Denys Cazet (1938-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1938, in Oakland, CA; Education: St. Mary's College, Moraga, CA, B.A., 1960; attended Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno), 1960-61; San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), teaching credential, 1961; attended University of California, Berkeley, 1962; Sonoma State College (now California State College, Sonoma), M.A., 1971; Pacific Union College, librarian credential, 1974.
Author and illustrator. Worked as a gardener, writer, mail carrier, warehouse worker, cable line worker, cook, stock clerk, and process server, 1955-60; taught school in Corcoran, CA, and in St. Helena, CA, 1960-75; writer, 1973—; Elementary School, St. Helena, librarian and media specialist, 1975-85; University of California, Davis, extension classes, member of faculty, 1976-78; St. Helena School District Media Centers, St. Helena, director, 1979-81; California College of Arts and Crafts, instructor, 1985-86. Founder of Parhelion & Co. (printers and designers of educational materials), 1972-73.
California Young Reader award, 1992, for Never Spit on Your Shoes.
Requiem for a Frog, Sonoma State College (Sonoma, CA), 1971.
The Non-Coloring Book: A Drawing Book for Mind Stretching and Fantasy Building, Chandler & Sharp, 1973.
The Duck with Squeaky Feet, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1980.
Mud Baths for Everyone, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1981.
You Make the Angels Cry, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1983.
Lucky Me, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1983.
Big Shoe, Little Shoe, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1984.
Christmas Moon, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1984.
Saturday, Bradbury Press (Scarsdale, NY), 1985.
December 24th, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1986.
Frosted Glass, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1987.
A Fish in His Pocket, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Mother Night, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Sunday, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Great-Uncle Felix, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Good Morning, Maxine!, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Daydreams, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Never Spit on Your Shoes, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
I'm Not Sleepy, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Are There Any Questions?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Born in the Gravy, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Nothing at All!, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Dancing, music by Craig Bond, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Night Lights: Twenty-four Poems to Sleep On, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Minnie and Moo Go to the Moon, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1998.
Minnie and Moo Go Dancing, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1998.
Minnie and Moo Go to Paris, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1999.
Minnie and Moo Save the Earth, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1999.
Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 2000.
Minnie and Moo and the Thanksgiving Tree, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 2000.
Never Poke a Squid, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Minnie and Moo Meet Frankenswine, HarperCollins (NewYork, NY), 2001.
Minnie and Moo and the Potato from Planet X, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Minnie and Moo: The Night before Christmas, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Minnie and Moo: The Night of the Living Bed, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Minnie and Moo and the Seven Wonders, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
Minnie and Moo: Will You Be My Valentine?, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Elvis the Rooster Almost Goes to Heaven, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Elvis the Rooster and the Magic Words, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Minnie and Moo: The Attack of the Easter Bunnies, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Halloween Pie, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
Minnie and Moo: The Case of the Missing Jelly Donut, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
The Octopus, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
The Perfect Pumpkin Pie, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
A Snout for Chocolate, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Minnie and Moo, Wanted Dead or Alive, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
Dan Elish, The Great Squirrel Uprising, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Donna Maurer, Annie, Bea, and Chi Chi Dolores: A School Day Alphabet, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Leah Komaiko, Where Can Daniel Be?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
"Every moment in a writer's life exerts some influence on his work," author and illustrator Denys Cazet once commented to Something about the Author ( SATA ). With such whimsical works as The Duck with Squeaky Feet, A Fish in His Pocket, and the "Minnie and Moo" series to his credit, Cazet has become well known in the world of children's picture books. A prolific author and illustrator, he has more than thirty-five self-illustrated story-books to his credit, and he is respected for his ability to give "dignity to a child's need to feel special," according to School Library Journal contributor Leda Schubert. Cazet is also noted for creating unique beginning readers; in a review of The Octopus, Horn Book contributor Betty Carter noted the author's "short, declarative sentences, snappy dialogue," and an "ambitious" and "original story" that features a structure "not usually found in books for the youngest of readers." Also commenting on Cazet's tall tale—narrated by a grandfather who recalls the time a host of sea creatures were swept by a bad storm through the sewers and up out of the bathtub drain—will appeal to young readers due to its "humor, action, and compasion."
Born in Oakland, California, in 1938, Cazet was raised in what he has described as a "traditional 'first American' French family [with] … a strange mix of features—European with a touch of American." Each member of his large family was an individualist, which, Cazet recalled, "made for impossible personality situations.… They were a lively and noisy cast of characters." The most lively times were those spent around the table, during meals that were followed by card playing and discussions that evolved into arguments ranging from "current political conflicts to how many layers of custard in a proper Napoleon." No sooner had one meal been completed, but the table was being set for another. "Family functions were like participating in a Renaissance fair held in the middle of a Barnum and Bailey freak show," Cazet added. "Everyone had a position to maintain and a point to get across. The intellectuals got theirs across by dismissing everyone else's arguments as so much rubbish, and those less endowed, by not knowing the difference. Stories were told with great gusto, laughter, and animation. Each version became more elaborate than the last. Children walked and talked with adults. They were treated with care, respect, and above all, were listened to. For a child, it was like being at the bottom of the funnel of love."
Some of Cazet's picture books reflect these close relationships between the generations, especially between children and grandparents or other elderly relatives. For example, December 24th is a holiday story with a difference, as Grandpa Rabbit's doting grandchildren, Emily and Louise, stump him the day before Christmas by having him guess what holiday it is (it turns out that Grandpa was born on Christmas Eve, so it is also his birthday). Leslie Chamberlin observed in School Library Journal that there is "more than enough love to go around in this warm, vibrant and charming family story." In Great-Uncle Felix, a young rhino named Sam eagerly awaits the arrival of the dapper Great-Uncle Felix. While Sam worries that his small social blunders will make his uncle think less of him, Felix quickly reassures the youngster that Sam holds a special place in his heart precisely because he is who he is. A Publishers Weekly critic called Great-Uncle Felix "a quiet and satisfying evocation of intergenerational love and mutual respect."
Sunday, with its pen-and-ink drawings and text simplified for more inexperienced readers, recounts Barney's Sundays spent with his grandparents. Grandpa Spanielson (yes, the family is a dog family), a war veteran, proudly wears his medals to church; later the group participates in the church pancake breakfast and a game of Bingo. When Grandpa attempts to help fix a neighbor's clothes dryer, chaos ensues before everyone goes home to a quiet dinner and stories. While maintaining that the plot of Sunday is subdued, Booklist reviewer Denise Wilms added that "there is a strong sense of family warmth" in the story. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "a friendly look at the comedy in some familiar activities."
If a human baby has a babysitter, then Louie, a young rabbit, has bunnysitters, and in Big Shoe, Little Shoe, his most favorite of all bunnysitters are his grandma and grandpa. While the three usually spend relaxing days together playing checkers, this day is different: Grandpa has to make an important delivery at 4:00 and must watch the clock. Louie is not allowed to go but must stay and clean his room; Grandpa tells the disappointed bunny that only those who wear the big shoes are allowed on this trip. Louie, who would rather his grandfather stay at home, hatches on a clever plan—to hide the older man's big shoes so he cannot leave the house either. A Publishers Weekly commentator called Big Shoe, Little Shoe "a merry story, spiced by fun, colorful art." School Library Journal correspondent Diane S. Rogoff found the book "nicely told, without becoming cloying."
In Frosted Glass, Cazet uses pencil and watercolor to paint a portrait of a budding artist who is unaware that there is more to talent than being able to draw shapes exactly the same way the teacher does. Young Gregory, a pup struggling through art lessons at school, tries hard to concentrate on his lessons, but his vivid imagination turns flower vases into rocket ships soaring into space. Fortunately, his wise and supportive teacher recognizes the youngster's talent, in a story useful for sparking "a discussion on creativity and imagination," according to Booklist reviewer Denise Wilms. A Publishers Weekly critic also praised Frosted Glass, calling it "an affirmation of friendship and childhood creativity." Writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne dubbed the work "insightful and entertaining," and added: "The art keeps the quiet story perking along in perfect harmony with its leading character."
Childhood is full of new experiences, and children are sometimes faced with strange situations that cause anxiety or confusion. Cazet addresses several of these situations in such books as A Fish in His Pocket, Are There Any Questions?, and You Make the Angels Cry. In A Fish in His Pocket, illustrated in brown-toned water-color and pencil, Russell the bear cub drops his math book into a pond on the way to school; when he fishes it out, he discovers that a small fish became caught within its pages and died. Feeling responsible for the fish's death and confused about what to do, he ponders on it all day, even discussing the matter with his teacher before finally deciding to make a paper boat in which the ex-fish can fittingly sail into the sunset. David Gale, in an appraisal for School Library Journal, praised the volume as "a respectful and amusing book that celebrates the renewal of life," while in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne commented that Russell's "childlike behavior will strike sympathetic chords" with youngsters concerned about the results of their own mishaps. A Kirkus Reviews critic pronounced A Fish in His Pocket a "fine exploration of a sensitive subject."
Are There Any Questions? is the title of Cazet's story about school field trips, events that can strike both excitement and terror into young scholars—sometimes simultaneously. In his humorous story, readers meet Arnie, who goes with his class to the local aquarium to see everything from snakes and turtles to piranhas, squid, and alligators. There is a lot of confusion about permission slips, who sits with whom on the bus, and who brought what for lunch, and "children will enjoy recognizing themselves and their friends in Arnie's class," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor Nancy Seiner. "Cazet accurately portrays a primary-grade field trip," noted Booklist correspondent Karen Hutt, and his "homey illustrations hilariously fill in details Arnie leaves out," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic.
While most of Cazet's books feature animal characters that have been given the mental and physical characteristics of civilized human beings, some of his works also feature actual humans. Readers meet young Alex and his dad in a series of two books, beginning with I'm Not Sleepy. The title tells the story: Alex will try any trick to keep from going to sleep, despite his dad's efforts to tire him out with tales of high adventure and daring do, all starring his young son. Both language and illustrations alternate between Alex's realistic bedroom and the dreamlike tropical jungles and mysterious shadows of the storyteller's world. "This is Cazet at his best," hailed Luann Toth in her School Library Journal review. "He has taken an age-old theme and given it fresh, humorous enchantment." A Publishers Weekly critic predicted that "families will embrace this warm, wry and reassuring celebration of father and son in a familiar ritual."
Alex and his dad appear again in Dancing, as the arrival of a new baby breaks the quiet of their evening hours together. Although frustrated at first and afraid that he has lost his father's devotion, Alex is eventually reassured that his dad will always be there for him; a dance in the moonlight cements their strong relationship. "Luminous watercolors," as a Kirkus Reviews commentator attested, illustrate a story with a musical score that "works both as a lesson about sibling rivalry and as a lullaby."
The nighttime setting of I'm Not Sleepy and Dancing is revisited in the poetry collection Night Lights: Twentyfour Poems to Sleep On as well as in the lyrical story Mother Night. School Library Journal contributor Angela J. Reynolds appraised the former as a collection that deserves "a place in the plethora of bedtime books, where it will spice up those sleepy poems and give children a fun place to dream." In Mother Night Cazet gently depicts a variety of bedtime rituals, undertaken by bears, foxes, birds, and field mice. As the new day approaches, the animals rise to greet the sun, reminding young listeners that a new day can only be reached after "good nights" are said. "Cazet succeeds best with his impressionistic watercolor renditions of the night sky and nighttime landscapes," wrote School Library Journal contributor Ruth K. MacDonald, who described the result as "solemn and elegant."
Cazet's books continue to range in theme from such gentle, reassuring stories to tales comprised of total nonsense, complete with appropriately silly illustrations. In The Duck with Squeaky Feet, "especially for the whimsically minded," as Barbara Elleman remarked in Booklist, foolishness reigns among the animal kingdom, as a stage-struck duck with new shoes brings down the house amid a menagerie of other whimsical animals. And in Nothing at All!, what Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Betsy Hearne characterized as "upbeat barnyard buffoonery" follows the announcement, via megaphone, "Cock-a-doodle-dooooo! Good morning to you!," by a farm's resident rooster. Pairs of animals greet the day in a swinging verse story that features animal sounds and provides young readers with "a colorful cast, a lively scarecrow rap, and a surprise ending," according to Booklist critic Kathryn Broderick.
A visit to his mother-in-law's house in the Napa Valley inspired a whole new direction in Cazet's work. Driving in the car with his young family, he saw a herd of cows in a pasture. Usually the cows in the herd all faced the same direction, but on this particular occasion, two of them were standing at a remove from the herd, facing in the opposite direction. From that observation Cazet devised Minnie and Moo, a pair of bovine friends whose behavior is unconventional indeed. In a series of easy-to-read chapter books aimed at early independent readers, Cazet has devised all sorts of antics for the pair, from adventures tied to holidays to episodes of travel mix-ups, and even to encounters with space aliens. Throughout all the books, Minnie and Moo preserve their close friendship and often blunder into pranks that save the day.
In Minnie and Moo and the Thanksgiving Tree, for instance, the cows take pity on the turkeys in their barnyard and help the feathered gobblers hide in a big tree. This event causes a general panic, as the chickens and pigs fear they may be expected to substitute for the turkeys. Before long, all the farm animals are hiding in the tree, just as the farmer's wife fills the table with vegetarian dishes. Of course, the animals start to lose their grip on the branches and find themselves falling onto the table. In her Booklist review of the title, Ilene Cooper commented upon the amount of hilarity Cazet is able to stuff into an easy reader, concluding that the book is "a cornucopia of fun."
Other holidays are skewered in Minnie and Moo: Will You Be My Valentine? and Minnie and Moo: The Attack of the Easter Bunnies. In the first book, the bovines decide to play Cupid, causing ruffled feathers everywhere when they fail to get their love notes to the proper recipients, while in The Attack of the Easter Bunnies they go in search of a replacement egg-hider when their farmer announces that he is too old to play Easter Bunny for his grandchildren's egg hunt. Minnie and Moo save Christmas for their farm family in Minnie and Moo: The Night before Christmas. Inspired by the Clement C. Moore poem, the cows create their own sleigh, lumber to the farmhouse roof, and create havoc as they mis-deliver the farmer's holiday gifts. In Minnie and Moo Go to Paris, the duo think they are touring the world, when all they are actually doing is visiting the landmarks in their own community. Whatever their pranks, Minnie and Moo are designed to delight not only the beginning reader, but also the adult who may be helping that reader to get started. Cooper, in a Booklist review, called the quirky cows "a jaunty duo that … elicits giggles at a glance."
Elvis the rooster makes cameo appearances in the "Minnie and Moo" series, but with Elvis the Rooster Almost Goes to Heaven and Elvis the Rooster and the Magic Words he takes on star status. All set to perform his important job of ushering in the daylight, Elvis chokes on a bug just as the sun peeks over the horizon in the first book. Realizing that day came without his help, Elvis sinks into despair and takes to his bed. It falls to the other residents of the chicken house to restore Elvis's confidence and joy of living. In Elvis the Rooster and the Magic Words the rooster's lack of manners cause his fellow chicken-coop dwellers to ignore demands made without a "please" attached. Some reviewers particularly liked Cazet's illustrations of Elvis, whose cockscomb is distinctly rockabilly. A Publishers Weekly critic praised the book for "packing plenty of pluck and cluck, and careening from the slapstick to the droll."
In addition to the books he writes himself, Cazet has also contributed illustrations to the works of other authors, including Donna Maurer and Leah Komaiko. While most of the characters in Cazet's illustrations are animals, he admits: "the truth is, they are all based on the wonderful people who influenced my life. They gave me much, and I try not to forget them. By putting them in my books, I hope to make them live forever." Speaking specifically of Minnie and Moo to J. Loudon Bennett in New York's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Cazet said: "All I want to do is tell a good story about two really close friends, and when I do that I seem to have the ability to pull together what makes for good friendships."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1981, Barbara Elleman, review of The Duck with the Squeaky Feet, p. 751; April 15, 1987, Denise Wilms, review of Frosted Glass, pp. 1283-1284; April 15, 1988, Denise Wilms, review of Sunday, pp. 1426-1428; August, 1992, Karen Hutt, review of Are There Any Questions?, pp. 2016-2017; March 1, 1994, Kathryn Broderick, review of Nothing at All, p. 1268; September 15, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Dancing, p. 175; July, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Minnie and Moo Go Dancing, p. 1891; December 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Minnie and Moo Go to Paris, p. 715; September 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Minnie and Moo and the Thanksgiving Tree, p. 127; January 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Minnie and Moo: Will You Be My Valentine?, p. 904; January 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Octopus, p. 868.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1987, Betsy Hearne, review of Frosted Glass, p. 163; January, 1988, Betsy Hearne, review of A Fish in His Pocket, p. 84; July-August, 1994, Betsy Hearne, review of Nothing at All, pp. 351-352; September, 1998, review of Minnie and Moo Go Dancing, p. 10; October, 1999, review of Minnie and Moo Go to Paris, p. 715.
Horn Book, September-October, 1998, Martha V. Parravano, review of Minnie and Moo Go to the Moon, p. 604; January-February, 2005, Betty Carter, review of The Octopus, p. 89.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1987, review of A Fish in His Pocket, p. 988; March 1, 1988, review of Sunday, p. 360; July 1, 1992, review of Are There Any Questions?, p. 847; July 15, 1995, review of Dancing, p. 1021; January 1, 2004, review of The Attack of the Easter Bunnies, p. 34; April 1, 2004, review of Elvis the Rooster and the Magic Words, p. 326.
Publishers Weekly, February 10, 1984, review of Big Shoe, Little Shoe, p. 194; March 13, 1987, review of Frosted Glass, p. 82; December 25, 1987, review of Great-Uncle Felix, p. 73; March 9, 1992, review of I'm Not Sleepy, p. 55; March 17, 2003, review of Elvis the Rooster Almost Goes to Heaven, p. 77.
Rochester Democratic and Chronicle, June 25, 2003, J. Loudon Bennett, "Minnie and Moo Message Is Secondary."
School Library Journal, August, 1984, Diane S. Rogoff, review of Big Shoe, Little Shoe, pp. 57-58; December, 1986, Leslie Chamberlin, review of December 24th, p. 82; December, 1987, David Gale, review of A Fish in His Pocket, p. 72; March, 1988, Leda Schubert, review of Great-Uncle Felix, p. 160; January, 1990, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of Mother Night, p. 78; February, 1992, Luann Toth, review of I'm Not Sleepy, p. 72; September, 1992, Nancy Seiner, review of Are There Any Questions?, p. 200; May, 1997, Angela J. Reynolds, review of Night Lights: Twenty-four Poems to Sleep On, p. 99; September, 2000, Holly Belli, review of Never Poke a Squid, p. 186; March, 2004, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of The Attack of the Easter Bunnies, p. 154; June, 2004, Melinda Piehler, review of Elvis the Rooster and the Magic Words, p. 104; September, 2004, Shauna Yusko, review of Minie and Moo: The Night before Christmas, p. 78; January, 2005, Laura Scott, review of The Octopus, p. 88.
HarperCollins Web site, http://www.harperchildrens.com/(July 15, 2005), "Denys Cazet."*
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