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Nancy Shaw (1946–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1946, in Pittsburgh, PA; Education: University of Michigan, A.B., 1968; Harvard University, M.A.T., 1970. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Houghton Mifflin Co., 222 Berkeley, Boston, MA 02116.


Writer and homemaker. Author of radio scripts for "Senior Sounds," University of Michigan Institute of Gerontology, Ann Arbor, 1978–81.


Authors Guild, Authors League of America, American Association of University Women, Society of Children's Book Writers, Phi Beta Kappa, Herb Study (Ann Arbor, MI).

Honors Awards

Jules and Avery Hopwood Award, University of Michigan, 1968; Fanfare citation, Horn Book, 1987, for Sheep in a Jeep; Best Books citation, School Library Journal, and Reading Magic Award, Parenting magazine, both 1991, both for Sheep in a Shop.


Sheep in a Jeep, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.

Sheep on a Ship, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1989.

Sheep in a Shop, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1991.

Sheep out to Eat, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.

Sheep Take a Hike, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.

Sheep Trick or Treat, illustrated by Margot Apple, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1997.

Raccoon Tune, illustrated by Howard Fine, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.


Sheep in a Jeep and Sheep on a Ship were produced as school readers; Sheep in a Jeep was adapted as an audiobook.


According to Nancy Shaw, a boring car trip inspired her first book, Sheep in a Jeep. "I have a long history of getting bored on trips, going back to my childhood. We used to take very long ones to my grandparents' house," Shaw once explained. "One time, when my kids
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were fairly young, we were on a trip to their grandparents' house and we had been reading a rhyming book. I tried making more rhymes and once I hit upon 'sheep' and 'Jeep,' I felt I wanted to extend that and see what else went with it. Pretty soon a fair amount did go with it." In addition to Sheep in a Jeep, Shaw has penned a number of related works featuring fleeced characters, and has more recently mined the wild-animal kingdom for her 2003 picture book Raccoon Tune.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Shaw eventually moved to the Midwest, and attended the University of Michigan. During college she worked at the nearby Ann Arbor Public Library, and became interested in the work of picture-book author/artist Maurice Sendak while shelving children's books. She went on to write an essay about Sendak that earned her the University of Michigan's Hopwood Award.

Shaw had had ideas for children's books before Sheep in a Jeep, but "I just had not had one that I pursued as doggedly as I did this," she said. She began by reading books on how to write and sell picture books, then gathered publishers' addresses from Writers' Market and Literary Marketplace. "I just thought about the different publishers that I enjoyed," she recalled. "I read a whole lot of books to my children so I chose publishers who I thought would have views similar to mine or who had published books I liked a lot." From its genesis during that fateful car trip, Sheep in a Jeep took Shaw two-and-a-half years, working off and on. During that time she discovered one of the challenges of writing children's books: to tell her story in very few words, and, in her case, words that rhyme. "A lot of it is a process of putting the words together and then stripping away what doesn't belong," she said.

Sheep in a Jeep tells the tale of five sheep out for a drive. When their jeep breaks down, calamity ensues, ending with a crash and, ultimately, the sale of their jeep (cheap). Reviewing the text for Publishers Weekly, a reviewer commented that "Shaw demonstrates a promising capacity for creating nonsense rhymes," while School Library Journal contributor Nancy Palmer called the book "a great choice for … beginning readers who want a funny story."

Shaw was fortunate in her publisher's choice of illustrator for her first picture-book effort; she and Margot Apple have gone on to create several more "Sheep" books. Sheep in a Shop finds the sheep out shopping for a birthday gift, and the five animals cause a host of problems for shopkeepers during their hunt for the perfect present. Once they have their gift picked out, the sheep realize they do not have enough money to pay for it, but this problem is solved when they barter with their fleece—"a neat nod to Mother Goose and tradition," according to Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns, who also called the book "irresistible."

In Sheep out to Eat the fleecéd five run into trouble when they decide to enjoy a meal at a local tea room. Inexperienced at out-of-pasture dining, the sheeps' table manners are woefully lacking, and as a result, they salt their custard and pepper their cake, all the while disturbing their fellow diners. When the sheep are finally asked to leave, they locate a field of green grass—and a far more suitable lunch. Booklist reviewer Carolyn
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Phelan commented that the tale "will fascinate preschoolers with the understated humor of its pithy, rhyming text," and a Publishers Weekly critic called Shaw's "tongue-twisting rhymes … as simply clever as ever." Additional titles in the series include Sheep Trick or Treat and Sheep Take a Hike, the latter which Burns termed "a delightful book for young audiences that will also appeal to the adults who read to them."

While illustrator Apple was responsible for the drawings in Sheep in a Jeep, Shaw also had input into decisions regarding the illustrations for her text, and actually made up a dummy copy showing her ideas as to what the pictures should be and where they should be placed. The dummy is useful to Shaw because it reminds her to include "drawable" scenes and allows her to "see that the story is proceeding at the right pace. There has to be so much text per page turned; if the text is a little bit skimpy on a certain action, it might be possible for a picture to fill in for it. On the other hand, it can't be too skimpy; you can't ask pictures to do things that aren't there."

Regarding her method of creating rhyme sequences, Shaw once commented: "I don't like it if a book maintains the same rhythm in a sing-song fashion. I prefer to switch from very short couplets to longer ones." She noted that it takes more than simple rhymes to make her books work. "A lot of what I'm doing in writing is following sounds as well as following meaning. I find that it's often quite stiff if I just take an idea and go looking for the rhymes for it. I have to do that, too, but the best rhymes seem to come together with a strong sound component. With Sheep in a Jeep I was just chal-
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lenging myself to see if I could get all the sounds to work together and make something, so it's a little bit choppier. In the later books, the actions are a little more complex. And the sheep start learning how to solve problems, thank goodness!"

Shaw considers several elements to be important to writing children's books. "I don't like preachy books, but I think a good book has some kind of a lesson in life as its core," she commented. "The lesson in the 'Sheep' books is, 'Look before you leap.' Also, I think that there is a very important place for slapstick and silliness in helping very small children sort out what's sensible and what isn't. There is a strong place for humor in kids' books." Shaw has continued to mine her sense of humor beyond sheep; Raccoon Tune spotlights the chaos that ensues during a raccoon clan's nighttime invasion of a quiet suburban neighborhood in search of garbagecan delights. In Shaw's "catchy verses," four raccoons "morph from suburban menaces to cute critters on a mission," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, while in Kirkus Reviews a writer called the book "perfect from start to finish and impossible to read only once."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 15, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sheep out to Eat, p. 157; September 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Sheep Trick or Treat, p. 141.

Childhood Education, April, 1987, Tina L. Burke, review of Sheep in a Jeep, p. 379.

Horn Book, November-December, 1986, Karen Jameyson, review of Sheep in a Jeep, p. 739; May-June, 1991, Mary M. Burns, review of Sheep in a Shop, p. 323; November-December, 1994, Mary M. Burns, review of Sheep Take a Hike, p. 726; September-October, 1997, Martha V. Parravano, review of Sheep Trick or Treat, p. 563.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2003, review of Raccoon Tune, p. 756.

Parents, May, 1992, Liz Rosenberg, review of Sheep in a Jeep, p. 239.

Publishers Weekly, September 26, 1986, review of Sheep in a Jeep, p. 78; April 14, 1989, review of Sheep on a Ship, p. 66; January 25, 1991, review of Sheep in a Shop, p. 56; July 6, 1992, review of Sheep out to Eat, p. 53; July 4, 1994, review of Sheep Take a Hike, p. 60; April 28, 2003, review of Raccoon Tune, p. 69.

School Library Journal, December, 1986, Nancy Palmer, review of Sheep in a Jeep, p. 124; June, 1989, Nancy Palmer, review of Sheep on a Ship, p. 95; February, 1991, Luann Toth, review of Sheep in a Shop, p. 75; September, 1992, Lauralyn Persson, review of Sheep out to Eat, p. 210; September, 1997, Dina Sherman, review of Sheep Trick or Treat; July, 2003, Louise L. Sherman, review of Raccoon Tune, p. 106.

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