Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pistachio on GalleyCat

Pistachio, my cat and sometime model, is pictured today on GalleyCat - "The First Word on the Book Publishing Industry" - which is brought to you by Mediabistro. He is holding a Christmas stocking which appears to say "FRAM SANTA WITH LUVE". I think he must have knitted it himself. Here's another shot from the same photo session.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


My grandfather was born Johannes Ferdinand Schoenherr 108 years ago today in Flensburg, Germany, in a house subsequently destroyed during World War II. The house was a stone's throw from Nordertor, the city's old north gate - and somewhere on the left in the picture, I think.

I've always pronounced my surname "Show-in-hare", but I'm not sure if I should, after all. I know the first part ought to be pronounced as it is in the German phrase "Danke Schoen" - somewhere between "shern" and "shane", depending on the dialect (and, yes, I've left out the umlaut issues, for clarity's sake). And "herr" ought to be pronounced "hare" or "hair", not necessarily "her". Thus, "Shern-hare" or "Shane-hare". Right?

Well, I've been trying to ferret out the source. I haven't had much luck tracing my Schoenherr line back very far, but I recently found that my grandfather's grandfather, Carl Gottlieb Schoenherr, was born in or very near Kleinpelsen, Sachsen (about midway between Leipzig and Dresden), in 1834. For a yet-unknown reason, he left his wife and three sons (including my great-grandfather) in Flensburg and moved to America in 1866. By 1869 he was living in Missouri and finally settled in Carterville, where he worked as a blacksmith and saloon-keeper, and where he died in 1909. Then, in the wake of World War I-era anti-German sentiment, his sons (my half-great-great uncles or great-great half-uncles) legally changed their surnames to Shaner.

So I've been wondering if Carl Gottlieb Schoenherr pronounced his surname "Shay-ner" all along, rather than "Shern-hare" or "Shane-hare" - not to mention "Show-in-hare". And should I do the same?

I need a second opinion...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gray Area

Regarding my middle name, Gray: it was carried to Manhattan in 1860 by an Irish laborer and sometime hod-carrier, who planted it in Hell's Kitchen (including 20 years in the tenements of "Battle Row") before his butcher/boxer son uprooted it, brought it across the East River to Woodside, Queens County, in 1899 or 1900, and pinned it to his thirteen children, including my grandfather (born, coincidentally, the very day before Howard Pyle died), who passed it on to his three daughters. And then my mother presented it to me. Somewhere along the way I shed it from my "professional" name, but, having traced the colorful history of the Grays, I regret not keeping it - especially since it's the only part of my name that's easily pronounced.

Speaking of "Battle Row" - I first came across the term in The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury, but I just found another reference to it in The Thirty-Sixth Annual Report of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor for the Year 1879 (published about the same time my people moved to the block):
On West 39th Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, stand a block of tenements known as "Battle Row," and almost equally well as "Murderer's Row." For years this place has borne an evil reputation, having always been a source of great trouble to the police. Its inmates are the terror of the neighborhood. It is the cradle of some of the worst Tenth Avenue gangs, and the scene of constant broils, both domestic and with whoever the roughs may chance to pick a quarrel. Arrests are of such frequent occurrence as to excite but little remark. The police themselves are frequently attacked, one, nicknamed " The Brute," having been knocked senseless with a brick only three or four weeks ago; another, the officer with whom I conversed, was himself struck with a similar missile....
More can be found here. It's no wonder the Grays escaped!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pronouncing Myself

On my website bio I say that my name is pronounced "Yahn Show-in-hare". Legend has it that my father's fondness for the paintings of Jan Vermeer led him to want to call me Jan (pronounced "Yahn"), but there was concern that folks wouldn't understand and call me Jan (as in Jan Brady, or something). My mother, meanwhile, being English and Irish, liked the name Ian (pronounced "Ee-in"). So they compromised and named me Ian, but always called me "Yahn" - as do most people who know me well. I'll answer to "Ee-in", but, frankly, it grates a little. I've tried to justify the odd or alternate pronunciation by explaining that the old German (or Latin?) alphabet didn't contain the letter "J", so even Jan (a diminutive of Johannes) Vermeer used to spelled his first name with an "I", but even I find this rationale barely convincing. Then again, I still think "Yahn" is really more of a permanent nickname and that my actual full name is Ian Gray Schoenherr, pronounced "Ee-in Gray Show-in-hare". So I half-wish that I was named and called either Jan Schoenherr or Ian Gray Schoenherr instead of occupying this uneasy middle ground.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Black Friday Book Signing in Clinton, NJ

In case you find yourself aimlessly digesting Thanksgiving dinner somewhere in central New Jersey, I'll be signing copies of Pip & Squeak and Cat & Mouse at the Clinton Book Shop at 33 Main Street in Clinton, New Jersey, on Friday, November 28th, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Come early, wander and shop during the town's "Dickens' Days" - and, while you're at it, have some breakfast, brunch, or lunch just around the corner at my sister and brother-in-law's restaurant, The Fine Diner. That's what I plan to do. The trouble is, I go infrequently enough that I wind up ordering the same dish: a crab cake on the house salad with lemon dressing. I can't help it: it's too good. Well, if you see me there, I promise not to talk with food in my mouth.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I don't think I'll ever make a bookplate for myself, mostly because I cringe at the thought of pasting anything into my books. But I love the art form and have no qualms about making them for other people.

Recently, I finished my first bit of bookplate art for a friend and fellow bibliophile from Delaware. He had found a copy of On The Frontier by Bret Harte which had once belonged to Howard Pyle. Being a rabid Pyle collector, I had to have it. So we arranged a trade: I would make him a bookplate and he would give me the book. As usual, I made this with ink on scratchboard.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

Here's what I'm up to right now: painting this bear, this elephant, and a cast of what sometimes seems like thousands. These two will appear in Read It, Don't Eat It! next spring, but this particular illustration won't debut until...Winter 2010?! Maybe the elephant will look less gloomy by then.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Riposi In Pace, Signor Pyle

Just a little posting in honor of Howard Pyle, the American author and illustrator, who died 97 years ago today in Florence, Italy. Here he is with Phoebe Churchman Pyle, his eldest daughter, photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston in early 1896.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bubba and the Bear

I made this for Bill Keller's piece on The Russia Hand by Strobe Talbott. I'm not sure if I captured (or understood) the gist of the review or of the book...but I like the bear.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Grudge Match

And now a delightful trip down memory lane, when politicians treated one another with grace and civility. In this corner, wielding the Constitution, is John Marshall, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And, in that corner, armed with the Declaration of Independence, is Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States. Who will win? This adorned Joseph J. Ellis' review of What Kind of Nation by James F. Simon, titled "Clash of the Titans" which appeared in the New York Times Book Review (March 10, 2002). Be sure to count the stars. Clever, no? Not really.

Politics As Unusual

In honor of Election Day minus 2, I'm posting one of my rare forays into "political" illustration. In this case, a piece I did in ink on scratchboard for the New York Times Book Review (July 7, 2002), illustrating a roundup review of the books Where We Stand by Roger Rosenblatt, Why We Fight by William J. Bennett, and What's So Great About America by Dinesh D'Souza. The review itself was "Their Country 'Tis of Them" by Michael Lind.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cat & Mouse bits and pieces

I learned a few weeks ago that Cat & Mouse is reprinting. My friends, now is the time to invest in children's books - so get a first printing while they last (but pick up a second printing, too, while you're at it).

Also, in case you need some more convincing, Cat & Mouse has been chosen as one of the New York Public Library's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing for 2008.

And, speaking of the New York Public Library, here's what Elizabeth Bird (see my previous post) wrote on her blog about Cat & Mouse after she saw the original illustrations (and my reference photos) last fall:
I adore intricacy. I love it when an artist has the ability to use delicate little pen lines to convey a character or scene. In Mr. Schoenherr's case, there were photographs of cats accompanying the art. The cat in the book itself obviously owes its very existence to these very real felines, and I'm looking forward to the publication of the book. It's a picture book that utilizes a variety of different cat and mouse nursery rhymes (like Hickory Dickory Dock) and turns them into a single story. Quite clever, really.

When Ms. Bird finally got to see a copy of the finished book, she wrote :
Ian Schoenherr's Cat and Mouse is an interesting one to keep an eye on too. With the teeniest brushstrokes imaginable, Schoenherr brings to life a cat and a mouse alongside three classic nursery rhymes. What's more, he's somehow able to make a coherent story out of the lot. I'm a cat person myself, so I was particularly partial to the kitty in this book, delicate stripes and all.

For the record, here's a picture of Pistachio - the chief model for the "Cat". He looks somewhat imperious here - or as if I had just wounded his dignity.

Read It, Don't Eat It!

Look out! The (next) "cat" is out of the bag. Elizabeth Bird, a children's librarian at the New York Public Library, very nicely spilled the beans on my forthcoming book in her blog:
Ian Schoenherr's another one of those authors I always mean to review and then never do. Generally he tends to write picture books involving two characters. Pip and Squeak. Cat and Mouse. You get the picture. His newest title Read It, Don't Eat It! walks a delicate line. I sit hunched in perpetual wariness whenever I see a book that looks like it might be pandering to the librarian community. But what sets Schoenherr's latest from the usual gee-aren't-librarians-great stock is that it's actually a book we can use and read aloud to classes with fantastic results! Basically he's written a list of don'ts for books. Don't eat it. Don't chew on it. Don't get it wet. That sort of thing. I may have to rotate my standard readaloud stock for classes once we get this one in. Even young classes would find it easy to follow.

Read It, Don't Eat It! won't appear until next May, so don't hold your breath - yet. And, rest assured, this one is entirely mouse-free, though it does contain a small helping of cats.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cat & Mouse in Parenting

Parenting serves up this tasty morsel about Cat & Mouse:
A clever rodent gains the upper hand over a feline frenemy in this hilarious tale. Kids will love the oversize, colorful illustrations - and the thrill of watching the little guy win.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Model Cats

Buzz and Pistachio, the models for the cat in my new book, were feral kittens, once. They were born and raised in my backyard before they turned into inside cats. Coincidentally, the day before Cat & Mouse came out another pair of feral kittens came in - and one of them (named Edward Brandywine, at least temporarily) looked even more like the star of my book than my two models. He stayed about ten days before he was adopted out to a new home, but the day he left I couldn't resist making a "trailer" for my new book. The soundtrack (a radio playing in the distance) leaves something to be desired and, frankly, this kitten was more lethargic than I would have liked, but here goes...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cat & Mouse in Publisher's Weekly

And now a word on Cat & Mouse from Publisher's Weekly (reprinted without permission, but with many thanks):

With a medley of three loosely adapted nursery rhymes as his text, Schoenherr lets loose a romp worthy of Tom and Jerry. "I Love Little Kitty" introduces each burst of action and serves as the wrapup, while also hinting that Cat and Mouse are really BFFs with a healthy sense of irony. In "Hickory, Dickory, Dock," Cat gets leveled by the mechanical bird in a cuckoo clock as Mouse escapes scot-free. The linked vignette "Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo" involves green yarn, Cat's big toe and some impressive lassoing techniques on the part of Mouse. Applying ink over acrylics, Schoenherr's technique is painstaking and exquisite - the cat's fur looks sumptuous; the cuckoo clock has the sculptural intensity of a baroque cathedral. Scale works as the images' comic foil: paring background and props to a bare minimum, Schoenherr lets the huge, saucer-eyed cat spill and sprawl across otherwise white pages, while the pink-eared mouse bops around with the grace of an Olympic gymnast.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cat & Mouse in School Library Journal

A mighty fine review of Cat & Mouse turned up recently in School Library Journal:
Adapting and combining "Hickory, Dickory, Dock," "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo," and "I Love Little Pussy," Schoenherr crafts a wild romp featuring a paper-parasol-equipped mouse leading a cat on a merry chase. On sprawling spreads, the two main characters loom large against a minimalist white background. The insouciant rodent uses its parasol as a tease, a weapon, and a parachute until the cat manages to snag it for its own toy. The mouse then employs a ball of yarn to distract and ultimately lasso the cat's paw to retrieve the prize, and the two friends cavort and nuzzle in the conclusion. The dynamic and realistic ink and acrylic illustrations feature a stop-action energy and changing perspectives that make the characters appear to actually move across the pages. This bright, funny book conveys the joy of play and a welcome friendship between two traditional antagonists. -- Marge Loch-Wouters, Menasha Public Library, WI

Monday, August 25, 2008

Introducing Cat & Mouse & Myself

I'm launching this blog the day before my new book is officially released. At least I think it'll be available in stores on August 26th. It's called Cat & Mouse and, yes, it's about a cat and a mouse. The latter is a relative of the two stars of my last book, Pip & Squeak, and the former is a kind of hybrid of my two cats, Buzz and Pistachio. The text is also a hybrid: I took three nursery rhymes and edited and rearranged them so they would read like a story.

Initially, I only wanted to take the rhyme "Hickory, Dickory, Dock" and stretch it out into a 32-page picture book. It was to be set in an antique shop and the illustrations were to be filled with old objects and visual and verbal puns. But after years of tinkering, I just couldn't pull it off. I showed it to my editor and art director at Greenwillow Books and they suggested I extend it with some other rhymes. We also decided that the myriad knick-knacks were too distracting, so I paired down my sketches to their key elements. 

Once I shored up the pacing of the book - which had expanded to 40 pages - I made careful pencil drawings to guide me as I prepared the illustrations. This way I could avoid making time consuming corrections or changes later on in the process. And, at last, I made the final art with ink and acrylic paint on Fabriano Artistico Extra White 300lb hot press watercolor paper - a smooth, durable paper that doesn't curl or blister the way Bristol board can when it's saturated with water (I found this out the hard way a few books ago). I also hand-lettered the text with ink and my father's old lithographer's graver on separate sheets of scratchboard.

I'll post more about what went into making Cat & Mouse (among other topics), but for now I hope you'll take a look at the finished product and let me know what you think.