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John Warren Stewig (1937–) Biography

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

Born 1937, in Waukesha, WI; Education: University of Wisconsin at Madison, B.S., 1958, M.S., 1962, Ph.D., 1967. Religion: Episcopalian.


Office—Lentz Hall, Rm. E328, Carthage College, 2001 Alford Park Rd., Kenosha, WI 53140.


Elementary-school teacher in Monona Grove, WI, 1958–64; Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, assistant professor, 1967–72, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, 1972–77; University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, professor of language arts, 1977–2001; Carthage College Center for Children's Literature, Kenosha, WI, directorm 2001—. Faculty member and workshop leader at colleges and universities in the United States and Canada, including Indiana University, Bloomington, School of the Ozarks, Western Montana State University, Northern Montana State University, University of Denver, and University of Victoria; speaker at schools and professional gatherings. Worked as a music teacher at a hospital school for school-age patients. Member of Wisconsin State Literacy Assessment advisory committee, 1974; Madison Cooperative Children's Book Center, member of advisory board, 1974–78, 1989–92.


International Reading Association (member of children's book award committee, 1984–86), International Visual Literacy Association, Association for Childhood Education International, National Council of Teachers of English (president, 1982–83; member of standing committee against censorship), American Library Association (chair of Caldecott committee, 1997), Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English (board member, 1977–79; president, 1980–81), Milwaukee Association for the Education of Young Children, English Association of Greater Milwaukee (board member, 1973–81).

Honors Awards

Grants from U.S. Office of Education, 1973, and State of Wisconsin, 1981; Creative Drama for Human Awareness Award, American Association of Theatre for Youth, 1987; Distinguished Elementary Education Award, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1987; Aesop Honor designation, American Folklore Society, for Princess Florecita and the Iron Shoes: A Spanish Fairy Tale.

John Warren Stewig



Sending Messages, photographs by Richard D. Bradley, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1978.

(Reteller) The Fisherman and His Wife, illustrated by Margaret Tomes, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1988.

(Reteller) Stone Soup, illustrated by Margaret Tomes, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1991.

The Moon's Choice, illustrated by Jan Palmer, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1993.

Princess Florecita and the Iron Shoes: A Spanish Fairy Tale, illustrated by K. Wendy Popp, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

(Reteller) King Midas, illustrated by Omar Rayyan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.

Clever Gretchen, illustrated by Patricia Wittmann, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 2000.

Mother Holly: A Retelling from the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Joanna Westerman, North/South Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Making Plum Jam, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.

Whuppity Stoorie, illustrated by Preston McDaniels, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.


Spontaneous Drama: A Language Art, C. E. Merrill (Columbus, OH), 1973.

Exploring Language with Children, C. E. Merrill (Columbus, OH), 1974.

Read to Write: Using Literature as a Springboard to Writing, Hawthorn (New York, NY), 1975, 3rd edition published as Read to Write: Using Literature as a Springboard for Teaching Writing, Richard C. Owen Publishers (Katonah, NY), 1990.

Children's Language Acquisition, Department of Public Instruction (Madison, WI), 1976.

(Editor with Sam L. Sebesta, and contributor) Using Literature in the Elementary Classroom (monograph), National Council of Teachers of English (Urbana, IL), 1978 2nd edition, 1989.

Children and Literature, Rand McNally (Chicago, IL), 1980, second edition, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.

Teaching Language Arts in Early Childhood, Holt (New York, NY), 1982.

Exploring Language Arts in the Elementary Classroom, Holt (New York, NY), 1983.

Informal Drama in the Elementary Language-Arts Program, Teachers College (New York, NY), 1983.

(With Carol Buege) Dramatizing Literature in Whole-Language Classrooms, Teachers College (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Mary Jett-Simpson) Language Arts in the Early Childhood Classroom, Wadsworth, 1995.

(With Beverly Nordberg) Exploring Language Arts in the Elementary Classroom, Wadsworth, 1995.

Looking at Picture Books, Highsmith (Fort Atkinson, WI), 1995.

Contributor to books on reading and elementary education; contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals. Member of editorial board, Childhood Education, 1972–74, Advocate, 1983–86, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 1987–93, and Writing Teacher, 1992–99; associate editor, Children's Theatre Review, 1985–86.


Beginning his teaching career in elementary education, reading, and literacy, John Warren Stewig worked as a professor at the University of Wisconsin for many years. In addition to many other professional activities, including writing articles and teacher guides and serving as chair of the 1998 Caldecott Medal committee, Stewig has also found the time to actually practice what he has promoted: quality books for younger readers. Beginning with 1978's Sending Messages, he has produced retellings of stories such as The Fisherman and His Wife and Clever Gretchen. In addition, he is the author of Making Plum Jam, an original story drawn from the author's childhood in which the transgressions of three elderly women—Stewig's own aunts, who steal plums from a nearby farmer to make jam—are made right by the women's young nephew. In Booklist, Kathy Broderick dubbed the work "a fond reminiscence of another era," while School Library Journal critic Barbara Buckley called Making Plum Jam "a summertime treat" featuring "quirky, colorful" illustrations by Kevin O'Malley.

The Fisherman and His Wife is the first book in which Stewig draws upon a classic from children's literature. His retelling, based on an European fairy tale attributed to the Brothers Grimm, is accompanied by illustrations by Margaret Tomes. The story involves a humble fisherman who catches a magical flounder; his greedy wife discovers the fish will grant all her wishes, but in the end, the flounder finds a clever way to punish the wife for her materialistic ways. Kenneth Marantz, reviewing The Fisherman and His Wife for the School Library Journal, found that "Stewig does such a full job that there seems little for Tomes' gentle, chromatically subdued illustrations to do." In a critique of the book, Booklist reviewer Denise M. Wilms termed it "a clean, direct retelling."

Stewig's Stone Soup is an adaptation of another classic tale for young readers. Also illustrated by Tomes, the tale features a young, impoverished girl named Grethel who decides to try her luck at finding food for herself and her starving mother in a distant village. At first, the village people treat her, a stranger, with hostility, but Grethel cleverly charms them into providing the ingredients for a special soup she promises to make with her magic stone. The dish is a delicious success, and in the end Grethel returns to her mother with some useful knowledge. "Stewig's brisk prose is well suited to reading aloud," opined Carolyn Phelan in Booklist, while a When his love for the mayor's daughter prompts him to enter into a pact with a vengeful dwarf, Hans finds himself trapped by a promise that will end his happy life after seven years in the folk-tale-inspired Clever Gretchen. (Illustration by Patricia Wittmann.)Kirkus Reviews critic termed Stone Soup "a pleasing new version of a popular favorite."

Princess Florecita and the Iron Shoes: A Spanish Fairy Tale, another retelling of an old European tale, was cited by Books in Canada writer Alison Sutherland as "evidence that authentic folklore has always been aware that women are just as heroic as men." The story's heroine learns, by birdsong, of an enchanted sleeping prince who only wakes once a year; the woman who wears out a pair of iron shoes to get to his castle and touches him with a special black feather will awaken the prince forever. When a black feather drops at Princess Florecita's feet, she orders a pair of iron shoes to be made and then sets off to meet her destiny. Along the way, she meets three fierce but kindly older women, mothers of the East, West, and North winds, who provide the young woman with the necessary knowledge to complete her journey successfully. Stewig's version, with illustrations by K. Wendy Popp, won strong praise from reviewers. Donna L. Scanlon, writing in School Library Journal, found the text "rich in imagery," Stewig's "rhythm and pacing … just right, and the storytelling … at once traditional and fresh." Booklist reviewer Chris Sherman praised the author for presenting the heroine in truly heroic terms, noting that "Stewig captures perfectly the romantic nature of the story."

Stewig's picture book King Midas, with illustrations by Omar Rayyan, presents to young readers the story of the ancient Mediterranean king to whom a creature appears and grants the power to turn all that the king touches into gold. Midas excitedly makes use of his new power, but is devastated when he inadvertently turns his beloved daughter Marygold into a frozen gold statue. All ends well when the creature reappears and offers to take back the gift, and Midas realizes that there are things in life more valuable than gold. Writing in School Library Journal, Patricia Lothrop-Green commended Stewig's "deft, direct language" as well as the humorous touches added to the classic tale.

Other retellings by Stewig include Mother Holly, a retelling of a less-familiar Brothers Grimm story, and Whuppity Stoorie, a tale based on a Scottish variant of "Rumplestiltskin." In Mother Holly Rose and Blanche are stepsisters, Rose gentle and hardworking and Blanche the complete opposite. When Rose's spindle falls down a deep well, she tumbles in after it and ends up in a strange land where she shows herself to be caring and compassionate. Meeting the old, infirm, and ugly Mother Holly, Rose takes pity on the woman and stays with her. When she leaves to return to her actual home, she is given a wealth of gold. When Blanche sees Rose's largesse, she jumps down the well, but because her behaviors are selfish and cruel, she is rewarded with thorns. Unlike the original ending, which found Blanche stewing in pitch forever, in Stewig's version Rose and Mother Holly help Blanche to improve her character by teaching the selfish young woman to care for others. Although noting that children would Set against lavish illustrations by Omar Rayyan, Stewig retells the fable of King Midas, who realized too late that his wish for wealth would destroy all that he loved best.prefer an ending where good triumphs over evil rather than helping it, Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper dubbed Mother Holly "an engaging retelling that captures the cadence of fairy tales." Giving special praise to the artwork by Johanna Weserman, Mirian Lang Budin added in School Library Journal that Stewig's alternative ending serves as "a reassuring departure from the harsh traditional ending" of the original.

Stewig once told Something about the Author: "One of the greatest pleasures of my professional life has been the variety of writing opportunities which have come to me. Each of several general categories of writing have come, with their own sets of parameters, providing very different challenges and satisfactions.

"When I began, I wrote professional journal articles and books for teachers. I enjoyed the challenge of working, usually alone, to craft ideas and then find an editor willing to publish them. Finding an editor who thought my work was worthy was followed by intense contact reshaping the writing under the guidance of the editor. Back then, periodical editors had the time to actually edit, rather than simply publish as many do today, and it wasn't unusual for the exchanges of letters to take up to a year before the article appeared. A book involved close work for a long period of time, and in either format I learned much from editors who cared about my work and wanted it to be better.

"Later, I was asked, and subsequently became—with a valued professional colleague—the coauthor of a language-arts textbook series for children in kindergarten through eighth grades. This entailed working with several editors and a number of authors over an extended period of time, to produce a large quantity of related materials intended for audiences which differed not only in age but also in ability. Group meetings, which included designers, layout and sales personnel, often involved dozens of people and stretched over several days. Many different ideas had to be reconciled and then written into a firmly prescribed format. In all, a very different kind of writing than I had done previously.

"Still later, I was fortunate to move into doing trade picture-books for children, yet another very different kind of writing. Here economy of expression, conciseness, is paramount. Here, every word has to fit into the prescribed 32-page final format. So as an author I work alone, crafting words and re-crafting, eliminating, and changing until everything seems right to me. While my first picture book was informational, I've subsequently done fairytale retellings, and … a personal childhood reminiscence. Each has involved very different kinds of preparation before writing.

"One rare opportunity I've had is some involvement with the art in my books. Years ago, a gracious editor agreed to see a naive young writer, without a scheduled appointment, on a Friday afternoon. I sold her on using a photographer friend to do the illustrations. Not a smart approach, as I now know! Since then I've kept suitably quiet about the art in my books, realizing how jealously editors guard their decision-making in this area. In the meantime, I've studied and then spoken and written extensively about children's-book illustration generally. So, editors have come to involve me in some of the decisions made, including the kind of pine tree to include, and the color of the hero's hair. I thank each of those editors for the involvement they've allowed me.

"My understanding of the nature of writing has greatly expanded since my first published article appeared over forty years ago. My understanding of revision has been enhanced by interactions with a myriad of editors who have helped me make my work stronger. And great is the satisfaction of having communicated through fiction and nonfiction with readers, preschool through adult, most of whom I'll never meet in person. Having influenced the growth and development of children, both directly and through their teachers, parents, and librarians, is the delight of being a writer."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, November 1, 1988, Denise M. Wilms, review of The Fisherman and His Wife, p. 487; March 15, 1991, Carolyn Phelan, review of Stone Soup, p. 1495; Octo-Based on a little-known story by the Brothers Grimm, Mother Holly finds two sisters of opposite temperament facing a very different outcome when they each fall down a well and enter the magic world of an ugly but kindly creature. (Illustration by Johanna Westerman.)ber 15, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of Princess Florecita and the Iron Shoes, p. 312; February 15, 1999, p. 1073; September 15, 2999, John Peters, review of Clever Gretchen, p. 251; July, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Mother Holly, p. 2015; August, 2002, Kathy Broderick, review of Making Plum Jam, p. 1977.

Books in Canada, December, 1995, Alison Sutherland, "Children and Myths," pp. 18-19.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1978, review of Sending Messages, pp. 19-20.

Horn Book, August, 1978, p. 414; April 15, 1991, review of Stone Soup, p. 540.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1978, p. 550; February 1, 2004, review of Whuppity Stoorie, p. 139.

Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1988, p. 68.

Quill & Quire, November, 1995, p. 47.

School Library Journal, December, 1988, Kenneth Marantz, review of The Fisherman and His Wife, p. 102; April, 1991, p. 114; January, 1996, Donna L. Scanlon, review of Princess Florecita and the Iron Shoes, p. 107; March, 1999, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of King Midas, p. 201; October, 2000, Ginny Gustin, review of Clever Gretchen, p. 153; September, 2001, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Mother Holly, p. 215; June, 2002, Barbara Buckley, review of Making Plum Jam, p. 112; March, 2004, Grace Oliff, review of Whuppity Stoorie, p. 200.


Carthage College Center for Children's Literature Web site, http://www3.carthage.edu/childliturature/ (July 20, 2005), "John Warren Stewig."

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