Stephen Gammell (born February 10, 1943) is an American illustrator of children’s books. He won the 1989 Caldecott Medal for U.S. picture book illustration, recognizing Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman. In 1982 he was a runner-up for Where the Buffaloes Begin by Olaf Baker.
Stephen Gammell grew up in Iowa. His father, an art editor for a major magazine, brought home periodicals that gave Stephen early artistic inspiration. His parents also supplied him with lots of pencils, paper, and encouragement. He is self-taught.
He started his career with freelance commercial work, but became interested in children’s book illustration. His first picture book was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in 1973: A Nutty Business by Ida Chittum, featuring a “war” between squirrels and a farmer. That same year he illustrated The Search (Harper & Row, 1973), a juvenile biography of Leo Tolstoy by Sara Newton Carroll. Since then, he has illustrated nearly sixty titles.
Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of lying on the floor in our old house in Des Moines, books and magazines around me, piles of pads and paper, lot of pencils…and drawing. Just drawing! I was four at the time thinking that I really didn’t want to go to school next year…I just want to do THIS.
Well, these many years later, here I am doing THAT. Drawing. Painting. Making art. Making books. What I wanted to do.
Sometimes there is uncertainty about not getting on paper what I see in my mind’s eye, or wondering about how to achieve a certain effect, or even being puzzled about the direction an illustration is going, or should go. But never any dissatisfaction about what I am doing in life. I’ve always felt, and I’ve said this, that a bad day at the studio is better than a good day doing anything else (with the possible exception of a wilderness hike, or watching a Laurel and Hardy movie).
So, still at it. Still on the journey. Still taking a perfectly good sheet of paper and ruining it. My thanks to all who enjoy my efforts. Hopefully we’ll continue to enjoy them together.”
– Stephen Gammell
Gammell is particularly well known for the surreal, unsettling illustrations he provided for Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, a series of horror short stories by Alvin Schwartz that is still an adolescent favorite.
He and his wife, photographer Linda Gammell, live in St. Paul, Minnesota. He works daily in his studio, located over a restaurant.