We are sorry to report that David Wisniewski died at age 49 on September 11, 2002 in a nursing home in Alexandria, VA after a period of brief illness. His contributions to the illustrated world of children's literature will be missed. Look for two more Wisniewski publications due out this fall: "Halloweenies" (HarperCollins) and "Sumo Mouse" (Chronicle).
David Wisniewski can take kids to Mali, to Mayan kingdoms or elsewhere in the world with the stroke of an Exacto knife. Make that many strokes. Wisniewski, whose medium is cut paper, uses nearly 1,000 blades for a single book. His intricate, multi layered illustrations begin with sketches. He traces one element at a time onto vividly colored 80-pound paper, then cuts each one out and puts the pieces together with photo mounts and foam tape. The result is a three-dimensional look so realistic that some young readers think they are looking at pop-up" illustrations. It does give the illusion of lifting off the pages," says Wisniewski.
As a drama major who was impatient to perform, Wisniewski signed up to be a clown for the Ringling Brothers Circus without any experience in clowning. After several years, he ran away from the circus for a job as a puppeteer again without any experience in puppetry. Later he became a graphic-arts specialist untrained, of course. From there he segued into writing and illustrating juvenile picture books never having studied children's literature or art.
As an author, his specialty is other cultures. Sundiata, Lion King of Mali (1992, Clarion, Ages 4 to 10, $16.95) tells the story of a West African ruler while The Wave of the Sea-Wolf is placed in the Tlingit Culture of the Pacific Northwest (1994, Clarion, Ages 4 to 18, $17.00). Later this year a retelling of the story of the Golem from Jewish folklore will be published.
Rain Player (1991, Clarion, Ages 4 to 8, $17.00), is about thinking for oneself. Wisniewski chose the Maya, because they were a fatalistic people. In Rain Player, a year of deadly drought is predicted. The Maya resign themselves to the possibility of a failed corn crop and slow starvation. One boy challenges Chac, the rain god, to a game of pok-a-tik. If he wins, the rains will fall and if he loses, Chac will turn him into a frog. Wisniewski believes that coming up with an original story that makes a point while remaining true to an original culture is the preferred way to create books.
Since the publication of his first book, Wisniewski has received nothing but praise. Formally trained or not, he certainly has natural talents, which fortunately for the moment, are focused on children's books. Contributor: Donna Freedman
Since the interview was published in August of 1996, Wisniewski's book Golem was published. Recognition of Wisniewski's talents occurred recently when he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his book Golem
Illustrated by David Wisniewski
In 1992, a ship bound for Tacoma left Hong Kong with 29,000 plastic bathtub toy animals that were washed overboard in a storm. Some were found off the coast of the Gulf of Alaska but one lone duck was found off the coast of Washington State. This inspired Eve Bunting's tale. We journey with the duck on the adventure of his toy life, feeling his terror and fears. The illustrations are buoyant cut-paper designs in startling shades of red, magenta, yellow and blue. 1997, Clarion, Ages 3 to 7, $15.00. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
Anlaf Haraldsson and his ship sight land and with the help of the Hidden Folk they arrive before Gorm the Girm. Angered Gorm places a curse on Anlaf and his daughter Elfwyn is born blind. As Gorm uses trickery to plant the seeds of unrest, it is Elfwyn's blindness that allows her to see the truth and save her people. The intricate cut paper illustrations are remarkable and as complex as this story based on the history of Iceland and the origin of the Northern Lights. An author's note is included. 1990, Lothrop, Ages, $13.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
The layered cut paper images practically leap off the pages; they seem so real you want to touch them in this retelling of a Jewish legend. There have been numerous versions published, most recently one by Mark Powdell entitled Golem, A Giant Made of Mud and a reissue in paper of The Golem by Isaac Bashevis Singer with illustrations by Uri Shulevitz. None has the visual impact that Wisniewski offers, nor are they able to make the story truly accessible to young readers as he does. In this retelling, Rabbi Loew of Prague creates the mud monster to protect his people, but the Rabbi knows that Golem, in spite of his growth toward humanness, must cease to exist. He rests, "But many say he could awaken. Perhaps when the desperate need for justice is united with holy purpose..." A dramatic tale well told and beautifully illustrated. 1996, Clarion, Ages 4 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
A year of drought looms ahead for the citizens of this ancient Mayan city. Pik, a ballplayer, rashly boasts that if he were the high priest that he would tell the rain god Chac to get to work. Chac overhears and a challenge is issued. If Pik wins the ball game then the rains will come, if he loses he'll become a frog. Aided by other animals Pik wins and becomes a champion called the Rain Player. A well researched tale, set in a little known culture, and illustrated with intricate, layered cut paper images. The art fills every spread and has a three dimensional quality that encourages close examination. 1991, Clarion, Ages 4 to 8, $6.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups
Ah, the Caldecott! When you win it, you can finally get away with writing and illustrating what you really want to. That's seems to be what Wisniewski has done, in this iconoclastic little tome that pushes both the publishing envelope and the parental button. Bet you didn't know the real reason for Grown-up Rule # 37: Drink Plenty of Milk! Hint: it has to do with a top-secret government program and some cows you just gotta meet to believe. In the age of the 32-page picture book, here are a hefty 45 pages of text and illustration. Wisniewski's trademark cut-paper collages are turned to a refreshingly wicked purpose, and aimed squarely at the 8-10 crowd. Who ought to lap it up like the proverbial milk. 1998, Lothrop, Lee and Shepard, Ages 8 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
Sundiata, Lion King of Mali
Some 800 years ago, according to the story handed down for generations, the son of a king was driven into exile by a rival queen. Sundiata returns to defeat the intruder and claims the throne. The story is one of a young man who overcomes both physical handicaps and social disgrace. The tale is filled with spectacular images created from cut paper. An author's note provides a summary of the history of Mali and its king, Sundiata. 1992, Clarion, Ages 4 to 10, $17.00. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
The Warrior and the Wise Man
Twin brothers, one a warrior and one a wise man, were asked by their emperor father to each pursue a quest to capture the five elements. The first to bring the five things to his father would become the successor. The warrior manages to obtain all of the elements and to be the first to bring them to the emperor, but along the way he causes harm and destruction. It is through the wisdom of the other brother that the damage is corrected and eventually the kingdom is saved. It is another original story by Wisniewski, but it does have a Japanese flavor. According to Kirkus "An exciting, well-told story....The cut paper illustrations are outstanding....A beautiful first book from a highly accomplished artist." 1989, Lothrop, Ages 4 to 8, $15.00 and $5.95. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Adults will enjoy this book as much as kids. It is a spoof of the hard-boiled detective stories and movies that many of us loved in the 1940s and 50s. However, kids do not have to know the genre to enjoy this book. Wisniewski has set his story in a cookie jar and he ably depicts the scene with his opening spread entitled "Welcome to the Jar" Puns abound and the cut paper illustrations, while not as intricate as some of his other books, are 3-dimensional and almost leap off the pages. They too are filled with humor. Our detective hero, who has fallen to the bottom of the jar, takes on the evil Fingers and rises to the top and with the help of friends from below (the crumbs), he manages to defeat Fingers and end up with the girl of his dreams. It is a formula story given a most refreshing treatment by a skilled story teller and artist. 1999, Lothrop, Ages 5 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
Wisniewski presents a Tlingit story from the far northwest of what is now the United States. In addition to being a tale of the Tlingit nation, it involves the first contact with white explorers, and how the culture was changed forever. The cut-paper pictures are superb. 1994, Clarion, Ages 5 to 9, $17.00. Reviewer: Judy Silverman
Illustrated by David Wisniewski.
Welcome to the workshop where a master craftsmen are using a variety of tools to create a carousel. The ruler is used to mark off exact measurements, a saw cuts through the wood and a chisel is used to refine and shape the figure of the horse. Shears cut though tough leather for the reins and stirrup straps while a knife is used to finely trim. All of the tools found in a toolbox and workshop are boldly depicted in Wisniewski's cut paper illustrations. The final spread of the workers and the carousel splashes brightly over two pages and the final page reveals the young helper astride a wonderful horse from the carousel. 1999, Clarion, Ages 3 to 5, $16.00. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
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