Nancy White Carlstrom (1948-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1948, in Washington, PA; Education: Wheaton College, B.A., 1970; studied at Harvard Extension and Radcliffe College, 1974-76. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, swimming, walking our dog.
Agent—Elizabeth Harding, Curtis Brown Ltd, 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003.
Writer, 1983–. A. Leo Weil Elementary School, Pittsburgh, PA, teacher, 1970-72; Plum Cove Elementary School, Gloucester, MA, teacher, 1972-74; Secret Garden Children's Bookshop, Seattle, WA, owner and manager, 1977-83. Worked with children in West Africa and the West Indies; worked at school for children with Down's syndrome in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Editor's Choice, Booklist, 1986, and Children's Choice designation, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council (IRA/CBC), 1987, both for Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?; American Booksellers Pick of the List, and Notable Book designation, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), both 1987, both for Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna; Best Book of 1990, Parents' magazine, for Where Does the Night Hide?; IRA/CBC Children's Choice, and Parents' Choice designation, Booklist, both 1991, both for Blow Me a Kiss, Miss Lilly; NCTE Notable Book designation, 1991, for Goodbye Geese.
Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
The Moon Came, Too, illustrated by Stella Ormai, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1987.
Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1987.
Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
Where Does the Night Hide?, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen and Laura Allen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
Graham Cracker Animals 1-2-3, illustrated by John Sandford, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Blow Me a Kiss, Miss Lilly, illustrated by Amy Schwartz, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
Heather Hiding, illustrated by Dennis Nolan, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
It's about Time, Jesse Bear, and Other Rhymes, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
I'm Not Moving, Mama!, illustrated by Thor Wickstrom, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
Grandpappy, illustrated by Laurel Molk, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
No Nap for Benjamin Badger, illustrated by Dennis Nolan, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
Light: Stories of a Small Kindness, illustrated by Lisa Desimini, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
Moose in the Garden, illustrated by Lisa Desimini, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.
Goodbye Geese, illustrated by Ed Young, Philomel (New York, NY), 1991.
Who Gets the Sun out of Bed?, illustrated by David McPhail, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
Northern Lullaby, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, Philomel (New York, NY), 1992.
Kiss Your Sister, Rose Marie!, illustrated by Thor Wickstrom, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
How Do You Say It Today, Jesse Bear?, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
Baby-O, illustrated by Sucie Stevenson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
The Snow Speaks, illustrated by Jane Dyer, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
What Does the Rain Play?, illustrated by Henri Sorensen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
Swim the Silver Sea, Joshie Otter, illustrated by Ken Kuori, Philomel (New York, NY), 1993.
Rise and Shine, illustrated by Dominic Catalano, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1993.
How Does the Wind Walk?, illustrated by Deborah K. Ray, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
Fish and Flamingo, illustrated by Lisa Desimini, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Wishing at Dawn in Summer, illustrated by Diane Wolfolk Allison, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Does God Know How to Tie Shoes?, illustrated by Lori McElrath-Eslick, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1993.
What Would You Do If You Lived at the Zoo?, illustrated by Lizi Boyd, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Jesse Bear's Yum-Yum Crumble, Aladdin Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Jesse Bear's Wiggle-Jiggle Jump-Up, Aladdin Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Jesse Bear's Tum Tum Tickle, Aladdin Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Jesse Bear's Tra-La Tub, Aladdin Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Happy Birthday, Jesse Bear!, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
Barney Is Best, illustrated by James G. Hale, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Who Said Boo?: Halloween Poems for the Very Young, illustrated by R. W. Alley, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
I Am Christmas, illustrated by Lori McElrath-Eslick, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995.
Let's Count It out, Jesse Bear, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Ten Christmas Sheep, illustrated by Cynthia Fisher, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1996.
Raven and River, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
I Love You, Papa, in All Kinds of Weather, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1997.
I Love You, Mama, Any Time of Year, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1997.
Hooray for Me, Hooray for You, Hooray for Blue: Jesse Bear's Colors, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1997.
Bizz Buzz Chug-a-Chug: Jesse Bear's Sounds, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Little Simon (New York, NY), 1997.
Guess Who's Coming, Jesse Bear, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1998.
Midnight Dance of the Snowshoe Hare: Poems of Alaska, illustrated by Ken Kuori, Philomel (New York, NY), 1998.
What a Scare, Jesse Bear!, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
Thanksgiving Day at Our House: Thanksgiving Poems for the Very Young, illustrated by R. W. Alley, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
Where Is Christmas, Jesse Bear?, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
The Way to Wyatt's House, illustrated by Mary Morgan, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 2000.
What Does the Sky Say?, illustrated by Tim Ladwig, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.
Glory, illustrated by Debra Reid Jenkins, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2001.
Before You Were Born, illustrated by Linda Saport, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
Giggle-Wiggle Wake-up!, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Climb the Family Tree, Jesse Bear!, illustrated by Bruce Degen, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Nancy White Carlstrom is the author of the popular "Jesse Bear" series, which is illustrated by Bruce Degen and features such titles as Where Is Christmas, Jesse Bear? and Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? Known for her tight lines of verse filled with vivid description and evocation of the everyday, Carlstrom presents hopeful and humorous picture and board books for very young readers, books with simple vocabulary and subjects ranging from counting and colors to more sophisticated topics like inter-generational and multicultural relationships.
Carlstrom's concerns with society and nature are a reflection of her own upbringing and world view. Growing up without television, she learned early on to create her own fantasies and to entertain herself. Carlstrom decided to become a writer of children's books at an early age; she worked in the children's department of her local library during her high school years, and "that's where my dream of writing children's books was born," as she once told Something about the Author (SATA). After earning a B.A. in education from Wheaton College, she taught primary school in Pittsburgh while working summers with children in the West Indies and in West Africa. She also studied art and children's literature, then moved with her husband to the Yucatan where she worked at a school for children with Down's syndrome. Upon their return to the United States, the couple moved to Seattle, where Carlstrom became proprietor of The Secret Garden, a children's bookstore, and promoted quality children's books via book fairs and public presentations.
In 1981 Carlstrom participated in a two-week writer's workshop led by children's book author Jane Yolen. During that workshop she wrote the poem that would eventually become the text of Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna. While several years passed before this text found a publisher, in the meantime, Carlstrom wrote Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? "My husband and I often called our son Jesse Bear," Carlstrom recalled to SATA, "and the book … began as a little song I sang while dressing him. I finished the picture book text for Jesse's first birthday." The book progresses through the day as little Jesse dresses and then messes and must dress again. Liza Bliss, writing in School Library Journal, noted in particular that "the rhymes, besides having a charming lilt to them, are clean and catchy and beg to be recited." A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer drew attention to Carlstrom's lyrics, as well, and determined that, "without crossing the line into sentimentality, this offers a happy, humorous sound-fest that will associate reading aloud with a sense of play." Lines like Jesse's reply to his mother—"I'll wear the sun / On my legs that run / Sun on the run in the morning"—tempt one "to sing Carlstrom's words aloud," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic, who praised the author for her "rich imagination."Carlstrom has gone on to create many more books for children, a large number of which continue the further adventures of Jesse Bear. Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear is a "win-some picture book," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, with "lilting, strongly rhymed text"; Ellen Fader wrote in Horn Book that "the book never loses its claim to the sensibility of young children, who will be won over by Jesse Bear's delight in water play and his final triumphant splash." Clocks and the times of the day are at the heart of Carlstrom's third "Jesse Bear" title, It's about Time, Jesse Bear, and Other Rhymes, a book that "children are sure to enjoy," according to Patricia Pearl in School Library Journal. How Do You Say It Today, Jesse Bear? celebrates the holidays of the year, from Independence Day to Halloween and Christmas. Carolyn Phelan of Booklist commented on this work: "A good way to learn about the months and holidays, or read it just for fun."
The sixth volume in the series, Let's Count It out, Jesse Bear, finds the playful bear "in a high-impact counting game," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The rhyme for number two in this counting book is indicative of the humor and joy of the whole: "Jumping high, / Landing loud. / New shoes dancing, / New shoes proud." Where Is Christmas, Jesse Bear? proves that "There's no hibernating for this little bear," as Booklist reviewer Shelley Townsend-Hudson noted. Praising Carlstrom's "child-centered focus," Townsend-Hudson dubbed the 2000 picture book "infectiously jubilant," while in School Library Journal Marian Drabkin noted that Where Is Christmas, Jesse Bear? calls forth the "sights … that traditionally shout Christmas." The "Jesse Bear" series has prompted spin-off board books and a stuffed bear, as well as a loyal following among readers.
Carlstrom has also written many books outside of the "Jesse Bear" series. The first text she wrote, Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna, about a child's exploration and discovery of the natural world around her, found a publisher in 1987 and is, according to Carlstrom, "still my favorite book of all I have written." Denise M. Wilms of Booklist maintained that "audiences young and old will find [Anna's] pleasure in the day most contagious." Ellen Fader, writing in Horn Book, concluded that "an exceptional treat awaits the parent and child who lose themselves in this book." Carlstrom further celebrates the lives of preschoolers in books such as Heather Hiding, the tale of a hide-and-seek game, Graham Cracker Animals 1-2-3, and Blow Me a Kiss, Miss Lilly, which deals with the death of a loved one. Light: Stories of a Small Kindness draws somewhat on Carlstrom's time spent in Mexico in that the gathered tales all have Hispanic settings and all deal with small but significant gestures of affection. "Tender, thought-provoking, moving are just a few of the words to describe these seven short stories," commented Ilene Cooper in a Booklist review.
Much the same format is employed in Baby-O, in which the rhythms of the West Indies are celebrated in a rhyming cumulative story of a family on its way to market to sell their produce. "Sing it, chant it, clap it, or stamp it," Jane Marino declared in a School Library Journal review. "Just don't miss it." Carlstrom has dealt with topics as various as the relationship between a young boy and his grandfather in Grandpappy, unlikely friendships in Fish and Flamingo, a child's fears of a trip to the hospital in Barney Is Best, and the possibilities that life holds at the start of a brand new week in Giggle-Wiggle Wake-up!, the last in which Carlstrom's "infectiously singsong text dances in readers' ears," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
A move to Alaska in 1987 provided the author with new settings and themes for her writing—"freely wandering moose, northern lights, and extreme seasonal changes to name a few," she told SATA. Books such as Moose in the Garden, The Snow Speaks, Northern Lullaby, and Goodbye Geese have all been inspired by the wilderness and wildlife of the far north. "A first-rate choice for toddlers" is how School Library Journal contributor Ellen Fader described Moose in the Garden, which tells of a moose invading a garden and—to the delight of the young boy of the family—eating all the vegetables the boy does not like. The northern winter is lovingly examined in Goodbye Geese through the question and answer exchange between a father and his curious child: "Papa, is winter coming? / Yes, and when the winter comes, she'll touch every living thing." Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan found Goodbye Geese to be "an effective mood book for story hour … a vivid introduction to personification." In Northern Lullaby Carlstrom also personifies the natural elements such as the moon and stars, along with wild creatures to conjure up a vision of the vastness of the far north. "The end effect," commented Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Betsy Hearne, "is both simple and sophisticated." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted the book's "gently cadenced verse," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Northern Lullaby as a "stunning, seamlessly executed work." Wintertime in Alaska also inspired Carlstrom's The Snow Speaks, in which two children experience the first snowfall of the season. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan noted that Carlstrom used "lyrical language to turn down-to-earth experiences into something more," and Jane Marino in School Library Journal thought that it was "a book to be enjoyed all winter, long after the decorations have been packed away."
Natural phenomena form the core of many of Carlstrom's books. In Where Does the Night Hide?, Who Gets the Sun out of Bed?, What Does the Rain Play?, and How Does the Wind Walk? she uses question-and-answer rhymes and riddles to look at nature. With Who Gets the Sun out of Bed? the author reverses the good-night story, relating instead a tale about waking up. School Library Journal contributor Ruth K. MacDonald found this work to be "an altogether successful story about the coming of the day," noting that "the persistent gentle patterns of questions and answers leads up to a climax that is warm but not boisterous—a fitting, final ending to a story that … functions as an appropriate bedtime tale." The sounds of rain take center stage in What Does the Rain Play?, which focuses on a little boy who loves the various noises rain makes, even at night. Emily Melton in Booklist noted that "the gently calming writing and softly lulling rhythms of the rain sounds make this book a perfect bedtime choice." In How Does the Wind Walk? another little boy looks at the different moods of the wind in different seasons, the book employing a question-and-answer format. A critic in Kirkus Reviews noted that Carlstrom's text includes "lots of alliteration and some subtle internal rhymes" to produce "wonderfully evocative effects."
Harkening back to her own childhood enjoyment of the Bible and her strong Christian tradition, Carlstrom has also created several faith-based books for young readers. She encourages a child's questions about God in Does God Know How to Tie Shoes?, and has also authored several nativity tales, including I Am Christmas and Ten Christmas Sheep. Her picture book Glory, which Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper included in her Top-Ten list of best religious books for young readers in 2001, contains a prayer that recounts how all the creatures on Earth are connected to God in one way or another. Praising the colorful illustrations provided by Debra Reid Jenkins, School Library Journal reviewer Gay Lynn van Vleck wrote that Carlstrom's book reinforces "how good it feels to be alive," and will serve as a special treat for young animal lovers. Carlstrom also draws from Psalm 139 in her book Before You Were Born, which describes how life changes with the birth of a new child. Dubbing the book a "beautiful portrayal of the transformation of a couple into a family," a Kirkus Reviews critic added that the text of Before You Were Born contains "effulgent imagery" that reassuringly shows that parents hold children to be central to their lives.
Carlstrom practices the craft of writing with care and intelligence. "A picture book, like a poem, is what I call a bare bones kind of writing," she once explained to SATA. "Usually I start with many more words than I need or want. I keep cutting away until I am down to the bare bones of what I want to say. It is then up to the illustrator to create pictures that will enlarge and enhance the text.… Often a title of a story will come first. I write it down and tend to think about it for a long time before actually sitting down to work on it. Sometimes I just get a few pieces of the story and they have to simmer on the back burner, like a good pot of soup. When the time is right, the writing of the story comes easily." In Books That Invite Talk, Wonder, and Play, she also noted that she often sings her words to get the correct rhythm. "Language is a musical experience for me. Rhythm, rhyme, and cadence all become an important part of the process. I love the way a young child, just learning the language, rolls a word around on her tongue and, if she likes the sound of it, may chant it over and over."
All of Carlstrom's books share the common denominator of humor and hope. "No matter how bad things get, in this world or in my life," Carlstrom commented in a Speaking of Poets interview, "I do believe in joy and hope because I believe there's someone greater than myself in charge. It is my own religious faith that affects both the way I live my life and the way I write." "I can't always explain exactly why my poems come out the way they do," she later added, "but there is a joy that I have that I do want to express. And for me, writing is my way of celebrating."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Books That Invite Talk, Wonder, and Play, edited by Amy A. McClure and Janice V. Kristo, NCTE, 1996, pp. 236-238.
Carlstrom, Nancy White, Goodbye Geese, Philomel (New York, NY), 1991.
Carlstrom, Nancy White, Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1986.
Carlstrom, Nancy White, Let's Count It out, Jesse Bear, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Speaking of Poets, Volume 2, edited by Jeffrey S. Copeland and Vicky L. Copeland, NCTE, 1994, pp. 194-202.
Booklist, October 1, 1987, Denise M. Wilms, review of Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna, p. 257; December 1, 1989, pp. 740-741; March 15, 1990, p. 1443; December 15, 1990, Ilene Cooper, review of Light: Stories of a Small Kindness, p. 855, 860; November 1, 1991, p. 530; November 15, 1991, Carolyn Phelan, review of Goodbye Geese, p. 628; September 15, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Snow Speaks and How Do You Say It Today, Jesse Bear?, p. 154; March 15, 1993, p. 1358; April 1, 1993, Emily Melton, review of What Does the Rain Play?, p. 1436; December 1, 1993, p. 692; November 1, 1994, p. 505; September 1, 1995, p. 54; February 15, 1998, Lauren Peterson, review of Guess Who's Coming, Jesse Bear; September, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of The Way to Wyatt's House, p. 121; November 15, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Where Is Christmas, Jesse Bear?, p. 646; July, 2001, Denise Wilms, review of What Does the Sky Say?, p. 2017; October 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Glory, p. 344.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1986, review of Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, p. 162; May, 1990, p. 210; October, 1992, Betsy Hearne, review of Northern Lullaby, p. 40; October, 1996, p. 51.
Horn Book, November-December, 1987, Ellen Fader, review of Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna, pp. 721-722; May-June, 1988, Ellen Fader, review of Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, pp. 338-339; May-June, 1990, p. 319.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1986, review of Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, p. 300; October 15, 1992, review of Northern Lullaby, p. 1307; April 1, 1993, p.453; April 15, 1993, p. 525; September 1, 1993, review of How Does the Wind Walk?, p. 1141; October 15, 1994, p. 1406; October, 1995, p. 1424; December 15, 2001, review of Before You Were Born, p. 1755; October 1, 2003, review of Giggle-Wiggle Wake-up!, p. 1221.
New York Times Book Review, July 20, 1986, p. 24; December 20, 1992, p. 19; April 18, 1993, p. 25; September 19, 1993, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, February 27, 1987, p. 162; March 11, 1988, review of Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, p. 102; October 19, 1992, review of Northern Lullaby, p.75; March 22, 1993, p. 78; April 12, 1993, p. 62; May 17, 1993, p. 77; July 5, 1993, p. 72; April 25, 1994, p.76; October 3, 1994, p. 67; June 17, 1996, review of Let's Count It out, Jesse Bear, p. 63; November 15, 1999, review of I'm Not Moving Mama!, p. 69; February 14, 2000, review of Happy Birthday, Jesse Bear!, p. 203; September 25, 2000, review of The Way to Wyatt's House, p. 115; November 24, 2003, review of Giggle-Wiggle Wake-up!, p. 62.
Quill & Quire, October, 1992, p. 39.
School Library Journal, April, 1986, Liza Bliss, review of Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear?, pp. 68-69; June-July, 1987, p. 78; February, 1988, p. 58; May, 1988, p. 81; December, 1989, p. 77; April, 1990, Patricia Pearl, review of It's about Time, Jesse Bear, and Other Rhymes, p. 87; June, 1990, p. 97; July, 1990, p. 56; October, 1990, Ellen Fader, review of Moose in the Garden, p. 86; December, 1990, p. 100; December, 1991, p.80; April, 1992, Jane Marino, review of Baby-O, p. 89; September, 1992, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of Who Gets the Sun out of Bed?, p. 199; October, 1992, Jane Marino, review of The Snow Speaks, p. 38; May, 1993, p. 82; March, 1994, p. 190; July, 1994, p. 74; December, 1994, p. 72; September, 1995, p. 192; October, 1999, Anne Parker, review of What a Scare, Jesse Bear; October, 2000, Marian Drabkin, review of Where Is Christmas, Jesse Bear?, p. 57, and The Way to Wyatt's House, p. 119; December, 2001, Be Astengo, review of What Does the Sky Say?, p. 118; December, 2001, Gay Lynn van Vleck, review of Glory, p. 118; June, 2002, Martha Topol, review of Before You Were Born, p. 90; August, 2004, Wendy Woodfill, review of Climb the Family Tree, Jesse Bear!
Times Literary Supplement, April 3, 1987, p. 356.
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