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Bob Graham (1942-) - Sidelights

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Australian picture book author and illustrator Bob Graham is known for the simplicity, droll humor, and charming everyday quality of his stories and pictures. As he once noted, "My stories are a light-hearted glimpse of the day-to-day activities of children, their families and dogs." Critics have lauded his ability to notice and accentuate, in a dead-pan manner, the details and events that are so momentous to children but which pass virtually unnoticed by adults, making Graham's books enjoyable to readers of all ages. Denise M. Wilms of Booklist called Graham's books "disarmingly simple," while an Australian Book Review critic admired Libby, Oscar, and Me for its "absolute economy of text."

Graham's stories are told from a child's point of view, and his accompanying illustrations likewise present a youthful perspective on his subjects. Libby, Oscar, and Me is a book about a "master of disguises" who dresses up in her mother's clothes and has all sorts of dreamed-up adventures with her beloved dog and cat companions. In Here Comes John, a snail tries to avoid a myriad of pitfalls, such as a Scottie dog, a box of snail killer, and a curious and hungry little boy. Paula Neuss of the Times Literary Supplement declared these adventures to be "as important as those of many a romantic hero." The Wild depicts a child's fear when his domestic pets depart for the nearby wild woods. Times Literary Supplement critic George Szirtes praised the "primitive magic" in the book, which "assures and confronts" a child with the differences in the natural, non-human realm. The inexplicable but passionate attachment children have to a seemingly ordinary, inanimate object is the inspiration for The Red Woollen Blanket, in which Julia chews and clutches her precious blanket from literally the day she is born to the day she starts school, when the last threads of the beloved but tattered textile are lost.

Graham's books also give a glimpse of family workings and intricacies. First There Was Frances is the tale of how, in the words of Booklist's Ilene Cooper, "the formation of a family can bring a boisterous joy to life." A woman living alone is joined by a man who becomes her husband, and babies and a variety of pets follow shortly thereafter. In Crusher Is Coming!, Pete invites the class football hero, Crusher, to his house for tea. He warns his mother not to kiss him in front of this macho kid, or else Crusher will think his family weak and silly, and hopes his baby sister will not want to get in on the act. The big, red-headed footballer surprises everyone by happily taking part in the little sister's tea party, complete with toys and stuffed animals. According A family's seaside vacation seems to be spoiled by a motorcycle gang camping nearby until the bikers turn out to be helpful and companionable in Bob Graham's tale about passing judgment based on appearance. (From Greetings from Sandy Beach, written and illustrated by Graham.) to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, Graham's "new slant on sibling rivalry is droll," revealing the author's understanding of relationships within families and a child's view of them.

Critics have noted that without being heavy-handed, Graham gives some light-hearted and humorous morality lessons. In both Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten and Greetings from Sandy Beach, people who at first seem scary, undesirable, or simply a bit "off" are shown to be quite kind and caring. In the first book, Rose wonders about the mysterious and, therefore, somewhat frightening Mr. Wintergarten, who lives in the house next door. She never speaks to him until she is forced to in order to retrieve her ball from his yard. She discovers Mr. Wintergarten to be a kind old man and, thereby, "challenges some confining stereotypes in the name of humanity," according to a critic from Publishers Weekly.

Greetings from Sandy Beach is the story of a family's weekend seaside holiday, in which they have to share the beach with a busload of school children and, even worse, the Disciples of Death, a biker gang. Humorously told from the daughter's point of view, a Publishers Weekly critic likened the book to "a long, comical postcard." Dad is not too happy about either group, but especially distrusts the tough-looking "bikies." By the end of the weekend, he changes his tune, after the Disciples help inept Dad set up the family's tent and show that they might be somewhat like this ordinary, middle-class family after all.

Max, which saw print in 2000, features a young boy growing up in a family of superheroes. Though Max already wears the uniform, he is reluctant to develop his flying skills until he has to use them to save a baby bird. Writing in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan praised not only "the book's large size and brilliant colors," but its "welcome theme." Similarly, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan in School Library Journal summed up Max as "a welcome, gentle look at the world of superheroes." "Let's Get a Pup!" Said Kate, which garnered Graham several awards, appeared the following year. Kate's request to get a puppy is met cheerfully by her parents, who end up adopting an older dog as well. Gay Lynn Van Vleck noted in School Library Journal that the author's illustrations "include a Mom with a tattoo and nose ring, and a disheveled Dad." Booklist's Ilene Cooper concluded that the book is "sure to make … readers feel warm and happy."

Graham explored the world of fairies in his 2002 effort, Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child. In this tale, Jethro and his parents are discovered by a human girl who invites them all to tea. Though the girl's parents cannot see her fairy companions, they humor her in her desire to provide hospitality for her new friends. School Library Journal reviewer Lisa Gangemi Kropp maintained that "Graham's charming watercolor-and-ink artwork has muted shadows, an affectionate softness that complements Annabelle and her baby brother are the only ones who can see the family of fairies who have just landed their tiny ice cream truck outside her window in Graham's fantastical picture-book tale. (From Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, written and illustrated by Graham.) the magical undertones of the story." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Graham's "message about slowing down to enjoy the small wonders of life will resonate" with readers young and old, while a Kirkus Reviews critic praised the author's overriding theme about the value of being hospitable to strangers as a "worthy concept behind this deceptively simple tale."

Graham's popularity has been attributed by critics to his unique ability to understand how children think and for his low-key comedy, geared, not condescendingly, to a child's level. The simplicity of his works make them suitable for "toddler comprehension capabilities," while parents "will enjoy the dry humor that permeates the scenarios," according to Wilms in Booklist. Hesitant about explaining his craft, Graham once remarked, "I feel my views are best expressed over the thirty-two pages in my picture books."

Graham once commented, "Reviewers and interviewers have often asked me, are issues important in your books for children? I have traditionally replied that issues are too heavy for a picture book, and for me are cumbersome and forced, and I would never attempt to start a book with an issue. I concentrate on the story first, and things may arise from that which can only ever be a result of the story. I realized that my replies have been cliches, and I have had cause to think more deeply about that, particularly in sight of world events these past few years. My books have only ever been about one thing—people being respectful and decent to each other, treating each other well, and making allowance for their differences. And being tolerant of their dogs too. They are the people who might move to one side and let their dogs push them off the lounge chair.

"Perhaps these things have been my issues all along and I just have not been defining them? If so, let's have some more issues, and let these simple things become political, because these common humanities are so sadly lacking in leaders and in government decisions being made in our name, as I see it. And through books perhaps our children can grow with a little more empathy and tolerance for each other, and that the world might be a better place for it."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Children's Literature Review, Volume 31, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994. Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.

PERIODICALS

Australian Book Review, September, 1991, pp. 54-55; June, 1992, pp. 60, 63; September, 1993, p. 59; November, 1993, pp. 66-67.

Booklist, February 15, 1985, p. 843; April 1, 1986, p. 1140; October 15, 1988, p. 422; January 15, 1989, p. 870; June 1, 1989, p. 1722; May 15, 1992, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten, p. 1687; January 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Poems for the Very Young, p. 821; December 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Spirit of Hope, p. 668; January 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Queenie, One of the Family, p. 798; November 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Max, p. 548; July, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of "Let's Get a Pup!" Said Kate, p. 2009; May 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, p. 1532.

Books, May, 1987, p. 31; August, 1989, p. 12.

Books for Keeps, July, 1986, p. 15; March, 1988, p. 18; July, 1988, p. 7; November, 1988, p. 29; September, 1989, p. 9; September, 1990, p. 9; November, 1990, p. 8.

Books for Your Children, spring, 1985, p. 14; summer, 1987, p. 27; autumn, 1990, p. 11; spring, 1991, p. 13; summer, 1994, p. 9.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1986, p. 207; July, 1988, p. 229; February, 1989, p. 147; May, 1989, p. 224; June, 1992, p. 260; July, 1992, p. 295.

Childhood Education, December, 1986, p. 126.

Children's Book Review Service, spring, 1985, p. 126; winter, 1985, p. 57; May, 1986, p. 106; February, 1988, p. 70; June, 1988, p. 116; September, 1989, p. 2.

Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 1988, p. B4.

Emergency Librarian, March, 1989, p. 25; May, 1990, p. 22; March, 1991, p. 27; March, 1992, p. 21; March, 1994, p. 20.

Horn Book, January-February, 1985, Nancy C. Hammond, review of Pete and Roland, pp. 42-43; September-October, 1986, Ethel L. Heins, review of First There Was Francis, p. 580; May-June, 1988, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of The Red Woolen Blanket, p. 341; July-August, 1988, Karen Jameyson, review of Crusher Is Coming!, p. 479; May-June, 1989, Karen Jameyson, review of Has Anyone Seen William?, pp. 356-357; November-December, 1989, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Grandad's Magic, p. 759; July-August, 1990, p. 498; May-June, 1992, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten, p. 328; July-August, 1996, Margaret A. Bush, review of This Is Our House, p. 454; January-February, 1998, Lauren Adams, review of Queenie, pp. 64-65; November-December, 2003, "Kate Greenaway Medal," p. 787.

Horn Book Guide, July, 1989, p. 49; fall, 1992, pp. 231-232.

Junior Bookshelf, June, 1985, p. 119; October, 1986, p. 181; June, 1987, p. 121; April, 1988, p. 82; October, 1988, p. 239; June, 1992, p. 100.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1987, p. 857; April 1, 1988, p. 537; April 15, 1989, p. 624; August 15, 1989, p. 1244; February 15, 1992, p. 254; May 15, 1992, p. 669; May 15, 2002, review of Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, p. 733.

Language Arts, February, 1993, p. 130.

Magpies, May, 1991, p. 20; July, 1991, p. 28; March, 1992, p. 4; November, 1992, p. 37; May, 1994, p. 27.

New Statesman, November 27, 1987, Hilary Wilce, review of The Red Woollen Blanket, p. 34.

New York Times Book Review, July 9, 1989, p. 34; April 10, 1994, Cynthia Zarin, review of Poems for the Very Young, p. 136.

Parents, November, 1988, p. 59.

Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1985, Jean F. Mercier, review of Libby, Oscar and Me, p. 72; May 30, 1986, Diane Roback, review of First There Was Frances, p. 62; June 12, 1987, Diane Roback, review of The Wild, p. 83; February 26, 1988, p. 199; March 11, 1988, Kimberly Olson Fakih, review of The Red Woolen Blanket, p. 103; April 29, 1988, Kimberly Olson Fakih and Diane Roback, review of Crusher Is Coming!, p. 74; February 10, 1989, Kimberly Olson Fakih and Diane Roback, review of Has Anyone Here Seen William?, p. 70; March 30, 1990, p. 65; February 3, 1992, review of Greetings from Sandy Beach, p. 80; June 8, 1992, review of Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten, p. 62; June 24, 1996, review of This Is Our House, p. 58; October 6, 1997, review of Queenie, p. 83; May 18, 1998, review of This Is Our House, p. 82; June 14, 1999, review of Benny: An Adventure Story, p. 69; July 24, 2000, review of In Every Tiny Grain of Sand: A Child's Book of Prayers and Praise, p. 92, review of Max, p. 93; July 30, 2001, review of Has Anyone Here Seen William?, p. 87; April 29, 2002, review of Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, p. 69; January 27, 2003, review of Benny, p. 262; August 4, 2003, review of The Nine Lives of Aristotle, p. 80.

Reading Teacher, September, 1991, p. 55; September, 1992, p. 51; October, 1992, Barbara Tobin, review of Crusher Is Coming!, Greetings from Sandy Beach, and Grandad's Magic, pp. 146-156.

School Librarian, September, 1985, pp. 220, 231; November, 1987, p. 318; November, 1991, p. 139; August, 1992, p. 96.

School Library Journal, December, 1984, Amy G. Gavalis, review of Jenny's Baby Brother, p. 77; March, 1985, Deborah Vose, review of Pete and Roland, p. 150; November, 1985, Lisa Castillo, review of Libby, Oscar and Me, pp. 70-71; May, 1986, John Peters, review of First There Was Frances, p. 74; February, 1988, Kathleen Brachmann, review of The Adventures of Charlotte and Henry, p. 60; August, 1988, Susannah Price, review of The Red Woolen Blanket, p. 81; September, 1988, Lauralyn Persson, review of Crusher Is Coming!, p. 160; March, 1989, Virginia Opocensky, review of Where Is Sarah?, Here Comes Theo, Here Comes John, and Bath Time for John, p. 162; July, 1989, Kathy Piehl, review of Has Anyone Here Seen William?, p. 65; November, 1989, Cathy Woodward, review of Grandad's Magic, p. 82; August, 1992, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten, p. 136; January, 1994, Kathleen Whalin, review of Poems for the Very Young, p. 110; July, 1996, Steven Engelfried, review of This Is Our House, p. 71; March, 1997, Carolyn Jenks, review of Spirit of Hope, p. 159; November, 1997, Lisa Marie Gangemi, review of Queenie, p. 82; July, 1999, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Benny, p. 72; September, 2000, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of Max, p. 198; July, 2001, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of "Let's Get a Pup!" Said Kate, p. 81; June, 2002, Lisa Gangemi Kropp, review of Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, p. 96; October, 2003, review of Jethro Byrd, Fairy Child, p. 33; April, 2004, review of "Let's Get a Pup!" Said Kate, p. 26.

Times Educational Supplement, March 30, 1984, p. 339; June 21, 1985, p. 25; October 3, 1986, p. 31; April 3, 1987, p. 357; May 15, 1987, p. 28; December 18, 1987, p. 15; July 29, 1988, p. 21; August 4, 1989, William Feaver, review of Grandad's Magic, p. 18; March 27, 1992, p. 32.

Times Literary Supplement, March 29, 1985, p. 351; April 3, 1987, p. 357; September 9, 1988, Lindsay Mackie, review of The Adventures of Charlotte and Henry, p. 1000.

Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1986, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of First There Was Frances, p. 62; June, 1987, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of The Wild, p. 61; January, 1990, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of Here Comes John, Here Comes Theo, Bath Time for John, and Where Is Sarah?, p. 93; December, 1990, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of Grandad's Magic, p. 121; September, 1992, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of Rose Meets Mr. Wintergarten, p. 91; June, 1994, Donnarae MacCann and Olga Richard, review of Poems for the Very Young, pp. 136-137.*

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