John Himmelman has been “making up stories and scribbling pictures since I could hold a crayon in my hand.” At age 8, he started his first “Bug Club” in a friend’s garage. About the same time, in third grade, he wrote his first book—about bugs, of course. He wanted to be an entomologist and was eager to learn as much as he could about the little crawly things that surround us.
By high school, he planned to be a veterinarian, yet he realized that writing and art were also a very big part of his life. “I wrote stories just for the fun of it, and painting and drawing was something that took up a good amount of my spare time.” What to be, artist or veterinarian? The choice became a crisis when it came time to choose a college.
“One night, after weeks of deliberation, I went for a walk. I told my parents that I wasn’t coming back until I had made a decision. I walked for hours, mulling over my choices. In the end I decided that being a veterinarian would leave me little time for being an artist; however if I pursued art, there would be other avenues open to me in which I could explore my other interests.”
However, by the last half of his fourth and last year at the School is Visual Arts, he still had no idea how he would make a living. “Then, for the fun of it, I took a course in writing and illustrating children’s books. For our last assignment, we were to write and illustrate our own book. I did a story about a lizard named Talester (he was a pet anole that my soon-to-be-wife, Betsy, had bought me before she went off to college). My professor liked it, showed it to an editor at Dial Publishers, and Talester the Lizard became my first published book!”
It took about six years before John could make a full time living in children’s books, but by now he has about 75. And he’s doing what he loves. He’s an avid birder, amateur entomologist and herpetologist, creator of the international bird-a-thon “BIG SIT!”, and co-founder of the Connecticut Butterfly Association.
Even now, on summer nights John is often in his wooded yard in Killingworth, Connecticut, flashlight in hand, searching for little creatures. Some of his most exciting discoveries are found just a few feet from his house!