Nina Laden was born in New York City on January 12, 1962, the daughter of two artists. (Her name is pronounced "Nee-na Lay-den." The Laden name is Polish and used to be Ladinski.) Her Dad, Bob Laden is a sculptor and twice-Oscar-nominated special effects make-up artist. He named her "Nina" after the daughter of NY Times caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld hid his daughter's name in his cartoons. Nina's Dad liked to find the "Nina's." Nina's Mom, the late Frieda Savitz, was an abstract expressionist painter who studied under Hans Hofmann. Her Mom painted, drew, wrote poetry, loved books, music, dance, animals... But she couldn't cook! (She once left a chicken in the oven for 7 hours.)
Nina started drawing as soon as she could hold a crayon, and soon after that she started making up stories. By age 3, she was folding paper to make books. At age 5, she made the first "real" book she can remember. She called it, "Circles Have Reasons to be Happy." By age 9, when she wrote and illustrated "The Unbearable Bird," she decided that she wanted to be a children's book author and illustrator when she grew up. (and at age 11, she made a stop-action animated short film, too!)
|The book I made when I was 9.|
Her parents divorced when she was 11. Nina, her mother, brother David, Sparky the German Shepherd, cats, fish, turtles and rabbits moved to a 200+ year old farmhouse with a barn in Rockland County, New York. (It was in bad need of repair.) Her Dad stayed in New York City, and married her brother's first grade teacher.
Nina's life after her parents split up wasn't easy, but she had art, writing, playing guitar, and skiing to keep her happy. She also developed a sense of humor to help survive the bad times.
She graduated from Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts in 1983 with a BFA in Illustration Magna Cum Laude. Even though Nina majored in art, she kept writing. She has kept journals for decades. She has over 2200 pages at this point! She was also encouraged to keep writing by her SU English Lit professor, Tobias Wolff.
|A sketch I did of Tobias Wolff, Syracuse University 1982.|
Starting out as a baby sitter when she was 11, Nina has held many jobs. She worked in clothing stores in her high school years, and she was a ski instructor, working after school, at Sterling Forest in Tuxedo, New York. She waitressed her way through college. Her best restaurant job was in Martha's Vineyard in the summer of 1982. After college, Nina moved to Atlanta, Georgia (following an old boyfriend) where she first worked as a graphic designer for the John Harland Check Printing Company. That lasted eight months. Then she started working as a freelance illustrator and designer.
After many years as a successful illustrator, and the sad loss of her Mom to cancer, Nina decided to pursue her first love, children's books. She had tried to get a book published that she wrote when she was 18, (It was called "Abagail's Alphabetical Appetite.") but she only collected rejections. In 1989 (She was 27.) Nina wrote a book she called, "THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG." She let a friend read it, and he didn't like that the boy and the dog talked to each other. So she put it in a drawer for four years. Finally, in 1993, she got up the courage to submit the book to publishers. By then, she had also started working in pastels. (Chalk pastel, not oil pastel.)
|Original dog study in pastel.|
1994 was a big year. Chronicle Books published "THE NIGHT I FOLLOWED THE DOG" to great critical acclaim and bestselling status. It won 4 awards including the 1994 Parent's Choice Gold Award, and it was a Reading Rainbow book. In 1994, Nina also married Booth Buckley in a sculpture garden in West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard, MA. Booth had three little boys, so life had changed in a huge way.
|Married on Martha's Vineyard 1994.|
Many books, many awards, and many adventures since then: Nina and Booth started a small group of espresso bars in Atlanta in 1991, moved to Seattle in 1997 and found paradise on Lummi Island in 2002. Booth has had many adventures of his own: He went to West Point, flew helicopters, worked in Alaska managing a fish processing plant, sold seafood and building supplies to the Japanese, started Aurora Coffee with Nina, and now is an independent consultant Computer Network Engineer.
|Booth as a West Point cadet.|
Nina and Booth are into all kinds of outdoor activities: cycling, hiking, camping, skiing (Nina), Snowboarding (Booth), kayaking, boating, rollerblading and other "ing" words. They both love to cook and grow organic veggies, fruit and herbs.
The Buckley Boys: Doug, Brian & Chris
Nina's stepson, Brian was a US Marine based out of Camp Lejeune with the 2nd Marines, Alpha Company, 1/9 Unit. He did a tour in Iraq, and is now back in civilian life working as a computer network engineer like his father. He is married to Crystal, a computer programmer, and he is stepdad to Kyle, who is in middle school. They live in Maryland. Chris is working as a line cook in a restaurant in Dothan, Alabama and he is still creating beautiful art on both the plate and with paint. Doug is a fiber optics cable guy in Seattle.
|Brian, our Marine.|
Ideas will take you places, don't forget that! Nina's books have been translated into many languages and are available in countries including: France, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and of course the United States. Nina has also visited hundreds of schools and spoken around the world. She loves to motivate children (and adults) to explore their imaginations through writing, drawing and creating books. In addition to this, Nina taught illustration at the Atlanta College of Art when she lived there. She occasionally teaches writing and illustrating workshops and courses at various locations.
The future hopefully holds the promise of many more books. (and toys and games, perhaps?) But being creative and loving what you do is the most important thing of all.
Visit Nina's Web site!