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James Stevenson (1929–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1929, in New York, NY; Education: Yale University, B.A., 1951.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Greenwillow Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.


Life, New York, NY, reporter, 1954–56; New Yorker, New York, NY, cartoonist, cover artist, and writer for "Talk of the Town," 1956–63. Creator of Capitol Games (syndicated political comic strip). Writer and illustrator, 1962–. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1951–53.

Honors Awards

New York Times Outstanding Children's Book of the Year honor, and School Library Journal Best Books for Spring honor, both 1977, for "Could Be Worse!"; American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book designation, 1978, for The Sea View Hotel, 1979, for Fast Friends: Two Stories, and 1980, for That Terrible Halloween Night; School Library Journal Best Books for Spring honor, 1979, for Monty; Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association, 1979, for The Worst Person in the World, 1980, for That Terrible Halloween Night, 1982, for The Night after Christmas, 1989, for The Supreme Souvenir Factory, and 1990, for Oh No, It's Waylon's Birthday!; Best Illustrated Book and Outstanding Book honors, both New York Times, both 1980, both for Howard; School Library Journal Best Books of 1981 honor, for The Wish Card Ran Out!; Boston Globe/Horn Book honor list, 1981, for The Night after Christmas; Christopher Award, 1982, for We Can't Sleep; Parents' Choice Award, 1982, for Oliver, Clarence, and Violet; Boston Globe/Horn Book honor list, ALA Notable Book designation, and School Library Journal Best Books of 1983 honor, all 1983, all for What's under My Bed?; Garden State Children's Book Award, New Jersey Library Association, 1983, for Clams Can't Sing; ALA Notable Book designation, 1986, for When I Was Nine; Parents' Choice designation and Redbook award, both 1987, both for Higher on the Door; Boston Globe/Horn Book honor list, 1987, for Georgia Music; Parents' Choice Picture Book award, 1987, for Granddaddy's Place; Garden State Children's Book Award, 1990, for Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble; Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 1992, for Something Big Has Been Here; Parents' Choice Picture Book award, 1992, for Don't You Know There's a War On?


Do Yourself a Favor, Kid (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1962.

The Summer Houses, Macmillan, 1963.

Sorry, Lady, This Beach Is Private! (cartoons), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1963.

Sometimes, But Not Always (autobiographical novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1967.

Something Marvelous Is About to Happen (humor), Harper (New York, NY), 1971.

Cool Jack and the Beanstalk, Penguin, 1976.

Let's Boogie! (cartoons), Dodd (New York, NY), 1978.

Uptown Local, Downtown Express, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

Rolling in Dough, (a musical), music by Dick Robert, performed in Granbury, TX, 1997.


Walker, the Witch, and the Striped Flying Saucer, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1969.

The Bear Who Had No Place to Go, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

Here Comes Herb's Hurricane!, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.

"Could be Worse!," Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.

Wilfred the Rat, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.

(With daughter, Edwina Stevenson) "Help!" Yelled Maxwell, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.

The Sea View Hotel, Greenwillow, 1978.

Winston, Newton, Elton, and Ed, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.

The Worst Person in the World, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.

Fast Friends: Two Stories, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1979.

Monty, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1979.

Howard, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.

That Terrible Halloween Night, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.

Clams Can't Sing, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.

The Night after Christmas, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1981.

The Wish Card Ran Out!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1981.

The Whale Tale, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.

Oliver, Clarence, and Violet, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.

We Can't Sleep, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.

What's under My Bed?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.

The Great Big Especially Beautiful Easter Egg, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.

Barbara's Birthday, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.

Grandpa's Great City Tour: An Alphabet Book, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.

Worse than Willy!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.

Yuck!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.

Emma, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.

Are We Almost There?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.

That Dreadful Day, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.

Fried Feathers for Thanksgiving, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

No Friends, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

There's Nothing to Do!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

When I Was Nine (autobiographical), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

Happy Valentine's Day, Emma!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

Higher on the Door (autobiographical; sequel to When I Was Nine), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

No Need for Monty, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

Will You Please Feed Our Cat?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

The Supreme Souvenir Factory, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

We Hate Rain!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

The Worst Person in the World at Crab Beach, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.

Grandpa's Too-Good Garden, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Oh No, It's Waylon's Birthday!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Un-Happy New Year, Emma!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Emma at the Beach, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

July, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.1990.

National Worm Day, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.1990.

Quick! Turn the Page!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.1990.

The Stowaway, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Which One Is Whitney?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Mr. Hacker, illustrated by Frank Modell, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Brrr!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

That's Exactly the Way It Wasn't, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

The Worst Person's Christmas, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Rolling Rose, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.

Don't You Know There's a War On?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

And Then What?, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

The Flying Acorns, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

The Pattaconk Brook, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

Worse than Worst, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.

Fun—No Fun, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.

The Mud Flat Olympics, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.

A Village Full of Valentines, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

All Aboard!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

Sweet Corn, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

The Bones in the Cliff (juvenile novel), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

The Worst Goes South, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

I Had a Lot of Wishes, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

Yard Sale, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

I Meant to Tell You, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

The Oldest Elf, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

Heat Wave at Mud Flat, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

The Mud Flat Mystery, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

The Unprotected Witness (novel; sequel to The Bones in the Cliff), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1997.

Sam the Zamboni Man, illustrated by son, Harvey Stevenson, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Mud Flat April Fool, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Popcorn, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Candy Corn, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Mud Flat Spring, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Don't Make Me Laugh, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

Cornflakes, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

The Most Amazing Dinosaur, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

Christmas at Mud Flat, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

Just around the Corner: Poems, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Corn-Fed: Poems, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.

The Castaway, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.

Runaway Horse!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2003.

Corn Chowder, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2003.

No Laughing, No Smiling, No Giggling: Is That Understood?, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.

Flying Feet: A Mud Flat Story, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.


William K. Zinsser, Weekend Guests: From "We're So Glad You Could Come" to "We're So Sorry You Have to Go," and Vice-Versa (adult), Harper (New York, NY), 1963.

James Walker Stevenson, If I Owned a Candy Factory, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1968.

Eric Stevenson, Tony and the Toll Collector, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1969.

Lavinia Ross, Alec's Sand Castle, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

Alan Arkin, Tony's Hard Work Day, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

Sara D. Gilbert, What's a Father For?: A Father's Guide to the Pleasures and Problems of Parenthood with Advice from the Experts, Parents Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1975.

John Donovan, Good Old James, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.

Janet Schulman, Jack the Bum and the Halloween Handout, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.

Janet Schulman, Jack the Bum and the Haunted House, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.

Janet Schulman, Jack the Bum and the UFO, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.

Charlotte Zolotow, Say It!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.

Jack Prelutsky, The Baby Uggs Are Hatching (poetry), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.

Louis Phillips, How Do You Get a Horse out of the Bathtub?: Profound Answers to Preposterous Questions, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

Wilson Gage (pseudonym of Mary Q. Steele), Cully Cully and the Bear, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.

Charlotte Zolotow, I Know a Lady, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.

Jack Prelutsky, The New Kid on the Block (poems), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.

John Thorn, editor, The Armchair Book of Baseball, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1985.

Franz Brandenberg, Otto Is Different, Greenwillow, 1985.

Louis Phillips, Brain Busters: Just How Smart Are You, Anyway?, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.

Helen V. Griffith, Georgia Music, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.

Cynthia Rylant, Henry and Mudge, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1987.

Cynthia Rylant, Henry and Mudge in Puddle Trouble, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1987.

Helen V. Griffith, Grandaddy's Place, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1987.

Dr. Seuss (pseudonym of Theodor Seuss Geisel), I Am Not Going to Get up Today!, Random House (New York, NY), 1987.

Louis Phillips, How Do You Lift a Walrus with One Hand?: More Profound Answers to Preposterous Questions, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.

Else Holmelund Minarik, Percy and the Five Houses, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.

Jack Prelutsky, Something Big Has Been Here (poetry), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.

Barbara Dugan, Loop the Loop, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.

Susanna Van Rose, Volcano and Earth, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.

Helen V. Griffith, Grandaddy and Janetta, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.

Charles C. Black, The Royal Nap, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

Helen V. Griffith, Grandaddy's Stars, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1995.

William Maxwell, Mrs. Donald's Dog Bun and His Home Away from Home, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Jack Prelutsky, A Pizza the Size of the Sun, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1996.

Anna Quindlen, Happily Ever After, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.

Jack Prelutsky, It's Raining Pigs and Noodles: Poems, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2000.

Carol Otis Hurst, Rocks in His Head, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Helen V. Griffith, Grandaddy and Janetta Together: The Three Stories in One Book, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Also author of plays and television sketches. Contributor of articles to New Yorker, Preservation, Country Journal, and American Film.


Many of Stevenson's books have been adapted for film-strip or audiocassette, including: Fast Friends, Educational Enrichment Materials, 1981; "Could Be Worse!" and That Terrible Halloween Night, both Educational Enrichment Materials, 1982; What's under My Bed?, Weston Woods, 1984; We Can't Sleep, Random House, 1984, re-released on videocassette, 1988. Howard was adapted for film as New Friends, Made-to-Order Library Products. "Could Be Worse!" and What's under My Bed? were highlighted on Reading Rainbow, PBS-TV.


With nearly one hundred picture books to his credit, James Stevenson has become well known for his antic touch and light humor. He has created a cast of characters, both human and animal, that make repeat performances throughout many of his books, including the irascible Worst—a grandfather who is anything but lovable; the witch-apprentice Emma; and the more endearing Grandpa who tells tall tales and whoppers to grandchildren Mary Ann and Louie. There are also the animals of Mud Flats to make young children call for re-readings, as well as several books of nostalgic and detail-filled reminiscences of what the world was like when Stevenson was growing up. Award winning and a favorite at story hour, Stevenson has also tried his hand at novels for younger readers with the suspense-filled The Bones in the Cliff and its sequel, The Unprotected Witness.

In his picture books, Stevenson is noted for creating gently humorous, animated stories that depict the world of childhood with understanding and wit. He chooses sibling rivalry, nighttime fears, boredom, and other concerns of family life as subjects and approaches them from a child's point of view. Incorporating a subtle moral message into his books, Stevenson carries an up-beat view of life throughout his stories and illustrations, always ending on an optimistic note. His sketchy, high-spirited drawings have also illustrated the stories of such notable children's authors as Dr. Seuss, Else Holmelund Minarik, Charlotte Zolotow, Franz Brandenberg, Helen V. Griffith, and Jack Prelutsky.

Stevenson was born in New York City, and was raised in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. He credits his early education with having a great impact on his life: "Hessian Hills School had a policy of telling you that everybody could do everything. Everybody could sing, dance, act, play musical instruments, write stories, make pictures and change the world," he recalled to Kimberly Olson Fakih in Publishers Weekly. Stevenson began writing and drawing as a boy and was encouraged by his father, a watercolorist. His eventual artistic style was influenced by movies and comics rather than by any of the children's books he read as a child.

Stevenson continued his education at Hackley School, then attended Yale University, majoring in English with the intention of becoming a writer. His first success was with art rather than writing, however; he was selling ideas for cartoons to the New Yorker magazine while still a student at Yale. After graduating in 1951, Stevenson spent two years in the U.S. Marine Corps, followed by another two years as a Life reporter. In 1956 he moved to the New Yorker art department full time, developing cartoon ideas for staff artists. During this period he continued to pursue his goal of becoming a writer. In 1960, Stevenson began working as a New Yorker reporter, writing three adult novels as well as a book of original cartoons in his spare time. Stevenson's novels, as well as the many cartoons he has created for the New Yorker, are full of social and political satire, poking fun at suburban living, the media, and other aspects of the "establishment."

Gradually Stevenson's focus shifted away from current issues, and he adopted a more nostalgic approach in his art. He became interested in subjects of concern to children and eventually began creating books for a younger audience. His first involvement with picture books was through his eight-year-old son James. Stevenson recalled to Fakih, "[I said to James,] 'Tell me a story and we'll make a book.' He stood at my desk and narrated a story; I wrote it down and then did the pictures. It was a collaboration, and it was published. We split the royalties." The book that resulted was If I Owned a Candy Factory, published in 1968.

The first picture book Stevenson both wrote and illustrated was Walker, the Witch, and the Striped Flying Saucer, published the following year. A few years later, "Could Be Worse!" firmly established him as a writer of children's books, and became the first story to introduce the character Grandpa, Stevenson's "alter-ego." "A more engaging character than Grandpa has not emerged in recent picture books," commented Gertrude Herman in Horn Book. A master of the incredibly tall tale, Grandpa responds to grandchildren Mary Ann and Louie's concern that his life is boring by recounting a recent—and totally unbelievable—adventure. In subsequent books Grandpa helps his grandchildren deal with various problems by concocting suitable tall tales he claims are from his past. Grandpa's whoppers console Mary Ann and Louie when they come home from a terrible first day of school (That Dreadful Day), help them deal with the move to a new neighborhood (No Friends), and calm their fear of the dark (What's under My Bed?). Stevenson combines verbal nonsense with humorous drawings of Grandpa and his younger brother, Uncle Wainwright, as mustachioed children to appeal directly to children's love of the silly and absurd. Louie and Mary Ann, together with Stevenson's young readers, can count on the fact that, whatever their problem, Grandpa has probably had one like it, but so much worse that theirs don't seem nearly so bad by comparison.

Stevenson has featured Mary Ann, Louie, and Grandpa in several popular books. In That Terrible Halloween Night, the two children are busy attempting to frighten Grandpa: "'Something not too scary,' said Mary Ann. 'Grandpa's pretty old.'" No matter what they try, Grandpa remains unruffled behind his newspaper, claiming "I don't get very scared anymore—not since that terrible Halloween night." The dapper old gentleman goes on to tell his grandchildren a scary story about what happened to him on a Halloween long ago, complete with pumpkins, a haunted house, spiders, and lots of yucky green stuff. Grandpa's story ends on a typically Stevensonian note, with a quiet chuckle and a warm smile.

Stevenson's books are often illustrated in comic-book or cartoon style. The intermix of story line with dialogue "balloons" and graffiti adds energy and dimension to his humorously-drawn tales. The use of pencil as an artistic medium in drawing his appealing, scruffy characters brings an air of informality and spontaneity to his stories. Stevenson adds a wash of soft color to his drawings, avoiding the vivid contrasts of the traditional comic book in favor of a more subtle effect.

Stevenson has expanded his cast of characters throughout his career as a children's author. Several books, including Emma, Happy Valentine's Day, Emma!, Unhappy New Year, Emma! and Emma at the Beach are about a good-natured young witch/apprentice named Emma who triumphs over the efforts of two older sorceresses, Dolores and Lavinia, to undermine her attempts at magic. Then there are the "Worst" books. The Worst is a crotchety old gentleman: "The Worst person in the world didn't like anything anybody else liked. He didn't like springtime, or music, or dessert, or laughing, or people who were friendly." The Worst disguises his need for companionship by grumbling and complaining where the most people will hear him. In The Worst Person's Christmas, the old curmudgeon relishes the spirit of the holiday season: "That night the Worst put a chair by his front window so that, when the carol singers came, he could tell them to get off his property and go away." As in Stevenson's other "worst" books, The Worst Person in the World and The Worst Person in the World at Crab Beach, a series of mishaps occur that don't exactly make the Worst any nicer, but by story's end he isn't the worst person in the whole entire world anymore either.

The misadventures of the worst continue in Worse than Worst when the Worst almost meets his match in his great-nephew Warren, a meeting in which "rancid oil has met foul water," according to Deborah Stevenson in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. The two trade insults, with Warren often on the winning end; Warren takes over the worst's bedroom while Warren's dog Arnold generally makes a mess of things. The reviewer noted the "snappy patter, outrageous sass, and loony high-action art" in the book and applauded the fact that Stevenson does not make the Worst overly nice. "May the Worst continue to plummet to ever deeper lengths," Stevenson concluded.

In The Worst Goes South "Mr. Worst is back again in all his grumpy glory," according to Beth Irish in School Library Journal. To avoid the town Harvest Festival, the old codger decides to head off to Florida. Stopping on the way at a motel, the Worst is nearly bested in grumpiness by the owner who rents him a room. Next morning the Worst discovers that the man is his brother."Once again, Stevenson's dry wit and watercolor-and-pen cartoon sketches pair up to make a winner," commented Irish. Leone McDermott noted in Booklist that "Stevenson fans will cheer the return of that comic curmudgeon at his worst."

Stevenson invests a warmer feel in several award-winning titles that explore the world of his own youth. When I Was Nine, Higher on the Door and July are autobiographical picture books, as is Don't You Know There's a War On?, which details life in small-town America during World War II. There were victory gardens and rations, but most of all was the sadness at the departure of Stevenson's father, gone to the military. "With all that's not said and shown, this memoir leaves space for us to imagine," remarked Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman. "Small watercolor pictures float on white pages," noted Anna Biagioni Hart in School Library Journal, "making this a scrapbook of memories." Joan Weller and Susan Stan, writing in Five Owls, commented that "Stevenson's ability to capture the feelings and complexities surrounding an event makes his picture-book biographies meaningful on many levels."

Further reminiscences turn up in Fun—No Fun, a look at the happy activities of the author's youth. "Once
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again, Stevenson finds an imaginative and appealing perspective from which to present America as it was when he was growing up a couple of generations ago," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Stevenson waxes nostalgic about the arrival of the ice-cream truck and listening to radio shows, matching each memory with small, intentionally soft-focus watercolor pictures. The same treatment was given to childhood wishes in I Had a Lot of Wishes, a "pleasant journey for children," according to Pamela K. Bomboy in School Library Journal, "especially when shared with a sympathetic adult." Stevenson creates a tribute to the things he enjoyed doing with his own children in I Meant to Tell You, "a wonderful read-aloud for story times on families," concluded Judith Constantinides in School Library Journal. Rochman noted in Booklist that with this picture-book autobiography, the "love is in the direct, affectionate voice, in the images [Stevenson] remembers, in the sharing of those memories."

Stevenson illustrates Rocks in His Head, a remembrance by Carol Otis Hurst about her rock-collecting father. The man was always interested in rocks, even displaying his collection at the gas station he owned. When the Great Depression came and Hurst's father lost the gas station, he found work as a janitor at a science museum. Eventually, because of his longtime interest in rocks and minerals, he was appointed the museum's curator of mineralogy. Stevenson's illustrations, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan wrote in the School Library Journal, "capture the mild-mannered hero perfectly." A critic for Publishers Weekly concluded that "Stevenson's artwork convincingly evokes both the personality of this endearing protagonist and the period in which he lived."

Turning to more slyly humorous topics, Stevenson has penned a series of picture books set in Mud Flat and featuring a zany cast of animal characters. In The Mud Flat Olympics, these animal athletes test their metal in contests of prowess, which allow young readers to "have a chance to see friendship, fair play, and fun in action," according to Booklist critic Stephanie Zvirin. The laughable competitions include snails on the high hurdles and smelliest skunk contest. Zvirin went on to note that "this is a great example of the author-artist's mischievous verbal wit." A critic for Kirkus Reviews dubbed The Mud Flat Olympics a "lovely early chapter book that adults will find difficult to resist sharing aloud."

The animals of Mud Flat get their unwanted junk together to sell in Yard Sale, a "dear, funny book for children who appreciate a more subtle sort of humor," according to Booklist critic Zvirin. Louise L. Sherman noted in School Library Journal that Stevenson's characters "are filled with personality and expression." In Heat Wave at Mud Flat, the residents are suffering from a hot spell and dream of an ingenious way to deal with the temperature. Marty the elephant gains sudden popularity as a provider of shade. Hanna B. Zeigler commented in Horn Book that "Stevenson has once again created a humorous and affectionate peek at this world in microcosm." Zeigler went on to conclude that the book is a "treat for anyone, young or old, who has ever experienced the dog days of summer." There are jokes and tricks aplenty in Mud Flat April Fool, in which Stevenson "cleverly introduces the calendar event through a series of vignettes starring his familiar woodland creatures," according to Marty Abbott Goodman in School Library Journal.

Christmas at Mud Flat tells of the many hectic preparations required to ready the community for the big holiday. Freddie, the owner of the fix-it shop, has more repair work than he can handle, all due by Christmas day. Sherwood cannot wrap all his presents in time. Nevertheless, the town's big party comes off, with Priscilla the snail dressing as Santa Claus. Martha V. Parravano in Horn Book called Christmas at Mud Flat "a solid entry in an often sublime series."

Flying Feet: A Mud Flat Story finds the whole community signing up for tap dancing lessons when Tonya and Ted arrive in town with their dance school. But the dance the couple have promised is in danger when Tonya and Ted run off in the middle of the night with the money from the lessons. But the town carries on, having a fun dance anyway. Linda Perkins in Booklist believed that "Stevenson's watercolor illustrations provide their customary wit and humor." Laura Scott, writing in School Library Journal, concluded that "children will enjoy this zany story."

Stevenson has also written simple poems for young readers which he juxtaposes against his familiar watercolors in such books as Sweet Corn, Popcorn, Candy Corn, Corn-Fed, and Corn Chowder. The poems are presented in various typefaces and colors, which harmonize with the watercolor illustrations. Writing in Horn Book about Corn Chowder, Martha V. Parravano explained that the "words, typeface, and illustrations combine to create a distinctive space for each poem." "Often the full meaning of the poem depends upon the illustration," wrote Lee Bock in School Library Journal. The poems are "delectable tidbits that tickle the taste buds," according to Beth Tegart in School Library Journal. Reviewing Corn-Fed, Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist that "Stevenson's gift is to reveal wonder in the ordinary."

Stevenson has also written several books about Hubie, a mouse who loves to take pictures during his many travels. In The Castaway Hubie and his family travel by dirigible to Barabooda Island in the South Pacific. While snapping some pictures of the scenery, Hubie falls from the dirigible onto a deserted island. There he befriends Leo, an inventor who has been a castaway on the island for ten years and has spent the time constructing a baseball diamond, speedboat, and giant treehouse. The pair have a great time, until during a trip over a waterfall, Hubie is tossed aloft into the dirigible and reunited with his family—who did not even notice he was missing. Back home, his family is puzzled about his photographs from the trip, which show places and things they never saw. Stevenson's illustrations, Carol Ann Wilson wrote in the School Library Journal, "give marvelous personality to every character." Mary M. Burns in Horn Book explained that there are "several thrills, a couple of chills, some spills, and plenty of fun" in The Castaway.

More of a departure for Stevenson are the juvenile novels The Bones in the Cliff and The Unprotected Witness, which feature young Pete, whose father is on the run from the mob. In the first novel, Pete, whose mother is in a mental institution and whose father drinks too much, is set to watch the arrival of ferries at the tiny island where he and his dad are holed up. Pete's father fears that a hit man is looking for him and it is Pete's job to warn his father in that event. Pete meets Rootie, a girl who quickly becomes his confidant, and together the two recapture lost childhood for a time. Then Pete misses the one ferry that is important; the gunman is going for his father and Pete must overcome his own fear to intervene. A reviewer in Kirkus Reviews remarked that Stevenson "has written a surprisingly gritty novel that, with its economy of language, can easily be enjoyed by readers younger than its intended audience…. It should be a hit with reluctant readers and middle graders who are ready for a bit of realism and tension." Susan Patron, reviewing the same title in Five Owls, concluded that this "exciting and fast-paced story, with its dabs of humor shining through like sunlight in a painting, highlights James Stevenson's well-proven talent in writing simple stories that are rich in characterization and meaning."

Stevenson creates a sequel to The Bones in the Cliff in The Unprotected Witness. Pete is now living in Manhattan with Rootie and her rich grandmother while his father is in Missouri in a witness protection program. But there is no protection, for his father is murdered and Pete soon discovers—via a letter from his father—the
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location of the stolen money the Mafia seeks. "The suspense mounts to an almost unbearable level as Pete and his friends attempt to get to the treasure before the bad guys get them," noted Eva Mitnick in School Library Journal. "Hand [this book] to any kid who craves suspense," Mitnick concluded.

The same might well be said for any of Stevenson's wryly funny picture books, which blend textual wit with illustrative whimsy. As Karla Kuskin wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "Whether writing or drawing, Mr. Stevenson understands perfectly the strength of a simple understated line and a quiet laugh."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Children's Literature Review, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.

Kingman, Lee, and others, compilers, Illustrators of Children's Books: 1967–1976, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1978.

Stevenson, James, That Terrible Halloween Night, Green-willow (New York, NY), 1980.

Stevenson, James, The Worst Person's Christmas, Green-willow (New York, NY), 1991.

Twentieth Century Children's Writers, third edition, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1989.


Atlantic Monthly, July, 1963.

Best Sellers, August 15, 1967.

Booklist, November 1, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of Don't You Know There's a War On? p. 511; September 1, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Mud Flat Olympics, p. 43; September 1, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of The Worst Goes South, p. 89; March 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Yard Sale, p. 1264; April 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of I Meant to Tell You, p. 1369; January 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Just around the Corner, p. 954; June 1, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 1890; March 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Corn-Fed, p. 1138; June 1, 2002, Michael Cart, review of The Castaway, p. 1726; June 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Corn Chowder, p. 1768; February 1, 2004, Linda Perkins, review of Flying Feet, p. 982; August, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of No Laughing, No Smiling, No Giggling, p. 1946.

Books for Your Children, autumn-winter, 1985, p. 25.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1994, pp. 303-304; July-August, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of Worse than the Worst, pp. 374-375; March, 1995, p. 252; June, 1995, p. 360; October, 1995, p. 71; October, 1996, pp. 77-78; January, 1998, p. 178; April, 1998, p. 297.

Five Owls, November-December, 1992, Joan Weller and Susan Stan, review of Don't You Know There's a War On?, p. 27; May-June, 1995, Susan Patron, review of The Bones in the Cliff, pp. 203-04.

Horn Book, August, 1977, pp. 432-433; September-October, 1985, Gertrude Herman, "A Picture Is Worth Several Hundred Words," p. 605; July-August, 1997, Hanna B. Zeigler, review of Heat Wave at Mud Flat, pp. 463-464; May-June, 1998, pp. 337, 352; November, 2000, Martha V. Parravano, review of Christmas at Mud Flat, p. 750, and Margaret A. Bush, review of It's Raining Pigs and Noodles, p. 766; July, 2001, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 440; July-August, 2002, Mary M. Burns, review of The Castaway, p. 452; May-June, 2003, Martha V. Parravano, review of Corn Chowder, p. 365; November-December, 2004, Susan Dove Lempke, review of No Laughing, No Smiling, No Giggling, p. 701.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1993, p. 1467; May 1, 1994, review of Fun—No Fun, p. 637; October 15, 1994, review of Mud Flat Olympics, p. 1416; February 15, 1995, p. 233; May 1, 1995, review of The Bones in the Cliff, p. 640; January 1, 1998, p. 64; March 15, 1998, p. 410; January 1, 2002, review of Corn-Fed, p. 52; March 1, 2002, review of The Castaway, p. 345; March 1, 2003, review of Corn Chowder, p. 399; January 1, 2004, review of Flying Feet, p. 41; July 15, 2004, review of No Laughing, No Smiling, No Giggling, p. 694.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 14, 1983.

National Observer, July 24, 1967.

Newsweek, April 8, 1963; July 14, 1969; December 29, 1971; December 11, 1978; December 18, 1978; December 7, 1981.

New Yorker, July 20, 1963; August 5, 1967; December 11, 1971; December 2, 1972; December 6, 1982.

New York Times, August 4, 1972.

New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1967; August 7, 1977; November 13, 1977; April 30, 1978; June 17, 1979; October 7, 1979; April 27, 1980; October 26, 1980; April 26, 1981; November 15, 1981, Karla Kuskin, "The Art of Picture Books," p. 57; April 25, 1982; November 14, 1982; March 27, 1983; April 24, 1983; May 20, 1984; November 8, 1992, p. 46.

Publishers Weekly, February 27, 1987, Kimberly Olsen Fakih, "James Stevenson," pp. 148-149; February 15, 1993, p. 239; September 30, 1996, p. 92; April 30, 2001, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 78; January 27, 2003, review of The Mud Flat Mystery, p. 262.

School Library Journal, October, 1992, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of Don't You Know There's a War On?, p. 96; March, 1994, p. 210; February, 1995, p. 82; October, 1995, Beth Irish, review of The Worst Goes South, p. 120; February, 1996, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of I Had a Lot of Wishes, p. 90; July, 1996, Louise L. Sherman, review of Yard Sale, p. 74; August, 1996, Judith Constantinides, review of I Meant to Tell You, p. 141; May, 1997, p. 115; September, 1997, Eva Mitnick, review of The Unprotected Witness, p. 226; March, 1998, Marty Abbott Goodman, review of Mud Flat April Fool, p. 188; May, 1998, p. 137; May, 1999, Beth Tegart, review of Candy Corn, p. 113; March, 2001, Wendy S. Carroll, review of Just around the Corner, p. 243; June, 2001, Kathleen Kelly Mac-Millan, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 118; March, 2002, Nina Lindsay, review of Corn-Fed, p. 221; May, 2002, Carol Ann Wilson, review of The Castaway, p. 128; May, 2003, Lee Bock, review of Corn Chowder, p. 142; March, 2004, Laura Scott, review of Flying Feet, p. 182; August, 2004, Sheilah Kosco, review of No Laughing, No Smiling, No Giggling, p. 94.


Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web site, http://www.carolhurst.com/ (May 8, 2005), Carol Otis Hurst, "Featured Author and Illustrator: James Stevenson," and review of Rocks in His Head.

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