Richard Egielski (1952-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1952, in Queens, NY; Education: Attended Pratt Institute, 1970-71; Parsons School of Design, graduated 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Playing the mandolin.
Illustrator, 1973—. Exhibitions: "Illustrators 16," 1974, and "Illustrators 18," 1976, Society of Illustrators, New York, NY.
The Porcelain Pagoda was included in American Institute of Graphic Arts Book Show, 1976; Children's Book of the Year citation, Child Study Association of America, 1976, for The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring; certificate of merit, Society of Illustrators, 1978, 1981, 1984, 1985; best books citation, School Library Journal, 1980, for Louis the Fish; plaque from Biennale of Illustrations Bratislava, 1985, for It Happened in Pinsk; Parents' Choice Picture Book Award, 1985, for Amy's Eyes, and 1989, for The Tub People; Caldecott Medal, American Library Association, 1987, for Hey, Al; Best Illustrated Book designation, New York Times, 1998, for Jazper.
Buz, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
The Gingerbread Boy, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Jazper, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Three Magic Balls, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Slim and Jim, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Saint Francis and the Wolf, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Moonguitars (reader), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1974.
F. N. Monjo, The Porcelain Pagoda, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.
John Bellairs, The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring, Dial Books (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, Puffin Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Arthur Yorinks, Sid and Sol, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1977.
Miriam Chaikin, I Should Worry, I Should Care, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1979.
Arthur Yorinks, Louis the Fish, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1980.
Miriam Chaikin, Finders Weepers, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1980.
Isabel Langis Cusack, Mr. Wheatfield's Loft, Holt (New York, NY), 1981.
Miriam Chaikin, Getting Even, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1982.
Jim Aylesworth, Mary's Mirror, Holt (New York, NY), 1982.
Arthur Yorinks, It Happened in Pinsk, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1983.
Miriam Chaikin, Lower! Higher! You're a Liar!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1984.
Gelett Burgess, The Little Father, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1985.
Richard Kennedy, Amy's Eyes, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1985.
Arthur Yorinks, Hey, Al, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1986.
Arthur Yorinks, Bravo, Minski, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1988.
Miriam Chaikin, Friends Forever, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1988.
Pam Conrad, The Tub People, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.
Arthur Yorinks, Oh, Brother, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1989.
Arthur Yorinks, Ugh, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1990.
William J. Brooke, A Telling of the Tales: Five Stories, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.
Arthur Yorinks, Christmas in July, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Pam Conrad, The Lost Sailor, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Pam Conrad, The Tub Grandfather, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Pam Conrad, Call Me Ahnighito, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Bill Martin, Jr., Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire, Harcourt, Brace (New York, NY), 1996.
William Wise, Perfect Pancakes, If You Please, Dial Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Alan Arkin, One Present from Flekman's, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Pam Conrad, The Tub People's Christmas, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Locust Pocus: A Book to Bug You, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Margie Palatini, The Web Files, Hyperion Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Margaret Wise Brown, The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Rosemary Wells, The Small World of Binky Braverman, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
The Tub People was adapted for audio cassette.
Author and illustrator Richard Egielski is a master of "idiosyncratic and highly personal picture books," according to Anne Quirk in Children's Books and Their Creators. In collaboration with writers such as Arthur Yorinks and Pam Conrad, as well as in his own self-illustrated picture books, this American illustrator "has created some of the most quirky and original children's books of recent decades," Quirk noted. The winner of the 1987 Caldecott Medal, Egielski—though noted for the sometimes surreal nature of his content—presents illustrations with sharp lines and vivid colors; illustrations that enhance the text rather than simply amplify it. "I love to interpret text," Egielski once told Something about the Author ( SATA ). "A good illustrator is never a slave to text. The text rarely tells him what to do, but, rather, what his choices are. I only illustrate texts I truly believe in." In award-winning books such as Hey, Al, done in collaboration with Yorinks, and The Tub People, with Conrad, as well as in his own creations such as Buz, Jazper, and Slim and Jim, Egielski has demonstrated, in the words of Quirk, the "singular vision, emotional urgency, and technical mastery of an artist at the top of his form."
Born in Queens, New York, in 1952, Egielski grew up in Maspeth, Queens, the son of a police lieutenant. "They called me 'the artist of the family,'" he once recalled to SATA, "but it seemed that there was one in every family. It didn't necessarily mean you were good at drawing, just that you enjoyed doing it." Egielski's earliest influences were comic books and movies. He retained his love for both and later looked back at his earliest cartoon sketches to realize that, as picture books had originally given rise to cartoons, the opposite happened for him: he started with cartoons and moved to picture books. "I wasn't aware of picture books until I was old enough to consider them 'baby books,'" he explained. In his opinion, books were not an essential ingredient of his childhood; a child of the 1950s, he grew up in what he recalls as a visual universe.
Catholic school was the bane of Egielski's early life, an institution that "felt like a concentration camp" to him. "All those things you hear about: nuns throwing erasers at students; rapping kids' knuckles with rulers, is all true," he told SATA. When it came time for high school, Egielski did research, in the hopes of going to a public school, and an interest in freedom, rather than art, led him to apply to New York's High School of Art and Design. Once accepted there, his love for line and design became firmly established. "At the end of four years, I'd resolved to become a painter because I'd discovered such artists as Rembrandt and Goya, whose work made a deep impression on me," Egielski recalled. "They are the most illustrative of painters."
Upon graduation Egielski attended the Pratt Institute for a year. The painting program there was heavily influenced by abstract expressionism and Egielski "felt like a dinosaur doing representational work," although that was where his heart was. He was attracted to narrative artists such as nineenth-century N. C. Wyeth, and ultimately determined that illustration was a better match for his interests than fine art. The son of a middle-class family, he was practical about his career choices, opting for a field that generates a marketable product. In 1971 he transferred to Parsons School of Design, planning to become a commercial illustrator, and his student work appeared in several magazines before his direction changed after taking a class in picture books taught by Maurice Sendak. For Egielski, Sendak was that wonderful find, a real teacher. "An important teacher is one who exposes you to something new, and points out a direction you otherwise might have missed," Egielski explained. "In introducing me to the art of the picture books, Maurice Sendak became a crucial influence. The quality of his work is a continuing inspiration." Another important influence came about as a result of Egielski's years at Parsons. He met the illustrator Denise Saldutti, whom he married in 1977.
Graduating from Parsons in 1974, Egielski met with skeptical looks from editors when he submitted his portfolio, and was told his work is too strange and sophisticated for children's books. Once again Sendak came to his aid, introducing Egielski to young writer Arthur Yorinks, whose books were badly in need of a sympathetic illustrator. Yorinks and Egielski ultimately formed a collaborative bond, working together on eight titles, including the Caldecott Medal-winning Hey, Al. Unlike some authors and illustrators who work separately, these two worked closely on each project. Their first book together, Sid and Sol, was published in 1977, and over the next fourteen years they produced seven more titles. Yorinks's texts often draw inspiration from classic writers such as Gogol and Kafka. Louis the Fish, for example, was suggested by Kafka's The Metamorphosis, in which a man is turned into a large insect. The award-winning Hey, Al tells the story of a janitor and his dog who live in a cramped apartment and dream of a tropical island with plenty of room. When a tropical bird offers them the opportunity of living on such an island, they eagerly take it. Egielski's drawings for this book range from cramped and pinched illustrations of the apartment with legs going out of the frame, emphasizing the tiny space, to large and animated tropical animals that emphasize the exotic quality of the island. "Every aspect of the picture book as an art form is utilized to create an unforgettable partnership of pictures and words," noted Kay Vandergrift in School Library Journal. "Egielski takes us from the real world to a world of fantasy and back.… Shifts in framing techniques as well as in palette deftly mirror and expand the pattern of the text." Another Egielski-Yorinks title, Oh, Brother, tells the "uproarious misadventures" of twin brothers, according to a School Library Journal commentator, as they travel from a home for lost boys to England, arguing all the while. The reviewer called the book a "playful look at brotherly love," and remarked in particular on the "jolly good humor bursting from the illustrations."
Egielski has also teamed up with other authors to create books of distinction. Illustrating for Pam Conrad, he has published award winners such as The Tub People and its sequel, The Tub Grandfather, as well as The Lost Sailor and Call Me Ahnighito. Egielski created a cast of little wooden figures who inhabit the bathroom for The Tub People; in its sequel the Tub People move out to a cozier room where they discover the long-lost Tub Grandfather of the title. There is a sentimental reunion as the grandmother dances across the carpet with her newly rediscovered husband; the Egielski-illustrated depiction of this is "almost heartachingly tender," according to Quirk in Children's Books and Their Creators. Carolyn Phelan remarked in Booklist that while this sequel may not have "the innate child appeal" of its predecessor, the reader should not "underestimate the charm or the power of Egielski's large-scale watercolor illustrations to bring the tub toys and this picture book to life." Joy Fleishhacker, reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, commented that Egielski "constructs a variety of moods through a clever use of perspective and the careful positioning of the figures in each scene."
In The Lost Sailor Egielski joins Conrad to tell the story of a shipwrecked mariner. Ann A. Flowers, writing in Horn Book, found the artist's work "clear, simple" and "almost stylized," while a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Egielski's watercolors "pack more dramatic punch and, especially in his depictions of the solitary figure on the lush abandoned island, contain more food for the imagination." A further joint effort with Conrad, Call Me Ahnighito is the story of a meteorite that landed in the Arctic, told in the first person by the meteorite itself. "Egielski's interpretations of the Arctic are magnificent," noted Elizabeth S. Watson in Horn Book, the critic going on to praise the "provocative pictures of the frozen landscape, yellow northern light, and icy waters" that capture "the cold isolation that the voice describes." Carolyn Phelan, a reviewer for Booklist, concluded that Egielski "achieves subtle and exceptionally beautiful effects with color, texture, and light," while a critic for Publishers Weekly enthused that "Egielski's familiar art takes on a majestic quality" in this book.
Other collaborative efforts have included working with Bill Martin, Jr., on Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire, and with William Wise on Perfect Pancakes, If You Please. The former title provides "slapstick humor and fast-paced action" in a rhyming story, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Originally published in 1970, the new edition, featuring Egielski's illustrations, is "bigger, brighter, and more original in concept," according to Carolyn Phelan in Booklist. A critic for Publishers Weekly concluded that "Egielski's rumble-tumble stage business and inventive subplots combine with Martin's comic puns and rhythmic verve to make this picture book a five alarm delight." Wise's text about a king who offers his daughter's hand to the man who can make perfect pancakes is also adroitly accompanied by Egielski's "robust, richly colored illustrations" which "capture the comedy well," according to Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin. In creating illustrations for Margaret Wise Brown's previously unpublished story The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, Egielski turns out one of the "season's holiday standouts," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the critic dubbing the illustrator's "nostalgic" illustrations in warm gold tones "a polished presentation."
Egielski, who works primarily in watercolors and who once said that he would never try to write his own picture books, has discovered that one should never say "never." Buz, The Gingerbread Boy, Jazper, Slim and Jim, Three Magic Balls, and Saint Francis and the Wolf are all picture books written and illustrated by Egielski. In Buz a boy eats a bug with his breakfast; the ensuing story follows the bug through the boy's digestive system and as pills ordered by the doctor attempt to track the insect down. Writing in School Library Journal, Wendy Lukehart commented that Egielski "makes effective use of double-page close-ups, interior and exterior perspectives, and page layout to build suspense and heightened dramatic impact." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called this debut solo book a "droll adventure," and concluded that "this book is … great fun to read and to look at."
Egielski adapted the nursery rhyme The Gingerbread Boy for his next solo effort. In this story, he gives the tale a big-city twist, with the Gingerbread Boy getting loose in New York City and being chased by rats, construction workers, and even a mounted policeman. Judith Constantinides, in School Library Journal, felt that "Egielski's retelling is straightforward," and his illustrations "adroitly evoke the city setting while giving a solid three-dimensionality and unique individuality to the Gingerbread Boy and his pursuers." Constantinides concluded that this "clever confection makes a fine addition to folklore collections." Ann A. Flowers, reviewing The Gingerbread Boy for Horn Book, dubbed Egielski's work "a smooth and sophisticated version of the famous tale," while Hazel Rochman noted in a Booklist review that "the combination of wild farce and luscious paintings make for great storytelling and a celebration of the city."
Returning to a bug motif for Jazper, Egielski created a Pinocchio-like boy insect in his eponymous hero. Jazper and his dad live in a rented eggshell while their more affluent neighbors inhabit full-size cans and cereal boxes. When Jazper's dad loses his job, the boy sets out to earn some money by house-sitting. Then the trouble begins, as Jazper runs afoul of five very strange moths. A New York Times Best Illustrated Book for 1998, Jazper is "sure to appeal to youngsters growing up on surreal dollops of Dr. Seuss, William Joyce, Daniel Kirk, William Steig, and earlier Egielski," predicted School Library Journal contributor John Sigwald.
Three Magic Balls also makes use of the city skyline, this time in a fantastic caper involving magic run amok. Rudy is at work in his uncle's toy store when an old woman brings in three odd-looking balls and sells them, along with a golden whistle. When Rudy finds himself alone in the shop, he begins to experiment with the balls, and they quickly turn into giant, round, fun-seeking men who can also perform miracles. Only when the action seems ready to veer out of hand does Rudy remember the whistle and its role in keeping the magic balls in line. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commended the book for its "old-fashioned enchantment," adding that Egielski "approaches the art and narration with boundless energy." In School Library Journal, Lauralyn Persson noted that Egielski's "artwork is great," and concluded: "The figures have the look of real substance, and the action has the look of real motion, both wonderful things to accomplish on a flat page."
Slim and Jim weaves a tale of tolerance and friendship around two urban rodents. Slim is a rat who, down on his luck, is lured into crime by a cat named Buster. Jim, a mouse, has been pampered but has a good heart. When Slim rescues Jim from drowning, the two take refuge in Jim's house, where they joyfully play yo-yo together. All seems to be well until Slim is once again kidnapped by the cat—and Jim must go to his rescue. Joanna Rudge Long maintained in Horn Book that Egielski's "timeless cityscape and comically expressive animals are all delightfully engaging." Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper noted that, in contrast to many picture books, "this has a real story, with adventure, friendship, dastardly deeds—and yo yos!"
Although he originally aspired to create museum-quality fine art, Egielski has no regrets about the course his career has taken. "I like the whole idea of creating picture books within the standard thirty-two page format," he once told SATA. "It's not unlike the sonnet form, in which the poet has so many lines in which to express himself. I don't feel at all constricted by this. On the contrary, the 'rules' of the form seem to set me free. I'm always discovering new things I can do. The picture book is an art form unto itself." He concluded: "My illustration is my fine art. I have absolutely no reason to wish to liberate or wean myself from dependence upon text. It is through my illustrations that I express myself most deeply and fully."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, pp. 219-220.
Booklist, October 15, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Tub Grandfather, p. 451; May 1, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Call Me Ahnighito, p. 1579; March 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire, p. 1266; December 1, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Perfect Pancakes, If You Please, p. 670; October 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of The Gingerbread Boy, p. 409; September 15, 1998, Michael Cart, review of Jazper, p. 171; September 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of The Tub People, p. 147; September 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Three Magic Balls, p. 121; May 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of The Web Files, p. 1690; May 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Slim and Jim, p. 1520; September 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, p. 133; September 15, 2004, Karin Snelson, review of Liberty's Journey, p. 247.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1998, review of The Gingerbread Boy, p. 198; November, 1998, review of Jazper, p. 94; September, 2000, review of Three Magic Balls, p. 121; September, 2002, review of Slim and Jim, p. 14.
Horn Book, July-August, 1987, Arthur Yorinks, "Richard Egielski," pp. 436-438; March-April, 1993, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Lost Sailor, p. 194; July-August, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Call Me Ahnighito, p. 448; September-October, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Gingerbread Boy, p. 587; May, 2001, review of The Web Files, p. 314; July-August, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Slim and Jim, p. 445.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, p. 907.
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1992, review of The Lost Sailor, p. 63; May 15, 1995, review of Call Me Ahnighito, p. 73; July 17, 1995, review of Buz, p. 229; March 18, 1996, review of Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire, p. 68; August 3, 1998, review of Jazper, p. 84; February 22, 1999, review of Buz, p. 97; July 31, 2000, review of Three Magic Balls, p. 93; May 6, 2002, review of Slim and Jim, p. 56; August 4, 2003, review of The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, p. 77; August 18, 2003, review of The Small World of Binky Braverman, p. 78.
School Library Journal, March, 1987, Kay Vandergrift, pp. 78-80; March, 1994, Joy Fleishhacker, review of The Tub Grandfather, p. 192; September, 1995, Wendy Lukehart, review of Buz, p. 175; September, 1997, Judith Constantinides, review of The Gingerbread Boy, p. 180; January, 1998, review of Oh, Brother, p. 43; September, 1998, John Sigwald, review of Jazper, pp. 171-172; May, 1999, Rosalyn Pierini, review of One Present from Fleckman's, p. 79; September, 2000, review of Three Magic Balls, p. 194; August, 2003, James K. Irwin, review of The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, p. 123.*
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