Karen Lee Schmidt says she loved to draw as a child and was always encouraged by her parents. They kept her well stocked with art supplies, and when her father’s career as an Air Force pilot took their family to Taiwan for two years, they arranged for her to study with a Chinese brush painting master.

   Karen’s mother, a first-grade teacher, was keenly appreciative of the importance of art and creativity in her students’ lives. She enlisted her early on to create drawings for her classrooms and to help with art projects. Her encouragement and Karen’s “career” as a classroom art decorator greatly contributed to her goal of becoming an illustrator. It gave her the confidence to keep trying, to go on to college as an art major, and finally, to move to New York— a forbidding city to someone from the deserts of California— to continue her studies. It was in New York that she discovered her calling as a children’s book illustrator.

   Twenty years and more that thirty books later, Karen is still in New York City. She lives in a small apartment with her grouchy cat, Larry, who does not allow her to have any other animals. She has come to love and appreciate New York City, but she does try to escape in the summer and for holidays to Bozeman, Montana, her new family home. There she hikes and skis and seeks new inspiration.

   Children’s books address universal themes: love, friendship, jealousy, joy, sadness —often in poetic, humorous, or profound ways. As all artist Karen feels that she is able to give her own voice to these themes by playing off the words and building on them from page to page. She is currently working on two very different books. One is about a desert toad and is very suspenseful; the other is about a dog with an especially sensitive nose and is a bit sad, but also pretty silly. It is this variety that she loves…that, and being able to integrate her artistic training with themes that have occupied her since childhood.

Selected Reviews of Karen’s Books

Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt
   Suspense, intrigue, humor, and helpfulness abound in this satisfying tale told in less than fifty words. The simple story plot centers on how and whether a likable desert toad will succeed in getting from one side of the road to the other. When he undertakes the crossing with his turtle and lizard friend, the toad does not see impending danger in the form of a traveling vehicle. With his friends safely on the other side, the toad is left in a lurch in mid-road with no chance to flee. Or is he? The kind boy, dad, and dog from the vehicle take time to stop and help the toad complete his journey and surface as heroes of the day. Playful illustrations coupled with the text add to the suspense in the tale by allowing the reader and viewer to see “just enough” of the picture to want more. Due to some simple rhyming patterns in the text, youngsters will quickly be reading this book on their own. Add this enjoyable tale to any preschool, kindergarten or home library. 2003, Silver Whistle/Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 2 to 5. Reviewer: Nancy Garhan Attebury (Children’s Literature).

Carl’s Nose
Karen Lee Schmidt
   All dogs have sensitive noses, but Carl’s is particularly tuned to bad weather. And in Grimsville, where the storms come down regularly from Old Man Mountain and the weather is always awful, the folks tune in to Carl’s daily weather forecast for details. When one day Old Man Mountain chooses to change to sunshine, Carl just cannot predict, and it is “dark days indeed” for him. He just naps and naps. But the town alarm sounds. Tiny Norman has wandered away and is lost in the forest. Awakened, Carl smells Norman’s shoes and is drawn toward his scent. Despite the smells of danger deep in the forest, Carl follows the trail to find the frightened Norman. Acclaimed by the town, Carl is happy to have been of service again. When there is an occasional storm, the nose still serves him well. We first find Carl on the title page, running after a wispy blue odor. On the next page he is on TV forecasting the weather. After that he has his double-page close-up. Next we are introduced to the assorted anthropomorphic citizens watching his weather show in the local diner. Backgrounds are impressionistic. Loosely painted watercolor and gouache create particularly dramatic scenes when Carl is on his quest for Norman. But it is all in lighthearted fun. 2006, Harcourt, $16.00. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).

What Do You Love?
Jonathan London
Illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt
   It is difficult to shrink a full-size picture book down to board-book size. Some of the original grandeur is usually lost in the process. But when the book in question is very good to begin with, one can only applaud the fact that it is being made available again. Such is the case with Jonathan London’s entry in the warm and cuddly genre of toddler books. His light, lilting verse is spare but effective. Karen Lee Schmidt’s evocative watercolors (especially good in the night scenes) are a perfect fit. The board book itself is solid, with the illustrations effectively used. 2004 (orig. 2000), Red Wagon/Harcourt, $6.95. Ages 6 mo. to 3. Reviewer: Kathleen Karr (Children’s Literature).

Program Details

   Karen has spoken at many elementary schools, and a few colleges and libraries as well. When visiting an elementary school, she usually spends a full day and does four presentations. Her program is designed to be flexible to the needs of different age groups–she has as much to say to kindergarteners as she does to sixth graders! She is happy to speak to large or small groups.

   Karen’s slide presentation starts with a visual tour of her life as a children’s book illustrator, beginning with what motivated her as a child to become an artist, and moving on to how she eventually turned her love of drawing and painting into a full time profession. She take the students on a “tour” of her studio, and moves on from there into the whole process of bookmaking: the long journey that a tiny germ of an idea takes before it actually grows into a book. After the slide presentation, she does a large drawing for the group…this is an interactive affair where she builds on the drawing using ideas from the students, and often one or two of them as models…of course this is her favorite part of the program! If time permits, she will wrap things up with a question and answer session.

   Karen prefers small groups for her presentations, however she will speak to a large group in an auditorium setting. She generally does not do more than 4 groups in a day. Her fees are negotiable. Travel and lodging costs are to be paid by the sponsoring organization.

Additional Information

To learn more about Karen and her publications please visit www.karenleeschmidt.net.