Michael Hall is the author/illustrator of The New York Times bestseller, My Heart Is Like a Zoo, as well as the critically acclaimed Perfect Square, It’s an Orange Aardvark, Red: A Crayon’s Story, and Frankencrayon.

Before becoming a children’s author, Michael was an award-winning graphic designer whose work has been widely recognized for its simple and engaging approach.

Michael lives with his wife, Debra Kelley, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and it seemed significant to me that my name and my state’s name had the same first four letters.

During the school year, I went to a laboratory school on the University of Michigan campus, which was about a half hour walk from my home. It took closer to an hour to walk to the Michigan football stadium where I spent many beautiful Saturday afternoons with my friends.

  I was thinking of my hometown when I decided to write a book about autumn called Wonderfall.

If you squint, Michigan can look like a hand. I spent most of my childhood summers in Leland, a small town on the state’s little finger, where my family has a small cottage on Lake Michigan. (Michiganders tend to point to their hands when describing where they live.)

How did you come to write and illustrate picture books?

I wanted to be writer of some sort from an early age. I loved creative writing assignments in school, but am dyslexic, and reading was a chore. In college, I focused on the sciences where my reading didn’t hamper my studies. It turns out that very few people speed read an organic chemistry textbook.

It's an Orange Aardvark is a silly story about an imagined aardvark and five carpenter ants. But, for me, it's also a children's primer on scientific method.  

A few years after college, while working in laboratories and contemplating graduate school, I discovered a thing called graphic design. It was like writing, but with symbols and shapes rather than words. So I switched paths again.

  Once I realized that Cat Tale was going to be subtly about reading, I knew I had to include a visual representation of dyslexia.

My work as a designer was primarily focused on creating logos and writing guidelines for their use. It was this work—which is not really so different from creating picture books, that eventually pulled me back toward writing my own stories.

Which comes first, words or pictures?

My Heart Is Like a Zoo and Perfect Square began as visual exercises. I made lots of animals out of hearts and lots of pictures from modified squares before knowing what sort of stories the shapes might want to tell.

Cat Tale began as a word exercise. I thought it would be fun to make a string of leapfrogging sound-alike words. Like this: They flee a steer. They steer a plane. They plane a board. They board a train.

Frankencrayon began as a metaphor for war, as the crayons tried to unscribble a scribble by scribbling at it. It expanded from there.  

Red, Frankencrayon, and It’s an Orange Aardvark are examples of stories that began with a metaphor, and I went about writing the words and making the pictures at roughly the same time.

How can one remember how to spell your name?

My name is an acronym for this short conversation:

“My innards churn happily after eating lemons.”

“Have another, lemon lover.”

Michael Hall