Airlie Anderson Creates Art For Kids’ Sake

Airlie Anderson, award-winning author/illustrator of children’s picture books, finds inspiration for her work in her son.

Artist Airlie Anderson’s knack for whimsy has helped the Belle Mead resident become a successful author and illustrator of books for children.
Artist Airlie Anderson’s knack for whimsy has helped the Belle Mead resident become a successful author and illustrator of books for children.
Photo courtesy of Airlie Anderson

Airlie Anderson was an award-winning author/illustrator of children’s picture books long before the birth last summer of her son, Colden.

In fact, Anderson has more than a dozen children’s books to her credit. Her most recent, Cat’s Colors (Child’s Play International, 2016), tells the charming story of a cat who collects colors to brighten her world—much as Colden has brightened the world for Anderson and her husband, Mike Ryan, a chef at the notable Princeton restaurant, Elements. (Anderson’s artistry is on display in the mural she painted for Mistral, Elements’ more casual sister restaurant downstairs.)

Anderson, 39, fell in love with art while growing up in California. “I was drawing all the time—animals and whimsical things—and I knew I wanted to do children’s illustrations.” After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2000, she relocated to New York City, where she hired an agent and found a freelance job in publishing.

In 2005, Anderson went to the Oldwick home of a former high school classmate for a visit. That friend happened to be Mike Ryan’s sister. “Mike was there, cooking dinner for the family,” she says. “We’ve been together ever since.” The couple lives in Belle Mead, in Somerset County. Until Colden’s birth, Anderson taught visual arts at the Hun School in Princeton, and worked part-time at One53, a restaurant in Rocky Hill.

Anderson’s best-known book, Momo and Snap Are Not Friends, took the gold at the Independent Book Publishers Book Awards in 2014. Its popularity spawned plush versions of the titular Momo (a monkey) and Snap (a crocodile)—available online through HearthSong.

Her next book, Neither, is due in spring 2018 from Little Brown. “The title character is a creature who is neither bunny nor bird, who is trying to find his way through the world,” she explains.

Motherhood has changed Anderson’s approach to writing and illustrating. “I’m looking at Colden’s sweet, funny expressions, and I see that my creations are resembling his expressiveness.”

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