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 Robin Preiss Glasser  (1956 - )

About: Robin Preiss Glasser
 

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Lived/Active: California/New York      Known for: book Illustration

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Robin Preiss Glasser (b. 1956)

As a former professional ballet dancer, Southern California resident Robin Preiss Glasser brings her joy of movement to her second career as a best-selling children's book illustrator.  Most noted for the Fancy Nancy series, she has also illustrated bestsellers for Lynne Cheney, Garrison Keillor, and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

Biography from Chemers Gallery:
Robin Preiss Glasser has had two successful careers, the first as a ballet dancer and the second as a best-selling children’s book illustrator.  It is the years Robin spent studying dance that have infused her illustration style with movement and joy.  Drawing the body in motion comes very naturally to Robin and the exaggerated movement and expression a dancer needs to tell a story without words has also been a lesson that translated well to Robin’s second career.  Now, with more than 50 books books to her credit, Robin is best known as the illustrator of Fancy Nancy, the “more is always better” heroine of the New York Times best-selling series with author Jane O’Connor.

Born on October 4, 1956 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Robin was the eldest of four girls, all who took ballet lessons and went regularly with their parents to museums and cultural performances in New York City.  At age 13, Robin spent the summer studying dance at Interlochen National Music Camp, but declined a full scholarship for the following year in order to study at Balanchine’s The School of American Ballet.  By age 15 she’d moved to NYC after being chosen to join the scholarship program at the American Ballet Theatre school (now known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School), while attending high school at the Professional Children’s School.

Upon graduation, Robin danced abroad for a year with the Israel Classical Ballet, returning to the States when Benjamin Harkarvy invited her to join the Pennsylvania Ballet.  Robin went on to become a soloist with the company, beloved for her humorous roles and character performances.

Throughout the 11 years Robin performed and toured as a dancer, she continued to study drawing, a talent at which she excelled from an early age. Like a professional athlete, a ballet dancer’s career is rarely long-lasting.  When a back injury forced Robin to quit, she took her stacks of sketchbooks -- filled over the years while the dance company was not in rehearsal or touring -- to Parsons The New School for Design in New York City.  Hoping for admission at the ripe old age of 30, Robin was offered a full scholarship to study children’s book illustration and she received her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in 1990.

Ever confident, Robin expected to take the publishing world by storm…but it took her five years to land her first book.  In between she designed posters, theatrical costumes, and greeting cards.  When the call came, it was for the opportunity to try and imitate the style of illustrator Ray Cruz, whose health no longer allowed him to draw the beloved Alexander character in Judith Viorst’s wildly successful children’s book series.  Robin jumped at the chance, despite having just gone into labor literally hours before, and thus her career as a children’s book illustrator began with Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move (Atheneum, 1995).

Robin went on to do two more books with Ms. Viorst: You’re Officially a Grown-Up, and Super Completely and Totally the Messiest.  Additionally, the Alexander book was made into a musical produced by The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Robin drew her first face for a licensed doll when all the Alexander books were gathered in the anthology Absolutely, Positively Alexander.

Meanwhile, Robin received an ALA Notable Book Award for You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum, followed by two more books in this series created with her sister, author Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman.  These wordless books display Robin’s signature humor and clever ability for controlling chaos on the page as the reader follows two parallel stories – that of a runaway balloon flying around a city, and the mirrored images of real paintings and sculpture that the balloon’s owner is viewing inside a museum. Using a pen-and-ink cross-hatching style she had perfected on the Viorst books, Robin highlighted the stories’ action in watercolor paints, the illustration style for which she is now best known.

It was that first balloon book that brought Robin to the attention of the former vice president’s wife, Lynne Cheney.  An assistant to the second lady of the land happened to show it to Mrs. Cheney just as she was searching for an illustrator for what was to become her first children’s book. America, A Patriotic Primer, published in May 2002, stayed on the New York Times Best Seller List for six months.  A second book by the team, A is for Abigail, followed in 2003 to critical success and another long run on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Robin illustrated a third book with Mrs. Cheney, Our 50 States, and together these three titles sold more than 1 million copies.

Robin has always created characters based on people in her life, and her next book Daddy’s Girl, by beloved radio star Garrison Keillor, is no exception.  The sweet, Manhattan-savvy little girl in the four story-songs that make up this picture book is based on her curly-headed nephew Alex, who willingly posed for the many photographs on which Robin could model the little girl.  And the final book illustrated before Fancy Nancy changed Robin’s life forever is the charming A Sock is a Pocket for your Toes, by award-winning poet Elizabeth Garton Scanlon.

Robin received the manuscript for Fancy Nancy back in 2002, but was already committed to the trilogy of history books with Lynne Chenney.  Luckily Margaret Anastas, Robin’s gifted editor at Harper Collins, and author Jane O’Connor, agreed to wait for Robin’s schedule to free up.  While it took Robin two years to research and draw all the intricate illustrations in Our 50 States, creating Fancy Nancy was a snap.  In fact, the iconic image of Nancy on the cover of the first book in the series was Robin’s very first drawing of the fancy girl, which Robin created as a simple character study when the manuscript was first sent over.

Fancy Nancy stayed on the New York Times Best Seller List for 99 weeks -- to be joined by additional titles in the series (which all together have landed on the prestigious best seller list for more than 240 weeks).  The first Fancy Nancy has been translated into 18 languages, including Hungarian and Hebrew.  More than 35 Fancy Nancy titles are in print with over 16 million copies sold.

Soon after the first book came out, the Fancy Nancy ™ brand was picked up by a major licensing company and within just a few years’ time, more than 30 licensees have signed on including dolls, toys, accessories, bed linens, clothes, party goods and toiletries.  And in a funny art-imitating-life scenario, several ballet productions of the Fancy Nancy story have been performed around the United States.

Besides continued work on the Fancy Nancy series, Robin illustrated Tea for Ruby by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.  Published in September 2008, it also became a New York Times best seller.

Robin lives in Irvine, California, with husband, attorney Robert Berman, two teens, Sasha and Benjamin, and dog Boo.  Bob is the model for the father in the Fancy Nancy series, Boo is a stand-in for Frenchy, and Sasha and Ben can be seen in the butterfly garden in Bonjour, Butterfly.

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