Abiyoyo Story Arts

Abiyoyo artist Michael Hays

my little ears hear
Pete Seeger's

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Long before illustrating books I loved the sound of Pete's banjo.

My dad taught classes in American history at the university in Iowa City, Iowa where I was born in 1956. He played Pete Seeger's folk music on the family hi-fi. My infant ears soaked up the sparkling sound of Pete's banjo. About that time in a small gathering at a fellow faculty member's home my mom and dad met a visiting preacher–a young Reverend Martin Luther King–asking their support for passage of a national civil rights law. By the time I was old enough to understand what Pete's was singing about, I heard "If you miss me at the back of the bus..." –M.H.

A young Friend grows up in Pennsylvania.
At 3 years old, my family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My dad, Sam Hays was hired to reorganize the University of Pittsburgh History Department. His job was to change their program from an old way of teaching history–mostly stories about rulers and wars–to discovering the real life stories of ordinary people using "demographic statistical analysis". Sam specialized in American social history. His book, Response to Industrialism 1885-1914 (by Samuel P. Hays, University of Chicago Press) was published in 1957. Today it's a history text book which college students still read. Later in his career Sam focused on environmental history.

My parents had met each other at Swarthmore, a Quaker college. They both joined the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to provide their kids with a good religious education. I remember bible study at the Pittsburgh Friends Meeting when I was a kid. When I was a young teen the Friends Meeting provided training in non-violence. We practiced how to respond to a bully without hitting back. Quakers helped inspire Dr. King to practice non-violence.

Quakers aren't first to adopt the latest technology. Maybe that's why until I was 7 years old in 1963, my family didn't have a TV in the house (and I don't watch TV now). In elementary school I spent more time drawing medieval knights and Marvel super heroes. In 8th grade I painted a Scary Red Giant.

I was inspired by the comic book artwork of Jack Kirby. He created the original comic book characters Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk and Captain America. Little did I know I would be watching The Avengers movie 50 years later. Imagine–all those characters began with one artist's pencil sketches. Maybe a bit of Jack Kirby's Hulk shows up in Abiyoyo.

My classroom is wild America.
After high school (1973-74) I attended Trailside Country School (now called Audubon Expedition Institute). This was a class of 20 students and 3 teachers traveling across the U.S. in a yellow school bus. Trailside's program excelled in environmental studies, folk music and creative writing– all led by head teacher, Michael J. Cohen. His brother played with Pete's Seeger's brother in a band, The New Lost City Ramblers. I learned my first "frailing" strums from Mike Cohen and got myself a copy of Pete's manual How to Play the 5-String Banjo. One of my essays was published in Mike Cohen's book, Our Classroom is Wild America.

After design school the giant corporation hires me.
In 1974 I enrolled at Rhode Island School of Design. I met teachers and students who were creating wonderful illustrated picture books. My roommate at RISD, David Wiesner (Tuesday, The Three Pigs) shared my interest in comics and helped lead me into book illustration. I studied with RISD instructors David Macaulay (Cathedral, The Way Things Work) and Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express).

Just before graduating in 1979 with my RISD Illustration BFA, a recruitment team from a giant industrial corporation interviewed me and reviewed my portfolio. They really lit up when they saw my portrait of Thomas Edison with his brilliant idea. What a surprise. It was the 100th anniversary of Edison's invention of light bulb! I was hired to operate a state-of-the-art computer graphics machine at General Electric Company. I produced my first sketches of Abiyoyo that year. At about the same time Pete Seeger was organizing a movement to get GE to clean up the industrial waste they had been pouring into the Hudson River. Abiyoyo might really be a giant industrial corporation.

Living in a giant city
I sent my Abiyoyo book proposal to Pete Seeger and began corresponding with him as we developed sketches of the boy and the giant. I began getting book jacket illustration jobs in New York City and moved there in 1982. I lived in Brooklyn 2 blocks from book illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon (From Ashanti to Zulu, Why Misquitoes Buzz in People's Ears). They helped me get down to business as I created my full color paintings for Abiyoyo.

In 1988 I moved from New York City to Oak Park, IL just west of Chicago. Soon I began teaching children’s book illustration at Columbia College Chicago. I eventually moved into town and set up shop in the big city again. I've lived here ever since and illustrated many books. I recently worked with illustrator Judy MacDonald to create art for Steven and Deborah Layne's book W is for Windy City, A Chicago Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press 2010).

Cindy Bravos interviews Michael Hays.
In this interview I talk about creating books with with Steven and Deborah Dover Layne, Judy MacDonald and Pete Seeger.

Painted Pony Studios
Judy MacDonald and I established Painted Pony Studios in Chicago on “that toddlin’ town’s” far north side. Together we create books and all sorts of art for kids. When I take a break from drawing and painting, I love pounding out a rhythm on my guitar and singing (sometimes really loud). Judy and I live and work with our daughters Ruby and Rowan, dog Rascal, kittens Misty and Flame, 3 guitars, 2 violins, 2 clarinets, an electric stand up bass, 2 djimbe african drums...

Read how Michael and Pete create their Abiyoyo picture book... »

Pete Seeger

Introducing storyteller Pete Seeger to Abiyoyo fans. Sing together, work together to make a better world. Abiyoyo comes to America in a song book from South Africa. Pete Seeger performs songs and tells stories. The story of how you overcome a scary giant.

Abiyoyo Artist
Michael Hays

Children's book illustrator Michael Hays introduces himself to Abiyoyo fans, shares work with Pete on their Abiyoyo picture book. More picture books by Pete Seeger and Michael Hays and lots more of Michael’s illustrated picture books.

Your Own Giant Story

Kids draw and paint Abiyoyo. Kids act out the story of Abiyoyo. Kids ask questions about the scary giant. Kids make up their own stories. Older kids begin to ask bigger questions about Abiyoyo. Share your story ideas.

Abiyoyo Story Arts

A fan page for librarians, teachers and students; editors and art directors of picture books and YA; collectors of children's book original art; art and design faculty, staff and admins; children’s book sellers; children's authors, parents and kid fans!

Abiyoyo illustrator Michael Hays brings his Abiyoyo Story Arts program to school classrooms and libraries. Ask for more info!


"I'm a digital artist, interactive designer and children's illustrator. I teach BFA Illustration and Design students at Columbia College Chicago. Together we can present a K-12 book illustration workshop or young author event at your neighborhood school!" –M.H.