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Susan Jeffers

Born October 7, 1942 Oakland, New Jersey

Susan Jeffers is an American illustrator of children's book who has been gracing author's works with her pen and ink drawings for forty-odd years and has illustrated some fifty books. She is the author/illustrator for eight of them. She is perhaps most known for her current collaboration with Rosemary Wells on the McDuff series.

Her story is a relatively straight-forward one. Born in Oakland, New Jersey, she grew up with an early interest and demonstrated aptitude in art. She graduated from the New York Pratt Institute in 1964 and began an initial career in the publishing industry in New York City. She became interested in children's books and began freelancing in children's books design and illustration. She was involved with a number of books by various authors in the late 1960's. After a number of publications including The Buried Moon by Joseph Jacobs in 1969, she started a project to retell and illustrate the traditional story of The Three Jovial Huntsmen. After preparing a complete version of the story, Jeffers and her publisher decided that it was not quite what they were looking for. Jeffers sat down and rewrote and re-illustrated the whole story which was then published in 1973 and received a 1974 Caldecott Honor Award. If you are going to rewrite and re-illustrate a whole story, it is nice if it is then recognized so prestigiously.

Through the 1970's and 1980's Jeffers worked with a number of contemporary writers including Reeve Lindberg and Jean Marzollo as wrote and illustrated four books of her own.. However, her main focus was a series of illustrations of earlier writers, and particularly of their poetry. Folktales which she illustrated included Charles Perrault's Cinderella , The Grimm brothers' Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White, Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina, The Wild Swans, and The Snow Queen. Among the poets, she illustrated a selection from Longfellow's Hiawatha, Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, Joseph Mohr's Silent Night and Eugene Field's Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

I am especially keen on authors and illustrators who take a short poem, myth, folktale, or story and render it for young children. I think Jeffers' illustrations of Frost's poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening are marvelous. Done entirely in black, white and grey, her pictures capture the stillness of a remote woods with its frozen energy. This is such a compact little poem; powerful in its entirety and yet also full of great stand alone lines but most especially the final stanza
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Her pictures with Frost's words capture perfectly an example of those little instances in life where we stop, remove ourselves from the hurly-burly for a moment to observe a fine vignette, and then are drawn back into the maelstrom. Jeffers' edition of Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening should be one of the first books in any collection for introducing a child to poetry at a very early age.

While Stopping by Woods is my favorite from this period of her work, Jeffers' illustrations of Longfellow's Hiawatha are magnificent. Hiawatha attracted more attention and accolades. Longfellow is one of my favorite poets with many of his poems wonderfully suitable simultaneously for a child and parental audience (Paul Revere's Ride of course but many of his shorter ones as well such as The Blacksmith, The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Skeleton in Armor, and of course Excelsior). Longfellow is such a master of rhyme and cadence that he is one among the very best at instilling a love of poetry at an early age. For some reason, in my youth, I never intersected with Hiawatha and by the time I did, it hasn't really captured me like many of Longfellow's other works. However, many other readers I know, mention on their own volition, what an impact Hiawatha had on them as a child. I can see it in some passages, the thrill to a child of such language mastery:
By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
In 1991, almost as a companion piece to Hiawatha, Jeffers published to high acclaim her illustrated rendition of Chief Seattle's speech of 1854, Brother Eagle, Sister Sky!: The Words of Chief Seattle. Chief Seattle's speech is controversial in the sense that there is controversy as to whether there ever actually was a speech; if there was, in which language it was delivered; and the extent to which the reported speech reflected anything that Chief Seattle actually said. The first written version appeared only in 1887, thirty three years after it was said to have been delivered. From a purely rationalist perspective, there are plenty of grounds for extensive skepticism. But when you read and enjoy the import of the speech, the historical veracity and the legitimate questioning all seem very much beside the point. It is a beautiful text, however created or by whom.
Yonder sky that has wept tears of compassion upon my people for centuries untold, and which to us appears changeless and eternal, may change. Today is fair. Tomorrow it may be overcast with clouds. My words are like the stars that never change.
Best, I think, to accept a literary gift that is moving in its own right, without investing too much in historical demolition. Just as with, Hiawatha, Jeffers brings a palate of strong colors and beautiful lines to create a book in which the reader struggles to determine which is the stronger, the words or the pictures, until one accepts that the power is in the two going together so compatibly.

After these two powerful triumphs, Jeffers moved in a different direction. Early in her career, when she was beginning to work as an illustrator, Jeffers shared studio space with another young illustrator, Rosemary Wells (see Featured Author, November 3, 2007). They worked together as the illustrators of a book, Why You Look Like You When I Tend to Look Like Me by Charlotte Pomerantz and published in 1969. Sixteen years later they reunited to publish Forest of Dreams, authored by Wells and illustrated by Jeffers. In 1993 there was another book, the very poignant and moving Waiting for the Evening Star. Then, in 1997, McDuff arrived with McDuff Moves In. McDuff is a white West Highland Terrier who is adopted by a young couple. There are the normal adventures in this type of series. The arrival of a newborn. A day at school. McDuff at Christmas time. While this may seem low octane stuff, that kind of misses the point. These are great books for 2-6 year olds. Not a lot of adventure but enough. A setting which is recognizably similar to their own home by most young children. The types of issues that the child also deals with. Most children love the McDuff series and they are a pleasant little treasure at just the right age. There are nearly a dozen books in the McDuff series so they have the additional advantage that, if your child ends up liking one, there are more where that came from.

In addition to the McDuff series, Jeffers has returned in recent years to writing books of her own such as The Chincoteague Pony and My Pony.

Jeffers, working over the past forty years, has seen the art world associated with children's books move through all sorts of fads and fashions. Through all of this, she has quietly and steadily produced appealing, clean and beautiful illustrations for a stream of books with a few stand-out masterpieces such as Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Eveningand Hiawatha. I hope you and your children enjoy her other works as well.


Picture Books

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Highly Recommended
The Snow Queen by Amy Ehrlich and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Recommended
Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Recommended
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers Recommended
Mcduff Moves In by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Recommended
McDuff Comes Home by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Recommended
The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen, retold by Amy Ehrlich and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
Silent Night by Joseph Mohr and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
Cinderella by Charles Perrault and retold by Amy Ehrlich and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
Mcduff And the Baby by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
K Is for Kitten by Nikia Speliakos Clark Leopold and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
The Nutcracker by Mary-Claire Helldorfer and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
Mcduff's Christmas by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
McDuff's Hide-And-Seek by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
McDuff's Wild Romp by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
McDuff Saves The Day by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested


Independent Reader

My Pony by Susan Jeffers Recommended
Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight, retold by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested
My Chincoteague Pony by Susan Jeffers Suggested
Blueberries for the Queen by John Paterson and Katherine Paterson and illustrated by Susan Jeffers Suggested


Susan Jeffers' Bibliography

Everyhow Remarkable written by Victoria Lincoln and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1967
The Buried Moon written by Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1969
The Shooting of Dan McGrew and the Cremation of Sam McGee written by Robert W. Service and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1969
Why You Look Like You Whereas I Tend to Look Like Me written by Charlotte Pomerantz and illustrated by Rosemary Wells and Susan Jeffers 1969
The Spirit of Spring: A Tale of the Greek God Dionysus written by Penelope Proddow and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1970
The Circus Detectives written by Harriette S. Abels and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1971
Three Jovial Huntsmen written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1973
The First of the Penguins written by Mary Q. Steele and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1973
All the Pretty Horses written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1974
Wild Robin written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1976
Close Your Eyes written by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1976
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening written by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1978
If Wishes Were Horses and Other Rhymes written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1979
Thumbelina written by Hans ChristianAndersen and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1979
Little People's Book of Baby Animals written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1980
Hansel and Gretel written by JacobGrimm and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1980
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1981
The Wild Swans written by Hans ChristianAndersen and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1981
The Snow Queen written by Hans ChristianAndersen and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1982
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod written by Eugene Field and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1982
Hiawatha written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1983
Silent Night written by Joseph Mohr and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1984
Cinderella written by Charles Perrault and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1985
Black Beauty written by Anna Sewell and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1986
The Midnight Farm written by Reeve Lindbergh and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1987
Forest of Dreams written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1988
Baby Animals written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1989
Benjamin's Barn written by Reeve Lindbergh and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1990
Brother Eagle, Sister Sky!: The Words of Chief Seattle written by Chief Seattle and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1991
Waiting for the Evening Star written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1993
Lassie Come-Home written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1995
McDuff Moves In written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1997
McDuff Comes Home written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1997
McDuff and the Baby written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1997
McDuff's New Friend written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1998
Rachel Field's Hitty: Her First Hundred Years written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 1999
The McDuff Stories written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2000
Love Songs of the Little Bear written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2001
McDuff Goes to School written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2001
McDuff Saves the Day written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2001
K Is for Kitten written by Niki Leopold and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2002
My Chincoteague Pony written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
My Pony written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2003
The Nutcracker written by Mary-Claire Helldorfer and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2007
Blueberries for the Queen written by John Paterson and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
McDuff's Christmas written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
McDuff's Hide-And-Seek written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
McDuff's Wild Romp written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
McDuff Saves The Day written by Rosemary Wells and illustrated by Susan Jeffers 2000

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