Meet Irene

Irene KellyI grew up in Morristown, New Jersey where I spent lots of time chasing fireflies, playing kick-the-can and sardines. My next-door neighbor was a lonely (and very clever) retired teacher named Gladys. Gladys had me ‘in for tea’ most afternoons, where she taught me to read by playing Scrabble. Reading became my favorite thing to do, especially while sitting high up in my backyard maple tree.

When I wasn’t reading, I was tending to an ever-growing collection of pets: goldfish, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles and dogs. I loved everything about animals and nature and always had a notebook filled with my thoughts and pictures.

When I went to college I decided to study nature more seriously, as a biology major. During my first year, I heard about a painting class that was supposed to be lots of fun. I decided to try it. I liked it so much that I signed up for more and more art classes and fewer and fewer biology classes. In 1980, I graduated from New York University with a fine arts degree.

One of my first jobs after college was as a book jacket designer and illustrator. Pretty soon, I met my husband, Jeffrey, and we had two children, Derek and Lucy. Both of my children love books and animals as much as I do. One summer, when Derek and Lucy were small, we saw salmon leaping over a waterfall. It was an amazing sight and it became the inspiration for my first book, Ebbie & Flo.

My family and I live in New Jersey. We read lots of books and keep lots of pets. A few years ago, we found an incubator at a garage sale. We bought some fertilized eggs, carefully placed them in the incubator and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually, one of the eggs hatched. We named the tiny chick Betty. We taught Betty to ride on the handlebars of a bike, pump on a swing and come when her name was called. Everyone, including our dog Nellie, loved Betty.

My life as an author and illustrator of children’s books is not that different from my childhood ~ I still read and write a lot, and spend tons of time outside. When I’m not working on my books, I love to visit schools and talk with kids about creating books.