Lisa Thiesing (1958-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Surname is pronounced "T-zing"; born 1958, in New York, NY; Education: Parsons School of Design, B.F.A., 1980. Politics: "Independent." Religion: "Non-sectarian Christian." Hobbies and other interests: Dogs, horses, ballet and musicals.
Family School, New York, NY, Montessori teacher, 1982-84; freelance illustrator, 1989—.
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council (CBC), 1989, for The Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane; Children's Choice selection, International Reading Association/CBC, 1994, for Pudmuddles; Hilda and the Mad Scientist was named a Bank Street Book of the Year, 1996; Michigan Great Lakes Great Books Award, Delaward Diamonds Award, and Miami Herald Best Book of the Year designation, all c. 2002, all for The Viper.
Me and You: A Mother-Daughter Album, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 1998.
All Better, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.
The Viper, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Aliens Are Coming, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2004.
A Dark and Noisy Night, Dutton (New York, NY), 2005.
Sam McBratney, The Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1989.
Brian Ball, The Quest for Queenie, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.
Bill Apablasa, Rhymin' Simon and the Mystery of the Fat Cat, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Nancy Jewell, Two Silly Trolls, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Carol B. York, Pudmuddles, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Bill Apablasa, Rhymin' Simon and the Mystery of the Fake Snake, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Sam McBratney, The Ghastly Gertie Swindle: With the Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
Addie Adam, Hilda and the Mad Scientist, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Nancy Jewell, Silly Times with Two Silly Trolls, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Janice Lee Smith, Jess and the Stinky Cowboys, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2004.
Work in Progress
Peggy's New Clothes (working title), for Dutton, 2006.
After illustrating several books for other authors, Lisa Thiesing turned to self-illustrated works in 1998, with the publication of Me and You: A Mother-Daughter Album. The book features side-by-side watercolor "photographs" of the artist and her daughter, Katherine, when both were small children, with the mother's baby pictures in black and white and the child's in color. Thiesing's more recent self-illustrated books The Viper, The Aliens Are Coming!, and A Dark and Noisy Night, teach children important life skills in the context of funny faux-horror tales. The former title, which teaches units of time, is based on an old campfire joke disguised as a terrifying tale. In The Viper, Peggy the pig keeps getting phone calls from a mysterious man with a thick German accent who calls himself "the viper." In every call, "the viper" tells Peggy how long it will be until he comes. At first he says he will come in one year, and Peggy doesn't worry too much about it. But then his coming gets closer and closer—in one month, in one "veek," then in only a few days. As the day of his coming arrives, Thiesing's illustration shows Peggy huddling in a pitch-black room, with only her eyes and the glowing display on her digital clock visible. Then the pig sees a shadow on her blinds—the viper is here! But instead of some terrifying snake, it is only Willy the Window Wiper, the Wiemeraner who gives her house's windows their annual washing. "This book is absolutely delightful," Anne Knickerbocker concluded in School Library Journal, and "few beginning readers are as good as this one to promote reading with expression." Plus, noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "young readers will thrill to its mildly scary tone and funny ending."
Peggy the pig returns in The Aliens Are Coming!, which teaches beginning readers about geography and map-reading. This book draws on the Beatle-mania that swept the world in the 1960s and on the nationwide panic brought about by Orson Welles's 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds. Once again the pig senses danger: the announcer on the radio keeps telling her that "The Aliens are coming!" As the announcer traces the Aliens' progress across Europe, Japan, and into the United States, Peggy follows along on her globe and her maps. The closer the Aliens get to her hometown, the more frightened she becomes. By the time they arrive, she is huddled in a bunker dressed for a war, wearing camouflage and a gas mask, with plenty of non-perishable food stockpiled in her house. But then her friend comes and drags her out, and Peggy learns the truth: the Aliens are a rock band—and a pretty good one! Thiesing's "comical illustrations" extend the tale, Andrea Tarr noted in School Library Journal. Booklist reviewer Karin Snelson also praised Thiesing's artwork for this title, calling it "artful and endearing."
Among the books Thiesing has illustrated for other authors is Jess and the Stinky Cowboys. This book by Janice Lee Smith is a Western tale about a sheriff's daughter, Deputy Jess, who has been left in charge while her father is away. She is quickly faced with four major lawbreakers: putrid-smelling cowboys who refuse to take baths, in clear violation of the town's No-Stink Law. Thiesing's illustrations "depicting dirty dogs in cowboy clothing with a brown cloud hovering above add to the enjoyment" of the tale, concluded Knickerbocker, again writing in School Library Journal. Booklist contributor Jennifer Mattson also praised Thiesing's decision to make the characters dogs rather than humans—"considering canines' sensitive sniffers and odiferous tendencies, [it] makes perfect, silly sense," she wrote.
Thiesing told Something about the Author: "It's taken me a long time to feel comfortable calling myself an 'author.' But now that I'm starting on the drawings for the sixth book that I've written, I guess I have to!
"Since I am first of all an illustrator, I think I approach writing visually. I always start with the text, but the storyline needs to be interesting to draw. Because the books are short, each word becomes even more important. Sometimes It's like a game or a puzzle—how to make this story comprehensible, exciting, and entertaining in as clear a manner and in as few words as possible. The illustrations then are there to make the words more understandable.
"Recently I have been writing my own series of easy readers, my 'Silly Thrillers with Peggy the Pig.' I used to be a Montessori teacher, so I do try to incorporate an educational concept within each story, but avoid hitting the reader over the head with it. The first one, The Viper, deals with time, The Aliens Are Coming! with geography, and A Dark and Noisy Night with onomatopoeia. Actually, the unifying theme these books all share is fear. For children, fear is a very real and tangible emotion, whereas other emotions can be fairly abstract. It can also be very entertaining! All of these stories have a funny ending, so the fear is dissipated into laughter. I am very much like the main character, Peggy, and tend to imagine the worst. So, for me, the important lesson here is to learn to laugh at what I fear.
"Kids learn the most when they enjoy what they are doing. And so, my goal is to make reading fun! Learning to read doesn't have to be boring and rote. It can be engaging and funny enough to want to read more. One of my most satisfying experiences is when I'm reading to a group of children and they are all gasping with suspense and anticipation. And then at the end of the story, when they erupt into peals of laughter, I feel like I may have achieved my goal."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1994, p. 500; June 1, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Hilda and the Mad Scientist, p. 1781; July, 1998, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Me and You: A Mother-Daughter Album, p. 1890; February 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Jess and the Stinky Cowboys, p. 1064; September 1, 2004, Karin Snelson, review of The Aliens Are Coming!, p. 137.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1989, pp. 231-232.
Children's Bookwatch, September, 2004, review of The Aliens Are Coming!, p. 5.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1989, p. 380; June 15, 2002, review of The Viper, p. 889; February 1, 2004, review of Jess and the Stinky Cowboys, p. 138; July 15, 2004, review of The Aliens Are Coming!, p. 694.
Publishers Weekly, July 27, 1992, review of Two Silly Trolls, p. 62; July 3, 1995, review of Hilda and the Mad Scientist, p. 60; May 18, 1998, review of Me and You: A Mother-Daugher Album, p. 77.
School Library Journal, May, 1989, Bruce Ann Shook, review of The Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane, p. 110; December, 1994, Cheryl Cufari, review of The Ghastly Gerty Swindle: With the Ghosts of Hungryhouse Lane, pp. 110-111; August, 1995, Carole D. Fiore, review of Hilda and the Mad Scientist, p. 114; July, 1996, Barbara McGinn, review of Silly Times with Two Silly Trolls, p. 66; August, 2002, Anne Knickerbocker, review of The Viper, p. 170; October, 2003, review of The Viper, p. 36; February, 2004, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Jess and the Stinky Cowboys, p. 122; August, 2004, Andrea Tarr, review of The Aliens Are Coming!, p. 97.
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