- Virginia Johnson
Provensen and Provensen. Alice and Martin. Martin and Alice. Two illustrators and writers working so closely together that their styles were indistinguishable. It was the same style really, gentle drawings so delightful in their clarity that they subtly underscored the text of the dozens of children's books that they illustrated.
Theirs was a pleasant life together. Through the years with their daughter at Maple Hill Farm in New York's open countryside, they saw the seasons change and observed how their animals adapted to the sun's coming and going. They captured their simple love for farm life in their book, A Year at Maple Hill Farm which has become a classic for story times about barnyard friends.
In 1982, the Newbery Award winner was A Visit to William Blake's Inn by Nancy Willard. The Provensens chose to illustrate this collection of fanciful poetry inspired by Blake's works ("Tyger, tyger burning bright in the forests of the night....") with sepia-toned illustrations of the cheery Mr. Blake and all his sundry friends-- the King of the Cats, Cow, Rabbit, children, and, of course, the Tiger. The drawings charmed the Caldecott Award committee who named it an Honor Book the same year.
The Provensens had become fascinated with airplanes--how they worked and how people came to invent them. They discovered that the history of aviation had many dashing pioneers, and one whose story begged to be told was Louis Bleriot. A man of independent means because of a successful earlier invention, Bleriot designed no less than eleven airplanes. The first one was too small and flapped like a chicken. The second, a glider, crashed into the water. But Monsieur Bleriot did not give up. He went on take the prize awarded by an English nobleman to be the first to cross the entire English Channel. He did it in thirty-seven minutes and brought the world a little closer together by his flight. The Provensens told the story so well with their words and pictures that The Glorious Flight won the Caldecott Medal for best-illustrated children's book of the year in 1984!
When Martin died of a heart attack in 1987, Alice thought about selling her beloved Maple Hill Farm, not certain if she would ever want to write or draw again. But her fondness for history drew her to back to writing The Buck Stops Here: The Presidents of the United States. Its success and that of My Fellow Americans: A Family Album revived her interest in writing, and she decided to stay at Maple Hill Farm. Alice enjoys traveling, and her love for exotic places came into play in her 2001 book, The Master Swordsman & The Magic Doorway: Two Legends from Ancient China. Her colors have never been brighter, her illustrations never sweeter, and she tells the tales beautifully for both young listeners and independent readers to enjoy.
Click here for a list of books illustrated by Alice Provensen that are available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Library card holders may reserve books to be picked up at any of our branches.
Alice on the Web
"A Collaborative Effort" in Publishers' Weekly
An article on well-known teams in publishing gives much detail on the professional lives of the Provensens.