Olivier (Jean-Paul Dominique) Dunrea (1953-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Writings, Sidelights
Surname is pronounced "DUN-ray"; born 1953, in Virginia Beach, VA; Education: Attended University of Delaware, 1971-73; West Chester State College (now University), B.A., 1975; Washington State University, M.A. (theater and music), 1976. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, running, gardening, camping, and building stone dams.
Illustrator and author. Worked variously as a waiter, secretary, and management consultant; freelance artist and actor in Philadelphia, PA, San Francisco, CA, and New York, NY, 1976-79; writer and illustrator, beginning 1976. Teacher of art and theater to children; leader of workshops in makeup design, watercolor illustration, mask making, movement and nonverbal communication, and model building. Has exhibited in Philadelphia, PA, and New York, NY.
Cooper/Woods Award (travel grant), English-speaking Union, 1980; residency grant, National Endowment for the Arts/Delaware State Arts Council, 1981-83; named Outstanding Pennsylvania Children's Author, 1985; Celebrating Literacy Award, International Reading Association, 1987; Skara Brae selected one of Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year, 1987.
PICTURE BOOKS; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Eddy B, Pigboy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
Ravena, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1984.
Fergus and Bridey, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1985.
Mogwogs on the March!, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1985.
Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1986.
Deep down Underground, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Eppie M. Says …, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
The Broody Hen, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.
The Painter Who Loved Chickens, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.
Noggin and Bobbin by the Sea, Celebration Press (Glen-view, IL), 1996.
The Tale of Hilda Louise, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
The Trow-Wife's Treasure, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
Appearing Tonight! Mary Heather Elizabeth Livingstone, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.
Bear Noel, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
It's Snowing, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.
Gossie, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Gossie and Gertie, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Essie and Myles, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
Ollie, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Ollie the Stomper, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Peedie, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
BooBoo, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Hanne's Quest, Philomel (New York, NY), 2005.
Merry Christmas, Ollie!, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Gosling on the Prowl, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Ollie's Eggs, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.
Nathan Zimelman, The Star of Melvin, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1987.
Barbara Brenner, The Boy Who Loved to Draw: Benjamin West, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1998.
Joy Cowley, The Rusty, Trusty Tractor, Boyds Mills Press (Mankato, MN), 1999.
Alice Schertle, A Very Hairy Bear, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2004.
The Writing Process, Stronetrow Studio, 1990.
Since his debut in 1983, author and illustrator Olivier Dunrea has created a steady stream of picture books, including concept books, stories of family life—modern and ancient—and stories about artists. Many of Dunrea's picture books testify to his love of animals and his interest in archaeology and folklore of the British Isles, and several—including Ravena, The Trow-Wife's Treasure, and Bear Noel—take place in a similar land of Dunrea's own creation: the mythic island of Moel Eyris. "I don't write books or make pictures for children," Dunrea once told Something about the Author (SATA). "I make them for myself. It just so happens that children like what I do as much as I do!"
The middle child of four, Dunrea was born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, in 1953, and grew up in a busy household full of siblings and pets. "As a child my major fascination was with farm animals and rocks," the author/illustrator once explained. "Most of my time was spent either taking care of livestock on our homestead or drawing them and making up stories about them. Chickens, geese and pigs are my favorites." Dunrea was the only person in his family to attend college, earning a master of arts degree in theater arts and music. For five years, he worked as a professional actor, singer, and dancer, and also designed stage sets and costumes.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Dunrea made several trips to Scotland, the Orkney Islands, and the Outer Hebrides islands, where he researched—including sketching, painting, and photographing—ancient monuments. As Dunrea explained, "the world seems so very complicated—to both children and adults alike. My fascination is with the ancient past, when things were more mysterious, more magical, and more permanent. Therefore, my favorite kind of stories to write and illustrate usually center around my own characters that I've created from my imagination. They live in a prehistoric, stony setting."
In books such as Ravena, Mogwogs on the March!, Deep down Underground, and The Trow-Wife's Treasure Dunrea demonstrates his interest in archaeology and folklore, setting his stories in Moel Eyris. Ravena tells the story of a nonconformist banshee, a female spirit common to Scottish folklore who searches for a new home. Noting Dunrea's pastel illustrations, contained with frames of stones, a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that they "convey the atmosphere of the locale," while School Library Journal critic Hayden E. Atwood deemed the artwork "superior."
In the concept book Mogwogs on the March! Dunrea's storyline follows a group of gnomes going on a hike. In Publishers Weekly Jean F. Mercier found the brightly attired gnomes "beguiling." Another concept book, Deep down Underground teaches counting by following the trail of a mole through its underground passageways. Critics praised the work for its art as well as for Dunrea's rhyming, alliterative, and onomatopoetic text. A Publishers Weekly reviewer pointed out the book's "unusual theme and lovely art," while Horn Book critic Ellen Fader described the work as "out of the ordinary and intriguing." Deep down Underground is a "celebration of nature, a delightful puzzle, and an invitation to look sharply at the small wonders around us," concluded Anna Biagioni Hart in School Library Journal.
In The Trow-Wife's Treasure Dunrea recounts, using Scottish dialect, how a farmer named Bracken van Eyck helps a troll-like woman find her missing child after the infant is blown away by a gust of wind. Although Horn Book reviewer Nancy Vasilakis noted that the plot appears to tell a "simple story of kindness rewarded," she added that the illustrations in Dunrea's "arresting book suggest something deeper and more mystical." Booklist critic Helen Rosenberg remarked on the "detailed and striking" illustrations and called the work a "satisfying tale, with true Scottish flavor."
In the nonfiction picture book Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village Dunrea reveals to young readers a glimpse of prehistoric life in Skara Brae, an ancient community whose vestiges have been discovered in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. Among Dunrea's many pen-and-ink drawings are seascapes, architectural diagrams and site plans, and imagined scenes of village life. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Zena Sutherland praised the text as "well written and organized," adding that "graceful illustrations elaborate significantly on an inherently interesting subject." Horn Book critic Ann A. Flowers wrote that Dunrea's text "gives a clear description of the settlers' primitive way of life" and that his "illustrations are fascinating," although some drawings of animals and humans are "not quite convincing." "Children and adults are sure to be intrigued," Marguerite F. Raybould asserted in a School Library Journal review of Skara Brae.
Readers return with Dunrea to Moel Eyris in Bear Noel, which finds a polar bear taking on the role of Santa Claus to the creatures of snowy the north woods. As a gentle snow falls, the bear presents a gift to the many animals of the area: a tree decorated with seeds, nuts, and berries. Praising the book as a "quiet" tale, Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido added that in his lush opaque watercolor artwork Dunrea "beautifully creates the effect of falling snow." By using a restrained palette of earth tones highlighted by a warm red, he imbues the book with "a celebratory feel," the critic continued. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the illustrator's "gorgeous, lifelike landscapes … exude a quiet, satisfying beauty," while in School Library Journey a contributor announced that "the paintings area the best part" of Bear Noel. While praising the art in her New York Times Book Review article, Karen Leggett added that Bear Noel "is as simple, complex and elegant a story as each single snowflake."
Dunrea focuses on the very young reader with a selection of small-sized picture-book tales that focus on a group of goslings. In Gossie he introduces a silly gosling who decides to share her love of fashionable shoes with her friend Gertie, and the two appear together in Gossie and Gertie. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author/illustrator "imbues both goslings with distinctive, endearing personalities and chronicles experiences every preschooler can recognize." Noting that Dunrea's tales are "as unassuming yet satisfying as the art that illustrates them," Carolyn Phelan suggested in Booklist that, with their use of primary colors, repetitive texts, simple stories, and a dash of rhyme, the books would be equally entertaining to toddlers and older pre-school children.
Dunrea adds to his feathered menagerie with Ollie, Ollie the Stomper, Peedie, and BooBoo. In Ollie readers meet a stubborn little gosling who takes his time hatching from his egg. Ollie continues forge his own path in Ollie the Stomper, which finds the gosling enjoying some colorful new boots. In BooBoo a blue gosling eats anything that crosses her path, while Peedie introduces a yellow gosling who forgets everything. School Library Journal contributor Gay Lynn Van Vleck wrote that Dunrea's small-sized picture books are a "perfect match of simple sentence and spare but precious" pen-and-ink and watercolor art, while other critics praised the use of a large font and uncluttered artwork. A Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed several of the volumes "winsome," while in School Library Journal Marge Louch-Wouters wrote that "Dunrea's feathered characters have the look and feel of preschoolers rapt in their own discovery of the world."
In addition to his large-format picture books and his smaller "gosling" books for smaller hands, Dunrea has illustrated several texts by other authors, among them Barbara Brenner's picture-book biography of colonial American artist Benjamin West, titled The Boy Who Loved to Draw, and Joy Cowley's The Rusty, Trusty Tractor. For Brenner's book Dunrea created period paintings that "pay their respects to the art of the period but retain … a childlike puckishness," to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. According to Carolyn Phelan in Booklist, Dunrea's illustrations for The Boy Who Loved to Draw "present clear visual expressions of the activities and emotions related in the story." Horn Book critic Mary M. Burns declared the work a "handsome interpretation, faithful to its subject, lively to read, distinctively colonial in pictorial content, and cast in a well-designed format."
In addition to writing about West, Dunrea has authored a self-illustrated fictional work about an artist, titled The Painter Who Loved Chickens. In this work, which draws on its author's love of fowl, after halfheartedly painting other subjects, an artist finally gains acclaim by painting the animal he loves most. The "unassuming text straightforwardly conveys his emotion-filled, clearly delineated story," praised a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Mary M. Burns wrote in Horn Book that the book is a "tribute to individual talent and dogged determination," while in Booklist Hazel Rochman dubbed The Painter Who Loved Chickens "a zany story" and "a joyful celebration of following your dreams."
Dunrea makes his home in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. His house, Henwoodie, houses his studio, living quarters, and a gallery space. Dunrea shares his home with two other artists, as well as with a number of dogs. On the Henwoodie Web site he included some advice for beginning writers: "As a writer it is important to write about the things and people you care about. Write from the heart. Pay close attention to the details—both in your writing and your illustrating .… Listen to your words. Let your ear tell you when something doesn't sound right."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, March 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Painter Who Loved Chickens, p. 1247; April 15, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of The Trow-Wife's Treasure, pp. 1450-1451; March 15, 1999, p. 1332; September 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Boy Who Loved to Draw: Benjamin West, p. 262; September 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. De Candido, review of Bear Noel, p. 131; August, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Gossie, p. 1970; November 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of It's Snowing!, p. 609; October 1, 2003, Jennifer Locke, review of Ollie and Ollie the Stomper, p. 326; August, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Boo Boo and Peedie, p. 1941.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1984, p. 64; May, 1986, Zena Sutherland, review of Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village, p. 164.
Horn Book, September-October, 1986, Ann A. Flowers, review of Skara Brae, p. 607; November-December, 1989, Ellen Fader, review of Deep down Underground, p. 757; July-August, 1995, Mary M. Burns, review of The Painter Who Loved Chickens, pp. 448-449; July-August, 1998, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Trow-Wife's Treasure, pp. 471-472; September, 1999, Mary M. Burns, review of The Boy Who Loved to Draw, p. 622; September-October, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of It's Snowing, p. 550; January-February, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of Gossie, p. 55.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Gossie, p. 879; July 1, 2003, review of Ollie, p. 909; July 15, 2004, review of Boo Boo and Peedie, p. 684.
New York Times Book Review, September 15, 1985, p. 20; May 21, 1995, p. 22; December 3, 2000, Karen Leggett, review of Bear Noel.
Publishers Weekly, November 9, 1984, review of Ravena, p. 65; March 22, 1985, review of Fergus and Bridey, p. 59; December 6, 1985, Jean F. Mercier, review of Mogwogs on the March!, p. 75; September 29, 1989, review of Deep down Underground, p. 67; September 14, 1990, p. 124; March 13, 1995, review of The Painter Who Loved Chickens, p. 69; September 2, 1996, pp. 129-130; February 9, 1998, p. 95; March 1, 1999, p. 68; July 5, 1999, review of The Boy Who Loved to Draw, p. 70; January 10, 2000, p. 70; September, 25, 2000, review of Bear Noel, p. 69; July 15, 2002, review of Gossie and Gossie and Gertie, p. 72; October 21, 2002, review of It's Snowing!, p. 73; July 14, 2003, review of Ollie, and Ollie the Stomper, p. 75.
School Library Journal, November, 1984, Hayden E. Atwood, review of Ravena, p. 106; August, 1985, p. 53; December, 1985, pp. 71-72; May, 1986, Marguerite F. Raybould, review of Skara Brae, p. 90; September, 1989, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of Deep down Underground, p. 224; October, 1990, John Peters, review of Eppie M. Says …, p. 90; June, 1995, p. 80; September, 1996, p. 177; October, 1999, p. 134; October, 2000, review of Bear Noel, p. 59; September, 2002, Laurie von Mehren, review of Gossie, p. 189; October, 2002, Susan Pine, review of It's Snowing, p. 103; July, 2003, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Ollie, p. 95; October, 2004, Marge Loch-Wouters, review of Boo Boo and Peedie, p. 112.
Henwoodie Web site, http://www.henwoodie.com/ (May 3, 2005), "Olivier Dunrea."*
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