David Shannon Bestselling Caldecott Honor Illustrator

Though he had aspirations to play professional baseball, David Shannon made his mark—literally—in children’s picture books. “I’ve always liked to draw and it always seemed like that’s what I would end up doing when I grew up (once I knew I wouldn’t make the major leagues),” says the award-winning author/illustrator. “In high school I illustrated the school newspaper and things like that. Then I went to art school for college. I started out professionally as a freelance editorial illustrator and did a lot of work for newspapers and magazines as well as some covers for adult trade books.”

While working as a freelance illustrator, Shannon was discovered. “An editor at Scholastic saw a piece I did for The New York Times Book Review and sent me a manuscript for a picture book. The more I worked on books, the more I realized that was what I had always really liked doing.” Gradually, Shannon moved to illustrating books written by authors such as Jane Yolen and Audrey Wood while venturing out and writing/illustrating his own.

“I look for a great story, whether it is funny or powerful or whatever. I look for something unique that I can learn from by doing the illustrations. I also have to feel like it fits me—does it have good imagery and characters that I can really chew on? Are its themes something I can get behind? Then I try to make the illustrations fit the story so they vary from book to book.”

Shannon’s first book that he wrote and illustrated was How Georgie Radbourn Saved Baseball (1994, Scholastic). What was the response? It was listed as one of the best illustrated books of the year by The New York Times. Just a few years later, Shannon introduced readers to a mischievous little boy with a round head, spiky hair, and pointy teeth named David.

“I’m in the ‘Any Reading is Good Reading’ camp. I think if you let kids read about whatever they are interested in, they’ll read more and eventually branch out into other topics. One thing that tends to get overlooked is learning how good it feels to read.”

The original No, David! book actually was a remake of a book he had written as a five-year-old. Then, he had scrawled drawings of himself doing things that he was not supposed to be doing. And knowing how to spell only a couple of words, he included them on every page: No, David! His wise mother held onto that little volume; and once Shannon saw it as an adult, he knew it would make a great children’s book. In 1998, Scholastic published No, David! and the next year it was named a Caldecott Honor Book. Since then, several other “David” books have been published much to the delight of readers young and old.

This year, Shannon presented readers with Bugs in my Hair! (2013, Blue Sky) about a little boy who, to his horror, discovers he has head lice. In classic style, the story and illustrations bring chuckles to an otherwise serious topic. January 2014 will bring the next book in Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown series (Simon Spotlight), which Shannon illustrates. He is also working on a Native American folk tale—“kind of a return to some of my earlier books like The Rough-Face Girl (1992, Scholastic).”

Mary Pope Osborne