Gretchen Will Mayo (1936-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1936, in Dayton, OH; Education: Marquette University, B.S. (journalism), 1958; University of Dayton, teaching certificate (elementary education), 1959; attended Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, 1982-84, 200-06; Vermont College, M.F.A., 2000. Religion: Episcopalian. Hobbies and other interests: Traveling, hiking, reading, wildlife, movies, plays, winter in the north.
Teacher, 1958-63; Community Newspapers, Milwaukee, WI, reporter, 1966-70; artist, 1970-88. Teacher of college-level workshops on developing children's books and of elementary and secondary school workshops and programs on writing and illustrating; speaker/consultant for Chase/Pheifer/Puerling, Milwaukee, educational consultants. Teacher and writing coach for adults, beginning 1988.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Friends of the Cooperative Children's Book Center, Chicago Children's Reading Round Table, Cedarburg Artists Guild (member of board).
Outstanding Science Trade Book citation, and Chicago Book Clinic Award for Outstanding Art in a Children's Book, both 1979, both for The Kangaroo; New Jersey Author's Award, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1981, for I Hate My Name; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citation, Original Children's Book Art Award, New York Master Eagel Gallery, and Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choice, all 1987, all for Star Tales: North American Indian Stories; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citation, Original Children's Book Art Award, New York Society of Illustrators exhibit, and CCBC Choice, all 1989, all for Earthmaker's Tales: North American Indian Stories about Earth Happenings; Outstanding Citizen award, Pi Lambda Theta, 1993; CCBC Choice, 1993, and International Reading Association/Children's Book Council Children's Choice Award, selected among Twenty-five Best in Multicultural Books, Boston Globe, and Outstanding Achievement in Children's Literature by a Wisconsin author/illustrator citation, Wisconsin Library Association, all 1994, all for Meet Tricky Coyote! and That Tricky Coyote!
Star Tales: North American Indian Stories, Walker (New York, NY), 1987, published in two volumes as Star Tales and More Star Tales, 1990.
Earthmaker's Tales: North American Indian Stories about Earth Happenings, Walker (New York, NY), 1989, published in two volumes as Earthmaker's Tales and More Earthmaker's Tales, 1990.
Meet Tricky Coyote!, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.
That Tricky Coyote!, Walker (New York, NY), 1993.
Here Comes Tricky Rabbit!, Walker (New York, NY), 1994, published with Big Trouble for Tricky Rabbit!, 1996.
Big Trouble for Tricky Rabbit!, Walker (New York, NY), 1994, published with Here Comes Tricky Rabbit!, 1996.
"WHERE DOES OUR FOOD COME FROM?" SERIES; NONFICTION
Frozen Vegetables, Weekly Reader Learning Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Applesauce, Weekly Reader Learning Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Cereal, Weekly Reader Learning Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Pasta, Weekly Reader Learning Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Milk, Weekly Reader Learning Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Orange Juice, Weekly Reader Learning Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
"TRAILBLAZERS OF THE MODERN WORLD" SERIES; NONFICTION
The Wright Brothers (biography), World Almanac Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Frank Lloyd Wright (biography), World Almanac Library (Milwaukee, WI), 2004.
Paula Hogan, The Kangaroo (part of the "Life Cycle" series), Raintree (Austin, TX), 1979.
Eva Grant, I Hate My Name, Raintree (Austin, TX), 1980.
Barbara Steiner, Whale Brother, Walker (New York, NY), 1988.
Cary Siter, Moon of Falling Leaves, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1988.
Barbara Joosse, Anna, the One and Only, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1988.
Susan Rowen Masters, The Secret Life of Hubie Hartzel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.
Barbara Joosse, Anna and the Cat Lady (sequel to Anna, the One and Only ), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Also illustrator of Laura Greene's Help: Getting to Know about Needing and Giving, Human Sciences; has illustrated textbooks for Silver Burdett, Ginn, Scott Foresman, and Scholastic.
Earthmaker's Tales was recorded for Talking Books for the Blind, 1992.
After spending her early career as an elementary school teacher and journalist, Gretchen Will Mayo turned her attention to art after her husband gave her a set of acrylic paints to help her relax while raising her three young daughters. Teaching herself to paint, she soon realized that art was her passion. She first began exhibiting paintings, then lithography, and in the late 1970s she moved into illustration, creating art to pair with children's book texts by authors such as Paula Hogan and Barbara Joosse. By the mid-1980s Mayo had decided to combine her artistic talent with the expertise gained from her years working with young people as a teacher, and in 1987 she published Star Tales: North American Indian Stories. This first collection of folk tales inspired her to create several others, and Mayo has since gone on to produce both novels and several nonfiction works for younger readers. "The timeless connection to universal experiences and feelings has always drawn me to culture stories and myths," Mayo once explained to Something about the Author. "I especially love those belonging to the American Indians, rooted in a land which I, too, call 'home,' springing from an oral storytelling tradition which I greatly admire."
Star Tales came about after Mayo searched in vain for a collection of Native American tales about the night sky. "When my children were quite young, I wanted to tell them stories about the stars, as my father had done for me," she once noted. "I searched unsuccessfully for respectfully told American Indian star stories to read to them, stories which had risen out of this land rather than places which were oceans away. It astounded me that in this country children could look at the night sky and recite stories about the constellations from other nations all over the globe. But in libraries and bookstores we found no collections of American Indian stories about the stars for them to read—none written specifically for children." To fill this void, Mayo researched Native legends and created both the book's text and illustrations. Uncovering a wealth of folklore, she has gone on to produce several more self-illustrated volumes, among them Earthmaker's Tales, That Tricky Coyote!, Here Comes Tricky Rabbit!, and Big Trouble for Tricky Rabbit! Noting that the stories in That Tricky Coyote! "have been expertly gathered and retold," a Publishers Weekly contributor added that all of the five trickster tales are "superb choices for reading aloud." Reviewing Here Comes Tricky Rabbit! in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan had special praise for Mayo's illustrations, acrylic paintings done in muted earth tones that showcase the author/illustrator's "distinctive use of line."
Reflecting on the skills required in adapting stories from another culture for American readers, Mayo noted that the storyteller "needs to be sensitive and painstakingly responsible. If you are working outside of your own culture and living in a different frame of reference, you can be misled by the wording of old narrations or translations of stories. These translations usually don't illuminate the rich texture of detail and tradition underlying the story. In the case of traditional American Indian stories, many of them were recorded for the first time by non-Indians. I spent years gathering stories and researching the stories behind the stories of each of my books. I avoided retelling stories that I saw to be sacred, those held to be holy in the same manner as I regard my Bible stories. I surrounded the stories I wrote with introductions and afterwords—any information I could gather about the history of each story or about those who had narrated and recorded them. This information was often very hard to find."
While beginning her writing career adapting Native American tales, Mayo has more recently moved into juvenile fiction and nonfiction for Cricket and Highlights for Children magazines as well as the book market. She has produced juvenile biographies of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and the high-flying Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur, as well as several titles in Weekly Reader's "Where Does Our Food Come From?" series. Containing titles such as Orange Juice, Pasta, and Frozen Vegetables, the well-illustrated series answers basic questions about the source of edibles that many children encounter for the first time on supermarket shelves. Information on growing, packaging, transporting, and recipe preparation are discussed, as well as nutrition and the position of each particular food within the conventional food pyramid. Designed for children in the early elementary grades, Mayo's books are light on text, with only three or four short sentences per page. With their small, square shape, volumes such as Milk and Pasta will likely "attract readers for reports as well as young browsers," according to Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman.
Mayo, who was raised in the American Midwest, now makes her home in rural Wisconsin with her husband. "I grew up in southern Ohio," she once related, "where I swam in the streams, made mud slides, and searched for arrowheads and fossils along with dozens of cousins, my three brothers and our 'little' sister." Despite her active, outdoorsy childhood, Mayo also developed a love of reading and writing, as well as a talent for art. "When I was in the second grade, I invented a comic strip about the wild adventures of 'Harold and Wanda.' I sat on the school steps each morning with my friends and drew pictures of those two rascals. They broke all the rules that I wished I could break. While I drew, I pretended that I was right there with Harold and Wanda. That's how I learned what fun it could be to fit words together with pictures."
Mayo taps into that same creative mind set when she illustrate a picture-book text. "I imagine myself within the setting of the story along with the characters," she explained. "I imagine what they must see or feel. Those thoughts, running through my mind like a movie, influence the colors I choose and the style of my art. For this reason, my illustrations for one book may look quite different from another one. Since I began illustrating the hard way—without any real training—I'm always learning new techniques as I work. The excitement of finding a color or shape or medium that is just right usually follows a time of risk-taking and trial. Truly, creativity is a process, not an event."
Mayo's interest in stretching creatively has more recently led her to attain her master's in fine arts degree with a focus on writing novels for children and young adults. "The plots in my novels generally center on a young woman's need to find and follow her unique path in an adult-controlled world that is a powerful force against her interests and well-being," Mayo explained. "I'm curious about the ways young women use the vision and determination with which we're all born to some degree to significantly shape their lives. Furthermore, in my stories a young person's natural wish to belong is often in conflict with her dreams for herself. I've come to realize that all of my stories are about my own inner struggle. Thus, my girlhood need to find a balance between my interactions with people and my work toward my dreams continues even today. But I'm a visual artist as well as an author, so my dreams for myself include painting and exhibiting my art."
In addition to writing, Mayo studies oil painting at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. "Oils are new for me and with them I've become a fan of plein air painting, a fancy name for painting outdoors. I've found oil colors, their buttery consistency and slower drying time are perfectly suited to painting on location. I'm allowed to enjoy two passions at once; enjoying the outdoors and painting what I see with the hope of sharing that vision."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1993, p. 66; August, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Here Comes Tricky Rabbit!, p. 2046; April 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Pasta and Milk, p. 1385.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1993, p. 290.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1994, p. 703.
Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1993, review of Meet Tricky Coyote! and That Tricky Coyote!, p. 55.
School Library Journal, September, 1993, p. 225; July, 1994, p. 96; July, 2004, Michael Giller, review of Frank Lloyd Wright, p. 118.
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