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Joan Sandin (1942-) - Sidelights

review school bear story

A prolific illustrator, Joan Sandin is also a skilled translator and a storyteller in her own right. As Sandin once told SATA: "I most enjoy working with folktales and books demanding research and/or travel." Indeed, Sandin's self-illustrated works have all been well-researched historical tales, often based on her ancestors' experiences. Her extensive travels in Europe and Mexico as well as the United States have also inspired her work.

Among the many books Sandin has illustrated is A Bear for Miguel, written by Elaine Maria Alphin. It is an unusual story for early readers, according to reviewers, but one that is effectively done and sensitively rendered in pictures and words. When Maria brings her stuffed toy bear, Paco, along to the market with her father, she has no intention of trading him. Her feelings change, however, as she begins to understand how the war in her country of El Salvador has affected her father's ability to find work. Sensing that a little boy injured in the war would love to have Paco, Maria decides to trade the toy for food for her family. "Sandin's water-colors add to the emotional impact . . . and do an effective job of setting the scene," remarked Gale W. Sherman in School Library Journal.

Sandin lived in Sweden for more than a decade before returning to the United States in the mid-1980s. Since her return, she has translated several children's books from Swedish into English. Many of these translations have been of picture books by Olof and Lena Landström, including their series about Boo and Baa, two hapless little sheep who find themselves in humorous jams no matter what they try to do. In Boo and Baa in a Party Mood, the two prepare for a birthday party by practicing their dance steps, but things get sticky when they try to wrap the present. In Boo and Baa in Windy Weather, the two go to the grocery store, but dragging home a sled laden with their purchases through a snow storm presents a problem. Sandin also translated Lena Landström's books about a family of hippopotami, including The Little Hippos' Adventure and The New Hippos. In the first book, three baby hippos get bored with swimming in the safe river near their home. Instead, they want to go diving off of the forbidden Tall Cliff. But when they are finally allowed to go swimming there, catastrophe nearly strikes. In the latter book, the hippos must get used to a new family who moves into their part of the jungle, discovering that the new family does not do everything the same way they do.

Big Bear's Book: By Himself, according to School Library Journal contributor Marilyn Taniguchi, is not a picture book but "a whimsical reminiscence of childhood" best suited to sentimental adults. Written by Christina Bjork, Big Bear's Book tells the story of a toy bear's relationship to his owner, from childhood, through a sojourn in the attic, to a place in the child's adult life and a career in the movies. Sandin is also the translator of Bjork's tribute to the children's classic Alice in Wonderland. In The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland, Bjork describes the model for Lewis Carroll's main character, Alice Liddell, and explains some of the games and other trivia associated with the book. The result is "a unique pleasure," Ann A. Flowers wrote in Horn Book.

Sandin's own background—her ancestors immigrated to the United States from Sweden in the nineteenth century—inspired the research that went into The Long Way to a New Land and The Long Way Westward, two self-illustrated early readers which tell the story of an immigrant family's journey from Sweden to the United States in the 1860s. Told from the perspective of Carl Erik, the family's elder son, The Long Way to a New Land describes a drought that forces Erik's family to sell their farm and try to make a fresh start in America. The story continues with an account of their trip by boat to the United States, where bad weather, bad smells, and crowding mean long days of discomfort before they reach their destination. Critics noted that Sandin uses her illustrations effectively to augment a necessarily spare text intended for beginning readers. "It isn't always easy to make history comprehensible to younger children," remarked Zena Sutherland of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, but "Sandin does a nice job of it." Similarly praised as "an interesting, well-researched slice of history" by a critic for Kirkus Reviews, The Long Way Westward completes the story of the Erik family's journey as they travel from New York by railroad to Minnesota to live among their relatives.

Also set in the nineteenth century, Pioneer Bear: Based on a True Story tells the story of John Lacy, a photographer who learns that young Andrew Irwin taught a bear to dance. Lacy travels thirty miles to the Irwin farm to photograph the bear; but when he arrives, Bearly the Bear is nowhere to be found. Sandin provides a visual survey of pioneer life on a farm while the family goes from room to room, from barn to outhouse, in search of the cub. "Pioneer activities such as washing laundry in tubs . . . and smoking meats are realistically presented in warm watercolor illustrations," Mary Ann Bursk observed in School Library Journal. Reviewers also noted Sandin's sly infusion of humor into the story through her illustrations. "Primary schoolers will enjoy sighting Bearly . . . as he peeks from behind outbuildings and foliage," remarked Elizabeth Bush in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

Coyote School News was inspired by actual newspapers printed by five tiny rural schools in Depression-era Arizona. Sandin stumbled across the original newspapers, titled The Little Cowpuncher, while doing research for a book about her high school friend who went to one of the schools which contributed to the paper. As well as writing Coyote School News, Sandin also got involved in a project to digitally archive the crumbling originals of The Little Cowpuncher so that the materials would be available to researchers in future generations.

A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised the "delightful authenticity" of Coyote School News, which follows student Monchi Ramirez and his five siblings through the 1938-39 school year. The story is partially told from Monchi's point of view and partially conveyed through nine included issues of "Coyote School News," which are printed to look like they came from an oldfashioned, purple-inked mimeograph. "Sandin's love and knowledge of this land and its history are evident," the Kirkus Reviews critic concluded, as she sketches with pictures and words the lives of the twelve students of the Coyote School. Observing that the book offers young readers a look at "Mexican traditions [that] have been part of the American cultural landscape for generations," School Library Journal reviewer Eve Ortega found Coyote School News "an entertaining bit of historical fiction."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Arizona Daily Star (Tucson, AZ), September 17, 2002, Bonnie Henry, interview with Sandin, p. B1.

Booklist, December 1, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland, pp. 686-687; July, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Pioneer Bear: Based on a True Story, p. 1885; November 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Boo and Baa in Windy Weather and Boo and Baa in a Party Mood, pp. 507-508; April, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of As the Crow Flies, p. 1334.

Boston Herald, April 24, 2000, Kristen Bradley, review of Army of Two, p. 16.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1982, Zena Sutherland, review of The Long Way to a New Land, p. 138; July, 1995, Elizabeth Bush, review of Pioneer Bear, p. 397.

Horn Book, February, 1982, Nancy Sheridan, review of The Long Way to a New Land, p. 39; March-April, 1987, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 212; September-October, 1989, Mary M. Burns, review of The Long Way Westward, p. 618; January-February, 1992, Mary M. Burns, review of Showshoe Thompson, p. 66; March-April, 1994, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Other Alice, p. 215; May-June, 1996, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of A Bear for Miguel, pp. 331-332.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1981, pp. 1406-1407; August 15, 1989, review of The Long Way Westward, p. 1250; August 1, 2002, review of Good Night, Animals, p. 1121; July 1, 2003, review of Coyote School News, p. 914.

Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1987, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 96; September 30, 1988, review of Linnea's Windowsill Garden, p. 64; August 25, 1989, review of The Long Way Westward, p. 63; January 19, 1990, review of Linnea's Almanac, p. 106; August 5, 1996, review of Boo and Baa in Windy Weather and Boo and Baa in a Party Mood, p. 440; April 8, 2002, review of The Little Hippos' Adventure, p. 225; July 28, 2003, review of Coyote School News, pp. 94-95.

Reading Teacher, October, 1989, Lee Galda, review of The House of a Mouse, pp. 66-71.

School Library Journal, December, 1981, review of The Long Way to a New Land, p. 75; April, 1987, Mary Beth Burgoyne, review of Trouble at the Mines, p. 102; February, 1988, Shirley Wilton, review of Linnea in Monet's Garden, p. 72; November, 1988, Frances E. Millhouser, review of Linnea's Windowsill Garden, p. 100; January, 1989, Kathleen Whalin, review of The House of a Mouse, p. 70; September, 1989, Sharron McElmeel, review of The Long Way Westward, p. 234; April, 1990, Amy Adler, review of Linnea's Almanac, p. 102; May, 1991, Carolyn Jenks, review of Elliot's Extraordinary Cookbook, p. 100; December, 1991, Barbara Chatton, review of Always Wondering: Some Favorite Poems of Aileen Fisher, pp. 109-110; January, 1992, Gale W. Sherman, review of Snowshoe Thompson, p. 104; December, 1993, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of The Other Alice, pp. 140-141; April, 1995, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Big Bear's Book: By Himself, p. 130; October, 1995, Mary Ann Bursk, review of Pioneer Bear, p. 117; June, 1996, Gale W. Sherman, review of A Bear for Miguel, p. 92; July, 1997, Darla Remple, review of Boo and Baa at Sea and Boo and Baa on a Cleaning Spree, p. 70; June, 1998, Faith Brautigan, review of As the Crow Flies, pp. 124-125; April, 2002, Be Astengo, review of The Little Hippos' Adventure, p. 114; February, 2003, Kathy Piehl, review of Good Night, Animals, p. 102; April, 2003, Bina Williams, review of The New Hippos, pp. 130-131; September, 2003, Edith Ching, review of Boris's Glasses, p. 176; October, 2003, Eve Ortega, review of Coyote School News, p. 138.

ONLINE

Joan Sandin Web Site, http://www.authorsguild.org/ (February 27, 2004).*

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