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John HImmelman photo

This is my bio. I think I'm supposed to have one on my website.

 

Hi

studio.jpg

My Connecticut studio

My Story

the king with 6 friends - John Himmelman favorite

Love this book!

New Haven Bird Club Big Sit! John Himmelman

 My 'comfy" BIG SIT! spot at Chaffinch Island

in Guilford, CT

I was born in Kittery, Maine, a town teetering on the edge of two states. My later, single-digit years were passed inside and outside a house on an idyllic dead-end street in Oceanside, NY; a few steps across the street from that house kept me on that same idyllic dead end, but in Rockville Center. Life on the edge continued. My teen years were spent on the suburban rim of Commack and East Northport, NY, the towns separated by one house from our own, which was just enough for me to not qualify for a ride on the school bus to Commack High School North. The mile and a half walk to and from school (in rain and snow; uphill both ways...), was actually a great experience.  Dependent solely upon whim, either and both towns were interchangeably referred to as my hometown. None of this border town minutia had anything to do with who I was then, or who I am now. Just thought it interesting to mention.

Art was always a factor in my life, since I was old enough to scrunch a crayon into a piece of paper. My mother taught me to stay inside the lines in the coloring books, and to scribble less. She also signed me up for book clubs and every month I’d receive a new one. Many were Dr. Seuss and Babar the Elephant stories. The King with Six Friends remains one of my favorites. My dad read bedtime stories to my brother Jim and me (Joe came along later).  His frequent eruptions of laughter made it obvious he enjoyed the stories as much as we did. Just a few years ago, I read The Little Prince. What took me so long?! I keep returning to it.

I grew to love comics and still do. I read every Peanuts book in existence, along with bound collections of B.C., Wizard of Id, Andy Capp, and Eek and Meek. Later, I graduated to Mad Magazine, and while waiting for the next issue, supplemented that with Cracked, Crazy, and then Sick. Naturally, I started drawing comics myself. My high school art teacher, Mr. Hall, met with my parents to convince them that I should go to art school. They fell for it.

I enrolled at School of Visual Arts to become a cartoonist. That evolved into illustration. Year four arrived— decision-making time! I had zero idea of where I was going, or where I even wanted to go. Shortly before this, I had worked as a page at the Commack Public Library in Long Island, NY. Part of my job was re-shelving books in the children’s book section. There, I came across the works of the great masters of children’s book illustration; Maurice Sendak, Tommie DiPaola, Mercer Mayer, and my hero, Arnold Lobel (whom I once met, though I doubt he realized it). Here were people melding both art AND stories. Hey, I liked making art AND stories, too—children’s books could be the way to do both! And in one place!

So, in the last half of my last year at SVA I took a class in children’s book illustration. It was taught by Dale Payson, who had about 40 books out. I wrote a story about a pet lizard my girlfriend Betsy bought me, showed it to my teacher, who showed it to her editor at Dial, who… made an offer to publish the story! Talester the Lizard was born! And I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write and illustrate children’s books and I wanted to do that forever! I also wanted to get hitched to that girlfriend forever, and did. Betsy and I have been married since. I sometimes wonder if I’d be doing this if she had never given me that lizard. She says no, and that I was lucky to find her. Can’t argue. We have two adult children, JEFF, an artist, and LIZZIE, a photographer. Lizzie and her husband Dennis gifted Betsy and I with two granddaughters, Alice and Phoebe! By gifted, I don’t mean they handed them over to us and moved to greener pastures. They're in the town next door, and we get to borrow them, but yes, they’re gifts!

I am grateful to say I’m still writing and illustrating books. Over time, I somehow evolved into a naturalist as well. Since writers tend to write about things that interest them, natural history has become a theme in many of my books. I eventually wrote a few books for adults along those lines. I’ve also been involved in a number of environmental organizations and am a cofounder of the Connecticut Butterfly Association. Back in 1993, I created what became a worldwide, sedentary, birding competition called the BIG SIT!— sponsored by the New Haven Bird Club, of which I served as president. For the event, you draw an imaginary 17-foot circle – wherever - and count how many birds you can see and/or hear from there within a 24-hour period. Someone once compared it to flagpole sitting, claiming birders are always looking for new ways to torture themselves, but I think our event allows for a bit more comfort.

Hmmm… other things for this bio… Well, we live in the town of Killingworth, CT, which everyone mistakenly calls Killingly, because no one’s heard of Killingworth. Betsy (a potter) and I turned an 1860 building into a pottery school/art studio called PROMETHEA ARTS in the nearby town of Deep River, CT. I enjoy playing the guitar to unwind, nature photography (mostly bugs), big cooking projects (chili a specialty) and grilling on my deck, or anywhere there’s a grill to set ablaze. Add to those pleasures... watching moths outside at night (better than TV), listening to crickets and katydids in the yard (better than radio), and the smell of an all-day stew cooking in the kitchen... My favorite color combination is red and black, but I also like earthy greens (like in Lobel's Frog and Toad books). I love pizza— who doesn’t? I cofounded a martial arts school— Green Hill Martial Arts in Killingly, sorry, KILLINGWORTH!, where I teach hapkido and Jeet Kune Do.  A martial arts-based children's book series came from that - Bunjitsu Bunny. I like to read history, fantasy, and science, alternating between them. I love everything by Kurt Vonnegut! And comics, again, still. Actually, I'll read pretty much anything that has words on it— shampoo bottles, oatmeal canisters, toothpaste tubes…

I’m rambling. Let’s end it here. There’s my bio. I can’t believe you made it this far, which suggests I’m not the only one who will read anything with words on it.

Young John Himmelman

Me at 3, posing with a prop book on gardening I doubt I ever even looked at.

Talester the Lizard John Himmelman first book

My first published book.

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