Cooper Edens (1945–) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1945, in WA; Education: University of Washington, B.A., 1970. Politics: "Universalist." Religion: "Universalist."
Agent—c/o Green Tiger Press/Laughing Elephant, 3645 Interlake Avenue N., Seattle, WA 98103.
Author and illustrator, 1978–. Participant in programs of Children's Museum of the Museum of Seattle, WA. Exhibitions: Foster-White Gallery, Seattle, 1970–.
Children's Critic Award, Bologna International Children's Book Fair, 1980, for The Starcleaner Reunion; American nominee for Golden Apple Award (Prague, Czechoslovakia), 1983, for Caretakers of Wonder.
If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1978, 2nd edition, 1984, reprinted, Chronicle Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Starcleaner Reunion, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1979.
Caretakers of Wonder, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA) 1980.
With Secret Friends, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1981.
Inevitable Papers, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1982.
(With others) Paradise of Ads, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
Now Is the Moon's Eyebrow, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
Hugh's Hues, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1988.
Nineteen Hats, Ten Teacups, an Empty Birdcage, and the Art of Longing, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1992.
The Little World, Blue Lantern Books, 1994.
If You're Still Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Emily and the Shadow Shop, illustrated by Patrick Dowers, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1982.
A Phenomenal Alphabet Book, illustrated by Joyce Eide, 1982.
The Prince of the Rabbits, illustrated by Felix Meroux, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1984.
Santa Cows, illustrated by Daniel Lane, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1991.
The Story Cloud, illustrated by Kenneth LeRoy Grant, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1991.
A Present for Rose, illustrated by Molly Hashimoto, Sasquatch Books, 1993.
Shawnee Bill's Enchanted Five-Ride Carousel, illustrated by Daniel Lane, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1994.
Santa Cow Island, illustrated by Daniel Lane, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1994.
How Many Bears?, illustrated by Marjett Schille, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.
The Wonderful Counting Clock, illustrated by Kathleen Kimball, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
Santa Cow Studios, illustrated by Daniel Lane, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
Nicholi, illustrated by A. Scott Banfill, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Alexandra Day) The Christmas We Moved to the Barn, illustrated by Alexandra Day, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Alexandra Day) Taffy's Family, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Harold Darling and Richard Kehl) Invisible Art, Blue Lantern Studio (Seattle, WA), 1999.
(With Daniel Lane) The Animal Mall, illustrated by Edward Miller, Dial (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Alexandra Day) Special Deliveries, illustrated by Alexandra Day, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
How Many Bears? has been translated into Spanish.
Alexandra Day, Helping the Sun, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
Alexandra Day, Helping the Flowers and Trees, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
Alexandra Day, Helping the Night, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
Alexandra Day, Helping the Animals, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
(With Alexandra Day and Welleran Poltarnees) Children from the Golden Age, 1880–1930, Green Tiger Press (San Diego, CA), 1987.
(Compiler) The Glorious Mother Goose, illustrated by various artists, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1988.
(Compiler) Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: The Ultimate Illustrated Edition, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
(Compiler) Beauty and the Beast, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(Compiler) Goldilocks and the Three Bears, illustrated by various artists, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(Compiler) Little Red Riding Hood, illustrated by various artists, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1989.
(Compiler) The Glorious ABC, illustrated by various artists, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1990.
(Compiler) Day and Night and Other Dreams, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Compiler) Hansel and Gretel, illustrated by various artists, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Compiler) Jack and the Beanstalk, illustrated by various artists, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(Compiler with Harold Darling) Favorite Fairy Tales, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1991.
(Compiler) The Three Princesses, illustrated by various artists, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Alexandra Day and Welleran Poltarnees) An ABC of Fashionable Animals, Green Tiger Press (New York, NY), 1991.
(Compiler with Richard Kehl) The Flower Shop, illustrated by various artists, Blue Lantern Books (Seattle, WA), 1992.
(Compiler with Richard Kehl) The Heart Shop, illustrated by various artists, Blue Lantern Books (Seattle, WA), 1992.
(Compiler with Harold Darling), Clement Moore, The Night before Christmas, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
(Compiler) Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
(Compiler) E. Charles Vivian, Robin Hood, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2002.
(Compiler) 'Tis the Season: A Classic Illustrated Christmas Treasury, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
(Compiler) Robert Louis Stevenson, A Child's Garden of Verses, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
(Compiler) Princess Stories, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
(Compiler) The Glorious American Songbook, illustrated by various artists, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2005.
The Starcleaner Reunion was adapted as a ballet.
Author and illustrator Cooper Edens is noted for his quirky plots, colorful illustrations, and his long affiliation with Green Tiger Press, a San Diego-based small publisher founded by Harold and Sandra Day that first gained a reputation for reproducing the work of nineteenth-century illustrators during the 1970s. Himself an aficionado of the works of the "Golden Age of Illustration," Edens had written and illustrated a number of books for young children, and has shared the imaginative visions of artists from the era that produced Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Jesse Willcox Smith, Kay Nielsen, and others by compiling volumes that col-lect the artwork of various artists that illustrate the same classic children's text. Edens' earliest self-illustrated picture books, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Add One More Star to the Night and The Starcleaner Reunion, remained in publication for over three decades after first appearing in the late 1970s.
Raised in Washington state on the shore of Lake Washington, Edens once told SATA: "A huge highway separated me from prospective playmates who might otherwise have come to visit. Consequently, I spent many hours alone by the lake, daydreaming. I would imagine the island in the lake to be a pirate ship, or another world altogether. It seems to me that many artists are, or were in childhood, enchanted by bodies of water—the sea, a lake, a creek or a pond. This was certainly true for me. I had a rowboat which I repainted again and again; first it was a giraffe, then a zebra.
"I tended to miss quite a bit of school. I don't remember whether this was for some legitimate reason, or simply because I didn't want to go. My earliest 'textbooks' were coloring books which I would color in peculiar ways, changing the words as I went along. I cut up and reorganized comic strips from the newspaper, superimposing, say, Felix the Cat into the alien world of another comic strip character.
"On very hot days I would invite friends to watch me draw on the walls of my tent, listening to nonsensical recitations of my own stories. I guess my storytelling actually began in those strange tent proceedings. I also wrote songs. My art work began by coloring over other people's drawings. My uncle campaigned for mayor and when he lost the election, I inherited all of his posters. I colored them, and then began to design my own, inspired by such television shows as Hopalong Cassidy. In fourth grade, when my attendance in school became more regular, I was put in charge of the bulletin board, changing it for each holiday and season. It could be said in relation to my work today that I am still doing the bulletin board! "My confidence grew out of these coloring book and bulletin board escapades. I considered myself master of color. In junior high school, I was regarded the 'art guy,' who was always hanging out in the 'art room.'
"Philosophically I hold that everyone comes into the world with something great to share. The first authority figure we encounter, be it parent or teacher, encourages or stifles the gift. Our early creativity is fragile and can be easily crushed. As luck had it, I was encouraged in school."
Edens' first self-illustrated picture book, The Starcleaner Reunion, had an interesting genesis. As its creator once recalled to SATA: "When I began to exhibit my work, I noted that some of the characters in my paintings tended to recur. One day I randomly laid the paintings on the floor and began to lace the images together with titles. I wrote a story around the paintings, which became The Starcleaner Reunion. So my first book was about tying images together with words. Since then, however, I write the story first and then illustrate it.
"My original Starcleaners, as I was to discover, were oversized for standard publishing practice. I put these giant cardboard figures in a suitcase—the combined weight of which was over two hundred pounds—and carried them to New York in the middle of the summer, sweating profusely as I made the rounds of New York publishers. I had visions of publishers occupying grand rooms, where all of an illustrator's art work was hung on white, spotlighted gallery walls. In fact, the offices of these prominent people were often smaller than my suitcase! I often set up my gigantic Starcleaners on top of someone's bologna sandwich. Everyone responded favorably to my work, but felt that it was too expensive to reproduce. This was in 1978, before four-color printing was feasible for large publishers.
"Several editors suggested that I contact Green Tiger Press, which had a reputation for being eccentric. I went to Green Tiger, and they were willing to invest in my work, although they published my second book, If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow, first. Night Rainbow was a song I had many times attempted to have recorded. I submitted the song as a text and Green Tiger okayed it, but they didn't know that I could draw. They had already submitted the book to several well-known illustrators, but liked my work and decided to accept my illustrations. Green Tiger put up the money to make four-color separation and we came out with a soft-cover first edition, which was very unusual because there weren't many soft-covered children's books. An advantage is that they can be easily mailed as gifts and are, therefore, sold in gift shops. If You're Afraid of the Dark, Remember the Night Rainbow was often the only book sold in such shops. These outside markets helped get 200,000 copies of the book sold because it never had to compete with other children's books."
In creating the many unique picture books he has written since, Edens sometimes joins with other illustrators, such as Sandra Darling, who under the pen name Alexandra Day, has collaborated with Edens on books such as Darby, the Special-Order Pup, The Christmas We Moved to the Barn, and Special Deliveries, all which feature Day's watercolor illustrations. In Darby, the Special-Order Pup the chewing habit that results in the ouster of a young English bull terrier from the Bell family home ultimately saves the day in a "sparse but effective text" that Booklist contributor Ellen Mandel praised for its surprise ending. Calling Special Deliveries "delightful" and "imaginative," Mandel also enjoyed Edens and Day's story about a group of animals that, with their owner, take over a rural postal route and pen letters for lonely neighbors who miss receiving letters. In Publishers Weekly a reviewer also praised the picture book, calling it "beguilingly and deceptively straightforward," but with "imaginative pleasures at every turn."
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Edens joins illustrator Daniel Lane in Santa Cows, a spoof of the Santa Claus myth that was described as "a preposterous yarn that plays havoc with Clement Clarke Moore's famous Christmas rhyme and attacks our fast-food, video-driven culture," by Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist. In Santa Cows, the nine members of a modern family are enjoying their microwaved Christmas dinners when they are visited by a herd of cows bearing decorations for the house and equipment for a Christmas-day game of baseball. The result is a "wacky fantasy" that a reviewer for Publishers Weekly predicted "will leave readers who appreciate its irreverent humor wanting more."
Lane also teams up with Edens for Shawnee Bill's Enchanted Five-Ride Carousel. In this story, Shawnee Bill, "summertime's answer to Saint Nick," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, provides the town's toddlers with a special ride on his carousel's animals. Freed from the carousel, the cavorting animals carry the babies through fields of wildflowers.
In Nicholi, illustrated by A. Scott Banfill, Edens returned to the theme of Christmas, this time in the story of an annual snow-sculpting event at which a stranger appears and carves out a sleigh and a team of reindeer that magically come to life. The stranger, named Nicholi, then offers the townspeople a ride on the sleigh, which sails over the earth and meets up with the other ice sculptures in the show, all magically come to life. "Edens's first-person text bespeaks genuine childlike exhilaration," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic, adding that the storyline provides a large part of the enjoyment to be gleaned from this "brightly wrapped holiday fantasy."
In more recent years Edens has devoted much of his time to creating a series of volumes celebrating the history of children's book illustration. In these books, Edens reprints one version of a classic children's story, such as Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Pinocchio, or Beauty and the Beast, together with illustrations from a number of artists who have adapted the tales since the nineteenth century. In The Three Princesses: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Edens presents three traditional tales about princesses, each accompanied by splendid colored artwork. The great asset of such work "for anyone interested in the history of book illustration," attested Michael Dirda in the Washington Post Book World, is Edens' selection of more than 150 illustrations from artists of the past. As a "sampler" in the history of children's book illustration, The Three Princesses is "tantalizing," Dirda concluded, and should inspire readers to seek out the original books Edens drew upon as his sources. Edens takes a similar approach with The Glorious American Songbook, studding over fifty songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and other composers with vintage illustrations dating from each song's original publication.
As an author, Edens' general philosophical approach to children's literature is a departure from traditional precepts. "Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, and Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are are the classic big four stories in my opinion, and they all work in a similar way. Essentially these stories transport us to the world of dreams from which we must return. In essence these books are saying, 'You must be home for dinner.' They present a dualistic vision: there is a dream world, and there is a real world to which you must return. I'm trying to break the dualism of the classic tale. My stories embrace the philosophy that these two worlds exist simultaneously—the real world is a dream and the dream world is real. Because of this, there are no classic quests in my books. I don't have people going away to the dream world and returning to reality.
"In Caretakers of Wonder, for example, the characters are real people doing such surreal things as balancing rainbows or mending clouds. My characters are in a real world doing dream things or in a dream doing real things. It isn't a voyage through a door to some strange and secret place. After all, the only real secret is that when you're awake you're in a dream and when you are asleep you're in reality…. Many schools use Caretakers of Wonder to teach children about ecology. This feels good because it means I'm not sending a completed work into the world, but a catalyst. I want my readers to have the necessary room for a creative response to my work."
Edens offers the following encouragement to young artists: "The hardest step is to admit that you want to do it," he once explained. "But the second you start, something will come back to you—call it God or nature or mystery. I'm a witness to the fact that if you participate you will be joined by some other energy or spirit or friend; then, you're instantly a team, a couplement, and once this happens, everything is easy. When people submit their books to me I always say, 'The one thing that separates you from most people is that you want to do it; the minute you want to do it, you're a very select person.' There aren't that many people who consistently work at something, who consistently show up….
"There is craft involved in any art. You'll have to know the brushes and paints eventually. But there are victories before you learn the right brush. You can make a lot of spills and still find a reason to show up again. After all, you're with friends. As a philosopher once said, 'The planet exists because life needs it.' It isn't the earth that makes life possible, it's life that makes the earth what it is. That's the way it is with art. It exists because you want it to."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1991, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Santa Cows, p. 531; November 1, 2000, Ellen Mandel, review of Darby, the Special-Order Pup, p. 547; May 1, 2001, Ellen Mandel, review of Special Deliveries, p. 1668; November 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of 'Tis the Season, p. 596; October 14, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Princess Stories, p. 402.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1997, p. 1387.
Newsweek, November, 1979, p. 64; December 5, 1983, p. 111.
Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1991, review of Santa Cows, p. 133; May 30, 1994, review of Shawnee Bill's Enchanted Five-Ride Carousel, p. 54; October 6, 1997, review of Nicholi, p. 55; June 4, 2001, review of Special Deliveries, p. 79; September 22, 2003, review of 'Tis the Season, p. 73; May 30, 2005, review of The Glorious American Songbook, p. 63.
School Library Journal, October, 1979, p. 138; May, 2001, Holly Belli, review of Special Deliveries, p. 114; December, 2001, Heide Piehler, review of Pinocchio, p. 133; October, 2003, Eva Mitnick, review of 'Tis the Season, p. 62; January, 2005, Harriett Fargnoli, review of Princess Stories, p. 109; August, 2005, Mary Elam, review of The Glorious American Songbook, p. 144.
Washington Post Book World, January 12, 1992, Michael Dirda, review of The Three Princesses, p. 8.