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Catherine Stock (1952-) - Sidelights

review book gus illustrations

While award-winning illustrator Catherine Stock is known for creating tender, fanciful, boldly colored, and factually accurate water color and pastel illustrations for the works of a roster of highly acclaimed authors, she has also authored and illustrated a number of her own award-winning picture books. In her own titles, which include Emma's Dragon Hunt, Gugu's House, and A Spree in Paree, Stock takes English-speaking readers on journeys to places far from home, like China, Europe, and Africa, introducing them to the diversity and vastness of the world.

Stock's own childhood allowed her to experience many different cultures first hand: born in Sweden, she lived with her family in France, England, South Africa, Hong Kong, and the United States while still a child. As the author/illustrator once told Something about the Author (SATA): "I'm a rather quiet and shy person, and I've always loved books. I also grew up continually painting pictures—my mother was a painter. Perhaps because we were always moving, our family was very close. Thus, childhood memories are very special to me and a constant source of inspiration."

After studying art at schools in Cape Town, South Africa and London, England, Stock earned a master's degree from New York City's Pratt Institute and thereafter found work in children's books and publishing. A year spent teaching children's-book writing, illustration, and design in Cape Town was followed by design positions at both Macmillan and Clarion in New York. Her first self-illustrated title was 1978's A Christmas Angel Collection, and her first big success as an author/illustrator came in 1984 when Emma's Dragon Hunt was chosen as a Reading Rainbow book.

Emma's Dragon Hunt tells the story of young Emma and her grandfather, Wong, who has recently emigrated from China to live with Emma's family. Wong and Emma share a common passion for dragons; he tells her stories of kind dragons and even takes her out to look for the mythical beasts. Through the book's illustrations, the reader, like Wong, can clearly see the mischievous dragons that cause earthquakes and heat waves, but Emma does not. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called Emma's Dragon Hunt "graceful."

Stock next turned her hand to companion books about a little girl named Sophie. Betsy Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, called Sophie's Knapsack an "enticing picture book" about a family camping trip. In this follow-up to Sophie's Bucket kindergartener Sophie enjoys an encounter with nature. The full-page watercolor paintings chronicle the entire trip's events, and "the details of every snack or meal are delicious," proclaimed Hearne. The family drives to the country, hike in a beautiful setting, and snack on delicious food. The book, with its "fresh writing and art," was sure to inspire young readers, according to Hearne. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan appreciated Stock's "lovely, luminous watercolor illustrations," and concluded that Sophie's Knapsack is a book that both "would-be and experienced campers will enjoy . . . again and again."

Stock's books Armien's Fishing Trip, Where Are You Going, Manyoni?, and Gugu's House are set in Africa. In Armien's Fishing Trip, while visiting his old home in Kalk Bay, South Africa, Armien decides to impress his friends by stowing away on Old Sam's fishing boat. During a storm, Old Sam is washed overboard, and quick-thinking Armien gives up his hiding place to save the man. Returning to Kalk Bay, Armien is now a hero, "a victory that will be shared by would-be sailors among the readers," wrote Ann A. Flowers in Horn Book. Flowers concluded that Stock's "beautiful illustrations combine impressive watery scenes of the sea with comfortable views of the racially mixed South African town of Kalk Bay."

Zimbabwe is the backdrop for Where Are You Going, Manyoni?, the story of a child's long walk to school. Passing a giant baobab tree, a dried river bed, a wild bushpig, and baboons, the little girl experiences the early morning of rural Zimbabwe as she heads toward her village school. Lyn Miller-Lachmann noted in School Library Journal that Stock's "expansive double-page spreads provide plenty of opportunities for youngsters to search for Manyoni and to identify a rich array of wildlife." With many unfamiliar terms, the book contains what Miller-Lachmann called a "much-needed glossary." A Kirkus Reviews critic called the story "a lovely book that draws the reader right in with Manyoni, among the rocks and trees."

Stock returns readers to Zimbabwe for a second time with Gugu's House, a "joyful portrait of a wise, loving grandmother," according to Booklist contributor John Peters. Toddler Kukamba loves her visits with at the cottage where her "gugu" lives, because artistic Gugu has decorated her home with all manner of colorful animal sculptures, patterned fabrics, and painted walls. When the seasonal rains come, pour through the cottage's thatched roof, and wash away all Gugu's artwork, Kukamba is consoled by the wise woman, and together Gugu and granddaughter gather the materials that will return color to the home. Praising the award-winning picture book as a "warm, intergenerational story," School Library Journal contributor Genevieve Ceraldi added that the "mood of the text is perfectly mirrored in [Stock's] . . . watercolor illustrations."

Stock's summer home in France is part of the inspiration behind her picture book A Spree in Paree, which finds a farmer and his livestock going on a day's jaunt to the French city. Visiting the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and even taking in a show at the Follies Bergère, farmer Monmouton and his assorted pigs, sheep, goats, cows, and chickens head back to the barnyard, exhausted. While Monsieur Monmouton thinks he has had the last word when he sighs "Never again" at day's end, the following morning the travel-tested animals are perusing Manhattan travel brochures. Stock's watercolor illustrations, in her characteristically sketchy style, "expertly capture . . . the tale's tongue-in-cheek tone," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while in Publishers Weekly a critic praised the book for its "engaging" illustrations that "crackle with activity" and enhance the author/illustrator's "straightforward text." Praising the book in the New York Times Book Review, Adam Gopnkik noted that "Stock has a lovely and a lively eye for Parisian detail," and dubbed A Spree in Paree "appealing."

Among her self-illustrated works, Stock has created several titles that detail North American holidays and celebrations. Late winter and spring holidays are dealt with in Secret Valentine and Easter Surprise, while birthdays are addressed in Birthday Present. Fall and winter are also neatly taken care of with Halloween Monster, Thanksgiving Treat, and Christmas Time. These last three books "that contain simple yet appealing messages," according to Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper. In Halloween Monster, a young African-American boy is frightened of Halloween until he climbs into his monster suit and joins in the fun. Thanksgiving Treat, finds a young boy searching for chestnuts to contribute to his family's holiday celebration, and in Christmas Time, a little girl helps to choose a tree and make cookies. "These books take the time to appreciate the small moments that go into making holidays memorable," concluded Cooper, adding that the books "are also strong on extolling family relationships." Lisa Dennis declared in School Library Journal that Stock's books "fill a definite, even desperate need, for accessible, attractive holiday picture books," while Roger Sutton, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, asserted that it is "good to see story and concept so smoothly blended; equally good to see a new series so gimmick-free."

In addition to the solo titles she has written and illustrated since 1978, Stock has contributed art work to texts by authors such as Charlotte Zolotow, Charlotte Pomerantz, Karen Williams, Joan Blos, and Claudia Mills. In her illustrations for other writers, Stock is equally careful to match the mood of her artwork to that of a particular story. Her illustrations for Leslea Newman's Too Far Away to Touch, for example, are gentle and serene, following the tone of the story about a warm and empathetic uncle preparing his niece for his eventual death from AIDS. "Stock's watercolors are sensitive to the tender mood," wrote Roger Sutton in the New York Times Book Review, "and they keep sentimentality at bay through a contrast of sunny scenes and nighttime mystery." Maeve Visser Knoth asserted in Horn Book that the "effective, understated text is enhanced by Stock's soft watercolor paintings, which express the close relationship between Zoe and her uncle."

Stock teamed up with Newbery medalist Joan Blos for Nellie Bly's Monkey, a recounting of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century reporter's momentous trip around the world as told by McGinty, a monkey—with a fetching fez—that Bly acquired in Singapore. The monkey tells his story in brief chapters set in Hong Kong, Yokohama, and San Francisco. "Most of the charm here radiates from Stock's illustrations," commented a Publishers Weekly critic, adding that "every stroke [is] suggestive of her subjects' personalities." The same reviewer concluded: "Detailed, full-page watercolors evoke the diverse settings of the text, while line art conjures up telling vignettes." In Booklist Stephanie Zvirin noted the "charming humor in Stock's black-and-white sketches and in her attractive watercolor illustrations."

Further adventures around the world come to readers in Stock's illustrations for Nancy Riecken's Today Is the Day, a picture book set in rural Mexico, and in Tololwa M. Mollel's Kele's Secret, set on a Tanzanian coffee farm. In the first title, young Yesenia anxiously awaits the return of her father after a six-month absence, running to meet each bus that arrives. Long after sundown, he finally comes. "Stock's watercolors are exuberant and poignant," observed Denise E. Agosto in School Library Journal, "helping readers to understand Yesenia's hopes and fears." Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke also commented on the emotion-filled artwork, writing that "Stock's tender watercolors vividly use facial expression and posture . . . to show Yese's feelings."

In Kele's Secret little Yoanes plays detective on his grandmother's coffee plantation. The boy is an expert at finding the eggs of a chicken named Kele, but finding the bird itself is another story. Yoanes has to deal with his own fears in tracking down the hen, hidden away in a creepy old shed. Stock's "on-site research shows in her fluid, detailed watercolors of contemporary eastern Africa," commented a Publishers Weekly, while Alicia Eames stated in School Library Journal that the artist's "distinguished watercolors successfully capture the action of the story, the lush setting, and Yoanes's changing expressions."

Working together with author Claudia Mills, Stock has helped create a series of longer picture books for independent readers that are built around a very imperfect little boy, Gus, and his equally imperfect grandfather. In the first book of the series, Gus and Grandpa, the little boy makes three visits to his grandfather's house, trying to train the dog Skippy, and ultimately celebrating their birthdays together. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "Stock builds on the breezy mood with dynamic, sketchy art, adding details that amplify the proceedings," and dubbed the first volume in the series "a witty, warm offering." Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman concluded that the artist's "line-and-wash illustrations are filled with light and love and commotion."

Further adventures between Gus and his grandfather are chronicled in a number of well-received volumes, all with text by Mills and illustrations by Stock. In Gus and Grandpa at the Hospital Grandpa suffers a heart attack and is admitted to the hospital, but he knows what to do to put his visitor, Gus, at ease. "Soft watercolor wash-and-line drawings complement the well-written text," commented Pamela K. Bomboy in School Library Journal. Out of the hospital in Gus and Grandpa and the Two-wheeled Bike, grandfather helps Gus get rid of his training wheels, both literally and figuratively. Maura Bresnahan wrote in School Library Journal, that "Stock's muted watercolors nicely reflect both the plot's elements and the close bond between grandfather and grandson." In Gus and Grandpa at Basketball the pair attempt to counter Gus's tendency to fumble on the court during game time; Stock's illustrations for this volume were praised by School Library Journal contributor Louie Lahana for their "vintage quality," while in Horn Book Martha V. Parravano cited the artwork for its ability to "accentuate Gus's initial panic on the basketball court" as well as his thrill when his problem is overcome with his grandfather's help.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 1, 1988, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sophie's Knapsack, p. 1187; October 1, 1990, Ilene Cooper, review of Christmas Time and Others, p. 341; February 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Nellie Bly's Monkey, p. 1024; September 15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Today Is the Day, p. 250; February 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Gus and Grandpa, p. 955; May 1, 1998, p. 1526; September 15, 1998, p. 242; November 1, 1998, p. 508; October 15, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Island Summer, p. 456; February 15, 2001, John Peters, review of Gugu's House, p. 1154.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1985, review of Emma's Dragon Hunt, p. 95; July-August, 1988, Betsy Hearne, review of Sophie's Knapsack, pp. 239-240; November, 1990, Roger Sutton, review of Christmas Time and Others, p. 72; October, 1993, p. 59.

Horn Book, November-December, 1990, Anna A. Flowers, review of Armien's Fishing Trip, p. 733; May-June, 1995, Mave Visser Knoth, review of Too Far away to Touch, pp. 328-329; March-April, 1999, pp. 211-212; November-December, 2001, Martha V. Parravano, review of Gus and Grandpa at Basketball, p. 754.

Instructor, April, 2002, Judy Freeman, review of Guga's House, p. 16.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1993, review of Where Are You Going, Manyoni? p. 942; February 1, 2004, review of A Spree in Paree, p. 139.

New York Times Book Review, August 27, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of Too Far away to Touch, p. 27; May 16, 2004, Adam Gopnik, review of A Spree in Paree.

Publishers Weekly, January 15, 1996, review of Nellie Bly's Monkey, p. 462; February 3, 1997, review of Gus and Grandpa, p. 107; May 12, 1997, review of Kele's Secret, p. 76; March 29, 3004, review of A Spree in Paree, p. 62.

School Library Journal, February, 1992, Lisa Dennis, review of Christmas Time and Others, p. 41; December, 1993, Lyn Miller-Lachmann, review of Where Are You Going Manyoni?, p. 94; November, 1984, p. 118; October, 1990, pp. 39, 102; November, 1995, p. 74; August, 1996, Denise E. Agosto, review of Today Is the Day, p. 128; June, 1997, Alicia Eames, Kele's Secret, p. 98; September, 1998, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Gus and Grandpa at the Hospital, p. 177; February, 1999, p. 83; April, 1999, Maura Bresnahan, Gus and Grandpa and the Two-wheeled Bike, p. 105; April, 2001, Genevieve Ceraldi, review of Gugu's House, p. 122; September, 2001, Louie Lahana, review of Gus and Grandpa at Basketball, p. 200; May, 2004, Roxanne Burg, review of A Spree in Paree, p. 125.

ONLINE

Catherine Stock Web site, http://www.catherinestock.com (January 22, 2005).

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