Meet Authors & Illustrators

Chris Raschka

   Chris Raschka is certainly one of the most creative artists in children's books. He joined a group of fellow illustrators at an event hosted by the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC (September 2003). In addition to lectures and panel sessions, he and his compatriots provided hands-on demonstrations of their various techniques. His drawings look very simple, almost like something a kid might draw. “I find myself trying to simplify as much as possible. Movement and rhythm are important, and I want the pages to turn at a certain pace and not be slowed down by images or text.” Chris dips into both of these worlds, but wants to keep them together on the surface of the page. As a result, he creates many dummies for his books and shows them to kids. If the images are not concrete enough he goes back to the drawing board.

   His backgrounds are interesting, because he can add things such as a blue sky, a green field, a tree, dog and the like. Another way to subtract from the image of a dog, he told the audience, is to add another dog. While Chris likes all kinds of books, he really enjoys picture books. The entire process of making them plus the creation of the art allows him to pull everything together to create “his book.” Books have played a major role in his life. His mother is a librarian and his father a historian. He spent time helping his mother clean some of the older books in the library collection where she worked.

   When asked how difficult it is to illustrate someone else's work, he replied “It is different, having complete freedom to illustrate the text is both a joy and a burden.” For example, it was quite an honor to illustrate Margaret Wise Brown’s book, but in a way appalling, because it becomes a part of yourself. Usually he draws first and then writes the text. Obviously, he couldn’t modify the existing text. Chris has also worked with living authors and tries different approaches-sometimes his ideas work and like most of us there are times when they “just didn’t go.”

   He recounted a little morality tale. Drawing can be fast. His first book he drew a cat and then left the house to go to the laundromat. He returned and drew some more and just went back and forth between the drawing and the laundry. “Can this be right, drawing and painting between the wash and dry cycles?” It reminded him of the story of a Chinese painter who was asked to make a beautiful painting of a fish. The man who commissioned it came back after a week, it wasn’t done; a month later and it still wasn’t done; a year later when his patron returned, the artist drew the picture in ten minutes. What the patron didn’t see was the closet full of 100s of fish paintings.

   For more about Chris Rashka and his unusual style, including a 2003 interview with Ken and Sylvia Marantz and the reviews of his books, click here. Reviews of some that are not included in that feature are provided below.

Contributor: Marilyn Coutot

 

Reviews

A Child's Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
   A Child's Christmas in Wales is rich in word play, with a rolling rhythm like that of the sea that roils the shore of this small Welsh town. Poet Dylan Thomas's inimitable classic is a treat for the ear. This tale of a boy's holiday adventures (caroling, playing with friends, checking out presents) is laced with engaging portraits of the aunt "who had got onto the parsnip wine," another twice frightened by a clockwork mouse and uncles a-snooze by the fire. Full of swirling color, Chris Raschka's pictures complement this joyful reminiscence, which ends on a note of awe and peace. The young boy looks through his bedroom window at the "unending smoke-colored snow" and at "the lights in the windows of all the other houses ... and hear[s] the music rising from them up the long, steadily faling night." 2004, Candlewick, $17.99. Ages 4 up. Mary Quattlebaum (Children's Literature).

   For many people, Christmas just would not be Christmas without hearing this reminiscence of childhood. With Raschka's impressionistic illustrations, it takes on a fresh, new look. The torn paper and gouache drawings are in a variety of colors and tones to reflect the narrator's feelings as he describes the events. The fibers that appear on the edges of the torn paper give soft edges to these snippets of childhood remembrances. Although the waves are high and the snow is falling, there is something very inviting in the mix of blues and greens, and the way the buildings seem to come out to meet the reader in the illustration opposite the first page of text. Raschka effectively uses shades of red in the fire scenes with Mrs. Prothero, and warm shades of orange for a cozy Christmas-night scene. This abstract approach will be best appreciated by those who like to sense emotion in both the illustrations and the story. For them, it would be a wonderful gift. 2004 (orig. 1954), Candlewick Press, $17.99. Ages 8 up. Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-7636-2161-7
Best Books:
   Kirkus Book Review Stars, 2004; United States
   Notable Children's Books, 2005; American Library Association ALSC; United States
   New York Times Notable Books, 2004; New York Times; United States
   Notable Books for Children, 2005; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
Awards, Honors, Prizes:
   New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year Winner 1980 United States

I Pledge Allegiance: The Pledge of Allegiance: with Commentary
Bill Martin, Jr. and Michael Sampson
Illustrated by Chris Raschka.
   Bill Martin, Jr. states, "It's a miracle that children can even recite the Pledge of Allegiance with its sophisticated and complex language, yet they jump right in." To help them know what they are saying he and Sampson have defined single words and phrases of the entire text. The history of the pledge, reasons for the colors of the flag, and etiquette while saying the pledge can all be found in the explanations. In discussing the words, "under God" they state, "Many people believe that a democracy is a reflection of how God thinks--every single person is important." Raschka's illustrations are created with ink and torn paper. The people have a childlike, chalkboard retro look which will broaden the appeal to a wider reader age range. The full pledge, without breaks, is included in the back of the book. This book can be used not only to help a child or new immigrant understand the pledge, but also as a discussion starter in social studies classes. 2002, Candlewick Press, $15.99. Ages 6 to 9. Sharon Salluzzo (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-7636-1648-6
Best Books:
   Booklist Book Review Stars, Sep. 1, 2002; United States
   The Children's Literature Choice List, 2002; Children's Literature; United States
   Notable Children's Books, 2003; American Library Association-ALSC; United States
   School Library Journal Book Review Stars, December 2002; Cahners; United States

Skin Again
Bell Hooks
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
   This plea for looking beyond externals such as skin color is told simply in a few words per page, but conveys a deep and serious message. For skin is "just a covering. You have got to come inside and open your heart way wide." Exploring all that may be inside is the way to "let me be real and you become real to me." What a great way to introduce a discussion on how "we can be all real together on the inside"! These rather philosophical abstractions are made tangible on large pages as Raschka's almost crudely applied paints describe a galaxy of youngsters looking out at us with wide eyes, inviting us to look beyond their skin to inside their heads. Hands wave sometimes and once in a while a pair of children point at each other or dance to some music. Most frequently the pages are covered in colored rectangles, large and small, which house these individual images. Symbols of individuals, they can fit together to produce fresh patterns or new realities. 2004, Jump at the Sun/ Hyperion Books for Children, $16.99. Ages 3 to 7. Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 0-7868-0825-X

 

Updated 02/28/05

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If you're interested in reviewing children's and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to marilyn@childrenslit.com.

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