Gail E. Haley, Spinner of Stories

Gail E. Haley, Spinner of Stories

Gail was a girl who loved stories. She wrote them and illustrated them from a very young age and created stories told with puppet shows to entertain her little sisters. She spent part of her childhood in the North Carolina countryside in a place called Shuffletown. Both of her parents were artists, and her father worked for the newspaper The Charlotte Observer. Visiting him at his workplace inspired her to pursue a career in art, too. She wanted to study in New York but compromised with her parents and attended schools in Virginia.

A Career Takes Flight

Gail decided that a career in technical art was unfulfilling. She wanted to tell stories, having been inspired during her growing up years by the stained glass panels of fairy tale illustrations that decorated the local library’s children’s wing. So, she went back to school. Encouraged by one of her professors, Gail wrote, illustrated, and published her own children’s book, My Kingdom for a Dragon, borrowing money from a bank to do so. She sold enough copies to pay back the loan and was encouraged to keep writing and drawing. In time, she would go on to write and illustrate many books for children that would be put out by major publishers and find wide audiences.A Story, A Story: An African Tale

Stories of Places, Stories with Meaning

Growing up as a thoughtful child in the still segregated South, Gail’s books have sometimes dealt with hard issues she came face-to-face with in her youth, such as My Father’s Beast, a story of addiction, and Two Bad Boys: A Very Old Cherokee Tale, which came from a tribe that is native to North Carolina and includes themes of stewardship of natural resources. Gail’s love of travel and exploring other cultures has helped her find subjects for her books, too. She and her family lived for a time in Virginia, and she was inspired to retell the story of Jack Jouett’s Ride, when a tavern keeper’s son rode cross-country at breakneck speed to warn Thomas Jefferson and other legislators that British troops were coming to capture and imprison them.

For a year, Gail lived in the Caribbean and was fascinated by the tales told there of Anansi the trickster spider god. She was able to share the magic and fascination of traditional African-style storytelling in her Caldecott Medal-winning book, A Story, A Story: An African Tale. Another change in scenery led to another book. While living back in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, she wrote and illustrated Mountain Jack Tales, retelling classic folktales about a poor boy named Jack who went out to seek his fortune and had many adventures.

Gail now lives in North Carolina and sometimes teaches at Appalachian State University. She has taken up her puppetry pastime again and visits schools to give workshops on her stories.

Fast Facts

Born: Gail Einhart on November 4, 1939, in Charlotte, North Carolina, daughter of George C. (an advertising manager and artist) and P. Louise Bell (an artist) Einhart

Education: Richmond Professional Institute (Commercial Art and Fashion Illustration) and the University of Virginia (Fine Art)

Married: Joseph A. Haley, a mathematician in 1959; Arnold F. Arnold, artist, writer, and designer in 1966; David Considine, a professor of mass media, in 1983

Children: Marguerite Madeline and Geoffrey David

First Book: My Kingdom for a Dragon (written and illustrated—and printed—on her own) in 1962. Gail tells the fascinating tale behind the tale here.

Selected Awards: Caldecott Medal for A Story, A Story: An African Tale (1971); Kate Greenaway Medal for The Post Office Cat (1976); The Green Man was a Parents’ Choice recipient; and she has received Japan’s Kodai Tosho award and the Kerlan Award.Mountain Jack Tales

Career Highlights: Writer in Residence at the Reich College of Education at Appalachian State University, where she has also taught puppetry. Her collection of puppets is on display at ASU, and she continues to visit schools.


On the Web:

Gail E. Haley: Author, Illustrator, Puppeteer: biography, information on her books, illustrations, audio interviews, and a way to contact this very talented woman.

“Gail E(inhart) Haley.” (2003). In Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. Available in the Literature Resource Center database with your CRRL card

Below, a storyteller and a musician interpret Gail's book, Kokopelli: Drum in Belly: