Pigeons, Pigeons, everywhere. Keep your hat on!

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Pigeons to the left of me. Pigeons to the right. OK, I wrote a book about pigeons, so I’ve been thinking about ’em. BUT! I am astounded by how often pigeons cross my path. On the NYC subway, my entire car was filled with pigeon-themed ads for Jet Blue.


Arnold Zwicky defined the phenomenon Frequency Illusion”- once you’ve noticed a phenomenon, you think it happens a whole lot, even “all the time”. Your estimates of frequency are likely to be skewed by your noticing nearly every occurrence that comes past you. “

Seen my pigeons? I’m having an show at the Hoboken Historical Museum. McKevin Shaughnessy designed this cool poster for the event, adding to the pigeon image barrage.

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My pigeon history began when I sketched a pigeon racer on his Hoboken rooftop. I put that image in my 1986 book, Walking Around Hoboken. That same drawing would later appear on the cover of The Pigeon Guys.

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Holly Metz was editing a series of chapbooks for The Hoboken Historical Museum and asked me to illustrate this project about the city’s last pigeon racers. I spent a morning at Vinnie Torre’s loft on Monroe St. and he told me some amazing stuff about pigeons.


Prof. Ann Lemon took a snapshot of another NYC subway poster for Dinosaurs Among Us at the Museum of Natural History. The headline: You’ll Never Look at a Pigeon the Same Way Again. Of course, I was asking for pigeon overload when I went to the Mo Willems’ exhibition at the NY Historical Society. Good show, Mo.

A student sent me a link to Bert Doing the Pigeon. If I’d seen it before, how did I forget it?

Patt and I, Takoma Park MD Library, photo Bruce Guthrie

I have been visiting schools, libraries, bookstores, with a stuffed pigeon on top of my hat. So, I am getting what I deserve. The one time I went looking for pigeons, but failed was the first weekend of Duke Riley’s pigeon art performance at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.bridgeI got a wonderful view of the Brooklyn Bridge, but that night the rain and fog kept the pigeons cooped up. If you are anywhere near Hoboken, or a public library, check out The Real Poop on Pigeons.pigeoncover





The Real Poop on Pigeons !


Time to reveal the subject of my next book, -PIGEONS!Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 11.15.12 PM

“Robert McCloskey’s original idea for Make Way for Ducklings (1942) was to use pigeons …but he found pigeons too difficult to draw.” from Claudette Hegel’s Newbery and Caldecott Trivia.  Hard to believe, but it makes me happy because my next book is The Real Poop on Pigeons!pigeoncard

The great Robert McCloskey, no close relation, could draw anything. I sent him my 1992 kids’ book, Mrs. Fitz’s Flamingos. He sent me back an encouraging note. Now, oddly enough, I’m doing a book about pigeons. The Real Poop on Pigeons will be published by TOON BOOKS, April. 2016.

Picasso and Paloma © Kevin McCloskey 2015
Picasso and Paloma © Kevin McCloskey 2015

We Dig Worms! was such a hit it went into a second printing just 3 months after its April 2015 release. I got a call from Toon Books’ editor-in-chief Françoise Mouly this summer. I was out, but she left a message, “We need another book, We Dig Salamanders, We Dig Birds, We Dig Something!” Got to admit, I listened to that voice message more than once.

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Fancy pigeons from Real Poop on Pigeons © 2015 Kevin McCloskey

Why Pigeons? Like worms, most kids, no matter where they live, have seen pigeons. I learned about pigeons from an expert. Thanks to Holly Metz I met Vinnie Torre,  one of the last of Hoboken’s great pigeon racers. Holly was editing a series of oral history chapbooks for the Hoboken Historical Museum.

Vinnie Torre in his rooftop pigeon coop
Vinnie Torre, pencil and watercolor. © 2009 Kevin McCloskey

I visited Vinnie’s rooftop loft to research art for The Pigeon Guys. That book is available as a free ebook, here. Sometimes students ask if they should do ‘pro bono’ or free work. Well, I did the Pigeon Guys for free. I am a founding member of the Hoboken Historical Museum and think it is great place.

Antique print from painting by Ludlow, male Red Pouter pigeon,
Antique red pouter pigeon print from painting by Ludlow, circa 1890

Plus what I learned on that project inspired my own pigeon book. The research was fun.

I read a number of way cool books on pigeons. I liked Andrew Blechman’s Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird. I loved Courtney Humbprey’s  Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan … And the World. Wow, books about pigeons have long titles.

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For Real Poop on Pigeons, an early sketch © 2015 Kevin McCloskey

I visited the National Aviary in Pittsburgh to sketch their rare Victoria crowned pigeons. I learned Picasso painted lots of pigeons.  He even named his daughter Paloma, Spanish for pigeon.

Old German chromolithograph from Schachtzabel's book. K. McCloskey collection
Old German chromolithograph from Schachtzabel’s book. K. McCloskey collection

I bought inspiring antique pigeon prints from a Warsaw dealer via Ebay, they are chromolithographs. Some came from a lovely German book, Emil Schachtzabel’s​ 1906 Illustriertes Prachtwerk sämtlicher Taubenrassen​. The entire book can be found on Wikimedia, here.

You can pre-order Real Poop on Pigeons at Amazon. It is on sale now, but they will not ship it until April. Of course, if you need a Christmas present, We Dig Worms! is available wherever books are sold. Thank you, worms, for all you have done for me this year!2910795

Did I mention this? School Library Journal chose We Dig Worms! for their Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2015. To me this is as mind-boggling as the idea that Robert McCloskey couldn’t draw pigeons.

Mike Tyson and Vinnie Torre

One of the great things about these WordPress blogs is that the moderator is able to see which search terms visitors are using to reach this page. Lately there has been a big upsurge in searches for “Vinnie Torre”, “Hoboken Museum,” and “pigeons.”

Mike Tyson and Vinnie Torre © 2011 Animal Planet

I wrote about Vinnie last year in my very first Illustration Concentration post.  I met Vinnie and his girlfriend Lynne Earring when I illustrated a chapbook for the Hoboken Historical Museum. Turns out Vinnie has recently been featured on a new Animal Planet documentary series mentoring boxer Mike Tyson on the finer points of pigeon racing. I haven’t seen the series. In the trailer, Mike Tyson tells about the first fight he ever had. He was 10. He beat up the Brooklyn kid who ripped the head off his pigeon. In honor of the uptick in searches for Vinnie and pigeons, I am posting a few more of my Hoboken sketches, some of which never made it into the chapbook.

Pigeons at Vinnie Torre's Hoboken loft © 2011 K.McCloskey

Lynne told me that Vinnie used to cut down the iconic Hoboken clotheslines that hung in the way of his pigeons’ final approach home. Vinnie looked wounded, he said he never did any such thing. Maybe, once or twice, he witnessed somebody sanding clotheslines so that they were so frayed that when the women hung their family’s heavy, wet clothes they “naturally” broke. He assured me that would happen only in the case of a very important race.

Vinnie Torre with Lynne Earring, Hillside Lofts © 2011 K.McCloskey

I drew a pigeon before I arrived at Vinnie’s house. Vinnie took one look at it and shook his head. It looked like a street pigeon, he said. He told me to thicken the neck and add more waddle on top of the beak. Here is how it looked after I took his suggestions:

Pigeon Sketch, watercolor © 2010 K. McCloskey

You can download the whole book for free here: The Pigeon Guys: Recollections of Vinnie Torre and Lynne Earing. The 40-page chapbook, designed by Ann Marie Manca is part of a nifty series of Hoboken oral histories. Lisa Sartori interviewed Vinnie and Lynne. Holly Metz edited it, I donated the illustrations, and Museum Director Robert Foster added historic and new photographs.

By the way, I was in Hoboken last weekend and stopped by the Hoboken Historical Museum. They have a sweet show on the walls now, about Hoboken’s love affair with candy and desserts. It began way before the Cake Boss. At the museum you can sit in a booth on loan from Schnackenberg’s Luncheonette and watch a truly touching 10-minute film about Schnackenberg’s, a Hoboken landmark. The film entitled Counterparts was made in 1989 by Nicole Lucas Haimes who has since gone on to a successful career as a documentary filmmaker.Vinnie Torre is a great booster of the Hoboken Historical Museum. In the Animal Planet videos he can be seen wearing his HHM T-shirt. It is a worthy institution and well worth a visit anytime.

“The Pigeon Guys” illustrated by Kevin McCloskey Free E-Book

I had fun doing the illustrations for The Pigeon Guys: Recollections of Vinnie Torre and Lynne Earing. Click on the title above to download the entire 40 page book in pdf format for free. It is part of the Vanishing Hoboken Series, made possible by a grant from the John Wiley & Sons Publishers, and in this case, the Hudson County Pigeon Club. The text is an edited version of a Lisa Sartori’s interview of Vinnie and Lynne. The art director/designer is Ann Marie Manca. Bob Foster contributed additional photos.

The Hoboken Historical Museum publishes this wonderful series of little booklets on all things Hoboken. You can also download more  chapbooks including my favorite title- I’d Rather Lose a Clam than a Customer, Recollections of Michael “Brother” Yaccarino. The Hoboken Oral History Project is edited by the brilliant Holly Metz, who years ago collaborated with famed illustrator Sue Coe on the graphic novel How to Commit Suicide in South Africa.

I used to live in Hoboken, so I drove in to see my brother Brain and he joined me for a tour of Vinnie’s loft one spring morning. Vinnie and Lynne graciously posed for sketches and told us some amazing things about pigeons. For example, mother pigeons nurse their young!  I know it is unbelievable, but go ahead google pigeon milk, or ask your local ornithologist.

That morning in Hoboken reminded me why I love illustration, because it is about sharing interesting stories.

-Kevin McCloskey