Matt Tavares Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 2002; Education: Bates College, B.A., 1997.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Candlewick Press, 2067 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140.
Author and illustrator. Worked part-time for Tavares Design Associates, 1997-2000.
Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, and Massachusetts Book Award Honor, both 2000, both for Zachary's Ball.
Zachary's Ball, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
Oliver's Game, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Mudball, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
(Illustrator) Clement Clarke Moore, 'Twas the Night before Christmas; or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Contributor of illustrations to books, including This Place I Know: Poems of Comfort by Georgia Heard, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
When Matt Tavares was studying art at Bates College, he had no intention of becoming a children's book writer and illustrator. Then, during his junior year, a friend showed him several books by author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg and Tavares was hooked. "I was so amazed, I started spending time in bookstores and libraries, looking at all kinds of children's books," he recalled on the Candlewick Press Web site. "And I decided to make my own." Tavares began his new career right away, with his college thesis, and created a story that embodies every young baseball fan's wildest dream. Originally titled Sebastian's Ball, the book was published two years after its original creation as Zachary's Ball.
In Tavares's tale, a boy and his father are at a game at Boston's historic Fenway Park. When the father catches a baseball, he gives it to his son. The ball is magical; it transports the boy to the pitcher's mound where he throws a strike against the batter, winning the game for the Red Sox. His father explains that all baseballs are magical, and the boy keeps the ball with him, continuing to dream of baseball heroics. As he grows older, the ball is lost, however. An adult, he catches an over-the-wall fly ball and, remembering the magic of his own lost baseball, he gives this new ball to a little girl walking by the ball park.
Setting Zachary's Ball at Fenway Park was only natural for Tavares, who had been raised a Boston Red Sox fan and whose admitted fantasy is "catching a foul ball at a Red Sox game." "I've never been anywhere that feels more magical than Fenway Park," the author/illustrator added.
Many reviewers wrote that Tavares captures the magic of America's favorite pastime in his book; according to Tim Arnold, writing in Booklist, Zachary's Ball "is at once a tribute to the spell of baseball and to parks like Fenway and Wrigley Field." A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that "the timeless quality of Tavares's black-and-white pencil illustrations is in perfect pitch with the story's setting and theme."
Tavares has used the game of baseball as a theme for his other self-illustrated titles as well. Oliver's Game is set near Wrigley Field in Chicago. Oliver enjoys working at his grandfather's baseball memorabilia store, located right across the street from the historic ball park. Exploring the store's dusty corners one day, the boy discovers an old Cubs uniform; when he questions his grandfather about it, he learns that the older man, also named Oliver, once had a chance to play for the Chicago major league team. The elder Oliver tells the story of how, when he was eighteen years old, the manager of the Cubs saw him hit a home run while playing stickball with some friends on the streets outside of Wrigley Field. Impressed with the young man' skills, the manager invited him to practice with the Cubs, and later asked him to try out for the team. However, the United States entered World War II at that point, and instead of trying out for the Cubs the older Oliver joined the U.S. Marines.
A Kirkus Reviews critic called Oliver's Game "an intimate, poignant episode for fans who revel in the game's less tangible aspects," while in Publishers Weekly a contributor wrote that "Tavares suffuses his text, his art, and both of his characters with a tangible love of baseball." Marilyn Taniguchi, reviewing Oliver's Game for School Library Journal, noted that "the text masterfully weaves together tradition, perseverance, loyalty, and family lore, and the result will enchant baseball fans young and old."
Mudball is based on a baseball legend about the shortest grand-slam homerun in the history of the game. In 1903, Little Andy Oyler was the shortest player on his team, the Minneapolis Millers, and probably in the whole league. In Tavares's story, Andy has been going through a dry spell, wrestling with a problem hitting the ball. When it is his turn at bat, with bases loaded and the Millers three runs behind with only one strike left, the pressure is on and the situation seems pretty hopeless. Then it starts to rain, making things go from bad to worse. However, Andy manages to make a hit. In the heavy downpour the opposing team cannot figure out where the ball went, allowing Andy and his surprised teammates the chance to run the bases and win the game.
A critic for Publishers Weekly proclaimed Mudball "another triumphant trip to the baseball field," while in Kirkus Reviews a writer praised the "humorous details and delightfully expressive faces" Tavares includes in his illustrations. Martha V. Parravano, writing for Horn Book, predicted that Mudball "should make a big splash with underdogs and baseball fans alike."
Tavares is also the illustrator of Clement C. Moore's classic 'Twas the Night before Christmas; or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, for which he used the poem's original text published in 1823. In the first version of the now-familiar poem, two of the reindeer were named Dunder and Blixem, instead of Donder and Blitzen. In his introduction, Tavares explains that because he uses the original text of the poem, he also uses details from that era in his illustrations; to prepare for this, he spent time studying the architecture of old houses in Boston's historical district and the room interiors reproduced at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Susan Dove Lempke complimented Tavares's "low-key, very traditional treatment" of the poem in her review for Booklist, while a critic for Kirkus Reviews wrote, "The moody illustrations suggest the drama and excitement of the magical night in an unusual way."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 2000, Tim Arnold, review of Zachary's Ball, p. 1546; September 1, 2004, Susan Dove Lempke, review of 'Twas the Night before Christmas; or, Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, p. 141; June 1, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Oliver's Game, p. 1729.
Horn Book, March-April, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of Mudball, p. 195.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of 'Twas the Night before Christmas, p. 1614; February 15, 2004, review of Oliver's Game, p. 186; March 15, 2005, review of Mudball, p. 359.
Publishers Weekly, March 27, 2000, review of Zachary's Ball, p. 80; Feburary 23, 2004, review of Oliver's Game, p. 76; February 7, 2005, review of Mudball, p. 60.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Anne Parker, review of Zachary's Ball, p. 165; July, 2004, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Oliver's Game, p. 89.
Candlewick Press Web site, http://www.candlewick.com/ (April 22, 2005).
Matt Tavares's Home Page, http://www.matt-tavares.com (April 22, 2005).
Walker Books Web site, http://www.walkerbooks.co.uk/ (April 22, 2005).*