Books by Stephen Gammell

Released: March 15, 2013

"Crisis management for sure, but resolutely low key and capped by the arrival of a luscious (if, Gammell-style, decrepit) birthday cake. (Picture book. 5-7)"
A family with severe short-term memory issues discovers a coping strategy at last in this mildly farcical outing. Read full book review >
LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BABY by Tony Johnston
Released: Sept. 4, 2012

"Enjoy it for the delicious, read-aloud text, but hide the illustrations. (Picture book. 3-8)"
Johnston captures the beauty of a baby's first laugh and a family's subsequent joy in this sweet celebration of one of life's loveliest milestones. Read full book review >
MUDKIN by Stephen Gammell
Released: March 1, 2011

During a respite from the rain, a young girl heads out to play. With toys in tow, she holds court until Mudkin, an imaginary mud-creature, appears to make her queen of his land. The boisterous critter, with its turnip head and troll-like body, speaks only in mud splotches and dresses her in mud robe and crown. Together they travel to an earthy kingdom, but rain soon depletes her carriage, castle, subjects and friend. Left with just her diadem, she returns to her toys, still queen of her own invention. Done in a chaotic '70s ink-drawn, freestyle aesthetic, Gammell's artwork is reminiscent of Ralph Steadman (Garibaldi's Biscuits, 2009, etc.), with its blotchy watercolors and masterful control of the legibility of the wash within messy shapes. However, the story itself is muddy and mired in a lack of clarity. In its essence, it's a wordless tale that would have been better served by remaining so. The beauty of Gammell's meticulously hand-lettered text and the integration of Mudkin's "language" requires better narrative execution than it receives here. While clearly extra care was put into the production of this title, from the metallic highlights on the cover to the brilliantly illustrated mud, the end result is unfortunately drowned in detail. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2009

Williams, a National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and Gammell, Caldecott winner and master of the sinuously surreal squiggle, deliver an overlong and overtwee tale. The Nobble has been around for thousands of years, "playing in the space between Wednesday and Thursday," but alone and lonely. He heads away from what he knows (napping in the bottom of the number 8, playing in the "octagonal rooms in snowflakes") to find himself in a city, which is full of shapes he does not have words for. A little girl recognizes him as similar to someone else she has seen and gets him to open a door ("What's a door?" asks the Nobble at the end of this torturously forced interaction) to see…another Nobble, one that looks just like him. Off they go, and the little girl hears them laughing. Too many words tell this story, which is heavy with the subtext of childhood loneliness and difference. The illustrator uses his delicious transparent colors, lightening his dark splatters, shadows and tangles, to great effect, but they cannot save this effort. (Picture book. 7-10)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

When faced with a long weekend, Miss Bindley decides to bring the class pets home with her, promising her students she'll take good care of them. But when a flea falls from her unkempt hair into her tea and she inadvertently swallows it, she has to get rid of it somehow. So she swallows the spider that crawls down her wall in the hopes that it will gobble the flea. The spying students cannot believe their eyes as the creatures their teacher swallows get larger and more beloved—they are the class pets, after all! When at last all the pets are gone, a student spies Miss Bindley staring at his friend. " ‘Swallow a child?' / The old teacher smiled… / ‘I would never do that!' " Gammell's gleefully messy illustrations give children an original view of teachers' private lives. His characters are full of personality, and textures seem to leap off the pages. This updated version matches the original in futility and repugnancy, but trumps it with a happier, deathless, ending. Class pets beware. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 5, 2008

Lyon's sensitive tale, spun from a childhood memory, is doubly ruminative: Its female narrator relates two boyhood reminiscences told her by an elderly neighbor. In the first, as a boy, he follows a falling star far afield. He finds it, "warm and smooth / as an egg straight from the hen." He shows it to the narrator, who "held it tight / trying to feel its journey." The second musing finds the amazed boy drenched with the light pooling at the end of a rainbow. Gammell's characteristic mixed-media pictures fully develop Lyon's themes of cosmic and earthly connection. Planets glimmer throughout, and pentangular star motifs figure in every spread, whether in tree bark, patched clothing or cloud shadows. The elder's boyhood adventures are depicted in a miasma of grays accented with the glowing colors of star and rainbow. Gammell emphasizes the joyous interplay between the narrator (in oversized, peacock-green cap) and her shiny-pated friend by suffusing both with reflected, prismatic light. An author's note fondly commemorates the real starfinder. Lovely. (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2006

Sierra spins an impeccably rhymed yarn about a last minute science-fair experiment gone fabulously amok. As a bespectacled girl narrates, her classmates' projects go swimmingly while she's blocked: "The ants on Mary's ant farm were growing corn and peas, / And Kevin Fink was on the brink of curing a disease." Surfing the Internet, she sends for "Professor Swami's Super Slime," ("A mutant yeast with just a piece of dragon DNA,") that arrives in an oozing carton plastered with warnings. Naturally, the stuff morphs. Sensitized to the slightest rebuff, it swallows the hissing Sir Scratchalot, kid sister Kate and Dad before chasing the narrator to school. It ingests Miss Fidget and several third-graders before the budding scientist remembers a crucial detail: fed sugar, the slime will swell amazingly, then erupt into a harmless gas. The kids lob a barrage of treats into the gaping maw, with—apparently—the guaranteed results. Gammell's pictures perfectly capture the antics, exploiting runny watercolor and highly rendered colored pencil to depict the outrageous mutations. Explosively funny. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2005

Providing ample evidence that he's no Dr. Seuss, Kinerk presents in wordy anapests young Timothy who, for no discernible reason beyond affirming his self-image as "the type who / gets an idea and then follows it through!" decides not to change his socks for a month. He's unfazed by a swelling chorus pleading, "Timothy, Timothy, Timothy Cox, / won't you consider, please, changing your socks?" Worn by a self-confident, red-thatched lad, the offending footwear trails greenish-yellow clouds in Gammell's increasingly spattered illustrations, then after month's end, finds a permanent home in a locked case at school, "with a sign that declares Timmy followed things through, / and others might think about doing that too." Gammell's a good choice for illustrator, and will likely be finding more and more work in this era of farting dogs and histories of poop, but Horton the elephant's still the go-to guy for stick-to-it-iveness. (Picture book. 6-8)Read full book review >
HEY, PANCAKES! by Tamson Weston
Released: Aug. 1, 2003

"Why get up, for goodness' sake? / Wait . . . that smell . . . could it be? Pancakes!" With plates, pan, glasses, and tableware bouncing about a gloriously spattered kitchen, three children—themselves gloriously spattered—chow down on stacks of pancakes in this rhymed breakfast bourrée. No parents are in sight, but big sister knows just what to do: "A pancake here, a pancake there. / One in the pan, and three in the air," until it's finally time to clean up, and troop outside for a "pancake cheer!" Gammell's madcap brushwork matches the exuberance of both the young diners' style of eating, and the rhythm of the brief text. Weston caps her cheery debut with a recipe for her grandmother's buttermilk pancakes. Yum. (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
HUMBLE PIE by Jennifer Donnelly
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

A dynamite union of a debut author with a veteran illustrator teaches a wry lesson with a unique scheme. Theo was not a good boy. Although his parents spoiled him rotten, he didn't appreciate anything. He never did chores or gave the dog a bite of food. And he ruined the strawberries for Baby Tom's birthday cake by splattering them all over. One day, right after the berry incident, he finds his grandmother rolling out a pie crust bigger than a bedsheet and wonders what it is for. His grandmother says a little rhyme, "Flour, butter, salt say I, / Berries, cherries, pile them high, / Hush now, mother, don't you sigh / Let the boy eat Humble Pie." Just as Theo reaches in to pull out a plum, his grandmother deftly crimps the edges and seals him in the pie. He rolls away, and passes some schoolmates, who remember his meanness and won't get him out. He rolls home, but everyone is celebrating Baby Tom's birthday and the dog and cat roll him down a hill. He lands in a poor starving village, and they decide to bake the pie. Theo is truly terrified, but the baker stumbles while putting the pie in a huge oven, and Theo pops out. He races home, does the chores, pets the dog and cat, and chops the wood. "Looks to me like the boy got his just desserts," says his grandmother. And the pie lasts the poor village for a year. Gammell's (The Burger and the Hot Dog, 2001, etc.) unmistakable illustrations, full of mischief and all of his splattery details, hold just the right amount of waggish exaggeration and expression, and suit the antic wit of the telling perfectly. Yum. (Picture book. 5-9)Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

Kids who devour poems by Silverstein and Prelutsky will sink their teeth into this collection of poetry featuring a banquet of fanciful food characters. There's a teacher named Frankie Fish Stick, pungent cheeses named Woodrow and Wanda, and a couple of eager eggs named Yack and Yimmy (two very "yolly guys," who are—naturally—full of funny "yolks"). Aylesworth (The Tale of Tricky Fox, 2001, etc.) includes lots of favorite foods in his 23 rhyming poems: pizza, bagels, cake, pickles, even chewing gum. Several poems convey subtle lessons about behavior, as in "Nellie and Bill," the story of a sweet pickle who is a more pleasant friend than her sourpuss dill pickle companion. Some poems are pure dessert, as in "Veggie Soup," the story of a country/western band with Bo Beet on fiddle and Tex Tater on guitar, or the title poem, which has a soda breaking up a fight and threatening to kick the participants in the buns. Creative teachers will find lots of ways to integrate these poems into the classroom, especially to liven up lessons on nutrition and the food pyramid. The final poem, "Up to You," encourages young readers to write their own poems about "food folks." Caldecott Medalist Gammell (Ride, p. 258, etc.) has cooked up a batch of humorous, mixed-media illustrations in a loose, washy style, using coffee for the brown tones for additional thematic flavor. (Poetry. 5-9)Read full book review >
RIDE by Stephen Gammell
Released: April 1, 2001

Mr. Gumpy's quarrelsome crew has nothing on this pair of siblings, dragged out by their parents for a pleasant drive. This potato-faced pair clearly have no intention of minding their parents' plea to "just this once try to get along," and sure enough things quickly escalate from a simple exchange of insults ("Well you're a poopy face!" "Well you have booger breath!") to a hilariously metaphorical battle that stops short of global thermonuclear war only upon the hasty offer of a snack. Gammell's (Twigboy, 2000, etc.) signature splattery pastel, pencil, and watercolor illustrations accommodate this skirmish perfectly, expanding and breaking out of the frame as the children's visualizations of their fight range from hurled bedroom furniture to a load of dumped garbage to fiercely snarling dinosaurs ("You . . . stinct!"). The text is entirely in dialogue, and the lettering is fully incorporated into the illustrations, shouting in angry colors out of the page to the reader. Kids will instantly recognize and respond to this battle of siblings, and adults will feel a kinship with the obviously long-suffering parents. "The End?" asks the text as the children face off over squirting sandwiches. Clearly not.(Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
TWIGBOY by Stephen Gammell
Released: May 1, 2000

Gammell (Is That You, Winter?, 1997, etc.) plays to his artistic strengths in this twiggy, mud- and verdure-spattered friendship tale, but, whether by chance or design, leaves several aspects ambiguous. Given limbs, a tiny face, and a navel, Twigboy (who looks more like a breadstick, but let that pass) comes off as a weird combination of flesh and wood; similarly, his unlikely new buddy Rockwell more resembles a potato than a pebble. The two meet in Weedland; Twigboy escapes insect "Snackerpinchers" when Rockwell bowls past, then in turn drags his rescuer out of a slimy pond. After snacking messily on Granma Twig's Mud Pebble Pie, and almost getting caught in a wild storm, the two fetch up back on the edges of Weedland, where they are left gleefully plotting a spectacular re-match with its unsuspecting denizens. The messy exuberance of Gammell's illustrations is as enjoyable as ever, but the story, which cuts off abruptly and may or may not be all or partly told in flashback, will leave readers floundering. (Picture book. 5-7)Read full book review >
IS THAT YOU, WINTER? by Stephen Gammell
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

A little vinegar and a lot of glory find their way into this evocation of the joys of winter and the beauty of snowfall: Gammell (Jim Aylesworth's Old Black Fly, 1992, etc.) obviously knows a thing or two about snow. Old Man Winter wakes up in a bad mood, and the first glimpse of him, in a huge tengallon hat and his droopy white moustache, will draw smiles. He mumbles and grumbles—no time for breakfast—and takes his truck out into the heavens to distribute some ice and snow, wondering, "Who do I make it snow for?." Readers find out when a tumble sends him into a snowbank, and a little girl picks him up, defending her much-loved old toy against the name-calling of her playmates. Worked in pastel, pencil, and watercolor, the illustrations almost shiver with clear, cold exhilaration. Gammell drips and swooshes trails and splats of white and gold against rich, blue backgrounds; he sets Old Man Winter's rickety house and track on twin mountain peaks linked by an even wobblier bridge; the children are marvels of variegated winter gear in purples, reds, greens, and yellows. The narrative text is set in regular type, while dialogue appears in Gammell's expressive scrawl. (Picture book. 3-8)Read full book review >
MONSTER MAMA by Liz Rosenberg
Released: March 1, 1993

Mama may be a "monster" who lives in a cave in back of the house and frightens neighbors with her moods, but she also paints (her true calling, it seems), gardens, bakes cookies, and has "the sweetest touch in the world" when her son is ill. Like her, Patrick Edward is fearless: When bullies taunt him ("Your mother wears army boots") and tie him up, he bursts his bonds and breaks their baseball bat. His mighty roar summons Mama, who chases the bullies home to make a new cake to replace the one they've just destroyed. The cake is shared; Mama gives Patrick Edward a hug ("I am your mother, even if I am a monster—and I love you"); and the admiring boys depart, remarking, "Your mother is something else." Sendak's Wild Things embody a child's inner life; here, parents' mysterious, often scary vagaries are personified by an extraordinary mother who is unpredictable, even fierce, but also creative, nurturing, and the source of her child's strength. Gammell's vibrant, freely rendered paintings magnify the ambivalence: clouds of dark lurk behind pervasive splashes of brilliant color; unkempt Mama, with hairy arms and pointy, multicolored fingernails, is almost terrifyingly bizarre; but the sturdy boy with his shock of tangerine hair is clearly a secure little person who can handle whatever life brings. This is not for the literal-minded: those who read the thematic title as an oxymoron may also feel challenged by the gorgeous, if unconventional, art. A splendid book that reaches deep into truth, not all of it cozy, and comes up smiling. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
OLD BLACK FLY by Jim Aylesworth
Released: April 10, 1992

"Old black fly's been/buzzin' around...And he's had a very/busy bad day," begins this alphabetical litany of misdemeanors ("He frolicked on the Eggs/for the birthday cake./He licked up the Frosting,/ for goodness sake./Shoo fly!/Shoo fly!/Shooo"). Having troubled the entire household and "lit on the List" of groceries (all of which turn up elsewhere), the fly "Zzzz"'s onto a table where he comes to a just end: the baby drops the cake on him. Aylesworth's buoyant, rhythmic verse provides inspiration for a wondrous evolution of Gammell's style. Framing the book in dramatic fly-black endpapers, he intensifies his trademark rainbow colors, laying them on a white ground in vibrant clouds, flinging them in ebullient splatters signifying the mess and confusion in the fly's wake, and counterpointing the impressionistic setting with precisely observed characters and details: an outraged cat, Gramma's wizened face, the hairy, red-eyed culprit. Sheer delight for eyes, ears, and funny-bones. (Picture book. 3+)Read full book review >
SCARY STORIES 3 by Alvin Schwartz
Released: Sept. 30, 1991

A poltergeist that specializes in unscrewing bottle-caps...a couple who bring home a strange-looking little dog from Mexico, only to be told that it's a sewer rat...suddenly vanishing friends, relatives, and animals...a Texas girl raised by wolves- -yes, it's a new collection of horribilia: chillers, ghost stories, and urban legends, retold in an appropriately matter-of- fact way and illustrated by a master of the macabre. Schwartz gives most of the tales a modern setting, provides hints for storytellers, discusses variants, and—as in two previous collections—appends careful source notes and a good-sized bibliography. Gammell supplies a characteristic array of leering faces, slimy bones, and scrofulous, unidentifiable creatures. Perfect for reading alone or aloud in a dimly lit room. You first. (Folklore. 10-14)Read full book review >
THE WING SHOP by Elvira Woodruff
Released: April 15, 1991

An ordinary story about a boy trying out several pairs of wings takes flight in its delightful illustrations. Matthew, who has just moved, wants desperately to revisit his old home; he finds (or imagines) a magical shop that loans him the wings of a gull, a butterfly, even an airplane. Each has its problem (bat wings hang him upside down), easily solved with a wish. Spotting the old house at last, Matthew is dismayed to find it has a pink porch and is now willing to go home to supper. In his usual riotous style, Gammell depicts the cheery, imperturbable child in a pleasing array of amusing situations. His fantastic cityscapes, with lurching brick towers that might be nightmarish were they less obviously born of good-humored fun, are a new addition to his repertoire of unique images. The rather long text is uneasily superimposed on the grand illustrations. (Picture book. 4-8)Read full book review >
GIT ALONG, OLD SCUDDER by Stephen Gammell
Released: March 15, 1983

The stronger the material Gammell has to take off from—or take off on—the more successful he is: Once Upon MacDonald's Farm was better than The Story of Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar, and both were better than the one book totally of Gammell's devising, Wake Up, Bear. . . It's Christmas. Here, the material is a loose, drawn-out gag, delivered in Old Scudder's mountain-man dialect—"How-do, childrun. Once Old Scudder stayed out in the wilderness so long, I got a mite confused"—but without the tall-tale extravagance or sly, laconic humor of a Glen Rounds. In the wind-up, Old Scudder has made a map—but doesn't know where he's at. The lackadaisical full-color watercolors of Western landscapes—naturalistic as against the vapors of Where the Buffaloes Begin—might, however, be pleasing enough, along with the crusty figure of Old Scudder, to keep the pages turning. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1982

It's Stephen Gammell's illustrations of dotty, doting Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar that are the attraction here—encased in a neat, squarish little volume as close-hauled as the tale. Mrs. V., you may remember, accidentally demolishes the pair's pickle-jar house. Out in the world, they stumble upon a robbers' chest of gold—but no new pickle-jar house will they have. While Mrs. V. patiently waits, Mr. V. ingenuously trades the gold for a cow, the cow for a flute, the flute for some mittens, and the mittens for a walking stick—which he then flings at a taunting parrot. "It's true, he thought as he trudged down the road. I am a fool. And a simpleton as well. No pickle jar, no fortune, nothing. Not even my stick. Oooh, what a scolding I'm in for!" But Mrs. V., no more practical-minded than her mate, is merely very, very glad to see him. . . and we leave them tenderly snoozing under the moon. The wryly, gently comical pencil drawings will leave the onlooker smiling too. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1981

Readers will be attracted by the look of Gammell's watercolors, with their blend of vibrant clarity and snowy softness; and his story opens on the crest of expectation—as Bear decides that, this year, he'll set his clock and wake up for the Christmas holiday. Bear's expectations are indeed fulfilled, but readers may feel let down by Gammell's descent to triteness. Bear is enjoying his tree on Christmas Eve when he's visited by a funny little bald man in a long white beard and long red coat. After a chat and some songs (not specified), the "little fellow" invites Bear for a ride, and the two take off into the sky in a crude, crate-like, one-horse sleigh. Bear, who speaks in rhyme throughout, then bursts out: "'Oh, what a Christmas!' hollered Bear./ 'I've never had such fun./ I'd like to think that it could be/like this for everyone./ But most of all, just meeting you/has really brought me cheer./ Why don't we plan, my little friend,/to do this every year?'" But this sort of assembly-line cheer is turned out every year—in greeting cards and picture books alike. Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1981

"While it is true that MacDonald had a farm," Gammell begins, "it wasn't much of a farm, and he had no animals." So, as Gammell's version goes, he buys some—an elephant (for the plowing), a baboon (for eggs!), and a lion (to milk). But while MacDonald sleeps exhausted, after his first day's chores, the animals decide to leave. Next evening MacDonald's neighbor fixes him up properly, with a home, a cow, and a chicken, and MacDonald starts the next eager day with an "Ei-ei-oh"—walking along behind the plow to which, the picture shows us, he's harnessed his new chicken. It's the sort of laid-back, waggish nonsense that should amuse children just past learning the song and the proper functions of the animals. And Gammell's soft pencil drawings, appropriately ramshackle and sly, refrain from making a circus of it. Read full book review >
YESTERDAY'S ISLAND by Stephen Gammell
Released: Nov. 15, 1980

One-dimensional, one-note hokum. Before he was born, Kama's Polynesian mother and Irish father were banished from his mother's native island of Milanao off the Hawaiian mainland. His mother died soon after his birth, of an unspecified illness, and his father is now dead too, in an accident that "totaled [his] bike and himself." This small novel, short on pages but long on plot, follows Kama, twelve-years-old and big for his age, on a journey of revenge to kill the tyrannical Mrs. Sommers, the banisher, whose family owned the island for generations and thought they owned the people on it. Kama's dinghy sinks three miles from Milanao, but he is resuced by a boatman who knew his mother. Left sleeping, Kama awakens and makes his way to the big house. And there, all alone in the kitchen reading, is Mrs. Sommers, now old and frail, who welcomes him smilingly: Well it wasn't his mother who was banished; it was his father, a troublemaker. "She could have come back," but not he. All this is too much for Kama who puts the knife to the woman's throat but "couldn't kill her." Still angry, he destroys a little property instead. "Times change," says the boatman returning for him and taking him back to the mainland where adoptive parents await. A drag. Read full book review >
Released: March 19, 1980

An earnest fable that is too ponderous and too shadowy to be effective. It opens with the small forest creatures, content in the clearing "until the day the Terrible Things came." Rabbit sees their Terrible shadows, which loom like the shadows of huge human busts, as the Terrible Things announce that they have come for "every creature with feathers on its back." "We don't have feathers," clamor the frogs, the squirrels, the porcupines, the rabbits, and the fish; and so only the birds are taken this time. The other creatures, relieved to be spared, don't much care, though Little Rabbit asks them, "What's wrong with feathers?" But of course the Terrible Things come back. . . first for the bushy-tailed, next for the swimmers, and so on until everyone is gone except (unrealistically) for Little Rabbit, who has hidden in a pile of rocks. "If only we creatures had stuck together, it would have been different," says Little Rabbit sadly, making Bunting's point clear but not its application. Who or what are the Terrible Things in a small child's world? (Their own answer might be parents and teachers.) And how can children gang tip against them? Kids will probably be able to parrot the lesson, but without a lot of pulling and prodding, will they relate to it? And if so, how? Read full book review >
STONEWALL by Stephen Gammell
Released: Sept. 5, 1979

An odd subject for a full-length treatment, perhaps, considering the notables whom Fritz has handled more lightly. But the same winning familiarity that made her shorter, somewhat younger biographies successful works well also in this somewhat fuller and more conventional life of Stonewall Jackson—whose shyness and rigidity made him an unpopular student and teacher but a beloved legend as a Confederate general. Fritz points up Jackson's eccentric ways (which included sleeping between wet sheets to improve his digestion, and constantly sucking on lemons), his unbending strictness, his passion for danger and battle, the inhuman demands he made on himself and his men, and the driving ambition that was ever at war with his strong religious beliefs. (Once, after a promotion and prominent victory, he wondered if he shouldn't have been a minister of God instead.) And Fritz fills out the portrait with the fond little jokes and anecdotes the men exchanged about their leader's peculiarities. Fritz's battle reporting is another victory for her method. While neither highlighting the violence nor making light of the horrors, she gives readers some feeling of being there—by quoting from the soldiers' disillusioned letters home, by showing scenes of Rebel-Yankee interchange between battles, by noting peripheral details such as an iron stove lying near a house, "pockmarked with bullets and sputtering as the bullets hit. Ping! Ping! Ping! It sounded as if it were marking the scores in a child's game." Well done. Read full book review >