Donald and Carol Carrick: Sepia Toned Understanding by Jake Nuckolls

I have a list in my head of currently touring bands that I don’t want to miss.  Some that I admit that I probably won’t see thanks to ticket pricing.  Josh Ritter, Wilco, Arcade Fire, James Taylor.  I have a similar list for authors.  It isn’t nearly as easy to see authors if you don’t frequent the conference circuit, but I’m blessed to live in the Pacific Northwest where the Western Washington University Children’s Literature Conference is located as well as the fabulous local Village Books bookstore.


There are of course authors/illustrators that I will never see.  Age caught them by the arm and helped them along.  Carol and Donald Carrick are one of those author/illustrator teams.  When I think of my childhood it is often in the sepia tones of their best books (in my opinion).  They dealt with difficult topics with the gentle hand of one who has been there before.  With the comforting wrinkled smile of the experienced, knowing that the only way out of this pain is through it.  Books like The Accident (death in the family), The Washout (fearsome power of nature), and Patrick’s Dinosaurs (the push and pull of fear and interest).



In researching some of the personal information I found that there is a startling lack of information outside of obituaries.  Especially regarding Donald’s life.


They were a prolific team, working together on 37 books, and separately on many many more.  Both were trained in the arts.  Carol graduated from Hofstra College on Long Island with a degree in Advertising Art.  Donald studied at several arts institutes including Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center as well as the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna.  They met while Carol was working for Coronet Magazine and Donald was freelancing.  Married in 1965, they moved several times, and began collaborating professionally in 1966. Christopher and Paul, their sons, were both inspirations and models for their words and illustrations.  It was these books that held the greatest impact in my life.  They were both known to see the world from the eyes of a child and, remarkably, provide comfort in the words and pictures when the world within had become overwhelming.



No better place is this seen than in the book The Accident.  The title itself is foreboding and the image of a boy fishing with his dog in a creek does nothing to lessen the feeling.  Following Christopher through this story is a little like watching a movie where you scream at the protagonist, “Don’t open that door!” We had a few dogs growing up and many met a disastrous fate.  It was awful.  I was a young boy who loved animals, but dogs most and to lose some of them to tragedy was more than hard.  The Accident was a safe place for me to process.  I could read and see Christopher’s anger, his grief, and how he moved on.



We didn’t get strong storms like the one in The Washout in my hometown in Bellingham.  Not very often.  Bellingham is a temperate climate on the salt water and the weather is mild, year-round.  The handful of strong storms I can remember as a child were frightening.  The thunderstorm that clapped so loud it felt like the house was falling down.  The silver thaw that coated the trees with thick ice and caused widespread power outages. The windstorm that knocked over an ancient cottonwood which killed the power for several days.  The Washout changed my perspective on these destructive forces of nature.  It is still beautiful in its own way.  Christopher rafts down a river with downed trees.  The world outside is altered greatly, but adventure is still there.



I might have checked out Patrick’s Dinosaurs more than anyone else at the Bellingham Public Library.  Might have.  I loved dinosaurs.  Most young boys do.  Not until I was much older did I realize what Carol and Donald were doing in the book.  Patrick is imagining dinosaurs as he and his brother walk through the zoo.  The dinosaurs are huge and intimidating on each page, shadows under the water, eyes peeking through windows.  One of the reasons I was fascinated with dinosaurs was that it made me feel both afraid and excited.  Patrick’s Dinosaurs perfectly toes that line and gives a stamp of acceptance to that uneasy feeling.


The Carrick’s books are treasures to me.  Books I pull of the shelves when a friend is in need of understanding, when nightmares run around the house, when the tough just seems to get tougher, and when I want to truly see through the eyes of a child.


Interested in more?  Try to find any of the following books of their collection:


Dark and Full of Secrets – A boy swims out too far and needs help.

Sleep Out – Staying the night outside for the first time can be scary

Stay Away from Simon! – Understanding differences and disabilities

Lost in the Storm – The family dog is lost and they must wait until morning to find him

Ben and the Porcupine – Caring for the family dog while trying to help the wild animal too

The Highest Balloon on the Common – A small child is lost at the fair

Paul’s Christmas Birthday – Dealing with disappointment and expectations



Meras, P (2013, June 13) Carol Carrick was Beloved Children’s Book Author. Retrieved from


“Carol Carrick” (2013, June 25) Retrieved from


“Donald Carrick, 60, Author and Illustrator” (1989, July 3) Retrieved from


When not recommending books, Jake Nuckolls can be found pushing any of his four kids on the swings, hacking back the blackberries getting too close to the chicken coop, and making eyes at his wife.  He’s an aspiring writer with a small moleskin journal in his pocket at all times.  Currently working on both a Caldecott and Newbery Bracket Challenge with his kids and wife respectively.  Follow along on Instagram as Stuffofstories and on Twitter as @thestoryhunt.