Stephen Gammell Biography

Stephen Gammell – American illustrator 1943-

Stephen Gammell
Stephen Gammell

Stephen Gammell’s distinctive illustra­tions is imbued with emotion. Every color and change of value creates mood. Child and adult alike will find themselves shivering, chilled by his illustrations in Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (1981). His colored ­pencil drawings in the Caldecott Medal-win­ning Song and Dance Man (1988) emanate warmth and joy. Together with Karen Acker­man’s prose, they set one’s feet tapping. In the Caldecott Honor Book Where the Buffaloes Be­gin (1981), one feels the vastness of the Western plains, the earth shuddering underneath the heavy hooves of the buffaloes. Gammell’s illus­trations capture the emotional impact of a story: “The first time I read a manuscript I can imme­diately tell whether I want to illustrate it. I may not know how the illustrations will look, but I get a certain feeling for the text. I respond to the words, and, if I can respond to a story, I can il­lustrate it.”

Stephen Gammell was reared in Des Moines, Iowa. His father, an art editor for consumer magazines, brought home a variety of periodi­cals, and Gammell was impressed with the illus­trations, cutting them up to make scrapbooks. His father also gave him pencils and stacks of paper, which Gammell has said were better than any toys. “My father was very encouraging. He would help me draw, supply the paper and pen­cils, but he would never coach me or tell me how to work. I picked up the interest on my own; my parents never pushed me. It got me through ele­mentary school. If you could draw, the big kids were more hesitant about beating you up. I tried to make this work for me.”

Song and Dance Man - Stephen Gammell
Song and Dance Man – Stephen Gammell, First edition 1988

Gammell continued drawing on his own while attending high school and college in Iowa. In the late 1960s, in Minneapolis, he began drawing small ads for friends’ neighborhood businesses. While his commercial freelance work expanded, he became interested in children’s book illustration. His first book illustration con­tract was for A Nutty Business (1973), written by Ida Chittum. Gammell will do research for sto­ries only if absolutely necessary, preferring to draw directly from his own imagination. He be­lieves that trusting his own feelings and imagi­nation results in more expressive drawings. “I am inspired by a text which gives me freedom to interpret. I don’t like being tied to a specific his­torical time period, style of architecture or cos­tume. I enjoy elements of fantasy in a story and turn down anything that is too literal.” In the rollicking The Relatives Came (1985), written by Cynthia Rylant, Gammell’s free interpreta­tion communicates both the exuberance and ex­haustion of a family reunion.

Stephen Gammell and his wife, Linda, make their home in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he enjoys solitude and works in his studio every day. Al­though he has authored several of his own sto­ries, he has found writing terribly difficult. “I think of myself as an artist — admittedly a basic term that can mean almost anything. One of the forms my art takes is book illustrations…. In a deep sense, I am my work — what you see on the page is really me.”


Source: Children’s Books and their Creators, Anita Silvey.

Stephen Gammell Bibliography

  • 1973 A Nutty Business (by Ida Chittum)
  • 1973 The Search: A Biography of Leo Tolstoy (by Sara Newton Carroll)
  • 1974 Let Me Hear You Whisper: A Play (by Paul Zindel)
  • 1974 The Wyndcliffe (by Louise Lawrence) (Cover illustration only)
  • 1975 Thunder at Gettysburg (by Patricia Lee Gauch)
  • 1975 Nabby Adams’ Diary (by Miriam Anne Bourne)
  • 1976 Meet the Werewolf (by Georgess McHargue)
  • 1976 The Kelpie’s Pearls (by Mollie Hunter)
  • 1976 Ghosts (by Seymour Simon)
  • 1977 A Furl of Fairy Wind (by Mollie Hunter)
  • 1977 Alice Yazzie’s Year (by Ramona Maher)
  • 1977 The Wicked One (by Mollie Hunter)
  • 1978 The Hawks of Chelney (by Adrienne Jones)
  • 1978 Day of the Blizzard (by Marietta Moskin)
  • 1978 The Ghost of Tillie Jean Cassaway (by Ellen Harvey Showell)
  • 1979 A Net to Catch the Wind (by Margaret Greaves)
  • 1979 Leo Possessed (by Dilys Owen)
  • 1979 Yesterday’s Island (by Eve Bunting)
  • 1979 Stonewall (by Jean Fritz)
  • 1979 Meet the Vampire (by Georgess McHargue)
  • 1980 And Then the Mouse… Three Stories (by Malcolm Hall)
  • 1980 Terrible Things: An Allegory of the Holocaust (by Eve Bunting)
  • 1980 Blackbird Singing (by Eve Bunting)
  • 1981 Flash and the Swan (by Ann Brophy)
  • 1981 Where the Buffaloes Begin (by Olaf Baker) —Caldecott Honor
  • 1981 Once Upon MacDonald’s Farm (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 1981 Demo and the Dolphin (by Nathaniel Benchley)
  • 1981 Wake Up, Bear…It’s Christmas! (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 1981 Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (by Alvin Schwartz)
  • 1982 The Story of Mr. and Mrs. Vinegar (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 1982 The Best Way to Ripton (by Maggie S. Davis)
  • 1983 Git Along, Old Scudder (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 1983 The Old Banjo (by Dennis Haseley)
  • 1984 Waiting to Waltz (by Cynthia Rylant)
  • 1984 The Real Tom Thumb (by Helen Reeder Cross)
  • 1984 Thaddeus (by Alison Cragin Herzig, Jane Lawrence Mali)
  • 1984 More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (by Alvin Schwartz)
  • 1985 Who Kidnapped the Sheriff?: Tales from Tickfaw (by Larry Callen)
  • 1985 Thanksgiving Poems (by Myra Cohn Livingston)
  • 1986 The Relatives Came (by Cynthia Rylant) —Caldecott Honor
  • 1986 A Regular Rolling Noah (by George Ella Lyon)
  • 1987 Old Henry (by Joan Blos)
  • 1987 The Great Dimpole Oak (by Janet Taylor Lisle)
  • 1988 Song and Dance Man (by Karen Ackerman) —Caldecott Medal
  • 1988 Airmail to the Moon (by Tom Birdseye)
  • 1989 Dancing Teepees: Poems of American Indian Youth (by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve)
  • 1989 Halloween Poems (by Myra Cohn Livingston)
  • 1989 Will’s Mammoth (by Rafe Martin) 1990 Come a Tide (by George Ella Lyon) 1990 Wing-A-Ding (by Lyn Littlefield Hoopes)
  • 1991 The Wing Shop (by Elvira Woodruff)
  • 1991 Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones (by Alvin Schwartz)
  • 1992 The Old Black Fly (by Jim Aylesworth)
  • 1993 Monster Mama (by Liz Rosenberg)
  • 1997 Is That You, Winter? (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 1997 You Be the Bread and I’ll Be the Cheese: Showing How We Care (by Scott Foresman) (Contributing illustrator)
  • 2000 Twigboy (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 2001 Ride (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 2001 The Burger and the Hot Dog (by Jim Aylesworth)
  • 2001 The Art Contest (by Stephen Gammell) 2002 Humble Pie (by Jennifer Donnelly)
  • 2003 Swing Around the Sun (by Barbara Juster Esbensen) (Contributing illustrator)
  • 2003 Hey, Pancakes! (by Tamson Weston)
  • 2005 Timothy Cox Will Not Change His Socks (by Robert Kinerk)
  • 2006 The Secret Science Project That Almost Ate the School (by Judy Sierra)
  • 2008 My Friend, the Starfinder (by George Ella Lyon)
  • 2008 I Know an Old Teacher (by Anne Bowen)
  • 2009 How the Nobble Was Finally Found (by C.K. Williams)
  • 2009 I Did It Anyway (by Liz Rosenberg) (Cancelled)
  • 2011 Mudkin (by Stephen Gammell)
  • 2012 Laugh-Out-Loud Baby (by Tony Johnston) 2013 The Frazzle Family Finds a Way (by Ann Bonwill)

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