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Colin (Edward) Thompson (1942-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1942, in London, England; third (second marriage) Hannah, Alice. Education: Attended art school in London, England.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Lothian Books, Level 5, 132-136 Albert Rd., South Melbourne, Victoria 3205, Australia.


Writer and illustrator of children's books, beginning 1990. Worked as a silkscreen printer, graphic designer, stage manager, documentary filmmaker for British Broadcasting Corp., and ceramicist.

Honors Awards

Primary English Best Picture Book Award, 1994, for Ruby; Aurealis Award, for How to Live Forever; Picture Book of the Year Award, English Association, for Falling Angels ; Honor Book citation, Australian Children's Book Council, 2004, for The Violin Man; Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nomination (Sweden), 2005.



Ethel the Chicken, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1990.

A Giant Called Norman Mary, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991.

The Paperbag Prince, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1992, published as The Paper Bag Prince, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

Pictures of Home, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1992, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1993.

Colin Thompson

Looking for Atlantis, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1993, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Sid the Mosquito and Other Wild Stories, Knight (London, England), 1993.

Ruby, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Attila the Bluebottle and More Wild Stories, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1995.

How to Live Forever (also see below), Julia MacRae (London, England), 1995, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.

Venus the Caterpillar and Further Wild Stories, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1996.

The Haunted Suitcase and Other Stories, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1996.

The Tower to the Sun, Julia MacRae (London, England), 1996, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.

Castle Twilight and Other Stories, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1997.

The Paradise Garden, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

The Last Alchemist, Hutchinson (London, England), 1999.

Falling Angels, Hutchinson (London, England), 2001.

Violin Man, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.

Castles, Hutchinson (London, England), 2006.


Sailing Home, illustrated by Matt Ottley, Hodder Headline (London, England), 1996.

The Last Circus, illustrated by Kim Gamble, Hodder Headline (London, England), 1997.

The Staircase Cat, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998.

The Puzzle Duck, illustrated by Emma Quay, Random House (Milsons Point, New South Wales, Australia), 1999.

Unknown, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Walker (New York, NY), 2000.

The Last Clown, illustrated by Penelope Gamble, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2001.

No Place like Home, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2001.

One Big Happy Family, illustrated by Karen Carter, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.

Round and Round and Round and Round, illustrated by Penelope Gamble, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.

Gilbert, illustrated by Chris Mould, Lothian Books (South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2003.

The Great Montefiasco, illustrated by Ben Redlich, Star Bright Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley, illustrated by Amy Lissiat, Lothian Books (South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2005.

Gilbert Goes Outside, illustrated by Chris Mould, Lothian Books (South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2005.


The Dog's Been Sick in the Honda , illustrated by Peter Viska, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999, revised as Fish Are So Stupid , illustrated by Chris Mould, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2000.

My Brother Drinks out of the Toilet, illustrated by Peter Viska, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.

There's Something Really Nasty on the Bottom of My Shoe, illustrated by Peter Viska, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.


Future Eden, Walker (London, England), 1999, published as Future Eden: A Brief History of Next Time, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2000.

Pepper Dreams, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.

How to Live Forever (novel; based on Thompson's picture book of the same title), Random House (Milsons Point, New South Wales, Australia), 2004.

Space the Final Effrontery (sequel to Future Eden ), Lothian (South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2005.


Neighbors, Random House (Milsons Point, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.

Home and Away, Random House (Milsons Point, New South Wales, Australia), 2006.

Playschool, Random House (Milsons Point, New South Wales, Australia), in press.


Laughing for Beginners (adult novel), Sceptre (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.

Work in Progress

theshophalfwaydownthestreet.com, for Hodder Headline; I Should Have Been Susan, "a collection of strange and wonderful pictures from my grandmother's photograph albums"; a novel based on The Paradise Garden; Enthusiasm Costs Extra, a sequel to Laughing for Beginners; Instructions, a book of short stories; The Mirrorball of the Gods, an adult novel; the picture books Love Is Sometimes under Your Foot and Norman and Betty, both illustrated by Amy Lissiat; Gilbert Goes Outside, the sequel to Gilbert.


Regarded as a gifted author and illustrator, Colin Thompson is lauded as a particularly imaginative artist as well as a committed supporter of the environment. He is recognized for providing young readers with demanding, yet satisfying, books that are considered both thought-provoking and entertaining. As an illustrator, Thompson creates colorful, intricate pictures filled with both realistic and surrealistic images as well as visual jokes and intertextual references; his work has been compared to such artists as Graeme Base and M. C. Escher.

Thompson came relatively late to writing literature for young children and did not begin publishing his detailed and inventive picture books and fantasies until the early 1990s. Born in London, England in 1942, his early schooling in both Yorkshire and West London led to two years of art instruction in his hometown of Ealing and in Hammersmith, where, as Thompson admitted on his home page, "I met people who could draw much better than I could." This knowledge did not dissuade him from working in the visual arts, however. Employed for a period of time as a silkscreen painter and graphic designer, Thompson later studied film and worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) creating television documentaries. In the late 1960s he moved to Scotland's Outer Hebrides islands and in 1975 to Cumbria. During this time, he began crafting ceramics while living in a remote farmhouse; he also spent a good deal of free time planting trees due to his concern for the environment, as well as raising his family and caring for his numerous adopted pets.

Thompson's first children's book, the easy-reader Ethel the Chicken, appeared in 1990. Heroine Ethel, who lives in a box labeled First Class Oranges, has been all but forgotten since the death of the old woman who used to feed her. A rat named Neville happens upon Ethel's home in the vacant house and the two become friends until Neville and his family move away. Briefly overcome with loneliness, Thompson's talking chicken finds happiness and companionship once again when a human family moves into the old woman's house. Written with care and childlike simplicity, Ethel the Chicken is designed to teach young children how to read, to appeal to their sense of humor, and to address their particular anxieties about friendship, love, and loneliness. Growing Point reviewer Margery Fisher lauded the work, noting that "When words and illustrations consort perfectly together, expressing both the warmth of humor and the tinge of wit, the result is a masterpiece and I think Ethel the Chicken is a masterpiece."

Thompson's second picture book, The Paper Bag Prince, is set in a town dump and expresses a pro-environmental message. The book's protagonist, an old man whose name has long since been forgotten, is known as the "Paper Bag Prince." He lives on the site, inhabiting a derelict railroad car and surviving off the town's refuse and junk. The arrival of Sarah from the city council and her announcement that the dump is to be shut down proves a welcome harbinger to the Paper Bag Prince: once the land on which the dump is located was his, and with the landfill closed nature can now begin to reclaim the soil so long abused by humans. A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews enthused, "In Thompson's lovely, intricate art … signs of life and renewal creep in everywhere.… More than just another ecological fantasy, this dump is a compelling symbol of the earth itself; it's to be hoped that, like the old man, humanity will be here to welcome nature back if the pollution ever abates." Writing in School Library Journal, Lori A. Janick commented that The Paper Bag Prince "effectively portrays the tenacity of nature as well as the resilience of the human spirit," while Books for Keeps critic Trevor Dickinson called the book one "which deserves to be widely popular through and beyond the school years."

Pictures of Home represents something of a departure for Thompson. The work consists of numerous detailed illustrations of houses along with several short, poetic texts composed by British schoolchildren. The texts describe each child's individual interpretation of home; for example, "Home is my parents./ You should have love in all homes./ Love is my parents." Although critics generally approved of Thompson's almost surreal paintings, many found Pictures of Home lacking a clear-cut connection between text and illustration. A Kirkus Reviews contributor found more to like, describing Pictures of Home as a "fascinating book, to pore over and share."

In Looking for Atlantis a man recalls his childhood and the return of his grandfather from an ocean voyage. Upon his arrival, the old man tells his grandson about a sea chest that contains the secret of a path to Atlantis. The rest of the story is a celebration of the joys of observation, accompanied by Thompson's detailed and engrossing drawings. Reviewing Looking for Atlantis in School Library Journal, Barbara Peklo Abrahams wrote that Thompson's "watercolor masterpieces … contain A shy stray overlooked at the local dog pound suddenly gains fame during a tragic fire in Thompson's uplifting Unknown. (Illustration by Anna Pignataro.) myriad images that are striking, mysterious, dreamlike, witty, and eternal, and the simple, spare prose holds transcendental truth." Booklist critic Mary Harris Veeder concluded that fans of Where's Waldo? will enjoy the book's illustrations due to their "combination of fine, realistic detailing and fantastical images"

In his award-winning picture-book mystery Ruby Thompson spins two interconnected tales involving an automobile: a red 1934 Austin Seven called Ruby. One tale evokes Ruby's travels around the world to exotic locations such as China's Great Wall and England's Stonehenge, while the other presents a tiny family lured from the safety of their tree-home by the arrival of the shiny red car. The miniature family members find themselves trapped in the vehicle, while their son Kevin is doubly so, having locked himself inside a briefcase. As Kevin's family attempts to find the combination to the case in order to free the boy, Thompson invites his readers to do the same, informing them that Ruby's license plate number and the combination are one and the same. Only by actively exploring the book's illustrations can the mystery be solved. A Publishers Weekly critic commented that, "Once again Thompson breaks barriers of narrative space and time with an ornately crafted, multilevel picture book," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor called Ruby "two wonderful picture books in one."

Thompson once again displays his cleverness and artistic virtuosity in How to Live Forever. The story's hero, Peter, finds himself in a vast library of a thousand rooms that is purported to contain every book ever written. Peter learns that one book, alluringly titled How to Live Forever, is missing. Eventually he happens upon the Ancient Child, a creature suspended in time, apparently because he has read the elusive book, and Peter wisely decides to give up his search. A Junior Bookshelf commentator praised the control exhibited in "Thompson's brief sentences and still more precise and exquisite drawings." While a Publishers Weekly critic warned that "many of the visual puns are too sophisticated for younger readers but will delight adults," the reviewer added that How to Live Forever "excites [reader] interest on several levels."

Set in the not-too-distant future, The Tower of the Sun presents a planet cloaked in a yellow fog of pollutants which permanently obscure the sun. Thompson's novel opens as the world's wealthiest man promises his grandson that he will one day show the boy a blue sky and a shining sun: "What use is all my money if I can't build dreams?" The man institutes an ambitious plan to construct a magnificent tower to achieve his goal, incorporating into his edifice such famous structures as the Guggenheim museum, the Taj Mahal, the Chrysler Building, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A Publishers Weekly critic mused that, "With its rich visual tapestry, a subtle message about what constitutes real wealth and an upbeat ending," Thompson's novel is "a crowd-pleaser," while a Reading Time contributor called Tower of the Sun an "extraordinary fantasy" that "challenges readers' moral insights and at the same time leaves those readers aesthetically satisfied."

In 1995 Thompson traveled from England to Sydney, Australia, to do a school visit, "and fell so much in love with the place that two weeks later I came back to live here," he wrote on his home page. Four years later, the divorced writer/illustrator married the librarian who first invited him to come to the school. Since moving to Australia he has collaborated with Australian artists on works such as Sailing Home, a collaboration with illustrator Matt Otley about a family who awakes one day and realizes that their house is no longer on firm land but instead is floating along in the middle of the sea.

Thompson collaborated with Aussie illustrator Anna Pignataro on Unknown, a book that teaches children an important lesson about pet ownership. The book takes its title from a shy little dog that has been abandoned at a local pound. All the animals in the shelter are named for the reasons why they wound up there: "Grown-Too-Large," "Owner-Died," "Unwanted-Christmas-Gift," and little "Unknown." None of the families who come to the pound looking for a pet take notice of the shy Unknown, hiding in the back of his cage, but the little dog proves his bravery when a fire threatens the shelter and its inhabitants. While there is a happy ending for the dogs, "Unknown's parting comment puts an edge on the sweetness," as John Peters noted in Booklist. "I got lucky," the little dog says. "But it would be good if we could put all the humans in cages and walk along with our noses in the air and choose the ones WE wanted." Unknown was deemed "a sure bet for any prospective young dog owner to stimulate discussion about owning a pet for life" by Holly Belli in her review for School Library Journal.

Thompson's other collaborative picture books include The Staircase Cat, about a cat who waits patiently in his long-time home after his caretaker disappears during a war; The Puzzle Duck, about an imaginative duck who makes up crazy stories and gives ill-thought-out advice; Gilbert, about a very skittish cat; The Great Montefiasco, about the most incompetent magician on earth; and The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley, about a very contented rat.

Self-illustrated books written since Thompson's move to Australia include The Paradise Garden, in which, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Once again, … his intricate, fantastical illustrations lure readers to a parallel universe where nothing is quite as it seems." In the book, the parallel universe is located in a small garden in the middle of a large, dirty, noisy city that is home to a boy named Peter. Peter runs away from his chaotic home to live in the garden and enjoy the fresh air and peace and quiet for a summer. Although he must eventually return home, he takes home a new-found sense of peace along with a few seeds from the garden plants. Thompson's illustrations of Peter's refuge show glimpses of tiny fairy-houses in the shrubbery and bamboo, along with many more of his trademark page-filling details.

The Last Alchemist is another solo effort by Thompson. A king who is determined to find an alchemist who can create gold is now on his nineteenth alchemist, Spiniflex. Spiniflex is highly motivated by the king's promises of treasure if he succeeds (and by a considerably worse fate if he fails), but he still cannot seem to find the correct formula. In the end the alchemist succeeds in turning the kingdom to gold, but not quite in the manner the king hoped. Critics particularly praised Thompson's illustrations for The Last Alchemist , wherein "each page is a treasure chest bursting with color, minute detail, wit, and surprise," according to Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly contributor also pointed out "a running sight gag in Thompson's [more recent] oeuvre—the ubiquitous "Café Max," with its red-checked curtains, tucked in like a cheeky footnote."

Ethel the chicken, fresh from Thompson's first book, returns in a very different story in Future Eden: A Brief History of Next Time. This "wickedly barbed low fantasy," as School Library Journal contributor John Peters termed it, began life as a serial that ran on Thompson's Web site. The story is set in 2287, when human beings are nearly extinct. One of the few remaining humans, Jay, has been camping out in a penthouse with the thickly feathered Ethel, but he gets bored and decides to go out and explore the world. Ethel is more than she seems, however: she is in fact a higher life form, originally from the planet Megatron. Since she created humans—and every other living thing on earth—she feels responsible for all the pain, war, and suffering Earth's creatures have felt throughout history. Ethel the alien's quest to discover why Earth's humans were all happy for one brief hour in October of 2042 provides the plot of the story. Her companions on this quest include Jay, whom she declares the Chosen One; the Delphic Oracle reincarnated as a goldfish; and the wizard Merlin from the King Arthur legends.

A prolific author, Thompson continues to produce his own picture books and to develop collaborative stories. In each of his works, however, his overall philosophy remains constant. "I have always believed in the magic of childhood and think that if you get your life right that magic should never end. I feel that if a children's book cannot be enjoyed properly by adults there is something wrong with either the book or the adult reading it."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Thompson, Colin, Unknown, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Walker (New York, NY), 2000.


Booklist, December 1, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 678; April 1, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Looking for Atlantis, p. 1441; July, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Last Alchemist, p. 1974; May 1, 2000, John Peters, review of Unknown, p. 1680.

Books for Keeps, May, 1992, Trevor Dickinson, review of The Paperbag Prince, p. 28.

Growing Point, July, 1991, Margery Fisher, review of Ethel the Chicken, pp. 5537-38.

Junior Bookshelf, April, 1996, review of How to Live Forever, p. 63.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1992, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 926; April 1, 1993, review of Pictures of Home, p. 465; November 11, 1994, review of Ruby, p. 1544; March 15, 1997, p. 469; September 1, 2001, review of Falling Angels, p. 1302; December 15, 2004, review of The Great Montefiasco, p. 1209.

New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1994, review of Looking for Atlantis, p. 30.

Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1992, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 79; April 19, 1993, review of Pictures of Home, p. 59; April 4, 1994, review of Looking for Atlantis, p. 77; October 24, 1994, review of Ruby, p. 60; May 13, 1996, review of How to Live Forever, p. 74; March 10, 1997, review of The Tower to the Sun, p. 65; March 16, 1998, review of The Paradise Garden, p. 64; June 14, 1999, review of The Last Alchemist, p. 70; December 17, 2001, review of Falling Angels, p. 94.

Reading Time, February, 1997, review of The Tower to the Sun, p. 15.

School Librarian, February, 1997, reviews of The Haunted Suitcase and The Tower to the Sun, p. 34. School Library Journal, February, 1993, Lori A. Janick, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 80; July, 1993, JoAnn Rees, review of Pictures of Home, p. 82; May, 1994, Barbara Peklo Abrahams, review of Looking for Atlantis, p. 118; December, 1994, Steven Engelfried, review of Ruby, p. 87; July, 1996, Heide Piehler, review of How to Live Forever, p. 74; May, 1998, Heide Piehler, review of The Paradise Garden, p. 127; July, 2000, Holly Belli, review of Unknown, p. 88; November, 2000, John Peters, review of Future Eden: A Brief History of Next Time, p. 162.

Wilson Library Bulletin, November, 1992, Frances Bradburn, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 75.


Colin Thompson Home Page, http://www.colinthompson.com (July 6, 2005).

One Woman's Writing Retreat Web site, http://www.prairieden.com/ (July 19, 2005), interview with Thompson.

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