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Joan Rankin (1940-)


South African author and illustrator Joan Rankin was born and raised in the city of Johannesburg, where she still lives today. After studying painting, weaving, and pottery in college, she set out to become an illustrator, mostly geared toward adults. In 1986, however, she began illustrating books for children. One of her early works, The Far-Away Valley, won first place in the HAUM-Daan Retief competition for children's book illustrations. Rankin has illustrated her own books, as well as those of other authors. Her favorite mediums to work in are watercolor, crayons, and pencils, also using airbrushing, collage, and rubber stamps. Most of Rankin's books deal with young children and the real life situations that they face.

One of Rankin's first self-illustrated books was The Little Cat and the Greedy Old Woman, in which an old woman spends her day preparing a delicious meal for herself, ignoring the meows of her hungry little cat. The cat finally helps himself to some of the old woman's food and is thrown out into the rain as punishment. What happens next allows the cat to get sweet revenge. A Books for Keeps reviewer wrote, "This story has the feel of a cautionary tale, and could provide lots of interesting discussions." In Wow! It's Great Being a Duck, Lillee is a newborn duck who still has some shell stuck to her. Unfortunately, it is covering her eyes. Her mother warns her to stay away from the fox, but since Lillee cannot yet see, she allows the fox to befriend her without realizing who it is. In the nick of time, the shell falls off, and Lillee scampers and swims to safety. Booklist's April Judge remarked that children will enjoy the tale "because they will realize the case of mistaken identity before the duckling does."

In You're Somebody Special, Walliwigs!, Walliwigs is a parrot who gets separated from his mother and ends up living with a group of chickens. One of the chickens, Martha, immediately adopts and loves Walliwigs. But the parrot gets a different welcome from the other chickens, who make fun of him. Much to the sadness of Martha, Walliwigs is taken away to the Institute of Ornithology, where it is discovered that he is rare and, in fact, an endangered species. When she finds this out, Martha rejoices to learn that Walliwigs will be taken care of properly. Booklist's Shelle Rosenfeld commented that "This delightful, reassuring story celebrates the many meanings of family," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "endearing and uplifting."

Continuing with animal protagonists, First Day deals with Haybillybun and his first day at puppy school. He begins to imagine all kinds of problems that might crop up in his day: his name is too long, his fuzzy ears will keep him from hearing his teacher, or his "slip-slideyfluffy-feet" will stop him from being able to run and play. However, after none of his fears are realized, the young pup has great fun. Predicting that the title will appeal to parents and children preparing for the beginning of school, a Kirkus Reviews critic found it "difficult to resist the beautiful watercolor illustrations that give such personality to the worried puppies and his friends."

Rankin once told SATA: "I started as an abstract painter, then moved into weaving, making hand-woven puppets, and lastly children's book illustrating and writing. Being creative and using the imagination is a very important part of my life. It is something I wish to encourage in children. Through children's books and visiting schools, I hope to widen . . . children's horizons, by showing them book illustrations, drawing for them, and showing them shadow puppet theatre.

"Many of the books I have illustrated have been African folktales. These stories are of special value, I think. Through my writing, I try to address areas that are painful to small children. Often I use animals as the main characters. Humor and quality are essential ingredients."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Rankin, Joan, First Day, Margaret K. McElderry (New York, NY), 2002.


Booklist, June 1, 1998, April Judge, review of Wow! It's Great Being a Duck, p. 1781; July, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of You're Somebody Special, Walliwigs!, p. 1954; September 1, 2001, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats, p. 113; June 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of First Day, p. 1743; November 1, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of A Frog in the Bog, p. 508.

Books for Keeps, January, 1999, Judith Sharman, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 18; September, 1999, review of The Little Cat and the Greedy Old Woman, p. 22.

Horn Book Guide, spring, 1997, Anne Deifendeifer, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 809; September, 1999, George Hunt, review of The Little Cat and the Greedy Old Woman, p. 22.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2002, review of First Day, p. 809.

New York Times Book Review, April 27, 1997, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, December 22, 1997, review of Wow! It's Great Being a Duck, p. 58; May 3, 1999, review of Scaredy Cat, p. 78; June 7, 1999, review of You're Somebody Special, Walliwigs!, p. 82; January 15, 2001, review of Wow! It's Great Being a Duck, p. 78; May 28, 2001, review of Mrs. McTats and Her Houseful of Cats, p. 87; May 27, 2002, review of First Day, p. 59.

School Library Journal, March, 1998, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Wow! It's Great Being a Duck, p. 186; August, 1999, Alicia Eames, review of You're Somebody Special, Walliwigs!, p. 141; July, 2002, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of First Day, p. 97.


Children's Literature Research Unit, http://www.childlit.org.za/ (October 1, 2003), biography of Joan Rankin.*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyJoan Rankin (1940-) Biography - Career, Sidelights - Personal, Member, Honors Awards, Writings