Joanne (Rose) Ryder (1946-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1946, in Lake Hiawatha, NJ; Education: Marquette University, B.A. (journalism), 1968; graduate study at University of Chicago, 1968-69. Hobbies and other interests: "Travel, gardening and flower arranging, reading and listening to poetry, working and playing with puppets, and hiking through woods and parks and by the sea."
Agent—c/o William Morrow, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, editor of children's books, 1970-80; full-time writer, 1980—. Lecturer at schools and conferences. Docent at San Francisco Zoo.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco Zoological Society.
Children's Book Showcase selection, 1977, for Simon Underground; New Jersey Author's Award, New Jersey Institute of Technology, 1978, for Fireflies, and 1980, for Fog in the Meadow and Snail in the Woods; Outstanding Science Trade Book of the Year designation, National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), 1979, and Children's Choice Book honor, Children's Book Council/International Reading Association, 1980, both for Fog in the Meadow; Parents Choice designation, Parents' magazine, and New York Academy of Sciences Children's Science Book Award in younger category, both 1982, and Golden Sower Award nomination, Nebraska Library Association, 1984, all for The Snail's Spell; Outstanding Book of the Year designation, National Council of Teachers of English, and Outstanding Science Trade Book of the Year designation, NSTA, both 1985, and Outstanding Book of the Year designation, Bank Street School, all for Inside Turtle's Shell, and Other Poems of the Field; Outstanding Science Trade Book designation, NSTA, and Children's Book Medal, Commonwealth Club of Northern California, both 1988, both for Step into the Night; Outstanding Science Trade Book designation, NSTA, 1989, for Where Butterflies Grow; Eva L. Gordon Award for Excellence in Writing for Children, American Nature Study Society, 1995, for body of work; Favorite Book Contest winner, Aspen School (Los Alamos, NM), 1996, for The Bear on the Moon; Black-eyed Susan Award nomination, Maryland Education Media Organization, 1996, for Without Words; Pick of the Lists designation, American Booksellers Association, 1997, for Night Gliders; Henry Bergh Award for Children's Poetry, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 2000, for Each Living Thing; Best Book citation, Parents' magazine, 2004, for Won't You Be My Kissaroo?
Simon Underground, illustrated by John Schoenherr, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
A Wet and Sandy Day, illustrated by Donald Carrick, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
Fireflies, illustrated by Don Bolognese, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
Fog in the Meadow, illustrated by Gail Owens, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
(With Harold S. Feinberg) Snail in the Woods, illustrated by Jo Polseno, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
The Spider's Dance, illustrated by Robert Blake, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.
Beach Party, illustrated by Diane Stanley, Frederick Warne (New York, NY), 1982.
The Snail's Spell, illustrated by Lynne Cherry, Frederick Warne (New York, NY), 1982.
The Incredible Space Machines, illustrated by Gerry Daly, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
C-3PO's Book about Robots, illustrated by John Gampert, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.
The Evening Walk, illustrated by Julie Durrell, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1985.
Inside Turtle's Shell, and Other Poems of the Field, illustrated by Susan Bonners, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1985.
The Night Flight, illustrated by Amy Schwartz, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1985.
Old Friends, New Friends, illustrated by Jane Chambless-Rigie, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1986.
Animals in the Woods, illustrated by Lisa Bonforte, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1987, published as Animals in the Wild, 1989.
Chipmunk Song, illustrated by Lynne Cherry, Lodestar, 1987.
My Little Golden Book about Cats, illustrated by Dora Leder, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1988.
Puppies Are Special Friends, illustrated by James Spence, Western Publishing (Racine, WI), 1988.
Under the Moon: Just Right for 3's and 4's, illustrated by Cheryl Harness, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.
Where Butterflies Grow, illustrated by Lynne Cherry, Lodestar, 1989.
The Bear on the Moon, illustrated by Carol Lacey, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
Hello, Tree!, illustrated by Michael Hays, Lodestar, 1991.
When the Woods Hum, illustrated by Catherine Stock, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
Dancers in the Garden, illustrations by Judith Lopez, Sierra Club (San Francisco, CA), 1992.
Turtle Time, illustrated by Julie Downing, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
The Goodbye Walk, illustrated by Deborah Haeffele, Lodestar, 1993.
One Small Fish, illustrated by Carol Schwartz, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
My Father's Hands, illustrated by Mark Graham, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
A House by the Sea, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
Without Words (poems), photographs by Barbara Sonneborn, Sierra Club Books for Children (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
Bears out There, illustrated by Jo Ellen McAllister-Stammen, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1995.
Night Gliders, illustrated by Melissa Bay Mathias, Bridge-Water Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1996.
Earthdance, illustrated by Norman Gorbaty, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
Winter White, illustrated by Carol Lacey, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
Pondwater Faces, illustrated by Susan Ford, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
Rainbow Wings, illustrated by Victor Lee, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Each Living Thing, illustrated by Ashley Wolff, Harcourt, 2000.
Fawn in the Grass, illustrated by Keiko Narahashi, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
The Waterfall's Gift, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson, Sierra Club (San Francisco, CA), 2000.
Little Panda: The World Welcomes Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
A Fawn in the Grass, illustrated by Keiko Narahashi, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.
Mouse Tail Moon, illustrated by Maggie Kneen, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
Big Bear Ball, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Wild Birds, illustrated by Susan Estelle Kwas, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Come along, Kitten, illustrated by Susan Winter, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
Won't You Be My Kissaroo?, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.
My Mother's Voice, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.
"NIGHT AND MORNING" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY DENNIS NOLAN
Step into the Night, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Mockingbird Morning, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Under Your Feet, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1990.
"JUST FOR A DAY" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY MICHAEL ROTHMAN
White Bear, Ice Bear, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.
Catching the Wind, Morrow (New York, NY), 1989.
Lizard in the Sun, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
Winter Whale, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
Sea Elf, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Jaguar in the Rain Forest, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
Shark in the Sea, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
Tyrannosaurus Time, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
"FIRST GRADE IS THE BEST" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY BETSY LEWIN
Hello, First Grade, Troll Associates (Mahwah, NJ), 1993.
First-Grade Ladybugs, Troll Associates (Mahwah, NJ), 1993.
First-Grade Valentines, Troll Associates (Mahwah, NJ), 1993.
First-Grade Elves, Troll Associates (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Hardie Gramatky, Little Toot, illustrated by Larry Ross, Platt, 1988.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, illustrated by John O'Brien, Platt, 1989.
Felix Salten, Walt Disney's Bambi, Disney Press (New York, NY), 1993.
Felix Salten, Walt Disney's Bambi's Forest: A Year in the Life of the Forest, illustrated by David Pacheco and Jesse Clay, Disney Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Contributor to periodicals.
Ryder's papers are housed in a permanent collection at the Cooperative Children's Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Joanne Ryder creates picture books for readers in the primary grades that are praised for combining poetry, fantasy, and science in a particularly original and appealing manner. A prolific, popular writer, she introduces young readers to the life cycles and habits of a variety of creatures, ranging from insects and birds to dinosaurs and whales, through the context of imaginary play. Ryder invites her audience to become the creatures that she profiles by identifying with her young male and female protagonists, who imagine what it would be like to be an animal, bird, or insect. In her works, she allows her readers, to whom she often refers in the second person, to transform themselves and to take on new points of view.
Ryder describes the sensory experiences of her subjects as well as their needs for food, self-preservation, hibernation, and—discreetly—sex. She presents this factual material in lyrical, descriptive language filled with images and sounds, adjectives, and alliteration; according to John R. Pancella of Appraisal, these words and phrases are "much more eloquent than those usually found in children's picture books." Through this process, Ryder challenges youngsters to see the world from an unusual perspective while heightening their awareness of, and appreciation for, the natural world. Many of Ryder's works of this type are included in the "Just for a Day" series published by William Morrow. Several of her books include author's notes that provide more detailed scientific information on their subjects.
Ryder has also created a series of quiet, impressionistic picture books that portray young children observing the wonders of nature; the "First Grade Is the Best!" fiction series featuring a cheerful group of children and their teacher, Miss Lee, that includes some subtle lessons on nature; two pourquoi tales with polar bears as their main characters; several "Golden Books" for preschoolers; a book about robots based around C-3PO from the film Star Wars; and picture-book adaptations of such classic stories as Bambi, Little Toot, and A Christmas Carol. Ryder has worked with such notable illustrators as John Schoenherr, Donald Carrick, Diane Stanley, Lynne Cherry, Don Bolognese, Any Schwartz, Betsy Lewin, Dennis Nolan, Michael Rothman, and Ashley Wolff, and her works are often noted for their union of text and illustration.
Thematically, Ryder celebrates her subjects, promoting respect for nature while representing the interconnectedness of humans and other living creatures. The author underscores her works with a message to preserve the Earth and its inhabitants. In addition, her works demonstrate that the love of nature can be passed from generation to generation. Ryder has been praised for writing informative and attractive books that prove children can be introduced to and inspired by science if it is presented in a distinctive, interesting, and compelling way. She is also acknowledged for the quality of her factual information as well as for the expressiveness and accessibility of her language. While receiving some criticism for anthropomorphicized animal characters, making some scientific omissions, including some overly abstract concepts, and for the pared-down quality of her adaptations, most observers praise Ryder for creating fascinating explorations of nature that stretch children's imaginations while providing them with solid information.
Several reviewers have also noted that Ryder's works are useful complements to science classes and are good for reading aloud and for stimulating children to do further research. Writing in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Christine Doyle Stott called Ryder "a leading writer of nature books for children," adding, "One of the remarkable things about all her work, and a reason for her consistent popularity, is her extraordinary use of language that is at once simple, poetic, and vividly descriptive." Stott concluded that Ryder's work "stands among the finest nature books of the last twenty years. The scientific accuracy of detail and the beauty of language for which her books are known ensures their welcome in the science and language arts sections as well as on the home bookshelf."
Born in Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey, Ryder was attracted to nature from an early age. Her birthplace was, as the author once described it in an interview with Something about the Author ( SATA ), "a small, rural town." For her parents, who were both born and bred in New York City, Lake Hiawatha was, according to Ryder, "'the country'—very different from the crowded city they knew. For me, it was a wonderful place to explore, full of treasures to discover. There were just a few houses on our street, but there were woods all around.… I loved living there and playing outdoors. There were always animals around to observe and encounter." Ryder wrote in Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, "When I visit schools, children often ask me why I like to write about animals. Perhaps it's because I was an only child, and when I was young in rural New Jersey, there weren't many other children living nearby. But there were animals everywhere.… So they became my first friends." She once recalled to SATA: "One of my earliest memories is trying to follow a butterfly darting across the road and being scolded by a neighbor for running into the street." Growing up, Ryder had an assortment of pets, including chickens, hamsters, ducks, rabbits, and fish.
Ryder's parents were also fascinated by nature and by living in the country—"probably," their daughter surmised, "because they had spent all their lives in the city." Her mother Dorothy taught Joanne "to watch sunsets and to take time to stop and enjoy special moments in nature." Dorothy Ryder once stopped her chores to sit for hours and observe a hundred tiny birds, migrating spring warblers that had stopped to rest in a nearby tree. "My mother loved nature's grand displays—sunsets, ocean walks, spring trees all in bloom," Ryder recalled.
In contrast to her mother, Ryder's father Raymond Ryder, a chemist, "liked to pick things up and examine them. He was the one who introduced me to nature up close and made the discoveries we shared very personal ones." Raymond Ryder also liked to tend his garden, and he would often call his daughter to come and see the interesting things in it. Ryder remembered that if her father "could catch it, he would cup the tiny creature in his hands and wait until I ran to him. Then he would open his fingers and show me whatever it was he had found—a beetle, a snail, a fuzzy caterpillar. Then gently he would let me hold it, and I could feel it move, wiggle, or crawl—even breathe—as I held it in my hand." She continued, "My father's excitement was easy to catch. As he pointed out amazing features of each animal, I could see that, even though it had a few more legs or less legs than I was used to; it was rather marvelous. So tiny, hidden animals became very much a part of my world, as real to me as the people I knew."
Ryder and her father sometimes went for walks in the woods or to a nearby waterfall. She wrote in the Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators: "We would always bring back armloads of treasures—rocks and leaves and, sometimes, even a wandering box turtle." Walking with her father, Ryder once recalled to SATA, it "felt natural for me to feel comfortable and part of the world around me." "My father helped me find the magic in the natural world and appreciate what it might be like to be another creature, someone wonderfully different," she commented on the HarperChildrens Web site. In my books, I try to share with my readers the experience of being 'shape changers.' We imagine together how it would feel to be someone new—a huge, furry polar bear running on an ice-covered sea, a lean lizard changing colors in the hot sun, … a jaguar prowling in a lush tropical rain forest, and a great white shark gliding towards its prey."
In 1991 Ryder published When the Woods Hum, a semi-autobiographical picture book about how a father introduces his daughter to the periodical cicadas, insects that appear once every seventeen years; at the end of the story, the protagonist, now a grown woman, introduces the cicadas to her son. In 1994 she produced My Father's Hands, a picture book based on her close relationship with her father and on how he opened the natural world to her.
When Ryder was almost five years old, the family moved to Brooklyn, New York, to the same apartment building where Ryder's mother had grown up. At first, it "was a bit of a shock for me to live where there were so many people all around. But the city seemed also to be a magical land, full of special places for me." Ryder enjoyed going to the park and to museums; in addition, the city provided lots of opportunities for her to use her imagination. She noted in SATA: "Every day on my way to school, I passed an old stone lion. I believed he could understand my thoughts, and I would tell him secrets. He was one of my first friends in the city. I also began to have lovely dreams at night in which I could fly over the tall trees outside my home." Ryder was later to use her childhood memories as the basis for her picture book Night Flight.
When she was almost seven, Ryder moved to the city of New Hyde Park on Long Island. At about that time, she learned to read, and began to enjoy books, "especially adventures about dogs and cats," as she noted on the HarperChildrens Web site. Soon she was writing her own animal stories and, when she was about eight, poetry. Ryder once told SATA, "Though I've always had trouble spelling words correctly, my parents and teachers encouraged me to keep on writing even when I made mistakes. I liked playing with words and making them up. I wrote about animals and everyday things—and also about imaginary people and creatures." Ryder became a voracious reader, borrowing multiple titles from her local library. "Reading so much," she noted, "made it easier for me to write. Since I enjoyed imagining other author's worlds, it seemed natural for me to create stories and worlds of my own."
By age ten, Ryder, who had first considered becoming a veterinarian, began to think seriously about being a writer. She started writing her first book, the fantasy "The Marvelous Adventures of Georgus Amaryllis the Third," when she was eleven. Although the manuscript was never finished, Ryder told SATA, "Maybe someday, I'll go back to it and see how it might end."
In high school, Ryder edited the school newspaper. After graduating, she enrolled at Marquette University in Wisconsin, where she studied journalism and edited the college literary magazine. She wrote on the Harper-Childrens Web site that, as a journalist, "I learned to do research and discover facts. Sometimes a book idea comes from an amazing animal fact I've found." At Marquette, Ryder met Laurence Yep, an aspiring author who has become a well-respected writer of books for children and young people; the couple were later married.
After receiving her bachelor's degree in journalism in 1968, Ryder studied library science at the University of Chicago for a year before moving to New York City to spend ten years working at Harper and Row as an editor of children's books. "During the day, I worked on other people's books," Ryder recalled. "Then at night, I worked on my own stories."
In 1976 she produced her first picture book. Simon Underground describes the activities of the mole Simon from fall to spring, taking young readers into Simon's subterranean world and describing his instincts and sensations. Writing in the St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Christine Doyle Stott stated that Simon Underground "exquisitely combines scientific accuracy with poetic expression. Young readers not only learn abstract facts about a mole, they are brought into such close contact with the details of its life that they must actively consider what it feels like, smells like, looks like, sounds like, to be a mole."
In 1985 Ryder produced her first book of verse, Inside Turtle's Shell, and Other Poems of the Field. She imagines a day in a field and pond from dawn to evening, and profiles the creatures that inhabit each place in short poems focusing on their essential qualities. The poems also form a picture of two turtles, one who has turned one hundred years old, and one who has recently been born, facts that the reader learns gradually. As the author once told SATA, "When I was six, I got a delightful birthday present, a big box turtle named Myrtle. She was my inspiration for the old turtle in Inside Turtle's Shell."
Writing in School Library Journal, Ruth M. McConnell noted, "With pithy delicacy touched with humor, the author of picture books and prize nature writing here distills her perceptions of nature into a series of free-verse vignettes with the punch of haiku." Noting the "quiet beauty" of the poems, Carolyn Phelan concluded in Booklist that Ryder "offers a collection of poetry concise, precise, and immediate." Zena Sutherland, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, added that Ryder's poems "have a quiet tenderness and empathy" before concluding that most of the poems "are brief, some almost as compressed as haiku; most have delicate imagery; all are evocative."
Ryder's autobiographical picture book Night Flight is based on a dream from the author's childhood. In the book Anna plays in the city park near her home during the day. She enjoys riding Alexander, the stone lion, and hopes that the skittish goldfish in the pond will take bread from her hand. At night, Anna dreams that she is flying over the rooftops to the park. She rides Alexander, now running free, and becomes friends with the goldfish and pigeons. Anna goes to the park the next day; this time, the goldfish eat from her hands as she calls them by name.
Writing in Booklist, Ilene Cooper stated that "Ryder's lyrical text, which paints its own word pictures, meets its match with [Amy] Schwartz's vibrant, brilliantly colored illustrations." Anne E. Mulherkar of School Library Journal noted, "Schwartz and Ryder, each gifted artists in their own right, stretch their capabilities and children's imaginations in Night Flight."
In 1995 Ryder produced a second volume of poetry, Without Words. With photographs by Barbara Sonneborn, the book illustrates the bonds humans share with animals. Author and photographer depict children and adults touching, holding, and playing with such animals as tigers, snakes, dolphins, chimpanzees, and elephants. A reviewer in the Horn Book Guide noted that "Ryder's lyrical poems convey the strength of the emotional bond between humans and beasts," while a critic in School Library Journal added that the author's "expressive poems are at the same time simple and thought-provoking."
Ryder's other fictional tales for children include Big Bear Ball, Come Along, Kitten, and Won't You Be My Kissaroo? Big Bear Ball, geared for pre-school and early elementary children, shows a forest full of bears throwing a wild party to celebrate the full moon. At first their loud antics annoy the other woodland creatures, who are trying to sleep, but eventually the neighboring creatures decide to get out of bed and join in the fun. "Ryder's light-footed rhymes set the celebratory pace," Ellen Mandel noted in Booklist, and the festive atmosphere is reflected in illustrator Steven Kellogg's brightly colored watercolors. "This team has outdone itself," Wanda Meyers-Hines declared in School Library Journal, dubbing Big Bear Ball "An absolute must for every library."
Come Along, Kitten is a quieter title, also written in simple rhymes designed for very young children. The book features a young, headstrong kitten who goes out to explore the world under the protection of a big, older dog. The kitten chases bumblebees and crickets and spies on mice, all with the encouragement of its canine guardian. "Preschoolers will identify with the curious kitten" and its need for both freedom and security, Lauren Peterson commented in Booklist, and Sandra Kitain similarly concluded in School Library Journal that Come Along, Kitten "will have broad appeal with the preschool set."
Won't You Be My Kissaroo? focuses on the loving care adults give to children. Like Come Along, Kitten, Won't You Be My Kissaroo? is written in Ryder's trademark "tender rhyming couplets," as a Publishers Weekly critic described them. In this title, a young lamb wakes up on its birthday to special birthday kisses and a question from its mother: "Won't you be my kissaroo?" As the day progresses, the lamb sees many other young animals, including a puppy and a bear cub, getting kisses from their own parents. Won't You Be My Kissaroo? is "a feel-good choice for sharing one-on-one or with a group," Kathy Krasniewicz commented in School Library Journal.
Many of Ryder's books are notable for teaching children about the natural world, particularly the many animals that inhabit it. In some of these books, including The Snail's Spell and The Chipmunk's Song, her child protagonists become small enough to accompany animals and observe their behavior first-hand. The first of her "Just for a Day" books, White Bear, Ice Bear, takes this concept a step further: in this and subsequent works in the series, the main characters actually become animals. Published in 1989, White Bear, Ice Bear features a boy who transforms into a polar bear in an Arctic landscape. The author defines the adaptive characteristics that allow the bear to survive in this beautiful but brutal environment: heavy fur, protective coloration, strong claws, padded soles, and an advanced sense of smell. The bear also tracks a seal for food, but it gets away before the kill. At the end of the book, the boy returns to his normal state after he smells his supper.
Writing in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan commented that in White Bear, Ice Bear "Ryder shifts points of view so smoothly that the boy's transformations seem quite natural.… Through imaginative writing and artwork [by Michael Rothman], the book … leads readers into deeper sympathy for their fellow creatures." Calling the book "the first of a projected series that one hopes will live up to the standards set here," Patricia Manning of School Library Journal noted that the book "is rich, empathic, and eye-pleasing," while Anne Rose of Appraisal concluded that White Bear, Ice Bear is "challenging while remaining inviting for younger readers."
In subsequent volumes of the "Just for a Day" series, Ryder continues the formula of having her young boy and girl characters shape-shift into various species of creatures; the author outlines the habits of such animals as a goose, a lizard, a whale, and a jaguar. With the publication of A Shark in the Sea in 1997, Ryder brought a new dimension to her series: whereas before she had only hinted at the predatory habits of her animal subjects, here she described them clearly. In this work, in which a boy dives into the ocean off the California coast and imagines himself to be a great white shark, the author includes an episode where the shark hunts and kills a young seal; it also fights off a competitor shark that tries to steal its prey.
Writing in School Library Journal, Helen Rosenberg stated, "The part where the great white kills a young seal is rather bloody.… But is at the same time realistic." Elizabeth Bush commented in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "the particulars of the hunt … should sate most shark lovers' bloodlust. A good deal of information about shark physiology and hunting method is conveyed in the intense, pulsing free verse." Writing in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan concluded, "Ryder captures the feeling of 'otherness,' a different environment, a different kind of body for a different way of moving, and a different way of survival. Although the story may sound slightly sensational, the treatment remains matter-of-fact."
In Tyrannosaurus Time two children uncover a fossil and, suddenly find themselves looking at a prehistoric world through the eyes of a T-Rex. Set in a landscape that will become the western United States, the story builds in drama as the dinosaur searches for food and kills a triceratops; in the process, readers learn about the habitat of the beast and are presented with scientific information on theories about why dinosaurs became extinct. Ellen Mandel, writing in Booklist, praised Ryder's "lyrical, even mystical prose.… Melding poetic intensity with gripping visualization of the action, the book offers a memorable depiction of prehistoric life." Although a Kirkus Reviews critic warned that "not all children will be ready for the gory conclusion," the writer concluded, "For readers already familiar with such realistic aspects of the dinosaurs' lives, this volume is a must-have." Reviewers have generally commended Ryder's approach in the "Just for a Day" series; for example, Carolyn Phelan, reviewing Lizard in the Sun for Booklist, called the series "consciousness-expanding."
As well as being respected as a writer, Ryder is acknowledged as a conservationist. Two of her works, Earthdance and Each Living Thing, stand as significant examples of why she has achieved this reputation. Earthdance is a poem that asks young readers to imagine that they are the Earth, which is personified through strong physical imagery. Ryder asks her audience to see themselves turning in space, feeling things growing and oceans shifting, and she suggests that, when taken together, the people, animals, seas, rivers, mountains, and forests of the Earth form a brightly colored quilt.
A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that in Earthdance Ryder beckons readers "to join in a cosmic appreciation of the earth and all it holds" by combining "powerful, pulsing graphics [by Norman Gorbaty] and a valuable, almost incantatory, message." A reviewer in the Horn Book Guide noted that Ryder's "ecological message is clear but not heavy-handed," while Lisa Mahoney wrote in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that the author's "strong verbs, internal rhyme, and alliteration add force and music to her poetry."
Each Living Thing depicts a group of multicultural children who observe life in seven different habitats, including a park and the seashore, over the course of a day. In this work, which has as its theme the importance of respecting nature, Ryder asks children to be aware of animals and their needs and to take care of them—or to just let them be. She shows how animals fit into our surroundings while discouraging the notion that some animals (alligators, bats, bees, bears, snakes, and spiders, among others) are our enemies. Writing in School Library Journal, Susan Marie Pitard called Each Living Thing a "remarkable marriage of spare, poetic text and luminous, detailed paintings" by Ashley Wolff. Raising concerns about the environment in an engaging manner, Pitard deemed the book a "wonderful choice for sharing … [and] for learning to honor each living thing."
Ryder again encouraged her audience to explore their natural surroundings with 2000's A Fawn in the Grass. Her text, which consists of an extended poem, focuses on a young child's solitary walk through a meadow and recounts the animals he encounters along his way. While the little boy passes through this natural environment, he leaves its inhabitants undisturbed during his travels—thus the fawn of the title is there when he enters the meadow and, due to his respect for the surroundings, the fawn is there when the child come back. "Though never stated explicitly," a Publishers Weekly reviewer summarized, "[Ryder's] book underscores the message that nature is full of beauty, grace, and unexpected pleasures." Similarly, Booklist critic Hazel Rochman felt that Ryder successfully presents a "child's-eye view of the amazing natural world, the things you can see when you are quiet, still, alone, and very close."
Mouse Tail Moon and Wild Birds teach children about specific animals that they are likely to encounter—field mice in the former title and common North American birds, including geese, robins, finches, blue jays, sparrows, and starlings, in the latter. Mouse Tail Moon contains eighteen brief poems written from the perspective of a white tail mouse as it goes about a typical night of searching for food and avoiding foxes, cats, and other predators. "Teachers in the early elementary grades will find this book useful both as poetry and as literature that effectively integrates interesting factual information," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan also praised the book as poetry, noting its "natural rhythms and unforced rhymes."
Little Panda: The World Welcomes Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo focuses on a specific animal, a panda cub who was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1999. This tiny cub, named Hua Mei, was the first panda to be born in captivity and survive for more than a few days. Ryder combines photographs taken by the zoo with a "brief, almost haiku-like text," as Ilene Cooper described it in Booklist. In addition to this simple text, suitable for younger readers, Ryder also provides more detailed, scientific explanations of the panda's early life in smaller type. The resulting text is "first-rate," Lolly Robinson commented in Horn Book, but never the less "is upstaged by photographs showing the endearing baby" in action. Little Panda "is an engaging book [that] will complement any curriculum about animal extinction and environmental responsibility," Tina Hudak concluded in School Library Journal.
Ryder, who now lives in Pacific Grove, California, enjoys visiting schools and sharing her experiences as a writer. For preschoolers and first graders, she uses animal puppets to help illustrate her concepts of changing shape. For older students, she utilizes a personal slide show about her life as an author. She has also written and talked about her career. "My language is poetic, full of images, sounds, and sensations to help readers slip into a new skin, a new shape," she added, concluding: "My father helped me discover the wonders hidden all around me, and in my books I try to share my own discoveries with children." In SATA, Ryder also once commented that, "For a person who enjoys thinking in images and writing poems, writing picture books is a good life and a joyful way to make a living."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 37, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, edited by Sally Holmes Holtze, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1989.
Appraisal, summer, 1990, John R. Pancella, review of Where Butterflies Grow, p. 48; autumn, 1989, Anne Rose, review of White Bear, Ice Bear, p. 57.
Booklist, April 15, 1985, Carolyn Phelan, review of Inside Turtle's Shell, p. 1200; November 1, 1985, Ilene Cooper, review of Night Flight, pp. 413-414; March 15, 1989, Carolyn Phelan, review of White Bear, Ice Bear, p. 1304; March 1, 1990, Carolyn Phelan, review of Lizard in the Sun, p. 1348; March 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Shark in the Sea, p. 1173; September 1, 1999, Ellen Mandel, review of Tyrannosaurus Time, p. 142; April 15, 2000, p. 1553; May 1, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Rainbow Wings, p. 1679; March 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of A Fawn in the Grass, p. 1288; April 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Little Panda: The World Welcomes Hua Mei at the San Diego Zoo, p. 1562; May 1, 2002, Ellen Mandel, review of Big Bear Tall, p. 1536; January 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mouse Tail Moon, p. 900; September 1, 2003, Lauren Peterson, review of Come Along, Kitten, p. 130; June 1, 2004, Lauren Peterson, review of Won't You Be My Kissaroo?, p. 1748.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1985, Zena Sutherland, review of Inside Turtle's Shell, p. 194; July, 1996, Lisa Mahoney, review of Earthdance, p. 385; April, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of Shark in the Sea, p. 295.
Childhood Education, spring, 2002, review of Little Panda, p. 172.
Horn Book, May, 2001, Lolly Robinson, review of Little Panda, p. 351.
Horn Book Guide, fall, 1995, review of Without Words, p. 379; fall, 1996, review of Earthdance, p. 368.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1996, review of Earthdance, p. 536; July 1, 1999, review of Tyrannosaurus Time, p. 1058; October 1, 2002, review of Mouse Tail Moon, p. 1479; February 1, 2003, review of Wild Birds, p. 238.
Publishers Weekly, March 27, 2000, p. 79; March 19, 2001, reviews of A Fawn in the Grass, p. 98 and The San Diego Panda, p. 102; April 29, 2002, review of Big Bear Ball, p. 68; December 16, 2002, review of Wild Birds, p. 65; July 7, 2003, review of Come Along, Kitten, p. 70; May 17, 2004, review of Won't You Be My Kissaroo?, p. 49.
School Library Journal, April, 1985, Ruth M. McConnell, review of Inside Turtle's Shell, p. 82; November, 1985, Anne E. Mulherkar, review of Night Flight, p. 77; April, 1989, Patricia Manning, review of White Bear, Ice Bear, p. 90; June, 1995, review of Without Words, p. 104; April, 1997, Helen Rosenberg, review of Shark in the Sea, p. 116; September, 1999, p. 203; April, 2000, Susan Marie Pitard, review of Each Living Thing, p. 113; May, 2000, Joy Fleischhacker, review of Rainbow Wings, p. 153; May, 2001, Ellen A. Greever, review of A Fawn in the Grass, p. 134; July, 2001, Tina Hudak, review of Little Panda, p. 98; August, 2001, Holly T. Sneeringer, review of The Waterfall's Gift, p. 160; June, 2002, Wanda Meyers-Hines, review of Big Bear Ball, p. 110; February, 2003, Dona Ratterree, review of Mouse Tail Moon, p. 137; March, 2003, Susan Scheps, review of Wild Birds, p. 206; July, 2003, Sandra Kitain, review of Come Along, Kitten, p. 105; June, 2004, Kathy Krasniewicz, review of Won't You Be My Kissaroo?, p. 119.
Sierra, May, 2001, review of The Waterfall's Gift, p. 83.
Balkin Buddies Web site, http://www.balkinbuddies.com/ (July 6, 2005), "Joanne Ryder."
HarperChildrens Web site, http://www.harperchildren's.com (November 28, 2000), (July 6, 2005), "Joanne Ryder."
Penguin/Putnam Web site, http://www.penguin/putnam.com/ (November 27, 2000), "Joanne Ryder."*
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