My sister loved all the characters and fairies that Hyman puts in her work and especially their facial expressions. I started to look at her work and fell in love with her gestural line work and her character development. She works in gouache and pen & ink so you really see the expressiveness to her illustrations. One book that I particularly love is called "Tight Times". This book is long out of print and is very hard to find. My sister found a copy for me and it is one of my most cherished books. It is a story of a family that is struggling with the stagflation of the 1970's. I was about the age of the main character in the book in the 1970's so I really can relate to the story line. Times are tight and both parents have to work to make ends meet.
Then one day the father comes home early because he lost his job. My dad was a union carpenter so this was a regular occurrence in our house, the job would end and he would be out of work.
The little boy doesn't quite understand what is going on so mom sends him outside to play. He discovers a kitten tucked behind the trash and a passing gypsy woman helps him rescue the kitten. He takes it home to ask if he can keep it.
The mom and dad are reluctant at first to keep the cat but then emotion overwhelmed them and they realize a little cat just might be what they need now to lift the weight of the situation. They make a hug sandwich and the kitten stays!
This is a wonderful story that also speaks to an experience that I was very familiar with. Hyman's work seems to do that...get at the root of humanity and human emotions in a way that is touching and real. You can see her gestural drawings in this book, which is done all in black and white. Her character development is superb and the facial expressions that my sister loves are very evident here. She also does a wonderful job of setting the environment with details in the kitchen and living room, and the streets of New York.
Another work by Hyman that my sister turned me on to is "The Fortune Tellers". This is a story of a young carpenter who is looking for something better in life. He goes to see the fortune teller to find out if he has something better coming in life, like fame, fortune and love. The fortune teller says all will come as soon as the carpenter becomes well known, makes lots of money and finds the right woman! The carpenter is overjoyed! As he leaves he realizes he forgot to ask one question so he returns to the fortune teller only to find him gone. A women enters and mistakes the carpenter for the fortune teller so he goes with it and plays the fortune teller. Through the charade all of his dreams do come true!
Once again you can see her wonderful gestural drawings, this time with gouache color added. She establishes the setting as somewhere in Africa and she develops a whole cast of characters and secondary actors who are unique, vibrant, and full of character and life. I love all the details she adds, like the little monkey who becomes his side-kick. These are exactly the type of things I enjoy pointing out to my children when we read stories together. I also really admire the way she maximizes her use of the long horizontal format of the page. I go back to her work time an again for inspiration and lessons on how to illustrate a wonderful story.
In her own words this is what Hyman felt made for a children's book. “You just have to feel it. Certainly it has to relate to the human experience because children are human, too. It should have all of the things that a good adult story has only put in simpler terms so that children can grasp it.”
For a complete interview with Trina Schart-Hyman click here. Unfortunately, Trina died in 2004 so we can no longer look forward to new work from her, but the work that she left us will undoubtedly leave an impression for many generations to come. I hope you enjoyed meeting Trina Schart-Hyman. Let me know if you have a favorite book by Trina Schart-Hyman or what you think of her work in the comments section below.