TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Mercer Mayer

Mercer Mayer

Mercer Mayer was born on December 30, 1943 in Little Rock, Arkansas. Mayer attended elementary school in Camden, Arkansas, but due to the fact that his father was in the United States Navy, the family moved often. This did not stop him from filling his free time with fun activities like snake- and lizard-hunting and reading books. After temporarily settling in communities all over the country, the Mayers finally settled in Honolulu, Hawaii, where Mayer graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Upon graduating from high school in 1961, Mayer attended the Honolulu Academy of Arts. At that time, Mayer and his mother were commissioned to decorate the Kahala Hilton Hotel with collage wall panels. He also supplemented his income by being a political cartoonist for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Honolulu.

Mayer attended the Honolulu Academy of Arts for about a year. It was at this time that Mayer decided he wanted to be a children's book illustrator. "I always liked to draw, and one day I decided I had nothing to lose, so I made a lot of sketches and began to peddle them." [2] His professors discouraged this career choice because they did not believe that he would be able to make a living at it.

In 1964, Mayer left the Hawaiian Islands and moved to New York, where he received additional art training at the Arts Student League in New York City. It was hear that Mayer met his first wife Marianna. After scouring the streets of new York looking for an illustration job, Mayer finally received some good advice from an art director. He told the foundering artist to throw away his portfolio because it was so bad.

While this greatly angered Mayer, he did take the advice and started over. He started working at an advertising agency at the that time, and in his spare time he sketched things he remembered from his childhood and even some creatures he made up on his own. With this new portfolio to show off his talent, he was asked to illustrate The Gillygoofang, which was published by Dial Press, and Outside My Window, which was published by Harper and Row.

Mayer found a position as a door-to-door salesman, a choice which left him with time to work on his illustration projects. It seemed that his interest in children's book illustration was not for naught for his first book was a picture book entitled A Boy, a Dog, and a Frog, which was published by Dial Press in 1967. It was a success and highly praised. The book, which had no words, depended on telling the story through Mayer's illustrations, has allowed many to give him credit as being one of the creators of the wordless picture form. Mayer went on to publish five more books in this series.

There's a Nightmare in My Closet was published in 1968. "It was a true story. When I was a child I was afraid of the dark. Before I went to sleep at night, I would close the closet door. You have to hear the click of the latch catching or else you won't know if the googly monster's coming out. Then if you hear the latch click during the night you know you have to run...."

The book was compared by many critics to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. While the critics were far from complimentary of the book in their reviews, Mayer believed that the constant coverage helped make the book a bestseller because all the talk made people interested in taking a look at it.

In 1973, Mayer and his wife Marianna, with whom he had already collaborated on a number of works together, bought a fifteen acre farm near Roxbury, Connecticut, where they raised horses. With three horses and two dogs, the couple could also observe the wonders of nature in the river running next to their property.

Mayer continued to publish books during the 1970's. Some were from the popular Frog series, while other were independent tales. In 1976, he joined Golden Publishing, the publishers of the inexpensive Golden Books. These books were, and still are, sold in most grocery and drug stores.

It was in 1978 that Mayer had a number of major life changes. The first of which was his divorce from his wife Marianna. It was also in 1978 that Mayer started publishing his Little Monster/Little Critter books with Golden Press. This series became quite successful and is probably what he is best known for. These books are brightly illustrated with simple, didactic plots.

In 1979, Mayer married his second wife Jo. The couple became the proud parents of two children, a son named Len and a daughter named Jessie.

In 1982, Mayer began working from his home in Bridgewater, Connecticut. He tries to stick to a seven-hour, five-day work week.

Besides filling his time with writing, Mayer enjoys playing guitar, painting, walking in the woods, and sitting by the river that abuts his property.

Mayer has been a prolific author and illustrator, having produced over 80 works. Besides his own books, he has illustrated for such popular authors as John Bellairs, Jan Wahl, Jay Williams, and Jan Yolen. His books are consistent favorites of young library borrowers. Stories and pictures are funny and include casts of friendly monsters, inventive and imaginative children, and insensitive adults. Mayer communicates a variety of valuable lessons to young children about facing fears and presents a series of problems which are resolved during the course of the story.

"I never think of it [writing books] as being done in terms of children. My books are for the children in all of us really," said Mayer once about his books.

He currently lives in Roxbury, Connecticut with his third wife Gina, with whom he co-writes many of the popular Little Critter books.