Each spring, we are honored to have award-winning author Elisha Cooper visit TCS as our author-in-residence. A gifted teacher as well as writer, he shares with our students how he develops the ideas for his picture books as well as the sketching techniques he uses for the beautiful illustrations. This May, as a special treat, he led the children on an outdoor sketching adventure, encouraging them to closely observe details around campus and capture them on paper. The children were delighted to watch him create dazzling drawings right before their eyes.
Elisha’s most recent picture book, Yes & No, was inspired by the clashing personalities of his own pets: a big, enthusiastic puppy who says yes to everything the day brings, and an aloof black cat who says No or Never. There’s a gentle humor in the way each responds to the suggestions of their invisible owner (Maybe you two can play outside. Dog: Yes! Cat: If I must.) But the exuberant puppy and standoffish cat do finally find harmony in their day together, captured in multiple panels of endearing companionship.
In another book inspired by his pets, Big Cat, Little Cat, Elisha’s talent for capturing the movement and behavior of animals is on full display. This quiet, poignant story depicts the deepening friendship, over many years, between a big white cat and a little black kitten. The story becomes a gentle exploration of loss when one day the white cat doesn’t come home. This is a special book to read aloud—and talk about—when a child is grappling with the loss of a pet. The story won multiple awards for children’s literature, including the Caldecott Honor.
Younger readers will love hunting for upupas and kakapos in Elisha’s 8: An Animal Alphabet, a favorite read at TCS. Each page depicts animals that start with the same letter—ibex, ibis, iguana, impala—with one standout species appearing eight times. The game is to spot all the hummingbirds among the hippos and hyenas. And if it’s tough to find eight goats on the crowded G page, the X page provides a restful break (just xeruses, with nowhere to hide). It’s a book for children to pore over, as the I Spy game is not so easy, and the sheer abundance of species is fast way to develop an impressive zoological vocabulary.
To make the animals look realistic rather than cute in 8: An Animal Alphabet, Elisha studied and sketched the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History. Still, a charming expressiveness comes through; each creature is clearly an individual. That sense of realism, and beautifully atmospheric skies and landscapes, give his nonfiction books for older children, like River, Farm, Train and Beach, a special appeal. As Elisha said about his recent book River, “I wanted to paint the natural world so beautifully that only a fool could fail to want to protect it.”
TCS is grateful for authors like Elisha Cooper, who make spending time with picture books such a pleasure. Children can learn so much about relationships, feelings and the beauty of ordinary things by lingering over his images and stories. In Elisha’s words, “I believe in the power of art to expand. A sketch here, a sentence there. New narratives that inspire the mind of a child, and in doing so, word by word, change the world.”