Judith Caseley (1951-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Surname is pronounced Case-ley; born 1951, in Rahway, NJ; Education: Syracuse University, B.F.A. (cum laude), 1973
Agent—c/o Author Mail,
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London, England, receptionist, 1975-80; artist. Exhibitions: Group and solo exhibitions in New York, New Jersey, and London, England; paintings included in private collections in France, Spain, England, Russia, Germany, and the United States.
Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
Author's Citation, New Jersey Writers Conference, 1986, for Molly Pink and Molly Pink Goes Hiking.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Molly Pink, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1985.
Molly Pink Goes Hiking, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1985.
When Grandpa Came to Stay, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1986.
My Sister Celia, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Apple Pie and Onions, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Silly Baby, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Ada Potato, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Three Happy Birthdays, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Annie's Potty, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1990.
The Cousins, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Grandpa's Garden Lunch, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Dear Annie, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Harry and Willy and Carrothead, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1991.
The Noisemakers, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Sophie and Sammy's Library Sleepover, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Mama, Coming and Going, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Mr. Green Peas, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Priscilla Twice, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Slumber Party!, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Witch Mama, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Jorah's Journal, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Dorothy's Darkest Days, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Mickey's Class Play, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Losing Louisa, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1999.
Field Day Friday, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Praying to A.L., Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Bully, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2001.
On the Town: A Community Adventure, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Sisters, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2004.
In Style with Grandma Antoinette, Tanglewood Press, 2005.
Olga Norris, The Garden of Eden, Abelard, 1982.
FOR YOUNG READERS; NOVELS
Kisses, Knopf (New York, NY), 1990.
Hurricane Harry, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Starring Dorothy Kane, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1992.
My Father, the Nutcase, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Chloe in the Know, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Harry and Arney, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Judith Caseley is the author and illustrator of a number of picture books for young children that are often inspired by moments from her own childhood or her experiences as a mother. From stage fright, a household move, or dealing with physical or emotional handicaps to just plain being a kid, Caseley's young, likeable characters deal with the mixed feelings and emotions with which young children can easily identify. Her illustrations have been praised for their bright colors, framed format, and the artist's attention to the many small details that hold young children's interest. In books such as Losing Louisa, Kisses, and My Father, the Nutcase, Caseley addresses teen readers, and has also created a number of volumes for middle-graders that have been praised by critics for their realism and humor. On her Web site, Caseley admitted that her children have also provided much of her inspiration, but added: "I tend to follow their curriculum, choosing nuggets from their day and spinning them into stories. I try to limit how much material I steal nowadays, but its difficult!"
Caseley had an early interest in art and received her bachelor of fine arts degree from Syracuse University in 1973. After spending several years in London, England, painting, working in an auction gallery, and exhibiting her work both there and in the United States, she decided to change her artistic focus. "After trying to sustain myself by painting pictures for gallery viewing, I began to design and sell greeting cards and received several awards for tiny watercolors," Caseley once explained. "Eventually I found that writing and illustrating stories was more fulfilling work." Providing the illustrations for the biblical story The Garden of Eden was her first project for young children. Positive reviews of her first illustration work encouraged Caseley to pursue a career as a children's book illustrator, and eventually she expanded into writing as well.
" Molly Pink is based on a traumatic experience from my own childhood—horrible stage fright," Caseley commented about her first book, published in 1985. In this story, Molly Pink is chosen by her music teacher, Mrs. Popper, to sing a solo at an upcoming school recital. Molly practices every day: in the bathroom, on the way to school, to her teddy bear at bedtime, and to the muffin that awaits her every morning on the breakfast table, everywhere except in front of an audience. In fact, she cannot sing in front of her own family unless they cover their eyes. On the day of Molly's recital, her brother Joey pins a good-luck picture of a songbird on her coat and all goes well until Mrs. Popper raises her baton for Molly's solo. Looking out at the audience, at first the girl cannot make a sound, but when she spies her mother, father, and Joey, all hiding their eyes, Molly recovers. Through Caseley's pen and ink and soft, pink-toned watercolors, "Molly's paralyzing stage fright … is communicated with sympathetic humor in [a] delightful first book," Charlotte W. Draper noted in a review for Horn Book.
Molly Pink appears again in Molly Pink Goes Hiking, as a pleasant family walk through the woods is disrupted by a scuffling noise that turns out to be another family, the Russells. Molly takes an instant dislike to young Robert Russell because he is fat. When her curiosity causes her to tumble into a fast-moving stream, however, it is the overlarge Robert who comes to her rescue, prompting Molly to take another look at her attitudes about overweight people. Molly Pink Goes Hiking "recounts an adventure when I nearly drowned in a river and was saved—and embarrassed—by a boy who was fat," Caseley once admitted.
"My Sister Celia reflects Caseley's memories of her own wedding and describes the special bond between sisters. Seven-year-old Emma and her grown-up sister Celia share a special time together each weekend, drawing pictures and having "coffee." They also enjoy watching The Wizard of Oz with their mother. When Celia and her boyfriend Ben become engaged, he starts tagging along on the sisters' special day together, making Emma feel left out. Wedding plans and the thought of being flower girl just make her sulk and pout. When Celia gives her little sister a pair of ruby-red, Wizard-of-Oz shoes to wear at the wedding, and winks at her on her way down the aisle, Emma finally comes around. The following year she sits with Celia, Ben, and her baby nephew Evan, and they all watch The Wizard of Oz together as part of a new family tradition.
Along similar lines, Silly Baby describes Lindsey's reaction to the news that a new baby is joining the family. When Callie is born, she seems pretty useless until Lindsey realizes that she acted pretty much the same way when she first joined the family. And in the simply titled Sisters Melissa welcomes an adopted sister her own age into her family, in what School Library Journal contributor Julie Roach dubbed "a lovely story for family sharing."
Caseley bridges several generations in books such as When Grandpa Came to Stay, the story of a boy who learns to deal with grief and sadness after the death of his grandmother, Dear Annie, and Grandpa's Garden Lunch, wherein Sarah works alongside her grandfather in his beloved garden. The two build a special bond while digging, planting vegetables, flowers, and herbs, watering, and pulling weeds. By summertime, the two gardeners are finally able to enjoy all that their hard work has made possible when Grandma prepares a "garden lunch" of mint tea, salad, basil and spaghetti, and zucchini cake for the hungry gardeners. In a review for School Library Journal Dorothy Houlihan described Grandpa's Garden Lunch as "blooming with bright colors and bursting with familial love."
In Dear Annie, a young girl develops a life-long correspondence with her loving grandfather. When she takes all eighty-eight of the letters he has written her to school for show and tell, her classmates are moved to seek pen pals of their own.
Newly minted readers can also enjoy Caseley's books Hurricane Harry, Starring Dorothy Kane, Harry and Arney, and Chloe in the Know. Harry Kane lived up to his nickname when he was a three-year-old ball of energy; as a kindergartner, it follows him to a new school in Hurricane Harry. Caseley adds humorous touches to her portrayal of Harry's move to a new home, his first day at school—his sister accidentally puts him in a second-grade classroom—and the tragic death of his new pet turtle, "Personality," who meets an untimely end after seeking shelter in a pile of laundry destined for a spin in the washer and dryer. "Preschoolers will recognize much of themselves in this impetuous hero," Booklist critic Hazel Rochman wrote.
In Starring Dorothy Kane, we see the entire chain of events—from moving to their new home and going on a family camping trip to dealing with the bully in the new neighborhood and that terrifying first day of school—through the eyes of Harry's seven-year-old sister, Dorothy. Chloe in the Know continues the story of the Kane family as older sister Chloe feels burdened in her "big sister" role, especially when she gets the news that her mother is pregnant again. Gradually, as she becomes involved in helping Mom through her pregnancy and gets added responsibilities, Chloe begins to realize that being the oldest has its good points too.
A young boy name Mickey is featured in several books by Caseley. Mickey's Class Play finds Mickey cast as a duck in a school play about animals, but when his duck costume becomes unwearable Mickey's theatrical debut is threatened until a last-minute solution is found by a savvy older sister. Mickey joins best friend Longjohn in Field Day Friday, as the two compete neck and neck until Mickey's pride is hurt when he loses a sneaker in a foot race and comes in last. "The realistic details of school are as much fun as the warm story of failure, friendship, and family support," noted Rochman in Booklist, while School Library Journal reviewer Lisa Dennis added that "readers will relate to the trials and tribulations caused by (even friendly) competition."
In Bully Mickey finds that classmate Jack goes out of his way to make things unpleasant, including stealing his lunch, tripping Mickey, and throwing Mickey's cap to the far end of the school bus. In discussing the situation with his parents, Mickey is encouraged to treat the problem with reason and understanding rather than similar bullyish behavior. While noting that "Mickey's problem is rather easily resolved," Kathie Meizner wrote in School Library Journal that Caseley's "lighthearted, colorful, and detailed drawings … are the book's strongest point."
Geared toward teen readers, Kisses finds sixteen-year-old Hannah Gold trying to cope with the added problems growing up brings: a secret admirer, a crush on good-looking Richard, dealing with disturbing advances from her violin teacher, problems at home between her parents, and taking on the role of confidant to best friend Dierdre, who has become involved with a rough-talking older boy. Hannah gradually leaves behind her childhood illusions about finding the "perfect love" and learns to accept the realities of her own life—everything, at least, except her flat chest.
Losing Louisa has a more serious focus: sixteen-year-old Lacey Levine must sometimes play parent to her distraught and angry divorced mom, while Lacey's older sister takes advantage of the lack of proper parenting and ultimately finds herself pregnant. In Booklist, Hazel Rochman noted that the dialogue in Losing Louisa "flashes with wit and warmth as tension builds" due to family circumstances. While noting that the novel's conclusion is "too cosy and neat … for the complex family portrait Caseley has drawn," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that "this drama depicting the effects of teen pregnancy on a family reveals a keen authorial intelligence."
My Father, the Nutcase introduces fifteen-year-old Zoe Cohen, whose father has an emotional breakdown after a car accident and becomes clinically depressed. While she and her family cope with her father's problem—her two sisters deal with it by adopting some destructive behaviors, and Zoe's mom becomes stressed-out due to the added responsibilities—Zoe is confused by the anger she feels toward her dad for not being there for her. She becomes further mixed up after she begins to date and wishes she had his advice. Gradually, her father begins to pull out of his depression, and Zoe starts to gain a stronger sense of her own self-worth as she deals with pushy dates, her situation at home, and her relationship with a fun guy in her school who also writes poetry.
In Praying to A. L. young teen Sierra must deal with the death of her Jewish father, but gets no support from her preoccupied Cuban-born mother or her bratty little brother. Friends want to help but don't know what to say, leaving Sierra to console herself by having one-sided conversations with a picture of Abraham Lincoln that hangs in her bedroom. The connection between Sierra's father and the late president is strengthened when the girl's uncle gives her a book of Lincoln's speeches that her father asked that she be given, and ultimately her interest in Lincoln helps her deal with her grief. Booklist reviewer Debbie Carton praised the novel for "clever, realistic dialogue" and a "fond and realistic portrayal of a bicultural family." Praising Praying to A. L. as "nicely crafted," School Library Journal reviewer Janet Hilbun added that the novel "shows that grief takes many forms."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1985, p. 402; February 15, 1988, p. 998; July, 1991, p. 2047; October 15, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of Hurricane Harry; March 15, 1992, p. 1357; September 1, 1992, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Noisemakers; February 15, 1993, p. 1066; September 1, 1994, p. 39; February 15, 1995, p. 1092; May 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Jorah's Journal, p. 1493; August, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Dorothy's Darkest Days, p. 1900; August, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Mickey's Class Play, p. 2013; May 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Field Day Friday, p. 1676; March 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Losing Louisa, p. 1203; May 1, 2000, Hazen Rochman, review of Field Day Friday, p. 1676; May 15, 2000, Debbie Carton, review of Praying to A. L., p. 1743; May 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Bully, p. 1755; April 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of On the Town: A Community Adventure, p. 1406.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1986, p. 162; March, 1988, p. 132; April, 1991, p. 186; June, 1993, p. 310; March, 1996, p. 221.
Horn Book, July-August, 1985, Charlotte W. Draper, review of Molly Pink, pp. 435-436; January-February, 1987, p. 42; January-February, 1991, p. 53; January-February, 1996, p. 61.
Instructor, August, 2001, Judy Freeman, review of Bully, p. 20.
Junior Bookshelf, October, 1982, p. 182.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of On the Town: A Community Adventure, 330; April 1, 2004, review of Sisters, p. 326.
Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1985, p. 102; November 28, 1986, p. 74; November 2, 1992, p. 72; July 27, 1998, review of Mickey's Class Play, p. 76; January 18, 1999, review of Losing Louisa, p. 340; June 12, 2000, review of Praying to A. L., p. 74.
School Library Journal, October, 1985, p. 149; February, 1986, p. 72; November, 1986, p. 73; April, 1988, p. 78; June, 1991, p. 74; November, 1992, p. 116; September, 1994, p. 182; May, 2000, Lisa Dennis, review of Field Day Friday, p. 132; June, 2000, Janet Hilbun, review of Praying to A. L., p. 142; June, 2001, Kathie Meizner, review of Bully, p. 105; May, 2002, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of On the Town: A Community Adventure, p. 105; October, 2003, Jennifer Ralston, review of Bully, p. 97; April, 2004, Julie Roach, review of Sisters, p. 103.
Times Educational Supplement, January 14, 1983, p. 34.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1992, p. 319.
Judith Caseley Web site, http://www.judithcaseley.com (April 2, 2005).
Meet Authors and Illustrators, http://www.childrenslit.com/ (April 2, 2005), "Judith Caseley."