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Robert J. Blake Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1971-75; attended Art Students League of New York.

Career

Children's book author and illustrator.

Member

New York Society of Illustrators.

Honors Awards

Nebraska Golden Sower Award, and New Jersey Jerry Award, both for Riptide by Frances WArd Weller; Washington State Children's Choice award, Irma S. and James H. Black Award, Vermont Red Clover Award, and Indiana Young Hoosier Award, all for Akiak; Southwest Book award, for Yudonsi; Texas Bluebonnet Award, 2005, and Nebraska Golden Sower Award, Washington State Children's Choice Award, and Michigan Great Lakes Book Award, all for Togo;.

Writings

SELF-ILLUSTRATED

All around the Town, Modern Publishers, 1987.

The Perfect Spot, Philomel (New York, NY), 1992.

Dog, Philomel (New York, NY), 1994.

Spray, Philomel (New York, NY), 1996.

Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod, Philomel (New York, NY), 1997.

Yudonsi: A Tale from the Canyons, Philomel (New York, NY), 1999.

Fledgling, Philomel (New York, NY), 2000.

Togo, Philomel (New York, NY), 2002.

Carousel Cat, Philomel (New York, NY), 2005.

ILLUSTRATOR

Joanne Ryder, The Spider's Dance, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1981.

Peggy Kahn, The Care Bears and the New Baby, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.

Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit, Ideals Publishers, 1985.

Barbara Mariconda, Bobby the Circus Bear, Ideals Publishers, 1986.

Jean and Claudio Marzollo, The Baby Unicorn, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1987.

Frances Ward Weller, Riptide, Philomel (New York, NY), 1990.

Alison Blyler, Finding Foxes, Philomel (New York, NY), 1991.

Ann Warren Turner, Rainflowers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Amy Ehrlich, Maggie and Silky and Joe, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Ann Warren Turner, Mississippi Mud: Three Prairie Journals, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

Frances Ward Weller, The Angel of Mill Street, Philomel (New York, NY), 1998.

Sidelights

Robert J. Blake is an award-winning author and illustrator who made his debut in 1981, providing the artwork for Joanne Ryder's The Spider's Dance. Blake's first self-illustrated work, All around the Town, appeared in 1987. Recalling his early efforts at painting and drawing comic strips, Blake noted on his Web site that he dreamed of becoming an artist even as a child. "One day my Mom bought me a sketchbook," he recalled. "I thought it was the coolest thing—all that paper and NO lines on the pages. Drawing in the sketchbook was like making my own one-of-a-kind book. I drew everything I saw."

In his work, Blake often focuses on animals and the wonders of nature. Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod concerns the famous international sled dog race held annually in Alaska. Lead dog Akiak, a veteran of seven Iditarods, has one last chance to win the event before she is retired. When she hurts her paw, however, her musher pulls her from the competition. A determined Akiak manages to escape from race officials and chases after her team, now days ahead. "In smooth, journalistic style, Blake nimbly plaits Akiak's solitary quest with the team's struggle to win without her," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin praised the illustrations, calling Blake's oil paintings "quite striking," and the Publishers Weekly reviewer stated that "narrative and artwork pull equal weight" in the book.

A Native American boy learns to respect his surroundings in Yudonsi: A Tale from the Canyons. Young Yusi craves recognition, but his misguided efforts to assert his individuality, which include "tagging" his village with spray paint, angers the members of his tribe, who rename him Yudonsi, a play on the English phrase "you don't see." When Yusi decides to create an enormous tag on the walls of the canyon, a fierce storm erupts, washing away his painting and forcing him to seek shelter in a cave. There Yusi comes to the realization that he must work in harmony with nature. "Blake's rugged, naturalistic paintings, thick oils laid on canvas with a palette knife, are particularly strong at capturing the Southwestern landscape," noted a critic in Publishers Weekly. John Peters, reviewing the work in Booklist, felt that Blake's message is "capable of sparking discussion, and perhaps a productive line of thought, in some young readers."

A kestrel's first flight is the subject of Fledgling, a picture book set in New York City. After leaving her rooftop nest, the young bird swoops confidently through the skies, avoiding a hungry hawk by detouring through Coney Island and into the subway before returning home. "Blake's superb pen and watercolor art really tells the story," observed Horn Book contributor Joanna Rudge Long, "and his manipulation of perspective and composition to simulate the kestrel's point of view is masterful." "Blake has drawn his little heroine with loving care and Fledgling's success is a true delight," remarked Barbara Buckley in School Library Journal.

In Togo, Blake recounts the heroic true story of the sled dog that helped save a city. When an outbreak of diphtheria threatened the residents of Nome, Alaska, in 1925, authorities called on Leonhard Seppala and his speedy team of huskies, led by Togo, to pick up much-needed serum. The treacherous 350-mile mission over dangerously weak ice and through blinding snow, which took only a few days, ended in success. "The urgency and desperation come across clearly in both the dramatic text and the full-page impressionistic paintings," observed School Library Journal reviewer Susan Oliver, and a critic in Kirkus Reviews stated, "Blake's arresting oil paintings add greatly to the well-told tale, capturing the personality of the special dog."

In Carousel Cat Blake tells the story of a stray cat who makes his home near an amusement park near a dilapidated boardwalk. Three friends: Dan the Carousel Man, Madam Fortune the fortune teller, and a tatooed strong man, care for the cat, and even take her for rides on the carousel. Tragedy strikes when fire threatens the carousel, but the quick-witted cat manages to save her new family of young carousel kittens by story's end. Reviewing the book in School Library Journal, Marianne Saccardi praised the author/illustrator's watercolor and ink artwork for its ability to "recall a bygone era" and bring to life both the desolation of the decaying board-walk and the "joy of riding on a marvelous carousel with … beautifully carved horses."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 1992, Karen Hutt, review of The Perfect Spot, p. 1386; March 15, 1994, Kay Weisman, review of Dog, pp. 1369-1370; July, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Maggie and Silky and Joe, p. 1954; June 1, 1996, Linda Perkins, review of Spray, p. 1730; April 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Mississippi Mud: Three Prairie Journals, p. 1428; September 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Akiak: A Tale from the Iditarod, p. 131; September 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of The Angel of Mill Street, p. 135; September 1, 1999, John Peters, review of Yudonsi: A Tale from the Canyons, p. 137; December 15, 2000, Linda Perkins, review of Fledgling, p. 824; September 15, 2002, John Peters, review of Togo, p. 230.

Horn Book, July-August, 1990, Mary M. Burns, review of Riptide, p. 451; January, 2001, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Fledgling, p. 82.

Instructor, November-December, 2002, Judy Freeman, review of Togo, p. 57.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Togo, p. 1216; April 1, 2005, review of Carousel Cat, p. 413.

New York Times Book Review, March 11, 2001, Robin Tzannes, review of Fledgling, p. 27; November 17, 2002, Andrew Leonard, "Mush Ado," review of Togo, p. 34.

Publishers Weekly, April 20, 1992, review of The Perfect Spot, p. 56; March 11, 1996, review of Spray, p. 64; August 25, 1997, review of Akiak, p. 72; October 4, 1999, review of Yudonsi, p. 74.

School Library Journal, April, 1990, Trev Jones, review of Riptide, p. 100; September, 1991, Christine A. Moesch, review of Finding Foxes, p. 228; October, 2000, Barbara Buckley, review of Fledgling, p. 112; September, 2002, Susan Oliver, review of Togo, p. 181; March, 2005, Marianne Saccardi, review of Carousel Cat, p. 168.

ONLINE

Robert J. Blake Web site, http://www.robertjblake.com (April 20, 2005).

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