Other Free Encyclopedias » Brief Biographies » Biographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - Personal » James (John) Mayhew (1964-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

James (John) Mayhew Biography (1964-) - Sidelights

review katie book tales

James Mayhew once told SATA: "When I was at school, I was always being told to 'stop daydreaming!,' but now I'm a professional daydreamer. I not only have the fun of inventing stories for my own amusement, but I have the added pleasure of being able to share them with others."

One of these daydreams resulted in Mayhew's first children's book, Katie's Picture Show. This tale, which Mayhew both wrote and illustrated, follows a small, lively girl and her grandmother as they visit a London art gallery on a rainy afternoon. When Grandma sits down to rest, Katie continues to explore the gallery's wonders alone. To her surprise and amusement, she stumbles inside painting after painting. As a result, she enjoys a cup of tea with Ingres' Madame Moitessier, befriends the little girl in Renoir's Les Parapluies, explores Rousseau's Tropical Storm with a Tiger, and marvels at the contents of an abstract painting by Malevich before being rescued, finally, by a gallery guard.

A Junior Bookshelf contributor noted that Mayhew has found a "novel way of introducing young readers to the world of art." In fact, the author is delighted by the positive feedback he has received along these lines. "Hearing that a mother had her children begging to go to the Metropolitan Art Gallery after reading Katie's Picture Show makes everything worthwhile," Mayhew once said, "because I always feel I should have done better."

Katie returns to her museum adventures in several subsequent books, including Katie Meets the Impressionists and Katie and the Sunflowers. In the first book, as the title suggests, Katie stumbles through paintings by the great Impressionist painters Claude Monet, Pierre-August Renoir, and Edgar Degas, all the while trying to collect a bouquet of flowers to give to her Grandma for her birthday. She finally succeeds by dancing through Renoir's Her First Evening Out: the patrons throw enough flowers onto the stage after her performance to form a bouquet. In Katie and the Sunflowers, Mayhew moves on to the Postimpressionists, including Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cezanne. This time, Katie's motivation in traipsing through the paintings is to set things aright after accidentally knocking over van Gogh's vase of sunflowers. The blossoms are snatched up by the dog from Gauguin's Breton Girls, who then dashes into van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night. It's a "delightful romp through the world of art," Helen Rosenberg wrote in Booklist.

"I believe strongly that children's authors have an enormous responsibility," Mayhew continued. "Many children's books are insubstantial, safe, and unrealistically cozy. The idea of a 'fairy tale ending' is absurd." He followed this philosophy when writing Koshka's Tales: Stories from Russia, which Denise Anton Wright referred to in School Library Journal as "a new and vital interpretation of traditional Russian folklore." Of this work, Mayhew remarked, "In Koshka's Tales: Stories from Russia, based on authentic sources, ugly sisters are not forgiven and little mermaids do not marry heroes. I am sure that children need the full range of emotions and dramatic possibilities in their literature. Should they be protected from reality, even in the form of a metaphor? Certainly they should be given credit for the depth of their emotions at a very early age.

"To this end," Mayhew continued, "I wish to explore many more folk and fairy tales, preserving a more authentic folk lore tradition. These tales are so purposeful, full of instruction and wisdom, and should be respected." In School Librarian, Ralph Lavender called Koshka's Tales an "impressive book" which "deserves an honored place in any collection," while a Publishers Weekly contributor found it "vibrant and accessible."

Mayhew also enjoys writing new stories, particularly those based on memories of his childhood. One example is Dare You!, in which he once recalled "the weirdness of being downstairs at night when young." Of this story, in which a brother and sister decide to "play ghosts" when they cannot sleep, Deborah Stevenson declared in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Mayhew deftly captures the alienness of familiar surroundings in the night, while making it so alluring that young listeners will immediately plan their own evening exodus."

Another original book by Mayhew is Secret in the Garden: A Peek-Through Book. The book is inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel for older children, The Secret Garden, but Secret in the Garden is aimed at children too young for that book. In Secret in the Garden, Sophie is led on a mysterious treasure hunt by woodland creatures, beginning with a robin. She finds more and more items seemingly left behind by another little girl, and with each item, she informs her animal guide, "Somebody will be looking for this!" The clues are revealed through small holes cut in the pages which allow the reader to look through to the next page. Finally, at the end, Sophie finds the treasure: a new friend, Mary. The "exquisitely detailed, full-page illustrations" were praised by a Kirkus Reviews contributor and other critics. School Library Journal reviewer Wanda Meyers-Hines even termed them "breathtaking" and compared them to the works of Monet.

"I admire many writers and illustrators," Mayhew once told SATA. "Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins, is an extraordinary writer. Her characters represent the entire range of odd relatives and friends found in every family. Indeed, her stories are in many ways more credibly realistic, because of their strangeness, than any number of books about humans. And her line drawings are small works of art." Other artists whose work Mayhew rushes out to buy include Arnold Lobel, Maurice Sendak, John Burningham, and Gennady Spirin.

"I work erratically and intensively," he once admitted. "I cannot decide whether I prefer to be writing or illustrating. I do think it is most important to want to be doing it. A lack of inspiration always shows up in the finished book." Mayhew also believes that it is very important to work with children as much as possible. "Their hopes and fears, and their often-bizarre logic are the keys to creating something they will use and enjoy," he commented. "I don't always succeed myself, but every experience is useful in this job. All things end up in the pool of raw materials which everyone has got: the imagination."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Mayhew, James, Secret in the Garden: A Peek-Through Book, Chicken House (London, England, and New York, NY), 2003.


Appraisal: Science Books for Young People, August, 1992, p. 25.

Booklist, August, 1992, Denia Hester, review of Katie and the Dinosaurs, p. 2018; October 15, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of Dare You!, p. 3981; January 1, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of Koshka's Tales: Stories from Russia, p. 823; April 1, 1999, Ellen Mandel, review of Katie Meets the Impressionists, p. 1421; June 1, 2001, Helen Rosenberg, review of Katie and the Sunflowers, p. 1894; November 15, 2001, John Peters, review of Shakespeare's Storybook: Folk Tales That Inspired the Bard, p. 569.

Books, August, 1989, p. 12.

Books for Keeps, May, 1989, p. 29; May, 1994, p. 11.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1993, Deborah Stevenson, review of Dare You!

Junior Bookshelf, December, 1989, review of Katie's Picture Show, p. 270; October, 1990, p. 222.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1992, p. 787; January 15, 2003, review of Secret in the Garden: A Peek-Through Book, p. 143; September 1, 2003, review of Miranda the Explorer: A Magical Round-the-World Adventure, p. 1128.

Library Talk, January, 1992, p. 28.

New York Times Book Review, November 6, 1994, review of The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams, p. 32.

Parabola, spring, 1995, Martha Heyneman, review of The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams, pp. 106-107.

Publishers Weekly, November 1, 1993, review of Koshka's Tales, p. 79; February 1, 1999, review of Katie Meets the Impressionists, p. 83; June 4, 2001, review of Katie and the Sunflowers, p. 82; August 20, 2001, review of Shakespeare's Storybook, p. 82; February 3, 2003, review of Secret in the Garden, p. 78.

Reading Teacher, March, 1992, p. 538.

School Arts, September, 1999, Ken Marantz, review of Katie Meets the Impressionists, p. 48; March, 2002, Ken Marantz, review of Katie and the Sunflowers, p. 52.

School Librarian, November, 1989, pp. 149-150; November, 1990, p. 141; August, 1991, p. 100; February, 1994, Ralph Lavender, review of Koshka's Tales, p. 23.

School Library Journal, September, 1991, Denise Krell, review of Madame Nightingale Will Sing Tonight, p. 238; January, 1993, Anna DeWind, review of Katie and the Dinosaurs, p. 82; November, 1993, Kathy Piehl, review of Dare You!, pp. 86-87; January, 1994, Denise Anton Wright, review of Koshka's Tales, p. 108; October, 1994, George Delalis, review of The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams, p. 92; March, 1999, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Katie Meets the Impressionists, p. 181; October, 1999, Shirley Wilton, review of The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera, p. 170; December, 1999, Kathleen Simonetta, review of Katie and the Mona Lisa, pp. 104-105; July, 2001, Carolyn Jenks, review of Katie and the Sunflowers, p. 85; January, 2002, Margaret Bush, review of Shakespeare's Storybook, pp. 166-167; March, 2003, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of Secret in the Garden, p. 199.

Times Educational Supplement, March 11, 1994, James Riordan, review of Koshka's Tales, p. A13.


Watts Publishing Group, http://www.wattspublishing.co.uk/ (November 11, 2003), "Author Information: James Mayhew."*

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