Ode to Stephen Gammell

Author and illustrator Stephen Gammell’s work is known in two very different veins: sassy, whimsical picturebook illustrator and nightmare-inducing, horror illustrator.

My first introduction to his work was through his Caldecott Award winning book Song and Dance Man (9780679819950, Random House, $6.99). I loved having my parents read the story to me, but it was for the illustrations that I flipped through the book again and again. When I became the Children’s Department Manager at the Odyssey, there was an established section of award-winning picture books. Song and Dance Man was one of the first books I ordered in for that section.

More recently, I posted about discovering My Friend, the Starfinder by George Ella Lyon (9781416927389, Simon & Schuster, $16.99) and my love of his newest picturebook How the Nobble Was Finally Found by C.K. Williams (9780152054601, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18).

What I didn’t realize until I began researching him is that most people know Gammell as the illustrator for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (9780064401708, Harper, $5.99). I vaguely remember this book from a 3rd grade slumber party where I got so freaked out, I couldn’t sleep for days.

It’s amazing to me that his picturebook illustrations create such a different mood that until today, I never made the connection between the nightmare-inducing images of my childhood and the exquisitely detailed, beautifully vivid, almost ethereal picturebook illustrations. It speaks to the versatility of Stephen Gammell as an illustrator, as do his two other Caldecott Honor-winning picturebook titles The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant (9780689717383, Simon & Schuster, $7.99) and Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker (9780140505603, Penguin, $6.99).

Sadly a few of his books are out of print, but here are some favorites, in addition to those already mentioned, still available at your local bookshop:

The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School
by Judy Sierra
9781416911753, Simon & Schuster, $16.95

Old Henry
by Joan Blos
9780688099350, Mulberry Books, $6.99

Old Black Fly
by Jim Aylesworth
9780805039245, Henry Holt & Co. (Macmillan), $7.99

I Know an Old Teacher
by Anne Bowen
9780822579847, Lerner Publishing Group, $16.95

Hey, Pancakes!
by Tamson Weston
9780152165024, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17

The Burger and the Hot Dog
by Jim Aylesworth
9780689838972, Simon & Schuster, $17.99

Airmail to the Moon
by Tom Birdseye
9780823407545, Holiday House, $6.95 

As it is National Poetry Month, I would be remiss in not mentioning his illustrations for Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (9780823408795, Holiday House, $8.95).

Check out Stephen Gammell’s profiles from these publishers:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 
Random House
Simon & Schuster

I hope you have a chance to examine his work. You won’t be disappointed.

2 thoughts on “Ode to Stephen Gammell

  1. I've been searching around for a while now for information about Gammell and his art process. Your post is the longest article that I've come across. Thank you for putting this together. It is really well done. I've only read song and dance man, but I'm eager to check out his other kids books. I;m not a fan of dark art, so I'm skipping those.

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