- Virginia Johnson
Marcia Sewall's name can be found on the covers of tons of classic fiction and folktales in the library. She has a simple drawing style that conveys the rhythm and characters of the stories without overwhelming them. Whether the subject is a family issue such as the death of a loved one (Saying Good-bye to Grandma by Jane Resh Thomas) or something more light-hearted (The Leprechaun's Story by Richard Kennedy), Marcia's drawings give the books a simple clarity.
Marcia was never taught to illustrate books, but she took an art course from the Rhode Island School of Design after finishing graduate studies in education. She went on to become a staff artist for a children's museum and later an art teacher. When the time came for her to write her own books, she chose topics that show her love of history: a western ballad for Ridin' That Strawberry Roan and a Scottish folktale for The Wee, Wee Mannie and the Big, Big Coo.
Marcia gained the most fame from her three books on the settling of her beloved New England: The Pilgrims of Plimoth, The People of the Breaking Day, and Thunder from the Clear Sky. All three books take the point of view of settlers or the Native Americans as they encounter each other in those first hard years. The Pilgrims is used in schools all across America in November and won the Boston Globe/Hornbook Award for nonfiction. Here is the beginning of the story:
"Aye, Governor Bradford calls us pilgrims. We are English and England was our home. We left behind us much that we loved when we came to America. But our lives were ruled by King James and for many years it seemed as though our very hearts were in prison in England. We believe it is the Bible, only, that can instruct us in the ways of the Lord. We have to worship freely."
The Pilgrims is told in the voices of the men, the women, and the children who survived that harsh settlement. The next book in the series, People of the Breaking Day, tells of the Wampanoag tribe and how they lived before the coming of the English. Thunder from a Clear Sky alternates the voices of a Wampanoag warrior and a Pilgrim. The time is 1675, decades after the first Pilgrims landed. The English have many settlements now, and the anger between the newcomers and the Native Americans will result in King Philip's War. For this book, the author worked with historical scholars and the supreme medicine man for the Wampanoag Nation to make certain that all the details of the past were accurate.
Marcia Sewall lives in Dorchester, Massachusetts, a town that was originally settled by Puritans in the 1630s. She often gives talks at local schools and libraries on the craft of illustration. Two of her more recent books are James Towne: Struggle for Survival and Nickommoh! A Thanksgiving Celebration, which she illustrated. Nickommoh! tells how the Narragansett people would have given thanks for the harvest in the days before the Pilgrims came.
To learn more about Marcia Sewall, read the biographical article in the Literature Resource Center database, one of the many available at no charge to CRRL cardholders. For a list of all Marcia Sewall's books in the library, click here.