The story of Beginner Book creators and their children is best summarized by a quote from Barbara Thomas, daughter of illustrator Fritz Siebel: “In my family if you said you didn’t want to be an artist they wondered what was wrong with you.”
While certainly not all of the children of Beginner Book writers and illustrators took a creative path, a good number of them did.
Like Tony Eastman and Christopher Cerf, Mike Berenstain and Todd McKie followed a nearly identical career path as his parents. Mike says he had a wide range of interests as a child, and that his ambition was to be not an author or illustrator but a scientist. Eventually he began to develop a love of art, and after studying both painting and illustration at Philadelphia College of Art and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into fine or commercial art. A post-graduate job in Random House’s art department got him excited about children’s books from the publishing side, and he eventually began doing freelance illustration, and then transitioned into becoming a full-fledged author and illustrator. He now carries on the creative and business sides of the Berenstain Bears.
Roy McKie’s son Todd, is both a writer and an artist, and has illustrated many children’s books. His short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s and a variety of other online literary magazines. His colorful, funny, and deceptively spontaneous paintings have appeared in solo, duo, and group shows in galleries across the country. Todd describes his inspiration thusly: “My work grows out of looking at other art, from living, and from lots of drawing. The sources include African, pre-Columbian, and Eskimo art, so-called primitive art, art by mental patients, untrained artists, and children.” The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) grad lives in Massachusetts with his wife and furniture-maker Judy Kensley McKie.
Others have kept just to the art side of things. Barbara Thomas has worked as an art director and is also a painter and illustrator. When her father’s original Amelia Bedelia books were updated in the early 1990s, she helped redo the illustrations, adding new layouts and color. She says she and her siblings grew up making art all the time, and that of Fritz Seibel’s eight children, four are professional artists and the other four dabble.
Sarah Schucker, daughter of James Schucker (illustrator of Little Black, A Pony and Little Black Goes to the Circus), attended RISD, where she met Lohr Gonzalez. The two married and settled in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There, they started a design and printmaking studio called Pava Prints. The studio became well known for their Christmas card designs, and still operates to this day.
Barney Tobey’s children, David and Nancy, both developed a strong interest in fine art, likely from their many family trips to New York City museums. Nancy became a painter, moving to Rome and using the name Natasha Tubelskaya. David and his wife Julie are dedicated art collectors, spanning Chinese porcelains, Italian old master drawings, and 17th century Dutch and Flemish paintings. They have a gallery named after them at the Harvard Art Museums, containing many works they’ve gifted to David’s alma mater. They also sponsor the David and Julie Tobey Fellowship for art scholars at I Tatti, the school’s center for Italian Renaissance studies.
And then there are those Beginner Book offspring who have explored multiple facets of creativity.
Lynn Fayman, the photographer who worked with Helen Geisel on three books, was stepfather to six children and biological father to two more. Stepdaughter Kate was a member of the Merce-Cunningham dance company and still plays guitar and sings. Sons Corey and Bruce moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and formed a new-wave band called P-15s. With Bruce on vocals and drums and Corey on keys, they lasted about four years. The brothers got back together in the 1990s in San Diego to form Bad Dog, and enjoyed some local success. Now the two are on different creative paths. Corey began writing fiction, publishing Black’s Beach Shuffle in 2006. The book features a guitar-playing private eye called Rolly Waters. Three more books about the character have followed. Bruce, who teaches photography and graphic design at the La Jolla Country Day School, has followed his father’s path. His primary subject matter is invasive plants, which he photographs and then digitally colors in Photoshop.
One of the most prominent and accomplished of the Beginner Book offspring is Marion Holland’s daughter, Barbara Holland. Barbara was a precocious child, winning the National Scholastic poetry competition in both her junior and senior years of high school. Moving from Maryland to Philadelphia, she began working as a copywriter at an ad agency, and published articles and short stories that appeared in the likes of Redbook and Seventeen. Her first two books – both children’s novels – were published in 1979. Over the next 30 years she’d publish a variety of books, mostly personal essays and nonfiction. Her nonfiction topics covered an eclectic set of categories, from presidential misbehavior to the history of dueling to an examination of cats. A fiercely independent character – she described herself as a curmudgeon – Barbara was a staunch advocate of vices like smoking, drinking, and cursing. She died in 2010.
David Heilbroner, son of Joan Heilbroner, is both a writer and an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker. He started out as a prosecutor, becoming a district attorney in Manhattan. He documented the experience in a 1990 book called Rough Justice. Three years later he published Death Benefit, a nonfiction account of a sensational 1992 murder trial. Transitioning to film, he began directing and producing documentaries for HBO, the History Channel, and A & E. In 2017 he produced Traffic Stop, which was nominated for an Oscar. He works almost exclusively with his wife, Kate Davis, and the couple often focus on social justice issues such as racial and religious discrimination and LBGTQ rights.
Read more about Beginner Books and their creators in I Can Read It All By Myself: The Beginner Books Story!