Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) Biography » Doug Cushman (1953-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Doug Cushman Biography (1953-) - Sidelights

mystery review hopper inspector

In the many well-received picture books that California-based author Doug Cushman has written and illustrated, his emphasis on character is evident in both text and artwork. As he once commented: "A good character will almost write a book by himself with a little nudge or two from the author." Indeed, vivid characters abound in books such as Possum Stew, wherein mischievous Possum ties together Bear and Gator's fishing lines, tricking the friends into believing they've hooked the "Big Catfish." When the two fall into the water trying to pull in their enormous catch, Possum sneaks off with their full baskets of fish. Wanting to even the score, Bear and Gator plan a surprise of their own for Possum. Beth Herbert, writing in Booklist, called Possum Stew a "knee-slapping tale," while a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews noted that the story's humor is enhanced by the "expressive faces" in Cushman's "uncluttered illustrations." School Library Journal contributor Sally R. Dow also commented favorably on the author/illustrator's fictional creations, maintaining that Cushman's "lighthearted" illustrations "capture the mischievous spirit of the animals."


The ABC Mystery, another of Cushman's self-illustrated stories, is an alphabet primer charged with a mystery. The letter "A" states the crime—stolen Art—and the mystery, told in rhyming couplets, continues to unfold as Detective McGroom, a badger, pursues clues attached to successive letters of the alphabet. Calling the book a "fresh approach to the ABC's," School Library Journal contributor Jody McCoy claimed that The ABC Mystery would attract children with its "bright cartoon creatures skillfully rendered." Booklist reviewer Deborah Abbott suggested the book be used as a "kickoff for mystery units in the primary grades," and praised Cushman's illustrations for their "touches of melodrama and humor." A Publishers Weekly commentator stated that repeated readings would give "budding detectives" more chances to "spot new clues," describing the picture book as a "cunning twist on the traditional ABC" primer.

Cushman has followed the success of his ABC Mystery with more tales of intrigue, among them Aunt Eater's Mystery Christmas, The Mystery of King Karfu, and Aunt Eater's Mystery Halloween. Booklist reviewer Linda Perkins offered high praise for The Mystery of King Karfu, declaring that it will "delight mystery aficionados." In this story, wombat detective Seymour Sleuth investigates a stolen stone chicken in Egypt. Seymour and Abbott Muggs, his sidekick, catch the thief after uncovering a critical clue. Cushman designed the book as an actual detective's casebook, with investigative notes, photographs, coffee stains, and business receipts (including a camel rental) all related to the investigation. Perkins noted that the illustrated details add "silliness, suspense, and intrigue." Steven Engelfried, a School Library Journal contributor, described the notebook as a "clear and insightful look at how a detective puts evidence together." Engelfried also noted a "clue-filled plot, plenty of humor, and an innovative presentation" that he predicted will create a demand for more "Seymour Sleuth" mysteries. In Inspector Hopper Cushman introduces two new sleuths, the dapperly dressed grasshopper Inspector Hopper and his sidekick, the bowler hat-wearing beetle McBugg. The book, intended for early elementary students who are just beginning to read independently, features three separate mystery tales. Mr. Ladybug's wife disappears in the first story, and does not return when he calls her: "Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home!" However, with the help of Inspector Hopper and McBugg she is soon found, safe and sound. In the second tale, "A Boat Disappears," a mosquito named Skeet loses his leaf boat. Inspector Hopper interrogates several other insects, including the Eensy Weensy Spider and a snail who jogs, before finding the culprit: Conrad the caterpillar, who ate the small vessel. In the final installment, Inspector Hopper and McBugg track down a rat—literally—with the help of the moon. Reviewers praised the book; Maura Bresnahan, writing in School Library Journal, thought that "the short sentences, catchy dialogue, and repetitive vocabulary are just right for beginning readers." Other critics praised Cushman's "handsome watercolors," as Gillian Engberg described them in Booklist, that "will draw children in with their bug's-eye view of the world."

Inspector Hopper and McBugg return to solve another four conundrums in 2003's Inspector Hopper's Mystery Year. Here Cushman presents one mystery per season. First, in the fall, Emma Worm asks the detectives to help her figure out who is apparently haunting a pumpkin. In the winter a doctor disappears, rather inconveniently for Inspector Hopper as he has a cold that he would like to be treated. A young beetle-child goes missing in the spring, and in the summer, a cricket named Holly loses her sheet music; as it turns out, it was stolen by a wasp who needed materials to help him paper over a hole in his nest. Each of these four stories "is just the right length for sharing aloud or independent reading," wrote School Library Journal contributor Wanda Meyers-Hines, who also called the book "a fun selection for units on insects." Plus, as a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted, "Cushman drops visual clues to let readers participate in the solutions to the mysteries [and] sight gags to keep the stories lively."

An elephant named Nick Trunk is the detective in Mystery at the Club Sandwich. The book openly spoofs classic film noir detective stories such as The Maltese Falcon; it is even dedicated to "Sam, Phil and Dashiell"—as in the famous noir detective Sam Spade, his creator Dashiell Hammett, and Philip Marlowe, the detective created by author Raymond Chandler. As with all good noir tales, Mystery at the Club Sandwich opens with "trouble" walking through the door: Maggie Trouble, a cat who works at the Club Sandwich as an assistant to its star cabaret singer, Lola Gale. Gale's lucky marbles have been stolen, and she wants Nick Trunk's help in recovering them. "Readers will guess the villain early on," commented School Library Journal reviewer Marie Orlando, "but that won't interfere with their enjoyment of the droll story."


Cushman has also received favorable notice for the pictures he has provided for scores of works by many different authors. Among these efforts is Valentine Mice!, written by Bethany Roberts. In this tale, four mice celebrate a wintery Valentine's Day by passing out holiday cards to all the woodland animals. Amid all the excitement, hardly anyone notices that the youngest mouse has disappeared. "Motion-filled, festive watercolors humorously document the rescue of the missing mouse," asserted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Praising the successful union of words and pictures, a Kirkus Reviews critic claimed the "rhythmic text and action-packed line and watercolor illustrations will draw young readers in."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 1990, Beth Herbert, review of Possum Stew, p. 1338; September 15, 1990, p. 177; April 1, 1992, p. 1459; November 15, 1993, Deborah Abbott, review of The ABC Mystery, p. 629; April 1, 1994, Denia Hester, review of Mouse and Mole and the Year-Round Garden, p. 1458; January 1 & 15, 1997, Linda Perkins, review of The Mystery of King Karfu, p. 869; April 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Inspector Hopper, p. 1555; July, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Space Cat, p. 1850; September 15, 2004, Lauren Peterson, review of What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile?, p. 254.

Horn Book, July, 2000, review of Inspector Hopper, p. 454.

Instructor, November-December, 2001, Judy Freeman, review of Inspector Hopper, pp. 12-14.

Junior Bookshelf, October, 1983, p. 206.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1990, review of Possum Stew, p. 103; March 1, 1994, p. 301; December 1, 1997, review of Valentine Mice!, p. 1778; March 1, 2003, review of Inspector Hopper's Mystery Year, p. 381; May 15, 2004, review of Space Cat, p. 489; September 1, 2004, review of Mystery at the Club Sandwich, p. 863.

Publishers Weekly, March 21, 1994, p. 71; December 1, 1997, review of Valentine Mice!, p. 52; August 2, 1998, review of The ABC Mystery, p. 78; December 13, 2004, review of Mystery at the Club Sandwich, p. 68.

School Library Journal, February, 1990, Sally R. Dow, review of Possum Stew, p. 72; July, 1992, p. 58; February, 1994, Jody McCoy, review of The ABC Mystery, p. 83; February, 1997, Steven Engelfried, review of The Mystery of King Karfu, pp. 74-75; January, 1998, p. 91; July, 2000, Maura Bresnahan, review of Inspector Hopper, p. 70; May, 2003, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of Inspector Hopper's Mystery Year, pp. 110-111; January, 2005, Marie Orlando, review of Mystery at the Club Sandwich, p. 89.


ONLINE

Doug Cushman Home Page, http://www.doug-cushman.com (February 4, 2005).

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