Remembering Trina Schart Hyman

November 19, 2014 marks the ten-year anniversary of the death of illustrator Trina Schart Hyman. Author/illustrator Jim Arnosky shares his memories of the Great Lady -- what she meant to him as a mentor and as a friend.

hyman_snowwhiteWe are approaching ten years since the world of children’s literature lost Trina Schart Hyman. I still find it hard to believe. Recently, I was clearing away some papers and empty paint tubes after finishing the art for a book when I paused to read again a framed letter I keep on my drawing table. It was from Trina, written in 1975 and signed with a tiny self-portrait.

The frame and glass were dusty, so I took it all apart to clean, and out fell all the letters and postcards this wonderful woman wrote to me during the years that I worked for Cricket Magazine. The letters are filled with encouraging words, praise, criticism, and friendly news from Lyme, New Hampshire. Each one, beautifully hand-lettered, is a work of art in itself…so different from the cold type of an e-mail.

Reading Trina’s letters again, I remembered sitting in her kitchen, drinking strong coffee, her cat on the table nosing the lip of my cup, when Trina told me her cancer had returned.

I first saw Trina’s work in an ad for the debut issue of Cricket and became enchanted by the lines in the drawing, all so skillfully made, depicting a great benevolent giant reading a book to a whole gang of kids. The signature was Trina’s simple "TSH."

I had no idea that the artist was also the magazine’s art director. I sent samples of my work, mostly pieces that had been published or printed in ads or brochures. Trina sent my samples back. She wasn’t impressed. In fact, she made a point to tell me that my slick ad agency style of art was exactly the opposite of what she wanted in Cricket.

My wife Deanna and I and our little girl Michelle were living at the time in a one-room cabin in the mountains of Pennsylvania. We had no running water. No indoor toilet. We heated with logs that I sawed every day from the trees in our woods. We had no bank account. We were living on food from our garden, the fish I caught, and an occasional illustration assignment. I wrote back to Trina and told her that I didn’t accept her characterization of my work. I also told her about our life in the cabin. The more I looked at the printed samples I had sent her, though, the more I saw that she was right. None of them reflected me as a person or as an artist.

She wrote back again. Instead of writing me off as some crazy artist in the mountains, she wrote back! And what’s more, she sent me a job — a story by Farley Mowat titled “Owls in the Family.” I didn’t know who Farley Mowat was, but Trina did, and after reading about my life in the cabin she knew he and I were a perfect match. I used the opportunity to create my most natural, heartfelt drawings ever; in part to let Trina know that I knew she had been right about my samples. But mostly, I think, to please her.

That’s how it was with Trina. She’d tell you right up front what she thought, even if it was painfully critical. Then she’d help you grow and be better at what you do. She would make friendly demands, some professional (such as “I want a page of hands. You need to learn to draw hands”) and some personal (“I’m giving you this cover assignment on one condition: that you get water put in that cabin”). She knew Deanna was pregnant with our second child, and Trina didn’t like the idea of her stooping to scoop water from the stream as she had been doing for two years.

Trina sent me assignment after assignment, until the publishers of what were then called "hardcover books" in New York took notice and I was on my way. She did this for all her artists, teaching them and promoting their work, and all the while she herself turned out beautiful picture books that everyone in the field wished were theirs.

Working for Trina and Cricket Magazine broadened my world. Every year Trina and Dilys Evans hosted a picnic for the Cricket authors, illustrators, and magazine staff. It was amazing! It was a true halcyon period in all of our professional lives that would never be duplicated. I have home movies of some of the most celebrated names in children’s literature in their heyday, playing ball and badminton and having fun in Trina’s yard.

At Trina and Dilys’s Cricket picnics I met Paul Galdone, Cyndy Szekeres, Hilary Knight, Erik Blegvad, Wally Tripp, Jan Adkins, Walter Lorraine, David and Carol Carrick, Marylin Hafner, Merle Peek, Tomie de Paola, David McPhail, Garth Williams, Clement and Edith Hurd, Margot Tomes, Emily Arnold McCully, and others. All of these bright lights of the children’s book field plus newcomers like myself, along with authors, art directors, and editors from the major publishing houses! It was quite an experience. People talked about work, but mostly they relaxed and enjoyed Trina’s home and hospitality. Everyone there was unique, but we all had one great thing in common—love of children’s literature.

When Deanna and I decided to leave Pennsylvania and move to Vermont, we stayed at Trina’s while we searched for a house. The first night, a skunk let loose in the floor space under our bed and I awoke to a smell, the intensity of which I had never smelled before. I was a woodsman. I had seen and watched many skunks. Deanna and I had a pet skunk for awhile. But I never had a skunk let loose full blast directly under me. The odor was eye-burning. It made you choke. Fearing that some gas line had burst, I ran and woke Trina, who laughed and told me it was just their resident skunk. Then she chided, “Some naturalist you are, Arnosky!”

We survived the skunk, even though we smelled of it for days. And we found our home here in Vermont—all with the help of Trina, who continued to give me work and pass my name on to others who might want the kind of art I did. I don’t know what I would have done in the early part of my career without Trina’s support. And I am not alone in this, I’m sure.

Living only a half hour from Lyme, I used to drop in on Trina unexpectedly, with a creel full of freshly caught trout for her freezer. Sometimes I would just stop by to give her a hug. And whenever I called, she always took the time to talk. From time to time, she’d send me a book to help me see who and where I was in my journey—“King Solomon’s Ring” by Konrad Lorenz, a wonderful book about animal observation. Or “Out of the Mainstream,” a book of fishing memories by Philip Kingsland Crowe, a retired U.S. ambassador. I’m going to reread all the books Trina sent me, because I miss her sending them.

Trina Schart Hyman left the world so much more than her beautifully illustrated picture books. She left a part of herself with everyone who knew her. She left something of her boundless generosity in every line she drew, and in every piece of art created by the many artists that she mentored. While she was alive, I thanked her again and again for the most thoughtful friendly criticism, advice, and encouragement I’ve ever had another artist give me. I thanked her so often, I think I sometimes embarrassed her with my gratitude. I loved knowing Trina. I wish she were here to thank again.

Jim Arnosky
Jim Arnosky’s latest book is "Tooth & Claw: The Wild World of Big Predators" (Sterling). If you would like to read more about the Arnoskys' cabin, the early days of Cricket Magazine, and children’s publishing in an earlier time, go to and click on the memoir "Born In A Tree."
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Tom Valiente

I read Cricket Magazine back in the mid 70`s and my favorite part of it were the characters that she created for the magazine. I enjoyed seeing characters like Cricket, Ladybug, Sluggo the snail, George the earthworm, Muffin the British beetle, and of course Ugly Bird hop across the pages. I was into comic books back then but I liked to also draw Cricket and his friends just for fun. I was really sad when I heard that she passed away, But I`m glad to have the opportunity to see her work online. I also became familiar with the other illustrators who contributed to the magazine. I remember you well TSH!

Posted : May 31, 2018 02:40

Rich M.

Thank you so much for posting this. It's now the first night of Chanukah, 2017, and I'm re-reading "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins", as I do nearly every year. The whimsy and terror of her goblins are masterpieces of representing the many guises of evil.... I came Googling her name tonight and wound up here. Thank you for sharing

Posted : Dec 13, 2017 01:29

Thomas Hamilton

We all miss her,still.

Posted : Apr 09, 2016 06:52


Thank you for this lovely insight into Trina's life. Her illustrated books were some of the first ones I connected to as a child, and to this day she remains my favorite illustrator.

Posted : Apr 09, 2016 04:53

Jo-Anne Farley

Thank you so much for writing this article. I love Trina Schart Hyman's drawings. One of the earliest memories of discovering her work was in novels like Caddie Woodlawn, Irma's Big Lie, and then later Eleanor Cameron's A Room Made of Windows. I fell instantly in love with her style. Recently I discovered her autobiography Self-Portrait and was delighted to learn more about my favourite children's book illustrator. Of course I am saddened that she is gone, but I seem to be discovering more and more about her and her work, via the Internet and even Pinterest. She was a painter as well! Having a BFA in Art and Design, and a BA in English, I feel a kinship toward TSH, especially as a young girl as I too wanted to be an illustrator. Your recollections of your friend and your life in the cabin paint a wonderful picture of life back in the 70s, a time before electronics and emails. I look forward to discovering more books and drawings by Trina. You are blessed to have known her so well.

Posted : Jun 27, 2015 04:50

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