March 1, 2004
Alumni profile: Clever tales make author-illustrator
a top dog in children's publishing
By Jennifer McNulty
Mark Teague, best-selling childrens author and illustrator of
more than 40 books, including the now-classic How Do Dinosaurs Say
Good Night?, is a doodler who credits his success to dumb
But his fans know better.
Take the premise of his most recent--and favorite--book, Dear Mrs.
LaRue: Letters from Obedience School, about a wirehaired terrier
named Ike whose pranks prompt his owner to temporarily banish him to
a canine academy.
In daily correspondence, Ike pleads with his owner for release: You
say I should be patient and accept that Ill be here through the
term. Are you aware that the term lasts TWO MONTHS? Do you know how
long that is in dog years?
Ikes expressive language is matched by Teagues irresistible
illustrations, featuring lush, full-color renderings of daily life at
the doggie spa, where white-jacketed waiters serve gourmet meals to
pups seated at tables adorned with fresh flowers and white linens.
These images are juxtaposed with grim, black-and-white depictions of
how Ike is experiencing his confinement. (On the book jacket, Ike warns
readers not to be fooled by the cheery color pictures and to pay attention
instead to the noir-esque portrayals of his suffering.)
Mark Teague has had steady success in children's publishing since
shortly after graduating from UCSC in 1985.
I was telling two different stories, and I had to make sure any
kid could see a strong visual difference between whats in Ikes
imagination and whats really going on, said Teague. The
technique worked, and the illustrations resonate with readers of all
Teague, 40, finds inspiration for his books in daily life. Dear
Mrs. LaRue started out as a book of mournful letters written from
summer camp by a homesick child. But the story really wasnt
going anywhere until I started writing it from the dogs perspective,
said Teague, who incorporated the antics of two beloved real-life dogs
in the character of Ike. A sequel, Detective LaRue, will be published
Teague has enjoyed steady success in the field of childrens publishing
since shortly after graduating from UCSC with a degree in history in
1985. I took courses with professors I liked, people like John
Dizikes, Peter Kenez, and Gary Miles, more than by subject, said
Teague, who grew up in San Diego. I dont regret it. I read
history all the time. Having that time to learn interesting things is
Teague wrote and illustrated his first childrens book, The
Trouble with the Johnsons, while designing window displays for Barnes
& Noble in New York City. One of the editors who worked upstairs,
where they had to wear suits, used to come downstairs to the art department
and hang out, because we got to play loud music and have a good time,
recalled Teague. He saw what I was working on and liked the book.
Thats how I got my foot in the door. This is all dumb luck.
That first book, published in 1989 about a homesick boy who returns
home to find that (friendly) dinosaurs have moved in, earned Teague
a spot in Publishers Weekly, where he was named one of 11 prominent
new authors. It was the first of many hits, including Pigsty,
about a kid whose room is so messy that pigs actually move in, Baby
Tamer, inspired by the birth of his first daughter, Lily, and The
Secret Shortcut, about two boys who are always late for school.
In addition to Teagues solo author/illustrator ventures, his
illustrations adorn the books of many acclaimed childrens authors,
including Audrey Wood, Cynthia Rylant, and Jane Yolen.
The books with Yolen, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and How
Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, published in 2000 and 2002 by Scholastic
Press, both became fixtures on the New York Times Best-seller
List and brought Teague even greater recognition. (It was Teagues
idea to feature dinosaur children with human parents and to showcase
different kinds of dinosaurs in these delightful tales of tantrums,
bedtime stalling, sniffles, and fevers.)
Overall, illustration is easier than writing, said Teague,
who uses acrylic gouache to create his fantasy worlds. Its
kind of meditative. With writing, I really have to concentrate. But
its very rewarding to me when a story comes together well.
Teagues studio is a converted room in the 19th-century Victorian
home overlooking the Hudson River that he shares with his wife in Coxsackie,
New York. His daughters, Lily, 8, and Ava, 4, sometimes join him, drawing
at his side while he works.
He gets a lot of fan mail, including a request from a 10-year-old Cleveland
boy to illustrate a story. He wrote to me two years ago and asked
me to illustrate it, said Teague. Hes got his own
publication. I subscribe, actually. But hes been talking with
other writers since then. I dont know if hes going to be
a writer, but hell probably rule the world.
Teague has helped promote childhood literacy with the U.S. Department
of Educations Read*Write*Now program, and he occasionally visits
schools to read books to children or attends a book signing. But for
the most part, this hero of childrens literature leads a quiet
life. I guess this is what you do with a history degree,
Profiles of other outstanding UCSC alumni are available online.
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