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The Rhythms of Raschka

2006 Caldecott Medal-winning artist Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame. His travels around the world and varied jobs give him a different perspective from most American artists. And, if fate hadn't taken a hand, this beloved artist might instead be knee-deep in muck as a crocodile farmer!

Chris spent part of his childhood in Austria, his mother's homeland. The children's authors and artists he loved were European: Madeline's Ludwig Bemelmans, Wilhelm Busch, and Winnie Gebhardt. His mother told him Viennese fairy tales and sagas. By the time Chris returned to America in first grade, he had forgotten most of his English and could only speak in German for a while.

He always loved to draw, and his big brother would help him out by sharing his paints with him. Sciences, especially the zoology (the study of animals), were his favorite subjects in school. Chris also tried to play the violin, but his music teacher begged him take up the viola instead. He played with both the high school and the college orchestras. For him, music was and remains a source of joy.

Chris graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a degree in biology. Ready to take on the world of animals, he thought he would fulfill a longtime dream of working on a crocodile farm in India. That job wasn't ready for him, however, so he spent some time at a children's orthopedic clinic in Germany. He learned a lot from those brave kids, including how to make them laugh.

Later, he and his wife spent time in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, where they had a chance to exhibit and sell their artwork. Afterwards, he thought for a while that it was time to settle down and become a doctor. But at the last second, he just couldn't bring himself to do it:

"The morning of my first day of medical school, I called the school and told them that I wasn't going to come. That was when I knew I really wanted to be a painter."

He did not have a job lined up, but he checked out the classifieds and was soon working as a paralegal. He also played his viola with two professional symphony orchestras.

Cover to Charlie Parker Played Be BopEventually, both he and his wife found themselves without work, so they took the plunge and headed to New York City. At this point Chris could not decide whether he wanted to follow his love of music or his love of art. He practiced on his viola all summer in preparations for orchestra try-outs. He practiced so hard that he developed tendonitis and could no longer play. Suddenly, the decision was made for him. He would be an artist. But he still kept his love of music.

He illustrated other people's children's books, and every morning while he worked he would listen to a radio station that played the jazz music of the legendary Charlie Parker. He created the book, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, as a way to get kids interested in jazz music. He went on to write other books (Mysterious Thelonious and John Coltrane's Giant Steps) which teach the rhythms of music greats with images and a few carefully chosen words to young children.

Chris finds New York City to be very inspiring. While watching street scene one day, he was struck by the words people use and how they tell other people who they are. Yo! Yes? is the story of two city kids whose words are first a barrier and then a bridge to friendship. This book won the Caldecott Honor in 1994.

Bits About Chris

  • He and his wife have a son named Ingo.
  • His favorite color is yellowish-purple
  • His pets: two cats, Alaska Wolf Joe and Alma; one snail, Slimey; and two goldfish, Martha and Sigmund
  • His hobbies: Knitting and surfing
  • His favorite activities as a child: building with Legos
  • His favorite food: oysters on the half shell

Chris has illustrated and written A LOT of books. Many of them are quite short, but their careful rhythms in color and words make them very unusual stories that stay with readers and listeners long after story hour. Click here for a complete list of books featuring his artwork.

Cover to Yo! Yes?In 2006, The Hello, Goodbye Window, a story about a young girl and her loving grandparents, won the Caldecott Medal, the top award in American children's illustration. Chris' artwork was highly praised by the committee:
"With a few energetic lines, Raschka suggests a world filled with affection and humor. The richly textured tones of these expressive illustrations convey the emotional warmth of the intergenerational connection."

What's in the works for Chris Raschka? Among his other projects, he's creating a retelling of the musical favorite for children, Peter and the Wolf. He also visits schools to share his stories with students. When he comes, he makes sure the class joins in the telling so they can experience first-hand the wonderful rhythms of his books.

Learn More about Chris on the Web:

Biography Resource Center: Chris Raschka
http://www.librarypoint.org/articles_databases
A lengthy article that has many details as to Mr. Raschka's life and accomplishments. You will need a CRRL library card to use this database.

Candlewick Press: Chris Raschka
http://www.candlewick.com/authill.asp?b=Author&m=bio&id=2049&pix=n
This quick biography has some interesting facts about his life and a photo.

Chris Raschka and his round-the-world sardine "Arlene"
http://www.bookpage.com/9809bp/chris_raschka.html
Learn the strange but true tale behind Chris' unique book, Arlene Sardine.

Chris Raschka Biography
http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/data/authors/doc/Raschka138.doc
A bit more about Chris and his work from one of his publishers.

Chris Raschka: Following Ideas in Music and Art
http://www.childrenslit.com/childrenslit/mai_raschka_chris.html
A long article, with reviews and award listings for some of his books.

Meet Chris Raschka
http://www.bookpage.com/0306bp/meet_chris_raschka.html
With words and quick pictures, Chris responds to an interviewer's questions.