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Daniel Kirk (1952-) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1952, in Elyria, OH; Education: Ohio State University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1974. Politics: Left Democrat. Religion: "Nature worship."

Author and illustrator. Exhibitions: Work has been shown at Storyopolis Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

Received various awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Society of Illustrators.

SELF-ILLUSTRATED

Skateboard Monsters, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1992.

Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.

Trash Trucks!, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.

Breakfast at the Liberty Diner, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.

Bigger, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.

Hush, Little Alien, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

Moondogs, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.

Humpty Dumpty, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

The Snow Family, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.

Bus Stop, Bus Go!, Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.

Go! (includes audio CD), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

Dogs Rule! (includes audio CD), Hyperion (New York, NY), 2003.

Jack and Jill, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.

Lunchroom Lizard, Putnam (New York, NY), 2004.

Rex Tabby, Orchard (New York, NY), 2004.

ILLUSTRATOR

Maida Silverman, Dune: Pop-Up Panorama Book, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1984.

Santa Claus the Movie Pop-Up Panorama Book, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1985.

Michael Lipson, How the Wind Plays, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

Margaret Wise Brown, The Diggers, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.

Kevin Lewis, Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

Kevin Lewis, My Truck Is Stuck!, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Miriam Schlein, Hello, Hello!, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.

Author and illustrator Daniel Kirk told SATA that he knew at the age of five that he would one day be an artist. Fittingly, he found in his own kids the inspiration to fulfill his childhood dream. "I started writing stories when my children were very small," he recalled, "and I get lots of good ideas for books based on the funny things my kids say and do. I have always been a painter, and I used to write a lot of songs, but I never thought of putting my writing and my picture-making together until I spent a lot of time reading books to my own children. Now I try all my ideas out on my two sons and daughter, and get their feedback on which of my characters are interesting, how I should end stories, and which of my stories are worth writing down."

One story that was well worth writing down is Kirk's self-illustrated debut book, Skateboard Monsters, in which a group of playing children rush to get out of the way as a gang of zany monsters on skateboards takes over the sidewalk. In a Booklist review, Ilene Cooper praised the book's "in-your-face artwork that uses unusual perspectives, elongated shapes, and the boldest of colors to match the feverish, skateboarding mood." School Library Journal contributor Carolyn Noah also commended Kirk's illustrations, which "[burst] off the pages with energy and wild good cheer," and his text, "jet-propelled verse [that] is graphically integrated."

Kirk told SATA that he likes to try different techniques when he paints. "My books Breakfast at the Liberty Diner and Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage are both set in the 1930s," he said, "so I chose a painting style that looks reminiscent of art from that time period." Booklist reviewer Cooper commented favorably on Kirk's approach, noting that Breakfast at the Liberty Diner "captures the [1930s] feeling in both the subject matter and the style of the art." Bobby and his family are waiting for Uncle Angelo at the Liberty Diner when they are surprised by a visit from President Roosevelt. "Filled with bustling, sipping, munching, smiling people, the scenes at the Liberty Diner come alive," remarked a Kirkus Reviews critic. Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage tracks the customers and cars that visit a 1939 New York City garage in the wee hours of the morning. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "a captivating slice of Americana." In a review for Booklist, Cooper declared, "Kirk's art . . . is absolutely terrific. The glowing oils that fill the pages bring you right into the twenty-four-hour world of Lucky's garage."

Kirk employs another medium for his artwork in Trash Trucks!, which tells of Kim and Pete's adventures helping out on garbage day. "I used collage and mixed media technique, and a much wilder design style," he once explained, "because the story is about wild and fanciful garbage trucks who come to life and roam around." "Sesame Street's Oscar would be hard pressed to match the enthusiasm that Kirk . . . shows for garbage collection," a Publishers Weekly critic remarked in a review of the book. A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that "the bright colors, inventive design, and in-your-face perspective present a diverting visual cacophony," while Michael Cart of Booklist maintained that "Kirk's singsong, rhyming text is infectious . . . but the main attraction is the rambunctious art."

Compared to his earlier efforts, "Bigger is a very straightforward kind of book," said Kirk to SATA, "and the pictures are direct to match the text." Bigger follows one boy's development inch by inch, from embryo to school age. School Library Journal contributor Jody McCoy thought that Kirk's "writing is appropriately simple and utilitarian," and "point of view is handled beautifully." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly declared: "The stylized pictures match the idealized account of growing up, which bubbles with satisfaction and wonder."

Kirk has also written twisted, modernized adaptations of the nursery rhymes "Humpty Dumpty" and "Jack and Jill." Humpty Dumpty provides a happy ending to the story of the shattered egg: although all of the king's horses and all of the king's men cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again, the king himself—a shy young boy who enjoys putting together puzzles—can. School Library Journal contributor Kathleen Kelly thought that the best feature of the book was Kirk's illustrations, "a combination of oils, magazine clippings, and computer printouts that gives the pictures a busy, textured look." In Kirk's version of Jack and Jill, the siblings are foiled in their attempts to draw water from the well by a giant talking crocodile who turns out to be their missing father. Kirk's retro illustrations for this tale were widely commented upon. They are "quirky but somehow work with the rhyming story," thought School Library Journal's Kristin de Lacoste, while Booklist's Cart predicted, "high-school kids who peruse picture books for art ideas will think they're a hoot."

Bus Stop, Bus Go! is an energetic story of a particularly crazy school bus ride, told in "a bongo-beat rhyming text," as a reviewer wrote in Publishers Weekly. The normal chaos of young children doing their homework, playing games, and chewing gum is heightened on this morning when Tommy's hamster escapes from its cage and scampers through the vehicle. "The rhyming text nicely conveys the stop-and-go motion (and commotion) of the bus," commented Booklist's Helen Rosenberg, and as Robin L. Gibson wrote in School Library Journal, Kirk's "brightly colored illustrations complement the noisy atmosphere."

Kirk returned to his hobby of song-writing for the books Go! and Dogs Rule!, both of which come with CDs of Kirk singing the verses contained in the book. Dogs' lives "have never been captured with more slobbery exuberance" than they are in Dogs Rule!, John Peters declared in Booklist. The lyrics are written from the point of view of various dogs, from spoiled purebred lapdogs to happy-go-lucky mutts, and Kirk's caricature-like illustrations of excited, grinning dogs express the book's cheerful mood. "Kirk excels at capturing canine expressions," thought a Kirkus Reviews contributor.

In addition to illustrating his own texts, Kirk has also provided the pictures for works by other children's authors. Notable among these efforts is his artwork for a reinterpretation of Margaret Wise Brown's The Diggers, originally published in 1960 with illustrations by Clement Hurd. In a Booklist review, Carolyn Phelan praised the "large, brilliantly colored oil paintings [done] in a heroic style that romanticizes man and his machines." Kirk also illustrated Michael Lipson's How the Wind Plays, of which Anna Biagioni Hart, writing in School Library Journal, remarked, "this personification of wind will be fascinating to youngsters and a boon to creative teachers or librarians." Reviewing the same work for Booklist, Cooper called attention to Kirk's versatility of technique, noting that his oil paintings "combine a 1930s style with a modern airbrushed look that's eye-catchingly fresh."

Kirk teamed up with author Kevin Lewis on the books Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo and My Truck Is Stuck! In the first book, a young boy's toys come alive and help to man a toy train as it carries "freight" around the boy's bedroom. "Kirk's color-saturated pictures are a feast for the eyes, with many wonderful details for little ones to explore," Lauren Peterson wrote in Booklist. In My Truck Is Stuck!, Kirk extends Lewis's story of a dump truck that gets stuck in a pothole and needs lots of help to be pulled out. The artist creates bright, humorous illustrations, done with oil paints over sand and plaster. In Kirk's imagination, the truck drivers are all dogs, and their truck (license plate BONZ-4U) carries a huge pile of bones. At least, it does at the beginning of the story: as the dogs and their would-be rescuers work on freeing the truck, a group of prairie dogs quietly spirits away the bones. Booklist's Connie Fletcher described Kirk's illustrations as "sunny and funny" and commented on his "vibrant" palette, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer thought that "the dog characterizations are a stitch."

Kirk once told SATA that his work on children's books has been "the most fulfilling work I have ever done. The more I write, the more ideas occur to me. I was worried that I might just have a handful of stories inside me, but now it seems like there is a bottomless sea of great stories out there, and I just have to go fishing for them.

"The most difficult part of my job is getting used to the fact that a picture book takes me four or five months to paint. That is a long, boring time for me, because once I have written the book and drawn the sketches, I feel ready to leave the project behind, and move on to something new and challenging. But people seem to like the way I paint, so I must slog on through all the pictures and try to be patient.

"I do not have a particular writing style that I always use. I feel that the story dictates the way it should be told, and sometimes that will be in rhyme, sometimes in prose, sometimes with lots of verbal details or dialogue, and sometimes very spare. Sometimes it is best to let the pictures tell the story themselves. There are authors who have a particular way of writing, and each book they write is instantly recognizable as their book. That would be boring for me. I like to try something a little different each time! The only constants are that I like bright colors; simple shapes; rounded, dimensional characters; and atmospheric lighting.

"I think picture books are very important to children. I hope that the books I do will encourage imagination, curiosity, playfulness, love of words and artwork, and get kids to think about things that are important to them. I love books that are unconventional and nonconformist, and in my own writing, I don't like to preach. Morals are sometimes useful, and they always help a book sell, but I feel that my job is primarily to create a sense of wonder and fun, to entertain, to suggest different ways of thinking about things; and sometimes, if it fits, teach a lesson, too!"

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Astronomy, December, 2001, review of Hush, Little Alien, p. 102.

Booklist, January 15, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Skate-board Monsters, p. 921; May 1, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of How the Wind Plays, p. 1609; May 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Diggers, pp. 1576-1577; September 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage, p. 143; May 15, 1997, Michael Cart, review of Trash Trucks!, p. 1579; November 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Breakfast at the Liberty Diner, p. 482; May 1, 1998, Linda Perkins, review of Bigger, p. 1521; March 15, 1999, John Peters, review of Moondogs, p. 1333; October 15, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, p. 455; November 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Hush, Little Alien, p. 636; May 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Humpty Dumpty, p. 1757; September 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfield, review of Snow Family, p. 130; June 1, 2001, Helen Rosenberg, review of Bus Stop, Bus Go!, p. 1891; December 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Go!, p. 727; June 1, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of Hello, Hello!, p. 1728; November 1, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of My Truck Is Stuck!, pp. 508-509; June 1, 2003, Michael Cart, review of Jack and Jill, p. 1787; October 15, 2003, John Peters, review of Dogs Rule!, p. 407.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1998, p. 367.

Horn Book, March-April, 1999, Liza Woodruff, review of Moondogs, pp. 193-194; July-August, 2002, Lauren Adams, review of Hello, Hello!, p. 451.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1996, p. 1154; May 1, 1997, review of Trash Trucks!, p. 723; August 15, 1997, review of Breakfast at the Liberty Diner, p. 1307; March 15, 1998, p. 406; September 15, 2001, review of Go!, p. 1360; May 15, 2002, review of Hello, Hello!, p. 740; August 15, 2002, review of My Truck Is Stuck, p. 1228; June 1, 2003, review of Jack and Jill, p. 806; October 15, 2003, review of Dogs Rule!, p. 1272.

New York Times Book Review, December 22, 1996, Sam Swope, review of Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage, p. 16; May 17, 1998, Amy L. Cohn, review of Bigger, p. 28; May 14, 2000, Sam Swope, review of Humpty Dumpty, p. 22; December 3, 2000, Scott Veale, review of Snow Family, p. 84.

Parenting, summer, 1993, Leonard S. Marcus, review of Skateboard Monsters, pp. 74-75.

Publishers Weekly, August 26, 1996, review of Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage, p. 97; May 12, 1997, review of Trash Trucks!, p. 75; October 27, 1997, review of Breakfast at the Liberty Diner, p. 74; April 27, 1998, review of Bigger, p. 65; March 15, 1999, review of Moondogs, p. 59; May 17, 1999, review of Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, p. 77; January 10, 2000, review of Bigger, p. 70; September 11, 2000, review of Snow Family, p. 90; June 18, 2001, review of Bus Stop, Bus Go!, p. 81; October 8, 2001, review of Go!, p. 62; April 29, 2002, review of Hello, Hello!, p. 68; September 2, 2002, review of My Truck Is Stuck!, p. 74; May 19, 2003, review of Jack and Jill, pp. 73-74; December 8, 2003, review of Dogs Rule!, p. 60.

School Library Journal, February, 1993, Carolyn Noah, review of Skateboard Monsters, p. 73; May, 1994, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of How the Wind Plays, p. 99; July, 1995, Carole D. Fiore, review of The Diggers, pp. 54-55; September, 1996, Carolyn Jenks, review of Lucky's Twenty-four Hour Garage, p. 182; November, 1997, Alicia Eames, review of Breakfast at the Liberty Diner, p. 85-86; May, 1998, Jody McCoy, review of Bigger, p. 118; March, 1999, Barbara Elleman, review of Moondogs, p. 177; September, 1999, Robin L. Gibson, review of Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, p. 193; December, 1999, Kathleen M. Kelly MacMillan, review of Hush, Little Alien, p. 102; June, 2000, Kathleen Kelly, review of Humpty Dumpty, p. 118; September, 2000, Sheilah Kosco, review of Snow Family, p. 201; September, 2001, Robin L. Gibson, review of Bus Stop, Bus Go!, p. 193; December, 2001, Mary Elam, review of Go!, p. 124; July, 2002, Maryann H. Owen, review of Hello, Hello!, p. 111; October, 2002, Melinda Piehler, review of My Truck Is Stuck!, p. 118; November, 2003, Kristin de Lacoste, review of Jack and Jill, p. 104.

ONLINE

Storyopolis Art Gallery, http://www.storyopolis.com/ (January 13, 2004), "Daniel Kirk."*

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