He attended the University of Maryland, College Park but quit after one semester to join the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, graduating in 1973. He worked for several years as a clown before moving to Maryland and joining the Prince George's Country Puppet Theatre where he met his wife Donna Harris. In 1980, they started the Clarion Puppet Theatre (later known as the Clarion Shadow Theatre) which toured in schools, theaters and at the Smithsonian. After his children were born, he become a full-time author/ illustrator, using layers of cut paper to illustrate children's books. His book Golem, won the 1997 Caldecott Medal.
In his acceptance speech, he said of himself: "I am a self-taught artist and writer who depends on instincts developed through years of circus and puppet performance to guide a story's structure and look."