Rosemary Wells (1943-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1943, in New York, NY; Education: Attended Boston Museum School and a small private junior college (now defunct) in New York State. Religion: "Nominal Episcopalian."
Allyn and Bacon, Inc., Boston, MA, art editor; Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, NY, art designer; freelance author and illustrator, 1968—. Also worked at various jobs, including buyer of women's shoes and accessories for a clothing store. Founder, with Susan Jeffers, of book design studio, New York, NY, early 1970s. Speaker for national literacy campaign "Twenty Minutes a Day," beginning 1994; founder of "Read to Your Bunny" campaign (part of "Prescription for Reading" program), 1998. Exhibitions: American Institute of Graphic Arts Children's Book shows.
Honor Book citation, Book World Spring Children's Book Festival, 1972, for The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet; Children's Book Showcase Award, Children's Book Council, 1974, for Noisy Nora; Citation of Merit, Society of Illustrators, 1974, and Art Book for Children citation, Brooklyn Museum/Brooklyn Public Library, 1975, 1976, 1977, all for Benjamin and Tulip; Irma Simonton Black Award, Bank Street College of Education, 1975, for Morris's Disappearing Bag: A Christmas Story; Edgar Allan Poe Award runner-up, Mystery Writers of America, 1981, for When No One Was Looking, and 1988, for Through the Hidden Door; New Jersey Institute of Technology Award, 1983, for A Lion for Lewis and Peabody; Best Illustrated Books designation, New York Times, 1985, for Hazel's Amazing Mother; Washington Irving Children's Book Choice Award, Westchester Library Association, 1986, for Peabody, 1988, for Max's Christmas, and 1992, for Max's Chocolate Chicken; Golden Sower Award, 1986, for Peabody; New Jersey Institute of Technology Award, 1987, for Max's Christmas; Virginia Young Readers Award, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age citation, both 1987, both for The Man in the Woods; Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Books Writers, 1988, for Forest of Dreams; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, and Parents' Choice Foundation Award, both 1989, both for Shy Charles; David McCord Children's Literature Citation, 1991, for body of work; Missouri Building Blocks Picture Book Award nominations, Missouri Library Association, 1998, for Bunny Cakes and McDuff Moves In; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, 1999, for Old MacDonald and The Itsy-Bitsy Spider; Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction Award, and Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts designation, National Council of Teachers of English/Children's Literature Assembly, both 1999, both for Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories. School Library Journal named Noisy Nora, Morris's Disappearing Bag, Leave Well Enough Alone, Stanley and Rhoda, Max's Toys, Max's Breakfast, Max's Bedtime, Max's Bath, When No One Was Looking, Max's Christmas, Shy Charles, and Max's Chocolate Chicken among the Best Books of the Year in their respective years of publication; the American Library Association (ALA) gave Notable Book citations to Noisy Nora, Benjamin and Tulip, Morris's Disappearing Bag, Max's Breakfast, Max's Christmas, Max's Chocolate Chicken, and Max's Dragon Shirt; an ALA Best Books for Young Adults citation was given to Through the Hidden Door; Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books gave a Blue Ribbon to The Little Lame Prince; American Bookseller gave Pick-of-the-List citations to Abdul, Stanley and Rhoda, Timothy Goes to School, A Lion for Lewis, Forest of Dreams, Max's Chocolate Chicken, and Good Night, Fred; Child Study Association Children's Books of the Year citations were given to Morris's Disappearing Bag and Don't Spill It Again, James; Horn Book gave Fanfare designations to When No One Was Looking, which also received the West Australian Young Readers' Book Award; an International Reading Association (IRA) Teacher's Choices List designation was given to Forest of Dreams; an IRA Children's Choice citation was given to Max's Chocolate Chicken; Children's Choice citations from IRA/Children's Book Council were given to Timothy Goes to School, A Lion for Lewis, and Peabody; a Cooperative Children's Book Center citation was given to Max's Bedtime.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED, EXCEPT AS NOTED
John and the Rarey, Funk, 1969.
Michael and the Mitten Test, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1969.
The First Child, Hawthorn, 1970.
Martha's Birthday, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1970.
Miranda's Pilgrims, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1970.
Unfortunately Harriet, Dial (New York, NY), 1972.
Benjamin and Tulip, Dial (New York, NY), 1973.
Noisy Nora, Dial (New York, NY), 1973, revised edition, with new illustrations, 1997.
Abdul, Dial (New York, NY), 1975.
Morris's Disappearing Bag: A Christmas Story, Dial (New York, NY), 1975.
Don't Spill It Again, James, Dial (New York, NY), 1977.
Stanley and Rhoda, Dial (New York, NY), 1978.
Good Night, Fred, Dial (New York, NY), 1981.
Timothy Goes to School, Dial (New York, NY), 1981.
A Lion for Lewis, Dial (New York, NY), 1982.
Peabody, Dial (New York, NY), 1983.
Hazel's Amazing Mother, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Shy Charles, Dial (New York, NY), 1988.
Forest of Dreams, illustrated by Susan Jeffers, Dial (New York, NY), 1988.
Fritz and the Mess Fairy, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.
Waiting for the Evening Star, illustrated by Susan Jeffers, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.
Night Sounds, Morning Colors, illustrated by David McPhail, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
Lucy Comes to Stay, illustrated by Mark Graham, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
The Language of Doves, illustrated by Greg Shed, Dial (New York, NY), 1996.
Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories (middle grade nonfiction), illustrated by Peter McCarty, Dial (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Maria Tallchief) Tallchief: America's Prima Ballerina (nonfiction), Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
Streets of Gold (nonfiction; based on Mary Antin's memoir The Promised Land), illustrated by Dan Andreasen, Dial (New York, NY), 1999.
(With husband, Tom Wells) The House in the Mail, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, Dial (New York, NY), 1999.
Emily's First 100 Days of School, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Timothy's Lost and Found Day, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Timothy Goes to School, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Lassie Come-Home, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
Felix Feels Better, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Practice Makes Perfect, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.
Timothy's Tales from Hilltop School, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Make New Friends, Volo (New York, NY), 2002.
Leave Well Enough Alone, Dial (New York, NY), 2002.
Wingwalker, illustrated by Brian Selznick, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.
Bubble-Gum Radar, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.
Adding it Up, illustrated by Michale Koelsch, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Ready to Read, illustrated by Michale Koelsch, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
When I Grow Up, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2003.
The Small World of Binky Braverman, illustrated by Richard Egielski, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Only You, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Felix and the Worrier, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2003.
Emily's World of Wonders, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2003.
Emmett's Pig, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
I Love You! A Bushel & a Peck, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to books, including So I Shall Tell You a Story: The Magic World of Beatrix Potter, edited by Judy Taylor, Warne, 1993, and Stories and Fun for the Very Young, Candlewick Press, 1998.
"MAX AND RUBY" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Max's First Word, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.
Max's New Suit, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.
Max's Ride, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.
Max's Toys: A Counting Book, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.
Max's Bath, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Max's Bedtime, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Max's Breakfast, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Max's Birthday, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Max's Christmas, Dial (New York, NY), 1986.
Hooray for Max, Dial (New York, NY), 1986.
Max's Chocolate Chicken, Dial (New York, NY), 1989.
Max's Dragon Shirt, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.
Max and Ruby's First Greek Myth: Pandora's Box, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.
Max and Ruby's Midas: Another Greek Myth, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
Bunny Cakes, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Bunny Money, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Max's Chocolate Chicken, Dial (New York, NY), 1999.
Max Cleans Up, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Goodnight Max, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
Bunny Party, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
Max's Snowsuit, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2001.
Play with Max and Ruby, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2002.
Ruby's Beauty Shop, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Max's Christmas Stocking, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Max Drives Away, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Ruby's Tea for Two, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Bunny Mail, Viking (New York, NY), 2004.
"VOYAGE TO THE BUNNY PLANET" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Voyage to the Bunny Planet, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
First Tomato, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
The Island Light, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
Moss Pillows, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
"EDWARD THE UNREADY" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Edward Unready for School, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
Edward's Overwhelming Overnight, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
Edward in Deep Water, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
"MCDUFF" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY SUSAN JEFFERS
McDuff Moves In, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
McDuff Comes Home, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
McDuff and the Baby, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
McDuff's New Friend, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
McDuff, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
McDuff's Birthday, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
The McDuff Stories, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
McDuff Goes to School, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
McDuff Saves the Day, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
McDuff Steps Out, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
McDuff's Favorite Things, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
McDuff's Hide-and-Seek, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
"BUNNY READS BACK" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Read to Your Bunny, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Old MacDonald, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
The Bear Went over the Mountain, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Bingo, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
The Itsy-Bitsy Spider, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
"YOKO AND FRIENDS SCHOOL DAYS" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Yoko, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
Mama, Don't Go!, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
The School Play, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
The Halloween Parade, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
Doris's Dinosaur, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
Yoko's Paper Cranes, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
The World around Us, illustrated by Lisa Koelsch, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
Be My Valentine, illustrated by John Nez, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
Read Me a Story, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2001.
The Germ Busters, illustrated by Jody Wheeler, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.
"MY VERY FIRST MOTHER GOOSE BOARD BOOKS"; EDITED BY IONA OPIE
Humpty Dumpty and Other Rhymes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Little Boy Blue and Other Rhymes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Pussycat, Pussycat and Other Rhymes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Wee Willie Winkie and Other Rhymes, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
FICTION; FOR YOUNG ADULTS
The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, Dial (New York, NY), 1972.
None of the Above, Dial (New York, NY), 1974.
Leave Well Enough Alone, Dial (New York, NY), 1977.
When No One Was Looking, Dial (New York, NY), 1980, reprinted, Puffin (New York, NY), 2000.
The Man in the Woods, Dial (New York, NY), 1984.
Through the Hidden Door, Dial (New York, NY), 1987.
The Little Lame Prince (based on the book by Dinash Mulock Craik), Dial (New York, NY), 1990.
Lassie Come-Home (based on the book by Eric Knight), illustrated by Susan Jeffers, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
Alan Garner, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1997.
The Fisherman and His Wife: A Brand-New Version, illustrated by Eleanor Hubbard, Dial (New York, NY), 1998.
Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, with New Adventures (based on the book by Rachel Field), illustrated by Susan Jeffers, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
Alan Garner, Little Red Riding Hood, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1999.
William Schwenck Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, A Song to Sing, O! (from The Yeoman of the Guard), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1968.
Gilbert and Sullivan, W. S. Gilbert's "The Duke of Plaza Toro" (from The Gondoliers), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1969.
Paula Fox, Hungry Fred, Bradbury, 1969.
(With Susan Jeffers), Charlotte Pomerantz, Why You Look like You Whereas I Tend to Look like Me, Young Scott Books, 1969.
Robert W. Service, The Shooting of Dan McGrew [and] The Cremation of Sam McGhee, Young Scott Books, 1969.
Rudyard Kipling, The Cat That Walked by Himself, Hawthorn, 1970.
Winifred Rosen, Marvin's Manhole, Dial (New York, NY), 1970.
Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, A Hot Thirsty Day, Macmillan, 1971.
Ellen Conford, Impossible, Possum, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1971.
Beryl Epstein and Dorrit Davis, Two Sisters and Some Hornets, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1972.
Virginia A. Tashjian, editor, With a Deep-Sea Smile: Story Hour Stretches for Large or Small Groups, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.
Lore G. Segal, Tell Me a Trudy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1977.
Jostein Gaarder, The Christmas Mystery, translated by Elizabeth Rokkan, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
Iona Opie, editor, My Very First Mother Goose, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
(Watercolorist) E. B. White, Stuart Little: Collector's Edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
(Watercolorist) E. B. White, Charlotte's Web: Collector's Edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Iona Opie, editor, Here Comes Mother Goose, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
(Watercolorist) Garth Williams, Benjamin's Treasure (excerpt from The Adventures of Benjamin Pink), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rogers, Getting to Know You!: Rogers and Hammerstein Favorites, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Author, with Joanna Hurley, of Cooking for Nitwits, photographs by Barbara Olcott, Dutton, 1989. Contributor to Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, edited by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin, 1990.
Some of Wells's books have been translated into Spanish.
Morris's Disappearing Bag and Max's Christmas were adapted as short films by Weston Woods in 1982 and 1988, respectively. Timothy Goes to School was released as a filmstrip by Weston Woods in 1982; Max's Christmas was released as a filmstrip and on video by Weston Woods in 1987. Morris's Disappearing Bag was read on Kino's Storytime, a television program produced by KCET (Los Angeles, CA). PBS Kids, six animated programs produced by Nelvana for public television and aimed at the under-five audience. An adaptation of Timothy Goes to School aired in 2000. The "Max and Ruby" characters have been used in sticker-book adaptations published by Grossett & Dunlap. Several of Wells's characters, including Max and Ruby, Edward the Unready, and McDuff, have been produced as stuffed toys.
Described as "a master of the delicate art of story" by School Library Journal reviewer Christy Norris and as "one of the most gifted picture-book illustrators in the United States today" by Jennifer Farley Smith in the Christian Science Monitor, author and illustrator Rosemary Wells has been praised for creating delightful picture and board books; candid, incisive young adult novels; and well-received adaptations of classic tales in picture-book form. Wells addresses such genres as realistic fiction, fantasy, and a blend of the two as well as historical fiction, biography, the mystery story, the school story, and the psychological novel. A prolific, popular writer and artist, Wells is acclaimed for her originality, versatility, sensitivity, wry sense of humor, artistic talent, and understanding of both children and the human condition. She is also praised for her characterizations and is well known as the creator of many popular characters, such as sibling bunnies Max and Ruby, who are featured in a series of innovative board and picture books. As an illustrator, Wells has provided the pictures for works by such authors as Paula Fox, Rudyard Kipling, Beryl Epstein, Robert W. Service, and Ellen Conford. She has also illustrated several volumes of Mother Goose rhymes and has even illustrated portions of popular librettos by noted light opera composers Gilbert and Sullivan and beloved songs from musicals by Rogers and Hammerstein.
In her picture books, Wells takes a lighthearted but heartfelt approach to universal childhood experiences. Many of her books feature engaging animal characters, such as bears, bunnies, foxes, mice, raccoons, and badgers, who are caught up in childhood dilemmas or comic predicaments such as sibling rivalry, bedtime fears, distracted parents, being embarrassed in class, and dealing with bullies or a new baby-sitter. Wells is credited with evoking the painful aspects of these experiences while providing satisfying, often surprising endings. Noted for accurately reflecting the feelings of children while emphasizing the child as an individual, her works are also acknowledged for giving young readers and listeners the chance to laugh at themselves. Other picture books include a series featuring the charming West Highland White terrier McDuff, retellings of classic children's novels, and board books based on popular children's songs. Her young adult novels deal with ethical dilemmas such as betrayal, stealing, the pressures of competition, the difficulties of relationships, and the search for truth. Refusing to provide easy answers, Wells lets her characters tap their inner strength while establishing their identities and independence in a confusing world. She frequently creates a story-within-a-story and often concludes her books—some of which are written in verse—with unconventional endings.
As an artist, Wells favors line and watercolor; she is often praised for her rich use of color and for creating deceptively simple drawings that are filled with nuance and expression. "In a few lines and pale colors," noted Jennifer Farley Smith in the Christian Science Monitor, "Wells can speak volumes to her young audience." In Booklist Hazel Rochman also praised Wells' artwork, adding that the author/illustrator "has that rare ability to tell a funny story for very young children with domestic scenes of rising excitement and heartfelt emotion, and with not one word too many."Born in New York City, Wells grew up in a home that was, as she recalled in an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), "always filled with books, dogs, nineteenth-century music, and other things my parents held in great esteem." Most of her childhood was spent on the New Jersey coast, where her maternal grandmother had a home right on the ocean. "I spent so much time in her enormous stucco house with its own beach that most of my sentimental and favorite memories, good and bad, come from that place and time on the New Jersey shore." The author's parents—her father was a playwright and her mother was a ballet dancer—and her grandmother encouraged her early artistic endeavors. Wells' grandmother, to whom she was very close, was widely read and had been a great beauty in New York society. She often read to Rosemary from works by authors such as Longfellow, Kipling, and Poe. As Wells recalled on her Web site, "Both my parents flooded me with books and stories. My grandmother took me on special trips to the theater and museums in New York."
From the age of two, Wells drew constantly. As she told Jean F. Mercier in Publishers Weekly, "I parlayed this [talent] into the sham of a school career. I discovered very early that making a picture of anything meant people saying 'Look at that!' and how else could I get that kind of attention?" Her subject matter was not the traditional childish flowers and family members; Wells sketched policemen, cowboys, baseball players, medieval soldiers, and lots of bloody fights. Encouraged in her art in first grade, she decided early on that she wanted to be an artist when she grew up.
As Wells recalled in SAAS, having a career goal during adolescence became increasingly important. "Because I could say artist, I had a reprieve from what, even then, I considered to be a life-sentence of drudgery. When I became a teenager, the idea of being an artist was the only thing that stood between me and despair—I was gangly, underdeveloped, a social retard whose mother didn't like her watching 'American Bandstand.'" In addition to art, writing was also important to the young teen, and when she wasn't drawing or involved with friends and sports, she read and wrote stories. "Whatever was behind those piles of drawings, the drawings themselves were behind the writing; and now that I am over forty, I can say the writing is the better part of my skills. I try mightily to improve my illustrations but my heart is probably more in writing."
At age thirteen, Wells was sent to an upscale boarding school for girls. "I reacted badly," the author/illustrator recalled in SAAS: "The school was a jail to me although the other girls seemed to be having a grand time." Wells found the regimentation, scrutiny, and constant supervision to be oppressive; in addition, "There was no privacy, no time to draw." Miserable, she was finally released from this torture when her parents took her out of the school. Wells remembered, "My grandmother told me, on my return home, that I had lost my first great battle with life. She was stuck with the tuition bill for the rest of the year." Back at home, Wells entered Red Bank High School, where she became an admittedly poor student. "I'd done badly in high school due to my own laziness and inability to take things like chemistry seriously. This was abetted by my parent's inability to take things like chemistry seriously." She spent her junior year "larking around England with my mother and father," and when accepted at a small private junior college in upstate New York, she decided to shed "the high school stigma of 'not being popular.'" At junior college she became a top student and made two lifelong friends. However, she soon got sidetracked by love after meeting Tom Wells, a Dartmouth student. She left school after one year and moved to Boston.
In Boston, the nineteen-year-old Wells entered the Boston Museum School, where she studied anatomy, perspective, life drawing, and printing. In 1963, she and Tom Wells married, and she left school to enter the job market. On the strength of her portfolio, Wells landed a job as art editor with the publishers Allyn and Bacon. Then, as she wrote in SAAS, "all the laziness and reluctance to concentrate disappeared. I was assigned an American history book for Catholic high school seniors. It was thirteen hundred pages long and I had to send away for all the prints and photos that would illustrate it. The book was wonderful. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who were involved in the editorial end, were splendid women. There was a party when it was published and I felt like a success at something for the first time in my life."
Two years later, when Tom Wells was accepted at the Columbia University School of Architecture, the couple moved to New York City. While working as an art designer for Macmillan, Wells presented a small illustrated dummy of a Gilbert and Sullivan song, taken from their light opera The Yeomen of the Guard, to the company's editor-in-chief. This became her first published book, A Song to Sing, O!, and it was followed by W. S. Gilbert's "The Duke of Plaza Toro," a picture book based on a Gilbert and Sullivan song from The Gondoliers. After illustrating well-received volumes by Paula Fox and Robert W. Service, Wells created her first original work, John and the Rarey. Published in 1969, the picture book features a little boy who does not want to be an airplane pilot like his father. What John does want is a pet: he finds a fantastic, blue-eyed creature that takes him into the sky on its back. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called Wells "a fresh new talent in children's books" and praised John and the Rarey as a "witty story," while Horn Book critic Sidney D. Long wrote that her book would "appeal to all children who have been faced with a frustrating family situation."
Throughout her career Wells has continued to illustrate the work of other authors while adding to a growing list of solo picture books. In 1979 she produced the first four books in her popular "Max and Ruby" series: Max's First Word, Max's New Suit, Max's Ride, and Max's Toys: A Counting Book. Concept books inspired by the antics of her own two children that Children's Books and Their Creators contributor Maeve Visser Knoth called "the first funny board books for very young children," the "Max and Ruby" books use story, information, and humor to introduce preschoolers to such concepts as prepositions, getting dressed, and the importance of individuality. Max is a white bunny; Ruby is an older sister who thinks she knows what is best for Max and tries to control him. Although Max is easygoing, he remains undaunted, innocently outsmarting his sister and always getting the last word. Featuring a minimal but lively text, the books feature pictures enlivened by vivid primary colors and featuring an uncluttered page layout. Writing in Booklist, Judith Goldberger praised the series for "driv[ing] … a real wedge into the existing block of unnotable, overcute, didactic baby-toddler tomes." Wells has continued to produce board books in the "Max and Ruby" series, continuing the adventures of the brother-and-sister duo for new generations of pre-readers in books such as Bunny Money, Max Drives Away, and Ruby's Beauty Shop. Reviewing Ruby's Beauty Shop, in which Ruby and friend Louie make Max their guinea pig in a game of beauty parlor that goes awry, a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that "Wells has an unerring ability to hit just the right note to tickle small-fry funny bones." "Each story portrays a typical preschool trauma resolved with humor and understanding," wrote Trev Jones in School Library Journal, while in a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review Zena Sutherland dubbed each book in the series "equally delectable, and they should be as useful for very young children as they are appealing."
Max's Christmas breaks with Wells' board-book tradition by presenting the first full-length picture-book treatment of the escapades of Max and Ruby. A bunny with an inquiring mind, Max has lots of unanswered questions about Santa Claus, which Ruby answers with a simple "Because!" Unsatisfied, Max sneaks downstairs to wait for Santa, who patiently answers Max's questions until he finally has to resort to "Because!" Ruby comes down to find Max on the couch with a lap full of presents, a situation that prompts questions of her own. Calling Max "that epitome of the small child in rabbit guise," Judith Glover, wrote in School Library Journal that Wells "has an extraordinary talent for capturing a welter of thoughts and emotions with the placement of an eye or a turn of a smile." Horn Book critic Karen Jameyson concluded that, despite the book's longer format, "an uncanny perceptive simplicity, both in line and in word, is still Wells's most effective tool." More recent books about Max and Ruby adhere to the picture-book format. Wells uses the frame of the story-within-a-story to introduce young readers and listeners to Greek mythology in Max and Ruby's First Greek Myth: Pandora's Box, wherein Ruby finds Max investigating her jewelry box. Because the box is off limits, she tells him a bunny-centric version of the classic legend. In Bunny Cakes and Bunny Money Max and Ruby prepare for their grandmother's birthday, while Bunny Mail finds grandma attempting to decipher Max's Christmas-present requests after the bunny's pictograph notes to Santa are mistakenly sent her way. In Bunny Cakes, the siblings have separate ideas for cakes: Ruby wants to make an angel surprise cake while Max wants to present his grandmother with an earthworm cake decorated with red-hot marshmallow squirters. At the end of the story, Max—who is too young to read and write—thinks of a way to communicate his shopping list to the grocer, and Grandma is thrilled when she receives two cakes. Pat Mathews, a reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, claimed that, "in this take on written communication kidstyle, pudgy Max is at his winsome best." Bunny Money finds the pair shopping to buy a birthday present for Grandma. The siblings' money goes fast—most of it is spent on Max, and Wells shows the gradual reduction of the contents of Ruby's wallet at the bottom of each page—but a compromise is reached: Grandma drives the pair home wearing musical earrings from Ruby and plastic vampire teeth from Max. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "a great adjunct to primary-grade math lessons," while in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Pat Mathews concluded that Wells' "combination of gentle comedy, shrinking assets, and those expressive bunny eyes" will attract "old and new Max and Ruby fans."
In addition to penning stories involving the irrepressible Max and Ruby, Wells has also created several other popular series. Her "Voyage to the Bunny Planet" books feature little bunnies who have bad days and imagine themselves transported to the Bunny Planet, where good times restore their equilibrium. The "Edward the Unready" series follows a little bear who is unenthusiastic about going to school or staying overnight at a friend's house and prefers to be at home among familiar surroundings. In the "McDuff" series, a West Highland white terrier—based on Wells' own pet—escapes from a dogcatcher's truck and is adopted by a young couple. The author's "Bunny Reads Back" series features board books for youngsters and parents to share that are based on favorite children's songs. Other series feature Yoko, a little Asian kitten, and Felix, a guinea pig who in Felix Feels Better is nursed back to health by Mom after overindulging in his favorite chocolate candy. In The World around Us Wells unites several of her series characters in Mrs. Jenkins' kindergarten class, where the students learn about their place in the larger worlds of family, community, country, and world.
Stand-alone picture books by Wells include Wingwalker and The House in the Mail, the latter a collaboration with her husband, Tom Wells. Wingwalker, which takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930s and finds a young Oklahoma boy and his family trying to make ends meet during the sustained drought that caused the Dust Bowl, was praised by a Kirkus Reviews critic who noted that "Wells' prose is spare but has both richness and freshness of simile and image." The House in the Mail takes readers back to an even earlier decade of the twentieth century, when houses could be ordered in kits from the Sears, Roebuck catalogue. The story is narrated by twelve-year-old Emily, whose father summons friends to help assemble the modern home. Complete with a refrigerator, running water, a washing machine, and other conveniences, the new six-room bungalow is put together piece, by piece, and the story is illustrated in scrap-book style by Dan Andreasen. Noting that "Anecdotes and snatches of conversation flesh out the era," a Publishers Weekly contributor praised The House in the Mail as a story that "speaks… to the strong bond among the members of Emily's family." "This remarkable picture book … is like discovering a slice of American life in a family scrap-book," added Connie Fletcher in Booklist.
In addition to being a prolific author of picture books, Wells has written several well-respected novels for teen readers. The award-winning When No One Was Looking is a mystery novel that focuses on a highly competitive teen tennis player who is placed under suspicion when her arch rival conveniently drowns just before a face-off match. The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, which is based on Wells' boarding-school experience, takes the form of a diary written by thirteen-year-old Rachel Sakasian. A Brooklyn girl who wants to become a concert pianist, Rachel longs to attend Music and Art High, a New York City public school, but her parents enroll her at North Place, an elite boarding school. Rachel dislikes North Place, which allows her no time to practice the piano or to be alone. When she becomes friends with upper-classman Carlisle Duggett, who is rumored to be mentally unbalanced, Rachel finds herself covering for her new friend when the girl leaves school to live in Greenwich Village. When she finds that Carlisle has tried to commit suicide, Rachel is torn between protecting her friend and telling the truth. In a School Library Journal review, Alice Miller Bregman predicted that "teens will devour this fast-paced, adequately written entertainment," while Jane Langton stated in Book World that The Fog Comes in on Little Pig Feet "says something true about life: Evil is not diabolical and nasty, but bland and blind." A contributor to Best Sellers, applauded the novel's "priceless vignettes" and concluded that Wells "brilliantly demonstrates [that] her writing abilities are an easy match for her already famous artistic talents."
First published in 1974, None of the Above outlines five years in the life of Marcia, a teen who likes pink angora sweaters, reading movie magazines, and watching television. When her father remarries, Marcia feels out of place with her sophisticated stepmother and ambitious stepsister. In reaction, she decides to turn herself around: she switches to college prep classes and succeeds, although reluctantly, in school. However, she also becomes involved with Raymond, a good-looking though hoodish classmate. The book's ending is ambivalent: Raymond, who is impotent until he meets Marcia, asks her to marry him, forcing her to choose between an uncertain future with a boy she does not love and pursuit of a college degree she is not sure she truly desires. Calling Marcia an "unusual and oddly affecting heroine," School Library Journal critic Joni Brodart claimed that Wells "captures the girl's confusion in this timely, realistic, and moving novel which should reach a large audience." Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Zena Sutherland noted that Wells' "characterization is strong and consistent, and the complexities of relationships within the family are beautifully developed. Wells is particularly adept at dialogue." Although she praised the book's "uncompromising honesty," Jean F. Mercier was less than impressed with Marcia, noting in Publishers Weekly that the "trouble with the story is that all its people are so unsavoury. That goes double for the 'heroine,' a dolt who is more irritating than sympathetic." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Dale Carlson called None of the Above "well-written and the characters well-conceived."
Wells has also delved into nonfiction writing with several biographies of historical and contemporary women. Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories, a book for middle graders, profiles Mary Breckinridge, founder of the Frontier Nursing Service in the Appalachian Mountains. After losing two husbands and two children, Mary worked as a nurse in Europe during World War II, and arrived in Kentucky in 1923. Wells shows both the hardships and the triumphs experienced by the valiant nurse from the perspectives of three young people whom Mary helped. Noting the "historical accuracy and elegance" of the volume, a reviewer in Publishers Weekly stated that the book's "well-honed first-person narratives add up to an outstanding biography." Booklist reviewer Helen Rosenberg added that "these beautifully written stories will remain with the reader long after the book is closed; Wells has given much deserved honor to a true heroine," while Peggy Morgan concluded in School Library Journal: "This one's a gem."
In Streets of Gold Wells presents a picture-book biography of Mary Antin, a Jewish girl who came to the United States from tsarist Russia in the early twentieth century. A year after her arrival, Antin wrote an epic poem about George Washington that was published in a Boston newspaper. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly claimed that, "among a profusion of books about turn-of-the-century Russian-Jewish emigrants, Wells's … story about Mary Antin stands out for its exceptional economy and tenderness." Wells has also produced a well-received biography of American ballet dancer Maria Tallchief, collaborating with the noted Native American dancer on the project.
In addition to her work as an author and illustrator, Wells is a strong advocate of literacy programs. She has often spoken on behalf of the "Twenty Minutes a Day" campaign, which proposes that parents should spend twenty minutes each day reading to their children. She read her 1998 picture book Read to Your Bunny at the White House at the opening of the nationwide Prescription for Reading Partnership program. Looking back on her long career, Wells wrote in SAAS, "There are hard parts but no bad or boring parts, and that is more than can be said for any other line of work." In Worlds of Childhood, Wells further noted: "I believe that all stories and plays and paintings and songs and dances come from a palpable but unseen space in the cosmos.… According to how gifted we are, we are all given a large or small key to this treasury of wonders. I have been blessed with a small key to the world of the young."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 227-236.
Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, p. 374.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 16, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 12, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Fourth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, edited by Doris De Montreville and Elizabeth D. Crawford, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1978, pp. 343-345.
Pendergast, Tom, and Sara Pendergast, editors, St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Pendergast, Tom, and Sara Pendergast, editors, St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Sadker, Myra Pollack, and David Miller Sadker, Now upon a Time: A Contemporary View of Children's Literature, Harper, 1997, pp. 66-67.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 279-292.
Worlds of Childhood: The Art and Craft of Writing for Children, edited by William Zinsser, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1990, pp. 121-143.
Best Sellers, July 15, 1972, review of The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, p. 200.
Booklist, January 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Bunny Cakes, p. 857; September 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories, p. 113; February 1, 2001, Kathy Broderick, review of Max Cleans Up, p. 1059; February 15, 2001, Shelley Townsend Hudson, review of Benjamin's Treasure, p. 1142; May 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Felix Feels Better, p. 1693; November 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Language of Doves, p. 475; December 15, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Felix Feels Better, p. 728; March 1, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of The House in the Mail, p. 1137; July, 2002, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of McDuff Saves the Day, p.1861; August, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Ruby's Beauty Shop, p. 1977; November 1, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Felix and the Worrier, p. 507.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1975, Zena Sutherland, review of None of the Above, p. 139; April, 1985, Zena Sutherland, review of Max's Bath, p. 157; November, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of Max and Ruby's First Greek Myth: Pandora's Box, p.106; March, 1997, Pat Mathews, review of Bunny Cakes, p. 261; October, 1997, Pat Mathews, review of Bunny Money, p. 71.
Childhood Education, winter, 2000, Susan A. Miller, review of Goodnight Max, p. 110.
Christian Science Monitor, March 6, 1974, Jennifer Farley Smith, "Animals Are Enduring Heroes," p. F2.
Horn Book, August, 1969, Sidney D. Long, review of John and the Rarey, pp. 399-400; June, 1987, Roger Sutton, "A Second Look: 'None of the Above,'" pp. 368-371; July-August, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Wingwalker, p. 474.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1993, review of Max and Ruby's First Greek Myth: Pandora's Box, p 1154; July 15, 1997, review of Bunny Money, p. 1119; April 15, 2002, review of Wingwalker, p. 581; May 15, 2002, review of McDuff Saves the Day, p. 743; June 15, 2002, review of Timothy's Tales from Hilltop School, p. 890; July 15, 2002, review of Ruby's Beauty Shop, p. 1047; August 15, 2003, review of The Small World of Binky Braverman, p. 1081; August 15, 2003, review of Felix and the Worrier, p. 1080.
New York Times Book Review, November 24, 1974, Dale Carlson, review of None of the Above, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, April 21, 1969, review of John and the Rarey, p. 64; November 15, 1970, review of Miranda's Pilgrims, p. 1245; August 5, 1974, Jean F. Mercier, review of None of the Above, p. 58; October 9, 1978, review of Stanley and Rhoda, p. 76; February 29, 1980, Jean F. Mercier, interview, pp. 72-73; September 14, 1998, review of Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories, p. 70; October 19, 1998, review of Yoko, p. 78; April 19, 1999, review of Streets of Gold, p. 73; October 23, 2000, p. 77; November 20, 2000, p. 70; June 4, 2001, review of Felix Feels Better, p. 79; July 9, 2001, p. 69; July 16, 2001, p. 148; November 5, 2001, p.71; January 14, 2002, review of The House in the Mail, p. 60; March 25, 2002, review of Wingwalker, p. 65; May 27, 2002, review of Happy Anniversary, Charlotte & Wilbur, p. 61; October 7, 2002, p. 75; May 12, 2003, review of Only You, p. 65; August 18, 2003, review of The Small World of Binky Braverman, p. 78; September 1, 2003, review of Felix and the Worrier, p.91; September 8, 2003, review of Back to School, p. 78.
School Library Journal, May, 1972, Alice Miller Bregman, review of The Fog Comes on Little Pig Feet, p. 89; November, 1974, Joni Brodart, review of None of the Above, p. 69; March, 1985, Trev Jones, review of Max's Bath, pp. 159-160; October, 1986, Judith Glover, review of Max's Christmas, p. 112; July, 1997, Christy Norris, review of McDuff Comes Home, p. 78; October, 1998, Peggy Morgan, review of Mary on Horseback, p. 130; December, 2000, Christina F. Renaud, review of Max Cleans Up, p. 127; November, 2001, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Yoko's Paper Cranes, p. 138; December, 2001, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of The World around Us, p. 129; January, 2002, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Mama, Don't Go!, p. 112; March, 2002, Rita Soltan, review of Adding It Up, p. 223; May, 2002, Heide Piehler, review of Wingwalker, p. 162; July, 2002, Janie Schomberg, review of The Germ Busters, p. 100; July, 2002, Shara Alpern, review of Be My Valentine, p. 100; August, 2002, Maryann H. Owen, review of McDuff Saves the Day, p. 172; October, 2002, Laurie von Mehren, review of Timothy's Tales from Hilltop School, p. 134; October, 2002, Shara Alpern, review of Ruby's Beauty Shop, p. 134; December, 2002, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Read Me a Story, p. 112; May, 2003, Heather E. Miller, review of Only You, p. 132.
Penguin Group USA Web site, http://www.penguinputnam.com/ (December 2, 2004).
World of Rosemary Wells, http://www.rosemarywells.com/ (December 2, 2004).
A Visit with Rosemary Wells (film), Penguin USA, 1994.*
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