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Jennifer Plecas (1966-) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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(Jennifer Barrett)

Born 1966, in Washington, DC; Education: Attended Hamilton College, 1985-87, and University of the Arts, 1987-88; Moore College of Art and Design, B.F.A., 1991.

AR & T Animation Studio, Philadelphia, PA, animation assistant intern, 1988; Hallmark Cards, Kansas City, MO, artist, 1991-93; freelance artist and writer, 1993—.

Notable Book citation, American Library Association, 1994, for The Outside Dog.

(Self-illustrated; as Jennifer Barrett) Kiki's New Sister, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.

ILLUSTRATOR

Betsy Byars, The Seven Treasure Hunts, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

Pamela Greenwood, What About My Goldfish?, Clarion (New York, NY), 1993.

Charlotte Pomerantz, The Outside Dog, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Fran Manushkin, Peeping and Sleeping, Clarion (New York, NY), 1994.

Pamela Greenwood, I Found Mouse, Clarion (New York, NY), 1994.

Sylvia Andrews, Rattlebone Rock, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.

Barbara M. Joosse, Snow Day!, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Barthe DeClements, Spoiled Rotten, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.

Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Trouble with Wishes, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Patricia Hubbell, Wrapping Paper Romp, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 1998.

Jean Little, Emma's Magic Winter, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.

Joy Cowley, Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Shirley Mozelle, The Pig Is in the Pantry, the Cat Is on the Shelf, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

Shelley Moore Thomas, Good Night, Good Knight, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.

Jean Little, Emma's Yucky Brother, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Harriet Ziefert, Grandmas Are for Giving Tickles, Puffin Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Harriet Ziefert, Grandpas Are for Finding Worms, Puffin Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Joy Cowley, Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Shelley Moore Thomas, Get Well, Good Knight, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.

Joy Cowley, Agapanthus Hum and the Angel Hoot, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Jean Little, Emma's Strange Pet, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

Kathryn Lasky, Love That Baby!: A Book about Babies for New Big Brothers, Sisters, Cousins, and Friends, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.

Barbara M. Joosse, Bad Dog School, Clarion (New York, NY), 2004.

Karen Beaumont, Baby Danced the Polka, Dial (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of illustrations to periodicals, including Ladybug, Spider, and Cricket.

Illustrator Jennifer Plecas has provided the images for several popular children's books and series, including Shelley Moore Thomas's Good Night, Good Knight and Joy Cowley's "Agapanthus Hum" series. While she has illustrated a wide variety of picture books, Plecas earns particular notice from critics for her efforts at decorating books for children just learning to read independently. "There are plenty of illustrators making a splash with big, gorgeous picture books," wrote Deborah Stevenson on the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Web site, "but Jennifer Plecas has made a career in an unusual artistic excellence—illustration of easy readers." While noting that the artist "can turn out perfectly dandy larger illustrations," Stevenson claimed, "It's in those small, underserved pages that she really outshines the competition."

Peeping and Sleeping, one of Plecas's first books as an illustrator, is an affectionate tale about a young boy named Barry who goes on a nighttime walk with his father to see the frogs whose peeps he can hear from his room. Reviewers praised Plecas's illustrations of the pair, who, as Ellen Fader noted in Horn Book, were pictured against "a densely starred, deep blue sky [and] an abundance of beautiful deep green grass." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also appreciated the book, commenting that Plecas's "velvety, smudged pastels" did a good job of reflecting the "warmth and ease" in the father-son relationship.

Agapanthus Hum, an exuberant, accident-prone little girl, is the heroine of a series of books written by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Plecas. In various volumes, the girl breaks her glasses while doing gymnastics, adopts a dog who also has a penchant for mishaps, and loses a tooth. The illustrator "plays up the text's sweet-natured humor with her springy-limbed heroine, who indeed looks as if she can barely contain her energy," a Publishers Weekly contributor commented in a review of Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses. Reviewing Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark in School Library Journal, Laura Scott wrote that "Plecas's bright, water-color cartoons . . capture and extend this story, and will keep beginning readers enthralled." Booklist's Gillian Engberg remarked of Agapanthus Hum and the Angel Hoot, "Plecas once again contributes charming paint-and-ink sketches" of the "ever-exuberant" youngster.

Good Night, Good Knight and its sequel, Get Well, Good Knight, are tales which turn the usual narrative of armor-clad knights and fire-breathing dragons on its head. The Good Knight is on watch in his tower one night when he hears a roar and rides off, only to find three little pajama-clad dragons who do not want to go to bed. The Good Knight gives the first a drink of water and rides home, only to be called back by the second little dragon, who wants to be read a bedtime story. After complying, he rides home again, only to be called a third time to sing a lullaby to the last little dragon. Thinking his work done, the frustrated knight returns to his guard duty, relieved the youngsters are set for sleep. However, still unsatisfied, the dragons demand that the Good Knight return once more, as they refuse to fall asleep without a kiss good night. "Plecas's illustrations show that with each innocent demand the knight grows increasingly impatient, thus extending the text rather than just duplicating it," a reviewer commented in Horn Book about Good Night, Good Knight. Plecas's "charming, hilarious" images "make the book so irresistible," Gillian Engberg wrote in Booklist, while School Library Journal contributor Maura Bresnahan noted that "observant viewers will enjoy the expressions of the horse as he awaits his master upon each visit to the cave."

The dragons from Good Night, Good Knight return in Get Well, Good Knight, complete with terrible colds. Trying to help his suffering friends, the Good Knight administers terrible-tasting potions from the wizard, with little effect. The knight's own concoction does nothing as well, so the Good Knight looks to his secret weapon: his own mother's chicken soup. Book contributor Kathleen Odean found Get Well, Good Knight, "an outstanding book," commending Plecas's "sprightly illustrations." Writing in School Library Journal, Laura Scott found the work "a royal treat to soothe any beginning reader's blues."

Plecas once told SATA: "I seem to have some genetic urge to roll my eyes and mind over words. . . . I love books because you can really have time with them. You can borrow or buy. You can skim or pore over, you can read in private or public. You can go on a huge binge at the library, and providing you at least return the spoils on time, you don't have to pay any interest or any fees. Amazing.

"I imagine most of my maturation (not necessarily much to brag about) took place in the pages of books, moving through the eyes and thoughts of other writers and artists, swallowing their vision and experiences so that they felt like my own, allowing me to grow in ways impossible through my own living. Somehow to write and illustrate them seems to be a way to come into dialogue with those people who touched me.

Plecas once remarked that "being able to write and illustrate" books "is a true joy and honor." She once explained her love of writing and drawing to SATA: "As long as I can remember, I have always written and drawn. Before I could write real letters I spent hours scribbling long pages of my own dramatic, loopy scrawls full of 'real-looking' breaks in flow and crayoned or inked illustrations.

"A huge boost came with my fifth grade teacher. . . . His classroom had plants and a rocking chair, and on dark winter mornings he had lamps which he used instead of fluorescent lights—wooden carvings of children under the lamp shades. We did a lot of creative talking and working in that class. He had very round handwriting and he was always writing things like 'DYNAMITE!' and 'OUTSTANDING!' in huge letters on our papers. He put tons of pepper on his food. I have never had a happier time in school, and I wrote and drew like crazy that year. I have some of the books and papers I did for him still. Sometimes I feel I am floundering since that wonderful time, waiting for another teacher to go full force for. I suppose we have to be our own teachers at intervals, or perhaps more subtle or sophisticated learners."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Book, March-April, 2003, Kathleen Odean, review of Get Well, Good Knight, pp. 36-37.

Booklist, September 15, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of The Outside Dog, p. 151; November 1, 1993, Hazel Rochman, review of What About My Goldfish?, pp. 528-529; June 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Peeping and Sleeping, p. 1841; September 15, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of Rattlebone Rock, p. 168; November 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Emma's Magic Winter, p. 507; December 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Wrapping Paper Romp, p. 670; February 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Good Night, Good Knight, p. 1124; February 15, 2001, review of Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark, p. 1143; February 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Agapanthus Hum and the Angel Hoot, p. 1072.

Horn Book, January-February, 1994, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of The Outside Dog, p. 68; May-June, 1994, Ellen Fader, review of Peeping and Sleeping, p. 317; September-October, 1998, Martha V. Parravano, review of Emma's Magic Winter, pp. 610-611; January, 2000, review of Good Night, Good Knight, p. 84.

Instructor, January-February, 2003, Judy Freeman, review of Get Well, Good Knight, p. 78.

New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1995, Roni Schotter, review of Snow Day!, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1993, review of What About My Goldfish?, p. 72; April 25, 1994, review of Peeping and Sleeping, p. 77; September 18, 1995, review of Rattlebone Rock, p. 89; December 21, 1998, review of Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses, p. 68; November 1, 1999, review of Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark, p. 56; December 13, 1999, review of Good Night, Good Knight, p. 81; March 27, 2000, review of The Pig Is in the Pantry, the Cat Is on the Shelf, p. 79.

School Library Journal, November, 1993, Gale W. Sherman, review of The Outside Dog, p. 88; January, 1994, Elizabeth Hanson, review of What About My Goldfish?, p. 88; June, 1994, Lisa Wu Stowe, review of Peeping and Sleeping, p. 110; October, 1994, Gale W. Sherman, review of I Found Mouse, p. 90; September, 1995, Eunice Weech, review of Snow Day!, pp. 179-180; November, 1995, Nancy Seiner, review of Rattle-bone Rock, p. 64; June, 1996, Christina Dorr, review of The Trouble with Wishes, p. 107; July, 1996, William C. Heckman, review of Spoiled Rotten, p. 58; February, 1999, Blair Christolon, review of Wrapping Paper Romp, pp. 83-84; April, 1999, Gale W. Sherman, review of Agapanthus Hum and the Eyeglasses, p. 91; March, 2000, Maura Bresnahan, review of Good Night, Good Knight, p. 218; May, 2000, Christine Lindsey, review of The Pig Is in the Pantry, the Cat Is on the Shelf, p. 150; December, 2000, review of Good Night, Good Knight, p. 55; January, 2001, Maura Bresnahan, review of Emma's Yucky Brother, p. 103; February, 2001, Laura Scott, review of Agapanthus Hum and Major Bark, p. 93; November, 2002, Laura Scott, review of Get Well, Good Knight, p. 139.

ONLINE

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Web Site, http://www.alexia.lis.uiuc.edu/puboff/bccb (April 1, 2000), Deborah Stevenson, "True Blue: Jennifer Plecas."

George (Ames) Plimpton (1927-2003) Biography [next]

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