Happy Birthday to the Delightful Bruce Degen
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Bruce Degen loved drawing. Later in life he wrote the picture book I Gotta Draw which features a bouncy pup of a boy whose constant scribbling first gets him into trouble and then gets him a lot of –good- attention. Kids who also like to draw will enjoy this tale that mirrors the author’s childhood. Let’s take a look at some of his best-known books:
Jamberry is a beloved nonsense tale of a bear, a boy, and a berry-picking day. There’s not a lot of plot here, but there doesn’t need to be. Jamberry is all about having a rollicking good time and living in the moment. Degen’s lighthearted illustrations are filled with motion and imagination. It’s a perfect book for a young child’s read-aloud time.
Jamberry won many impressive awards but most importantly, it won a permanent place on library shelves and in families’ hearts. Understanding and sharing childhood memories of going with his city-bound family to upstate New York in the summers led to its writing:
"It was green. It was soft. You could walk around in bare feet, and we used to go out and pick lots of berries that grew wild. I always thought of the world as being particularly generous and joyful. And when I was searching my memories, trying to write a book for very young children about being joyful, that popped right up."*
Such a question! Nancy White Carlstrom’s book, illustrated by Bruce Degen, is a gentle look at a young child’s day. Of course, in this case the young child happens to be a bear:
“What does a little bear wear while he romps through a bright and sunny day? In the morning, his pants that dance, and the sun on his legs that run. At lunchtime, celery crunch and sprouts in a bunch, and juice from a pear and rice in his hair. And at night, his pjs with feet and face on the seat, and sleep in his eyes and stars in the skies, as he dreams of the fun he'll have tomorrow.”
Catch a Ride on the Magic School Bus
Ms. Frizzle and her Magic School Bus made science fun. Author Joanna Cole and illustrator Bruce Degen worked together on the many books to do something new in children’s non-fiction writing. By taking serious topics such as how the brain works and how our communities get water and adding a crazy-fun teacher and some curious students, they made a hugely successful series of books that went on to become a television series.
In Side by Side: Five Favorite Picture-Book Teams Go to Work, Bruce and Joanna talked about creating the Magic School Bus characters. Ms. Frizzle was a combination of their own favorite teachers who were so good at their craft that they inspired their now grown-up students to invent the unforgettable Ms. Frizzle. With her wild hair, old-fashioned dresses, crazy earrings, and determined attitude, “the Frizz” and her band of mostly intrepid students explored the human body, inside the earth, the ocean floor, outer space, inside a beehive, and even inside a hurricane. A later series dealt more with culture and history than science and took Ms. Frizzle and her young friends to imperial China, the time of the dinosaurs, and ancient Egypt.
There are children’s book artists and writers such as Chris Van Allsburg whose illustrations are deep and detailed enough to evoke a sense of almost disquieting wonder in children and adults and art critics. Bruce Degen’s published work isn’t like that, but its approachability certainly doesn’t make it any less wonderful to the active young minds that embrace the joyful worlds he helps to create:
“Being able to read to children, I can see by the children’s candid reactions which elements truly communicate. Since I began, this work has involved me totally, and I hope I will be doing it as long as I can hold a pencil.”**
We hope so, too, Mr. Degen.
Born: June 14, 1945, in Brooklyn, NY.
Family: married Christine Bostard (a teacher and illustrator); children: Benjamin; Alexander.
Education: Cooper Union, B.F.A., 1966; Pratt Institute, M.F.A., 1975.
Career: an author and illustrator who directed an artists’ lithography studio in Ein Hod, Israel, beginning in 1971. Teacher of “Writing and Illustrating Books for Children” course at School of Visual Arts, New York, NY; has also worked as an opera scenery painter, advertising designer, printmaker, and teacher of life-drawing, printmaking, and calligraphy to advanced high school students and adults.
Selected Awards: Children’s choice selection, International Reading Association and Children’s Book Council, 1982, for Little Chick’s Big Day. Editors’ Choice, Booklist, Children’s Books of the Year, Child Study Association of America, 1985, for Jamberry.
Contact: Agent c/o Author Mail (Bruce Degen), Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Learn more about Bruce Degen online:
Bruce Degen: Interview Transcript from Scholastic
Jamberry Free Lessons from Homeschool Share
Meet the Author: Bruce Degen
*Reading Rockets: Transcript from an interview with Bruce Degen.
From Biography in Context:
**"Bruce Degen." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2004.
"Bruce Degen." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 2002.
Deskins, Lizabeth L., and Christina H. Dorr. "The Magic behind the Magic School Bus: with its unique blend of fact and fiction, Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen's Magic School Bus series broke new ground in children's literature." Booklist 1 June 2011: S42+.