John (Carl) Himmelman (1959-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1959, in Kittery, ME; Education: School of Visual Arts, B.F.A., 1981. Politics: "Independent." Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Nature photography, bocce, backpacking, travel.
Writer and illustrator, 1981—. Teacher of children's book writing and illustration; naturalist and lecturer on nature topics. Muralist for Boston Science Museum, 2001.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Lepidopterists Society, Connecticut Butterfly Association (co-founder and vice president), Connecticut Botanical Society, Connecticut Entomological Society, Connecticut Ornithological Society, New Haven Bird Club (director and past president), Killingworth Land Trust (director), Killingworth Lions Club.
A Book Can Develop Empathy Award, New York State Humane Association, 1991, for Ibis, a True Whale Story.
Talester the Lizard, Dial (New York, NY), 1982.
Amanda and the Witch Switch, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
Amanda and the Magic Garden, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
The Talking Tree, or, Don't Believe Everything You Hear, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
Montigue on the High Seas, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
The Ups and Downs of Simpson Snail, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.
The Day-off Machine, Silver Burdett, 1990.
Ellen and the Goldfish, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
The Great Leaf Blast-Off, Silver Burdett, 1990.
Ibis, a True Whale Story, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
The Clover County Carrot Contest, Silver Burdett, 1991.
A Guest Is a Guest, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
The Super Camper Caper, Silver Burdett, 1991.
Simpson Snail Sings, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
Wanted: Perfect Parents, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1993.
I'm Not Scared! A Book of Scary Poems, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Lights Out!, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
J. J. versus the Babysitter, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1996.
Honest Tulio, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1997.
The Animal Rescue Club, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Pipaluk and the Whales, National Geographic Society (Washington, DC), 2002.
Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard, Down East Books (Camden, ME), 2002.
Frog in a Bog, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2004.
Mouse in a Meadow, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2005.
"NATURE UPCLOSE" SERIES
A Slug's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Salamander's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Luna Moth's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Ladybug's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Dandelion's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Wood Frog's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
A Pill Bug's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
A Monarch Butterfly's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
A House Spider's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
A Mouse's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
A Hummingbird's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
An Earthworm's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
A Mealworm's Life, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Barbara Ware Holmes, Charlotte Cheetham, Master of Disaster, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
Marjorie Sharmat, Go to Sleep, Nicholas Joe, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
Michele Stepto, Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986.
Barbara Ware Holmes, Charlotte the Starlet, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1988.
Barbara Ware Holmes, Charlotte Shakespeare and Annie the Great, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.
Marcia Leonard, Rainboots for Breakfast, Silver Burdett, 1989.
Marcia Leonard, Shopping for Snowflakes, Silver Burdett, 1989.
Julia Hoban, Buzby, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.
Marcia Leonard, What Next?, Silver Burdett, 1990.
Eric Carpenter, Young Christopher Columbus: Discoverer of New Worlds, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1992.
Andrew Woods, Young George Washington: America's First President, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1992.
Leslie Kimmelman, Hanukkah Lights, Hanukkah Nights, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Julia Hoban, Buzby to the Rescue, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Wendy Lewison, Let's Count, Joshua Morris, 1995.
Carolyn Graham, The Story of Myrtle Marie, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.
Graham, The Story of the Fisherman and the Turtle Princess, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.
Claire Nemes, Young Thomas Edison: Great Inventor, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Leslie Kimmelman, Hooray, It's Passover!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Leslie Kimmelman, Uncle Jake Blows the Shofar, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1998.
Leslie Kimmelman, Sound the Shofar!: A Story for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Robert Kraus, Mort the Sport, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Also author of Ben's Birthday Wish and Sarah and the Terns, published by Harcourt; illustrator of Animal Countdown and The Christmas Star, published by Joshua Morris, and The Myrtle Marie Chant Book, published by Harcourt; illustrator of Ugrashimataro (animated video), ALC Press. Contributor of articles to Birdwatcher's Digest and illustrations to Wildlife Conservation magazine.
Over the course of his career, John Himmelman has written or illustrated numerous books that reflect his love of nature, particularly the interesting plants and creatures to be found in the northeastern United States. In addition to his many contributions to the "Nature Upclose" series, which includes A Wood Frog's Life, A House Spider's Life, and A Dandelion's Life, he has penned books such as Frog in a Bog, which focuses on the web of life in a wetland environment, and Mouse in a Meadow, in which he opens a window onto the quiet ecosystem in a New England meadow. Praising Mouse in a Meadow for Kirkus Reviews, a reviewer noted that the book serves as "an engaging invitation to young naturalist to go outside … and look around." In Publishers Weekly a critic made special note of Himmelman's "crisp, meticulously detailed watercolors and concise" storyline, adding that the author "skillfully and sympathetically portrays the meadow's circle of life."
Born in Kittery, Maine, Himmelman moved south to Long Island, New York, with his family at age two. "Growing up, my main interests revolved around watching and collecting insects," he once told Something about the Author (SATA). "In fact, the first book I ever wrote (in third grade) was about this subject. I wanted to be an entomologist and I was eager to learn as much as I could about the little crawly things that surround us.…Writing and art were also a very big part of my life. I wrote stories just for the fun of it, and painting and drawing took up a good amount of my spare time."
Because he loved both animals and art, Himmelman had a difficult time deciding which field to study: art or veterinary medicine. "One night, after weeks of deliberation, I went for a walk. I told my parents that I wasn't coming back until I had made a decision. I walked for hours, mulling over my choices. I decided that being a veterinarian would leave me little time for being an artist; however, if I pursued art, there would be other avenues open to me in which I could work with animals, such as wildlife rehabilitation."
Enrolling at the School of Visual Arts in 1977, Himmelman again faced a difficult career decision. He took courses in cartooning, advertising, and creative writing, but recalled that "the prospect of making a living in these fields was frightening! By the last half of my fourth and last year of college, I still had no idea of how I was going to make a living as an artist." On a whim, he took a course in writing and illustrating children's books taught by Dale Payson. Assigned to write and illustrate his own book, Himmelman created a story featuring a lizard named Talester; it would eventually become his first published book.
Talester the Lizard tells the story of a pop-eyed green lizard who lives inside a curled-up leaf that hangs over a pond. Every day, he peeks out of his house to see his reflection in the water below, and believes he is looking at another lizard. Although his friend never speaks, Talester finds him a sympathetic listener and enjoys his company. But one day, the pond dries up and his friend disappears. Talester then sets out on a comic adventure in search of his missing friend, but is unable to find him. He returns home in a rainstorm, and the next morning he is amazed to find that his friend has reappeared. "Pastel pictures, spare in composition, make it clear that Talester sees his reflection," stated Zena Sutherland in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "and children can enjoy the superiority of knowing that." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that Talester the Lizard is "sure to please tots and beginning readers."
After earning his bachelor of fine arts degree in 1981, Himmelman used the proceeds from his first book to buy a car and travel across the country. In 1982, he moved to East Haven, Connecticut, married, and worked a series of odd jobs while building his career as a picture-book author. "It took about six years before I could make a full-time living in children's books," Himmelman explained to SATA. Meanwhile, he and his wife built a house in a rural area that, as the author recalled, "was surrounded by acres of woods, and I got to pursue my love of nature. In time, birds and butterflies became my main focus of interest, and they still are." In addition to creating a survey of the number and types of birds that visited bird feeders throughout southern Connecticut, he also helped found the Connecticut Butterfly Association and spent time rehabilitating orphaned and injured wildlife with the Nature Connection.
Himmelman's "Amanda" books, which include Amanda and the Witch Switch and Amanda and the Magic Garden, center around a well-meaning witch who encounters trouble despite her best efforts. In the first book Amanda walks through the woods using her magic for good things, like making the flowers bloom and teaching the trees to sing. Then she meets a toad and grants his wish to become a witch. However, the toad uses his powers badly, turning Amanda into a toad, transforming rocks into marshmallows, and making a bee become the size of a bear. Finally, after the giant bee attacks the toad-witch, the misguided amphibian begs Amanda to restore him to his old self. In the second book, Amanda plants magic seeds that grow giant vegetables, only to find that any animals eating the vegetables become huge as well. She finally finds another spell that undoes the damage: she grows tiny vegetables that restore the animals to their original size. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Amanda and the Witch Switch "entrancing, graced by witty, almost speaking pictures in brilliant hues." Although Barbara Peklo, reviewing Amanda and the Magic Garden for School Library Journal, found the story "strained," Denise M. Wilms wrote in Booklist that "the changing proportions add a comical element that will appeal to children."
Other picture-book stories by Himmelman include Wanted: Perfect Parents and Mort the Sport. In the first book Himmelman tells the story of a young boy named Gregory who posts a "help wanted" sign on his bedroom door. When his parents ask him about it, Gregory provides them with a detailed description of the qualities he feels ideal parents should possess: they would never make their children clean their rooms; would allow them to make snowballs out of ice cream, paint all over the walls of the house, and acquire as many pets as they wanted. Despite such outrageous requirements, Gregory finally announces the most important quality and finds that both his mom and dad fit the bill: perfect parents tuck their children into bed, wish them sweet dreams, and check under the bed for monsters. Mort the Sport finds a young, sports-loving elephant trying share his free time between the violin lessons his parents want him to take and the baseball games he loves to play. Reviewing Wanted: Perfect Parents for Booklist, Deborah Abbott stated that "the read-aloud crowd will love the fantasies of this 'perfect' world, made thoroughly enticing by Himmelman's whimsical color drawings." Calling the title character of Mort the Sport "an endearingly confused elephant," School Library Journal reviewer Judith Constantinides praised the author/illustrator's "brightly colored cartoon illustrations" and noted that the book has "great storytime potential."
In each volume in the "Nature Upclose" series Himmelman focuses reader attention on a single animal or plant, and follows his subject through its entire lifetime through the detailed paintings he creates to accompany his text. Often, connection with humans threatens the creature, as when a tiny spider is almost sucked into a vacuum cleaner in A House Spider's Life or when a dandelion growing in a lawn barely survives a weekly pass by the lawn mower. Noting the variety of subjects covered in the series, Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan added that the series titles serve as "good read-aloud science books for the primary grades," while in Anne Chapman's review of A Pill Bug's Life for School Library Journal the critic noted that Himmelman's "large, appealing illustration[s" draw … youngsters into the action." Praising the author for creating "vividly illustrated picture stories," School Library Journal reviewer Karey Wehner added that the series features a "clearly written and logically organized text, … attractive format and cleverly composed illustrations."
In 1991, Himmelman and his family moved to Killingworth, a more rural area of Connecticut. His two children, Jeffrey and Elizabeth, have shared many of their father's interests, while his wife, Betsy, provides valuable help with his work. "Not a drawing, painting, or manuscript goes off to an editor or art director without input from my wife, Betsy. Being married to an art teacher has helped to ease that uncomfortable feeling of wondering how a piece of art will look to someone else." While teaching writing to both children and adults as well as working as a naturalist occupy much of his non-writing time, he also enjoys watching and photographing animals, particularly the annual migration of birds along the coast of Connecticut. "So many natural events," Himmelman concluded, "so many stories to be inspired by them."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, March 1, 1987, Denise M. Wilms, review of Amanda and the Magic Garden, p. 1013; March 15, 1988, p. 1258; December 1, 1989, p. 751; June 1, 1991, p. 1883; October 15, 1993, Deborah Abbott, review of Wanted: Perfect Parents; February 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Frog in a Bog, p. 1063.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1982, Zena Sutherland, review of Talester the Lizard, p. 188; January, 1986, p. 87; February, 1988, p. 118; December 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Wood Frog's Life, p. 682; December 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Dandelion's Life, p. 682; February 15, 2000, Ellen Mandel, review of Mort the Sport, p. 1118.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1988, p. 54; August 1, 1989, p. 1158; November 1, 1989, p. 1602; August 15, 1990, p. 1176; June 1, 1991, p. 736; January 1, 1997, p. 59; January 1, 2004, review of Frog in a Bog, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, February 5, 1982, review of Talester the Lizard, p. 387; June 28, 1985, review of Amanda and the Witch Switch, p. 75; December 11, 1987, p. 64; January 15, 1988, p. 97; June 29, 1990, p. 101; March 8, 1991, p. 74; September 7, 1992, p. 62; May 1, 1995, p. 58.
School Library Journal, October, 1985, p. 155; August, 1987, Barbara Peklo, review of Amanda and the Magic Garden, p. 69; December, 1988, p. 87; January, 1991, p. 86; March, 1991, p. 173; October, 1992, p. 42; May, 1996, p. 92; March, 2000, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of A Pill Bug's Life, p. 226; March, 2000, Karey Wehner, review of A Monarch Butterfly's Life, p. 226; March, 2000, Karey Wehner, review of A House Spider's Life, p. 226; April, 2000, Judith Constantinides, review of Mort the Sport, p. 107; September, 2002, Sue Sherif, review of Pipaluk and the Whales, p. 194; March, 2004, Corrina Austin, review of Frog in a Bog, p. 195.
John Himmelman's Web site, http://www.booksandnature.homestead.com (April 2, 2005).*
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