The Real Person Who Makes Duck & Goose

Tad Hills during a school visit

Tad Hills during a school visit (Photo by Ryan Vemmer)

Children’s book author and illustrator to visit Desmond-Fish library

After a bucket of Halloween candy has been consumed at a rapid clip, parents of young children are likely to enjoy a respite from the mayhem, and the Desmond-Fish Public Library in Garrison has just the thing: Tad Hills, the author and illustrator of the bestselling, nine-volume Duck & Goose series, lately adapted into a series that streams on Apple TV.

At the free event, which is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Nov. 4, Hills will demonstrate how he illustrates his books. Children will receive copies of Hills’ books courtesy of an anonymous donor and Split Rock Books in Cold Spring. The library will also present the author with the Alice Curtis Desmond Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, named for the library’s co-founder, who wrote books for young people.

Dede Farabaugh, the Desmond-Fish director, says she is a fan of Hills’ illustrations “because they are charming and simple — using pleasingly familiar shapes (circle, triangle, plump banana) — paired with expressive features.” She cites, in particular, his use of eyebrows.

Hills, who lives in Brooklyn, has, courtesy of friends, spent much time in Philipstown. He began illustrating picture books several decades ago at the request of his wife, who was running the children’s book department at Simon & Schuster. 

“It helps to be married to your publisher,” Hills says with a laugh. “The first books she asked me to illustrate were novelty books, where there was no narrative, just cute animals. I didn’t have to worry about consistency from page to page. 

“She was always encouraging me to do a picture book, which I did with Duck & Goose [in 2006]. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I still don’t! Every new book is intimidating. Writing under perfect circumstances is difficult. 

“For kids’ books, you have to tap into a voice that they can relate to,” he says. “You want your illustrations to be aligned with the storyline, but also to have the pictures expand the text.”

Hills grew up in Massachusetts in a family of engineers and artists, a combination he feels favored his development in subtle ways. “I like to construct things,” he says. “When my kids were little, that’s what I enjoyed doing the most, because it’s intricate and complicated and hard for me to recreate the steps, because the process was both spontaneous and deliberate — like making a book. 

“I start fresh every single time, and stick words and sentences together, figuring it out as I go. That’s what an engineer does, and an artist, too. Making art is like making decisions, that’s how I see it.”

His family and pets have found their way into his stories in large and small ways. “We had a dog named Rocket. We lost him last November. We have a new dog, Wilbur, so many people have asked if he’ll be the star of books. You never know. Wilbur is a mini-Bernadoodle, insanely cute and sweet.” 

With his children grown, Hills thinks twice before quoting them in his writing. “Nothing in my stories is directly lifted from them, though years ago some of the dialogue was inspired by overheard conversation or behavior that I witnessed with their friends,” he admits. 

“When they were little, I worked in the house, at the kitchen table or the dining room table, with walls covered with sketches drying. The kids were always around, and it was a great experience for them to live with.

“I like to keep it innocent,” he adds. “I would have trouble introducing an iPhone into a story. In general, I keep the dialogue without trendy catchphrases. I like a bucolic atmosphere and environment.”

Hills says he enjoys meeting his readers, although school visits can prompt unexpected questions. “A lot of times, kindergartners and first graders are so excited to ask a question, when they’re called on, they don’t remember it. Others go in for the nitty gritty: ‘My dad has the same socks as you,’ or ‘Do you have an agent?’

“For them, that this real person wrote this book, they’re amazed by that,” he says. “It’s pretty exciting for all of us.”

The Desmond-Fish Public Library is located at 472 Route 403 (at the intersection with Route 9D) in Garrison. Register for the event at

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