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Harvey Stevenson Biography (1960-)


Artist and writer Harvey Stevenson has spent most of his career bringing the words of others to life in a variety of children's books. He has illustrated picture books by many authors, including Dorothy Carter and Cynthia Rylant. Many reviewers have noted that his work seems to be infused with a special light and have written of his rich hues and golden tones. Stevenson maintains his own special style while tailoring his illustrations to the particular settings and themes of each story. Martha Topol, in a School Library Journal review of Dorothy Carter's Wilhe'mina Miles: After the Stork Night, found that his rich artwork depicted "a bayou environment full of lush vegetation in shimmering sunlight or moonlit blues," while in Sam the Zamboni Man, on which Stevenson collaborated with his father James Stevenson, Harvey Stevenson fashioned "bustling, brightly hued scenes of a fan-filled stadium," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. According to Be Astengo, writing for School Library Journal, Stevenson's "lively illustrations are the most engaging feature" of April Pulley Sayre's Shadows, and Sheilah Kosco, also in School Library Journal, found that Stevenson's "illustrations coordinate perfectly with the tale" of Cynthia Rylant's The Ticky-Tacky Doll.

The first book that Stevenson both wrote and illustrated was 1994's Grandpa's House. This book tells the story of a young boy who, along with his parents, visits his grandfather and takes part in various activities such as canoeing, going out to breakfast, and playing at the beach. In a review for School Library Journal, Cynthia K. Richey praised Stevenson's "exuberant, full-color illustrations" and the way they illuminate the special relationship and affection between the boy and his grandfather.

In Big, Scary Wolf, Stevenson tackled the subject of children's nighttime fears. Rose is afraid that there is a wolf hiding in her room until her father points out to her that a wolf would probably be happier outside with his friends than inside the house, where he would have to endure such activities as brushing his teeth, washing his hair, and wearing pajamas. A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews felt that with all the books available in the night fear genre, "it's hard to make the case for this one." Other critics were more positive, though, and praised Stevenson's humor and his mood-evoking illustrations. Kay Weisman, writing in Booklist, called Big, Scary Wolf "a reassuring response to nighttime trauma" that "will be a welcomed addition to bedtimes everywhere." Through Stevenson's playful illustrations of a wolf submitting to domestication, a Publishers Weekly critic thought Big, Scary Wolf would "sooth[e] the fears of children tormented by active nocturnal imaginations."

Stevenson turned to patriotic and historical themes in 2003's Looking at Liberty. With both his paintings and his words, Stevenson created a lush tribute to the Statue of Liberty. The narrative is addressed to a child looking at the statue and explains its creation and history. Praising the work's illustrations, a critic for Kirkus Reviews nonetheless felt that the text contained "little objective substance" and "inevitably succumb[ed] to sentiment," making the book "just another piece of propaganda." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly was more positive, though, and commended the "evocatively lit paintings" that contributed to "an affectionate and graceful portrait of Lady Liberty." Predicting that children would be particularly interested in the images of the Statue as she was being built, Booklist critic Ilene Cooper thought that the author/illustrator employed "affecting free verse and bold artwork to show children how an idea became a three-dimensional symbol of hope."

"As a child, if it's a drawing or something beautiful that you've made with your hands that makes your parents 'ooo and aaah,' I guess it's not hard to head in that direction," Stevenson once told SATA. "I believe I've always wanted to be an artist or an illustrator. Both my parents drew and were sensitive to beauty, so I think I learned to LOOK a lot.

"I guess as children we must have had a lot of access to books and art materials, and I must have drawn a lot. I remember that I liked to copy majestic-looking eagles and birds out of a big book we had. My father played a game with us in which he'd draw us whatever we wanted to color. But he'd draw our pictures in a curious, disconnected sort of way so that we'd have to wait until the end of the drawing to discover exactly what it was. He said that he could see clearly in his mind what he needed to draw, and that then he only needed to copy it onto paper. I thought that was really exciting. And today that's what I do.

"I think I was able to start illustrating children's books for several reasons. My father is a prolific author/illustrator of kid's books and with him working mostly at home, I guess I always understood the possibility of creating something concrete from an idea. He was also pretty funny, and laughs seemed—and still do—to count a lot.

"Twelve years in advertising were frustrating enough to convince me to trust my own instincts and to want to do my own work. That business also allowed me to work with many professionals in all areas of commercial art and to look at a lot of portfolios.

"Finally, children. Having children, as hair-raising as that can be, gives inspiration and sort of made me understand that they are truly what matter most."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 1, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of Big, Scary Wolf, p. 136; October 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Looking at Liberty, p. 320.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1997, review of Big, Scary Wolf, p. 958; May 15, 2003, review of Looking at Liberty, p. 757.

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1997, review of Big, Scary Wolf, p. 75; December 15, 1997, review of Sam the Zamboni Man, p. 58; May 26, 2003, review of Looking at Liberty, p. 68; September 22, 2003, review of Coal Country Christmas, p. 71.

School Library Journal, June, 1994, Cynthia K. Richey, review of Grandpa's House, p. 113; June, 1999, Martha Topol, review of Wilhe'mina Miles: After the Stork Night, p. 92; June, 2002, Be Astengo, review of Shadows, p. 110; November, 2002, Sheilah Kosco, review of The Ticky-Tacky Doll, p. 134.*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyHarvey Stevenson (1960-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights