Hey Diddle Diddle

Children’s book illustrator Kim Adlerman uses elements from as close as her backyard in her artwork.

By:Susan Van Dongen
   Look closely at Kim Adlerman’s illustrations for children’s books and you’ll see things scavenged from her backyard.
   For example, in her critically praised Africa Calling (Whispering Coyote/Charlesbridge, 1996), the stick on which the chameleon walks is real, the tree the zebra is hiding behind is made of leaves and the foliage on various trees throughout the book is made from herbs and spices. The desert the snake is slithering in is made from real sand. On the jacket, a lion stands on a cliff made from a single rock mined from the backyard she shares in Metuchen with her husband, Danny Adlerman, who wrote the text.
   "I start out with a watercolor-base plate and then I build on that, with different painted figures and drawings," she says. "Or I throw in whatever I can find that looks kinda cool. We go on a lot of walks with our kids, and even when I’m not specifically working on something, if I see a little thing that I can use in the future, I collect it.
   "There are so many beautiful things that you walk over and pass every day," she continues. "But if you’d take the time to look at things, just walk around and enjoy nature, it’s fun. Kids love it, too."
   Ms. Adlerman is one of eight children’s book illustrators whose artwork is on display at the Gallery at Chapin in Lawrence through March 9.
   Other artists include Kristen Balouch (The King and Three Thieves), Lucy Corvino (Up on Daddy’s Shoulders), Phil Huling (Puss in Cowboy Boots), Melissa Iwai (Snuggle Mountain), Cathy Janson (A Whale of a Tale), Deborah Kogan Ray (Hokusai — the Man Who Painted a Mountain) and Judith Byron Schachner (Skippy Jones).
   Curator Diana Russo says it’s the most abundant and diverse array of artists the gallery has had since it started presenting an exhibit of illustrators several years ago.
   Ms. Adlerman is especially happy to be showing illustrations from an upcoming book, How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck (Kids at Our House, $18.95), due to be published in March. Mr. Adlerman, who is also a children’s musician, originally wrote the text as a song, and has turned it into a play on compound words, which the couple "test-marketed" on their first grader and his school mates.
   In fact, many of the ideas for stories, books and songs come from their children: Rachelle, 14; Josh, 11; and 7-year-old Maxx.
   "Now we do use their ideas," Ms. Adlerman says. "When we were first doing children’s books our oldest was just an infant. But now, things just pop out of their mouths and they become the seeds of ideas."
   For Africa Calling, which was chosen as a "Pick of the Decade 1995-2005" by the New Jersey State Library, Ms. Adlerman was partially inspired by images her in-laws brought back from a photo safari in Africa.
   "Danny wrote the book and, actually, his parents went right before I started working on it," she says. "They were there for three weeks, so I asked them to take lots of pictures for me, and I used them as a reference. I also went to the library to do research on various types of birds and smaller animals.
   "Africa is so huge and I wanted to make sure I had (everything correct), such as the appropriate animals in their different habitat, in the different parts of the continent," Ms. Adlerman continues. "Each page has one main animal, but in the background I wanted to include others, to make it look more natural."
   Growing up near Niagara Falls, N.Y., Ms. Adlerman says she was always writing or drawing something. She names Maurice Sendak as a favorite illustrator and Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White as her all-time cherished childhood book. She graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a degree in communications art and settled into Macmillan Publishers in New York as a children’s book designer. Somewhere along the line, she met her husband, who was a production manager as well as a budding children’s book author and songwriter.
   They got their start writing as "Kin Eagle," creating titles such as It’s Raining, It’s Pouring and Hey Diddle Diddle, for Whispering Coyote publishers. Africa Calling was Ms. Adlerman’s first published book as an illustrator.
   The couple makes about 50 appearances a year, visiting schools, bookstores and festivals as far away as Canada, California and Hawaii. Ms. Adlerman also shows her work at Metuchen Artworks, an artists’ co-op in her hometown.
   "I don’t know how Danny and I hooked up but it’s become a neat and beautiful relationship," she says. "We can join all our talents and use them together."
Kim Adlerman’s illustrations are on view in a group show of children’s book illustrators at the Gallery at Chapin, 4101 Princeton Pike, Lawrence, through March 9. Gallery hours: Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 3:30-4:30 p.m. (The school is closed Feb. 17 and 20.) For information, call (609) 924-7206. On the Web: www.chapinschool.org. The Adlermans on the Web: www.dannyandkim.com