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Helen K(ay) Davie (1952-) Biography

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

Born 1952, in Los Angeles, CA; Education: Attended De Anza Community College, 1970-72; California State University—Long Beach, B.A., 1975. Politics: "Liberal, Feminist, Green." Hobbies and other interests: Natural history, gardening, traveling.

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

Creator of business cards and logos; illustrator of greeting cards for Windemere Press; illustrator for textbooks until 1988; illustrator of children's books. Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, docent; Castlemont School, San Jose, CA, tutor.

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Center for Children's Environmental Literature, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Smithsonian, World Wildlife Federation, Greenpeace, Childfree, National Organization for Women.

Minnesota Children's Book Award, 1988, and Teacher's Choice selection, International Reading Association, 1989, both for The Star Maiden: An Ojibway Tale.


Caroline Arnold, What We Do When Someone Dies, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1987.

Sing with Me Christmas Carols (collection of well-known carols with an audiocassette), Random House (New York, NY), 1987.

Barbara Juster Esbensen, adapter, The Star Maiden: An Ojibway Tale, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988.

Barbara Juster Esbensen, adapter, Ladder to the Sky: How the Gift of Healing Came to the Ojibway Nation, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.

Betsy James, He Wakes Me, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Barbara Juster Esbensen, The Great Buffalo Race: How the Buffalo Got Its Hump (poetry), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.

Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, What Lives in a Shell?, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

Barbara Juster Esbensen, Echoes for the Eye (poetry), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.

Henrietta Bancroft with Richard G. Van Gelder, Animals in Winter, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

Augusta R. Goldin, Ducks Don't Get Wet, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

Barbara Juster Esbensen, The Night Rainbow (poetry), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

Betty Tatham, Penguin Chick, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Wendy Pfeffer, Dolphin Talk: Whistles, Clicks, and Clapping Jaws, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Helen K. Davie once told SATA: "When I begin to illustrate a book, I do extensive research: collecting information from libraries and museums, making photocopies and notes, and taking photographs. Some books I've worked on have required as much as six months of preparation before I even drew the first sketch. Usually I'm surrounded by so much reference material I can't find a clear space on my desk to work!"

Davie's research has resulted in illustrations that have won praise for their accuracy, particularly the illustrations she has produced for Barbara Juster Esbensen's adaptations of Native-American legends. "I believe an illustrator has an obligation to be accurate," Davie once commented to SATA, "even if, for example, a young reader doesn't know the differences in the clothing worn by various tribes. But beyond accuracy, a good illustration must be engaging. It should do more than merely depict a scene from the story. It should also bring another level of richness and meaning to the author's words."

Davie's first collaboration with Esbensen was The Star Maiden: An Ojibway Tale. In this book, a star appears as a woman in a young man's dreams. She tells him she is tired of wandering the skies and wishes to join the Ojibway people. He helps her come to earth in various forms, such as a rose, but none of these incarnations succeed in gaining her inclusion in his tribe. Finally, she sees herself reflected in a lake, and she and her sister stars decide to become water lilies so that they can stay close to the Ojibway, who are also known as the "canoe people." Sally M. Hunter, a reviewer for Five Owls, described Davie's illustrations for the book as "incredibly stylized and exquisite," accurately representing Ojibway designs. "Each illustration is bursting with details of Indian life," Hunter added. Ethel R. Twichell, a contributor to Horn Book, offered similar praise, saying "The book carefully and beautifully recreates the details of clothing from moccasin to feathered headdress."

The next Davie-Esbensen book, Ladder to the Sky: How the Gift of Healing Came to the Ojibway Nation, tells of a grandmother who attempts to follow her grandson to the land of the dead. The journey results in her death and the introduction of disease among the Ojibway. The Great Spirit, however, takes mercy on the people and teaches them how to use medicinal plants to heal themselves. "In lucid, dramatic watercolors, imaginatively bordered with stylized motifs based on plant life, Davie extends this carefully retold story," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.

Some of the books Davie has worked on with Esbensen deal with cultures other than the Ojibway. For instance, The Night Rainbow depicts legends about the aurora borealis, or northern lights, from several Native-American and European cultures. Esbensen tells the stories in poetry, accompanied by Davie's pastel and gouache illustrations. The pictures are "splendid" and "impart a sense of the 'wonderment' Esbensen describes," related a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan called Davie's artworks "lovely" and remarked that they "incorporate nature, lore, and the wonder of the aurora in its many forms."

Several other Davie efforts focus on animal life. What Lives in a Shell?, by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld, explains that shells are home to many different creatures. Davie's watercolors "amplify the text," reported Frances E. Millhouser in School Library Journal. Animals in Winter shows the various ways different animals spend the season: migrating, hibernating, or just going along as usual, with a little extra effort needed to find food in the cold months. Davie enhances the book's appeal by providing "clear, active illustrations" to accompany Henrietta Bancroft and Richard G. Van Gelder's words, observed Hazel Rochman in Booklist. Penguin Chick, written by Betty Tatham, portrays a family of emperor penguins caring for their young. The book deals realistically with the challenges the birds face in finding food and giving their babies adequate shelter, at the same time offering readers an appreciation of penguins' beauty. Davie's pictures depict the birds' "appealing shapes and movements," commented Danielle J. Ford in Horn Book. With "subtly modulated colors," added Booklist's Phelan, the illustrations "are often beautiful."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, December 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Animals in Winter, p. 662; March 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Night Rainbow, p. 1246; March 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Penguin Chick, p. 38.

Five Owls, July-August, 1988, Sally M. Hunter, review of The Star Maiden: An Ojibway Tale, p. 88.

Horn Book, July-August, 1988, Ethel R. Twichell, review of The Star Maiden; May-June, 2002, Danielle J. Ford, review of Penguin Chick, p. 347.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1989, review of Ladder to the Sky: How the Gift of Healing Came to the Ojibway Nation.

Publishers Weekly, February 14, 2000, review of The Night Rainbow, p. 200.

School Library Journal, September, 1994, Frances E. Millhouser, review of What Lives in a Shell?, p. 212.*

Additional topics

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