New York City illustrator Nancy Winslow Parker and Grand Rapids children's author Shirley Neitzel met in person for the first time Tuesday at Cass County's 25th annual Young Writers' Day. Some 250 students in grades 2-6 wrote and illustrated their own books. (The Daily News/John Eby)
New York City illustrator Nancy Winslow Parker and Grand Rapids children's author Shirley Neitzel met in person for the first time Tuesday at Cass County's 25th annual Young Writers' Day. Some 250 students in grades 2-6 wrote and illustrated their own books. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Author, illustrator meet at SMC

Published 9:37pm Tuesday, May 11, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Lewis Cass Intermediate School District celebrated Cass County’s 25th annual Young Writes’ Day Tuesday with a visit by Grand Rapids children’s author Shirley Neitzel and New York City illustrator Nancy Winslow Parker, meeting in person for the first time after collaborating on seven award-winning books.

Neitzel, whose roots are in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is known for such books as “The Jacket I Wear in the Snow” and “I’m Taking a Trip on My Train.”

Parker illustrated both of those books for Neitzel, as well as several others.

Parker is a renowned illustrator for Simon and Schuster’s Greenwillow Division.

She has written and illustrated 21 of her own books, with another coming this summer as she turns 80.

With her first group, Parker drew pictures from Neitzel’s book and reviewed slides of sculpture, wood constructions and paintings.

“In the second group,” Parker said, “I read from a book that’s unpublished. There’s a problem and I asked them to help me with it. ‘Stick with it,’ they said.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

Parker distributed to the youngsters drawings she did for “The Dress I’ll Wear to the Party” for a discussion on how to research what people like to wear.

“When that book came out,” Neitzel said, “it mentioned something about the chic dress. I read it that way. My husband read it like the jeans Chic and started to laugh. It was a nice review and I didn’t think it was funny. He said, ‘It mentions the Chick dress and the dress has chicken heads on it.”

Neitzel also recalls the little girl who inquired if there was anything about the book the author didn’t like.

“She said, ‘When I opened the first page, you wouldn’t have chosen a dress like that. You’d have worn something more sophisticated.’ She didn’t sit in my class for 180 days without noticing I didn’t wear dresses with chicken heads on them.”

Neitzel received the Michigan Reading Association’s 2009 Gwen Frostic Award honoring an author or illustrator who has greatly influenced literacy in Michigan.

Most of their books have a gingham border, but if you examine the backs closely, a field of orange boxes might have one green one. Why?

“If you’re a Quaker,” Parker said, “you’ll know that nothing in this world is perfect, so we put in a little imperfection.”

“We don’t exactly collaborate,” Neitzel said.

“I write the words and the artist does the drawings. If these books had been illustrated the way they were in my head, they wouldn’t be half as lovely. She adds so much to it with her interpretation of what I’ve written. When I send it, it’s just words on paper with no directions for art because I’m not an artist. I wouldn’t know what to do.”

“Better not ask me to do anything different or I’ll get a little upset,” Parker says playfully, like the author who demanded a particular kind of dog.

Nancy wouldn’t do it.

“It would have ruined the whole thing.”

But she liberally incorporates animals into her illustrations, particularly cats.
“You can’t be without a kitty,” Parker said.

The only volume which appears to be absent a feline is one about the zoo because, as children point out indignantly, “You wouldn’t take your cat to the zoo.”

“When I wrote (We’re Making Breakfast for Mother), it occurred to me it would be fun to have animals in it,” Neitzel said, “but animals didn’t fit into the text. However, by this time, Nancy already had done The Jacket and The Dress stories, so I knew if Nancy did it, there would undoubtedly be animals.”

Shirley, who taught school in Caledonia, wasn’t disappointed, as the finished product includes a big dog lapping up toast that naturally falls jelly side down.

“There’s a cat on the serving cart and another in the cereal bowl. I just thought it was wonderful. I hope for an animal,” Shirley said. “I got an e-mail from a woman in Australia that her boys, 4 and 5, loved ‘I’m Taking a Trip on My Train.’ Even Down Under, they like our stories.”

The day dedicated to writing also included Lansing storyteller Tiim Bogar, who in a combined event with all of the participants met together in the theater of the Dale A. Lyons Building at Southwestern Michigan College to tell and enact four stories authored by a child from each of the four participating districts, Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg and Marcellus.

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