David Catrow

Highlights of a Life

Cartoonist and book illustrator David J. Catrow was born in Richmond, Virginia. As a boy, his favorite subject in school was drawing… in math class!   Even though he intended to pursue a “sensible” profession, drawing silly pictures turned out to be Catrow’s destiny.

He attended Kent State University, where he started out in pre-med. Although he didn’t go on to medical school, Catrow did work as a paramedic for 10 years. And when he wasn’t wearing his stethoscope, Catrow explored work as a cartoonist by freelancing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon-Journal. Art finally emerged as his permanent – and highly acclaimed – career.

His success as an illustrator came several years after Catrow took a job as editorial cartoonist with the Springfield News-Sun. He’s been at the paper since 1984, and continues to live in Springfield with his wife, Deborah and their two children. Catrow’s eccentric, darkly comedic cartoons were syndicated in 1988. They now appear in more than 900 newspapers.

National exposure opened new doors to Catrow. The cartoonist’s quirky style caught the attention of children’s book authors, and, in 1990, Catrow illustrated his first book, Attic Mice, by Ethel Pochocki. Since then, Catrow has become an award-winning illustrator of many books for children, including The Emperor’s Old Clothes (1999), by Kathryn Lasky, and Plantzilla (2002), by Jerdine Nolen. Several of his books have been named New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Books of the Year and were finalists for the Book Sense Book of the Year Award.

Catrow has illustrated more than 30 books for kids, including the zany and eccentric pictures in Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (2001), by Patty Lovell. Molly Lou Melon is clumsy, tiny first grader with “buck teeth that stuck out so far, she could stack pennies on them.”  But her self esteem is solid, thanks to her confidence-building grandmother. “Sing out clear and strong and the world will cry tears of joy,” Grandma says.  When Molly Lou moves to a new school, she must prove herself or get bullied.

Catrow went solo on a book in which the only text consisted of actual words from the Preamble to the Constitution. In We the Kids (2002), Catrow makes understanding the Preamble to the Constitution accessible to children and even fun. In his signature off-the-wall style, Catrow depicts a backyard camping caper taken by a bumbling group of friends. The campers review the rules of camping (“establish justice”), and snuggle under a blanket (“secure the Blessings of Liberty”). Catrow wants kids to look at the Constitution the way he does – as “a kind of how-to book, showing us ways to have happiness, safety, and comfort.”

His work in She’s Wearing A Dead Bird On Her Head (1995) earned Catrow widespread recognition when it was named the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year in 1995.

Catrow’s watercolor and crayon illustrations match playful lyrics by Alan Katz in Take Me Out Of The Bathtub (2001). Written to the to tune of familiar songs, kids can’t help but giggle when they sing songs like “Give Me a Break” (sung to the tune of “Home on the Range”) or “The Yogurt Flies Straight from My Brother,” (sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”).

Over the River and Through the Woods (1999) is an uproarious spoof on the traditional holiday song. Catrow depicts New Yorkers driving through holiday traffic on their way to grandfather’s house. Hilarious pictures show the youngest child falling out of the minivan, bouncing through Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, flying into a tuba and pulled through the sky by a float. Eventually, the child and his family are reunited at the grandparents’ home, the family arriving by car, and the boy gently gliding down from the sky.

David Catrow’s art is held in the permanent collections of the National Archives, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Museum of Cartoon Art in San Francisco, as well as many private holdings.

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