Robert Bender (1962-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1962, in New York, NY; Education: Syracuse University, B.F.A. (with honors; illustration), 1984. Hobbies and other interests: Home renovation, reading, listening to music, bike riding, cats, movies.
Editorial illustrator, New York, NY, 1984-91; writer and illustrator, New York, NY, 1991—. Exhibitions: Society of Illustrators Original Art show, 1992, 1994, 1997; Dairy Barn show, Athens, OH, 1993; Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum, New Brunswick, NJ, 1997. Work included in permanent collection at Zimmerli Museum, and Mazza Museum, Findlay, OH.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
American Bookseller Pick-of-the-Lists designation, and School Library Journal Best Book designation, both 1997, Carolyn W. Field Honor designation, Pennsylvania Library Association, 1998, and Michigan Reads! One State, One Preschool award, 2004, all for Barnyard Song.
A Little Witch Magic, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.
The Three Billy Goats Gruff, (based on a story by P. C. Asbjornsen), Holt (New York, NY), 1993.
The Preposterous Rhinoceros; or, Alvin's Beastly Birthday, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
A Most Unusual Lunch, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
(Reteller) Toads and Diamonds (based on the story by Charles Perrault), Lodestar Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The A to Z Beastly Jamboree, Lodestar (New York, NY), 1996.
(Compiler) Lima Beans Would Be Illegal: Children's Ideas of a Perfect World, Dial (New York, NY), 2000.
(Compiler) Never Eat Anything That Moves: Good, Bad, and Very Silly Advice from Kids, Dial (New York, NY), 2002.
Teresa Benzwie, Moving Experience: Dance for Lovers of Children and the Child Within, Zephyr, 1987.
Rhonda Gowler Greene, Barnyard Song, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
Tony Johnston, The Chizzywink and the Alamagoozlum, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1998.
Jan Carr, Swine Divine, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.
Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg, Ribbit Riddles, Dial (New York, NY), 2001.
Theresa Benzwie, Alphabet Movers, National Dance Education Organization (Bethesda, MD), 2002.
John Archambeult, The Baobob Tree, Childcraft, 2004.
Clay Bonnyman Evans, The Christmas Witch, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2005.
Work in Progress
Illustrations for Mail Monkeys, 2006.
Beginning his career as a freelance illustrator whose work has appeared in such well-known periodicals as Billboard magazine, Psychology Today, and the New York Times, Robert Bender has gone on to success as a children's book author and illustrator. His unique technique—applying vinyl paint to both sides of a clear sheet of acetate, then laying that over a black background—has drawn the attention of several critics; according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the technique creates a "lush, luminous, almost otherworldly" effect that can be seen in such books as Barnyard Song, A Most Unusual Lunch, and Toads and Diamonds.
As Bender admitted to Publishers Weekly interviewer Elizabeth Devereaux, his techniques are "extremely unusual—they're not the things that people teach you." While some illustrators change their style and artistic medium to suit each new project, Bender does not, making his art easily identifiable and unique. Noting that "if five-year-olds ran publishing companies," "funny, breezy stories" like A Most Unusual Lunch would not be so rare, a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the artwork illustrating Bender's simple introduction to the food chain contains "zany creatures [that] seem as though they could pop right off the page."
Bender first tried his hand at a children's book in 1990, when he illustrated a story by his future wife, Christina Bothwell. Finding the project fun, he then lent his skills to a version of 'Twas the Night before Christmas and a story called "The Revenge of Little Red Riding Hood." A particular picture he painted for the latter book led to Bender's first published work, A Little Witch Magic.
Other books by Bender include The A to Z Beastly Jamboree, an alphabet book that features an animal and an action verb for each letter of the alphabet. Created using shades of grays and browns shot through with lime green and hues of purple, "Bender's art combines a gentle fuzziness with luminosity," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, adding that the pages of The A to Z Beastly Jamboree provide "a suitably unearthly setting for these offbeat beasties."
A retelling of a fairy tale by seventeenth-century French writer Charles Perrault, Toads and Diamonds is the story of a widow who lives with two daughters in a deep wood. Merth is a pleasant girl, while her sister Bleacha is as unpleasant as her widowed mother. When Merth aids a three-headed troll who is horrible-looking times three, she is rewarded with a magic enchantment that causes diamonds and other precious stones to fall from her lips whenever she sings. Bleacha shows less kindness and tact when she too crosses the troll's path; her reward, in typical fairy-tale fashion, is to spit out toads, snakes, and nasty insects. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Bender's illustrations for Toads and Diamonds approach a "dreamlike" quality, although his "prose needs polish." In Booklist Lauren Peterson wrote that "humor abounds" in Bender's retelling, while his art adds a "luminescent glow" to the fable.
In Never Eat Anything That Moves: Good, Bad, and Very Silly Advice from Kids and Lima Beans Would Be Illegal: Children's Ideas of a Perfect World Bender follows the lead of Art Linkletter and goes directly to the source—children—to capture a kid's-eye view of the world. In Lima Beans Would Be Illegal utopias run the gamut from a place where stuffed animals come alive and bathing suits don't fall off at the beach to a world where there are no such thing as good-byes and people never get sick with cancer or other diseases. Praising the book as an "appealing fantasy," School Library Journal reviewer Anne Knickerbocker also dubbed Bender's artwork "whimsical." Over 150 tidbits of advice collected by teachers across the United States fill the pages of Never Eat Anthing That Moves. With comments ranging from the "authentic and funny" to "poignant," according to School Library Journal reviewer Ellen Heath, the book also engages readers of all ages with Bender's colorful and "comical" illustrations.
In addition to illustrating his own work, Bender has also continued to illustrate the work of others. "Writing and illustrating has been a liberating creative process," he once told Something about the Author. "Telling a story with words and pictures has become the ultimate challenge and opportunity to fully delve into my imagination.
Regarding the development of his illustration technique, Bender more recently explained: "A friend suggested that I experiment with illustrating on the computer. 'Yuck!,' I thought. I'm a hands-on kind of guy. I always loved handling the physical materials. I wasn't too busy at the time, however, so I thought I would check it out anyway. He let me use his Photoshop program, and I ended up sitting there for five hours. It was there that my curiosity and obsession with the computer began.
"One reason for my affinity with the computer is the ability to work on a multitude of layers. My traditional technique has been painting on different layers of acetate film. I paint on the front and back of the acetate, which gives my art a layered effect.
"Another application that is appealing about the computer is the ability to incorporate textures and images, which are imported into the computer through scanning or photography. For example, I recently scanned a rusty piece of metal. By using an illustration technique called cloning, I made my character look like his deep-sea diving suit is made of the rusty metal. I've also scanned shirts out of my closet to use for textures on characters' clothing. With this way of working, my palette no longer consists of just paint, but the whole environment around me."
"When undertaking a new project," Bender explained, "I think of stories or concepts that inspire me, which in turn makes the execution of the artwork a more pleasurable process. My most gratifying experience in this profession to date was when I read my work at a grade school. I had a lot of fun with the children, and it also really sparked their imagination. When I left, the librarian gave me a stack of letters from the children that included some of their own verse and lots of very entertaining pictures.
"The ultimate compliment to me would be if someday somebody said that my work inspired them to want to write or illustrate children's books."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of A Most Unusual Lunch, p. 141; June 1, 1995, Lauren Peterson, review of Toads and Diamonds, p. 1774; August, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Barnyard Song, p. 1906; June 1, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Chizzywink and the Alamogoozlum, p. 1779; March 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Swine Devine, p. 1218.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1992, p. 1306; September 1, 1993, p. 1140.
Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1992, review of A Little Witch Magic, p. 59; December 28, 1992, Elizabeth Devereaux, "Flying Starts," p. 29; September 26, 1994, review of A Most Unusual Lunch, p. 69; June 5, 1995, review of Toads and Diamonds, p. 62; June 17, 1996, review of The A to Z Beastly Jamboree, p. 63; March 30, 1998, review of The Chizzywink and the Alamogoozlum, p. 81; July 4, 1999, review of The A to Z Beastly Jamboree, p. 73.
School Library Journal, October, 1992, p. 80 July, 2000, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Lima Beans Would Be Illegal: Children's Ideas of a Perfect World, p. 91; July, 2001, Maura Bresnahan, review of Ribbit Riddles, p. 94; July, 2002, Ellen Heath, review of Never Eat Anything That Moves: Good, Bad, and Very Silly Advice from Kids, p. 104.
Troll, May, 1997, "Meet Robert Bender."
Robert Bender Home Page, http://home.epix.net/~rbender (April 29, 2005).
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