Mark Teague (1963–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
(Mark Christopher Teague)
Born 1963, in La Mesa, CA; Education: University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A., 1985. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Soccer, running.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scholastic, 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
Freelance illustrator and writer, 1989–.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
Christopher Award, 2003, for Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School.
The Trouble with the Johnsons, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
Moog-Moog, Space Barber, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1990.
Frog Medicine, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1991.
The Field beyond the Outfield, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1991.
Pigsty, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
The Secret Shortcut, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.
Baby Tamer, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1997.
The Lost and Found, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
One Halloween Night, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
What Are Scientists, What Do They Do?, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1991.
Adventures in Lego Land, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1991.
Chris Babcock, No Moon, No Milk!, Crown (New York, NY), 1993.
Dick King-Smith, Three Terrible Trins, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.
Tony Johnston, The Iguana Brothers, A Perfect Day, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Audrey Wood, The Flying Dragon Room, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Dick King-Smith, Mr. Potter's Pet, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton and Friends: Book Two, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton Forever, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Audrey Wood, Sweet Dream Pie, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton Everyday, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton in Fall, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton in Spring, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton Has Fun, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton in Winter, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Cynthia Rylant, The Great Gracie Chace, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Shana Corey, First Graders from Mars: Episode One, Horus's Horrible Day, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Shana Corey, First Graders from Mars: Episode Two, The Problem with Pelly, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
Shana Corey, First Graders from Mars: Episode Three, Nergal and the Great Space Race, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
Shana Corey, First Graders from Mars: Episode Four, Tera, Star Student, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Anne Isaacs, Pancakes for Supper!, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2006.
ILLUSTRATOR; "HOW DO DINOSAURS" SERIES
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Jane Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?, Blue Sky Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Mark Teague has a quirky sense of humor, and just how quirky can easily be discovered by reading any of his books for children. Peopled with characters with names like Elmo Freem and Wallace Bleff, Teague's books poke fun at things that kids dread—homework, cleaning one's room, ritual first-day-of-school haircuts, and the like—while his illustrations bring to life his quasi-realistic settings. Comparing Teague to author and illustrator William Joyce due to the nostalgic quality of his acrylic paintings, a Publishers Weekly contributor remarked that Teague's "combination of deadpan text and unbridled art is a sure-fire recipe for a crowd-pleaser."
"I managed to graduate from college without having any idea what I was going to do with my life," Teague once admitted to SATA. "My degree was in U.S. history but I wasn't interested in teaching. I enjoyed art but had no formal training. I liked to write but was unsure how to make it pay." The solution? Pack up the auto and head East to New York City. By the spring of 1986 Teague had arrived and was living with his brother, who helped the author-to-be get a job in the display department at the giant Barnes and Noble bookstore at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. "The job provided a sort of crash course in design and graphic arts techniques," Teague explained, "and exposed me to a lot of new books. Looking at children's books in the store reminded me of how much I had enjoyed picture books as a child and how much fun it had been to write and illustrate my own stories at that age."
Remembering the fun of being an author sparked The Trouble with the Johnsons, Teague's first picture book for children. Published in 1989, the book tells the story of Elmo Freem, who longs to return to the country after his family moves to the big city. Together with his equally homesick cat, Elmo returns to the old house for a visit, where he meets the new owners, the Johnsons. While they seem nice enough, the Johnsons are a bit odd (for one thing, they're a family of dinosaurs). Ultimately, Elmo goes back to the city with the knowledge that home is really where your family is. "The book came out of my experience living in Brooklyn," Teague recalled to SATA. "The theme was somewhat melancholy, but I tried to offset this with humor and a plot which was energetic and bizarre." A Publishers Weekly commentator stated that "Teague's unique perspective is utilized magnificently both in words and pictures to produce a noteworthy first book." The same year as The Trouble with the Johnsons was accepted by its eventual publisher, Scholastic, Teague was able to escape the city, moving with his wife to upstate New York where he continues to make his home.
Elmo reemerges in Teague's next book, Moog-Moog, Space Barber. Taking as its premise "the apparently universal horror inspired by a bad haircut," according to Teague, Moog-Moog, Space Barber is much more a fantasy than The Trouble with the Johnsons, incorporating elements of science fiction as well. The amazingly calm Elmo awakes one morning to find several rotund space aliens, suitably green in color, hanging around the refrigerator in his kitchen. What has Elmo more concerned than close encounters of the alien kind is the razzing he expects to take from fellow schoolmates as a result of his perfectly horrid back-to-school haircut. Fortunately, the aliens are the ones to turn to when looking for a competent stylist; they fly Elmo off to Moog-Moog, barber to the extraterrestrials, and the boy's problems are solved. Stephanie Zvirin praised the book as "sure-footed silliness, sometimes amusingly sly, with just the right touch of irony," in her Booklist review.
Fans of Elmo get another glimpse of the boy's off-kilter world in Frog Medicine, which involves "that dreaded subject: homework," as well as giant frogs, and "things of that sort," according to its author. Unfortunately for Elmo, fear of an impending book report causes him to sprout frog feet, and only a consultation with noted frog medicine practitioner Dr. Frank Galoof gives him hope of de-amphibianizing anytime soon. Once more, Teague reveals his "knack for dealing with the kinds of predicaments that loom large on children's horizons in a fresh and funny way," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. The book was also praised for containing acrylic illustrations with an attention to detail that reflects the hero's gradual transformation. "Every scene is bathed in curiously pure light," noted a Kirkus Reviews critic, "with plenty of clever, funny details to discover."
Equally bizarre is the world casually inhabited by one Wendell Fultz, who, in the book Pigsty, is not surprised to find a large hog dozing on his bed. In fact, the abominable condition of Wendell's room makes the pig the cleanest thing in it, but instead of cleaning up the mess like his mother requested, the sly Wendell just pushes a few things out of sight and settles in to play with his new porcine companion. Problems arise, however, after the rest of the curly tailed gang shows up, and their antics cause a commotion. Finally, Wendell himself is forced to lay down the law; the pigs grudgingly help clean up the room and then leave for messier parts. "Especially evident in [Teague's] artwork, there's enough fun to carry the story," maintained Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, while a Publishers Weekly critic lauded the author/illustrator's "gleefuly inventive imagination" and stated that "much of the tale's fun resides in [his] quirky acrylic art."
Books by Teague continue to defy traditional classification. In The Field beyond the Outfield, a story about summer baseball camp becomes a full-scale fantasy involving a major-league playoff between teams of giant insects. Commented School Library Journal critic Dorothy Houlihan, "Teague's window to childhood is wide open, allowing him to address the realities of youthful fantasies without trivializing them." Readers opening the innocent-sounding How I Spent My Summer Vacation are drawn into the classroom of one Wallace Bleff and then immediately carried away to the Wild West, amid cowpokes, lariats, and stampeding cattle. "One rootin' tootin' tall tale," applauded a Publishers Weekly reviewer, pointing out "some laugh-out-loud funny expressions on animal faces." Baby Tamer, Teague's 1997 contribution to the annals of quirky children's literature, depicts a face-off between incredibly competent, fully certified baby-sitter Amanda Smeedy and the Egmont children. When making a lot of noise does not cause even a raised eyebrow from the stoic Amanda, the twins grow desperate, finally resorting to producing a full-blown circus complete with fireworks before admitting defeat. Teague's "bright, sassy acrylics careen across the pages at near-warp speed," according to a Publishers Weekly critic.
The mixture of reality and fantasy on the Halloween holiday provide the setting for One Halloween Night. Featuring Wendell (from Pigsty) and his friends, One Halloween Night is the story of a perfectly awful Halloween: Wendell's "mad scientist" costume has turned pink in the wash, good candy is replaced by vegetable flavored candy, and school bully Leona Fleebish is determined to make the night even worse. Luckily for Wendell and company, their costumes give them special powers to deal with the night's problems. "Teague's illustrations are, as always, imaginative, quirky, and exuberant," wrote Booklist critic Susan Dove Lempke. Wendell and his friend Floyd star in The Lost and Found, in which the two dive into the lost-and-found box at school only to get sucked into a realm of lost hats and missing items. "Teague's latest sly take on the wild flights of childhood fancy is as entertaining as always, and he doles out his deadpan artistic style with a wink," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. As Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin noted, "children will … love the crazy notion at the heart of the story."
In 2002, Teague introduced his readers to Ike, a dog at obedience school who is incredibly homesick for his owner, Mrs. LaRue, in Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School. To hear Ike tell the tale, the obedience school is worse than prison; Teague's clever illustrations show Ike's version of the tale in black and white, while in full color, the true story is revealed. Obedience school actually is not all that bad: the lucky dog is essentially being treated to a spa-style environment. Ike is not one to stay put, however, and he escapes obedience school just in time to save Mrs. LaRue from danger, so all his transgressions are forgiven. A Publishers Weekly critic considered the title "a tail-wagger of a book that will have readers howling with amusement." Roxanne Burg, in School Library Journal, considered the "humorous acrylic illustrations" to be "a howl," while Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper wrote that "the wonderfully arch text is matched with Teague's sly pictures." Sue Grossman, writing in Childhood Education, noted that "children will have fun comparing Ike's story to what is really going on."
Ike's return in Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation features him once again writing from prison—this time literally. Accused of kidnaping the neighbor's cats, Ike decides to take the case himself and clear his good name. Again, his descriptions of what is actually going on do not exactly match the true events. "Lively acrylics paired with comical correspondence result in a picture book that will have fans howling," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews contributor acknowledged that "Teague's innovative approach to storytelling is fun, but educational as well." As School Library Journal contributor Steven Engelfried wrote, "Teague's visual characterizations of animals and people are also a treat," while Jennifer Matt-son, in Booklist, noted that "children will get a thrill out of piecing together the mystery alongside the wily, self-serving, yet eminently lovable Ike."
Teague has also illustrated the work of other authors such as Dick King-Smith, Audrey Wood, and Cynthia Rylant. A Publishers Weekly contributor, appraising Wood's The Flying Dragon Room, asserted that the plot "gets a vital boost from Teague's buoyant whimsical art," while Cooper, reviewing No Moon, No Milk! in Booklist, noted that "Teague's ebullient artwork captures a very determined cow in … uncowlike settings … with humor and panache." Audrey Wood's Sweet Dream "is a funny and clever story, taken a notch further by Teague's illustrations," according to Elizabeth Drennan in Booklist. Teague illustrates the story of a lost dog in The Great Gracie Chase, about which Beth Tegart wrote in School Library Journal: "In the hands of Rylant and Teague, this basic event has charm, hu-mor, and joy." Sue Grossman, writing in Childhood Education, commented that "The simple pictures and story will delight young children."
Working with author Shana Corey on the "First Graders from Mars" series, Teague has created a Martian vision of elementary school. The children are brilliantly colored and have long tentacles; a Publishers Weekly critic called the setting a "Seussian landscape" in a review of the first title in the series, First Graders from Mars: Episode One, Horus's Horrible Day. Carol Schene, reviewing the same title, commented: "The nonhuman students are done in assorted colors from green to purple, and the teacher, Ms. Vortex, is really a standout with eyes … in the back of her head." Shelle Rosen-feld, writing about First Graders from Mars: Episode Two, The Problem with Pelly in Booklist, noted that Teague's "Martian setting clearly and humorously shows that normality is relative."
Teague has also teamed up with award-winning author Jane Yolen on the "How Do Dinosaurs" picture-book series intended to encourage good manners to readers through the humorous behaviors of dinosaur children. While the dinosaurs are depicted as having human parents, they are "specifically identified with cunningly placed labels within each double-paged spread," as well as at the end of the book, according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews in a review of How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon? Ilene Cooper, in Booklist, noted of the same book that "Teague, always tops when it comes to mining humor in art, does a great job here."
As a father, Teague often gets inspiration from his two children. "My daughters keep it fresh for me. They provide all kinds of inspiration. They're very funny and we have a good time. I read to my daughters all the time," he told an interviewer for the Reading Is Fundamental Web site. In the same interview, Teague gave his advice for young writers and illustrators: "Practice is everything. You should read a lot. I think that both writing and illustrating come from a love of books. That was the first thing for me. For as long as I remember, I just loved books."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1990, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Moog-Moog, Space Barber, p. 531; September 1, 1991, p. 64; September 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of No Moon, No Milk!, pp. 66-67; September 15, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of Pigsty, p. 145; September 15, 1996, p. 251; February 15, 1998, Elizabeth Drennan, review of Sweet Dream, p. 1021; July, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Lost and Found, p. 1890; September 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of One Halloween Night, p. 151; February 15, 2002, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of First Graders from Mars: Episode Two, The Problem with Pelly, p. 1019; November 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, p. 494; January 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, p. 881; January 1, 2003, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue, p. 799; October 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation, p. 411.
Childhood Education, winter, 2001, Sue Grossman, review of The Great Gracie Chase, p. 112; spring, 2003, Sue Grossman, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue, p. 180.
Five Owls, March-April, 1998, pp. 80-81.
Horn Book, March-April, 2003, Christine M. Hepperman, review of How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, p. 208.
Instructor, August, 2001, Judy Freeman, review of First Graders from Mars: Episode One, Horus's Horrible Day, p. 22.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1991, review of Frog Medicine, pp. 1094-1095; March 15, 1992, p. 399; August 1, 1995, p. 1117; July 1, 1996, p. 975; August 15, 1997, p. 1313; December 1, 2001, review of First Graders from Mars: Episode Two, p. 1683; August 1, 2002, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue, p. 1145; December 1, 2002, review of How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, p. 1776; August 15, 2004, review of Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation, p. 814.
Library Journal, June, 1992, Dorothy Houlihan, review of The Field beyond the Outfield, School pp. 103-104.
New York Times Book Review, July 12, 1992, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, September 8, 1989, review of The Trouble with the Johnsons, p. 69; October 4, 1991, review of Frog Medicine, p. 88; July 11, 1994, review of Pigsty, p. 78; July 10, 1995, review of How I Spent My Summer Vacation, p. 56; January 22, 1996, review of The Flying Dragon Room, p. 73; August 26, 1996, review of The Secret Shortcut, p. 98; August 11, 1997, review of Baby Tamer, p. 401; July, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Lost and Found, p. 1890; September 27, 1999, review of One Halloween Night, p. 47, and review of The Secret Shortcut, p. 107; July 16, 2001, review of First Graders from Mars: Episode 1, Horus's Horrible Day, p. 180; July 22, 2002, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue, p. 177; September 15, 2002, Jason Britton, "In the Studio with Mark Teague," pp. 23-24; March 10, 2003, "Christopher Awards Presented," p. 18; July 19, 2004, review of Detective LaRue, p. 160.
School Library Journal, April, 1995, p. 103; March, 1996, p. 184; April, 2001, Beth Tegart, review of The Great Gracie Chase, p. 121; September, 2001, Carol Schene, review of First Graders from Mars: Episode One, p. 185; October, 2001, Patricia Manning, review of Poppleton in Winter, p. 130; April, 2002, Dona Ratterree, review of First Graders from Mars: Episode Two, p. 102; September, 2002, Roxanne Burg, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue, p. 207; February, 2003, Jody McCoy, review of How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, p. 126; October, 2004, Steven Engelfried, review of Detective LaRue, p. 135.
Time, December 11, 1995, p. 77.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 15, 2002, review of Dear Mrs. LaRue, p. 5.
Children's Book Council Magazine Web site, http://cbcbooks.org/cbcmagazine/ (April 25, 2006), profile of Teague.
Houghton Mifflin Education Place Web site, http://www.eduplace.com/kids/ (April 25, 2006), profile of Teague.
Reading Is Fundamental Web site, http://www.rif.org/ (April 25, 2006), interview with Teague.
Scholastic Web site, http://www.scholastic.com/ (April 25, 2006), profile of Teague.
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