Joan (MacPhail) Knight Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1964. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, traveling.
Children's book author, editor, and translator. World Publishing Co., New York, NY, editorial assistant for children's books, 1964-68; William Collins, New York, NY, editor of children's books, 1978-80; Philomel Books, New York, NY, editor of children's books, 1980-83. Also translator (English to French and French to English) of children's and adult books; freelance editor of children's books for clients, including Rizzoli International Publications and Sierra Club.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Smithsonian Institution, Frick Museum, Metropolitan Museum, Brussels Griffon Club.
Children's Choice Award, 1986, for Journey to Japan; Parents' Choice Honor Award for Story, 1990, for Tickle-Toe Rhymes.
Journey to Egypt, illustrated by Piero Ventura, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
Journey to Japan, illustrated by Kinuko Craft, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
The Baby Who Would Not Come Down, illustrated by Debrah Santini, Picture Book Studio, 1989.
Tickle-Toe Rhymes, illustrated by John Wallner, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Opal in the Closet, illustrated by Pau Estrada, Picture Book Studio, 1992.
Bon Appetit, Bertie!, illustrated by Penny Dann, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 1993.
Charlotte in Giverny, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2000.
Virginia Quilt Museum, photographs by Polly Frye, Howell Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2002.
Charlotte in Paris, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Joan Knight is the author of several picture books, both fiction and nonfiction, for preschool and early elementary age children. Her stories have been singled out for their lighthearted humor and their improbable, but entertaining, scenarios. Knight's facility with language, showcased in her rhyming texts and the ease with which she incorporates information about other cultures and places into story lines and nonfiction passages, has also earned approving comments from critics.
Knight's first two books, Journey to Egypt and Journey to Japan, are part of a pop-up series focusing on countries around the world. Journey to Egypt highlights that country's ancient past, including its spectacular tombs immortalizing the pharaohs. Journey to Japan offers a view of this small country that focuses on aspects of contemporary life there, including the bullet train, the high-tech robotics industry, and Tokyo's crowded skyline. Critics praised both books for their pleasant presentation of interesting information about the culture and history of each country. Eldon Younce, writing in School Library Journal, commented: "There is a great deal of well written information packed into a very few pages in these pop-up books."
In Tickle-Toe Rhymes Knight invents more than a dozen simple counting rhymes for preschool children. Each short poem features a different animal in a humorous situation that inspires counting from one to five. Though Lauralyn Persson, writing in School Library Journal, praised some of the rhymes for their "infectious rhythm and interesting yet comprehensible language," she added that the same can not be said of all the poems in the book. On the other hand, a critic for Kirkus Reviews applauded the work as a whole, concluding: "Lots of variety here, lots of fun, and plenty of entrancing details to discover on rereading."
The Baby Who Would Not Come Down is a picture book for the early grades that contains a lesson about how to treat babies. The story centers on a baby newly home from the hospital who is jostled, tickled, and thrown up into the air by family members once too often. This particular infant decides to float up to the ceiling, where it can remain safely out of reach. The baby finally comes down when its family realizes, as Sam Swope put it in the New York Times Book Review, that "babies aren't toys, they're people" who should be treated with care. Although Swope was disappointed that Knight does not pursue the comic possibilities that could come from a tale about airborne infants, Anna Biagioni Hart, writing in School Library Journal, dubbed The Baby Who Would Not Come Down "a sophisticated lark" for children in the early grades, "who should enjoy the fun, much of which will float right over the heads of pre-schoolers."
Opal in the Closet, another preschool title, offers insight into the affect a new baby has on other young members of the family. In this story, a little girl begins startling—and annoying—the adult members of her household by jumping out at them unexpectedly from various hiding places after a new baby is brought home from the hospital. School Library Journal contributor Martha Topol remarked that "the spare, rhyming text hops right along with" Opal as she wreaks havoc among the adults in her efforts to capture some of their attention. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented approvingly, writing that "Knight's straightforward, rhyming text focuses on the fun, not the lesson to be learned." The reviewer called the result "a sure child-pleaser."
The picture book Bon Appetit, Bertie! combines an entertaining story with an introduction to French culture and language. In the story, young Bertie's family has won free tickets for a trip to Paris. He uses a map to direct the family from the airport to the hotel, but once there, disappears into the hotel's kitchen, in search of a snack. The rest of the family frantically searches for him, enlisting the help of gendarmes, hotel staff, and passers-by on the street, all of whom, at story's end, join the family in enjoying the feast Bertie has accidentally ordered: dinner for twenty-two instead of dinner for Room 22. Many critics agreed with Booklist writer Carolyn Phelan, who found Bon Appetit, Bertie! "well suited to children learning French in the primary grades." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly enthused: "Young readers can't help but appreciate this antic, ultimately effective introduction to another language and culture."
Knight continues to introduce young readers to French language and culture, adding art and history as well, in her books focusing on a girl named Charlotte Glidden: Charlotte in Giverny and Charlotte in Paris. In the late 1890s, an artists' colony developed in Giverny, France, near the home of famous impressionist painter Claude Monet. When Charlotte moves with her parents from Boston to this colony, she encounters many famous painters and records all these meetings in her diary. The "Charlotte" books are illustrated with reproductions of the art Charlotte describes, as well as with postcards and other souvenirs Charlotte collects, forming a book that is "part faux diary, part scrapbook," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that Charlotte in Giverny is "a most appealing art history lesson," while John Peters, writing in Booklist, wrote that Knight uses "much detail drawn from real diaries." Maria Mena, reviewing the book for School Library Journal, praised Knight's use of details to bring the late nineteenth century to life and called Charlotte in Giverny a "well-realized novel."
Charlotte's adventures continue in Charlotte in Paris, as she and her family spend six months in the French city while her father studies at the Academie Julian. Like the previous book, Charlotte in Paris features reproductions of famous art works, Charlotte's collection of odds and ends, and, at the end of the book, short biographies of the authors mentioned in the fictional diary. In Paris, Charlotte experiences the opera, spends her birthday at the Eiffel Tower, and views art exhibitions. "This enchanting episode in Charlotte's life introduces Paris, gardening, and an exciting period in the art world," concluded Gay Lynn Van Vleck in a School Library Journal review. GraceAnne A. DeCandido wrote in Booklist that Knight creates an "utterly engaging text" and called the book a "charming offering."
Knight once told Something about the Author: "My growing-up years were fragmented. My father's career as a Foreign Service officer took us to Paris when I was ten years old. Shortly after our arrival, we all came down with hepatitis—as a result of having been inoculated with a tainted serum before we left Washington. My mother died six months later and, of course, nothing was ever the same again. Then, because of my father's career, we moved from one place to another. I went to a French school in Paris, the Lycée de Carthage in Tunisia, and the International School in Geneva, all within a short period of time. My childhood memories are especially meaningful to me because of these experiences. I write children's books because of them. Through my writing, I am able to stay in touch with the child I was."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 15, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of Bon Appetit, Bertie!, pp. 1695-1696; July, 2000, John Peters, review of Charlotte in Giverny, p. 2028; November 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Charlotte in Paris, p. 510.
Horn Book, fall, 1994, p. 263.
Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1989, review of Tickle-Toe Rhymes, p. 50.
New York Times Book Review, May 6, 1990, Sam Swope, review of The Baby Who Would Not Come Down.
Publishers Weekly, September 26, 1986, pp. 77-78; November 30, 1992, review of Opal in the Closet, pp. 54-55; May 17, 1993, review of Bon Appetit, Bertie!, p. 79; March 20, 2000, review of Charlotte in Giverny, p. 92; October 6, 2003, review of And Then What Happened?, p. 86.
School Library Journal, February, 1987, Eldon Younce, review of Journey to Egypt and Journey to Japan, p. 80; July, 1989, Lauralyn Persson, review of Tickle-Toe Rhymes, p. 67; September, 1989, p. 165; January, 1990, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of The Baby Who Would Not Come Down, pp. 84-85; May, 1993, Martha Topol, review of Opal in the Closet, p. 87; July, 1993, p. 62; June, 2000, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Charlotte in Giverny, p. 148; August, 2002, Maria Mena, review of Charlotte in Giverny, p. 59; January, 2004, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Charlotte in Paris, p. 100.*
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