BertaandElmerHaderA Loving Tribute to a Talented Couple


By Joy Hoerner Rich, Karen Tolley, John Waller and Judy Waller
Joyful Productions, $30.00, 144 pages

It must have been challenging for the authors of Berta and Elmer Hader: A Lifetime of Art to pick a title for their book. How do you sum up the personal and professional achievements of one of the most prolific, talented pair of authors/artists in the world of twentieth century children’s art and literature? After researching and learning about Berta and Elmer Hader, Joy Hoerner Rich, Karen Tolley and John and Judy Waller found a perfect title to grace the cover of a loving tribute to a dynamic couple. Anyone with a passion for children’s books, inspiring biographies and the work of fabulous illustrators should make room for Berta and Elmer Hader: A Lifetime of Art on their bookshelf.

Joy Hoerner Rich, creator of the non-profit Hader Connection, Ltd. and niece of the Haders, graciously shares her memories of the Haders and personal letters and drawings from her aunt and uncle sent to her as a young girl. These priceless pieces of art are beautifully reproduced in full color along with 285 art images and 23 photographs. It is evident in the breadth of materials reproduced for readers to enjoy that the book’s authors searched far and wide to find the best sampling of the Haders’ sketches, dust jacket and magazine art, fashion illustrations, paper toys (paper dolls and dioramas featured in the children’s pages of Good Housekeeping, McCall’s Magazine and other publications), miniature portraits, impressionistic paintings, watercolors, whimsical Christmas card designs and illustrated letters (it’s especially fun to read snippets of their personal correspondence to friends and family over the years).

Readers will learn what motivated this Caldecott Award-winning couple (they won for their 1948 children’s book The Big Snow which tells the story of how a massive storm makes it hard for animals to find food but with kindness and cooperation they are able to survive). The book covers Berta and Elmer’s early years (before meeting each other) and details how the couple came to create a unique system of collaboration that would ultimately lead to the creation of 54 children’s books authored and illustrated by the duo and 37 children’s book written by others and illustrated by the pair. Included are specific illustrations that show the various printing techniques used by the Haders over the years. In chapters exploring their personal lives, readers will discover why the couple became so dedicated to creating illustrations and books for the children of the world.

The book nicely balances short chapters of biographical information with a wide selection of examples of the Hader’s work. It also includes the authors’ own analysis and interpretation of the couple’s art. Both the design and layout of the book are infused with the humor and whimsy that defines the Haders’ personalities and artistic talent. Thanks to the dedication of the Wallers, Joy Hoerner Rich and Karen Tolley, the Haders’ legacy and contributions to the literary world live on in Berta and Elmer Hader: A Lifetime of Art.

Interview with Joy Hoerner Rich, Karen Tolley, John Waller and Judy Waller

Q: If you could have been present for the collaborative design process and creation of any of the Haders’ paintings, which one would you pick and why?

A: (Joy) Lucky me! I was present when they were collaborating on and creating their beautiful illustrations for their book The Little Stone House. The story presents a fictional family, the McGinty’s, but it truly is about the Haders building their own house with the help of friends. My favorite illustration within the book is the dining scene showing 26 friends and loved ones having a celebration feast around the huge dining table that Elmer made. I sat around that table and met the most interesting people and had fascinating conversations. So I got to have that experience, then listen to Berta and Elmer talk about how to capture that with their drawings and paintings, and then I got to see each of the watercolor illustrations for the book unfold.

Q: If the Haders were still alive, what few questions would you ask them in order to complete your research?

A: (Joy and Karen) There are certainly things we are curious about. For example it was Berta who opened doors for Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie series enabling it to be published. Knowing that, we often wonder why they weren’t the illustrators for Laura’s books. We wonder if they were asked to illustrate that series and they declined. We’d love to know more about the process they developed in the creating of their annual Christmas cards. We do have dozens of little questions but appreciate all the information and materials that they did leave as a legacy.

Q: What is the most surprising fact you discovered about Berta and Elmer Hader?

A: (Joy, Karen, John, Judy) Probably the most surprising fact we learned was regarding how the Haders galvanized their friends and neighbors and put a bend in the Tapanzee Bridge, across the Hudson River. The original plan called for a straight bridge which would have destroyed Grand-View-on-Hudson as an inconsequential village. Their passionate dedication to rescuing their village remained strong and they, and their neighbors, did indeed save the village.

Q: In 2008, Joy Hoerner Rich (niece of the Haders) created the Hader Connection, Ltd., a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the Hader legacy. What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of running a non-profit?

A: (Joy and Karen) There have been many rewards resulting from the activities of Hader Connection, Ltd. We have been able to witness delight and glee as individuals experience viewing the Hader art for the first time. We love hearing from individuals about the ways they have been inspired by Berta and Elmer. The biggest challenge, as with most non-profits, is generating the funds needed.

Q: As part of your goal to share the Haders’ work and inspire creativity in children, you have created a Hader art lesson for elementary school children in Douglas County, Oregon. Can you tell our readers more about this program and whether there are any plans to make the curriculum available to teachers throughout the state and even the country?

A: (Karen) The Haders published Berta and Elmer Haders’ Picture Book of the States. Our Hader art lesson (for third and fourth graders ) includes an introduction to Berta and Elmer and to picture book creation. Two major points we make are that all children are creative and art does not need to be exact. We show them multiple examples of how to draw common objects, let them try their hands at specific colored pencil techniques, give them each a copy of the 1932 Oregon map, note specifics about Oregon captured in the map and then allow them to create their own whimsical map of Oregon presenting things that make their state special to them. We know that the lesson provides a positive art experience for youth and do hope to make it available in more areas.

Q: Do you have any advice for people with a dream to write and publish their own book, specifically one that requires the amount of in-depth research that yours did?

A: (all) Know that you will have to research and double-check, write and re-write, and do and redo. It is all part of the process in order to tell your story with clarity. Find trusted people (paid or volunteer) to help as copy editor, designer, proof-reader, etc. Know that it takes time but doing a good job is very rewarding.

Q: What does the future hold for Joyful Productions and/or any of you as individuals?

A: (John and Judy) Joyful Productions plans to share more Hader wonders. Berta and Elmer were talented and we have access to hundreds of their original works. One idea we are currently kicking around is reprinting The Little Stone House and adding an addenda telling about happenings and occurrences within that house. We very much enjoyed the process of creating Berta and Elmer Hader: A Lifetime of Art and look forward to working with Joyful Productions in the future as well as with other authors and publishers.

Reviewed and Interviewed by Kathryn Franklin

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