Kevin Sherry has always wanted to be a children’s book illustrator.
“I’ve been drawing ever since I could put pencil to paper,” he recalled.
Now the 28-year-old Baltimore resident is the successful author/illustrator of five popular children’s books, including I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean and I’m the Best Artist in the Ocean. Both feature a giant, blue squid.
Patrons of Pikesville Branch Library will have the chance to celebrate Children’s Book Week with him at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 3. He will also be at the Perry Hall, White Marsh and Cockeysville branch libraries through May 7.
During his presentations, Sherry will give a slide show, feature some of his books, and work some of his new puppet characters.
While Sherry’s presentation will focus on his career, it is primarily for kids, said Youth Specialist Kathy Casserly of the Baltimore County Public Library system. "He has written several books that are a hit with the preschool set," she said.
Casserly said Sherry was selected to be this year’s presenter because “he is a local author who we thought would attract attention.”
Preschoolers love the books' large pictures, and their bright, fun plots, said Karen Hoffman, programming team leader at Pikesville Branch Library. Most importantly, his work is good for a big group, she said.
While Sherry’s simple animal images and playful performance art are appealing to kids, his edgy, working-artist intensity makes him fascinating to parents as well.
So, Sherry's presentation—there are no reservations required—will appeal to the entire family.
If you miss Sherry in Pikesville, you can still catch him May 1-7 at one of the four other Baltimore County Public Library branches.
“This is a dream come true,” said Sherry, referring to his journey from a youngster growing up in New Jersey—the son of a teacher and a roofer—to the author he has become, pitching ideas to an editor at Penguin Books.
The on-again, off-again Baltimore resident owns a home in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore City and maintains a studio in nearby Woodberry, but lately he has been living and working on a farm in Shepherdstown, WV.
As a child he was “a huge reader,” he said, recalling many after-school programs and summer enrichment classes. “I was always writing narrative stories.”
As an art student at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, he continued the natural progression, combining storytelling with illustrations. There, he began making comic books, graphic novels and ‘zines—all self-published works involving stories and graphic elements.
The moment he was discovered by the publishing realm was part serendipity and part hard work. “An editor from Penguin Books picked up my ‘zine at a New York art festival and contacted me,” he said. A ‘zine, he explained, is “a handmade, photocopied, one-of-kind magazine.”
From then on, he had “an open invitation” to pitch ideas to an editor at Dial, a division of Penguin Books for young readers. But it took a while for his work to catch on.
“It took me a few years to understand their format. I started pitching in 2005. I was giving them ideas that they were rejecting." Dozens of ideas later was when he finally achieved that “Eureka!” moment.
He decided he would read every single book that Dial had put out. And what he discovered was “a pattern, a formula, a cadence.”
“They wanted their brand," he said. "There is an art of bookselling. You have to listen to them. There is a collaboration between the artist and the publisher.”
Now, his books are in Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and other major retailers.
Meanwhile, he had graduated from MICA and started Squidfire, a popular local T-shirt business featuring his original artwork, with friend and business partner Jean-Baptiste Regnard. “I was a silkscreener,” he said. “I was already making T-shirts in college. There was a T-shirt boom. We jumped on it and it took off.”
It wasn’t quite that simple, of course. Sherry’s eternal optimism is a thread in his life as well as his work.
He explained that self-promotion was essential if they wanted to succeed. “We would travel all around—it was a big hustle at first." They went to New York every weekend and worked late hours. It was a struggle, "but things kept getting better and better,” he said.
What started out as a mail-order T-shirt business turned into a successful storefront on Hampden’s main street. In late 2010, the store relocated to its new Thames Street store in Fells Point.
With the T-shirt business percolating under the management of his business partner, and with the book business taking off, Sherry has already turned his energies in a new direction. “You have to keep making new art every day,” he said.
He has started dabbling in puppetry, which he will share in his library programs next week, and he made a three-minute YouTube video to promote his art.
Soon he’ll return to New York to meet with his publisher. “I’m going up to pitch 10 more ideas,” he said.
For now, living on a farm with six goats, 20 chickens, three dogs, two cats and seven friends, stimulates his creativity, he said. “There are good libraries in Shepherdstown. Living there freed my mind.”
His ultimate goal is to teach at the college level. And he is working on his sixth book.
Baltimore County Public Library system Children’s Book Week events with Kevin Sherry:
- Pikesville—Tuesday, May 3, 7 p.m. 1301 Reisterstown Road
- Perry Hall—Wednesday May 4, 7 p.m. 9685 Honeygo Boulevard
- White Marsh—Saturday May 7, 10:30 a.m. 8133 Sandpiper Circle
- Cockeysville—Saturday, May 7, 2 p.m. 9833 Greenside Drive
For more information about upcoming programs in Pikesville, visit the Pikesville Branch Library’s Calendar of Events or call 410-887-1234.
The Pikesville Branch hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon. through Thurs.; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Fri. and Sat.; and 1-5 p.m. Sun.