Amy Hest is the author of many beloved picture books, including Charley’s First Night and When Charley Met Grampa, both illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. She is also the author of the middle-grade novels Letters to Leo and Remembering Mrs. Rossi. Amy Hest lives in New York City.
Anita Jeram is the beloved illustrator of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and over twenty books for children including You re All My Favorites. Her work is recognized and cherished the world over for its timeless quality, so full of warmth and humor.
Amy Hest secretly aspired to be a writer from an early age, but, she says, “I never thought my life was exciting enough for a writer. I didn’t have any fantastic adventures. I didn’t run away from home. I actually got along with my parents. I was such a goody two-shoes that I couldn’t help but wonder what other kid would want to read anything I wrote.”
But her passion for books must have been apparent to all who knew her. Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, she worked in a library as a page from the age of sixteen. “I wanted the job so badly that I went to the director’s office every single day after school to tell him so,” she says. “Finally one day he called me to say that he had moved my application to the top of the pile and would keep it there if that meant I wouldn’t come by to bother him the next day.” Amy Hest worked as a children’s librarian in the New York Public Library system in the early 1970s, and then for years in children’s book publishing. She wrote all during this time, still not sharing her ambition with the world, not even with her publishing co-workers!
Today, Amy Hest is the highly versatile author of more than thirty books for young readers, many of which affectionately address family and intergenerational themes. Mr. George Baker is the tender tale of an elderly man and a young boy linked by the common pursuit of learning to read. Also among Amy Hest’s books are the beloved Baby Duck stories, illustrated by Jill Barton, including Guess Who, Baby Duck!, a sweet depiction of the special bond between Baby Duck and her Grampa. About In the Rain With Baby Duck—which received a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award—the author says, “It’s about things that I love: pancakes and rainy days and children (like mine) who pout, and parents (like me) who have their own agenda, and grandparents (like my own) who have a way of making problems go away.”
Another series of picture books by Amy Hest were inspired by the author’s son, Sam. “When Sam was small he knew countless ways to keep me in his room at bedtime,” she says of her inspiration for New York Times bestseller Kiss Good Night. Its follow-up, Don’t You Feel Well, Sam? came from memories of “some long-ago nights . . . when things weren’t quite right. There were many hugs, of course. And occasionally, a dose of terrible-tasting medicine.” In You Can Do It, Sam, the third of these endearing tales (all illustrated by Anita Jeram), Sam, with gentle encouragement from his mother, ventures out of the house to deliver homemade treats to his neighbors all by himself.
Amy Hest claims to be “a very moody person,” noting that “what I write depends on my mood.” These changeable moods have produced not just picture books but also novels for middle-grade readers, including I Love You, Soldier and its sequel, The Private Notebook of Katie Roberts, Age 11—both of which were named Booklist Editors’ Choices—as well as The Great Green Notebook of Katie Roberts, Age 12, and Remembering Mrs. Rossi. These moods have also earned the author a host of awards, including the prestigious Christopher Medal, twice—for the highly acclaimed When Jessie Came Across the Sea, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, and for Kiss Good Night.
Most of Amy Hest’s books take place close to home, in New York, where she and her husband live. “One of the things I love about working at home is the proximity to the refrigerator,” she says. “If you are going to be a writer, you need to have a lot of ice cream. When I have a bad writer’s day—and that happens a lot—a spoonful of ice cream perks me up. And when you have a good writer’s day, you need a reward.”
For Anita Jeram, illustrating the phenomenal bestseller Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney was a labor of love. Even today, she says, “Every time I read this book, I want to cry. The story reminds me so much of my own son, who often plays this kind of game with me when it’s time for bed.” An immediate problem arose during her early brainstorming for the illustrations, however: she had never actually seen a hare. Trying to be helpful, her paleontologist husband brought a stuffed hare home from the museum. In the end though, the winsome Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare grew out of her imagination.
Anita Jeram’s son inspired her art again when he asked her which of the children in their family was the best—himself, his brother, or his sister. Anita Jeram explained they were all equal in her eyes, and he came back with another question: “Okay, then, who’s the cleanest?” She laughs as she recalls, “There’s always one in every family.” To answer this timeless question—who is the favorite child?—Anita Jeram reunited with author Sam McBratney to create You’re All My Favorites, a comforting tale in which Mommy and Daddy Bear reassure their three worried cubs that there’s plenty of love to go around.
Even before starting her illustrations for You’re All My Favorites, however, Anita Jeram had plenty of practice painting bears—in a noticeably different style. Kiss Good Night, a tender bedtime tale about a mother bear and a little bear, was a collaboration between Anita Jeram and acclaimed author Amy Hest. “I had recently finished illustrating part of In Every Tiny Grain of Sand (edited by Reeve Lindbergh), using acrylic paint for the first time, and I thought acrylics would give the pictures for Kiss Good Night some depth and warmth that I couldn’t seem to get with watercolors,” she says. “I visited the London zoo to look at the bears for inspiration, but it was a cold day and they all huddled asleep. So in the end I think Mrs. Bear is based on myself. She’s rather tall and big built, but I hope she looks like a nice comforting mom to have.” The illustrator carries the same soothing style into two sequels, Don’t You Feel Well, Sam? and You Can Do It, Sam.
The illustrator of many other popular and critically acclaimed books for children, including All Pigs Are Beautiful by Dick King-Smith, Anita Jeram has also written several children’s books of her own. As author-illustrator of Bunny, My Honey, a sweet story of a bunny lost and then found, she was able to exercise her rabbit-drawing skills. A rabbit is also the hero of I Love My Little Storybook, her magical tribute to the wonderful world of books.
Anita Jeram, a native of Portsmouth, England, studied art at Manchester Polytechnic and published her first book for children while she was still a student. Today, she lives in Northern Ireland with her family and a menagerie of animals. In the future she hopes to establish a wildlife sanctuary.