Petra Mathers came to the U.S. when she was 23. She started painting the walls in her son's room and eventually had a gallery showing of her art. Friends encouraged her to try illustrating children's books. Her early books were filled with black-and-white illustrations, but Petra really wanted to do color. She has moved on and among the books that have garnered praise are Kisses from Rosa, Sophie and Lou, Patchwork Island (poem by Karla Kuskin) and When It Snowed that Night (poems by Norma Farber). The New York Times commented that the latter is a lovely blend of art and poems. Our reviewer remarked that How Nanita Learns to Make Flan (1999, Atheneum, Ages 3 to 7, $16.00) combines the fantasy of a fairy tale with the tone of a folk tale, to create a well-illustrated original story about the shoemaker's daughter who has no shoes.
Petra now writes her own stories and accompanies them with full-color art. Her heart is in the Lottie stories and she said that she would like to be as prolific as Beatrix Potter and do scads of books. Her latest is Dodo Gets Married (2001, Atheneum, Ages 4 to 8, $16.00) in which Lottie's friend Dodo meets a retired Coast Guard helicopter pilot with a wooden leg. It is a match made in heaven and the wedding preparations and big celebration bring all of her characters together at one big happy event.
My personal favorite is A Cake for Herbie (2000, Atheneum, Ages 4 to 8, $15.00). Lotties best friend, Herbie enters a poetry contest to win first prize-a big cake. He works feverishly on his verses and produces "From Herbie's Kitchen A to Z." The audience is not receptive and Herbie slinks away. He ends up at the Ship's Inn where he finds a more appreciative audience and even earns a cake. The pictures are charming and the text has lots of word play fun.
Petra is a self-taught artist. Her earliest works were created with crayons and cheap watercolors. She would paint after coming home from a day at work. Petra loves her work and believes that her inspiration comes from the muses-all she really does is record what is coming to her. Her advice to aspiring illustrators is "Have a mind of your own. Don't imitate. Look for inspiration within your life rather than other people's work." She follows this advice and her work is fresh and creative.
Contributor: Marilyn Courtot
ReviewsBorreguita and the Coyote
Retold by Verna Aardema
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
Aardema retells this Mexican story in which a coyote tries to eat the little lamb. In typical folktale pattern, Borrequita successfully tricks coyote 3 times, each trick a bit more elaborate than the preceding one. Her first trick is famous in "fool" stories around the world. She must convince coyote that the reflection of the moon in a pond is really a round of cheese. Greed can be fooled easily. 1998 (orig. 1991), Knopf, Ages 6 to 9, $17.00, $17.99 and $6.99. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
Dodo Gets Married
Dodo passes by Captain Vince's house each day and admires his windmills, but she wonders why the captain never comes out of his house. When at last Dodo and Vince meet, they fall in love. In this shallow book, the personified birds are unbelievable; the plot is not plausible; the attempt at humor falls short. The cartoon-like illustrations are unappealing, and Dodo's German accent is inappropriate. Although the theme of the book is "there is someone for everyone," that theme is not clearly stated. In short, this fourth book in the "Lottie's World" series is not one to be recommended for library collections. 2001, Antheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages 4 to 8, $16.00. Reviewer: Jenny B. (J. B.) Petty
Grandmother Bryant's Pocket
Jacqueline Briggs martin
Pictures by Petra Mathers
Years ago women had pockets that were not sewn into their clothes. These pocket were tired around the waist underneath skirts. Slits in the skirt allowed access to the pocket. These versatile pockets held many treasures. When Sarah Bryant is bothered by nightmares, her folks send her to visit Grandmother Bryant in the hope that the kindly older woman will be able to help. She gives Sarah her pocket to wear with its words "Fear Not" and some sweet smelling herbs, several brass buttons and her scissors. In time with her grandparents loving support Sarah overcomes her frightening nightmares and other fears and heads back home to her family. A delightful period piece and a girl who readers will cheer for, all packaged in a book the size of a pocket. 1996, Houghton, Ages 4 and up, $14.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
How Nanita Learned to Make Flan
Illustrations by Petra Mathers
Combining the fantasy of a fairy tale with the tone of a folk tale, this well-illustrated original story is about the shoemaker's daughter who has no shoes. Nanita watches her busy papa make shoes for everyone else, but he never has time to make a pair for her. Nanita is worried because she must have shoes for her First Communion. Finally, Nanita sneaks into the shop while Papa sleeps and makes her own shoes. The shoes feel strange and indeed they are magical. They take Nanita far away to a ranchero where an old woman steals the shoes and forces Nanita to do all the housework. This is when Nanita learns to make flan. When her arm is tired from beating eggs, a friendly parrot tells her that she must give the eggs exactly ten more strokes. When Nanita escapes and returns home, Papa makes her a beautiful pair of shoes. Nanita makes a flan for the fiesta celebrating her First Communion. The flan recipe is included, along with the admonition, "Continue beating until you can't beat any longer. Then give exactly ten more strokes." 1999, Atheneum/Simon and Schuster, Ages 3 to 8, $16.00. Reviewer: Carolyn Mott Ford
It's My Birthday, Too!
Illustrations by Petra Mathers
Christopher is having a birthday. His mother makes a cake. His father blows up balloons. Trouble is, younger brother Robbie thinks he is a welcome guest. Christopher thinks Robbie will spoil the day and decides he would rather have a puppy than a brother. Pretending to be a puppy, Robbie joins the party. He greets Christopher's friends on all fours. He chews a shoelace because he does not know how to play party games. He howls along to "Happy Birthday." When offered a doggie treat, he jumps onto the table and licks the birthday cake, getting chocolate frosting all over his face. He wags his tail at a guest, who tells Christopher he is lucky to have a puppy. But Chrstopher decides younger siblings are all right after all. "Puppies are nothing but trouble," he tells his friend. 1999, G.P. Putnam's Sons, Ages 3 to 6, $12.99. Reviewer: Julie Steinberg
Kisses from Rosa
Rosa's mother has tuberculosis, and must go away to the mountains for treatment. Rosa is sent to live with her aunt Mookie and cousin Birgit in the Black Forest. Mother and daughter keep in touch by letter, so Otto the mailman becomes one of Rosa's favorite people. Life on the farm with Mookie and Birgit is fun and exciting, but Rosa is delighted when the time finally comes to return home where her mother is waiting. Colorful paintings are filled with lovingly detailed memories from the author's childhood. 1995, Apple Soup/Knopf, Ages 4 to 9, $16.00 and $17.99. Reviewer: Dr. Judy Rowen
Lottie's New Beach Towel
Lottie is a chicken who receives a beach towel from her aunt as she is getting ready to go on a picnic with her friend. Lottie runs into many problems on her picnic and uses her towel to solve each of them. For example, when the motor on the boat stops working, the beach towel is used as a sail. The story is told in part by detailed pictures of Lottie and her adventures. Though it is an attractive book, it is unlikely to become a favorite. Topics in the book, including the making of lemonade from scratch and a wedding, are beyond the reach of very young children, as is the cursive writing used for a letter from Lottie's aunt. 1998, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, Ages 3 to 8, $15.00. Reviewer: Karen Porter
Mommy Go Away
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
Christopher, a small boy, shrinks his mother down to a very tiny size during his bathtime. His mother gives him orders to clean up his toys and turn off his television. Christopher becomes frustrated with being small and having so many responsibilities, so he decides that he wants mommy to go away. He shrinks her, puts her in a toy boat and sends her off on her own in the ocean of water in his tub. Mommy is scarred, but Christopher promises to take care of her. After a while mommy tells Christopher she wants to be big again, he honors her request and she admits that it's hard to be small. Christopher wanted his mom to understand how he feels being small. The illustrations in the book are very colorful and bright and the moral of the story is good. However, the idea of shrinking mommy, who is the protector, and putting her in the hands of a child who really does not understand what it means to protect is somewhat unsettling. 1997, G. P. Putnam's Sons, a division of The Putnam & Grosset Group, Ages 4 to 6, $12.95. Reviewer: Tamara Hundley
Tell Me a Season
Mary McKenna Siddals
Illustrated by Petra Mathers
This wonderful book is for the very young. Parents and caregivers won't mind reading it over and over. No more than six words to a page, and usually with only two to four, this tiny book introduces colors and seasons, from spring morning to winter night. The illustrations are simple, but beautifully colored and exquisitely drawn. 1997, Clarion, Ages 2 to 5, $12.95. Reviewer: Judy Silverman
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