- Virginia Johnson
Picture book writer and illustrator Uri Shulevitz came into a world on the brink of a devastating war. The son of son of Abraham and Szandla (Hermanstat) Shulevitz, Uri (pronounced oo-ree), he was only four years old when German bombs falling on Warsaw drove his Jewish family out of the city and into an eight-year period of travel in exile throughout Europe before finally settling in Paris in 1947, when Uri was twelve years old.
His Caldecott Honor book, How I Learned Geography, tells something of those years of travel. Set in Kazakhstan, little Uri is very upset when his father came home from the market with a large map of the world instead of desperately needed food. But eventually he realizes the map can help his mind escape from the difficulties of their refugee life to the beautiful places he can imagine, and soon he is drawing maps of his own.
By the time they reached Paris after the War, Uri was still drawing… and Paris was a marvelous place to be a young artist. He won first place in a school-wide drawing contest and enjoyed illustrating comic books his friend wrote. In two years’ time, he and his family moved, along with many other European Jews, to the newly-established state of Israel. Uri was only fifteen when he became the youngest artist to have his drawings on exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum. During the next few years, he studied literature and natural sciences at the Teachers' Institute and art at the Art Institute of Tel Aviv and took private lessons with the painter Ezekiel Streichman.
He spent two years in compulsory service in the Israeli Army, and in 1958 he moved to Ein Geddi Kibbutz, a cooperative farm settlement near the Dead Sea. After a year on the kibbutz, 24-year-old Uri traveled to New York City, where he studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and began work as an illustrator for a publisher of Hebrew children’s books. In 1963, his first book, The Moon in My Room, was published by the large, mainstream publisher, Harper & Row.
He went on to write and illustrate many stories of his own, but he also illustrated picture books for other writers. One of his most famous collaborations, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, won the Caldecott Medal in 1969 for its illustrations. Through the years, Uri Shulevitz—who became an American citizen in the 1960s—gave back to emerging artists by creating Writing with Pictures : How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz. It was the kind of complete guide that he wishes had been available to him when he was learning and also was helpful to students whom he taught in workshops. The book is not only a how-to. It includes much in the way of the author’s philosophy on creating excellent picture books for children. He prefers a minimalistic approach to text and is extremely concerned with the rhythm of the illustrations. In a comment from his article in St. James Guide to Children's Writers, he explains:
I eventually understood that my initial fear that I could not write was based on a preconception that writing was strictly related to words and to spoken language. I had assumed that using many words skillfully was central to writing. I was overlooking what was of primary importance--what I had to say. And I was overwhelmed by what was of secondary importance--how to say it.
Once I understood that what I had to say was of primary importance, I began to concentrate on what would happen in my story. First I visualized the action, and then I thought of how to say it in words. I realized that all I had to do was communicate the action as simply as possible. The few words necessary to communicate the story fell into place on their own. It was all so simple and natural.
‘Tis the wintry season for one of his most beloved, award-winning books, the simply-named Snow. Check it out or click here for a list of books owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library that were written and/or illustrated by Uri Shulevitz.
Fast Facts About This Author:
- Born February 27, 1935, in Warsaw, Poland
- Major Awards:
- 1969: Caldecott Medal, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship
- 1979: Caldecott Honor, The Treasure
- 1998: Charlotte Zolotow Award, Snow
- 1998: Golden Kite Award, Picture Book Illustration, Snow
- 1999: Caldecott Honor, Snow
- 2009: Caldecott Honor, How I Learned Geography
- Lives in New York City.
- Contact: c/o Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., 19 Union Square West, New York, New York 10003, U.S.A.
From Biography in Context:
"Uri Shulevitz." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Gale Biography in Context.
"Uri Shulevitz." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography in Context.
"Uri Shulevitz." St. James Guide to Children's Writers. Gale, 1999. Gale Biography in Context.
In addition, Literature Resource Center has reviews of several of his best-known books. Novelist K-8 Plus has synopses of his books and selected reviews.
Also on the Web:
Mr. Shulevitz has some wonderful resources online—everything from interviews to how-to’s.
The Art of Uri Shulevitz: the author's own site features his personal work - paintings and sculptures based on his experiences as a child in Poland during World War II.
Excerpts from “An Evening with Uri Shulevitz”
How to Make a Story Board by Uri Shulevitz
Illustrating a Snowy Scene with Uri Shulevitz
The Power of Books upon Kids, with Uri Shulevitz
Uri Shulevitz: A Master of the Picture Book
Uri Shulevitz Discusses When I Wore My Sailor Suit