Gail E(inhart) Haley (1939–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1939, in Charlotte, NC; Education: Attended Richmond Professional Institute, 1957–59, and University of Virginia, 1960–64.
Office—Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Edwin Duncan Hall, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, 28608. Agent—Sheldon Fogelman, 10 East 40th Street, New York, NY, 10016.
Manuscript Press, New York, NY, vice president, beginning 1965; Appalachian State University, Boone, NC, currently writer-in-residence and curator of Gail Haley Collection of the Culture of Childhood. Artist, author, and illustrator of children's books and educational material, and designer of toys and fashion items. Toured Great Britain in one-woman multimedia show "Get into a Book." Actively involved in the design and utilization of puppetry in education. Exhibitions: Graphics and illustrations exhibited at libraries and museums in southern states and New York. Work included in permanent collections at the University of Minnesota, Jacksonville (FL) Children's Museum, University of Southern Mississippi, and Appalachian State University.
Puppeteers of America, UNIMA.
Boston Globe-Horn Book honor award for illustration, 1970, and Caldecott Medal, American Library Association, 1971, both for A Story, a Story; Czechoslovak Children's Film Festival Award for best animated children's film of the year, 1974; Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, British Library Association, 1977, and Kadai Tosho award (Japan), both for The Post Office Cat; Parents' Choice Award for illustration, 1980, for The Green Man; Children's Book Council children's choice selection, 1984, for Birdsong; Kerlan Award, University of Minnesota Kerlan Collection, 1989, for lifetime achievement and contribution to children's literature; National Council for the Social Studies Notable Children's Book award, 1986, for Jack and the Bean Tree.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
My Kingdom for a Dragon, Cozet Print Shop, 1962.
The Wonderful Magical World of Marguerite: With the Entire Cast of Characters including Rocks, Roses, Mushrooms, Daisies, Violets, Snails, Butterflies, Breezes, and Above All—the Sun, McGraw (New York, NY), 1964.
Round Stories about Our World, Follett (Chicago, IL), 1966.
Round Stories about Things That Grow, Follett (Chicago, IL), 1966.
Round Stories about Things That Live in Water, Follett (Chicago, IL), 1966.
Round Stories about Things That Live on Land, Follett (Chicago, IL), 1966.
(Reteller) A Story, a Story: An African Tale, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1970.
Noah's Ark, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971.
Jack Jouett's Ride, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.
The Abominable Swampman, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.
The Post Office Cat, Scribner (New York, NY), 1976.
Go away, Stay Away!, Scribner (New York, NY), 1977.
Costumes for Plays and Playing, Methuen (London, England), 1978.
The Green Man, Scribner (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, New River (Blowing Rock, NC), 2003
A Story, a Day, Methuen (London, England), 1979.
Gail Haley's Costume Book, Volume I: Dress up and Have Fun, Magnet Books (New York, NY), 1979.
Gail Haley's Costume Book, Volume II: Dress up and Play, Magnet Books (New York, NY), 1980.
Birdsong, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.
Jack and the Bean Tree, Crown (New York, NY), 1986.
Jack and the Fire Dragon, Crown (New York, NY), 1988.
Marguerite, Lion Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Sea Tale, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
Puss in Boots, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Mountain Jack Tales, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992, new edition, Parkway Publishers (Boone, NC), 2001.
Dream Peddler, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.
(Reteller) Two Bad Boys: A Very Old Cherokee Tale, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
(Reteller) Kokopelli: Drum in Belly, Filter Press (Palmer Lake, CO), 2003.
Play People: Puppetry in Education, Appalachian State University (Boone, NC), 1988.
(With David Considine) Visual Messages: Integrating Imagery into Instruction, K-12 Resource, Libraries Unlimited (Englewood, CO), 1992, second edition, Teacher Ideas Press (Englewood, CO), 1999.
(With David Considine and Lyn Ellen Lacy) Imagine That: Developing Critical Thinking and Critical Viewing through Children's Literature, Teacher Idea Press, 1994.
Costumes for Plays and Playing, Parkway Publications (Boone, NC), 2002.
Francelia Butler, editor, The Skip Rope Book, Dial (New York, NY), 1962.
Jane Yolen, editor, One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: A Book of Counting Rhymes, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964.
James Holding, The Three Wishes of Hu, Putnam (New York, NY), 1964.
Bernice Kohn, Koalas, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1965.
Lois Wyse, P.S., Happy Anniversary, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1966.
Hannah Rush, The Peek-A-Boo Book of Puppies and Kittens, T. Nelson (London, England), 1966.
Solveig Russell, Which Is Which?, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1966.
(With others) E. L. Konigsburg, All Together, One at a Time, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, Aladdin Paperbacks (New York, NY), 1998.
Bearlie Believable (multi-media CD Rom book), Mind-Forge, 1997.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including New Advocate, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, and Puppetry Journal. Illustrator of syndicated column, "Parents and Children," written by Arnold F. Arnold. Author and narrator of Wood and Linoleum Illustration (filmstrip), Weston Woods, 1978.
A Story, a Story was made into a filmstrip, 1972, and an animated film, 1973, both produced by Weston Woods; Jack Jouett's Ride was made into a filmstrip and an animated film, both produced by Weston Woods, 1975; Taleb and His Lamb, based on A Story, a Story, was produced by Arthur Barr Productions, 1975; Go Away, Stay Away! was made into a filmstrip produced by Weston Woods, 1978; Tracing a Legend: The Story of the Green Man, based on The Green Man, was produced as a filmstrip by Weston Woods, 1980; Tradition and Technique: Creating Jack and the Bean Tree was made into a filmstrip produced by Weston Woods, 1987.
Since beginning her career in the mid-1960s, author and illustrator Gail E. Haley has produced books with strong, socially relevant themes that entertain and educate children about the world in which they live. Her works include messages about the environment, racism, and illiteracy. Haley is also a noted reteller of stories based on myth and folklore. She was the first illustrator to receive the two most prestigious awards for illustration in children's literature: the Caldecott Medal for A Story, a Story in 1971, and its British equivalent, the Kate Greenaway Medal, for The Post Office Cat in 1976. Haley is widely acclaimed as an artist who skillfully utilizes a variety of media and styles to visually convey the essence of her ideas.
Haley was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and raised in nearby Shuffletown, a rural community complete with sprawling farms and open woods, which she avidly explored. She received much attention as the first child of George and Louise Einhart, and her precociousness was encouraged from a very young age. When she was four years old her father was drafted into the U.S. infantry during World War II; the entire family made an unplanned, weeklong trip aboard a military train to his California base. This was the beginning of Haley's lifelong love of travel and adventure.
Following her father's departure for Japan, Haley and her mother returned to Charlotte to live with Haley's grandparents. When the war ended, Haley's family was reunited, and they returned to their home in Shuffletown. By this time Haley was in the second grade but had not yet learned to read; her father taught her in a matter of days, beginning an enduring love of books. As a child, "My temple was the Charlotte Public Library—a stately old building with a whole wing for children's literature," she once recalled in an essay published in Five Owls. "It had stained-glass windows depicting fairy tales mounted above the bookcases." Haley devoured as much literature as she could during the long bus rides (ten miles each way) to and from school, including some material that was not allowed at home. She acquired her first typewriter at age ten and immediately began writing a "book," about a crusader from a Middle-Eastern country. Her stories became more advanced as she grew older.
"When I emerged from the world of books," Haley recalled in Five Owls, "I didn't like what I saw. I grew up in the South of the '40s and '50s. There was still rabid segregation evident at water fountains, motels, and the Woolworth's lunch counter. Schools and even churches were segregated. The real world made no sense to me…. I fled from a world in which I did not fit and went looking for one in which I did. I found that world in the magic of books."
Haley gained a sibling when she was eight years old, and again when she was twelve. Rather than feeling deprived of the spotlight, she was delighted by her younger sisters and enjoyed telling them stories, making dolls and tiny accessories and even wooden puppets like the one her father had made for her. Haley reveled in the Saturday mornings she spent in town with her father in his office at the Charlotte Observer and was significantly influenced by her experiences there. After graduating from high school, she attended art school for two years in Richmond, Virginia, a compromise she and her parents reached following their refusal to allow her to attend the school of her choice in New York City. At school Haley undertook a double major and studied graphics and painting as well as fashion illustration. She met her first husband while in school and, following graduation, was married at age nineteen. A job as a technical illustrator left her unfulfilled, and when she had accumulated enough money she returned to school. It was there that she received encouragement from a professor to pursue her interest in writing and illustrating children's books seriously.
When she had written a half dozen books, Haley traveled to New York to call on publishers but was unable to sell her work. She waited for several months before taking matters into her own hands. She borrowed money from the bank and produced her first published book, My Kingdom for a Dragon, producing the book with the help of a local printer. She traveled to Washington, DC, to secure the copyright, then made her first sale of 250 copies to Brentano's bookstore. She besieged the publishing industry with the remaining copies and sent copies to writers and illustrators she admired, asking their advice about how to get started.
Several years after her first marriage ended, Haley remarried and spent a year in the Caribbean with her new husband. Her experiences there led her to research Caribbean folklore and eventually write and illustrate A Story, a Story. This Caldecott-award-winning retelling of the Ashanti myth of the Sky God, Ananse, is credited as the first children's book to introduce the concept of a black God. Several years later the film version of A Story, a Story won the Czechoslovak Children's Film Festival Award. Following this success, Haley's retelling of Noah's Ark was published. The book, inspired in part by the two children she now had, focused on the conservation of natural resources and the importance of educating children about ecology.
Haley has always drawn story ideas from her surroundings, and such was the case when the family moved from New York to Virginia. There she wrote Jack Jouett's Ride, which met with great success and was made into an animated film. Haley examined library archives and traveled to England in order to research the history of the local Revolutionary War hero before writing the book.
Within a year the family moved to England and Haley's work went in a new direction. Inspired by the British custom of "employing" cats in post offices to catch mice, she wrote and illustrated the award-winning The Post Office Cat. Also while in London, Haley researched the origins of the country's mythical "Green Man" and produced another popular book based on this figure; in 1990 she served as advisor for the BBC television production of Return of the Green Man.
By 1983, Haley had returned to the United States and married for a third time. She and her husband, David Considine, both joined the faculty at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, where Haley taught courses in writing and illustrating for children as well as a course in puppetry. The rich folklore of the Blue Ridge Mountains became a new source of story ideas for Haley, and her books with mountain themes include Jack and the Bean Tree and Jack and the Fire Dragon. In 1992 Haley produced Mountain Jack Tales, a book that "in a lucid, vibrant voice" recounts traditional stories of the region, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
In 1996 Haley published Two Bad Boys: A Very Old Cherokee Tale, a retelling in the tradition of A Story, a Story. In this collection of Native American folklore, the beginning of Cherokee culture is described via a boy whose reflection in the water comes to life, albeit as a mischief-making "Wild Boy" who tempts his twin into trouble. Eventually, their pranks cause the end of ready food, and the boys' progeny must forever after hunt and grow food to survive. The author's prose style, "essentially realistic but lightly infused with mysticism, subtly evokes a paradise lost," said a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Haley's next retelling also featured traditional Native American folklore, this time focusing on the Southwesten spirit Kokopelli. Weaving a variety of legends into the story of how the first people came to the surface of Earth, Haley tells the story of the cicada-like Kokopelli, who plays his flute and drum so the humans will follow him. Miriam Lang Budin, writing in School Library Journal, found Haley's "mythlike story … sketchy and unsatisfying" and pointed out the lack of documentation about what legends are combined in the story. However Lauren Peterson, in her Booklist review, had nothing but praise for Haley's self-illustrated work, commenting that the author's "Bold and colorful acrylic paintings … create a rich visual backdrop against which this compelling story unfolds."
Haley's love of puppetry and children's theater culminated in a 1984 presentation of her work at the Smithsonian Institution. A permanent marionette collection established at Appalachian State has also been enriched by puppets acquired during Haley's world travels to Bali, Thailand, and Australia. She is also the author of a nonfiction work for adults on puppetry, Play People: Puppetry in Education, published in 1988.
Commenting in Something about the Author, Haley once noted that her work, "more than a personal catharsis, … is an effort designed to stimulate verbal and visual responses and a preparation for literacy." She acknowledged the challenge to reading posed by other media, such as television: "A child brings his own understanding and experience to the book and is enriched by what the book gives him back. He must supply movement, image, sound, and sequence of time. This is a far greater challenge to his brain than sitting passively before a TV set and having these things fed to him without any effort on his part."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 21, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Kingman, Lee, editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books: 1966–1975, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1975.
Kingman, Lee, and others, compilers, Illustrators of Children's Books: 1967–1976, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1978.
Kirkpatrick, D. L., Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978.
Booklist, October 15, 2003, Lauren Peterson, review of Kokopelli: Drum in Belly, p. 406.
Charlotte Observer, July, 1973.
Children's Literature Association Quarterly, fall, 1986.
Five Owls, May-June, 2000, Gail E. Haley, "Reflections of an Author-Illustrator," pp. 112-113.
Journal of Children's Literature, spring, 1996, pp. 20-21.
Language Arts, November, 1984.
Library Talk, November-December, 1989.
New Advocate, winter, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, April 12, 1970; November 8, 1979; January 6, 1985.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1971; September 6, 1971.
School Library Journal, April, 1986; February, 2004, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Kokopelli, p. 131.
Top of the News, April, 1971; summer, 1985.
Gail E. Haley's Home Page, http://www.gailehaley.com (April 13, 2002).
Gail E(inhart) Haley
Gail E. Haley contributed the following autobiographical essay to SATA:
As I write this, in the early 1990s, I am celebrating the twentieth anniversary of winning the Caldecott Medal for A Story, a Story. Much has changed in the last twenty years. My children are now grown. I moved halfway across the planet and back. The world around me moves faster every day—propelled by computers, satellites, and all forms of technology.
But in twenty years one thing has not changed, and that is my need to be involved in stories. Stories inform and transform us. They are clues to the shape our lives and civilizations have taken and will take in the future.
On the outside, children and teenagers may appear to have changed, but many of those changes are superficial—tricks and traps for those who are not willing to look deeply enough. In more than two decades of working with children in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, I have found more similarities than differences. The silver thread of kinship that binds tomorrow's children with today's, and the children of today with those of yesteryear, is the need to believe, belong, and, I hope, to bestow.
Stories, whether they are written and recorded in printed form, performed as part of a puppet play, written by hand, typed on a creaking machine, or developed and delivered through the miracle of word processing and faxing, remain constant. It is through stories that we hear and are willing to share; that we communicate our culture, and, through communication, that we grow. It is no wonder to me that the most constant question children and grown-ups ask me is: "Where do your stories come from?"
In my case, I believe they come from being in touch with the person I am inside, and from being a participant and observer of the day-to-day world in which we all live.
I have been lucky. Some of my books have won medals, awards, and prizes. Some have been turned into filmstrips, movies, and radio programs. My books are read in Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese, as well as various English versions. Some of my books have made a lot of money, but money and medals are only one way of measuring success. The success of a good story is in whether the audience likes it, and whether they return to it again and again over the years.
In today's world, children's literature is marketed, packaged, and sold like any other product in any other industry. Sometimes a beautiful idea or new approach never sees the light of day. The industry wants a "safe, marketable" product. But even if it never appears in print, a story can still live and grow by word of mouth, or what is called the oral tradition.
Each year in Tennessee, storytellers gather from all over the world for three days. They come to exchange stories that may already have survived for hundreds or thousands of years. Next fall I will be joining them. In recent years, I have added storytelling to my pursuits, as I visit schools, libraries, and universities all over the country. Sometimes I tell the stories through the very ancient art of puppetry, which is one of my loves. I even teach a course in puppetry at the university where I work. But that is today, and my story really began back there.
Looking back, I know I have led the kind of life I wanted to; I have ridden a donkey up the sun-baked hills of Greece to explore ancient temples. I have walked in the Colosseum of Rome, and heard the distant roar of caged lions still hanging in the air. I have seen the cafes and dance halls of Montmartre, and wandered moonlit Paris streets. I have had croissants and coffee in Covent Garden market just as the sun rose. I was part of the Padstow Hobby Horse parade, and experienced the time warp which happens there every Mayday. I have watched shadow-puppet plays in Bali, visited the sleeping bull mummies in the Steppe Pyramids of Egypt; I have climbed barefoot up the stone paths of the Anasazi people in New Mexico, and caught sight of the sparkling dark eyes which once inhabited the carved rock chambers there.
The main reason why I did all these things was that I knew they were there. I had looked through the windows that the world of books opened for me. From my very earliest readings, I knew that someday I would visit the faraway places with names like Czechoslovakia and Liechtenstein. I knew that I would go to Istanbul and look among the fabulous markets for my own magic carpet or lamp. I had no doubt that I would find them.
All of life is an adventure, if you are willing to open your eyes and ears to the stories and journeys which are possible for you. I did not experience any special privileges as a child. My family, like most people around us, was struggling to overcome the terrible effects of the Great Depression. My father's family had lost everything in the great "crash" except an apple orchard in Clyde, Ohio. So he was never able to go to art school, which was his dream. He took a correspondence course in commercial art and cartooning. At age eighteen, he read an ad in a magazine that described the position of art director for a neon sign company in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Under his direction, the company expanded into new markets, and he soon needed an assistant. This time he put an ad in the paper, and my mother answered it. My father was lonely, my mother was beautiful. He hired her on the spot. But she'd never heard of rubber cement, and couldn't use a T square and triangle, so my father stayed late every night to do her work.
After six weeks, the owner of the company found out about the arrangement and fired my mother. But by this time, they were in love, and decided to get married.
My father arrived four hours late for his wedding (his boss wouldn't let him off) with red roses instead of white. My mother's Southern rural relatives told her that they never thought that "Yankee" would keep his word.
The wedding did happen. There was no honeymoon, and my parents began their rather meager existence on twenty-five dollars a week. But their photographs of the period look rather gay and bouncy. When no one has any money, people become inventive about having fun.
I came into their world about a year later, and spent my first six weeks of life in and out of the hospital with pneumonia, bronchitis, and whooping cough.
I learned to walk when I was nine months old, and haven't stopped since. I'm told that I climbed up a ladder after my father when I was less than two, and fell off onto my head, which could explain a lot of things.
By the time I was three, I knew how to mix cement. My parents had managed to buy three acres of land in Shuffletown, North Carolina, that they called "Dogwood Plantation." It wasn't quite Tara, but it looked good on the return address. Our house, which we built ourselves, started out being three rooms: a very large living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The living room had an art deco "round end," which my father constructed from a picture in one of my mother's "dream books." The dining table sat in that room, near the kitchen. My parents' bed was in the far corner, and could be cut off from the rest of the room by an elaborate drapery thing which ran on a track in the ceiling. I slept on a fold-out couch. In fact, everything in the house folded out—mirrors, the radio, record player console (over the end of my bed), even the ironing board in the kitchen. It was rather like a doll's house.
It may seem hard to believe this, but I have vivid memories of many things from about the age of two: being chased by a cow, listening to music from the Water-Babies and The Nutcracker Suite, carrying a cat who was so big that her back feet walked on the ground beside me; Christmas trees cut from the forest, and the first night when lights were strung out across the floor to test the bulbs.
I remember watching out of the front window as a mad dog came trooping down the road, lolling its tongue, and slavering. It bit both our dogs, and most others along the road. I had nightmares about that incident for years. I also remember my yellow kitten called Buttercup, who was killed in the highway.
When I was four, my father was drafted into the infantry for World War II. After basic training at Fort Bragg, we all packed our suitcases, and went to New Orleans on a train. The plan was that my mother and I would leave him there, and he would take the troop train to California. From there, he would sail to Japan.
However, no one told me the game plan, or the rules by which grown-ups played. (Children usually have to find out for themselves.) We stood on a platform with our suitcases and my father's duffle bag. A big burly sergeant stood by the train door, and called out the names of soldier after soldier, which he checked off on a clipboard. The soldier whose name was called then disappeared into the train's waiting jaws. I don't think I understood what was really happening, until he called my father's name. At that point, I turned into a small lioness. I tried to bite the sergeant, and kick him in the shins. "You can't take my daddy, I won't let you! Leave him alone!"
The sergeant stared at me; the troops looking out of windows cheered, and then an unbelievable thing happened. The sergeant motioned my mother and me onto the train; someone picked up our luggage, and we were on our way to California. It took over a week to travel across the country on that rattley old train, but I was in heaven. I slept on my father's lap, or in the luggage rack above. We stopped at service clubs and diners, and I would sing for the soldiers. I knew all the war songs—"In My Arms," "I'll Be Seeing You," and my father's favorite, "I'm Confessing That I Love You." Soldiers would gather round, make requests, and put money in a hat. They were all leaving parents or sweethearts, or wives and children behind. I think I became their symbol for survival.
I saw sights from that train window which I will never forget—like the fireballs over Texas in the night sky, the miles of rolling hills and changing landscape as you cross America, and the fields of sweet peas of all colors when we finally reached California.
My paternal grandmother, Mom Einhart, came to meet us, and my "hat money" allowed my parents a belated honeymoon in a Los Angeles hotel. We even went to Hollywood together and saw some of the movie sets still standing.
After my father left for Japan, my mother and I spent a few weeks with my grandmother in Niland, California, a little frontier town on the border, and I saw my first foreign country: Mexico—by night, or in the blazing desert sun—date palms, mangoes, Mexican children. I was hooked on the idea of travel from then on.
Mother and I went back to Charlotte to live with her parents. She didn't know how to drive and was afraid of living in the country by herself. This was a strange time for me. My mother had to get a job working as a waitress. My grandparents both worked, and my teenage aunt was also working. I couldn't stay home alone, so they enrolled me in a private school. (I was just five years old, and children didn't start public school until six in those days.)
My grandmother, who had grown up in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, was my mentor and my earliest fan. She worked in an engraving house, and she brought me endless supplies of paper, pencils, empty books, silk cords, and anything else I might need to be creative. She also turned over her scrap closet, and all her sewing things to me. I became the queen of dressing up, and was allowed to have a friend over to dress up with me. One afternoon she brought me a huge bag of gold and silver high heels in tiny sizes, just right for two little girls, and of no use to the shoe store after New Year's.
My grandparents and aunt spoiled me rotten. Whatever I drew was beautiful. My stories were brilliant.
One day, the war was over. My uncles and my father came home—splendid in their bright uniforms, decorated with medals, and full of war stories. I never got tired of listening to them. They told stories of Burmese jungles, quaint German villages, and magnificent Japanese temples.
I didn't learn to read until I was in the second grade. Somehow no one seemed to notice until my second-grade teacher sent home a note that I was "cheating" on my work books. Since I couldn't read the instructions, I was apparently changing the answers after we went over them in class. When my father came home from World War II, he sat me down and taught me to read in a few days. I haven't stopped devouring books since.
When I tell people what it was like growing up in Shuffletown, North Carolina, they find it hard to believe that it happened in the twentieth century. It was a time and place which hadn't caught up with the rest of the world. My neighbors across the road were an old couple—Mr. and Mrs. Nixon. He plowed his field with a mule. He sowed, harvested, and stored most of the food his animals would need in the winter. If I got up in time, I could help him milk his cows and watch, fascinated, as he squirted milk straight from the cow's udder into the mouths of the barn cats, who would sit up and beg for this special treat. They didn't miss a drop either, except for a little on their whiskers which they saved for later.I was lucky to grow up as I did, but perhaps I didn't really appreciate it then. I was always eager and itchy to be off having adventures and exploring other lands. I had to travel the whole world over to appreciate what I had as a child.
I used to ride ten miles to school and back each day on a leaky, orange school bus. I spent that half hour each way reading Tales from the Crypt comic books, which I was not allowed at home or at school. (I also used to love the creepy stories of Saki and Edgar Allan Poe.) When I came home, I would do my various chores like feeding the animals, or cleaning up my room. But as soon as I could, I would sneak away to my illegal afternoon delight, "watching" the radio. I couldn't wait to find out what was happening to Sergeant Preston and his Great Dog King, or Flash Gordon, Boston Blackie, and The Phantom. These early heroes made Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark pale by comparison. A few years ago, my children and I gave my husband a Siberian husky for our anniversary. It was months before I realized that I had wanted a husky ever since those long-ago radio days when I rode with Sergeant Preston across the northern snowcaps. I had also read Zane Grey's many books about the adventures to be had in those far-off frozen regions. Actually, I can't stand to be cold, and tend to go into hibernation when the temperature gets below twenty degrees Fahrenheit.
When you write or illustrate, you get to go to the place where the story is happening, enfold yourself in another time zone, and have adventures in any country, in any galaxy that you can imagine. Perhaps you were captured by the idea of Princess Leia in Star Wars appearing in a hologram to seek Obi-Wan Kenobi's help. Writers do that sort of thing every day. Whether you are writing about outer space or inner space, it is very much like creating a hologram. Even after many years, I can still go to Claude's village from The Green Man. I can walk down a street, go into any house, and know who is inside, and what they will be doing at this particular hour. The village exists in time and out of time, somewhere "out there." The people who live there have time to dream and play with their children. There is a hedgehog named Faery. There is an old woman called Grace, who lives on the outskirts of town, with her furred owl, her feathered cats, and various other friends. She tells stories so real that you can be transported to other places without half trying. People think that she has magical powers, that she is a witch perhaps. Some folks claim that her house rises up on chicken's feet and carries her away in the night.
Perhaps it does. I know that if she is a witch, she is one of the good kind—that she is kind to children and animals, and strangers who need a place to be fed and spend the night.
I have always loved being around children. One of my sisters was born when I was eight years old, the other one came along when I was twelve. I made up stories for them, made dolls and tiny dollhouse accessories for them, and pretty well became their surrogate mother. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to have children of my own someday.
I somehow ended up with an old portable typewriter and I taught myself how to type. Around ten years old, I began to write a book about a crusader and his family living in some country around the Middle East. I would take pages or chapters to school, and share them with classmates as the book progressed. When I was fifteen, I wrote a much more advanced story about a German hero called Armenius, and his brother, Flavius, who came quite close to driving the Roman occupational army out of Germany. I had had one year of Latin, and I read everything I could find about this time, and these two brothers. Eventually, I decided that I needed more experience with life to be able to finish it properly. So I put it away in a file, where it remains to this day.
One of the most significant influences in my life was the fact that my father was art director for the Charlotte Observer. Every Saturday I would go into town for my tap-dance and marimba lessons. By 11:30 or so, I would then be free to go to the newspaper office. It was a time that helped to shape my whole life.
Being art director of a newspaper in a small town meant that my father was responsible for "putting the paper to bed." Anything which hadn't been finished would have to be done. I didn't know how he managed to do so many things—from drawing a shoe to lettering a headline. I guess he just had to, and so he learned.
The art department was like an alchemist's laboratory. There were jars of rubber cement, airbrushes, kneaded erasers, french curves, T-squares, and machines to create almost any kind of line imaginable. I would hang around the artists for hours, watching the magic they did. Then I'd wander around the building talking to the writers. They were all there finishing up last-minute stories on the news, sports, fashions, weather predictions, or anything else people would want to read about on Sunday. Sometimes they would let me carry their finished manuscripts to the linotype operators. This was another part of my childhood that has gone the way of the dinosaur.
Next morning, people all over Charlotte would open their Sunday papers. (Ours used to be delivered in a round box across the highway.) There would be the pictures I'd seen people drawing, and the stories I'd watched people write. The act of communicating through the printed word was something I knew I wanted to be a part of. If you add that need to my love of books and what they had given me, it isn't hard to understand that I wanted to write and illustrate children's books when I grew up. I knew by the time I was eight years old that this was my intended goal, my profession, my life. I was in my twenties before I realized that not everyone knows what profession they intend to follow. My father used to tell me I had tunnel vision. I think that means that you set your sights on something, and never waver in your attempt to get there. You can get into a lot of trouble that way, because you never notice the stumbling blocks or the potholes in your way until you have encountered them.
People used to say, "Don't be silly, a girl from Shuffletown, North Carolina, can't go to New York and write books."
And my answer was, "Just watch me."
I won fourth place in a Walt Disney Cinderella art contest when I was in the fourth grade. A year or so later, I won a Schwinn bicycle, my first. It had great fat tires, and I used to ride it cross-country and down dirt roads; it was a fairly indestructible machine. My two sisters learned to ride on it as well. I never won anything else until 1971, when I was given the Caldecott medal for A Story, a Story.
It wasn't easy to get into the book world, but I was determined to do it. I wanted to go to New York to art school, but my parents were afraid that I would get into trouble in that great city. The compromise was that I would go to Richmond, Virginia, where there was a very good art school. (It was called Richmond Professional Institute in those days.)
My parents didn't believe that I intended to have a REAL CAREER, and so they decided that I should go to art school for only two years to learn the basic skills required to create art for reproduction. After that, I was supposed to come back to Charlotte and finish my degree at Queens College, a school for "young ladies." My mother had the vain hope that someday I would learn to be a lady. She'd been giving me permanent waves and putting ribbons in my hair since I was three years old. (I seldom got home with my ribbons, though she tried just about every kind of knot known to man.)
I knew that I couldn't learn everything I needed to know in two years, so I doubled up on all my courses, taking a second major in fashion illustration. I also began to study art seriously in my "spare time." I hate to tell you this, but when I went off to art school the only artist whose work I knew well was Norman Rockwell.
I didn't have enough money to buy art supplies for two majors, so I found out that I could sell my meal tickets to buy extra mat board, paint, and paper. I probably would have starved if I hadn't met Joseph Haley, the brilliant son of a professor at Randolph Macon College. I was seventeen, he was nineteen, but he was already a senior in college. We got "pinned." (I don't think people do this savage custom anymore, and I sincerely hope not! It translates into being engaged to be engaged. And it means that you don't go out with anyone else, or explore life with any other people.) In my nineteenth summer, we got married after my two years in art school.
Joe was by this time getting his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. I tried doing commercial art for two years. My first job was doing technical illustrations for an encyclopedia. But finally we were able to accumulate enough money so that I could go back to school and study fine art.
This was another turning point in my life, because my professor Charles Smith could see my determination to do children's books, and he appreciated my dreams. So he said, "Just do it," and gave me the keys to the art department so that I could work there at any time. I think I probably worked about twenty-eight hours a day during that period of my life.
By the end of a year, I had six books written and others partially illustrated. I wrote letters to all the New York publishers whose books I admired, packed my portfolio, and bought a ticket for a Greyhound bus. I took along my hat and white gloves, because my mother had always told me that these things were a must in the city. People are still talking about my first trip to New York!
I didn't convince anyone to publish any of my books on that trip, but I didn't give up. I owe a great debt to a friend I made during my time at the University of Virginia. She was Francelia Butler, an extraordinary woman whose husband had been editor of the Paris Herald Tribune during World War II. She convinced me to do a rough of a little book of skip-rope rhymes she had collected when her daughter was a child. She then sent the dummy off to her agent in New York.
All through that summer, I waited for someone in the publishing industry to come to their senses and publish one of my books. By the time September rolled around, I realized I would have to do something to make my dream a reality. I had to prove to the publishing world, and perhaps to myself, that I really could do books. So I borrowed five hundred dollars from the bank, bought a stack of woodblocks, some ink and paper. I wrote an allegory about my need to write and illustrate books. It was called My Kingdom for a Dragon and told the story of a knight who makes friends with a dragon, even though he realizes it will cost him his knighthood and the princess whom he loved.
I printed the book with the help of a local printer, Jesse Puckett, who liked the story. I guess Jesse knew about dragons. I collated the book, bound it, and took it to Washington to get a copyright. That same day, I managed to sell 250 copies of the book to Brentano's bookstore. With money from this sale, I was able to pay off the bank loan, and I used many of the remaining 750 copies to besiege the publishing industry. I also sent copies to writers and artists whose work I admired, asking how to get started.
My first marriage did not last, and though we still like and respect each other, we parted ways.
I did eventually remarry, and I have two children, though they would look to you surprisingly like adults. These days, they are both many inches taller than I am, and we have become better friends with each passing year. My husband, David, is Australian (though he doesn't sound like Crocodile Dundee). As a team, we work to promote media literacy and visual literacy in the American curriculum, since the media are today's form of electronic storytelling and the U.S. schools are well behind Canada, England, and Australia in this area.
This is where I have to tell you an ugly part of the story. All the time I was growing up and riding to school on an orange school bus, there was segregation in the South. This meant that people whose skin happened to be a shiny mahogany color had to sleep in different motels, use different water fountains, and ride different school buses going in a different direction from ours. Some little boys on my school bus—usually the ones who spit tobacco juice into coke bottles—would roll down the windows and shout "nigger, nigger" at the bus going in the other direction. This really upset me. I knew it was wrong, just as you would have if you'd been there. I made up my mind that I would leave the South behind as soon as I was able to do so. I did leave, and did not come back for many years.
I could not wash away the guilt I felt about having been born white in a segregated society, and I eventually found myself living in Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, which was ninety-five percent black. I remember waking up one New Year's morning to the sound of steel drums bringing in the New Year. I thought of all the beautiful people in my life at that time, and I realized that I could not remember what color any of them were. I was free. During that time, I must add, I heard about Ananse the Spider Man. People sitting along the waterfront told each other stories about the wily trickster. I wrote down and collected as many as I could find.
I went back to New York, and my daughter, Marguerite, was born. I suppose I was one of the first liberated moms. I had a very portable baby because I couldn't stand to be away from her for very long at a time. I also wanted to make sure that she knew more about art when she grew up than I had. I remember a day when we were in the Egyptian collection of the Metropolitan Museum. We passed a black teacher with a class of black children. "These are your ancestors," I heard her tell them. It made me feel very angry. I wanted to shout, "No, these are OUR ancestors, yours and mine. What about Benin? What about all the kings and queens who lived, died, and created while the Celtic people were still a truly savage tribe?" I didn't say anything, but by the time I got home, the seeds of A Story, a Story had been planted.
I knew that I wanted to give black children in this country a chance to know that black is beautiful, so I searched the folklore journals in New York. I knew that many of the African slaves brought to the Caribbean were from the west of Africa—the Gold Coast and Nigeria. They were mostly Hausa, or Ashanti people. By going back to the folklore of those countries, I found Ananse. He is a trickster related to Prometheus. He is an intermediary between men and the Sky God. In different stories, he wins or buys fire, stories, and other things that men need. It was his winning of the stories by his cleverness that intrigued me the most.
The Sky God was portrayed as an African chief, dressed in the royal cloth which only the king can wear, and covered with the gold medallions and badges of office. In western art too, God and the holy family are often dressed as kings and queens of that time. So the Sky God became the truly majestic figure of the king of kings. He was the first black God in an American picture book.Our son, Geoffrey, came along during this period. I finished the book just two weeks before he made his appearance. By now, Marguerite often sat in her playpen in the studio and "helped." I've always been amazed that it only takes twice as long when children help.
The following summer we went to Lakewood, Connecticut, and I began work on Noah's Ark. Like many of my books, this one was inspired by a dream; actually, a nightmare. In it, I had taken the children to the zoo, only to find the cages all empty. Signs hung on each cage which read "extinct."
"What does extinct mean?" asked Marguerite. I woke up in a cold sweat, and before the morning light crept over the city, I had begun the sketches and story of the book which tells how Noah, a man like many others, sold all his possessions and bought an ark to save the animals from trophy hunters, pollution, the destruction of the rain forests, and all the other mindless acts of mankind that endanger animal species and children. Looking back at the biblical story, I realized that it was always an ecology story, reminding man that he must be a steward of the earth and all the riches it contains.
In Genesis, we find the words:
… every beast of the earth
… every fowl of the air
… all that moveth upon the earth
… all the fishes of the sea
into your hands are they delivered.
In 1990 when the world celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day, I was pleased by my part in the movement to save animals two decades ago. WE can still all be travelers on Noah's Ark if we choose to be.
One day I received an early-morning phone call from Sara Fenwick, chair of the Caldecott Medal committee. The little voice came thin and frail over the phone from California. "Miss Haley, let me be the first to congratulate you on winning the 1971 Caldecott Medal."
It probably won't surprise you to learn that I burned the bacon and eggs (and probably the coffee) I was making for breakfast! The summer in the country, and the winning of the medal became catalysts for moving away from the city. I loved New York then, and I still feel very much at home with the people and the excitement of it. But we decided to move back to Virginia, where the children could still learn what it was like to have butterflies on their fingers and smell the fresh air and touch the morning dew.
We moved onto a gracious, old, hundred-acre farm and woodland. It was deep in bluegrass country, and life changed overnight. Buster, the ginger cat, loved studying the flora and fauna. We had a sheepdog shipped all the way from England, and named him Piaget, because he loved children. Before long, my daughter wished on a star for a lovely calico kitten she had met. That very night our car broke down in front of the house where the kitten lived.
That first summer, Geoffrey caught a rainbow trout in our lake, and was horrified when I asked him how he wanted it cooked. He thought he would keep it in a bucket like a pet. It was also the time when I remember his saying that he wanted to "keep all the pretty things in his pocket."
It was in Virginia that I met a lovely retired librarian named Lady Walton. I think this was the same family about which the Walton family television series was later written. She asked me what I was "going to do about Jack Jouett," the local hero who had ridden forty miles by moonlight to save Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other signers of the Declaration of Independence from Banastre Tarleton, King George's Hunting Leopard, and his troop of two hundred and fifty mounted dragoons. At that time, I didn't plan on doing anything about Jack Jouett. But after reading Thomas Jefferson's description of him, and some two-hundred-year-old newspaper accounts of the incident, I was hooked. I went to Cuckoo Tavern, combed old manuscripts, did research in the Williamsburg and Richmond archives, and spent days in Monticello to find all the facts I needed to tell the story of Jack Jouett's Ride. I even went to England to research the uniforms of Tarleton's Raiders. This story of the American Revolution became symbolic to me of the Vietnam War, and I had Jack Jouett with his arm defiantly raised saying, "When men need to be free of tyrants, they will always find a way."
Within a year, we had moved to England, and my stories took on a new color and texture. I was still finishing The Costume Book—a seven-year effort, based on costumes I had actually made for my children—and I was doing the illustrations for The Abominable Swampman. This story was based on an incident from my childhood, and a repeat of it which happened in Missouri in 1973. It is about the ways in which children and adults differ when confronted by a mystical and rather scary being who has gotten lost in the modern world. Grown-ups like the sheriff want to organize a posse and bring him in "dead or alive." Edwardina, the protagonist, goes to warn him of his danger and is taken on a trip through the magical land from which he emerged. When I see movies like E.T. or Harry and the Hendersons, I am reminded of my own "monster" story.
One rainy London morning, while getting the children ready for school, I heard a BBC radio personality talking about the fact that Parliament was having a debate that day on post office cats. "They will be discussing," be went on, "whether p.o. cats are getting a big enough salary, whether the post office is an Equal Rights Opportunity Employer, and whether mother cats are receiving maternity leave and benefits." I was immediately captivated by the idea and went down that afternoon to the main post office at St. Martin's Legrande, castlelike building near St. Paul's Cathedral. I met the archivist, a round little lady in several layers of sweaters, with so many pencils stuck in her hair that she looked like Mrs. TiggyWinkle, Beatrix Potter's hedgehog lady.
She excitedly showed me drawers full of hundred-year-old documents and letters which chronicled the first feline employee of Her Majesty's post office. There were many other amusing stories and anecdotes hidden in those files. I hated to leave before I had read them all.
It happened that a litter of kittens had been recently born in our kitchen. Their eyes were just open, and one of them was a little spotted male very much like the pictures I had seen of Tibbs, a celebrated old moggy who had traveled all over the city on the miniature underground railway system used for transporting mail from station to station. He had the funniest face I'd ever seen on a kitten, like a singer from a barbershop quartet, with hair parted down the middle. So I named him Clarence, and asked him whether he'd like to stay in our family and be the star of a book.
"Yes, I would, please, Miss," he answered very solemnly. Actually I had met Clarence's father, who came politely calling and put his head through the cat door to court Starbright Black Paws. He never quite got the name right though. It sounded like "Snow White" and she was black as ebony. We also knew Clarence's grandfather, a dour old cat with his mouth turned down, whom we used to call Happy Cat.
So Clarence stayed and learned to pose, and became indispensable to me in my art. It is, however, hard to explain to him when he must not walk on a drawing. He actually learned a little about cat blackmail during this period of his life, because he would actually dip his paw in paint, and hold it over a piece of finished art if his dinner wasn't ready on time. Being a cat person, I have seldom had a book in which some sort of cat accident didn't happen. Again, those are stories for "The Kitty Committee" to tell in their very own book, coming soon at your local bookstore.
Clarence's brothers and sisters were given away to good families. Soul Brother went to live on a yacht that plied up and down the Thames. Baby Sister went to live with Shirley Hughes, another illustrator (more about that later), and Ming, the ginger brother, found an equally good home. Researching The Post Office Cat led to my adventures with famous felines such as Wilberforce who lived at 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister's residence, and even correspondence with the Palace.
The Post Office Cat won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1976, and would later win Japan's most important book award. Shirley Hughes (who painted Baby Sister in her book) won the runner-up medal. Clarence became the star of stage and screen. He was interviewed by all the major newspapers, and was featured on children's television shows from the Thames to Manchester to Bath. He got to be so vain about the whole thing that eventually, when anyone strange came to the door, he expected that they had come to interview him. The Guardian called me the Cat Lady.You never know when a character is going to pop out and grab you, capture your imagination, and come to keep you awake from 4:00 a.m. till you've made notes about it. That happened with Ananse and Birdsong. There are others which don't even wait that long to be polite, like The Post Office Cat and The Green Man.
The Green Man has been one of the most intriguing and insistent characters I've ever encountered. I was walking down Berwick Street in London one rainy lunchtime. I happened to look up, and there, blowing in the wind, rain, and fog, was an ancient pub sign of "The Green Man." He was dressed all in leaves, with a garland of roses round his head. In his hand he carried a sprouting staff, and behind him, maidens danced around a maypole, also wearing rose garlands. I stopped in my tracks, unable to take my eyes off the strange leaf-clad figure. He woke in me some ancient note of recognition, and I had to know more. I rushed inside the pub, and risked, "Who is the Green Man? Why is he dressed in leaves? What is the meaning of the may-pole in the background?" The publican, who was very busy pumping lunchtime beer, said, "I don't know, lady, It's just an old sign. There's lots of Green Men."
He was right, of course. From that day, the Green Man captured my imagination, and I couldn't let go of him until I'd spent at least six months tracking down his origins. My Weston Woods filmstrip Tracing a Legend chronicles the story of that search through cathedrals and churches, down back alleys of seaports, and exploring the underside of misericords up and down England.
Although I found many compelling images of the Green Man, on the sides of buildings, prancing around the edges of illuminated manuscripts, staring enigmatically from heraldic images, there were none so compelling as the ones that I found in tapestries. They were leading unicorns or dragons, being captured by the love of fair maidens, harvesting grain to feed their wives and children, cavorting with mermaids. So it was this illustrative quality which I sought to capture with acrylic paints on rough canvas board. I studied many tapestries to find the style and design quality which would translate the magic of this ancient leaf-clad figure.
There are symbols, private jokes, and even contradictions between the pictures and the words I used to tell this story. Some references are purely pictorial and may simply illustrate edible foodstuff and plants at this time in history. For instance, all the plants on the cover of the book were edible and were commonly eaten staples. Imagine eating water lilies, wild cress, and the ancestor plant of both cauliflower and broccoli! There was no refrigeration in those days, and there were few ways of preserving food. Most meats were salted and dried. People had to invent all sorts of ways to have some variety in their menu during the cold winter months. So they invented dishes like Slumgullion, guaranteed to taste different with every bite. Mmmmm—not exactly like what you get at Taco Bell or Burger King!
In 1990 I was delighted when BBC-TV called from London. They wanted my help and advice on a show called The Return of the Green Man, which aired on British television in November 1990. I still remembered the libraries and archives where they could find the antique manuscripts which contained the information they needed. I feel I have done my part to keep the story alive; like Noah's Ark, The Green Man has a strong ecological message that remains timely.
In the course of doing research for The Green Man, I came across some interesting tidbits about bird catchers and the kind of machines they used to lure unsuspecting birds into their traps. The bird catcher was rather like the local butcher.
Perhaps you remember a little nursery rhyme you used to sing:
Sing a song of sixpence
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds
baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing
Was not that a dainty dish
to set before a king?
All of which brings me to the discovery of another book, Birdsong, which centers around an orphan girl who loves birds, and an old bird catcher named Jorinella. She is not exactly a witch, but she has, in the course of time, betrayed the birds who were once her friends. This story came to me in a dream like a Technicolor movie in Surround Sound. I wrote it down at 4:00 in the morning, called my editor at 10:00, and a new book was on its way.
Since this book was medieval, I chose a technique which echoed the art in illuminated manuscripts of the time. I used brown ink, applied on three-ply Strathmore board, working on a light table so that I could achieve spontaneity in the line. The colors were put on with a resist and brilliant inks, preserving the illuminated feeling.
After Birdsong, there were various reasons for returning to the United States. Among them was the fact that my mother was very ill. So we returned to North Carolina. I mentioned earlier that I left the South when I was seventeen, believing that I could not live in a place where there was prejudice against people because of their nationality or the color of their skin. But after living in many parts of the world, I discovered, sadly, that there is no country where prejudice and unfairness cannot be found. Each individual must find inside a secret kingdom. Only in this place can we hope to create a world which will not disappoint us, a world where animals, children, and dreams can exist in peace.
Of course, we are enabled to enter other people's perfect internal world if they have written it down as literature, put it into art, or on the stage. Even film and television can give us entry to such a world.
We did come back to North Carolina. Imagine my surprise when, after searching the whole world over for stories, I found a treasure waiting very close to the place where I had grown up. The Mountain Jack stories were to feed my imagination for many years and several books.
My husband David and I now teach at Appalachian State University. It is tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Boone, North Carolina. It is a small town where once a year they still have a Frontier Day Parade in which covered wagons are drawn down the main street by horses and mules wearing bridle and harness that goes back to frontier days in these parts.
A few miles outside of town, you can find farms which have changed little in this century. It is a way of life which reminds me of my childhood. People can do just about anything that needs to be done. Some of them are still tobacco farmers, and life can be hard sometimes. But as the locals have been known to say, "Ye ain't pore if ye can make what ye need."
Mountain people are rich in folklore. Some of the oldest versions of ballads are still played here. People come from all over the world to hear people tell stories at the Jonesboro Festival, and Highland games are an annual event.
What I've found here is a treasure I've looked for all my life. His name is Jack, and he is one of The Hero(es) with a Thousand Faces who Joseph Campbell wrote about. He has been around for several thousand years. Sometimes he is middle-aged, sometimes he is old, but he keeps coming young again with every generation of children who sit on front porches to hear stories. David and I researched Jack and made a film-strip for Weston Woods explaining how I developed my first "Jack" story.
I have turned two of these stories into picture books—Jack and the Bean Tree and Jack and the Fire Dragon. I am presently "translating" a dozen more of them into a form that can be understood and enjoyed by today's readers. Only a girl who grew up in Shuffletown or Boone or Molehill could understand some of the things that happen in the stories, as they are told in mountain dialect. If I used the words "poke" or "sizing" without some hints about their meaning, you'd never get them right.
And not many children of today can understand what a disaster it might have been for a cow to dry up, or for the northwest wind to blow away all the food in the cabin. In those days there were no cars, grocery stores, or telephones in the mountains. And food stamps for hungry people hadn't been invented.
For many years, I have allowed storytellers to live in my head while I'm working on one or another of my books. In turn, they let me walk around in their skin, and look out through their eyeholes. I have had Poppy-seed, the mountain story dreamer who is based partly on my maternal grandmother, living in my head. I have had an African storyteller who will come and share when needed. I've been getting to know a Native American story-teller called Woman-Who-Walks-by-Moonlight.
But, a few years ago, I had a visit from a new storyteller—one whom I had not previously met. His voice was that of a crusty old Irish sea captain. He woke me up at 4:00 with the beginning of a story:
Now Tom O'Shaunessy was a seafarin' man.
He could rig a rig and dance a jig as well as
any man who ever sailed the Seven Seas.
And they say he could smell what was under the
Whether it was squid or marlin, swordfish or pike.
But he had one failin' for all of that ….
He would sit for hours and listen to the tales
that the old salts told. His favourite story
was about the time Old Brian had sailed to the
Lovelorn Islands. There he met and fell
In love with a Mermaid.
It was as if I were listening to music on earphones, except that I wasn't wearing any. I got up, ran upstairs to my typewriter, and took it down verbatim as I heard it. It was an unfinished story, and I carried it around with me. I asked classes and audiences to share what they thought the ending should be. I ended up with a stack of endings from adults and children all over the United States and in Australia. The amazing thing was how much alike the endings were. In all the hundreds I got, there were only two or three variations.
Sometimes I think it was the voice of Everyman who spoke. Somewhere at the heart of all storytellers is a connection to the roots of the Bean Tree—the Tree of Life. The stories to be found there are universal and timeless. They are always valid to humankind, and this is why the themes and the stories survive.
This incident happened during a period of my life in which I turned back to an old love—puppetry. One of my first presents as a child was a carved wooden Pinocchio marionette which my father made for me. My mother also made me some cloth marionettes from Gone with the Wind.
I, in turn, carved marionettes for my younger sisters and put on the show of The Frog Prince for the younger children in the neighborhood.
Many years later, I made a marionette of Jack to help me make him come to life and one of Milky White, his cow. A Bunraku puppet of Fahlilah the Mermaid was the way I first introduced that character from A Sea Tale to children.
Puppets are an extension of my work with picture books. They allow me to use the skills I've gained over the years, plus the added dimensions of form, music, and movement. Contrary to popular opinion, a book is not a still, static artifact. Any good reader will experience a story internally. The book is just a clue, a springboard to an expanded vision in the reader. For this reason, you will find that many children's illustrators over the years were also fascinated by puppets—Doré, Cruikshank, Jiri Trnka, Marcia Brown, Robert McCloskey, and Natalie Babbitt to name only a few.
My most recent book, Puss in Boots, the Master Cat, borrowed a few scenes from paper theatres (a two-dimensional form of puppetry), and the story will invariably be turned into a puppet show, with some willing friend acting the part of the Ogre. This book has added a new horizon to my internal hologram, being set in seventeenth-century France. I loved researching the costumes, furniture, and panoply of the court of the Sun King. I was enlightened by my discoveries about the lives, folklore, and problems of the common people of that time.
Clarence got to star in another book. He is now fifteen years old, and a little more sedate than he was as a young cat. But he has passed his mantle on to Gypsy Rover—a Clarence look-alike with a big plumey tail, who came yowling down the mountain one rainy, cold night. He is a cavalier cat who is ready for anything. We don't know where he came from, or how he came to be thrown out on our dirt road in the middle of the night. But he has made it clear that he intends to stay. The storyteller in my head says it is again time to get down to work. Puss in Boots is in production; the first proofs are due back from New York next week. Then they will head off to Asia for printing. My series of Jack stories is already emerging on my computer screen. David and I spend "spare time" planning a trip to Bali, Thailand, and Australia. We will be collecting more toys and puppets for our enlarged children's museum and puppet theatre at Appalachian State University.
No doubt the airports will be crowded; the planes will be late, and luggage will be lost; but that's all part of the story. More than one idea has come to me while sitting in a train depot, airport lounge, or dock, watching the world pass by. Good storytellers take time to look, listen, and learn. That's one of the real secrets to good writing, and it helps turn the mundane into the marvelous.
Gail E. Haley contributed the following update to SATA in 2005:
I have always found libraries and bookstores marvelous places; the type of places where I could discover something I didn't even know I was looking for. While doing research at the Smithsonian in the early 1990s, I was attracted to a book titled The Science of Folklore.
The author's name, Gomme, rang a bell in my head and I was soon following his search for the earliest version of the tale of a poor chapman who had an amazing dream three nights in a row. Each night he heard a commanding voice tell him that he must travel to London Bridge where he would find news of great importance for himself and his family.
A quick look at a map of England showed me that it would have taken this man almost a week to travel to London from his home in Swaffham. The article I was reading included woodcut illustrations depicting John Chapman and his loyal dog. I was well aware what a chapman was from my former work with these miniature handstitched books full of woodcut illustrations. As someone who had loved books from childhood, I was fascinated by these tiny versions from another century.
I was also aware, as was Gomme, that the story of John Chapman had appeared in one form or another in numerous countries and cultures. What intrigued me was that Gomme believed the story of the Peddler of Swaffham was the original tale. The town itself contained many testaments to Chapman, including statues, a stained glass window, and a local museum, all verifying the existence of the character whose story I knew I had to investigate and tell.
David and I made the journey from North Carolina to London in a few hours; considerably less time, due to the miracles of modern technology, than it would have taken John Chapman to walk to London. We rented a car and headed toward Norwich and the town of Swaffham. It was easy to find the statue of John and his dog. To our surprise, almost anyone we stopped could tell us some version of the story of this adventurous salesman and his dog. One thing everyone agreed upon—John started out on his journey as a poor man but ended up so rich that he could build a beautiful stone house (which is still standing) and rebuild the local church.
Entering the church early that morning was like stepping back in time, as if I were experiencing something from those science fiction TV shows I enjoy, like Sliders or Quantum Leap. Outside it was late twentieth century and the town went about its business. Inside was a different world all together. David had the video camera running to document my research. He was at the front of the church and I was at the back, with a glimmer of light coming from the heavy doors that were slightly open. I would use that silhouetted image of myself as the background for the final picture of the book that became Dream Peddler. The foreground of the picture shows John and his dog sitting in the church. It also includes the "Peddler's Chair" that features the likeness of John and his dog carved into the wood. A visitor to the church in Swaffham will still find these reminders of the bookseller and his faithful dog, who, for my story, I called Caxton, after the developer of the printing press in England.
My illustrations for this book were greatly influenced by the paintings of Hogarth, Gainsborough, and Sir Joshua Reynolds since I wanted them to realistically transport young readers back to a world and pick up on the sensory signals of the era. On the cover of the book, for example, John carries a lumiere to light up his ware. England is often dark, especially on a winter afternoon. This story is set long before the development of electricity, and while there were street lights in some places, they were often few and far between, A salesman then, if he were to have any success, would have to have a means of showing and lighting his wares. It might seem easy enough to create a lantern from a candle and a sheet of paper, but I had many burn up on me before I got one to stay lit long enough for me to paint it.Perhaps you begin to realize that as a writer and an illustrator it is important for me to share the lives of the people from other times and places who populate my books. That is true whether depicting Africa (A Story, A Story), Medieval England (The Green Man, Birdsong), Victorian London (The Post Office Cat), or America during the Revolutionary War (Jack Jouett's Ride). In recreat-ing the world of rural and urban England for Dream Peddler, I in fact returned to a country that had been my home for many years.
I once again wandered cobblestone lanes. I visited a printing museum and got a firsthand look at the artifacts and technology that would have been available to a printer in Chapman's days. You can see some of that in the double-page spread that is the title page for the book.
I hope too that if you look at my illustrations, then close your eyes and breathe deeply, you might smell some of John Chapman's world—from the woodburning fireplace of his home to Lydia's oakcakes, or the aroma of newly turned earth where the family ploughs, or the hay that they use for thatching the roof.
While many of my books have contained such experiential scenes (just look at the way the activities of village life are depicted at the front of The Green Man), they have been, for the most part, designed horizontally. Dream Peddler took me in a different direction. When I construct a scene I like to build a set, a room that the eye can explore so the viewer has a sense of the place. Dream Peddler was going to require several illustrations with a vertical format. I needed to be able to show the two stories of the interior of London Bridge. The church also looked much better in vertical format than as a horizontal design. Then there was the tall narrow interior of the bookstore where John and Caxton were turned away. This image was particularly dear to me. It reminded me of my father's days spent working for a newspaper. In designing the interior I even borrowed a sheet of handmarbled endpaper from one of my grandfather's books and used it to create wallpaper for the bookstore. Working with the new layout encouraged me to think about the design illustrators make. We don't just depict or decorate—we design, hopefully with a careful balance of word and image that stimulates the imagination. It was during this period that I worked with my husband David to create two textbooks for teachers so they could facilitate the development of visual literacy and media literacy. Visual Messages: Integrating Imagery into Instruction was actually the first comprehensive K-12 media literacy textbook in this country. When teachers told us they did not always have adequate media in their classrooms or schools, we decided to use picture books to teach both media literacy and visual literacy. Working with our friend Lyn Ellen Lacy we wrote Imagine That: Developing Critical Viewing and Thinking through Children's Literature.
For my next children's book I returned to my North Carolina roots and a story of the Cherokee people at a time when there were only three inhabitants on Earth: Selu the Corn Mother, Kanati the Great Hunter, and their son, Boy, who needed no other name.
I continued the vertical format in this book, Two Bad Boys: A Very Old Cherokee Tale, as you can see in my illustration of Selu. As always, I began my research before starting the story. As a child I had spent much of my time driving with family from North Carolina to Georgia through Cherokee country. Was I to believe, as their tales suggested, that buffalo once roamed these hills? There are contemporary suggestions that imply such a past. You can find them in place names like Buffalo Camp or Buffalo Mound. But I had never seen a skull drying in the field, nor people wrapped in the hides of these beasts.
I checked with the Museum of Natural History in New York and they were able to tell me that wood bison had roamed the eastern seaboard at one time in our past. So that took care of that detail.
Finding Cherokee artifacts was the next task. The tragedy we know as the Trail of Tears had forced much of the Cherokee population out of the mountains of North Carolina, and relocated them westward to Oklahoma. Their culture had been dislocated and along with it many of their artifacts. For years, tourists visiting the town of Cherokee in North Carolina were likely to find artifacts from the Plains Indians or tourist trinkets made in Japan or Korea rather than any realistic representation of Cherokee life.
However, the creation of the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee has preserved much of the customs and beliefs of these people and I was able to talk with archeologists and anthropologists to more fully understand their ways. I sat down with two such experts with pens and a sketchpad to reconstruct the corncrib needed for the story. I also had the opportunity to witness the construction of a "great house" and was fascinated to observe how much the central lodge pole and surrounding braces resembled the temples and ceremonial buildings I had visited in Bali and Thailand.
Of course, it wasn't just the architecture that was similar. Joseph Campbell had been one of my inspirations and I greatly admired his ability to document how similar stories, narratives, and motifs could be found in people from far-flung regions of the world.
In the case of Two Bad Boys, while some contemporaries might refer to it as sibling rivalry, similar plot structures can be found in Cain and Abel (which Steinbeck borrowed for his battling brothers in East of Eden), Gilgamesh and his wilder brother, and Orson and Valentine.
My Cherokee tale is set in the distant past, but when I visit schools and libraries and share the story with children, they cringe, groan, anticipate, and empathize with the plot as one thing leads to another. It is in the nature of children that they cannot resist forbidden things, and despite all the warnings from their parents, there will always be youngsters who, like the characters in this book, simply cannot help themselves. The nature of "naughty" children remains constant. I was asked by a textbook company to illustrate another Native American story, "Coyote's Revenge." Since I already had my mind mentally attuned to this theme, I accepted. Unfortunately, the project fell through and the work has never been seen. Other than the artwork, there is one surviving remnant of my constant struggle to get inside the skin of my characters. I obtained a headdress which is absolutely perfect as a storytelling prop. My cat Chauney Peanut, who previously thought she was the only critter who could sit on my head, is most amused by the outfit, and I have been using it as a publicity photo on my Web site (www.gailehaley.com).
For several years I have been visiting the southwestern United States. My son and his family live in Colorado but even before they settled there I had enjoyed visiting New Mexico. I had climbed the Puye cliffs, visited Taos, and explored Mesa Verde. The end result would be Kokopelli: Drum in Belly, which was published in 2003. The research had been going on for more than thirteen years. Kokopelli is a trickster figure and a creator god from the mythology of the Anasazi people. Anyone who has ever been to Santa Fe or picked up a Southwest furniture catalog will have encountered images of this figure. I had seen representations of Kokopelli in petroglyphs. I was also aware that some of the images that depicted Pueblo, Hopi, and Navajo kachina rituals had offended missionaries and had often been hidden from public display. Kachinas are ritual figures or dolls, but these represent masked costumed figures who perform rituals to ensure fertility or abundance of crops. Such rituals also acknowledge the abundance granted by the gods.
In a sense the story of Kokopelli went underground. I researched in libraries, museums, and universities as I tried to put the pieces of the tale together, but the meaning of the dancing flute player was often murky and the facts I garnered were often contradictory.
One insight that I found absolutely intriguing was the suggestion that Kokopelli was actually a cicada, a cricket-like creature that spends years in a metamorphosis and goes through four transformations in its life cycle. In my book, Kokopelli, the cicada, leads the Ant People through four layers of "enlightenment," passing through various worlds where they encounter characters like the Horned Serpent, Salt Man and Woman, and others.
Finally he leads them to dig upwards into the Green World, which is the surface of Earth. The Cloud Gods punish him for emerging uninvited into the sacred turf and shoot him with lightening bolts. But Kokopelli continues to play his flute and thrum the drum in his belly. The lightening bolts do not harm him. They split his old skin, allowing him to emerge in his glorious new form as the shining insect with transparent wings.
Transformation through storytelling has been a major theme of my life. I believe in myth and magic and the therapeutic values of stories. In the summer of 2004 I was able to travel to Atlanta to talk about this subject. My presentation was called "Three Magic Beans: From the Garden of Eden to the Mountains of North Carolina." The event was the Mythic Journeys Conference which recognized and celebrated the contribution of Joseph Campbell. If you don't know he is, see if you can find a copy of the videotape—Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth (1988)—in which he shares his thoughts with Bill Moyers. Oh, by the way, he also shared his thoughts with another modern storyteller by the name of George Lucas; the result, at least in part, was what much of the world now knows as the "Star Wars" saga. I am reminded that Luke Skywalker is hardly the first character to journey to the sky on a quest, mission, or search for adventure.
While the modern world with iPods, blogs, and cell phones may look very different from the past in which so many of my stories are set, it is still inhabited by people who need the comfort and continuity of stories. Many of my books have won awards and had excellent reviews. Others have not done so well. I labored long and hard on Bearlie Believeable, a series of stories for CD-ROM about the smallest bears in the world. I created the sets and the costumes, which at one point engulfed half our house. The project was never as successful as I had hoped. But it was my story, my passion, my bliss, and I had to follow it.
I am now in the process of transferring most of the documents, dummies, and artwork from my long career to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, so my work may be preserved and researched to advance understanding of children's literature. Since I grew up in Charlotte and was first exposed to a library and books in that city, it seems a fitting location to house my literary legacy, so the stories will survive.
Of course, my stories now survive in a considerably more tangible form in the presence of our grandchildren, Ellen and Wyett. The girl is seven and her younger brother is four. Like many modern children, they play videogames. Wyett loves anything to do with Spiderman (another character who must journey to the sky). But they both also love books and they like their grandmother to read to them or just to tell them tales. We also create our own worlds of play. My latest three-dimensional work is a six-room, hand-painted dollhouse. Ellen and I set about decorating the building and inhabiting it with four handmade dolls, one to represent each member of their family.
This summer the children will have a new story to tell. They will leave their home in Boulder, Colorado, and travel to Hilton Head to spend time with their grandparents. It will be their first trip to the ocean. No doubt there will be sand castles and stories of mermaids and pirates and sailing ships.
For Geoffrey, the stories will be familiar. He heard them as a child and now he shares them with his own son and daughter, adding his own variations as they in turn shall share them with their children. That is the nature of our species, the need for narrative, for it is in stories that we find ourselves and in the reworking of those stories that we renew our own tales. Three decades after A Story, a Story won the Caldecott medal, I was invited to New Hampshire to see it staged as a musical at Plymouth State University. A story that had its origins in the oral traditions of Africa has been a book, a filmstrip, an animated video, the subject of scholarly research at Harvard University, and now a musical. Such is the power of a compelling story. Once told, it can live forever.
- Russell Haley Biography
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