Alexandra Day: Writer, Artist, Publisher
"I think that one of the reasons my illustrations have appealed to people is that they can sense my sincerity. I have no trouble at all in believing that dogs can read, stuffed animals come alive, or a bear and an elephant run a business." -- Alexandra Day
The Career: Green Tigers, Blue Lanterns & Laughing Elephants
Alexandra Day is the pen name of Sandra Darling with contributions by her husband Harold. The Darlings became known as book publishers after founding Green Tiger Press in 1970. The company was noted for its unique marketing of postcards, note cards, bookmarks and more featuring illustrations from the Golden Age of Illustration that ran from roughly the 1880's until the early 1920s in the United States.
Darling worked with her husband Harold as well as other family members to make the company a success and they published their first book in 1972, All Mirrors Are Magic Mirrors by Welleran Poltarnee. With its success, the company flourished and continued to grow. Sandra Darling became adept at design and production and was soon on her way to becoming an illustrator.
In 1983, Darling illustrated her first book as Alexandra Day, The Teddy Bears' Picnic. The book was very successful and encouraged Darling to pursue book illustration further. Around this same time, the Darlings discovered a volume of German picture sheets while visiting Switzerland. One of these featured a poodle playing with a baby that was supposed to be sleeping.
This became the inspiration for the book Good Day, Carl, published in 1985, which would spawn a successful series of books featuring the babysitting canine. Using her own dog as a model, Darling replaced the poodle with a rottweiler. With the success of this book, Sandra Darling, writing and drawing as Alexandra Day, had discovered a new, even more successful career.
The Darlings sold Green Tiger Press to Simon & Schuster in the mid-1980s and began concentrating their efforts on packaging books for other publishers. They created a new company, Blue Lantern Studios, and were quite successful in their new endeavor. Meanwhile Darling continued writing and illustrating stories about Carl as well as stories about other characters such as Frank and Ernest, an elephant and a bear who would take care of other people's businesses while they were away.
In 1992 the Darlings returned to their publishing roots, establishing their current company, Laughing Elephant Publishing. As they did in the beginning, they publish many illustrations from their collection of vintage children's books as postcards, note cards and more as well as publishing books that attempt to capture the magic of the Golden Age of Illustration. They have also re-acquired the Green Tiger brand and market it through their new company.
The Family: A Wonderful Life of Creativity
Born Sandra Woodward, Darling was fortunate to be raised in a family where creativity was encouraged and artistic endeavors had been pursued for generations. Her grandfather was an architect who had designed many buildings in her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, including the high school she attended. Her father was an artist who was commissioned by Proctor & Gamble and the Ohio River Steamboat Company among others. He also worked as a commercial artist for companies such as the Gibson Card Company.
Family excursions would always include an abundance of art supplies and Darling, along with her two sisters, were always free to use whatever they wished to be as creative as they chose. Imagination was advocated in her household where the works of authors such as L. Frank Baum were read frequently. The Darling girls were also allowed to dress up at will from a collection of costumes and give their creativity free reign.
From her mother, Darling also received the gift of ingenuity. She was taught to cook but also how to adapt a recipe to fit her needs. Sewing became a creative art that allowed Darling to have a wardrobe both stylish and unique while living within a somewhat limited budget. Gardening, canning and more added to the skills Darling has credited with helping her live an orderly and beautiful life.
Darling's father passed away when she was fourteen, to an extent ending the young girl's childhood early. But all the things that had been instilled in her at a younger age stayed with her and fortified her as she stepped up as the eldest daughter to assume many of the responsibilities previously held by her mother who now had to work to support the family. By the time she was ready to attend college, Sandra had become a strong, independent woman ready for the challenges life would bring.
She wished to attend a small liberal arts college and decided on Swarthmore College, a Quaker college outside Philadelphia where old stone buildings are nestled among a bounty of trees and where academia is held above all else. While at first glance the school's steadfast dedication to learning might have seemed a hindrance to a student whose creativity and freedom of expression had been so strongly inspired, Darling found the simple, focused life at Swarthmore ideal and graduated with a degree in English literature, her last two years in the honors program.
After school, Sandra Darling would go on to work at the 92nd Street Young Man's Hebrew Association teaching crafts such as silversmithing which she had mastered as an extracurricular activity at Swarthmore. She also continued her education taking art classes and expanding her knowledge in the field of illustration. It was on a visit to California to look at an art school that she met her future husband Harold.
"Something which needs to be said is that the books of Alexandra Day are often written, sometimes conceived by my husband Harold. When I sign my pen name it is with the understanding that it includes both of our contributions." -- Sandra Darling
Harold Darling was owner of The Unicorn Cinema and Mithras Bookstore in La Jolla, California. The cinema showed a mixture of foreign, independent, experimental and short films. The bookstore served as the entrance to the small theater and sold new and used books as well as records, art and more, concentrating on the eclectic. The couple married in 1967 and operated the bookstore and cinema for many years.
Harold and Sandra had four children -- Sacheverell (named for the English writer Sacheverell Sitwell), Rabindranath Tagore (named after the Bengali Poet of the same name), Lafcadio Hearn (named after the American writer), and Christina (named after the English poetess Christina Rossetti). As her family grew, so did her career, writing, illustrating and publishing the unique material that would become the foundation of the Darlings future companies.
The Success: Will the Real Carl Please... Sit! Stay!
Certainly Alexandra Day's most famous character is the kid-friendly rottweiler Carl. The popular pooch first appeared in the 1985 children's book Good Dog, Carl and has since appeared in more than a dozen stories. In the original book series, Carl takes care of a little girl named Madeleine, watching over her as the pair experiences adventure after adventure.
Alexandra Day based Carl on her family's pet rottie Toby and took Toby, in the role of Carl, out to meet children after the first book was published. Since then there have been several Carls, each trained to respond to their stage name, Carl, as well as an individual name off-stage. Carl is always a hit with the kids and adults as well, performing tricks and generally soaking up all the petting and snuggling with a smile.
Books in the Carl series:
- Good Dog, Carl
- Carl Goes Shopping
- Carl's Christmas
- Carl's Afternoon in the Park
- Carl's Masquerade
- Carl Goes to Daycare
- Carl Makes a Scrapbook
- Carl Pops Up
- Carl's Birthday
- Carl's Baby Journal
- Follow Carl!
- Carl's Sleepy Afternoon
- Carl's Snowy Afternoon
- Carl's Summer Vacation
Carl continues to star in new adventures, most recently in Carl and the Baby Duck and Carl and the Puppies. Unlike most of his earlier books that relied mostly on the illustrations to tell the story with only some embellishment from the words, these books are aimed at young readers looking to improve their reading skills with the illustrations embellishing the words instead of the other way around. Carl may no longer be watching over little Madeleine, but his babysitting skills are still put to excellent use as he watches over his animal friends.
Interesting related Links for Alexandra Day
- Good Dog, Carl's Website
Tons of information about Carl, his books, his family and friends. Plenty of activities, loads of fun and a mini-autobiography from Alexandra Day.
- Cinema Treasures' Unicorn Theatre Profile
This website provides a little information on The Unicorn Cinema and Mithras Bookstore, but the most interesting part are the comments expressing admiration for the legendary business and the Darlings.