Author Profiles

Karen Hesse: Genius at Work

Do you know Karen Hesse? Her books can take you on a voyage of discovery with Captain Cook, into the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, or turn-of-the-century Russia. A sense of place has always been important to this author. She grew up very quietly in a row house and later an apartment in Baltimore, Maryland. When she wanted a place to be by herself, she had to get creative. Outside, there was an apple tree where she could sit for hours, reading and dreaming. Nearby was the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where she started with Dr. Seuss and kept on going, from picture books to chapter books to novels.

 

The Strange Stories of Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka (pronounce that SHESH-ka) is a wild and crazy guy. Don't leave the man alone in a room with an old-fashioned story. He'll twist it and bend it around 'til it looks like something that should be dripping with cheese and sold at the shopping mall.

His takes on classic tales are so off-the-wall you'll wonder what it would have been like to have him in your class. Let me tell you: it would have been dangerous-for you. He'd sit quietly, and then he'd crack up the other kids without making a sound. THEY would be the ones to get into trouble. Not Jon.

C.S. Lewis and the Land of Narnia

C. S. Lewis spent his first years at the family home, called Little Lea, in Belfast, Ireland. He was never really called C. S. or even Clive (C. S. stands for Clive Staples). This young man wanted to be called Jack. Like another college professor (Indiana Jones), Jack nicknamed himself after his beloved dog, Jacksie, who died when the author was quite young. His friends called him "Plain Jack Lewis," and it suited him. He was not especially handsome, but he was kind and bluff and came to have many friends.

Mary Downing Hahn: Woman of Mysteries

When Mary Downing Hahn writes a book, she works along steadily until that magic moment when the characters develop their own voices. Whether it's a mean-mouthed boy who is hiding family secrets or a girl who is terrified of the ghostly presence haunting her small step-sister, this author's characters tell their own stories both believably and intriguingly.

Vera B. Williams Creates Community in Her Books

Vera Baker was born in Hollywood, California, on January 28, 1927. She and her family moved to New York City when she was quite young. Luckily for Vera, they lived near a studio space called Bronx House where she learned painting, writing, acting, and dance. When she was nine-years-old, one of her paintings, called "Yentas," was put on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. She was filmed there explaining to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt the meaning behind her work. The Movietone film reel ran before the regular features at the movies. This, Vera recalled, made her quite a big shot in the neighborhood!

Simms Taback: Welcome to the Shtetl

Mr. Taback grew up in the East Bronx of New York City in 1930s and 40s. His family was Jewish, and they had strong ties to Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood was made up of many such families who together created a community rich in the traditions of the Old Country. When he was a young boy, he spoke the Yiddish language. Although he remembers little of it today, the old songs, stories, and ways of life have made a tremendous impact on the work of this Caldecott Award-winner. In old Poland, a village such as the one he grew up in would be called a shtetl.

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!

Barbara Park: Still Clowning Around

Barbara Tidswell was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, on April 21, 1947. Mount Holly was a small town, surrounded by farms. Young Barbara was the class clown in elementary school. Whenever she thought of something funny, she would just blurt it out to share with everyone in the room. In fact, she got sent to the principal's office for talking too much. This was not a cool thing to have happen as her dad was then president of the school board! She also loved to read comic books. In high school and college, she studied to be a teacher. She thought she might be able to add some humor to dull science classes. Barbara never thought back then that she would be a writer.

In the Ring with Author/Illustrator Ted Lewin

Buffalo, New York. It's cold up there near the Canadian line, the kind of place where houses often have sun porches to catch what heat they can get in the blustery winters. In the 1940s, most families would content themselves filling it with a couch, some houseplants, and a radio. In the Lewin household, the sun porch was filled with gym mats and weights.

Helen Oxenbury: On the Side of the Child

"One of the most important things is to laugh with your children and to let them see you think they're being funny when they're trying to be. It gives children enormous pleasure to think they've made you laugh. They feel they've reached one of the nicest parts in you.... As a picture book artist, I don't think one can be too much on the side of the child."

Helen Oxenbury, from Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book, by Leonard S. Marcus.

Helen Oxenbury understands babies. She knows that they are messy, cranky, and wonderful. She knows that few things fascinate a baby like, well, another baby. In the world of board books, those sturdy first books that are impervious to drool and can survive a few tasty chews, Helen Oxenbury reigns supreme.