Inuit Mother & Child

Inuit 72dpi© Durga Yael Bernhard

This year marks the twentieth year that my picture book A Ride On Mother’s Back, published in 1997, has been in print.  The book was written by my ex-husband Emery Bernhard the year before.  As a husband-wife team, we worked together on the basic concept of the book – that of babies being carried through everyday activities on the bodies of their caregivers.   As believers in “attachment parenting” who carried our own two babies everywhere, we wanted to focus on those cultures where baby-carrying is still common practice today.

Our editor at Gulliver Books, an imprint of Harcourt-Brace (which later merged with Houghton-Mifflin to become Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt or HMH) had a lot of questions about the targeted age of our readers.  The text was too advanced for little kids, yet little kids and babies were shown in the book.  Emery and I had to convince our editor that older children were interested in babies – including their own past babyhood.  Then we had to present a variety of cultures with parenting practices that fit our book.  Without computers or internet, I had over fifty books out of the library for illustration reference and research.

A Ride On Mother's Back coverI especially enjoyed painting this image of an Inuit mother and child.  The stark landscape enabled the characters to stand out.  The baby is carried in the hood of the mother’s caribou-skin parka, where she is snug and happy as her mother fishes for Arctic char.  Their sled dog puppy, with its oversized paws, scrambles over a block of ice, amusing the child.  Like all the children in this book, baby Pelagie is not only secure but stimulated – soaking up the world around her, and learning as she is carried through her day.  The reader is also invited to learn, as the back of the book contains more information about the people shown in each illustration, and the culture they live in.

You can order a signed copy of A Ride on Mother’s Back through my webstore here.  You can also order a greeting card of the image by filling in the image name here, or a poster here.

A good week to all!


D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of
LOVE ISNew! – a unique crossover book for all ages
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVENew!! Explore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!
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Chickadee in Winter



This lovely little black-capped chickadee is just part of an illustration from my book of nature opposites Earth, Sky, Wet, Dry – published in 2000 by Orchard Books.  Unlike most of my other picture books, this one was illustrated by direct observation.  My previous project, the illustrations for  A Ride on Mother’s Back, entailed more library research than I had ever done for a picture book.  Now I wanted to get outside and work directly from nature.

The weather smiled on my work one day in February.  Fresh snow graced the branches outside my window; and as the clouds retreated, the winter birds resumed their busy activity.  I got to paint this image from the snowy scene right in front of my face!

I still think back on that day with a smile.

Earth, Sky, Wet, Dry is out of print – but if you want a copy, you can find it on Amazon.  The book was also published in Korea!

A good week to all.

Earth Sky Wet Dry cover

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Learning About Trees at Woodstock Day School

WDS drawing 1

On February 2nd, I was invited to visit the Woodstock Day School – a very special private school in my area loved by many and attended by many of my friends’ children.  I made my way through a labyrinth of little rooms in what was once a barn long ago.  Children played happily with puzzles, their heads bent in concentration as teachers busily made preparations for the day.  I was led to a sunny classroom, and presently about forty students ranging in age from four to seven joined me on the carpet.

WDS 1This was one of the youngest groups I’ve visited in a long time.  I had been informed that the classes had studied forests and trees, so I began by reading one of my youngest picture books Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree.  This book is a rhyming poem that introduces readers to both ordinary and extraordinary trees around the world – and the diverse children who interact with them.  Alliteration abounds as a girl in California “spots a spider spinning a web”; a child in South Africa “creeps along a crack like a chameleon”; or a boy in Guinea, West Africa “leaps to a limb like a leopard”.   At the back of the book, more information is offered about each tree for curious or older readers.  This group was curious! – but by the time we got to the end of the book, their restless little limbs were ready to leap and climb.  We read two paragraphs, and moved on.

WDS 2Next I showed my newest book, The Life of an Olive.  This book is targeted for older readers from age 7-12 – but it is a marvelous book for children to grow into.   It tells the story of a 2000-year-old olive tree in the Galilee (northern Israel), and the history that unfolds in its valley over the course of its lifetime.  With such a young group I decided to skip the historical component, and focused on the tree and the many children who interact with it over the centuries.  “What is a century?”, one child asked.  “Why can’t you an eat an olive straight from the tree?” asked another.  As I showed my research photos, my sketches, and the final illustrations that I painted for the book, many questions arose.

WDS 3Olive trees are fascinating, with their miraculous ability to regenerate (even if cut down); their amazing longevity (2000 years or longer); and most of all, their unique interdependence with humans (who must prune them if the olive tree is to thrive and produce abundant fruit).  The children learned that olives change from yellow to green to mauve to black as they ripen.  They saw a shepherdess in the year 77CE (and learned what “Common Era” means) playing a lyre, and learned how I based this character on a friend of my daughter.  They saw a mother and daughter fleeing from a fire during the Roman invasion of 132CE, and a mongoose waddling by as the olive tree is abandoned for almost three hundred years.  They saw a brother and sister who fled the Inquisition, making olive mash cakes for cooking fuel; and a family from Belarus pickling olives in salt water in the late 1800s.  There was not enough time to read the whole book, but the children loved these little excerpts!

Comparing an original illustration to the printed book.

Comparing an original illustration (gouache and watercolor pencil) to the printed book.

Every book has its “special challenge”, and I explained to the children that for this book, I had to patiently articulate the tiny leaves and detailed bark of the olive tree.  Each illustration took eight to twelve hours to bring to completion!  To give a taste of what this is like, we put a large piece of sturdy mural paper on the floor with the outline of an olive trunk drawn on it.  With colored pencils and photos for reference just like professional illustrators, the children set about filling in bark, leaves, flowers and fruit.  Together, they accomplished in less than an hour what took me many days!

WDS drawing 2

OLIVE cover smallThe Life of an Olive has a historical timeline, a glossary, and two pages of facts about olive trees for older children – but the book may also be read in excerpts to young children.  It’s a great book for sharing and discussion.  I hope you’ll consider sharing this special book with your child!

You can order a signed copy of The Life of an Olive here.  The paperback costs $10.50, and the hardcover edition will be available soon.  Just Like Me, Climbing a Tree (hardcover, $16.95) may be ordered here.  All my children’s books may be explored here.  Also available on Amazon.

Special thanks to Pam Camara for inviting me to Woodstock Day School.  You made my day!  I would love to come back again and do some more reading and drawing with this wonderful group of happy children.


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