Lois Ehlert created numerous inventive, celebrated, and bestselling picture books, including Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Waiting for Wings, Planting a Rainbow, Growing Vegetable Soup, and Color Zoo, which received a Caldecott Honor. Her unique books reflected her creative and curious mind. In this exclusive video interview with Reading Rockets, Ehlert discussed her early love for art and how she continually worked to create highly original children's books. Ehlert was an artist who wasn't afraid to wire, sew, glue, cut, paint, or photograph.
You can watch the interview below, view the interview transcript, read a short biography on Lois Ehlert, or see a selected list of her children's books.
Lois Ehlert's highly original books continue to stretch the limits of traditional bookmaking. Her vivid colors, unique book shapes, intricate page cuts, and photographed collages also catch the eyes of curious young children and invites them to participate.
Ehlert created art with scissors, paper, glue, wire, thread, textiles, and even things she found on the sidewalk. As an artist, author, and graphic designer, she was able to develop the entire tone of her books, both through the design and the carefully chosen rhythmic words.
The Artistic Life
Lois Ehlert grew up in a house where "people were always making things." Her mother was a talented seamstress who gave her sewing lessons and bright pieces of leftover fabric. Her father was a woodworker who gave her scraps of lumber from his workshop in the basement. With this abundance of nontraditional art supplies, Lois became a resourceful artist with a love for bright colors and interesting textures. An old card table served as headquarters for her many art projects.
Not surprisingly, Ehlert went on to study art in college. After graduating from the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, she worked in graphic design for a number of years. When she first attempted to illustrate children's books, she became frustrated with the limitations inherent in illustrating another person's story. Eventually, she did return to children's books — but this time as the illustrator, designer, and author. In 1990, Ehlert's Color Zoo received a prestigious Caldecott Honor Award. In 2003, the Milwaukee Art Museum honored the Wisconsin native's original artwork with an exhibit entitled, "Handmade by Lois Ehlert: Art for Children's Books."
Through her own sense of innovation and discovery, she continued to create authentic books that both children and adults enjoy. "I don't want to be bored with doing things over and over," she said. "As an artist, I love to experiment, and I find that each book really has its own personality."
Lois Ehlert died in 2021 at the age of 86. The children's book world remembered her creative life's work, including these stories from The New York Times and National Public Radio.