Campbell Geeslin (1925-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1925, in Goldthwaite, TX; Education: Columbia College, A.B., 1949; University of Texas, M.A., 1950.
Agent—Robert Lescher, 47 E. 19th St., New York, NY 10003.
Houston Post, Houston, TX, began as reporter, became assistant managing editor, 1950-64; worked for Gannett Newspapers in Cocoa Beach, FL, White Plains, NY, and Rochester, NY, 1964-68; This Week, New York, NY, managing editor, 1968-71; Parade, New York, NY, managing editor, 1970-71; New York Times Syndicate, New York, NY, editor, 1971-73; Cue, New York, NY, editor, 1973-75; People, New York, NY, senior editor, 1975-78; Life, New York, NY, text editor, 1978-89. Trustee, White Plains Public Library. Military service: U.S. Navy, 1943-46.
Parents Foundation award, and Comstock Book Award for Best Picture Book, 2004, both for Elena's Serenade.
The Bonner Boys: A Novel about Texas, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
In Rosa's Mexico, illustrated by Andrea Arroyo, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
On Ramón's Farm: Five Tales of Mexico, illustrated by Petra Mathers, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
Big Ears: Growing up in West Texas (autobiography), White Pine Press (White Plains, NY), 1998.
How Nanita Learned to Make Flan (also see below), illustrated by Petra Mathers, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Elena's Serenade, illustrated by Ana Juan, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Author of libretto for How Nanita Learned to Make Flan, music by Enrique Gonzalez-Medina, produced in Cincinnati, OH, 2000. Columnist for Authors Guild Bulletin.
Author's works have been translated into Japanese and Korean.
Elena's serenade was optioned for an animated film produced in Japan, and was adapted for CD-ROM.
Work in Progress
Clara and Señor Frog, forthcoming, 2007.
Campbell Geeslin published his first book shortly before his retirement from the world of print journalism, where he had worked for more than three decades as a reporter and editor. Although Geeslin and his family were centered for many years in and around New York City, the author retains vivid memories of his youth in rural west Texas in the 1930s, and the vacations he and his family took to an even more exotic locale—across the border into Mexico. Geeslin draws on his familiarity with the Texas-Mexico border area in his writing, which includes picture books such as Elena's Serenade and How Nanita Learned to Make Flan.
Geeslin's first book, The Bonner Boys: A Novel about Texas, was written primarily for adult readers. A saga of five brothers who come of age on a West Texas ranch in the 1930s, the novel follows the siblings through the decisive experiences of World War II and its aftermath, as each must weigh a wide array of choices as he ponders his future. One brother becomes a musician, another an entrepreneur of questionable conduct, the third a journalist, and the last two begin careers as corporate executive and attorney. The brothers' lives are contrasted when they eventually return to the Texas capital of Austin for a reunion and a visit with their aged mother. A Publishers Weekly critic dubbed The Bonner Boys "a warm and satisfying novel" that solidly evokes life in the American Southwest of the 1930s.
Geeslin moved from novels to picture books in the mid-1990s. As he once told Something about the Author ( SATA ): "After I retired from a job as an editor at Life magazine, I wrote and hand-printed from woodcuts an illustrated story for my twin granddaughters. An editor at Knopf wanted to buy the story, In Rosa's Mexico, but hired a professional illustrator to do the pictures." The book was published in 1996 with illustrations by Andrea Arroyo."
Written for beginning readers, In Rosa's Mexico presents three tales centered on a Mexican girl and her encounters with fabled characters from Mexican folklore. In the first story, "Rosa and El Gallo," Rosa is distressed when ash from a nearby volcano ruins the local violet crop because she sells these flowers at the market to earn money for her impoverished family. When the hungry family decides to cook their rooster for food, the bird begins to cough up lovely violet petals in an effort to save himself. Rosa now has something to sell at the market, and she earns enough money to feed her family and postpone the clever rooster's demise. In the book's second tale, when Rosa's beloved burro becomes sick, she rides up to the night sky and retrieves a remedy from "las estrellas"; the burro recovers and now wears the mark of heaven on his head. The final story centers on Rosa and her discovery of a missing wedding ring that had been stolen by a fox. Her honest actions save El Lobo, the wolf, who rewards her with a magic pillow.
Geeslin narrates all the stories included in In Rosa's Mexico in a limited vocabulary that incorporates many Spanish terms. Arroyo's drawings provide easy clues to these words' meaning for non-Spanish speakers, and a glossary of Spanish words precedes the text as well. New York Times Book Review contributor Kathleen Krull termed the language and action in In Rosa's Mexico somewhat "idiosyncratic," adding that the spare prose works very well for the bilingual, magical-themed format. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Geeslin crafts a "simply stated yet musical text." Praising Arroyo's illustrations, Janice M. Del Negro asserted in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that the book's pictures reveal "a place and time more magical than mundane."
Other books by Geeslin have continued to focus on children living in Mexico, and all contain a bilingual text, created with the help of the author's wife, a Spanish teacher. On Ramon's Farm: Five Tales of Mexico follows a day in the life of a young boy as he goes about his farm chores. As he cleans up the barnyard and feeds its varied residents, Ramon is entertained by the friendly animals, and in return he creates poems about them. In Elena's Serenade a young girl hopes to become a glass-blower like her father, but when he disapproves of such a life for his daughter, she takes her glass-blowing pipe and runs away, disguised as a boy. On the way to the city, Elena gains a special skill—she can produce sweet music as well as beautiful glass from her pipe—and when she returns home her father learns to appreciate his daughter's special creative talent. In School Library Journal, Tracy Bell praised Elena's Serenade as "a fascinating adventure that explores issues of gender roles, self-confidence, and the workings of an artist's heart," while a Publishers Weekly critic wrote that Geeslin presents young readers with a "magical-realist fable with a girl-power message."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 1, 1981, p. 1186; November 15, 1996, p. 594; March 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Elena's Serenade, p. 1194.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of In Rosa's Mexico, p. 169.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2004, review of Elena's Serenade, p. 82.
New York Times Book Review, May 11, 1997, Kathleen Krull, review of In Rosa's Mexico, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, February 20, 1981, review of The Bonner Boys, pp. 90-91; November 18, 1996, review of In Rosa's Mexico, p. 74; October 12, 1998, p. 75; January 26, 2004, review of Elena's Serenade, p. 253.
School Library Journal, December, 1996, p. 92; March, 2004, Tracy Bell, review of Elena's Serenade, p. 158.