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Denise Fleming. An Author Study. Denise Fleming The Maker of Things. Denise Campbell Fleming was born January 31, 1950 in Toledo, Ohio to Frank, a realtor, and Inez, a homemaker. Every week she would ride her bike to The Sanger Branch Library and choose 3 books to read.

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denise fleming

Denise Fleming

An Author Study

denise fleming the maker of things
Denise FlemingThe Maker of Things
  • Denise Campbell Fleming was born January 31, 1950 in Toledo, Ohio to Frank, a realtor, and Inez, a homemaker.
  • Every week she would ride her bike to The Sanger Branch Library and choose 3 books to read.
  • Fleming often spent weekends with her grandparents where she learned all about flowers and the creatures that lived in her grandmother’s garden.
  • Both sets of grandparents felt strongly about education and learning and passed that on to Denise.

“My books do not have many words, but I start with hundreds of words—writing and rewriting until I have just the right words to tell the story.”

Denise Fleming

denise fleming the maker of things1
Denise Fleming The Maker Of Things
  • From 3rd to 8th grade, every Saturday, Denise attended art classes at the Toledo Museum of Art. Before class she and her friends would wander through the gallery making up stories to go along with the paintings and sculptures. She loved the Impressionists the best.
  • Because Denise liked art more than anything else, she applied to Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan after high school and majored in illustration.
  • Denise’s love of strong color was inspired by her mother’s use of brightly colored fabric and painted walls throughout their house. Her yard was full of many brightly colored flowers.

“I experimented with different styles of writing, different art techniques until I found my style, my technique.”

Denise Fleming

denise fleming the maker of things2
Denise Fleming The Maker of Things
  • Denise spent hours with her father

in their basement workshop where

she made things of clay, wood, paint,

wheat paste, newspaper and whatever else

was available.

  • She has also built furniture, rooms, stone walls, and sculptures with her husband, David whom she met at Art school.
  • Denise worked as a freelance artist for years before she got the courage to go to New York City to look for book work. As Denise states, “There were books in my head that I wanted to share, but I was more comfortable making art than writing. Writing has so many rules and I was worried I’d make a mistake.”
  • At the age of 41, Denise wrote and illustrated her first book, In the Tall, Tall Grass.
denise s writing process
Denise’s Writing Process
  • Denise starts with hundreds of words but because most of her books have only a few words she writes and rewrites until she has just the right ones. She can spend an entire day moving one word around.
  • Ideas for books that haven’t been written are kept on index cards.
  • Most of Denise’s books are about nature and are inspired by her childhood.
  • In her yard she has created many natural areas full of plants, trees and bushes, which attract many creatures for her to study and observe. Many of these creatures as well as her pets have appeared in her books.
  • When Denise gets an idea she rushes to get it down on paper before she forgets it.
  • She doesn’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation in her first draft. The idea is what’s important.
  • In the margins of her paper, Denise sometimes scribbles drawings to go along with her writing.
  • She then reads over her first draft circling the parts she likes.
  • Her second draft is read aloud by her husband or daughter. If they stumble over any part she knows she needs to revise it.
making pictures
Making Pictures
  • Denise creates the pictures for her books through a process called pulp painting, a simple paper making technique.
  • She mixes water and small brightly colored cotton fibers.
  • Then she pours this pulp mixture onto a wire screen where the water drains off leaving the fiber on the screen. This forms the base and background for her pulp painting.
  • Denise “draws” on the background using squeeze bottles filled with colored pulp for shapes with soft edges or uses stencils she cuts from a type of foam for shapes with hard edges.
making pictures con t
Making Pictures Con’t
  • To create textures she adds to the pulp materials such as coffee grounds, pine needles or dried leaves.
  • Layer upon layer is built up until Denise is satisfied with the image.
  • The image is then flipped off the screen, pressed and dried.
  • The results are the beautiful illustrations Denise uses in her books made from her handmade paper.
launching a denise fleming unit of study
Launching a “Denise Fleming” Unit of Study
  • I would introduce students to Denise Fleming by sharing some of her illustrations with the students in order to highlight her medium of choice: pulp painting.
  • I would share several of her books with my students and have them compare and find some of the common elements in each of her illustrations. We would also look at the commonality among the characters found in her books. Most of her books are about animals and include stories inspired by her own childhood.
  • I would then have my students complete the activities found in the remainder of this PowerPoint.
the cow who clucked
The Cow Who Clucked


The book is about a cow who lost her moo. She set

out on the farm to find her moo. She searched the

farm and visited all the animals to see which animal had her moo. As she stopped to nibble some grass the met Bee, but Bee didn’t have her moo. As she cooled her feet in the creek she met Fish, but Fish didn’t have her moo. As she crossed the meadow she met Goat, but Goat didn’t have her moo. As night began to fall on the farm Cow headed back to the barn, sad and disappointed that she had not found her moo. As she entered the barnyard she shuffled past Hen. As Cow said “Cluck, Cluck” to Hen, Hen replied with “Moo, Moo.” At last Cow had found her moo! As night fell, Cow and Hen were both very happy to have their voice back. This book is defiantly interesting to its intended audience. The illustrations extend and enhance the written text. The visual design of this book is very unique in that Denise Fleming created the illustrations using colored cotton fiber, hand-cut stencils, and squeeze bottles. Through the use of line, color and shape the illustrations appear to have texture to them. The text works with the illustrations to create a meaningful story. The artistic media defiantly enhances the the Cow in the story. The thin/light lines convey a fragile cow, not an angry cow. The diagonal lines create a sense that the cow is moving from one animal to another throughout the story. The color in this book is full spectrum which makes it fun for young readers to read.

the cow who clucked1
The Cow Who Clucked

Teaching Ideas:

I think this book would be a great “Copy Cat” book. Students could rewrite the story using a different animal that loses its voice. Students could choose an animal to lose its voice and choose other animals for their animal to meet along the way while searching for its voice. Students could create illustrations using paper collage to resemble the book. I think this would be a great activity for the beginning of school because all students are familiar with different kinds of animals and using the text for a model all students could be successful. This would allow children to model their individual books after Denise Fleming’s book using the repetitive writing style and papermaking technique for the illustrations.

Another classroom connection that I would make would be to introduce Vincent Van Gogh’s, The Starry Night. The picture is the night sky filled with swirling clouds, stars ablaze with luminescence, and a bright crescent moon, and compare it to the picture on the End Pages of Denise Fleming’s The Cow Who Clucked.

NCSOS Connection:

4.05 Write and/or participate in writing by using an author's model of language and extending the model

4.06 Compose a variety of products using a writing process.

mama cat has three kittens
Mama Cat has Three Kittens


This is a cute book about a mother cat and her

three kittens. As mother cat goes about her

day-to-day activities of being a cat two of her

kittens, Skinny and Fluffy, follow her lead, but

the third kitten, Boris just naps all day long. I love the mouse that seems to be hiding in the background on each page. How ironic, a mouse watching the cats, usually it’s the other way around. Children would love to find the “hidden” creatures on each page. The illustrations in this story are fun and very creative. Denise Fleming uses pulp painting to create an image in handmade paper. “The paper is the picture. The picture is the paper.” Fleming captures the eyes of her readers through the full spectrum of color in the visual design of this book. The vivid paper and unique coloring has the reader wanting to reach out and touch the pages in an attempt to feel the illustrations and texture they exhibit. The full-bleed illustrations extend to the edges of each page. I would say this would be a “good book” in the eyes of small children based on the visual appeal of the book. The Mama Cat’s eyes on the cover is enough to capture the attention of any young reader to want to discover the content in the book.

mama cat has three kittens1
Mama Cat has Three Kittens

Teaching Ideas:

Using this text as a read aloud activity students could share some of the things that their mother has taught them. During Writer’s Workshop students could create a story about things they have learned from their mothers including full-bleed illustrations to go with their story.

Another activity would be visit and complete the paper plate Boris and have students to write a story about Boris. They might even decide to have Boris have an adventure with the mouse in the story.

NCSCOS Connection:

3.04 Share personal experiences and responses to experiences with text

pumpkin eye
Pumpkin Eye


Denise Fleming does a wonderful

job of taking the sounds and

mystery of Halloween creating a fun

“spooky” book for young children. Children love to dress up and go out on Halloween night and through this book children can enjoy the rhyme and colorful descriptive language of a “Spooky Night”. The illustrations were created by pouring colored cotton fiber through hand-cut stencils. The full-bleed images with bright colorful pages just capture the attention of young readers. The rhyme of the text allows a young audience to participate in a read aloud activity. The mysterious eyes on each page give a sense of suspense of what’s next…

pumpkin eye1
Pumpkin Eye

Teaching Ideas:

I found this lesson for Pumpkin Eye I thought it was perfect.


1. To develop rhyming skills.

2. To develop the use of descriptive language.

3. To develop expressive skills by interpreting illustrations.

Ask the children to talk about their last Halloween. What did you like about it? What will you do next Halloween? Tell the children that the author of this book, Denise Fleming, loved Halloween when she was a little girl. It was a special night because she was allowed to stay out after dark, she could be anybody or anything she wanted to be, and she was allowed to ask for candy and eat it too! She decided to write this book that explores many of the sights, sounds and smells of Halloween.

1. What are some of the beautiful colors you see in Denise Fleming’s illustrations?

2. Try to remember some of the rhymes you heard. What are some of them?

3. Look at the jack-o-lanterns that line the street. What are the expressions on their faces saying to you?

4. Which of the trick-or-treaters are scary? What is scary about them?

5. There are some new words in this book. What do these words mean: wicks, pounding, spirits, eerie, swooping, tattered. What are some other words that are new to you?


1. Have a drawing activity to develop expressive skills without using verbal language. Have the children draw pumpkins and create eyes that express an emotion.

2. Follow-up your drawing exercise by developing a bank of descriptive words that express varied emotions.

3. Develop rhyming skills by finding all of the rhyming words in the story. After the words from the book have been organized into different rhyming families, add words not found in the book to your lists.

4. Have the children talk about their favorite trick-or-treater in the book. What do you like about that character?

in the tall tall grass
In the Tall, Tall Grass


This is an adorable story with a fuzzy, yellow

caterpillar as the narrator throughout the story. He

begins his tour and crawls through the tall, tall grass on a sunny afternoon and ends as the sun goes down and the moon begins to shine. He shows us many different insects and animals we could find. As we inch our way through the grass with the friendly little caterpillar we see bees, ants, and beetles just to name a few. The caterpillar also allows us to take time and heart the sound some of these animals make.

Teaching Ideas:

We would read together this delightful story. I would share my personal experience about going for a walk and looking outside. I would then ask them to turn to a friend on their right and tell what they see when they play outside.

We would go outside and look around at the ground and have children tell me what they notice. At first they may only tell me they see grass or dirt. Then I would give them One Small Square made out of construction paper. I would ask them to put that square down on the ground and deeply observe really closely what they can see in their square. I would remind them to look very closely inside their square. I would also invite them to share their other senses. I would remind them that, “Good observers don’t just look with their eyes. They use their ears, their hands, all of their senses.” (A Place for Wonder p. 38).

in the tall tall grass1
In the Tall, Tall Grass

Teaching Ideas Con’t:

Next I would model for them and show them how I had done this same assignment from home and show them in my science notebook how I had written down what I observed inside my square. I would then tell them that once they have really examined inside their square they may start writing in their science notebook what they observed. I would allow the class about 10 minutes to complete this assignment. Once we complete it, we would go back inside to class and as a whole class talk about what the children noticed in their square. The ultimate goal with children sharing is for everyone to see the details some noticed in their square. This would help our children learn to notice details and hopefully as they write these descriptions it would help them to add detail in their story writing. We would also read the book again and talk about the wonderful, rich description the author uses in her book for each insect and animal.

NCSCOS Connections:

Science Grade 1

Goal 1: The learner will conduct investigations and make observations to build an understanding of the needs of living organisms.

time t o sleep
Time to Sleep


This is a sweet story about a bear that sniffs the air

one day and notices that winter has come and it is

time for her nap. But first before going to sleep for the winter Bear says that she must tell Snail. Then begins a circular notion because then snail tells skunk, skunk tells turtle and so on. Each animal who tries to put off going to sleep for the winter smells, hears, or tastes the signs of winter. Finally, ladybug is the last one to be told that winter is upon them and she rushes to tell bear who is already asleep in the cave.

Teaching Ideas:

We would read together this delightful story. I would go back to the story and we would take the time to look at the beautifully illustrated pages in this story and talk about how the author did not draw the pictures but instead uses a special colored cotton fulp paper and hand cut stencils of the animals. Then we would talk about hibernation and what that word means. Using the Smartboard, I would have the class share what animals they think hibernate in the winter. Then we would record the animals they said hibernate. Once we checked our answers and put the correct animals that hibernate in the winter I would put students into groups of 3-4 based on their common interest in the animals they shared. I would use the animals they shared and develop Internet Workshops for students to participate in to gain information about their animal and where they go to hibernate. Using the information and pictures they find during the workshop, I would ask students to write collaboratively a nonfiction picture book about their animal. Then we would publish these books and add them to our classroom nonfiction collection for our class to read throughout the year.

time to sleep
Time to Sleep

Teaching Ideas Con’t:

I would provide some safe child friendly internet sites the children could use to find information about their animal:

NCSCOS Connections:

Science – Grade 1

Competency Goal 1: The learner will conduct investigations and make observations to build an understanding of the needs of living organisms.

Objective 1.02: Investigate the needs of a variety of different animals:



Lunchtime! This is a wonderful story where a mouse is so

hungry he first sinks his teeth into a crisp white turnip and

then can’t stop eating. He then eats a tasty, orange carrot and on to sweet, yellow corn. Although the mouse gets full he continues to eat then takes a nap and then eats again at dinnertime! I like the way Denise Fleming uses bright, bold colors in her book. The background colors are the colors of the spectrum. It is interesting how she starts the book with a white background which is all colors combined. As you read the whole book you will see the colors of the spectrum that you see in a rainbow. I found it interesting that she ends the book on black which is the absence of color. All of the other colors have been used on the previous pages in the story.

Teaching Ideas:

We would read together this delightful story about the little mouse that loves to eat! There are several activities that we would do with this particular book. First we would have to discuss the beautiful artwork and how the author uses each color of the spectrum in her book. Then we would talk about sequencing the story. I would give each child a mouse pattern and tummy flap pattern on construction paper. Then as I reread the story the children will draw the food that I read into the mouse’s tummy. Then this would allow each child to retell the story to a friend in class, to me, or to a parent. As we study the food pyramid we would categorize the food into the correct food groups. An example the green peas, yellow corn would go in the vegetable section. Then we would put the blue berries and watermelon in the fruit section. The last activity we would do with this book is together we would list our favorite foods. Once we had our foods listed we would brainstorm together other names of foods for each letter of the alphabet. Once we had several foods listed for each letter of the alphabet, together we would create an ABC Book about our favorite foods. Each child would have a chance to create their own page in our class book by illustrating their favorite food and then write a sentence about their favorite food. Once the book is complete, we would publish our book and put it in our library so everyone would have a chance to look at our book.


NCSCOS Connection:

Healthful Living – Grade 1

COMPETENCY GOAL 4: The learner will apply knowledge and behavior self management skills to areas of nutrition and physical activity for healthy growth, development, and maintenance.

Reading – Grade 1

COMPETENCY GOAL 2: The learner will develop and apply strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard, and viewed.

Objective 2.05: Predict and explain what will happen next in stories.

Objective 2.06: Self-monitor comprehension by using one or two strategies (e.g.,questioning, retelling, summarizing).

an interview with the author
An Interview With the Author
  • Where did you grow up?
    • I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where I live still. I am a midwestern girl.
  • What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
    • It seems like I was always writing and drawing. I wanted to share my ideas from the beginning. A bit bossy am I.
  • What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
    • I started collecting picture books in art school. I was crazy about the whole picture book format. I realized, as I was sharing books with my daughter, that making books is what I needed to do.
  • Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
    • I have always been interested in nature and the outdoors which is the subject of many of my books.
an interview with the author1
An Interview With the Author
  • What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
    • The Giant Golden Book Of Cat Stories is the book I remember most. It is full of great illustrations. I can’t think of any specific adult titles. I do read a lot of poetry. Mary Oliver and Maya Angelou are favorite poets.
  • What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
    • I work in clay, create art from tin cans, and make art dolls. Right now I am working on combining all three media. I also dye and paint fabric for the dolls.
    • Planting flowers and painting the outside of my house and studio is what I am busy doing right now.
  • What are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
    • Chris Raschka is a big favorite. He has the most spontaneous, expressive line.
    • Vera Williams work is full of soul. I have always loved her work.
her work
Her Work