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Bruce Koscielniak Biography (1947-) - Sidelights

review bunny story hector

Writer and illustrator Bruce Koscielniak has produced a number of books, mostly for preschoolers and readers in the early grades. His characters are usually animals, and include the pigs Hector and Prudence, the mailman Euclid Bunny, the farmers Bear and Bunny, and the self-styled weather man Geoffrey Groundhog.

Koscielniak told SATA: "I began writing and illustrating my first book projects (combining interests in writing and art) about twenty years ago in the early 1980s. My first book, Hector and Prudence, was published in 1990 by Alfred A. Knopf, and was followed by several more fiction picture books for very young readers.

"However, in the mid-1990s I began to look at personal interests—art, music, history—as topics for books that were factually based. Hear, Hear, Mr. Shakespeare was my transition into nonfiction topics, followed in 2000 by The Story of the Incredible Orchestra (I had played violin in the public school orchestra), and in 2003 by Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press. About Time looks at the mechanics of time and the various kinds of clocks people have used to measure time with.

"In doing these books I try to present important topics, including hard-to-find information, in a fully illustrated, overview format. I take particular care to make sure the writing and illustrations are accurate, and to use the best source material available to me. For Incredible Orchestra, I was able to look at and handle rare and valuable antique musical instruments in the music collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. It was there also that I was able to look at early hand copied manuscript books, as well as Gutenberg's press-printed Latin Bible.

"Each of these recent books required more than two years of research and writing to prepare."

Koscielniak's working experience is probably most akin to that of Euclid Bunny. For years until he became a full-time author and illustrator, Koscielniak worked for the United States Postal Service, and before that he served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. By the late 1990s, however, his writing had given him a degree of freedom which made it possible to spend part of each year in Las Vegas and part of it in his native Adams, Massachusetts.

Hence Koscielniak was reliving elements of his own experience when he wrote Euclid Bunny Delivers the Mail. In the story, written for pre-schoolers and firstgraders, all of the chickens who normally deliver the barnyard mail are sick with the flu. Bernie Bear, the postmaster, needs a replacement, so he calls the Euclid Bunny Speedy Delivery Service. Unfortunately, Euclid Bunny's service turns out to be a little too speedy. It takes him just 20 minutes to deliver all the mail, but he gets all the addresses wrong and takes every single letter and package to the wrong animal. The story is filled with amusing mishaps, until Euclid is asked to take the place of the most famous bunny of all: the Easter Bunny.

Hector and Prudence centers on pigs rather than bunnies. The story is written for a slightly older group of readers than Euclid Bunny, and the subject matter is a bit more mature. Hector and Prudence are a married couple, and at the beginning of the story, Hector thinks Prudence is acting strangely because she no longer wants to wallow in the mud, but desires a proper house for the two of them. The reason behind her sudden determination soon becomes apparent when Hector realizes that Prudence is pregnant. After their six little piglets arrive, the couple's life changes dramatically, and at the end of each day, they are worn out from caring for their new family. One scene noted by reviewers in Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal finds Harold and Prudence, exhausted after a long day, resting in a pair of lawn chairs under the night sky; unknown to them, their children are sneaking out of their upstairs bedroom by means of a rope-ladder made from bed sheets. The Publishers Weekly commentator praised Koscielniak's "rambunctious, jolly illustrations," adding that "children and parents alike will find his understated wit hard to resist."

Koscielniak followed his first Hector and Prudence book with Hector and Prudence—All Aboard! This time it's Christmas, and Hector and Prudence give their children a special present: a magical toy train that takes them on a mysterious journey. Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper commented: "There's a lot going on in [Koscielniak's] ink-and-watercolor art as the train travels through forests, tunnels, and over bridges, often with near disastrous results."

Animal characters appear once again in Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes, written for preschoolers and primary graders. As a reviewer in Publishers Weekly pointed out, the story is related to that of "The Ant and the Grasshopper." In the original fable, the ant labors to provide for the future, while the grasshopper never thinks about tomorrow. Bear is the equivalent of the ant, planting and tending his field with care; and Bunny is more like the grasshopper, recklessly throwing his seeds onto the ground and running off to play when it's time to weed and water the crop. Naturally, when harvest time comes, Bear has plenty to show for his efforts, whereas Bunny can't even find his tomatoes. In the end, of course, Bear shares some of his abundant crop with Bunny. "Far from being a tiresome exercise in preparedness," the Publishers Weekly critic commented, "Koscielniak imbues his story with touches of gentle humor that make the characters and their goofy antics quite irresistible."

Like the first Hector and Prudence book, Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather involves a grown-up theme. The title character's mother has taught him how to predict the weather as groundhogs do, and on the proper day in February he burrows out of his hole and makes a forecast that turns out to be accurate. This attracts the attention of the local paper, and Geoffrey Groundhog becomes something of a celebrity. Hence on the next February 2, his burrow is surrounded by well-wishers—and by reporters. In fact, the lights of the TV cameras are so strong that Geoffrey can't see whether or not he has a shadow. Finally he seeks assistance from his mother, who helps him make the right prediction.

Several reviewers observed that while children would enjoy the story of Geoffrey Groundhog's triumph, grownups are more apt to appreciate the portrayal of the media feeding frenzy that surrounds the celebrity groundhog. A Publishers Weekly commentator remarked favorably on Koscielniak's "subdued palette of olive greens, browns, and other wintry hues," while School Library Journal contributor Tana Elias mentioned his "energetic watercolor and pen drawings." Elizabeth Bush in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books noted that "Koscielniak's snappy line-and-watercolor cartoons cleverly spoof the annual hoopla at Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania."

Koscielniak's skill as an illustrator also attracted notice in reviews of The Fabulous Four Skunks, a story written by David Fair. For young children, the book depicts a group of skunks who form a rock band: when their manager tells them "You stink," he means it literally. Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper observed that Koscielniak, with his illustrations, "highlights every bit of humor in the text and adds some of his own." In the words of School Library Journal contributor Lisa S. Murphy, "Koscielniak's humorous, cartoon-style illustrations invite individual browsing."

Hear, Hear, Mr. Shakespeare introduces readers to the works of William Shakespeare using familiar garden animals and a troupe of obliging actors who visit the playwright at his Stratford home. Koscielniak incorporates actual lines from Shakespeare's plays and fancifully adds definitions for some words that twenty-first century readers might not have encountered before. A Publishers Weekly critic concluded of the work: "To borrow a quip the author quotes from Love's Labour's Lost, 'Tu-who! A Merry note. . .' that Koscielniak strikes."

The author's extensive research for The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra filters into a text that acquaints children with the wide variety of instruments that make up a modern orchestra. Koscielniak packs a great number of facts into his book, from explanation of different styles of music to the detailed examination of individual instruments and the history of their use in classical music. Koscielniak illustrates the book with somewhat whimsical sketches that contrast with the more serious tone of the text. "Informed and lively, Koscielniak's . . . fact-filled excursion through music history is just the ticket for budding musicians," stated a Publishers Weekly critic in a starred review. School Library Journal correspondent Corinne Camarata likewise found the book "a fine complement to music-education programs."

Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press explores the whole process of book-making from the invention of paper by the Chinese to the creation of the first printing press. Koscielniak takes readers into the workrooms of the early printers and explains how presses work using terms that children can understand. His active illustrations help to explain the whole process. According to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Motivated readers will come away with an understanding of the general process and with an appreciation for the man saluted at the end as 'Mr. G.'"

Koscielniak plans to continue writing and illustrating books about the valuable inventions that have made life easier in modern times.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 1, 1990, Ilene Cooper, review of Hector and Prudence—All Aboard!, p. 527; February 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of The Fabulous Four Skunks, p. 937; April 15, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Story of the Incredible Orchestra: An Introduction to Musical Instruments and the Symphony Orchestra, p. 1549.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1995, review of Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather, pp. 95-96.

Publishers Weekly, April 13, 1990, review of Hector and Prudence, p. 62; May 10, 1993, review of Bear and Bunny Grow Tomatoes, p. 71; August 21, 1995, review of Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather, p. 65; January 15, 1996, review of The Fabulous Four Skunks, p. 461; April 3, 2000, review of The Story of the Incredible Orchestra, p. 79; August 18, 2003, review of Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press, p. 78.

School Library Journal, August, 1990, Ellen Fader, review of Hector and Prudence, p. 132; October, 1995, Tana Elias, review of Geoffrey Groundhog Predicts the Weather, p. 105; April, 1996, Lisa S. Murphy, review of The Fabulous Four Skunks, p. 108; May, 1998, Sally Margolis, review of Hear, Hear, Mr. Shakespeare, p. 118; June, 2000, Corinne Camarata, review of The Story of the Incredible Orchestra, p. 134; September, 2003, Laurie Edwards, review of Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press, p. 200.

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