Article for the book, Celebrate Cricket: 30 Years of Stories and Art.

Cricket magazine will always have a special place in my life. Many of the people associated with Cricket became lifelong friends, and the pieces I did for Cricket became pivotal events in my artistic career.

Cricket was the door I first walked through to join the world of children’s books. After art school I might have entered the illustration world without a real focus were it not for a moment of great serendipity.  At the end of my senior year at the Rhode Island School of Design, Trina Schart Hyman came to speak about being a children’s book illustrator.  She stayed a second day to look at student portfolios. I was on my way out of the Illustration Building when one of my teachers said, “Aren’t you going talk to Trina?”  I wasn’t.  I was considering children’s books, but for some now mysterious reason I was also considering things like science fiction and fantasy book jackets and editorial magazine illustration. Thankfully, I did show her my work.  At the time, of course, Trina was the art director for Cricket. We had a great talk, and as we finished looking at my portfolio, she said, “How would you like to do a cover for Cricket?” I believe my reaction was something like “Huh?”  I thought this must have been some kind of a cruel art joke.  But she wasn’t kidding, and I did the cover, and I never thought about editorial or science fiction illustration again. This was a risky and generous offer on Trina’s part, and one that was so exciting and challenging, that it pointed me down the path to picture books without any wasteful detours.

As it turned out, my cover came through Trina’s hands just as her assistant art director, Dilys Evans, was creating an agency to represent children’s book illustrators. Dilys called me to see if I would like to be a part of her portfolio. Twenty -four years later we are still working together, in what has been my most gratifying, and fun, professional relationship.

That cover, “The Giant Cricket Expedition”, was for the March 1979 issue, the first in the new, larger format. The second cover I did for Cricket, “Air Raid,” was the March 1989 issue, exactly ten years after the first. This has created a wonderful set of bookends for my first decade in the field.

As with the first cover, I was presented with the most desirable art direction possible – do anything you want to do. This time it was Ron McCuthchan making the offer. Ron also let me know that because this was the March issue, there would be stories about St. Patrick’s Day and about frogs – the link between them being greenness, I think.

St. Patrick’s Day didn’t strike a chord – but frogs, they had potential.  I got out my sketchbook and a pencil.  Frogs were great fun to draw – soft, round, lumpy, and really goofy-looking.  But what could I do with them?

I drew one on a lily pad.  That shape…the round blob with the saucerlike bottom…Suddenly, old movies were running through my head:  Forbidden Planet and The Day the Earth Stood Still.  Together the frog and lily pad looked like a 50’s B-movie flying saucer!  As I drew, I saw that the frogs and toads weren’t actually flying.  It was the lily pad that had the power of flight, like a magic carpet from The Arabian Nights.

For the Cricket cover I showed a group of frogs rising up out of a swamp, heading off to whom knows what mischief.  I liked the picture a lot, and I began to like the frogs and toads themselves.  They had distinct personalities, and I wanted to know what happened before and after this scene. When I sat down to draw and find out what happened, well, Tuesday happened.

That cover grew to become my book Tuesday, which won the 1992 Caldecott Medal. It is a satisfying feeling to know that Tuesday exists because of a phone call from Cricket. The world is a better place because Marianne and Blouke Carus created the Cricket universe. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to use that world as a canvas.