Judy Sierra (1945–) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1945, in Washington, DC; name legally changed, 1985; Education: American University, B.A., 1968; California State University—San Jose (now San Jose State University), M.A., 1973; University of California—Los Angeles, Ph.D.
Puppeteer and storyteller, 1976—. Part-time librarian at Los Angeles Public Library, 1986—; teacher of children's literature and storytelling at Extension of University of California—Los Angeles. Artist-in-residence at Smithsonian Institution, 1984.
National Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling, American Folklore Society, California Folklore Society.
Best Books designation, Publishers Weekly, 1996, Fanfare List includee, Horn Book, 1997, and Notable Books for Children designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1997, all for Nursery Tales around the World; Notable Book citation, ALA, 2005, for Wild about Books.
FOR YOUNG READERS
The Elephant's Wrestling Match, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Lodestar (New York, NY), 1992.
The House That Drac Built, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Good Night, Dinosaurs, illustrated by Victoria Chess, Clarion (New York, NY), 1996.
(Reteller) Wiley and the Hairy Man, illustrated by Brian Pinkney, Lodestar (New York, NY), 1996.
(Reteller) The Mean Hyena: A Folktale from Malawi, illustrated by Michael Bryant, Lodestar (New York, NY), 1997.
Counting Crocodiles, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1997.
Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1998.
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons: A Japanese Folktale, illustrated by Meilo So, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
The Dancing Pig, illustrated by Jesse Sweetwater, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1999.
(Reteller) The Beautiful Butterfly: A Folktale from Spain, illustrated by Victoria Chess, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.
The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story, illustrated by Reynold Ruffins, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
There's a Zoo in Room 22, illustrated by Barney Saltzberg, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Preschool to the Rescue, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Monster Goose, illustrated by Jack E. Davis, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2001.
'Twas the Fright before Christmas, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Coco and Cavendish: Circus Dogs, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
Coco and Cavendish: Fire Dogs, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile?, illustrated by Doug Cushman, Gulliver (Orlando, FL), 2004.
Wild about Books, illustrated by Marc Brown, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Robert Kaminski) Twice upon a Time: Stories to Tell, Retell, Act Out, and Write About, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1989.
(With Robert Kaminski) Multicultural Folktales: Stories to Tell Young Children, Oryx Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1991.
(Compiler) Cinderella, illustrated by Joanne Caroselli, Oryx Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1992.
(Editor and annotator) Quests and Spells: Fairy Tales from the European Oral Tradition, Bob Kaminski Media Arts (Ashland, OR), 1994.
Mother Goose's Playhouse: Toddler Tales and Nursery Rhymes, with Patterns for Puppets and Feltboards, Bob Kaminski Media Arts (Ashland, OR), 1994.
(Selector and reteller) Nursery Tales around the World, illustrated by Stefano Vitale, Clarion (New York, NY), 1996.
Multicultural Folktales for the Feltboard and Readers' Theater, Oryx Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1996.
Can You Guess My Name?: Traditional Tales around the World, illustrated by Stefano Vitale, Clarion (New York, NY), 2002.
Silly and Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from around the World, illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Schoolyard Rhymes, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Gruesome Guide to World Monsters, illustrated by Henrik Drescher, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
The Flannel Board Storytelling Book, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1987.
Storytelling and Creative Dramatics, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1989.
Fantastic Theater: Puppets and Plays for Young Performers and Young Audiences, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1991.
(With Robert Kaminski) Children's Traditional Games: Games from 137 Countries and Cultures, Oryx Press (Phoenix, AZ), 1995.
Storytellers' Research Guide: Folktales, Myths, and Legends, Folkprint (Eugene, OR), 1996.
Celtic Baby Names: Traditional Names from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man, Folkprint (Eugene, OR), 1997.
Spanish Baby Names: Traditional and Modern First Names of Spain and the Americas, Folkprint (Eugene, OR), 2002.
Editor of Folklore and Mythology Journal, 1988—.
Antarctic Antics was adapted as an animated film and as a sound recording.
Interested in storytelling and puppetry arts from childhood, Judy Sierra has built a career as a writer in two areas: she has published numerous books about storytelling and related subjects, working closely with her husband, Robert Kaminski; and since the publication of The Elephant's Wrestling Match in 1992, she has also emerged as a writer of stories, many of them adaptations of folk tales from other countries.
The original story inspiring The Elephant's Wrestling Match, for instance, comes from the African nation of Cameroon. In Sierra's retelling, the mighty elephant challenges all the other animals to a test of strength, and each fails: "The leopard, crocodile, and rhinoceros all respond," Linda Greengrass reported in School Library Journal, "only to be easily thwarted by the mighty beast. Each time, Monkey beats out the results on the drum." In a surprising twist, a small but clever bat turns out to be the winner, although that is not the resolution of the story. The tale concludes by explaining that, because of his anger at Monkey for spreading the news of his defeat, Elephant smashes Monkey's drum; for this reason, "you don't see monkeys playing the talking drum." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted that "Sierra's staccato retelling of this lively African tale crackles with energy," and Greengrass added that "listeners can almost hear the beating of the drum." As Betsy Hearne, reviewing the book for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, maintained: "The drama is simple enough for toddlers to follow but sturdy enough to hold other kids' attention as well."
In The House That Drac Built Sierra takes on literary and folk symbols more familiar to American children, inserting the character of Dracula into the nursery rhyme "The House That Jack Built." Thus as Nancy Vasilakas recounted in Horn Book, "Young audiences are introduced to the bat that lived in the house that Drac built, then to the cat that bit the bat, the werewolf that chased the cat that bit the bat, and so on through 'fearsome' manticore, coffin, mummy, zombie, and fiend of Bloodygore." Ghoulish as all this sounds, the story has a humorous twist, as a group of trick-or-treaters enters the house and puts everything right, re-wrapping the mummy and tending to the bitten bat. Noting its appeal at Halloween, School Library Journal contributor Beth Irish called the book "a definite hit for holiday story programs."
Whereas The House That Drac Built may not exactly be bedtime reading, Good Night, Dinosaurs certainly is. The book depicts a family of dinosaurs getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth and then listening to lullabies and stories from their parents. "Young dinosaur fanciers will be charmed and undoubtedly claim this as their favorite go-to-sleep book," concluded Ann A. Flowers in Horn Book. Beth Tegart, writing in School Library Journal, dubbed Good Night, Dinosaurs "a pleasant read at bedtime for dinosaur fans as well as those who need a chuckle at the end of the day."
With Wiley and the Hairy Man, Sierra retells another folk tale, this one from the American South. Frightened by the Hairy Man, Wiley enlists the help of his mother to trick the monster three times, and thus forces him to leave them alone. "Through the use of dialogue without dialect and a lissome narration," commented Maria B. Salvadore in Horn Book, "Sierra captures the cadence of the oral language of Alabama."
Like The Elephant's Wrestling Match, The Mean Hyena comes originally from Africa, in this case the country of Malawi, where Nyanja people tell how the turtle got his revenge on the title character after the hyena played a cruel trick on him. School Library Journal contributor Marilyn Iarusso called The Mean Hyena "a must for all folk-tale collections."
Counting Crocodiles takes place in a tropical location, although its setting is perhaps even more fanciful than that of Sierra's earlier tales. An unfortunate monkey finds herself on an island with nothing to eat but lemons, and longs to make her way to a nearby island with banana trees. There is only one problem: the Sillabobble Sea, which separates the two pieces of land, is filled with crocodiles. But the monkey, like many another small but clever creature in Sierra's stories, devises an ingenious plan to trick the crocodiles and obtain not only a bunch of bananas, but a sapling from which she can acquire fruit in the future. "The whimsical rhyme … and the lively alliteration ('crusty croc, feasting fearlessly on fishes') add to the appeal," wrote Kathleen Squires in Booklist. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly also praised Sierra's collaboration with illustrator Will Hillenbrand: "Working with traditional materials, author and artist arrive at an altogether fresh presentation."
After retelling a tale from Japan with Tasty Baby Belly Buttons, spinning a story about two girls who are able to evade a witch due to their kindness to animals in The Dancing Pig, and inventing poems about penguins for Antarctic Antics, Sierra returned to crocodiles with a Cinderella story set in Indonesia. In The Gift of the Crododile no fairy godmother comes to Damara's rescue when her stepmother shows her cruelty; instead, Grandmother Crocodile rewards the girl for her honesty and good heart. When the prince announces plans to host a lavish ball, Damara goes to the generous Grandmother Crocodile for Cinderella-type assistance. "Sierra's unadorned retelling is straightforward" wrote a Horn Book reviewer who concluded, "This Southeast Asian variation adds some tropical zest to the oft-told tale." Hazel Rochman, writing for Booklist, simply called the tale "a storytelling treat."
Leaving fairy tales behind and heading for the playground, Sierra shows how a giant mud puddle is thwarted in Preschool to the Rescue. The mud puddle lurks, waiting until it can capture anything that passes through it—which, over the course of the story, includes a pizza van and four other vehicles. Only the preschoolers know how to deal with the mud, by making it into mud pies until the sun comes out and dries it away. "In a feast of unbridled mud-food making, the heroic preschoolers completely consume the rogue puddle," explained a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Marlene Gawron commented in School Library Journal on the onomato-
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poeia Sierra uses in her text: "What a wonderful noisy book this is." Gawron concluded, "The fun doesn't stop until the book is closed." As a Horn Book contributor recommended, "This uncomplicated story … has rainy-day read-aloud written all over it."
Twisted versions of Mother Goose's rhymes fill the pages of Monster Goose. Featuring such characters as Little Miss Mummy, Cannibal Horner, and the Zombie who lives in a shoe, the revisions of familiar Mother Goose rhymes might be too much for particularly young readers, according to a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews, commenting, "But it's a fiendishly good time for everyone else." A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that "The Goose has been spoofed before, but this volume strikes a nice balance between goofy and ghastly," while School Library Journal reviewer Gay Lynn Van Vleck advised school librarians to keep extra copies of the title for students, "since teachers may hoard it for themselves." Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, recommended the book as "Perfect for rowdy Halloween read-alouds."
With her next book on monsters, Sierra and artist Will Hillenbrand made reference to their previous The House That Drac Built collaboration in 'Twas the Fright before Christmas. Trouble starts when Santa Mouse, who delivers presents in a sleigh pulled by eight bats, tickles a dragon's nose. A werewolf finds himself at the end of the chain of events with a pinched and sore tail, and tries to figure out just what started the mess. Once the mystery is solved, Santa Mouse apologizes and suggests they all read a story, which, in Hillenbrand's illustration, is The House That Drac Built. Mummies and other monsters fill the pages of the book, which a Kirkus Reviews contributor considered "another innovation on a well-known text."
Wild about Books is a celebration of zoos, libraries, and Dr. Seuss. Sierra teamed up with award-winning illus-trator Marc Brown to tell the story of a librarian who accidentally takes the bookmobile into the zoo, and finds that all of the animals want to learn to read. She begins to read to them, picking out the perfect books for each species (tall books for the giraffes, featuring basketball and skyscrapers, books written in Chinese for the pandas, and dramas for the llamas). But for many of the animals, reading is not enough: the dung beetles write haiku and a hippo wins the "Zoolitzer" prize. The book is "both homage to and reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's epic rhyming sagas," praised School Library Journal reviewer Marge Loch-Wouters. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the tale a "winning paean to reading and writing," while a Kirkus Reviews critic considered it "a storytime spectacular."
Crocodiles and mischievious monkeys again live large in What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? Mr. Crocodile has a list of things to accomplish during his day, one of which is to capture and dine on the pesky monkeys who constantly pester him for the time of day. However, due to monkey meddling, things don't quite go as Mr. Crocodile planned, and he decides to make peace with the monkeys instead. A Kirkus Reviews contributor compli-
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mented, "any time [is] the right time for this irresistible rhyme." A School Library Journal reviewer warned readers to be ready for "some memorable monkey business in this entertaining tale," while Ilene Cooper, writing for Booklist, noted that "the best part of the book is Sierra's handy way with a rhyming text." Lauren Peterson, also writing for Booklist, praised the book, adding that "Sierra's bouncy rhyming text will make this a fun read-aloud."
Sierra is also the collector of silly tales, traditional tales, and bedtime stories in her books Nursery Tales from around the World, Can You Guess My Name? and Silly and Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from around the World. With Can You Guess My Name? Sierra collects similar tales that appear in different cultures around the world, comparing versions of the "Three Little Pigs," "The Brementown Musicians," and "Rumplestiltskin." A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "this beautifully illustrated volume presents readable examples that just might send readers to the shelves to search for single editions" of the stories included. Lee Bock, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "each section is fascinating for both the similarities among the tales, and the differences," and added that the book "can open doors to other cultures" for its readers. John Peters, writing in Booklist, considered the book to be a "handsome, horizon-expanding collection," while Mary M. Burns, in Horn Book, called Can You Guess My Name? "an outstanding example of what folklore collections for children can and should be."
Silly and Sillier brings together funny tales from around the world, including a trickster tale from Argentina, a story of an exploding mitten from Russia, and tales from countries including Bangladesh, Ireland, and Mexico. "Balancing nonsense capers and trickster tales, Sierra occasionally integrates words from the language of the country of origin," a Publishers Weekly reviewer pointed out, while Hazel Rochman noted in her Booklist review that "It's fun to see trickster tales from around the world." Carol L. MacKay, in her School Library Journal review, commented on the lessons given in many of the tales: "Children will discover that these themes of justice are as universal as laughter," she concluded.
Sierra explained on her Web site that when she retells folktales, she does research by collecting stories from people she meets. "Most of the folktales I've published are mixtures of several versions from the same culture or region," she wrote. When she begins to collect versions of different tales, she puts them all into a file folder until she has enough variations to turn it into a book. When asked if it's fun to be a writer, Sierra responded, "Yes, but not all of the time. Writing is a job, and there are many difficult and frustrating times. The most enjoyable part of being a writer is spending time with children and adults who love to read."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, August, 1992, p. 2019; September 15, 1995, p. 173; March 1, 1997, p. 1177; April 1, 1997, p. 1306; September 1, 1997, Kathleen Squires, review of Counting Crocodiles, p. 135; April 15, 2001, Amy Brandt, review of Preschool to the Rescue, p. 1566; July, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Gift of the Crocodile, p. 2011; September 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Monster Goose, p. 237; January 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story, p. 962; November 15, 2002, John Peters, review of Can You Guess My Name?: Traditional Tales around the World, p. 599; December 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Silly and Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from around the World, p. 765; January 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Coco and Cavendish: Circus Dogs, p. 882; September 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? p. 123; September 15, 2004, Lauren Peterson, review of What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? p. 254.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of The Elephant's Wrestling Match, pp. 190-191.
Children's Book Watch, November, 1992, p. 6; May, 1996, p. 3.
Horn Book, November-December, 1995, Nancy Vasilakas, review of The House That Drac Built, pp. 730-731; May-June, 1996, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Wiley and the Hairy Man, pp. 343-344; July-August, 1996, Ann A. Flowers, review of Good Night, Dinosaurs, pp. 474-475; January, 2001, review of The Gift of the Crocodile, p. 104; May, 2001, review of Preschool to the Rescue, p. 317; January-February, 2003, Mary M. Burns, review of Can You Guess My Name? p. 87.
Instructor, September, 2001, Judy Freeman, review of The Gift of the Crocodile, p. 28; April, 2003, Judy Freeman, review of Can You Guess My Name? p. 55.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1992, p. 930; August 1, 1997, p. 1228; August 1, 2001, review of Monster Goose, p. 1131; September 15, 2002, review of Silly and Sillier, p. 1400; October 15, 2002, review of Can You Guess My Name? p. 1538; November 1, 2002, review of 'Twas the Night before Christmas, p. 1625; July 1, 2004, review of Wild about Books and What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? p. 636.
Library Talk, May-June, 2002.
Parenting, September, 1996, p. 209; December, 1996, p. 252.
Publishers Weekly, July 13, 1992, review of The Elephant's Wrestling Match, p. 55; November 4, 1996, p. 48; June 30, 1997, review of Counting Crocodiles, p. 75; March 19, 2001, review of Preschool to the Rescue, p. 98; August 13, 2001, review of Monster Goose, p. 312; September 30, 2002, review of Silly and Sillier, p. 71; June 14, 2004, review of Wild about Books, p. 62.
School Library Journal, September, 1992, Linda Greenglass, review of The Elephant's Wrestling Match, p. 211; September, 1995, Beth Irish, review of The House That Drac Built, p. 186; April, 1996, Beth Tegart, review of Good Night, Dinosaurs, p. 118; April, 1997, p. 51; June, 1997, p. 39; October, 1997, Marilyn Iarusso, review of The Mean Hyena, pp. 123-124; December, 2000, review of The Gift of the Crocodile, p. 55; May, 2001, Marlene Gawron, review of Preschool to the Rescue, p. 135; September, 2001, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Monster Goose, p. 254; October, 2002, Eva Mitnick, review of 'Twas the Fright before Christmas, p. 63; November, 2002, Lee Bock, review of Can You Guess My Name? p. 148, Carol L. MacKay, review of Silly and Sillier, p. 150; October, 2003, review of Can You Guess My Name? p. S53; August, 2004, Marge Loch-Wouters, review of Wild about Books, p. 94; September, 2004, review of What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? p. 180.
Science-Fiction Chronicle, June, 1995, p. 36.
Judy Sierra's Home Page, http://www.judysierra.net (July 18, 2005).