Monica Wellington Biography (1957-)
The work of author and illustrator Monica Wellington is heavily influenced by memories of her childhood. Born in London, England, she had lived in England, Germany, and Switzerland before reaching the age of seven. As Wellington once told Something about the Author (SATA), "I think my early childhood has a big influence on my books. In Switzerland we lived close to a small town. We were surrounded by mountains, woods, lakes, orchards, fields, and farms. . . . In my books, I find myself doing pictures of these kinds of places." In fact, the natural world plays a prominent role in each of Wellington's picture books for young children, which include Night Rabbits, Seasons of Swans, and The Sheep Follow.
Wellington fell in love with art early. "I always loved to draw as a child. I recently found some of the first pictures I did when we were living in Europe and they are not that different from what I am doing now! I still like to do pictures full of color, of the same things!" Despite her creative streak, however, Wellington did not decide to become a children's book illustrator until she was in her late twenties.
In the meantime, she and her family relocated to the United States, although they still continued to travel and Wellington lived in four states while going to junior high and high school. After high-school graduation, she enrolled at the University of Michigan's School of Art, where she studied pottery, painting, and printmaking. After college, she moved back to England for several years, studying the decorative arts and working in a London antique gallery specializing in English porcelain as well as in the ceramics department of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Despite her interest in the decorative arts, Wellington eventually realized that she needed to do something more creative. A move to New York City in 1981 marked her change to a career as a freelance artist.
"For about three years I worked in a pottery studio," Wellington recalled of her first years in New York. "Then gradually I started to do more painting projects. The more pictures I did, because of the style and images that were developing, the more I thought of doing children's books. I kind of wandered into the field and then was struck by how much I absolutely loved doing this. I had finally found the perfect outlet for my creative energy."
In 1986 Wellington studied under noted illustrator Bruce Degen at the School of Visual Arts, which prompted her to bring her portfolio to publishers. One of the pictures in Wellington's portfolio, a proposed illustration for a poem by writer Alhambra G. Deming, had been a class assignment. That picture eventually was expanded into Wellington's first picture book, Deming's Who Is Tapping at My Window?, which a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed the work of "a seasoned illustrator rather than a first-time artist."
Who Is Tapping at My Window was quickly followed by several more books, including All My Little Ducklings, which Wellington both wrote and illustrated. Tracing the typical day of an average duckling, Wellington's pictures show the little creatures engaged in such pursuits as visiting nearby farmyard animals, floating on the pond, and nosing around the local beehive, all accompanied by a simple text filled with words that elicit the sounds of the ducks' activities: "Scurry Hurry Plunk / Flipping Dipping Splatter Splash / Paddle in the Pond." The idea for All My Little Ducklings came from a German song Wellington recalled from her childhood: "Alle meine Entchen." "'All my little ducklings, swimming in the sea, heads are in the water, tails are to the sun,'—I took this image as a starting point and it grew into a book about a day in the life of this family of ducks," the author/illustrator explained. Ellen Fader, writing in Horn Book, praised the "graceful story," noting that Wellington's illustrations "are bright and clear, pruned of unnecessary detail," while Ilene Cooper described the ducklings as "winsome" in her review for Booklist, and predicted that the author's choice of words "will help instill a love of language in young ears."
Seasons of Swans also features feathered protagonists; Wellington's story of the cycle of nature revolves around a family of swans as they nest, lay eggs, and hatch their young, called cygnets. By autumn, the young swans have learned to swim and fish, and are ready to leave their parents' nest and make their own home before winter falls. School Library Journal contributor Danita Nichols praised the book's colorful and "uncluttered" illustrations, as well as Wellington's "spare and precise prose," which Nichols deemed a match for the straightforward drawings.
In The Sheep Follow youngsters witness what happens when a flock of sheep are left to their own devices while their shepherd takes a nap. Following first a butterfly, then a cat, pigs, rabbits, and a succession of other animals, the silly sheep eventually arrive back at the pasture in which the young shepherd is finally awakening. "The stylized graphic art and simple narration insure the book's success with the toddler set," maintained Nancy Seiner in School Library Journal. Deborah Abbott of Booklist commented on the "sprightly outdoor scenes" and "buoyant simplicity" of the book, concluding, "Be prepared to read this again and again."
Traveling animals are also a feature of Night Rabbits, as frisky white bunnies come out to play when the sun sets and the countryside is quiet. While they have to watch for predators—an owl and fox are also out and about in the rabbit's vicinity—the pair find much to do and eat before returning to their cozy burrow for another nap until dusk. Booklist reviewer Lauren Peterson praised Wellington's simple, unadorned prose, calling it "rich" and "poetic" and hailing the inclusion of "sensory images, onomatopoeia, and rhyme." "Totally charming and uncynical," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic, adding, "Wellington's simplicity is a stand-out."
The world of the night is also the backdrop for Night House, Bright House, and Night City. In the first, a group of ten mice hunting for something to nibble on meets up with the family tabby cat. The ensuing chase is watched by household objects, which come to life at night and offer helpful, rhyming commentary. "Some of the rhymes are wildly funny to read aloud," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic, who maintained that many would be adopted by young listeners for use in their own homes. "The art," added a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "is inventive and diverting," while adults have the further pleasure of recognizing "playful knockoffs of well-known paintings." Night City highlights the bustle of activity occurring late at night in a large city while a little girl sleeps soundly at home. "The text imparts plenty of information, offering windows on new worlds for children," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic, who commented favorably on Wellington's "congenially depicted scenes."
In addition to picture books, Wellington has also created a series of board books for toddlers, including Baby in a Buggy, Baby at Home, and Baby Goes Shopping, all of which feature brightly colored, graphic illustrations that reviewers have compared to the work of author-illustrator Eric Carle. A Publishers Weekly critic lauded Wellington's illustrations as "pack[ing] a punch," while Darla Remple in School Library Journal noted how the simple shapes are "positioned jauntily" against colorful backgrounds in these "appealing" books for youngsters under two. In Squeaking of Art: The Mice Go to the Museum, a group of ten mice tour an imaginary museum, passing through a number of galleries, each with its own theme. Dozens of masterpieces, including portraits, landscapes, and still lifes, hang on the gallery walls, all reproduced by Wellington in her recognizable style. Booklist contributor Michael Cart called the work a "clever, beautifully realized introduction to the world of art." In School Library Journal, Wendy Lukeheart observed that when "shared one-on-one with a child, Wellington's age-appropriate questions and playful approach to art work both as model and motivation for visiting a museum."
Apple Farmer Annie follows the efforts of an orchard keeper as she harvests her crop, prepares treats such as apple cider and apple muffins, and sells her wares at the market. "The illustrations seem to step right out of a coloring book with simple shapes, objects, and bright crayon-box colors," noted Pamela K. Bomboy in School Library Journal. Booklist critic Marta Segal also praised Wellington's artwork, remarking that her paintings, "bright, colorful, and detailed, have a pleasant, childlike quality."A day in the life of a rescue worker is the subject of Firefighter Frank. According to a critic in Kirkus Reviews, "this tribute to this challenging profession is sure to inspire children who dream of one day wearing the uniform." Crêpes by Suzette is an "original and appealing concept book that mixes art appreciation with a travelogue," in the words of School Library Journal reviewer Lauralyn Persson. Published in 2004, Crêpes by Suzette tells the story of a friendly street vendor who encounters a host of characters as she wheels her pushcart through the parks and along the boulevards of Paris, France. Though some critics felt the plot lacks depth, others applauded the author/illustrator's inventive design work, especially her use of mixed-media collage. "Wellington uses . . . photographs of Parisian streets, storefronts, parks and apartment buildings (with faces of real children peeking out) as a vibrant backdrop," noted a critic in Publishers Weekly, and she augments the photographs with a variety of materials, including maps, tickets, stamps, and postcards, as well as her own colorful illustrations. "The dense visuals make for delightful exploration," remarked Booklist reviewer Terry Glover.
Wellington has more than twenty books to her credit; she has both written and illustrated the vast majority of them. On her Web site, Wellington described her approach to creating a new work: "I usually start a book visually, with an idea of pictures I want to paint. I usually start making sketches before I even write any words at all. Both the pictures and words go through many revisions, and I am often still working on the final words after I finish the pictures." Although the development process can be difficult at times, Wellington observed, it is also enjoyable and fulfilling. "Going through the different stages of making a book is quite a bit of work, but it is also enormously satisfying," she commented. "I spend my days doing exactly what I love to do, and it is very gratifying that my work goes out into the world and is shared with other people. I feel incredibly lucky."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 1989, Ilene Cooper, review of All My Little Ducklings, p. 1473; February 1, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of The Sheep Follow, p. 1042; October 15, 1992, p. 443; April 15, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Night Rabbits, p. 8; June 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Baby in a Car and Baby in a Buggy, p. 1780; February 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Night House, p. 949; September 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Baby at Home and Baby Goes Shopping, p. 136; July, 1998, Michael Cart, review of Night City, p. 1879; February 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Bunny's Rainbow Day, p. 983; February 15, 2000, Michael Cart, review of Squeaking of Art, p. 1116; October 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Bunny's First Snowflake, p. 448; December 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Squeaking of Art: The Mice Go to the Museum, p. 811; September 1, 2001, Marta Segal, review of Apple Farmer Annie, p. 118; January 1, 2004, Terry Glover, review of Crêpes by Suzette, p. 883.
Childhood Education, spring, 1993, Joan M. Hildebrand, review of Mr. Cookie Baker, p. 174.
Horn Book, May, 1989, Ellen Fader, review of All My Little Ducklings, pp. 366-367.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1989, p. 556; December 15, 1991, p. 1600; February 15, 1995, review of Night House, Bright House, p. 234; November 15, 1996, review of Night House, Bright House, p. 1677; May 1, 1998, review of Night City, p. 666; September 1, 2002, review of Firefighter Frank, p. 1323; January 15, 2004, review of Crêpes by Suzette, p. 90.
Publishers Weekly, February 26, 1988, review of Who Is Tapping at My Window?, p. 194; February 13, 1995, review of Night Rabbits, p. 77; July 3, 1995, review of Baby in a Buggy and Baby in a Car, p. 59; December 16, 1996, review of Night House, Bright House, p. 58; March 8, 2004, review of Crêpes by Suzette, p. 72.
School Arts, October, 2004, Ken Marantz, review of Crêpes by Suzette, p. 66.
School Library Journal, October 1990, Danita Nichols, review of Seasons of Swans, p. 104; March, 1992, Nancy Seiner, review of The Sheep Follow, p. 225; January, 1993, p. 88; March, 1995, p. 189; September, 1995, p. 188; June, 1997, Darla Remple, review of Baby at Home, p. 102; May, 2000, Wendy Lukeheart, review of Squeaking of Art, p. 165; October, 2000, Lisa Smith, review of Bunny's First Snowflake, p. 142; August, 2001, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Apple Farmer Annie, p. 197; January, 2003, Linda M. Kenton, review of Firefighter Frank, pp. 114-115; March, 2004, Lauralyn Persson, review of Crêpes by Suzette, p. 186.
Monica Wellington Home Page, http://www.monicawellington.com (January 10, 2005).