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Children's Corner
Bob Hoover
Children's Corner
Hurd's zany, colorful children's books zoom to prominence

Wednesday, January 21, 1998

By Karen MacPherson

It seems natural that Thacher Hurd is a children's book author and artist.

After all, his father was Clement Hurd, best-known as the illustrator of the beloved book "Goodnight Moon," and his mother was the popular children's book writer Edith Thacher Hurd.

But Thacher Hurd, whose latest book, "Zoom City" has just been published by HarperCollins, didn't grow up thinking he'd follow in his parents' illustrious footsteps.

"I wanted to be a baseball player, then a rock 'n' roll star," Hurd said in a recent interview after a talk to local children's book authors and artists.

"Then, in college, I wanted to be a fine artist . . . . I was completely obsessed by Vermeer. But I was completely bored. Finally I figured out that I wanted to be an illustrator, but nobody sent me anything to illustrate. So I decided I'd better write, too."

Hurd published his first (now out of print) children's book, "The Old Chair," in 1978. He published four others before creating "The Mystery on the Dock" and "Mama Don't Allow," the two books that solidified his status as a talented children's book author-artist.

Now 48, Hurd regularly earns kudos from both critics and children for his books, which feature animals as characters, zany story lines, and the joyous splashes of color that are his trademark illustrations. In addition to "Zoom City," Hurd's best-selling book, "Art Dog" has just been published in paperback by HarperCollins, selling for $5.95.

Other Hurd favorites include "Little Mouse's Valentine" and "The Pea Patch Jig."

Although Hurd does six or seven "dummies" of text and illustrations for each book, he works hard to retain the "initial energy" of each volume.

"Kids like to see that initial burst of energy. In fact, that's what kids are. Sometimes, though, you just can't keep that first burst of energy. You get too self-conscious."

Writing and illustrating children's books isn't Hurd's only work. He and his wife, Olivia, are the founders of a 17-year-old company, Peaceable Kingdom Press, that sells posters, cards, wrapping paper and calendars based on children's books.

The couple started the company in 1983 in their garage in California's Bay Area as a way of making enough money to support themselves and their two sons, since the royalties from Hurd's books weren't enough to pay the weekly grocery bill. The company has grown to 21 employees and has published the work of 160 children's book artists.

Named after Clement and Edith Thacher Hurd's Vermont farm, Peaceable Kingdom Press had its first success with a poster-sized illustration from "Goodnight Moon," which was donated by Clement Hurd, who also paid to have the first 1,000 copies printed.

"He had a vested interest in seeing his grandsons clothed and fed," laughed Olivia Hurd.

Hurd readily acknowledges how much he absorbed from his parents about the basics of writing and illustrating for children. He remembers working with his father in the "well-ordered confusion" of his studio.

"He would give me my own paints and paper and I would sit on the floor and paint. . . . He was an extraordinary teacher, for he never gave me the sense that he was teaching me at all," Hurd wrote in a tribute to his father.

Hurd's parents were fascinated with Margaret Wise Brown, author of "Goodnight Moon" and "The Runaway Bunny," which Clement Hurd also illustrated. Both of them worked with her on various projects, and recalled the intensity with which she tackled children's books.

Brown died in an accident in 1952, when Hurd was 3, so he doesn't really recall her. But his parents have told him of a time when they took him for a visit to her country home, when he rejected a gourmet dinner she had made and refused to sleep in a little room filled with fur that she had set up for him.

Despite the fact that Brown had a unique talent for writing books children wanted to read, she didn't really like children, Hurd noted.

"Isn't it odd? A lot of really good children's book authors don't like kids," mused Hurd, a lanky man who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall.

Asked if he ever feels he's still in the shadow of his famous father, Hurd replied: "It's only in the last 15 or 20 years that `Goodnight Moon' has become such a huge thing. But my father never acted like he was important. . . it (writing and illustrating for children)."

Hurd also noted that, "when I started out doing this, I clearly knew I wanted to do something totally different." Although Hurd - like his parents - has a straight, sure line into the minds of children, his books are nothing like either Clement or Edith Hurd's.

His storylines are wackier, featuring characters like Art Dog in his "brushmobile" and cars that crash into each other in "Zoom City." Hurd's illustrations are much more free-flowing and maxed-out with color than his father's.

And although he normally works in watercolors, he tried something new with "Zoom City."

"I did the art on a computer. . . . It was a very interesting process. It took forever, and it was very irritating, yet it was interesting to work in a whole new medium."

"Zoom City," which features a series of animal-driven cars zooming past and into each other, also was Hurd's first board book, which was a challenge because he had to pare the text down to the bare minimum. Board books are books published on heavy paperboard rather than ordinary paper. They are more durable in a child's hands.

Hurd plans to do a second board book for the same series, this one about trucks. And he's already hard at work on his next picture book, "Moo Cow Kaboom."

"It's about a cow kidnapped by aliens," Hurd said.

amazon.comBuy these books at amazon.com

Zoom City

The Old Chair

Mystery on the Docks

Mama Don't Allow

Art Dog

Little Mouse's Big Valentine

The Pea Patch Jig

Goodnight Moon

The Runaway Bunny

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