, compilers, Illustrators of Children's Books: 1967–1976, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1978.


Booklist, March 1, 1990, pp. 1348-1349; December 1, 1995, p. 624; April 15, 1997, p. 1433; September 15, 1997, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Night before Christmas, p. 238; October 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Tapestries: Stories of Women in the Bible, p. 340; September 1, 1999, GraceAnne a. De-Candido, review of The Crystal Mountain, p. 129; April 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, p. 1463.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1995, p. 139.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2004, review of The Snow Princess, p. 1013.

Publishers Weekly, April 14, 1997, p. 74; October 6, 1997, review of The Night before Christmas, p. 56; July 27, 1998, review of Tapestries, p. 70; September 13, 1999, review of The Crystal Mountain, p. 84; April 9, 2001, review of The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, p. 74.

Quill & Quire, September, 1995, p. 76.

School Library Journal, June, 1990, p. 116; October, 1995, p. 129; May, 1997, pp. 124-125; April, 2001, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring, p. 135.


Ruth Sanderson Home Page, (June 5, 2006).

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Sanderson, Ruth 1951–

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