Self-por­trait by Tri­na Schart Hyman. © Tri­na Schart Hyman, cour­tesy R. Michel­son Gal­leries.

She was wear­ing plas­tic bug anten­nae and a black leo­tard when I met her for the first time. Hi,” she said, com­ing up to me. I’m Tri­na Hyman.”

At the time, Tri­na was the art direc­tor of the acclaimed children’s mag­a­zine Crick­et; she had invent­ed the famous bugs” that are still a fix­ture of the pub­li­ca­tion. I was nobody from nowhere — a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois and an aspir­ing children’s book writer. I’d pub­lished a num­ber of sto­ries in Crick­et, enough for Mar­i­anne Carus, the edi­tor, to invite me to the recep­tion for the mag­a­zine at the Inter­na­tion­al Read­ing Association’s con­fer­ence in Chicago.

I drove in from Urbana-Cham­paign and there I was, a mor­tal among the Olympian gods of children’s lit­er­a­ture: writ­ers Lloyd Alexan­der and I. B. Singer, illus­tra­tors Leonard Everett Fish­er and Tri­na Schart Hyman. And here was Tri­na, whose work I adored, talk­ing to me as if we were old friends, those plas­tic anten­nae bob­bing around every time she moved her head.

I know your work. Write some­thing real­ly good and I’ll illus­trate it,” she promised before mov­ing on.


A decade passed before that hap­pened. Mar­i­anne Carus asked if I had a Hanukkah sto­ry for the Decem­ber 1985 issue of Crick­et—the dead­line was approach­ing and she need­ed some­thing right away.

The only Hanukkah sto­ry I had was an odd tale that nobody want­ed. I’d graft­ed a Jew­ish folk hero, Her­shel of Ostropol, and the end­ing of The Wiz­ard of Oz onto a Ukrain­ian tale about a gob­lin who lived in a lake. I mul­ti­plied the gob­lin eight times and out came Her­shel and the Hanukkah Goblins.”

I was stunned when I saw the issue. Nobody had told me that Tri­na would illus­trate it. Sud­den­ly, things began com­ing together.

One of my friends told me, These illus­tra­tions look like a first draft for a pic­ture book. You should write to Tri­na and ask if she’s inter­est­ed in doing that.”

Unbe­knownst to me, Tri­na had approached John Brig­gs, the pub­lish­er and own­er of Hol­i­day House, to talk about exact­ly that pos­si­bil­i­ty. She want­ed anoth­er crack at Her­shel — with a lot more room and full col­or this time.

Mean­while, Margery Cuyler, who was to become my edi­tor, read the Decem­ber issue and called John. I want this sto­ry for a pic­ture book.”

Her­shel and the Hanukkah Gob­lins, 25th Anniver­sary Edi­tion, by Eric Kim­mel and illus­trat­ed by Tri­na Schart Hyman

Five years lat­er, I had a career and Tri­na had a Calde­cott Hon­or Medal.


Tri­na loved illus­trat­ing Her­shel and the Hanukkah Gob­lins; it was a vaca­tion from knights in armor and ladies in dis­tress. Why is it,” she once exclaimed, that when­ev­er some­one writes a sto­ry about knights, ladies, and drag­ons, they send this shit to me?”

Draw­ing a schnor­rer and a host of grotesque bad guys was a cher­ished vaca­tion for her. She put a lot of her­self into those illus­tra­tions. The moun­tains in the begin­ning of the sto­ry are the White Moun­tains of New Hamp­shire she could see from her house. The vil­lagers are based on friends from Lyme and Hanover. At least one of the gob­lins was inspired by a per­son­al encounter as well — the red gob­lin with the noses whom Her­shel chal­lenges to a drei­del game.

Draw­ing a schnor­rer and a host of grotesque bad guys was a cher­ished vaca­tion for her. She put a lot of her­self into those illustrations.

Where did that big nose with all the lit­tle noses on it come from? All I’d writ­ten about the gob­lin was that he had a fiery red face and two enor­mous horns.

That’s real­ly weird,” I told Trina.

You think the pic­ture is weird. You should have seen the nose in real life.”

You saw a real per­son with a nose like that?”

Bet­ter believe it. I once took a vaca­tion in Nor­mandy. I stopped at a small town to get gas. The man at the gas sta­tion came out, and I just stared. He had this big red drinker’s nose with all these lit­tle baby noses on it. I felt so sor­ry for the poor man. Imag­ine going through life with a nose like that. But the artist in me also said, I can use this.’ So after I filled my tank, I drove down the road a few miles, pulled over, took out my sketch­book, and sketched the nose so I wouldn’t for­get it. And when I first read your sto­ry, I knew at once: that’s where the nose goes! So in it went.”


What most peo­ple don’t under­stand about the Calde­cott Medal is that it’s for illus­tra­tion. The artist gets the medal. The author gets invit­ed to the din­ner. That’s it.

In 1990, Tri­na received the Calde­cott Hon­or Medal for her illus­tra­tions for Her­shel. At the cer­e­mo­ny, we sat side by side in the audi­ence. It was quite a year. Ed Young won the Medal for Lon Po Po. Lois Lowry took the New­bery for Num­ber the Stars.

The Hon­or Medal is the one to get,” Tri­na whis­pered to me. If you win the award, you have to sit up on stage with all these peo­ple star­ing at you. And you have to write a speech. It’s much bet­ter to be down here. Less pressure.”

She stud­ied Ed Young. How do you sup­pose he works, Eric?”

He puts on a beau­ti­ful silk robe and sits cross-legged on the floor before a scroll of hand­made paper. He med­i­tates for hours. Then he takes his brush and — zip, zip — the paint­ing is done.

The Devil’s Trick” from The Adven­tures of Her­shel of Ostropol. © Tri­na Schart Hyman, cour­tesy R. Michel­son Gal­leries. Tri­na Schart Hyman orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions are avail­able at R. Michel­son Galleries. 

I think you’re right,” Tri­na said. Wish I could do it that way.”

Years lat­er I asked Ed about his process. No,” he said, I don’t work that way at all. I wish I could, though.”

I don’t remem­ber what we had for din­ner, but I do remem­ber the dessert. It was a sort of large ice cream éclair. Quite good, actu­al­ly. I ate mine. And Trina’s, too. She thought it was disgusting.

The next day, after auto­graph­ing, Tri­na was approached by one of the com­mit­tee orga­niz­ers who asked if she enjoyed the dinner.

Oh, yes,” Tri­na said. Espe­cial­ly the dessert. It looked like a large choco­late penis.”

Which, to tell the truth, was a fair description.


Tri­na and I worked on oth­er projects over the years. She illus­trat­ed The Adven­tures of Her­shel of Ostropol, a col­lec­tion of Her­shel sto­ries, and Iron John, one of our favorite tales by the Grimms.

There was a time when I ran into some trou­bles. I won’t go into details. The result was end­less sleep­less nights and stom­ach churn­ing. Final­ly, at three o’clock one morn­ing, I knew I had to talk to someone.

I live in Ore­gon. It was a few hours lat­er in New Hamp­shire. I took a chance and called Tri­na. Maybe she’d hang up on me. Maybe she’d let me have it for both­er­ing her so ear­ly in the morn­ing. And what did my trou­bles have to do with her, any­way? It wasn’t as if we were inti­mate friends.

All the same, I had to take the chance.

Tri­na picked up. Hi, Eric!” she said in that won­der­ful slow drawl of hers. What’s going on?” She knew in a moment that some­thing wasn’t right.

Tri­na,” I began, I’m in big trou­ble and I need to talk to some­one. You’re the bravest per­son I know. Can you spare a few min­utes to lis­ten?” She was indeed the bravest per­son I knew, hav­ing recent­ly come through a can­cer scare with her sense of humor and opti­mism intact.

She was indeed the bravest per­son I knew, hav­ing recent­ly come through a can­cer scare with her sense of humor and opti­mism intact.

I told her my sto­ry. She lis­tened, then said, Lis­ten, Eric. I know this is scary for you now. It’s real­ly noth­ing in the big scheme of things. Do you want to know what’s going to hap­pen? We live. We die. And in the mid­dle we have some good times and some bad times. That’s your sto­ry. That’s my sto­ry. That’s the sto­ry of every­body who ever lived and who­ev­er is going to live. You just hope that when the end comes, it will be quick and won’t be too painful.

As for what you just told me, it will work itself out. The best result you’re hop­ing for prob­a­bly won’t hap­pen. But nei­ther will the worst. It will end up some­where in the mid­dle. It’s all about mon­ey any­way, which is not that big a deal. You’ll write a check and that will be the end of it. Life moves on and so will you. I promise that the next time we get togeth­er we’ll have a drink and laugh about it.

There’s one more thing I want you to remem­ber while you’re going through it all. Pills help. So does booze. And so do friends. So use them.”

Tri­na was right in every regard. And a year lat­er — just as she’d promised — we had a drink and laughed about it.


The last book Tri­na illus­trat­ed was writ­ten by her daugh­ter, Katrin Tchana. It’s called Chang­ing Woman and Her Sis­ters: Sto­ries of God­dess­es from Around the World.

Trina’s illus­tra­tions were a labor of love. She showed me some of the orig­i­nal paint­ings once when I vis­it­ed her stu­dio. Breathtaking.

And trag­ic. Because some of the pic­tures I saw are not the pic­tures that appear in the book.

Sev­er­al of the god­dess­es in the orig­i­nal illus­tra­tions were bare-breast­ed. It was Trina’s way of cel­e­brat­ing her­self as a woman, as an artist, and as a les­bian, and of thumb­ing her nose at any­one who refused to accept her as she was. It was a cel­e­bra­tion of all women of every cul­ture, race, and nationality.

So why are the pic­tures in the book different?

Tri­na was dying when she cre­at­ed the orig­i­nal paint­ings. Her can­cer had come back and was spread­ing. Every hour at the easel was a bat­tle against time.

She pre­sent­ed the art­work to her edi­tor, who gave it to Tri­na straight: It’s a mag­nif­i­cent book. But giv­en the times we live in, the bare breasts are a prob­lem. I won’t tell you what to do. If we keep them in, it will be an art book and sell 5,000 copies — maybe. If we cov­er them, the sky’s the lim­it. We may have a major book, an award win­ner. You decide. I’ll back you in either case.”

Tri­na had no strength left for a fight, and she want­ed Katrin to have a suc­cess­ful book. She gave in.

The com­pro­mise turned out to have been in vain. The orig­i­nal pub­lish­er can­celed the project, and the book was even­tu­al­ly pub­lished by Hol­i­day House, where Kate and John Brig­gs were among Trina’s clos­est friends and supporters.

What might have been.


I don’t want to close on a sad note because that wouldn’t be Trina.

I remem­ber one time in the mid-nineties when we were in San Fran­cis­co for a con­fer­ence. As we walked back to our hotel, the Gay Pride parade went right by us.

Nowa­days Pride parades take place in every major city in the coun­try, but at the time, they were much less com­mon. The pièce-de-résis­tance were the Dykes On Bikes: bare-breast­ed women with shaved heads, Brun­hilde braids, and tie-dyed mohawks, paint­ed all over with every col­or and design imag­in­able, roar­ing past on huge motorcycles.

I stood gawk­ing. I’d nev­er seen any­thing like it.

Tri­na didn’t bat an eye. After the parade passed, she gave me a wicked grin and said, Did you see that, Eric? There are a lot of us.”

Tri­na wasn’t wrong about much, but she was wrong about that.

There was only one Trina.

I miss her every day

Eric A. Kim­mel is the author of more than a hun­dred books for chil­dren, includ­ing the clas­sic Her­shel and the Hanukkah Gob­lins and more recent­ly Lit­tle Red Rosie: A Rosh Hashanah Sto­ry and Big Sam: A Rosh Hashanah Tall Tale. He is the only author to have won the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award five times for The Chanukkah GuestThe Mys­te­ri­ous Guests: A Sukkot Sto­ryWon­ders & Mir­a­cles: A Passover Com­pan­ionThe Golem s Latkes, and Hanukkah Bear. The Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries has award­ed him the Syd­ney Tay­lor Life­time Achieve­ment Award.