Meet Authors & Illustrators

Janet Stevens

   Janet Stevens doodled on her elementary school assignments. She wasn't particularly talented but she liked to draw. The youngest of three children, Janet wasn't good at anything. Her older brother and sister were smart. Her sister Susie was "perfect and prissy" and got to wear blue dresses. Drab Janet wore brown dresses.

   Her father was in the navy, which meant moving every few years. Instead of telling kids where she is from, Janet shows a slide of the United States with 14 dots marking the places she lived growing up. She lived in Hawaii the last two years of high school, then got a job painting palm trees and parrots on Hawaiian shirts. She also did pet portraits. The owners were specific about how they wanted their pets portrayed. Janet painted dogs on water-skis and in funny costumes. Her own paintings were often of dressed animals, a style that originated when she put sneakers on a rhino so she wouldn't have to draw his feet.

   In 1977, Janet went to New York with her portfolio. Art directors looked at her walruses wearing Hawaiian shirts and commented that she might be better suited to children's illustration. Her first book assignment was Animal Fair. Caldecott Honor book Tops And Bottoms began when she drew a lazy bear lounging in an Adirondack chair. (Her favorite things to draw are Adirondack chairs and shoes.) She never thought she could be a writer because she was always in the lowest reading group in school--not the kids who had to leave the room, but close! After drawing the bear, a line of dialog popped out of his mouth. Using her storyboard technique to map illustrations, she started with small pictures of the bear with dialog balloons. The sketches faded as the words took over. She was a writer after all!

   Janet encourages kids to write or draw their favorite things, like chairs or shoes or wrinkly rhinoceroses. Part of learning to be good at art, she says, is to let yourself be bad at art.

   Janet's studio is cluttered with Salvation Army shoes and hats, props for her books. She also shares her workspace with three dogs and three cats (though not all at the same time). A few years ago, Janet discovered the wonders of the computer. Actually, her husband urged her to see what marvels a scanner could accomplish. Once started, Janet couldn't stop. She scanned actual objects, like a potato, raspberries, a cheese grater, a sponge. These images were imported in Cook-A-Doodle-Do, the first collaborative project with her sister. The cheese grater and sponge textures became the iguana's lizardy hide. The pig's skin derived from the scanned potato. With Adobe Photoshop, Janet is able to manipulate the scanned objects. When the composition is complete, she paints over the drawing.

   Janet's latest books, My Big Dog, The Dish Ran Away With the Spoon, and To Market, To Market all utilize digital elements as she becomes more proficient integrating art with computer graphic techniques.

   The creative force behind those shambling, colorful animal characters is the young Janet Stevens, who was given the chance to draw and paint. She never has to wear brown again.

Contributor: Candice Ransome

For more information visit her website www.janetstevens.com.

 

Reviews

And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon
Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Illustrated by Janet Stevens
    Children will love this parody of the familiar nursery rhyme as Dish and Spoon run away and don't come back for the next night's reading. The rhyme can't go on without them, so Cow, Cat and Dog begin a search that leads to a wacky adventure full of puns and slapstick humor. They come to a fork in the road, so their first encounter is with Fork (who happens to be from the same place setting as Spoon). When they ask him to draw a map of which way Dish and Spoon went, he says he will take a "stab" at it. Though the constant puns and silly humor may be a little difficult for the adult reader to take, the five-to eight-year-old crowd will find it hilarious. The glorious, full-page illustrations are lively and humorous, making this a wonderful gift book for a special child. 2001, Harcourt, $17.00. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewer: Cheryl Peterson
ISBN: 0-15-202298-8
Best Books:
   Children's Book Sense 76 Picks, Spring/Summer 2001 ; Book Sense 76; United States
   Notable Books for Children, 2002 ; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
   Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, April 2001 ; Cahners; United States
State Reading Lists:
   Black-Eyed Susan Book Award Nominees, 2003 ; Maryland
   Colorado Children's Book Award List, 2003 ; Colorado
   Texas Bluebonnet Award, 2003 ; Texas

Anansi and the Magic Stick
Retold by Eric A. Kimmel
Ilustrated by Janet Stevens
   In this newest tale of the lazy, yet crafty, spider, Anansi, Kimmel and Stevens combine their talents to show just how lazy AND crafty Anansi can be as he steals Hyena's magic stick and commands it to clean his house and yard and plant and water his garden. As usual, because of his laziness, things do not turn out like Anansi plans. He forgets the magic words to make the stick stop working, causing a flood and the destruction of the homes of his friends, Lion, Zebra and Warthog. Hyena finally finds the stick and commands it to become a stick again. The other animals rebuild their houses on the shores of the new lake and wonder what has happened to Anansi. He is floating lazily along on his new raft on the other side of the lake. Stevens' bold, bright and captivating illustrations engage children, while the repetitive magical chants and word play used by Kimmel assist them in participating in the telling of the story. Children have pleaded, "Tell us the story again, please." 2001, Holiday House, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer J. B. Petty

   Lazy Anansi discovers Hyena's magic stick and makes it clean up his house and yard. But when it keeps watering his garden, he forgets the chant to make it stop. Luckily, Hyena stops the ensuing flood. The other animals end up enjoying the lake that is left, but fear that Anansi is lost. However, the trickster is floating on the other side of the lake, planning new tricks, "what Anansi does best." Stevens uses watercolor, acrylic, crayon and "digital elements" plus her robust vision to produce animals bursting with personality, masters at expressing their feelings. She mixes bits of whimsical vegetation and fancy, like a sun-glass-wearing rhino, into her otherwise naturalistic landscape, then adds the author and herself floating in the flood for her own trick. Although it is loosely based on a Liberian tale, the story is not very "African," being reminiscent of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, as well. 2001, Holiday House, $16.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken and Sylvia Marantz
ISBN: 0-8234-1443-4

From Pictures to Words : A Book about Making a Book
Written and illustrated by Janet Stevens
    This book highlights the basics of writing fiction: character, problem, plot, setting. The animal characters, Stevens' artistic specialty, spring to life as partners in her writing and drawing. They comment hilariously on her choice of characters, their dress, dialog, and the story line as she lays out a storyboard. She makes a dummy book and shows her animal friends how different they look when drawn with markers, pencils or watercolors. The animals, a koala, rhinoceros, and cat, eagerly await the finished book so they can autograph it with their hoofprints. 1995, Holiday, $15.95 and $6.95. Ages 6 to 10. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
ISBN: 0-8234-1154-0

From Pictures to Words : A Book about Making a Book
Written and illustrated by Janet Stevens
    A clever humorous approach to story writing by an illustrator, Stevens creates three imaginary characters--a rhinoceros, a koala, and a cat--to be her alter egos as she makes her first attempt at writing a story. Never at a loss for words, her alter egos alternately encourage and criticize her writing until she gets her story just right. The steps necessary in finding a publisher and in achieving eventual success are illustrated along with the important inclusion of the feelings of doubt, anxiety, and elation that go along with writing and publishing. The illustrations are effective in bringing to life the imagination necessary to the creative process. The perfect book to encourage a young would-be author, without being too serious. 1995, Holiday House, $15.95 and $6.95. Ages 7 to 10. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger
ISBN: 0-8234-1154-0

Shoe Town
Written and illustrated by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Illustrated by Janet Stevens.
   The rhymed text is easy to read and the illustrations are amusing. The little mouse raised all her babies in a little shoe. Their home was a purple Mary Jane with a shiny buckle. When the babies were all grown, the little mouse knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to take a nice relaxing hot bath and then a long nap. Each time the little mouse thought she had a chance for her bath and a nap a knock would come upon the shoe. First Tortoise and Hare wanted to stay in the shoe, then the Little Red Hen and finally even the Big, Bad Wolf. Mouse knew her shoe was too little to share, so she told her friends to find their own shoes and put them in the field. A boot, an old sneaker and a yellow pump are placed next to the Mary Jane, forming a town of shoes. This is a Level 2 book in the "Green Light Readers" series. 1999, Harcourt, $3.95. Ages 6 to 8. Reviewer: Carolyn Mott Ford
ISBN: 0-15-201994-4

To Market, to Market
Anne Miranda
Illustrated by Janet Stevens
   What happens when a poor elderly woman takes a trip to the market? Chaos reigns on her home! She buys a plump goose and the hen's on the loose. She buys a live trout and the goose is let out. On and on it goes until the woman is hungry and cranky and doesn't know what to do. The woman and the items from the market all appear in color, but the backgrounds are black and white, which gives the book a unique look. Children will love this hilarious take-off on the familiar rhyme. 1997, Harcourt Brace, $16.00. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Dori Butler
ISBN: 0-15-200035-6

To Market, to Market
Anne Miranda
Illustrated by Janet Stevens
   Bravo to Janet Stevens for her sparkling and hilarious pictures for Anne Miranda's comic version of To Market, To Market. Animals run amok creating chaos in the once peaceful home of a disheveled shopper who is defenseless, distraught and disgraced by her newfound menagerie. "The PIG's in the kitchen. The LAMB's on the bed. The COW's on the couch. There's a DUCK on my head!" What to do? Take my advice: buy the book, but be sure to remove the jacket to enjoy the unusual picture on the cover. A jumping, jiving book! 1997, Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 3 to 7. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
ISBN: 0-15-200035-6
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
   American Booksellers Book Sense Book of the Year (ABBY) Award Honor Book 1998 Children United States
   The Golden Kite Award Honor Book 1997 Illustration United States
Best Books:
   Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for Pre-K--Grade 6, 12th Edition, 1999 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Choice List, 1998 ; Children's Literature; United States
   Notable Books for Children, 1998 ; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
State Reading Lists:
   Flicker Tale Children's Book Award, 1999 ; North Dakota

Tops & Bottoms
Adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens
   This is clever reworking of several childhood fables put into the language of the modern business world. Hare and Bear are neighbors and they decide to go into the crop raising business together. Bear is so lazy, however, that he does none of the work, and the Hare family collects the best part of the harvest (the profits). Bear complains and insists on being more fairly treated, but again does none of the work. At the next harvest, Bear's lack of attention again leaves him with the short end of the stick. Engaging illustrations add to this humorous tale of the ups and downs of partnerships and the work ethic. The format is also a nice surprise and there are great possibilities for extending the story. 1995, HarcourtBrace, $16.00. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger
ISBN: 0-15-292851-0

Tops & Bottoms
Adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens
   Drawing on European and slave folk traditions, Stevens retells the tale of rich, lazy Bear, a landowner who is willing to barter work for crops with poor, enterprising Hare. Hare gets Bear to agree to split crops from top, bottom, or middle and once Bear makes his choice, Hare plants accordingly. He harvests the bottoms of carrots, radishes and beets and then the tops of lettuce, broccoli and celery. Young listeners will be captured by Steven's sense of drama and the clever Hare. The book could lead to a discussion of how Hare will outsmart Bear next, or a more general discussion of how food grows. 1995, Harcourt Brace, $16.00. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Susie Wilde
ISBN: 0-15-292851-0

Tops & Bottoms
Adapted and illustrated by Janet Stevens
   Hare's hungry family forces him to use his wits in order to feed them. Playing Bear like a violin, Hare suggests that if Bear donates the land, Hare will do the work and they'll split the crop. Bear must choose. Whether Bear chooses tops or bottoms, he'll lose, as Hare is in control and doing all the work. The facial expressions of the animals are delightful and the fact that the book opens vertically allows us to view all the action simultaneously. A Caldecott Honor Book, 1996. 1995, Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
ISBN: 0-15-292851-0
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
ABC Children's Booksellers Choices Award Winner 1996 Picture Books United States
National Association of Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) Winner 1995 United States
Randolph Caldecott Medal Honor Book 1996 United States
Best Books:
   Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for Pre-K--Grade 6, 1997 ; National Council of Teachers of English; United States
   Best Children's Books of the Year, 1996 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States
   Booklist: Editors' Choice: Books for Youth, 1995 ; American Library Association; United States
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Children's Choices, 1996 ; International Reading Association; United States
   Choice List, 1996 ; Children's Literature; United States
   Notable Books for Children, 1995 ; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
   Teachers' Choices, 1996 ; International Reading Association; United States
State Reading Lists:
   Flicker Tale Children's Book Award, 1997 ; North Dakota

Old Bag of Bones : A Coyote Tale
Retold and illustrated by Janet Stevens
   Coyote, the trickster character from Native American folklore is back to his old tricks again. Coyote is lazy; he likes to find quick and effortless solutions to his problems. Realizing that he is getting old and frail, Coyote asks Buffalo to give him some of his strength, youth, and power. Buffalo obliges somewhat and gives Coyote his youth and strength but keeps the power. Coyote is transformed into a buffote, a buffalo with the tale of a coyote. Naturally Coyote's youth goes to his head with comic and just results. Stevens uses a palette of desert colors--blues, browns and purples to bring this entertaining trickster tale to life. 1996, Holiday, $15.95. Ages 4 to 7. Reviewer: Judith Gravitz
ISBN: 0-8234-1215-6
Best Books:
   Children's Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson; United States
   Choice List, 1997 ; Children's Literature; United States
   School Library Journal Book Review Stars, May 1996 ; Cahners; United States

Tumbleweed Stew
Susan Stevens Crummel
Illustrated by Janet Stevens
    In this Stone Soup variant, Jack Rabbit tricks the other animals into sharing their vegetables to create a delicious stew. It begins with Jack Rabbit proclaiming that he can make a delicious stew from a tumbleweed. Armadillo decides that it might be better with a few carrots, then Buzzard offers some onions, Deer brings corn, Skunk adds potatoes, and Rattlesnake contributed celery. The result--a delicious stew shared by all. The story is fun and the illustrations of the animals and ingredients are full of humor. The introduction describes the levels in the "Green Light Reader" series and provides some helpful tips to those working with kids. There is also a very brief blurb and photos of the author illustrator team who happen to be sisters. A Level 2 book. 2000, Harcourt, $10.95 and $3.95. Ages 6 to 8. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
ISBN: 0-15-202628-2
ISBN: 0-15-202673-8

 

Added 2002

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