Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

After Publishing More Than 60 Books, Children’s Author and Illustrator Nancy Carlson Shows No Sign of Slowing Down

Sep 27, 2023 09:13AM ● By Content Editor

Photo by Nancy Carlson

By Kimberly J. Soenen for Boreal Community Media - September 27, 2023

I first met children’s book author and illustrator Nancy Carlson in the spring of this year. Her energy and wit are positively infectious. Originally from Edina, Minnesota and later Bloomington, Carlson has had a cabin in Hovland, Minnesota for a long time. Carlson spends a lot of time on the North Shore hiking, bird watching, snowshoeing, and skiing.

At a very young age—when she was only five years old, she has said—she knew she was an artist. Like most authors and artists, many of her works are influenced by life experience which includes two sons and a daughter who have inspired some of her books over the years. Her undeniably playful signature style includes the use of colored pencils and technical pens on rag paper. Her work extends across cards, drawings, and animation with animals frequently playing a large role in her stories. 

This is the first year Carlson is participating in the Art Along the Lake Fall Studio Tour, so I reached out to ask about her newly built studio and what’s in store for her fans and visitors.

Photo by Nancy Carlson

Kimberly: You recently built a new art studio. What inspired you and why Hovland?

Nancy: I have a cabin in Hovland. I turned my garage into my new studio space. My commute to work is now just a few steps away from my cabin!

K: You are participating in the Art Along the Lake Fall Studio Tour in Cook County taking place daily from September 22 through October 1. What do you like about the event the most?

N: It's my first year, so I am not sure yet. I do know the temps are perfect and there are no bugs which is wonderful since some of my art is hung outside.

K: Would you share more about your new framed drawings that you’ll be showing during Art Along the Lake?

N: The framed pieces are a series I have been working on of women in different precarious situations. They are a bit autobiographical of my life over the last ten years.  

Photo by Nancy Carlson

K: What are three of your favorite books for kids, and why?

N: Favorite books of mine: Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come; I Like Me; and Get Up and Go.

My favorite books by others: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak; The Wave by Suzie Lee; and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon

K: Who were your favorite authors and illustrators as a child? 

N: I loved the Betsy-Tacy series as a little girl. I was also a big comic book reader. My mother would buy me Golden Books and I loved them all. (*The Betsy-Tacy books are a series of semi-autobiographical novels by American novelist and short-story writer Maud Hart Lovelace, which were originally published between 1940 and 1955 by the Thomas Y. Crowell Co. The books are now published by HarperCollins.)

K: Who are your favorite children’s authors and illustrators today?

N: I really love the illustrations by Marla Frazee, Chris Monroe, and Joyce Sidman.

Photo by Nancy Carlson

K: Your book, Look Out Kindergarten Here I Come includes a forward by Dolly Parton. It is part of Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which now famously has more than 2,700 program partners. The total number of free books gifted by the program as of June 2023, is 211,415,579. What does it mean for you to be included in such a successful, high-impact literacy outreach program? 

N: I am honored and so pleased my book is the last one the children get before starting kindergarten.

K: Have the types of books children like changed since you first started writing and illustrating?

N: Less action and more dialogue. They are fun for kids to read, but hard as read-alouds to classes and grandchildren. Here, I am talking about the story. There are beautiful illustrations for sure nowadays. Some of the best sellers right now are characters talking to each other. I love the book Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. I love the simple illustrations, but it is a lot of talking back and forth. This is an example of less action and more dialogue. I Want My Hat Back is another favorite of mine, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen. Beautiful illustrations and a lot of dialogue. Just a different approach than what I was told to do 43 years ago when I started as an author and illustrator. 

K: What is the one children’s book you’d like to write now that has not yet been written, and why?

N: I would like to do some nonfiction books about wildlife.

K: Who are some of your fellow North Shore artists you'd recommend to Fall Studio Tour goers?

N: Jeanne Hedstrom (Grand Marais); Betsy Bowen and the Betsy Bowen Studio (Grand Marais); Dan and Lee Ross (Hovland) and Neil Sherman (Hovland).

Photo by Nancy Carlson

K: How do events in your own life translate into your books?

N: All my books are part of my own life experiences or the kids and teachers I meet while visiting schools. I also wrote a few books influenced by my children as they were growing up. 

K: What are your favorite places to visit in Cook County?

N: Hovland and Grand Portage!

Visit the Nancy Carlson Studio at 4718 Chicago Bay Road in Hovland, Minnesota, and online at | [email protected]

To learn more about Art Along The Lake Fall Studio Tour click on the Visit Cook County website here. 


Kimberly J. Soenen is a writer and producer specializing in Health Humanities and healthcare industry investigative reporting.

Boreal Ship Spotter - larger view here