Karen Ritz

Karen Ritz

All I didn’t know in Kindergarten

My kindergarten teacher said that I was going to be an artist when I grew up, but it wasn’t until I connected my drawing with the written word that I knew she was right! I grew up with four brothers outside of Albany, New York. It was quite rural at the time and we didn’t have many close neighbors, so I had lots of time to read and practice drawing.

I also enjoyed craft projects and hand work – many years our Christmas trees had entire new sets of decorations. I took extra classes to learn about techniques, portraits and perspective, even in grade school, and attended Rhode Island School of Design a few summers during high school. I learned a pencil technique there that I still use today (those first graphite pencils are still in my drawer). When I was fourteen, a family friend wrote a bunny alphabet book and asked me to illustrate it. She sent it to Random House and they liked the illustrations but not the concept – I was hooked on illustrating for children! It is still the written word that inspires me to draw and paint.

I decided not to go to art school as I was still interested in academic subjects not offered at the time, and attended Kirkland College, which has since merged into Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. By chance, the president’s wife was Natalie Babbitt (Tuck Everlasting)! I showed her my work and she generously set up an independent study with me, teaching me a history of children’s literature and giving me a sentence to illustrate every week. Natalie also taught me pen & ink, using a fine crow quill point, and after two years, urged me to study children’s literature with Dr. Norine Odland at the University of Minnesota. I graduated from there in 1979 with a degree in children’s literature. My first book, Cornstalks and Cannonballs, illustrated in pen & ink, came out in 1980. I worked part time at the Red Balloon children’s bookstore until I could support myself as an illustrator.

I illustrated for children’s books and magazines, and taught courses for teachers and librarians on visual language and the art of children’s books, until a divorce and an unstable publishing market sent me back into full-time employment in 2007. Windows With Birds, the first book I both wrote and illustrated came out in 2010. The book is about my youngest son, Daniel, his cat, and our move downtown when he was six. Some of my original work is housed in the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota and Kate Shelley and the Midnight Express appeared as an animated feature on public television’s “Reading Rainbow.” My Ellis Islandbook won a Minnesota Book Award in 1995.

I left my career as a residential concierge in 2016 to return to art and help raise my Grandchildren, Jack, now 3, and Grace, 18 months. With them, I am definitely still up to my elbows in children’s books! I’m sure they will inspire many things, like my fun GrandyCamp website for active, busy Grandparents!  Please join us there!

My 46th book, Sadie Braves the Wilderness, written by Yvonne Pearson, was published in the spring of 2017.