Yee, Wong Herbert 1953–
Yee, Wong Herbert 1953–
Born August 19, 1953, in Detroit, MI; son of Gee Hing (a restauranteur) and Toy Wun (a restauranteur) Yee; married December 19, 1975; wife's name Judy Anne; children: Ellen. Education: Wayne State University, B.F.A. (printmaking), 1975.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin, 222 Berkley St., Boston, MA 02116-3764. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer and artist. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at City Gallery, Dearborn, MI, 1998; Elizabeth Stone Gallery, Birmingham, MI, 1999; Bookbeat Gallery, Oak Park, MI, 1999, 2003; and Children's Hospital of Michigan, Detroit, 2006.
American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, 1993, for Big Black Bear, and 1994, for Fireman Small; Parents Choice Award, 1997, for Fireman Small; International Reading Association/Children's Book Center Children's Choice, 1997, for Mrs. Brown Went to Town, and 2000, for Hamburger Heaven; National Parenting Publications Honor Award, 1998, for both Fireman Small to the Rescue and Sergeant Hippo's Busy Week; Parent's Guide Children's Media Award, 2000, for Here Comes Trainmice! and Hooray for Truckmice!; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Award, 2006, for Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Eek! There's a Mouse in the House, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1992.
Big Black Bear, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
Fireman Small, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994.
A Drop of Rain, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Mrs. Brown Went to Town, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
The Officers' Ball, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997
Fireman Small to the Rescue, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
Sergeant Hippo's Busy Week, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.
Hamburger Heaven, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
Here Come Trainmice!, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
Hooray for Truckmice!, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
Fireman Small: Fire down Below!, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Tracks in the Snow, Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
Did You See Chip?, illustrated by Laura Ovresat, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2003.
A Small Christmas, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Detective Small in the Amazing Banana Caper, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.
Abracadabra! Magic with Mouse and Mole, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.
Erin Douglas, Get That Pest, Green Light Readers (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Catherine Friend, Eddie the Raccoon, Candlewick Press(Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Anthony G. Brandon, Moving Day, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.
Wong Herbert Yee is an author and illustrator of children's books who is noted for creating madcap story lines with vibrantly colored illustrations to match. His stories have introduced young readers to rambunctious mice, a black bear without manners, an overworked fireman, a hippo with two left feet, two best friends who learn to weather disagreements and differences, and a clarinet-playing pig with a hamburger dilemma, all of whom ultimately respond to challenges, disagreements, and setbacks with kindness and compassion. Employing simple rhyme and repetition, Yee serves up amusing animal characters in self-illustrated picture books and readers such as Big Black Bear, Fireman Small, and Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Yee attended Wayne State University, where he earned a B.F.A. in printmaking in 1975. "I remember what an art professor once said when I first started college," Yee once recalled. "'Everybody here is talented and thinks they can cut it. When you graduate, you will find things different; no more support group.' How true. I was cast out in 1975 with a print-making degree in hand. Like many other fine art graduates, I drifted aimlessly in the world of advertising." Everything changed for Yee after the birth of his daughter, when he decided to move into children's book publishing. His first book, Eek! There's a Mouse in the House, was published in 1992.
Eek! There's a Mouse in the House was called a "spirited tale of escalating silliness" by Rachel Fox writing in School Library Journal, while a Publishers Weekly writer deemed it a "pandemonium, prepossessing debut." With a mouse in her house, a little girl sends in ever-larger animals to rid her home of the tiny creature. Each new addition extends the silliness and confusion. The girl summons, in turn, a cat, dog, hog, and more. All end up in a wild chase, hoping to catch the pesky rodent. The hog is soon wearing a lampshade from the lamp the cat knocked over, and the cat then juggles eggs a hen has laid. Fox went on to call Yee's tale an "entertaining first book, filled with the things that children love—silly rhymes and funny, likable characters." A reviewer for the New York Times Book Review was equally appreciative of "the rhyming text" and engaging artwork, while the Publishers Weekly critic particularly noted the "riotous colors and patterns" which "provide bright backdrops for Yee's rambunctious menagerie." Eek!, which has remained in print since its publication, has been included in numerous first-grade reading anthologies.
For his next picture book, Yee introduces young readers to a bear that has trouble controlling his appetite. In Big Black Bear, the animal in question ventures out of the forest on the trail of a delicious smell. This trail leads him to Little Girl's house, where he asks for food. "'Come in please,'" the girl responds, "'Wipe your paws on the mat.' / 'I'm BIG BLACK BEAR—I don't have to do that,'" the impolite dinner guest responds. Not only won't Bear wipe his feet on the mat, but he also refuses to use a dish or to cover his mouth when he sneezes, all of which prompt criticism from the well-mannered young hostess. Annoyed by her demands, Big Black Bear simply decides to eat Little Girl, but in the nick of time, the bear's mother, an even BIGGER bear, comes onto the scene and becomes the girl's rescuer.
"The rollicking, rhyming text contains plenty of alliteration," noted Horn Book contributor Lolly Robinson in a review of Big Black Bear, "and the strong, flat colors and shapes depict highly appealing characters." Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper remarked on Yee's combination of "zippy, rhyming text and eye-catching art that uses cool, pure colorings and simple shapes to appeal to its readers," while Mary Lou Budd noted in School Library Journal that the "story projects its message through lilting verse and bold, childlike, tempera illustrations." Budd cited Big Black Bear as a "good choice for youngsters who need some nudging in the right direction—toward showing consideration for others," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded: "Big little three-year-olds may not recognize themselves here as quickly as their parents do, but they'll love the funny, rhythmic verse and bold, collage-style illustrations."
The adventures of a diminutive firefighter are recounted in Yee's award-winning Fireman Small as well as the sequels Fireman Small to the Rescue, Fireman Small: Fire down Below!, and A Small Christmas. In the first title, poor Fireman Small can never get a good night's sleep: every night he is awakened in order to rescue some animal in trouble. When Farmer Pig's cat gets stuck in a magnolia tree, off goes Small; when Little Bunny takes a tumble down the well, it is Small to the rescue; when fire breaks out at the bakery, Small again saves the day. "This short, simple story will delight children with its action, rhyme, and sprightly illustrations," noted Booklist critic Lauren Peterson, the reviewer adding that Yee's "charming little book will be a good means of introducing the fire fighting profession." Calling Yee's picture book "a gem," New York Times Book Review critic Karen W. Gilbert went on to note that "the rhyming repetitive text, the kind that preschool children love, is accompanied by delightful cartoonish watercolor illustrations." Gilbert had only one caution: "young listeners may want to hear the whole tale one more time," while Anna DeWind concluded in School Library Journal that "Fireman Small and his faithful Dalmatian make a charming pair, and this simple rhyming story is endearing."
Fireman Small returns to the rescue in several other picture books. Fireman Small to the Rescue, a board book, follows Small as he puts out a fire at Farmer Pig's barn. Everyone at the farm, including a crocodile sporting purple overalls, is in a panic, but Small remains calm and manages to extinguish the blaze. A critic for Kirkus Reviews noted that the book provides "tidbits of information about the civic duties of firefighters," and that Fireman Small "makes a perfect vicarious hero for preschoolers." Fireman Small: Fire down Below! finds the short-of-stature Small rescuing customers of the Pink Hotel after fire breaks out in the multi-storey building. Santa Claus himself is the cause of a missed night's sleep in A Small Christmas, as the big guy falls into a coal bin and cannot get out. When the helpful Small washes Santa's soot-covered red suit, it shrinks down to Small's size, whereupon the suit—and the gift-delivery task attached to it—are gladly accepted by the helpful but sleepy fireman. "Young and old alike can take comfort in this tale of disaster neatly averted," wrote Jennifer M. Brabander in her Horn Book review of Fireman Small: Fire down Below!, while in Booklist Carolyn Phelan dubbed A Small Christmas "heady stuff for preschoolers, who long to become capable, intrepid, and needed by the big folks around them."
Another award-winning title from Yee, Mrs. Brown Went to Town, is the story of Mrs. Brown's visit to the hospital and the subsequent taking over of her house by her farm animals, including a cow, two pigs, three ducks, and a yak. The animals make quite a mess, dressing up, continually flushing the toilet, and raiding the refrigerator before poor Mrs. Brown is able to oust them on her return home. "The artwork is a delight in this silly, rhyming tale," announced Julie Corsaro in a Booklist review, the critic adding that Yee's self-illustrated picture book has "child-appeal galore." Calling Mrs. Brown Went to Town a storyhour helping of "first-rate silliness," a Kirkus Reviews critic went on to remark that "the more improbable the situations, the more readers will be laughing out loud."
Dual helpings of animal mayhem and nonsense are served up in twin titles featuring Sergeant Hippo: The Officers' Ball and Sergeant Hippo's Busy Week. In the first book, Officer Hippo is nervous about attending the ball, but practice at Madame Lafeet's dance studio—as well as while on duty—ultimately pays off: At the dance he asks Officer Mole for a turn around the dance floor and when they do the hokey-pokey, the jitterbug, and disco, all without disaster, the pair becomes the star of the ball. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that "Yee's light-hearted tale," set in "a jolly world that readers will happily believe in," "handily tackles the feelings of uncertainty and inadequacy that most children … experience at one time or another." "A sure bet for story hours," pronounced Booklist contributor Kay Weisman, the critic going on to note that "Yee's bright watercolor illustrations add humor to the rhymed verses and a visual subtext that children will want to revisit to catch the details."
The portly policeman makes a further appearance in Sergeant Hippo's Busy Week, as a stint on highway patrol nets him a thieving fox. "Amusing animal characters populate the winsome, color-splashed" pages, according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Pinky Pig takes center stage in Hamburger Heaven, in which the job of the porker in question is put in jeopardy due to the dwindling number of customers lunching at her employer's hamburger parlor. Instead of wringing her hands, Pinky Pig, who has taken the after-school job in order to buy a clarinet, sets about adding some zip and sparkle to the menu at Hamburger Heaven. Her "worms lightly fried," "Snailburger Supreme," and "Burger on pine cones," seem to do the trick and in the end Pinky keeps her job and earns enough to pay for her new band instrument. Writing in School Library Journal, Marianne Saccardi noted the "fast paced and humorous" rhymed text and wrote that Yee's watercolor cartoons "add to the fun" of a "'heavenly' entree" of a picture book "in which a feisty heroine saves the day." "Yee pens this fable lightly," commented a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "but the moral is plain: by putting others first, Pinky attains what she wants."
In Tracks in the Snow readers enjoy a wintry story of intrigue and adventure as they join Little Girl as she tries to discover who made the tracks beneath her window. The circuitous tale leads to a surprise ending. Dennis Duffy, reviewing the book for the New York Times Book Review, wrote that "the delicacy of the colors and shapes" are reminiscent of "the subtle tones of Japanese scroll painting, which call into question the permanence of the world we perceive." Writing in School Library Journal, Shawn Brommer remarked that Yee's "gentle, rhyming text makes an ideal read-aloud, and young listeners will chime in on the repeated phrases."
Friendship takes center stage in Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, a work Yee dedicates to the popular "Frog and Toad" stories of Arnold Lobel. In the four short stories included, two neighbors learn that their differ ences, while challenging, ultimately make their friend ship more valuable. In one story, when the tree-dwelling Mouse sweeps her apartment, the dust falls into Mole's hole underneath; another finds Mouse recoiling from a dinner invitation to Mole's dimly lit hole that features worms on the menu while Mole is equally perplexed by a meal of cheese at friend Mouse's. In each case, the two friends work together to find a way to make things work, sending "a strong message that thinking about one another is the way to bolster a relationship," according to Ilene Cooper in Booklist. Praising the book as "a delightful beginning reader" in her School Library Journal review, Barbara Auerbach added that Yee's "expressive … illustrations capture the humor of the situations as well as the emotions of the characters."
His consistently light-hearted, humorous take on relationships continues to make Yee a popular writer and illustrator of children's books. As he once wrote, "My advice to people starting out is that being an artist is not a way to make a living, but a way of life. Stick with it—find a way!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Yee, Wong Herbert, Big Black Bear, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
Yee, Wong Herbert, Hamburger Heaven, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
American Bookseller, August, 1993; August, 1994.
Booklist, November 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Big Black Bear, p. 533; February 1, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Fireman Small, p. 1014; April 1, 1996, Julie Corsaro, review of Mrs. Brown Went to Town, p. 1375; March 15, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of The Officers' Ball, p. 1247; February 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Get That Pest!, p. 1123; July, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Did You See Chip?, p. 1852; October 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Small Christmas, p. 411; November 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, p. 55.
Detroit Free Press, February 24, 1993; September 20, 1995; November 15, 1999; September 16, 2005; October 6, 2005.
Detroit News, July 2, 1993.
Horn Book, March-April, 1994, Lolly Robinson, review of Big Black Bear, p. 194; November-December, 2001, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Fireman Small: Fire down Below!, p. 740; November-December, 2003, review of Tracks in the Snow, pp. 738-739; November-December, 2004, review of A Small Christmas, p. 667.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1993, review of Big Black Bear; February 15, 1996, review of Mrs. Brown Went to Town, p. 302; March 1, 1997, review of The Officers' Ball, p. 390; February 15, 1998, review of Fireman Small to the Rescue, p. 276; March 19, 1999, review of Hamburger Heaven; November 1, 2004, review of A Small Christmas, p. 1055; September 1, 2005, review of Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, p. 985.
New York Times Book Review, May 8, 1993, review of Eek! There's a Mouse in the House, p. 24; January 29, 1995, Karen W. Gilbert, review of Fireman Small, p. 20; January 18, 2004, Dennis Duffy, review of Tracks in the Snow, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1992, review of Eek! There's a Mouse in the House; August 19, 1996, p. 69; March 3, 1997, review of The Officers' Ball, p. 74; March 23, 1998, review of Sergeant Hippo's Busy Week, p. 101; October 24, 2005, review of Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, p. 57.
School Library Journal, October, 1992, Rachel Fox, review of Eek! There's a Mouse in the House, pp. 100-101; October, 1993, Mary Lou Budd, review of Big Black Bear, pp. 14-15; December, 1994, Anna DeWind, review of Fireman Small, p. 92; October, 1995, Harriet Fargnoli, review of A Drop of Rain, p. 124; July, 1996, p. 76; May, 1997, p. 117; May, 1999, Marianne Saccardi, review of Hamburger Heaven, p. 101; July, 2000, Diane Janoff, review of Get That Pest!, p. 71; November, 2000, DeAnn Tabuchi, review of Here Come Trainmice! and Hooray for Truckmice!, p. 138; October, 2001, Linda Ludke, review of Fireman Small: Fire down Below!, p. 134; December, 2003, Shawn Brommer, review of Tracks in the Snow; October, 2005, Barbara Auerbach, review of Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, p. 134.