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Mittie Cuetara (1957-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Sidelights

short stories book review

Born 1957, in Boston, MA; present surname, Peters) Cuetara; Education: School of the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, B.F.A., 1985.

Agent— Julie Popkin, 15340 Albright St., Suite 204, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272.

Freelance illustrator in Boston, MA, and San Francisco, CA, 1985-90; founder, art director, and principal illustrator at a greeting card company, San Francisco, 1990-93; writer and illustrator of children's books, 1993–.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

SELF-ILLUSTRATED

Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.

The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

Baby Business, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.

ILLUSTRATOR

Maria Lenhart, Hidden Oregon, Ulysses Press, 1996.

Also illustrator of Bay Area Green Pages.

Author and illustrator Mittie Cuetara has created several picture books that are short on text and long on humor. Creating stories using only small vignettes organized in comic-book style, she weaves in an off-beat wit that has drawn comparisons to the work of author/illustrator Edward Gorey, cartoonist Jules Feiffer, and comic-book artist Lynda Barry. While not a prolific illustrator, Cuetara is a memorable one; her books Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories, The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories, and Baby Business have quickly become prize possessions among the toddler set due to their simple, fanciful graphics and bright colors.

Raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cuetara studied painting and animation at the Boston Museum School, then worked as a freelance illustrator in San Francisco for several years. Hoping to establish her own business, she started a small greeting card company, but after three years she sold her share of the company. As Cuetara told Something about the Author (SATA), "I learned so much from that experience; it was better than four years of business college. Especially being art director, what an eye opener!"

While several of her friends encouraged her to try her hand at writing and illustrating children's books, the urge didn't hit Cuetara until after her son, Daniel, was born. "I remember nursing him on the couch and writing the beginning of Terrible Teresa in my head. Of course, when you have a kid you read so many kids' books, and you read each one so many times. I think every parent I know has at least one idea for a book in her head."

In Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories Cuetara introduces her trademark style. The book includes fourteen brief tales, each contained within a single two-page spread. The tales are "told in an abbreviated, comic-book style," noted a Publishers Weekly commentator, "with four vignette panels and a corresponding short line of (often nonsensical) verse." School Library Journal contributor Marlene Gawron called Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories "an original, refreshing, and useful offering," noting that it will help young readers to develop their vocabulary because "the well-drawn illustrations are full of zany details" that help to clarify the meaning of unfamiliar words. Erin St. John Kelly, writing in the New York Times Book Review, cited examples of the witty text accompanying each panel of artwork, concluding that "Cuetara's drawings suggest what New Yorker cartoons for children might be like." Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke asserted: "Young children will like hearing the stories read aloud, and the short, rhyming text makes the book a good choice for beginning readers."

Cuetara created a book for young truck lovers by using the same format she had employed for her first picture book. The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories uses rhyming text to describe the action in four cartoon panels, each set of four comprising a two-page spread that is devoted to one of fourteen different vehicles. Cuetara's "poems are lighthearted and clever," acknowledged Christine A. Moesch in School Library Journal, "but it's the trucks that will capture the attention of the intended audience." A Publishers Weekly critic maintained that the author/illustrator "exploits her restrained format to full advantage, showcasing both her pithy wit and inventiveness," while Heather Vogel Frederick concluded her New York Times Book Review appraisal of The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories by noting that "Cuetara is a talented artist who clearly qualifies as the Dorothy Parker of picture book repartee."

In Baby Business Cuetara divides the busy toddler day into two dozen prime areas of responsibility, among which are crawling, bedtime, snacking, pooping, and screaming. Her brightly colored illustrations, featuring what Booklist contributor Connie Fletcher described as "slightly stringy, worn-out adult characters," focus on the mess-making antics of the typical baby, and are laid out in comic-book fashion. The book's brief rhyming text "slyly shows who is really in control," added Fletcher, although a Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the "pithy urbanity" of the author/illustrator's earlier books is "softened" in dealing with infants. Praising Cuetara for her "jaunty" text and humorous drawings, a Kirkus reviewer concluded that moms and dads "will laugh with recognition as they share this wry, affectionate, pitch-perfect tally."

"I am critical of a lot of children's books, particularly those that 'talk down' to kids," Cuetara once noted to SATA. "I usually like books that aren't too sweet. When I was a kid, my brothers and I all loved Shel Silverstein and Tom Lehr. We probably only understood about one word in three, but we had all the poems and songs memorized, and we were so cool! Doctor DeSoto is the book I wish I had written myself. I liked Martha Speaks and Eloise and, when I was older, Stuart Little and then Harriet the Spy.

"My advice for aspiring writers is to figure out what you do best, and try to do that as well as you can. That will make you original and reflect your unique voice. I also recommend having a trust fund. As long as money is no object, you'll be fine."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories, pp. 413-414; October 1, 1998, John Peters, review of The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories, p. 334; June 1, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Baby Business, p. 1784.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, review of Baby Business, p. 857.

New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1998, Erin St. John Kelly, review of Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories, p. 26; April 11, 1999, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, August 18, 1997, review of Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories, p. 91; July 13, 1998, review of The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories, p. 76; May 12, 2003, review of Baby Business, p. 65.

School Library Journal, November, 1997, Marlene Gawron, review of Terrible Teresa and Other Very Short Stories, pp. 78-79; September, 1998, Christine A., Moesch, review of The Crazy Crawler Crane and Other Very Short Truck Stories, p. 165.

ONLINE

Mittie Cuetara Web site, http://www.mittiecuetara.com (March 7, 2005).*

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