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Charles R. Smith (Jr.) (1969-) Biography - Personal, Career, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1969; Education: Attended Brooks Institute of Photography.

Career

Photographer and writer. Assistant to professional photographers, including Gregory Heisler; freelance photographer. Formerly worked on a cruise ship.

Writings

Let's Play Basketball!, illustrated by Terry Widener, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA) 2004.

SELF-ILLUSTRATED

Rim Shots: Basketball Pix, Rolls, and Rhythms, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Brown Sugar Babies, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2000.

Tall Tales, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Short Takes: Fast-Break Basketball Poetry, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Loki and Alex: The Adventures of a Dog and His Best Friend, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Perfect Harmony: A Musical Journey with the Boys Choir of Harlem, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.

I Am America, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

Hoop Queens (poems), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.

Hoop Kings (poems), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Diamond Life: Baseball Sights, Sounds, and Swings, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Dance with Me, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

ILLUSTRATOR

Brian Holland, Edward Holland, Jr., and Lamont Dozier, Sugar Pie Honey Bunch, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.

Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, My Girl, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.

Hal Davis, Berry Gordy, Bob West, and Willie Hutch, I'll Be There, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.

Brian Holland, Edward Holland, Jr., and Lamont Dozier, How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You), Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2001.

Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, Ain't No Mountain High Enough, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.

Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, The Way You Do the Things You Do, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.

Valerie Simpson and Nickolas Ashford, You're All I Need to Get By, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.

Pride and Joy, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Fay Robinson, Who Needs Birds When Dogs Can Fly, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Sidelights

Photographer and writer Charles R. Smith combines his talents to create several unique books for children of all ages, from preschoolers through high school. His first book, Rimshots: Basketball Pix, Rolls, and Rhythms, was born when he was working as a professional photographer in New York City. Bored with shooting mundane pictures for magazines and mystery novel covers, he did a series of photographs titled "Street Basketball in New York" that he hoped to exhibit as art. An art director at a children's publishing house saw them and thought they would make a good children's book. "When I mentioned that I could write, the rest, as the old cliché goes, is history," Smith wrote on his Web site. To accompany the photographs, which primarily depict the legs and feet of the players in motion, Smith adds "rhythmical prose that has the flavor of rap, inspirational musings, and concrete poetry," as Stephanie Zvirin described it in Booklist. "This unconventional book might well sneak up on kids who don't think they like to read and score a slam-dunk," concluded a Publishers Weekly critic. Smith has followed Rimshots with two similar self-illustrated books about basketball, Tall Tales: Six Amazing Basketball Dreams, which features fantastic stories about players performing feats like playing ball with a sixteen-foot-high basket or becoming the neighborhood champ despite being blind, and Short Takes: Fast-Break Basketball Poetry.

Diamond Life: Baseball Sights, Sounds, and Swings brings the format of Rimshots to a new sport, baseball. The layout of the poems is an integral part of the design; some are shaped like baseball diamonds, the arc of a ball in flight, or even a baseball itself. "The energetic, playful language begs to be read aloud," thought School Library Journal contributor Lee Bock, while Booklist's GraceAnne A. DeCandido described the book as "richly festive and fun."

Hoop Queens and Hoop Kings each profile twelve stars of the WNBA and NBA, respectively, in poems. Among the players featured in Hoop Queens are Sheryl Swoopes, Ticha Penicheiro, Teresa Weatherspoon, Tina Thompson, and Chamique Holdsclaw; on the men's side Smith selected, among others, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Jason Williams, and Shaquille O'Neal. Hoop Queens is "pure pleasure for basketball fans and inspiration for kids who doubted poetry was alive," Nina Lindsay declared in School Library Journal. Also writing in School Library Journal, Lee Bock thought that Hoop Kings "will have enormous appeal for all ages; basketball fans will love it, but so will others who respond to color, lively language, and energy."

Not all of Smith's books focus on sports. Loki and Alex: The Adventures of a Dog and His Best Friend uses both text and photographs to illustrate two perspectives on a day at the park: those of Alex, a young boy, and Loki, his dog. The photographs from Loki's perspective are in black and white (since dogs are partially color-blind), while Alex's view is in color. Smith also places a small photograph of Alex or Loki by their respective lines, helping to "get children into the groove of changing perspectives," as Holly Belli explained in School Library Journal. "The humor lies in the well-meaning misinterpretations, both visual and textual," Amy Brandt explained in Booklist. Loki doesn't always understand why Alex does the things he does, while Alex is confused about which parts of the playground Loki likes: he forces the dog to go down the slide, which Loki hates, but doesn't help him to climb the jungle gym, which Loki thinks looks like fun.

Despite its title, Perfect Harmony: A Musical Journey with the Boys Choir of Harlem is much more about music in general than it is about the world-renowned choir. Illustrated with photographs of boys in the choir in mid-song, Perfect Harmony features many short poems that explain basic musical terms, including rhythm ("a track / for voices / to glide / slide and / ride / upon") and harmony. Although the book includes a glossary that explains the terms in prose, "it's the poems themselves that show the ideas best," Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist. Another attractive feature of the book, Nina Lindsay commented in School Library Journal, is that its "tone … speaks naturally, lyrically, and directly to young readers."

I Am America celebrates boisterous kids who illustrate the diversity of the United States. The book is constructed in Smith's signature style, pairing photographs and a rhythmic, rhyming text. Each spread shows a child from two or three different perspectives. In most photographs the children are hamming it up for the camera; as a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, "The pictures' mischievous spontaneity brings to mind the giddiness of repeated sessions in a photo booth." The text describes the children with sentences such as "I am almond eyes" and "I am backward baseball caps." The point of the book, Smith explained on his Web site, is to "celebrate our diversity and show kids of all nationalities just having fun."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Smith, Charles R., I Am America, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

NY)Smith, Charles R., Perfect Harmony: A Musical Journey with the Boys Choir of Harlem, Jump at the Sun (New York, NY), 2002.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Rimshots: Basketball Pix, Rolls, and Rhythms, p. 1343; September 1, 1999, Sally Estes, review of Rimshots, p. 132; March 1, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Tall Tales: Six Amazing Basketball Dreams, p. 1245; February 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Short Takes: Fast-Break Basketball Poetry, p. 1150; June 1, 2001, Amy Brandt, review of Loki and Alex: The Adventures of a Dog and His Best Friend, p. 1896; August, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Perfect Harmony: A Musical Journey with the Boys Choir of Harlem, p. 1962; January 1, 2003, review of Perfect Harmony, p. 797; August, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Hoop Queens, p. 1976; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of I Am America, p. 499; February 15, 2004, John Peters, review of Hoop Kings, p. 1058; March 1, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Diamond Life: Baseball Sights, Sounds, and Swings, p. 1192; September 1, 2004, John Peters, review of Let's Play Basketball, p. 114.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Perfect Harmony, p. 888; July 1, 2003, review of Hoop Queens, p. 915; January 15, 2004, review of Hoop Kings, p. 89; February 15, 2004, review of Diamond Life, p. 185.

Publishers Weekly, January 25, 1999, review of Rimshots, p. 96; March 27, 2000, review of Tall Tales, p. 80; October 9, 2000, review of Brown Sugar Babies, p. 89; August 11, 2003, review of Hoop Queens, p. 280; January 5, 2004, review of I Am America, p. 59; February 23, 2004, review of Diamond Life, p. 74.

School Library Journal, September, 2000, Barb Lawler, review of Tall Tales, p. 237; October, 2000, Ann Cook, review of Brown Sugar Babies, p. 138; March, 2001, Lauralyn Persson, review of Short Takes, p. 278; July, 2001, Holly Belli, review of Loki and Alex, p. 88; August, 2002, Nina Lindsay, review of Perfect Harmony, p. 180; September, 2003, Nina Lindsay, review of Hoop Queens, p. 237; November, 2003, Anne Knickerbocker, review of I Am America, p. 130; March, 2004, Lee Bock, review of Diamond Life, p. 200, review of Hoop Kings, p. 244; October, 2004, review of Hoop Kings, p. 52.

ONLINE

Charles R. Smith, Jr. Web site, http://www.charlesrsmithjr.com (March 16, 2005).*

Damu Smith Biography - Took Over Administration Building, Moved onto National Stage [next] [back] Janice Lee Smith (1949-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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