Lois Ehlert, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom illustrator, has died at 86

Lois Ehlert, the children's book collagist whose vibrant illustrations for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom helped it sell more than 12 million copies, died of natural causes Tuesday in Milwaukee, publisher Simon & Schuster said Thursday. She was 86.

Ehlert's other works include Color Zoo — which won her a Caldecott Honor in 1990 — Eating the Alphabet, Waiting for Wings, In My World, and Fish Eyes. She told Reading Rockets in 2013 that her family helped make her an artist, explained that her book Hands was largely autobiographical, and recounted how she began working in collage before she could even spell the word.

Ehlert was born in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, in 1934, and earned an English degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before attending Milwaukee's Layton School of Art. She worked in graphic until she published her first children's books in 1987, when she was already in her 50s.

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Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, published in 1989, is about lower-case letters of the alphabet sneaking out at night and wondering if there will be enough room for them in Ehlert's cut-and-paste coconut tree. Its text was written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. Martin collaborated with illustrator Eric Carle on another much-lived children's classic, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Carle died earlier this week at age 91.

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