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photo of Khalsa

"Very original and whimsical . . . the illustrations are beautiful, inspired." - New York Times Cover Image

"As a children's picture book, it stands at the top of the class." - The Globe and Mail Cover Image

"Cowboy Dreams shows Khalsa's special gift for discerning what is important and communicating it to children." - The Horn Book Cover Image
"A farewell treasure to read again and again." - CM (Canadian Library Association) Cover Image

"Pictures to pore over, and a story for generations." - Booklist Cover Image

"Khalsa scores a hit with this nostalgic story filled with charm and beautiful color." - American Bookseller Cover Image

"A leisurely story recounted in quiet confidence." - The Globe and Mail Cover Image

"This is a beautiful book, filled with charm and wit and wisdom . . . such a fine and loving sense of detail, such mastery of storytelling." - New York Times Book Review Cover Image

Dayal Kaur Khalsa

Many authors write about incidents that took place in their childhood. Dayal Kaur Khalsa was no different. And although she wrote and illustrated only eight picture books in her short life, each one has a piece of Dayal in it. There is the grandmother who looked after her while her parents worked, her longing for a pet dog, the winter vacation in Florida with her family, her dreams of becoming a cowboy, and the joyous day she discovered pizza for the first time.

Dayal Kaur Khalsa grew up in Queens, New York. She was a very curious little girl with a big imagination. Her mother helped Dayal discover her creative talents, but not always in straightforward ways. Once, Dayal and her mother took an art course together, but they often skipped classes to go see Broadway shows or shop. Except for a few other art lessons, Dayal was a self-taught painter.

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When she was older Dayal left home and traveled across North America. She lived in Mexico, where she studied yoga, and eventually settled in Canada, first on a farm in southern Ontario (where she finally got the pet dog she so very much wanted), and then in Montreal.

She loved her adopted country so much that she left the artwork from her books to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Although she had many adventures in her life, Dayal recognized the importance of her childhood memories on her writing. "When I was a young teenager and wanted to be a writer and couldn't wait to leave home and go on the road in search of adventures to write about, my mother said, 'There are stories in your own backyard.'

"'Ha!' I said. So I left home, went on the road, had lots of adventures, and eventually, 25 years later, the first book I published took place in the backyard of my childhood. Ha!"

Dayal Kaur Khalsa died when she was 46, in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 17, 1989.

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Because she was both an artist and a writer, Dayal would usually make a new book in a way most people consider backwards; she would complete her illustrations before she wrote the story. She usually brought the artwork to her publisher, May Cutler, told the story to her, and then wrote it out.

Her favorite place to create: Dayal worked at home in a room paneled halfway up the wall with oak and papered with gold-lamé peacock wallpaper. She had two tables: one for writing, the other for painting. She also had a couch where she spent a lot of time staring into space, thinking.

Her first published work: The first books Dayal published were a series of colorful board books for babies called, The BAABEE Books. Many people thought Dayal used strange color combinations - the babies in the books had big ears and were colors like blue, pink, and yellow, but babies loved them.

Where her ideas came from: "All the books are based on things I experienced as a child. The pictures look just like the house and neighborhood where I grew up, as do the people." Dayal often called upon outside sources for help, though. "When I'm writing a book I often call a girl I know who is six and a half years old to ask her what she thinks of a story, or for ideas of how a child might act in a certain situation."

Dayal claimed she never had writer's block. In fact, she painted and wrote an incredible number of books in a very short time. Dayal had just begun her career as an author when she found out she had cancer. Despite her illness, she continued to write and paint.

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What you should look for in Dayal's books: Dayal often included details of famous works of arts by well-known artists in her own pictures. For example, the cover of I Want a Dog is based on a painting called "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grand Jatte" by an artist named Seurat. And the grandmother's bedroom in Tales of a Gambling Grandma is based on a painting by Vincent Van Gogh of his own bedroom.

Dayal also tried to include her many friends in her books. When May (named for her publisher) and the Penny sisters visit the library in How Pizza Came to our Town, Dayal included her own books on the Little Readers shelves, as well as The Hockey Sweater, a book illustrated by her friend Sheldon Cohen.

In 1998, Sheldon made an animated film of Dayal's book, The Snow Cat. If you watch the film closely, you will see parts of many of Dayal's other books in it.

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