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Dennis Nolan (1945–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1945, in San Francisco, CA; (second marriage) one daughter. Education: Attended College of San Mateo, 1963–65; San Jose State College (now University), B.A., 1967, M.A., 1968.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Hyperion Books, 114 5th Ave., New York, NY 10011.


Author and illustrator. San Mateo County Library, Belmont, CA, graphic artist, 1970–77; Canada Junior College, Redwood City, CA, art instructor, 1979–86; University of Hartford, Bloomfield, CT, coordinator of illustration program in Hartford Art School, beginning 1986. Art instructor at College of San Mateo, 1982–86, and at San Jose State University, 1983–86. Exhibitions: Work exhibited in one-man shows and in group shows.

Honors Awards

Outstanding Science Book Award, National Science Teachers Association, 1981, for The Joy of Chickens, and 1987, for Step into the Night; Pick of the List, American Booksellers, and, Top-Twelve Books designation, Christian Science Monitor, both 1987, and Prix de Zephyr (France), 1988, all for The Castle Builder; Parents Choice magazine Top-Fifteen Books designation, and Commonwealth Club of California award, both 1988, both for Step into the Night; Notable Social Studies Books selection, 1988, for Legend of the White Doe; Golden Kite Picture-Book Honor, 1990, for Dinosaur Dream, and 1995, for Fairy Wings.



Big Pig (picture book), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1976.

Monster Bubbles: A Counting Book (picture book), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1976.

Alphabrutes (picture book), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1977.

Wizard McBean and His Flying Machine (picture book), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1977.

Witch Bazooza (picture book), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1979.

The Joy of Chickens (nonfiction), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1981.

The Castle Builder (picture book), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1987.

Wolf Child (picture book), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.

Dinosaur Dream (picture book), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.

(Reteller) Androcles and the Lion (picture book), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.

Shadow of the Dinosaurs (picture book), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.


Charles Keller, compiler, Llama Beans, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1979.

Bill Nygren, Gnomes Color and Story Album, Troubador Press, 1980.

Karen Schiller, Bears Color and Story Album, Troubador Press, 1982.

William Hooks, The Legend of the White Doe, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.

Joanne Ryder, Step into the Night, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1988.

Joanne Ryder, Mockingbird Morning, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1989.

Jane Yolen, Dove Isabeau, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1989.

Nancy Carlstrom, Heather Hiding, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.

Joanne Ryder, Under Your Feet, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1990.

Jane Yolen, Wings, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1991.

Nancy Carlstrom, No Nap for Benjamin Badger, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.

Ann Tompert, Savina, the Gypsy Dancer, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.

Maxinne Rhea Leighton, An Ellis Island Christmas, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Diane Stanley, The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1994.

Bruce Coville, reteller, William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Dial Books (New York, NY), 1995.

Lauren A. Mills, Fairy Wings (picture book), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1995.

Lauren A. Mills, The Dog Prince, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.

Garry D. Schmidt, reteller, The Blessing of the Lord: Stories from the Old and New Testaments, W.B. Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1997.

Bruce Coville, reteller, William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Dial Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Ann Warren Turner, Red Flower Goes West, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.

Jane Yolen, editor, Sherwood: Original Stories from the World of Robin Hood, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Lauren A. Mills, The Dog Prince: An Original Fairy Tale, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

Lauren A. Mills, Fia and the Imp, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2002.

Jane Yolen, The Perfect Wizard: Hans Christian Andersen, Dutton's Children's Book (New York, NY), 2004.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Saint Francis of Assisi: A Life of Joy, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.


Jim Barrett and others, editors, "Sunset" Homeowner's Guide to Wood Stoves, Lane, 1979.

David E. Clark and others, editors, Gardeners Answer Book, Lane, 1983.


Award-winning author and illustrator Dennis Nolan is known for the highly realistic paintings he has created for both his own picture-book texts and the work of other writers. Although he works primarily in acrylics, Nolan has worked in water color to illustrate books such as Nancy Carlstrom's No Nap for Benjamin Badger. His detailed renderings delve into the fanciful, gaining comparison to the work of illustrator Arthur Rackham in the award-winning Fairy Wings, one of several works he has illustrated for his wife, writer and fellow artist Lauren A. Mills.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Nolan gained an interest in art due to his exposure to the opera, where his father performed as a tenor and Nolan was allowed to spend time backstage. After attending San Jose State University, he worked as a graphic artist and published his first self-illustrated picture book, Big Pig, in 1976. A silly poetic romp in which preschool readers can find all sorts of chubby animals—from stout trouts to blimpy chimps and, on every page, a fat pig—Big Pig was praised as "an ingenious but incongruous little book," by a Booklist reviewer, although the critic noted that some of the language may be too sophisticated for young readers. Works such as Monster Bubbles: A Counting Book, Alphabrutes, and Wizard McBean and the Flying Machine followed through the rest of the 1970s. In 1979 Nolan also began illustrating texts for other writers, beginning with Charles Keller's humorous anthology Llama Beans.

Nolan spent much of the early 1980s as an art instructor at a California junior college, and during this time he worked on only a few children's books. In 1986 he left teaching and also left the West Coast, moving to a position at a small Connecticut university that allowed him more time for book illustration. His first book to come from this increased attention to his art is The Castle Builder, which enters the world of childhood imagination as it tells of one young boy's day at the beach. The boy builds a sand castle and imagines himself to be its lord, Sir Christopher, a brave hero who defends his home against dragons and evil knights. When the tide comes in, however, the waves become a foe the boy cannot defeat. Undaunted, after his castle is washed away, he vows to return to the beach and build a new one. In a review of The Castle Builder School Library Journal contributor Shirley Wilton called it "a charming evocation of a child's world," while a Publishers Weekly critic wrote that Nolan's "photograph-like pictures in halftones … exhibit startling clarity." As Betsy Hearne noted in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "The duality of trompe l'oeil screened by a surface of dots serves the fantasy theme well."

The Castle Builder was followed by Wolf Child, a story set in prehistoric times about a little boy who befriends a wolf cub that later saves him from a charging mammoth. Although some critics called the story and characters uninspired, Nolan still received praise for his illustrations in this work, a Kirkus Reviews writer deeming Wolf Child an "unexceptional story" enhanced by "well-crafted paintings" rendered "in a formal style that recalls [noted nineteenth-century illustrator] N.C. Wyeth."

In 1990 Nolan won his first Golden Kite picture-book honor for Dinosaur Dream. Returning to the world of childhood imagination he captured in The Castle Builder, Nolan once again brings dreams to life in this story about a modern boy who helps a baby apatosaurus find its way home. Wilbur is awakened one night when Gideon the dinosaur taps at his window. The boy, knowing immediately what must be done, resolves to return Gideon to the Jurassic era. He manages to do this by the simple means of walking back through time, one step at a time, with Gideon following him like a obedient puppy. The two step past the Ice Age and back into the world of dinosaurs, while braving hazards like volcanoes and saber-tooth cats. Throughout the fanciful tale, the author/illustrator leaves it to the reader to decide whether the adventure is real or merely a dream Wilbur is having, inspired by reading a book about dinosaurs just prior to falling asleep.

Although Cathryn A. Camper, writing in School Library Journal, called the premise of Dinosaur Dream a "trite plot gimmick" and found the conclusion "cloying," Booklist contributor Leone McDermott praised the book as "a dinosaur lover's delight." A Publishers Weekly commentator found Nolan's story to be clever, especially the role reversal between Wilbur and Gideon that depicts the boy to be unexpectedly braver than his rather sheepish and cowardly dinosaur friend, and added that Gideon "ranks with the best of animal creations." Nolan reprises his dinosaur character for Shadow of the Dinosaur, which finds a modern-day Dachshund swept into the Jurassic past when he digs up a dino bone during a family camping trip. Dubbing the story a "prehistoric dreamscape" similar to Dinosaur Dream, John Peters noted in Booklist that Nolan weaves dinosaur facts into his tale and his renderings of prehistoric creatures are "sharp [and] precisely drawn."

Much of Nolan's creative work involves illustrating the stories of other authors, such as William Hooks, Joanne Ryder, Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, Nancy Carlstrom, and Ann Tompert. In 1994 he provided the illustrations for Diane Stanley's The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid, a very unique and well-received fantasy about the love between two figures in separate portraits hanging in a city art museum. A young art student who has come to copy the work of the Dutch masters becomes attuned to the plight of these unrequited lovers, and joins the two in a painting of her own making. "Hats off to Nolan for his thorough research and credible renderings of paintings in the style of artists ranging from Rembrandt to Picasso," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, called The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid "an original"; "Nolan's sensitive watercolor illustrations make
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each portrait in the museum a definite character in the story." School Library Journal contributor Shirley Wilton also commented favorably on Stanley and Nolan's effort in this work, asserting that "this lighthearted story is deftly told and handsomely illustrated."

Other collaborations include Red Flower Goes West, a story by Ann Turner that focuses on a family traveling west along the Oregon Trail to make a new life in California. Along with their many possessions, Ma packs a red flowering plant, dug from her garden and potted up; as the trip becomes more challenging the family is cheered by the bright flower and knows that if the flower can survive, so can they. Recalling old-fashioned sepia-toned photographs, Nolan's "strong pictures" created by pencil and pastels reinforce the family's travels, according to Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman. In Publishers Weekly a critic commented in particular on the illustrator's use of the red flower "as an emblem of the family's hope," its brilliant hue contrasting with Nolan's "finely etched portraits and landscapes."

Nolan joins his wife, Lauren A. Mills, on several projects, the first being Fairy Wings, a tale about a wingless, ridiculed fairy named Fia who saves her fellow fairies from a wicked troll. "Delicate, detailed watercolors add greatly to the book's appeal," noted Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke, and School Library Journal contributor Lisa Dennis similarly praised the "lovely illustrations, reminiscent of Arthur Rackham's ethereal style." A sequel, Fia and the Imp, finds the wingless fairy working to save a pair of young woodkins—lowly forest creatures—after they are swept away on a river raft while the other fairies stand by and do nothing. School Library Journal reviewer Shelley B. Sutherland praised Nolan for depicting Fia's fantasy world in "ethereal watercolors" and also dubbed Mills' text "sophisticated." In The Dog Prince Mills and Nolan present a story about a boorish prince who finds everything in his royal life boring. The prince changes his attitude after a fairy, angered by his insulting treatment of a poor goat girl, transforms the spoiled young man into a scruffy bloodhound.

Nolan once told SATA: "As an illustrator I approach most of my projects with the visual problems foremost in my mind. The story generally moves along after the pictures have been visualized, at least in my mind if not on paper. Planning the illustrations for the lead-in, the climax, and the ending across a thirty-two-page format is also a major concern. Most of my books are humorous, and I plan them in storyboard form somewhat like an animated film. In this way I can control the timing of the punch lines, surprises, and build-ups. I have found that varying my style and technical approach has kept me fresh for each new project."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 1976, review of Big Pig, p. 1192; February 15, 1978, p. 1010; December 1, 1989, p. 750; December 15, 1989, p. 834; March 15, 1990, p. 1443; October 15, 1990, Leone McDermott, review of Dinosaur Dream, p. 439; November 1, 1991, p. 330; January 15, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid, p. 939; November 1, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Fairy Wings, p. 478; May 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Red Flower Goes West, p. 1602; December 15, 2001, John Peters, review of Shadow of the Dinosaurs, p. 740.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1977, p. 178; January, 1988, Betsy Hearne, review of The Castle Builder, p. 96; February, 1988, p. 110.

Horn Book, September, 1999, Mary A. Burns, review of Red Flower Goes West, p. 602.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1976, p. 253; January 15, 1977, p. 43; January 1, 1978, p. 1; August 15, 1989, review of Wolf Child, p. 1248; October 1, 1989, p. 1483; February 15, 1990, p. 273; October 1, 1991, p. 1293.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 25, 1990, p. 18; December 16, 1990, p. 9.

Newsweek, December 3, 1990, p. 64.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1976, p. 57; January 17, 1977, p. 82; December 19, 1980, p. 52; August 14, 1987, review of The Castle Builder, p. 103; January 20, 1989, p. 147; July 28, 1989, p. 221; February 9, 1990, p. 60; October 26, 1990, review of Dinosaur Dream, p. 67; September 20, 1991, p. 132; November 22, 1993, review of The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid, p. 63; November 6, 1995, p. 94; June 14, 1999, review of Red Flower Goes West, p. 69; October 8, 2001, review of The Dog Prince, p. 64.

School Library Journal, April, 1976, p. 62; May, 1977, p. 54; February, 1978, p. 49; January, 1980, p. 60; January, 1988, Shirley Wilton, review of The Castle Builder, p. 68; July, 1989, p. 75; December, 1989, p. 102; April, 1990, p. 110; July, 1990, p. 79; November, 1990, Cathryn A. Camper, review of Dinosaur Dream, p. 96; August, 1994, Shirley Wilton, review of The Gentleman and the Kitchen Maid, p. 146; January, 1996, Lisa Dennis, review of Fairy Wings, p. 9; June, 1999, Steven Engelfried, review of Red Flower Goes West, p. 108; August, 2000, Nancy Call, review of Sherwood, p. 192; December, 2001, Steven Engelfried, review of Shadow of the Dinosaur, p. 108; December, 2002, Shelley B. Sutherland, review of Fia and the Imp, p. 102; February, 2004, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlon, review of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, p. 83.


Hyperion Publishers Web site, http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/ (February 6, 2006) "Dennis Nolan."

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