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Russell Ayto (1960–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Illustrator, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1960, in Chichester, Sussex, England; Education: Attended Oxford Polytechnic; Exeter College of Art and Design, B.A. (graphic design; with honors). Hobbies and other interests: Collecting books on art and illustration.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Walker Books, 87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ, England.


Illustrator. John Radcliffe II Hospital, medical laboratory scientific officer in department of histopathology, 1979–80.

Honors Awards

Smartie's Book Prize Gold medal in under-five category, 2003, for The Witch's Children and the Queen, by Ursula Jones; Kate Greenaway Award shortlist, 2004, for One More Sheep by Mij Kelly.


Ian Whybrow, Quacky Quack-Quack!, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1991.

Vivian French, reteller, Lazy Jack, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

Anne Cottringer, Ella and the Naughty Lion, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.

Phyllis Root, Mrs. Potter's Pig, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.

Joyce Dunbar, The Baby Bird, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Ian Whybrow, Whiff, Barron's (Hauppauge, NY), 1999.

Ian Whybrow, Where's Tim's Ted?, Barron's (Hauppauge, NY), 2000.

Andrea Shavick, You'll Grow Soon, Alex, Walker (New York, NY), 2000.

James Sage, Fat Cat, HarperCollins (London, England), 2001, published as Farmer Smart's Fat Cat, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2002.

Ursula Jones, The Witch's Children, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

James Sage, Mr. Beast, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

Giles Andreae, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2005.


Parts of the book Quacky Quack-Quack! have been animated for a videotape featuring various children's books.


Award-winning children's book illustrator Russell Ayto worked at a number of magazines and even held a position as a part-time postman prior to turning to the field of freelance illustration. As Ayto once told SATA: "I've always liked painting and drawing and have really just ended up illustrating children's books! I never had an idea where or what I might have ended up doing. I just love the process of bringing characters and stories to life visually, adding something extra to the books. The most important thing for me, when illustrating, is to try and bring visual surprises to a book, so that, when you turn a page, you never know quite what is coming."

Critics have praised Ayto's gentle watercolor-and-ink illustrations in books such as Mrs. Potter's Pig by Phyllis Root, Ella and the Naughty Lion by Anne Cottringer, and The Witch's Children by Ursula Jones. The first title concerns a fastidious mother and her extremely messy baby, Ermajean. Worried Mother admonishes Ermajean that if she is not more tidy, one day she will turn into an actual pig, and when Ermajean and a little piglet actually switch places, surprises abound. Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke applauded the "ingenious interplay between text and pictures," calling Ayto "a master of framing and white space." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews also noted that the "illustrations are a perfect complement for the rollicking text, imbuing every character with lots of personality."

A jealous sibling protests the arrival of a new baby and welcomes the simultaneous appearance of a trouble-some lion in Ella and the Naughty Lion. At first Ella does not care for her new brother, Jasper, and the lion shows his equal distaste for the infant by chewing up Jasper's teddy bear and pulling off his blanket. As Ella gradually warms to her new little brother, the lion magically fades away and disappears. A contributor to Publishers Weekly observed that Ayto's color-washed "imprecise squiggles of ink" lend a "stuffed-animal softness to the imagery," and Booklist critic Ilene Cooper stated that Ayto's illustrations propel "a rather pedestrian story to a book with so many amusing visual details that young listeners will take a second look."

In The Witch's Children animals and people alike attempt to steer clear of the three mischievous witch's children, as they head out for a day of spells and shenanigans in their neighborhood park. After casting a variety of spells, they realize they do not know how to undo their own magic and must put their minds to the test to correct their mishaps. "Ayto's characters are wonderfully expressive," commented Horn Book critic Joanna Rudge Long. School Library Journal reviewer Maryann H. Owen also enjoyed Ayto's illustrations, noting that "small details in the drawings add to the humor." A Publishers Weekly reviewer believed that Ayto's artwork adds depth to the amusing storyline, writing that, "kinetic and creatively skewed, these illustrations make the most of the slender tale."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Lazy Jack, p. 73; August, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Mrs. Potter's Pig, p. 1905; September 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Ella and the Naughty Lion, p. 141; June 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Baby Bird, p. 1778; October 15, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of You'll Grow Soon, Alex, p. 447; July 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Farmer Smart's Fat Cat, p. 1860.

Bookseller, December 5, 2003, "Smarties Success," p. 29.

Horn Book, July-August, 2003, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Witch's Children, p. 443.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1996, p. 749; July 15, 1996, review of Mrs. Potter's Pig, p. 1046; April 1, 2003, review of The Witch's Children, p. 535.

Publishers Weekly, July 10, 1995, review of Lazy Jack, p. 57; September 2, 1996, review of Ella and the Naughty Lion, p. 130; March 17, 2003, review of The Witch's Children, p. 75; June 30, 2003, "A Moveable Feast for Preschoolers," p. 82.

School Library Journal, October, 1995, p. 125; July, 1996, Wendy Lukehart, review of Mrs. Potter's Pig, p. 71; July, 1998, Paula A. Kiely, review of Baby Bird, p. 73; October, 2000, Kathleen Whalin, review of You'll Grow Soon, Alex, p. 136; July, 2002, Marlene Gawron, review of Farmer Smart's Fat Cat, p. 98; July, 2003, Marann H. Owen, review of The Witch's Children, p. 99.


British Broadcasting Web site, http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (November 6, 2005), Blast interview with Ayto.

PFD Web site, http://www.pfd.co.uk/ (November 6, 2005), "Russell Ayto."

Walker Books Web site, http://www.walkerbooks.co.uk/ (November 6, 2005), "Russell Ayto."

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