(Jenifer) Ashley Wolff (1956-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1956, in Boston, MA; Education: Rhode Island School of Design, B.F.A., 1979.
office—c/o Author Mail, E. P. Dutton, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Author and illustrator. Valley Voice, Middlebury, VT, staff artist, 1979-80; Pacific Sun, Mill Valley, CA, staff artist, 1980-82; writer and illustrator of children's books, 1983—. Painter of trompe l'oeil murals in California and Vermont. Exhibitions: The Bells of London exhibited at the Bologna International Children's Book Fair, 1985.
Notable Children's Book citation, Association for Library Service to Children, 1984, for A Year of Birds; Top Ten Children's Picture Books citation, Redbook, 1986, for A Year of Beasts; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, Children's Book Council/National Council on the Social Studies, 1988, and Parenting magazine First Annual Reading-Magic Award, both for Block City; Children's Book of the Year Award, Child Study Association, 1991, for Come with Me.
A Year of Birds, Dodd (New York, NY), 1984.
The Bells of London, Dodd (New York, NY), 1985.
Only the Cat Saw, Dodd (New York, NY), 1985.
A Year of Beasts, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986.
Come with Me, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
Stella and Roy, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
Stella and Roy Go Camping, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
The Colors: Sing along in Spanish and English!/De colores: vamos a cantar junto en inglés y español!, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.
The Baby Chicks Are Singing/Los pollitos dicen: Sing along in English and Spanish/vamos a cantar junto en inglés y español!, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.
Me Baby, You Baby, Dutton (New York, NY), 2004.
The Country Christmas Advent Calendar, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986.
Joseph Slate, Who Is Coming to Our House?, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Block City, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.
Raffi, Baby Beluga, Crown (New York, NY), 1990, board-book edition, 1997.
Isabel Wilner, A Garden Alphabet, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Laurel Porter-Gaylord, I Love My Daddy Because …, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Laurel Porter-Gaylord, I Love My Mommy Because …, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Carol Ryrie Brink, Goody O'Grumpity, North-South Books, 1994.
Gerald Hausman, reteller, How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet: Native American Animal Origin Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Margaret Wise Brown, Little Donkey Close Your Eyes, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Joseph Slate, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
Margaret S. Reid, A String of Beads, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Jean Marzolo, Home Sweet Home, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Joseph Slate, Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Gerald Hausman, Doctor Bird: Three Lookin' up Tales from Jamaica, Philomel (New York, NY), 1998.
Sarah Weeks, Splish Splash, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Charlotte Zolotow, Some Things Go Together, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 1999.
Joseph Slate, Miss Bindergarten Stays Home from Kindergarten, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
Bonnie Lass and Philemon Sturges, Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2000.
Joanne Ryder, Each Living Thing, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2000.
Joseph Slate, Miss Bindergarten Takes a Field Trip with Kindergarten, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
Joseph Slate, Miss Bindergarten Plans a Circus with Kindergarten, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Lisa Schulman, Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop, Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Sarah Weeks, My Somebody Special, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Philemon Sturges, adaptor, She'll Be Comin' round the Mountain, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2004.
Jennifer A. Ericsson, Home to Me, Home to You, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2005.
An artist and author based in San Francisco, Ashley Wolff had earned a large following through both her effective illustrations and restrained picture-book text. While her self-illustrated books, such as Me Baby, You Baby and Stella and Roy Go Camping, have been popular with young children, Wolff's collaborations with writer Joseph Slate on the "Miss Bindergarten" books has received high marks with readers and critics alike. Reviewing Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten for Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted that Wolff's "richly colored, busy illustrations display a keen and sympathetic eye for children's dress and behavior," while Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan wrote that her "bright ink-and-watercolor-wash illustrations fill every spread with details, some amusing, some touching, but all right on the money."
In The Bells of London, her second self-illustrated picture book, Wolff evokes an Elizabethan setting for her version of the nursery song that lends the book its title. Linoleum-block print illustrations create an accompanying visual narrative, depicting a young girl's trip to the market, where she is forced to sell a beloved pet dove. When the girl attempts to regain the bird from its purchaser, the bird is accidentally released and set free. Patricia Homer, writing in School Library Journal, characterized the work as unusual and called the illustrations "magnificent," but warned that the complex relationship of verse and image might be too abstract for younger readers. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, praised Wolff's "original story and its superb visuals."
Only the Cat Saw finds Wolff varying her illustration technique. Here she creates full-page acrylic and gouache paintings that detail a family's evening routine. While Amy and her father busily prepare dinner, Amy's mother tends to the infant Sam, and only the cat takes notice of sunset and the darkening world outside the house. While the family sleeps, the cat undertakes his nocturnal observances. At daybreak the situation is reversed, as the sleeping cat misses the butterfly that greets a wide-awake Amy. As Wolff once told Something about the Author (SATA), the farm pictured in the book is owned by friends, and "the cat's name is Nutkin. To get to know Nutkin, I spent a day trailing him and taking photographs. I had to imagine the places the cat goes at night because, like Amy, I was asleep!" Wolff also "plays with light and its effect to achieve warmth and mood," as Maria B. Salvadore observed in her review for School Library Journal.
With A Year of Beasts Wolff returned to the linoleum block prints characteristic of her earlier work, including her first book A Year of Birds. In A Year of Beasts each of the twelve months of the year is associated with an animal from Ellie and Peter's farm or a place nearby. "There is a story to be found in each double-page spread," Mary M. Burns asserted in a Horn Book review of the book, from scurrying rabbits in an April meadow to a reclusive October porcupine high in a tree. The result is "a satisfying book to share with toddlers," concluded a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer.
Come with Me finds the versatile Wolff experimenting with yet another illustrative style: soft watercolor renderings. In this book, a young boy holds a tiny puppy still too young to leave its mother and describes all the activity, adventure, and fun they will share in the future. The child's vision of the relationship between him and his pet is presented "with a romantic affection that stops short of cloying," wrote Karen Litton in a School Library Journal review. In Booklist, Ilene Cooper asserted that the story could aid children in understanding "the concept—and the promise—of the future."
Both Stella and Roy and Stella and Roy Go Camping focus on two siblings. Stella and Roy finds the brother and sister racing around a lake in a park in the attempt to reach the popcorn man. Stella, the older of the pair, rides a speedy tricycle, while toddler Roy rides a four-wheeled push-bike. Despite the advantages she holds in size and vehicle, Stella is distracted by the varied curiosities the lake has to offer, including, fish, geese, turtles, gulls, and a frog. Meanwhile, Roy steadily rolls along, ultimately reaching the popcorn man ahead of his sister. After some good-natured teasing, Roy shares his prize, a box of popcorn, with Stella. "Perspectives are interestingly varied, with Roy's view of the race appropriately low to the ground," wrote Roger Sutton, noting the quality of Wolff's bold block print illustrations in a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review. A Publishers Weekly reviewer confirmed that the illustrations "convey both the motion of the children and the still beauty of the park," while Horn Book reviewer Hanna B. Zeifer proclaimed Stella and Roy "an exemplary book for young audiences."
Stella and Roy make their second appearance in a book that a Horn Book contributor judged as "for an older audience" due to its longer length. In this tale, the siblings have aged enough that they have graduated from tricycles to camping trips, with their mother along for protection of course. Armed with her book on animal footprints, Stella quickly begins a hunt for tracks, and together with Roy soon discovers raccoon, deer, porcupine, and coyote footprints on the trail to Lone Pine Lake. However, readers quickly realize that there is much the two miss: Wolff hides several woodland creatures behind trees, under shrubs, and elsewhere along the trail. "Followers of these memorable siblings will be happy to hike along with them on their latest outing," wrote the Horn Book reviewer, while in Booklist Hazel Rochman praised Wolff's linoleum-block prints awash with "bright clear watercolors" that depict "an outdoor world filled with adventure and amazing wildlife."
Wolff's work illustrating the texts of writers such as Jean Marzolo, Gerald Hausman, and Charlotte Zolotow comprises the bulk of her work. Reviewing her contribution to Hausman's story collection Doctor Bird: Three Lookin' up Tales from Jamaica, a Publisher Weekly contributor praised Wolff's "intriguing, lively art" and her use of a "characteristic combination of black gesso and rich gouaches." Her illustrations to another book by Hausman, How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet: Native American Animal Origin Stories, were praised by Horn Book reviewer Ellen Fader for contributing "considerable interest" to Hausman's collection, while in Publishers Weekly a critic dubbed the match of art and text "a fitting blend, given the book's artfully achieved relevance to two very different cultures." And in Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop, Lisa Shulman's update on the traditional song, Wolff brings a sense of fun to the story, making the title character a female and a wooly, spectacle-wearing sheep to boot. Her gouache and pastel art, rendered in earthen tones, "is full of fun," added Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, "but it's informative too" as Ms. MacDonald and her animal assistants demonstrate a variety of woodworking tools and techniques as they construct a miniature farm of wood, complete with tiny barnyard animals.
Wolff's illustrations for Block City, taken from a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, include a portrait of the author, "the very pregnant queen attended by a small boy in overalls and a black and white dog. The dog, Pumpkin, appears in most of my books and the small boy is [my son] Brennan after he was born." The mother of two boys, Wolff sees their West Coast home through her children's eyes and has used it in books such as Come with Me and Stella and Roy. "Several of my early books were based on memories of my childhood in Vermont," Wolff added. She described her working method to SATA: "I work at home in an upstairs bedroom. Most of my space is taken up by bookshelves and filing cabinets. I keep extensive files on everything from Alligators to Zebras and everything in between. I'm most comfortable using photographic reference even when I stylize my finished illustrations."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 1, 1985, Denise M. Wilms, review of Only the Cat Saw, p. 272; March 1, 1989, p. 1201; January 1, 1990, Ilene Cooper, review of Come with Me, p. 922; November 15, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Little Donkey Close Your Eyes, p. 563; August, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, p. 1906; April 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Home Sweet Home, p. 1338; August, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of A String of Beads, p. 1899; October 15, 1998, John Peters, review of Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten, p. 430; July, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Stella and Roy Go Camping, p. 1956; April 15, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Each Living Thing, p. 1553; September 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop, p. 243; March 1, 2004, Linda Perkins, review of Me Baby, You Baby, p. 1189.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1986, p. 100; July, 1986, review of A Year of Beasts, p. 219; July, 1993, Roger Sutton, review of Stella and Roy, pp. 361-362.
Five Owls, January-February, 1995, p. 57.
Horn Book, September-October, 1986, Mary M. Burns, review of A Year of Beasts, p. 586; September-October, 1993, Hanna B. Zeifer, review of Stella and Roy, p. 594; September-October, 1995, Ellen Fader, review of How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet, p. 613; January-February, 1996, Mary M. Burns, review of Little Donkey, Close Your Eyes, p. 60; May, 1999, review of Stella and Roy Go Camping, p. 325; March-April, 2004, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Me Baby, You Baby, p. 178.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1993, p. 794; August 15, 2002, review of Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop, p. 1236.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 26, 1986, Kristiana Gregory, review of Only the Cat Saw, p. 10.
New York Times Book Review, June 2, 1985; September 5, 1993, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1985, review of The Bells of London, p. 90; October 11, 1985, review of Only the Cat Saw, p. 68; April 25, 1986, p. 70; September 29, 1989, p. 71; June 14, 1993, review of Stella and Roy, p. 68; May 29, 1995, review of How Chipmunk Got Tiny Feet, p. 84; July 1, 1996, review of Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, p. 59; February 24, 1997, review of Home Sweet Home, p. 90; July 27, 1998,review of Miss Bindergarten Celebrates the 100th Day of Kindergarten, p. 75; March 27, 2000, review of Each Living Thing, p. 79; April 15, 2002, review of My Somebody Special, p. 62; August 19, 2002, review of Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop, p. 87; May 11, 1998, review of Doctor Bird: Three Lookin' up Tales from Jamaica, p. 67.
School Library Journal, May, 1985, Patricia Homer, review of The Bells of London, pp. 85-86; November, 1985, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Only the Cat Saw, p. 78; February, 1990, Karen Litton, review of Come with Me, p. 80; September, 1993, p. 221; April, 2000, Susan Marie Pitard, review of Each Living Thing, p. 113; December, 2002, Carolyn Janssen, review of Miss Bindergarten Plans a Circus with Kindergarten, p. 108; March, 2004, Linda Staskus, review of Me Baby, You Baby, p. 188.
Ashley Wolff Web site, http://www.ashleywolff.com/ (October 26, 2004).*
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