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Arthur Dorros (1950–) Biography

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

(Arthur M. Dorros)


Surname is pronounced "doh-rohs"; born 1950, in Washington, DC; Education: University of Wisconsin at Madison, B.A., 1972; Pacific Oaks College, postgraduate studies and teaching certification, 1979. Hobbies and other interests: Filmmaking, building, carpentry, horticulture, travels worldwide (particularly in Asia and Central and South America), and Spanish language and literature.


Agent—c/o HarperCollins, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019-4703.


Writer and illustrator, 1979–. Worked variously as a builder, carpenter, drafter, photographer, horticultural worker, and dockhand; teacher in elementary and junior Arthur Dorroshigh schools and adult education programs in Seattle, WA, and New York, NY, for six years; artist in residence for more than a dozen New York public schools, running programs in creative writing, bookmaking, and video; University of Washington, Seattle, former teacher of courses on writing in the classroom; consultant in libraries and schools; director of Children's Writing Workshop, presenting seminars and workshops on writing to students, teachers, and administrators in schools, libraries, and at conferences internationally.


Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Honors Awards

Awards include Reading Rainbow Review book selections, 1986, for Alligator Shoes, 1989, for Ant Cities, and 1993, for Abuela; selections as Outstanding Science Book, Children's Book Council, National Science Teachers Association, 1987, for Ant Cities, 1989, for Feel the Wind, and 1990, for Rain Forest Secrets; Pick of the Lists citation, American Booksellers Association, 1990, for Rain Forest Secrets, 1991, for Abuela, and 1992, for This Is My House; Tonight Is Carnaval cited in Booklink's "best of year" list, 1991; Abuela named an American Library Association notable book and a Horn Book "20 Best," both 1991; Parent's Choice award, 1991, for Abuela; selection as "notable book in the field of social studies," National Council for the So-cial Studies, 1991, for Tonight Is Carnaval, 1993, for Radio Man/Don Radio, and 1995, for Isla; listed among "25 Best of the Year," Boston Globe, 1991, for Abuela; citation for "book of distinction," Hungry Mind Review, 1991, for Abuela; included in "Books for Children List," Children's Literature Center, Library of Congress, 1992, for Abuela and Tonight Is Carnaval; "Center for Latin American Studies Programs commendation, 1995, for Isla; Book Award, American Horticultural Society, 1997, and Orbus Pictus Honor Book Award, National Council of Teachers of English, 1998, both for A Tree Is Growing.


Under the Sun (young adult novel), Amulet Books (New York, NY), 2004.


Abuela, illustrated by Elisa Kleven, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.

Tonight Is Carnaval, illustrated by Club de Madres Virgenes del Carmen, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.

Isla, illustrated by Elisa Kleven, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.

A Tree Is Growing, Scholastic, 1997.

The Fungus That Ate My School (fiction), illustrated by David Catrow, Scholastic Inc. (New York, NY), 2000.

Ten Go Tango (fiction), illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

When the Pigs Took Over, illustrated by Diane Greenseid, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.

City Chicken, illustrated by Henry Cole, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Julio's Magic, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

(With son, Alex Dorros) The Greatest, illustrated by Susan Guevara, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2007.

Tonight Is Carnaval was published in Spanish as Por Fin Es Carnaval..


Pretzels, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1981.

Alligator Shoes, Dutton (New York, NY), 1982.

Yum Yum (board book for toddlers), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Splash Splash (board book for toddlers), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Ant Cities (nonfiction), Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Feel the Wind (nonfiction), Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Rain Forest Secrets (nonfiction), Scholastic Inc. (New York, NY), 1990.

Me and My Shadow (nonfiction), Scholastic Inc. (New York, NY), 1990.

Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

This Is My House (nonfiction) Scholastic Inc. (New York, NY), 1992.

Animal Tracks (nonfiction), Scholastic Inc. (New York, NY), 1992.

Radio Man/Don Radio, Spanish translation by Sandra Marulanda Dorros, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Elephant Families (nonfiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

A Tree Is Growing (nonfiction), Scholastic Inc. (New York, NY), 1997.

Also illustrator of children's books Charlie's House, What Makes Day and Night, and Magic Secrets.


Scriptwriter and photographer for filmstrips, including Teaching Reading, a Search for the Right Combination, released by the National School Public Relations Association, and Sharing a Lifetime of Learning, released by the National Education Association. Author and director of Portrait of a Neighborhood and other videos. Contributor of articles and illustrations published in periodicals and purchased by USA Today and others.

Work in Progress

Two books for HarperCollins.


As Arthur Dorros wrote in a profile for Scholastic, Inc., he "never imagined that" he "would be making books someday" when he was a child growing up in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, the award-winning children's author loved to read and draw and was enthralled with animals. His family and friends fostered his latent talent. "First there was my grandfather, who would occasionally send me letters, all with the same drawing of a bird on them," he wrote in his profile. "Then there was the ninety-year-old neighbor who made sculptures out of tree roots he found, and my mother who kept a set of oil pastels in a drawer and would provide … art supplies or a bottle of tempera paint at the drop of a hat. And my father was a great storyteller."

Despite this environment, Dorros did not pursue drawing through elementary and junior high school. He remembers that he grew frustrated with his attempts to draw, and he "quit drawing in the fifth grade." He did not begin to draw again until he reached high school and had to draw amoebas and animals in biology class. He has been drawing ever since. Dorros makes a point of encouraging children to persist in their endeavors despite frustration. When he gives bookmaking seminars and workshops in schools internationally, he encourages children to continue to create even if they make mistakes. As Jeff Green recorded in the Oakland Press, Dorros told a group of children: "I wasn't born an author. I had to learn, just like you guys. You have to keep on trying and don't let anyone make you stop."

Dorros himself began to create picture books at the age of twenty-nine, after exchanging stories with children who wandered close to watch him remodel houses. "I found I really enjoyed swapping stories, and my interest in making pictures had continued," he explained in his Scholastic profile. His first book, Pretzels, provides a whimsical account of the invention of the pretzel. The silly crew members of the Bungle let the anchor chain rust away, and the ship's cook, I Fryem Fine, replaces it with biscuit dough. When the salt-encrusted, dough anchor chain is no longer needed, the cook shapes it into a twisted biscuit. First Mate Pretzel loves the cook's invention so much that it is named after him. Two other tales, "The Jungle" and "A New Land," are also included in this account of the Bungle crew's adventures. With Dorros's "knack for writing straight-faced nonsense" and the book's "droll" pictures, concluded a commentator for Kirkus Reviews, Pretzels is "mighty companionable." A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books wrote that the "ineptitude of the characters" and "humor in the writing style" may be enjoyed by children. A reviewer for School Library Journal decided that the stories have a "refreshing, slightly off-the-wall feel…. Kids will enjoy the absurdities."

Dorros's next published work, Alligator Shoes, was inspired by his earliest childhood memory: sitting on an alligator's tail. (He and his family had stopped at an alligator farm while driving through Florida on vacation, and "my parents thought I might like to have my picture taken with the alligators," he explained on his home page.) In Alligator Shoes an alligator fascinated with footwear visits a shoe store. Locked in after closing time, he tries on pair after pair, and finally falls asleep. When he wakes up in the morning, he hears a woman say that she would like a pair of alligator shoes. Realizing that not having shoes is better than BECOMING shoes, the alligator wisely flees.

The publication of Ant Cities in 1987 marked Dorros's debut as a writer of children's nonfiction. In Ant Cities he combines text and cartoon-like illustrations to explain ants and their various activities, from processing food to caring for eggs. Instructions for building an ant farm are also provided. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books characterized the illustrations as "inviting and informative." Ellen Loughran, writing for School Library Journal, noted that the book would be a "useful addition to the science section." Ant Cities was selected as an Outstanding Science Book of 1987 by the National Science Teachers Association Children's Book Council. Feel the Wind, published in 1989, and Rain Forest Secrets, released in 1990, also earned this distinction, and his other picture books about science—Me and My Shadow, Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean, and Animal Tracks—have also been well received.

Dorros, who spent a year living in South America and speaks Spanish, made a much-needed contribution to children's literature in the United States with the publication of Abuela and Tonight Is Carnaval, which was translated by his wife, Sandra Marulanda Dorros, and released in Spanish as Por Fin Es Carnaval. In Abuela Rosalba imagines that she and her abuela (grandmother) fly together over New York City. While the text is primarily English, Spanish words are interspersed throughout the story. Readers may infer meaning from the text or look up these words in the glossary provided. Elisa Kleven's vivid illustrations complement the text and the resulting book is, according to Molly Ivins, "just joyful." In a review for the New York Times Book Review Ivins wrote that Abuela "is a book to set any young child dreaming." Kate McClelland, writing in School Library Journal, concluded that the "innovative fantasy" will enrich "intellectually curious children who are intrigued by the exploration of another language."

In Tonight Is Carnaval a young boy tells of his community's preparation for a festive holiday. The tapestries, or arpilleras, sewn by Club de Madres Virgen del Carmen of Lima, Peru, illustrate the beauty and excitement of the cultural event Dorros describes, and the author's wife, Sandra Marulanda Dorros, translated the book for a Spanish-language edition. A reviewer for Horn Book described the work as "brilliant, beautiful … affirmative and valuable."

Dorros also wrote Radio Man/Don Radio, and his wife provided the Spanish translation. The story centers on friends Diego and David, children who are members of migrant farm worker families. Diego, who constantly listens to the radio, has earned the nickname of "Radio Man" from David. The boys lose touch with one another when Diego's family begins a journey to Washington State, where they intend to work in the apple orchards. Diego, however, finds a way to contact David through the radio. Reviewer Janice Del Negro noted in Booklist that the illustrations provided by Dorros give "a solid sense of place and reflect the strong family ties and efforts at community Dorros conveys in his story."

The nonfiction book This Is My House conveys the respect and admiration for other cultures communicated by Abuela, Tonight Is Carnaval, and Radio Man/Don Radio. In this book, Dorros describes twenty-two houses around the world and discusses the climate in which they are built, the people whom they shelter, and their construction. These dwellings range from stone houses in Bolivia, to the car in which an otherwise homeless family in the United States lives. The phrase, "This is my house" is included on every page in the language of the people who occupy each house. Mary Lou Budd, writing for the School Library Journal, praised this "engaging" book by noting that there is "unlimited value in the succinct, interesting text and pictures" and that the watercolors are "bright" and "pleasing."

When the Pigs Took Over is another silly story featuring Dorros's "usual bright humor, lively narrative, and momentum," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The tale, set in New Mexico, centers on two brothers named Don Carlos and Alonzo. Don Carlos, a restaurant owner, is never satisfied and is always calling for "más" ("more" in Spanish). This unintentionally leads to trouble for the entire town when Alonzo suggests that Don Carlos begin serving snails at his restaurant. Don Carlos asks for más snails, and when más turns into too many and Alonzo suggests bringing in birds to eat the snails, Don Carlos calls for más of those too. When the flocks of birds begin to terrorize the townspeople and pigs are brought in to frighten them away, Don Carlos requests más pigs, leading to catastrophe when the pigs take over the town. Alonzo and the townspeople, however, save the day, forming a band and playing so loudly and badly that they drive the pigs away. "This story and its clever ending will have children calling for más when it's through," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.

City Chicken is a wacky new take on the classic tale of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. Henrietta, or Henry as she is better known, has spent her entire life living in the nice, safe big city. She thinks all chickens are just like her until Lucy, the neighboring cat, tells her about chickens who live in the country with pigs, cows, and horses—none of which Henry has ever heard of before. Intrigued, the bird sets off to visit the country and see all of these strange things. "This likable tale pokes gentle fun at the baffled but 'game' bird in language easily understood by the storytime crowd," Carol Ann Wilson remarked in School Library Journal. Other reviewers also had praise for the text; a Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "the wordplay [is] at just the right pitch of sophistication, slyly winking at the readers as it invites them in on all the jokes." The jokes are "not exactly sophisticated quips," Betty Carter concluded in Horn Book, but they are "just right for youngsters who think knock-knock jokes the height of humor."

Julio's Magic is a highly praised story of art and intergenerational friendship. Young Julio and his mentor, the elderly Iluminado, both live and create intricate woodcarvings in a small Mexican village. Julio is considering entering one of his carvings into a big competition in a far-away city, until he realizes that Iluminado needs the prize money far more than he does. Together, the two work on a piece for Iluminado to enter. It is "a moving, accessible story about honoring teachers and the magic of creating," Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist, that, as a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded, "takes art out of the museum and shows its creation as an organic part of daily life."

With Under the Sun Dorros branched out into a new genre, young adult novels. This book was inspired by an actual orphans' village that Dorros visited in a trip to the former Yugoslavia, a country that collapsed into civil war in the early 1990s. The story of that war is narrated by Ehmet, a part-Muslim, part Croatian Catholic thirteen-year-old who lives in Sarajevo, Bosnia, be-When thirteen-year-old Ehmet becomes separated from his family, he draws on his survival skills and attempts to make his way through war-torn Bosnia to a remote village rumored to provide safe haven for young people able to find their way there. (Cover design by Angela Carlino.)fore the beginning of the war. When stray bullets begin flying through his family's apartment Ehmet's father sends him and his mother to live with relatives in Croatia. Their journey to find safety is long and dangerous, providing many opportunities for Dorros to illustrate the horrors of war and ethnic hatred. In general, Under the Sun was not as warmly received as Dorros's picture books. School Library Journal reviewer Alison Follos called it "well intentioned but overly ambitious," and Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser thought that the complex, confusing politics of the war "may make it harder for younger YA readers to connect with the story." However, Horn Book reviewer Susan P. Bloom called Under the Sun "a compelling tale," and Hazel Rochman, writing in Booklist, concluded that "the facts are astonishing, and the contemporary war docu-novel will grab readers."

Dorros once commented: "When I was four years old, I sat on the tail of an alligator—a live alligator, ten feet long. Later (when I was thirty years old) I remembered that experience and wrote a story about an alligator. I've always liked nature and adventures. Now I write and illustrate books about many subjects that fascinate me. As well as stories, I enjoy researching and doing science or nonfiction books. I think of a good writer as a detective with all senses alert, always on the lookout for clues that help put the whole story together.

"In recent years I have spent much of my time making books. Before that, I did many things: I was a carpenter, farm worker, teacher, photographer, and longshoreman. I love to travel, to see what is the same and what is different around the world. As a writer and illustrator, I have the opportunity to make books about what I find. For me, there is no more exciting work. I hope that you enjoy telling your own stories, too.

"I stopped drawing in the fifth grade, and mostly what I wrote was letters, until I started making books. Like many people, I had gotten discouraged about how good I was at drawing or writing. But now I've found what I can do by continuing to try. I believe you can achieve what you want, if you're willing to work at it, and have fun at the same time."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, January 15, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of Radio Man/Don Radio; November 1, 1995, Annie Ayres, review of Isla, p. 476; December 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Me and My Shadow, p. 632; February 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of A Tree Is Growing, p. 942; April 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Ten Go Tango, p. 1550; June 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Fungus That Ate My School, p. 1907; February 1, 2002, Annie Ayres, review of When the Pigs Took Over, p. 945; March 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of City Chicken, p. 1331; September 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Under the Sun, p. 231; January 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Julio's Magic, p. 868.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1982, review of Pretzels; March, 1987, review of Ant Cities; February, 2003, review of City Chicken, p. 233.

Horn Book, May, 1991, review of Tonight Is Carnaval, p. 360; November-December, 1991, Mary M. Burns, review of Abuela, p. 726; March-April, 1996, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Isla, p. 230; March, 2000, review of The Fungus That Ate My School, p. 183; January-February, 2005, Susan P. Bloom, review of Under the Sun, p. 93.

Junior Bookshelf, February, 1990, p. 25.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1981, review of Pretzels; August 15, 1990, p. 1167; December 15, 2001, review of When the Pigs Took Over, p. 1757; December 1, 2002, review of City Chicken, p. 1767; October 15, 2004, review of Under the Sun, p. 1004; December 15, 2004, review of Julio's Magic, p. 1200.

Kliatt, September, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Under the Sun, p. 8.

Library Journal, August, 2001, Lucia M. Gonzalez, review of Abuela, p. S26.

New York Times Book Review, December 8, 1991, Molly Ivins, review of Abuela, p. 26.

Oakland Press, Jeff Green, April 18, 1991.

Publishers Weekly, August 14, 1987, p. 100; July 19, 1991, review of Abuela, p. 55; November 15, 1991, p. 71; August 3, 1992, p. 70; October 9, 1995, review of Isla, p. 84; March 6, 2000, review of Ten Go Tango, p. 109; May 15, 2000, review of The Fungus That Ate My School, p. 117; December 17, 2001, review of When the Pigs Took Over, p. 90; November 25, 2002, review of City Chicken, p. 66; January 31, 2005, review of Julio's Magic, p. 68.

School Library Journal, December, 1981, review of Pretzels, p. 74; August, 1987, Ellen Loughran, review of Ant Cities, pp. 66-67; May, 1990, Kate McClelland, review of Abuela, p. 96; September, 1991, p. 245; October, 1991, Kate McClelland, review of Abuela, pp. 90-94; September, 1992, pp. 215-216; August, 1995, Rose Zertuche Trevino, review of Grandma, p. 166; September, 1995, Vanessa Elder, review of Isla, p. 168; April, 2000, Maryann H. Owen, review of The Fungus That Ate My School, p. 104; May, 2000, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Ten Go Tango; December 15, 2001, review of Abuela, p. S26; February, 2002, Ann Welton, review of When the Pigs Took Over, p. 98; February, 2003, Carol Ann Wilson, review of City Chicken, p. 104; December, 2004, Alison Follos, review of Under the Sun, p. 144; p. 140; January, 2005, Linda M. Kenton, review of Julio's Magic, p. 90.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 9, 2003, review of City Chicken, p. 4.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2004, review of Under the Sun, p. 380.


Arthur Dorros Home Page, http://www.arthurdorros.com (January 26, 2006).


Arthur Dorros (publicity profile), Scholastic Inc., c. 1992.

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