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Raymond Bial (1948–) Biography

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

Born 1948, in Danville, IL; Education: University of Illinois, B.S. (with honors), 1970, M.S., 1979. Politics: "Independent." Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, fishing, hiking, travel.


Home and office—First Light Photography, P.O. Box 593, Urbana, IL 61801.


Photographer, librarian, and writer. Parkland College Library, Champaign, IL, librarian, 1980–c. 2004.


Children's Reading Roundtable, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Honors Awards

Best Publicity commendation, Library Public Relations Council, 1984, 1986; Historian of the Year, Champaign County, IL, 1984; Award of Superior Achievement, Illinois State Historical Society, 1985; staff development award, Parkland College, 1985, 1990; Certificate of Commendation, American Association for State and Local History, 1986; Writer's Choice selection, National Endowment for the Arts/Pushcart Foundation, 1986, for First Frost; Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children designation, 1991, for Corn Belt Harvest; Parents' Choice Foundation Choice designation, and American Library Association Notable Children's Book designation, both 1994, both for Amish Home; Ohio Farm Burea Children's Literature Award, 1995, for Portrait of a Family Farm; Black History Month 25 Top Picks includee, 1996, for The Underground Railroad; Spur Award selections for Best Children's Books about the American West, for Ghost Towns of the American West and The Pueblo; John Burroughs Award for best environmental books for children, for A Handful of Dirt; Orbis Pictus honor books for nonfiction, for With Needle and Thread and Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side; numerous selections as Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, Children's Book Council.



The Fresh Grave and Other Ghostly Stories, illustrated by daughter, Anna Bial, Face to Face Books, 1997.

Raymond Bial

The Ghost of Honeymoon Creek, illustrated by Anna Bial, Face to Face Books, 1999.

Shadow Island (novel), Face to Face Books, 2000.


Corn Belt Harvest, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1991.

County Fair, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.

Amish Home, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1993.

Frontier Home, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1993.

Shaker Home, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.

Portrait of a Farm Family, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.

The Underground Railroad, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.

With Needle and Thread: A Book about Quilts, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1996.

Mist over the Mountains: Appalachia and Its People, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1997.

The Strength of These Arms: Life in the Slave Quarters, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1997.

Where Lincoln Walked, Walker, 1997.

Cajun Home, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1998.

One-Room School, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1999.

A Handful of Dirt, Walker (New York, NY), 2000.

Ghost Towns of the American West, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2001.

(And photographer) A Book Comes Together: From Idea to Library, Bound to Stay Bound Books (Jacksonville, IL), 2002.

Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2002.

The Long Walk: The Story of Navajo Captivity, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Where Washington Walked, Walker (New York, NY), 2004.

Nauvoo: Mormon City on the Mississippi River, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.


The Navajo, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Cherokee, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Iroquois, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Sioux, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 1999.

The Ojibwe, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Pueblo, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Seminole, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Comanche, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Apache, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Huron, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Haida, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Cheyenne, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Inuit, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Shoshone, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Powhatan, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Nez Perce, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Blackfeet, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Tlingit, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Mandan, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Choctaw, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Delaware, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Chumash, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Arapaho, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Wampanoag, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Shawnee, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2004.

The Menominee, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Crow, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Cree, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2005.


The Mills, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Houses, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Forts, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Farms, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Canals, Benchmark Books (New York, NY), 2002.


Missions and Presidios, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Longhouses, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Frontier Settlements, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Early American Villages, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Cow Towns, Children's Press (New York, NY), 2004.


Ivesdale: A Photographic Essay, Champaign County Historical Archives, 1982.

(Photographer and calligrapher) Upon a Quiet Landscape: The Photographs of Frank Sadorus, Champaign County Historical Museum, 1983.

(Editor) In All My Years: Portraits of Older Blacks in Champaign-Urbana, Champaign County Historical Museum, 1983, revised edition, 1985.

There Is a Season, Champaign County Nursing Home, 1984.

(With Kathryn Kerr) First Frost, Stormline Press, 1985.

Common Ground: Photographs of Rural and Small Town Life, Stormline Press, 1986.

Stopping By: Portraits from Small Towns, University of Illinois Press, 1988.

(With wife, Linda LaPuma Bial) The Carnegie Library in Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1988.

(Author of introduction) Gary Irving, photographer, Beneath an Open Sky, University of Illinois Press (Champaign, IL), 1990.

From the Heart of the Country: Photographs of the Midwestern Sky, Sagamore Publishing, 1991.

Looking Good: A Guide to Photographing Your Library, American Library Association, 1991.

Champaign: A Pictorial History, Bradley Publishing, 1993.

(Photographer) Marcia Adams Heirloom Recipes, Clarkson Potter (New York, NY, 1994.

Visit to Amish Country, Phoenix Publishing, 1995.

Zoom Lens Photography, Amherst Media, 1996.

Contributor of photo-essay to Townships, University of Iowa Press, 1992. Contributor of photographers to periodicals.


Raymond Bial has blended a love of photography and writing with a special feeling for rural and small-town America to create numerous illustrated books looking at subjects from harvesting corn to rural architecture to one-room schools. His books on the many cultures of America—from Cajun to Native American to Appalachian—also introduce young readers to a type of living history that makes dry facts come alive. Other texts by Bial present historical topics, such as slavery, tenement life, the growth of the Shaker community, the treatment of Native Americans, and the life of U.S. presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His contributions to the "Building America" series, which include such titles as The Canals, The Mills, and The Forts, were cited by Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke for their "strong research, clear writing, good organization," and Bial's "handsome color photographs." In addition, Bial has produced several works of juvenile fiction, among them The Fresh Grave and Other Ghostly Stories and the novel Shadow Island.

Born in Illinois, Bial grew up in the same rural, small-town community he portrays in books such as Corn Belt Harvest, Cow Towns, and Early American Villages.

As the author/photographer once told SATA: "When I was growing up in the 1950s I spent several of the most joyous years of my young life in a small town in Indiana. With my friends, I bicycled around the neighborhood, went swimming at the municipal pool, stopped for ice cream at the local hotspot, and frequently visited our Carnegie public library. Some people might think that such memories are simply nostalgic, but I know that our little town was pleasant, comfortable, and safe—and I will always cherish those years.

"Later, our family moved to a farm in southern Michigan. Although I missed my old friends, as well as the charming atmosphere of my old 'hometown,' I enjoyed taking care of our livestock and running free through the woods, marsh, and fields around our new home. The moment I walked out of the house, I was truly outside. The marsh, in particular, was bursting forth with wildlife—turtles, frogs, muskrats, ducks—and I delighted in my explorations and discoveries." While his family had the usual ups and downs, as Bial recalled, "I was simply thrilled to be alive, directly experiencing the world around me, especially when I could be out of doors in the light and weather."

During childhood, Bial was also interested in social and cultural history, and he continued this interest in college. After training as a librarian, he worked in that field for over three decades; his wife, Linda, is a professor of library science, and the couple has produced several volumes of local history. Although Bial knew as a child that he wanted to become an author, during his twenties he discovered photography. "I never consciously decided to become a photographer," he once explained; "I simply loved the experience of making photographs. I've never received any formal training or education in the art form. Rather, I have relied upon my own instincts in making photographs which matter to me personally." While developing his skills in 35mm and large-format photography, in 1991 Bial fulfilled his childhood dream, combining his talents in writing and photography in his first book for children, Corn Belt Harvest.

Blending photographs and a straightforward, sometimes lyrical, text, Corn Belt Harvest describes the planting, harvesting, storage, and marketing methods of Midwest corn growers. Well received by critics, the book also received an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children citation. Reviewing the title in Booklist, Hazel Rochman called Corn Belt Harvest an "informative photo-essay" that features "clear color photographs" depicting the corn-growing and-harvesting process. The author/photographer "communicates a sense of process and connection in machines and nature," concluded Rochman, while a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that both text and photos are "commendably clear and informative." Writing in School Library Journal, Joyce Adams Burner noted the book's "big, beautiful color photographs," and further remarked that "Bial writes in a smooth, precise manner, yet conveys his love for the region." Burner concluded: "Overall, this is a jewel of a book, well suited for reports."

Other photo essays by Bial include County Fair, Portrait of a Farm Family, and A Handful of Dirt. County Fair traces a fair from set-up through opening day to the break-down of the tents. "Bial captures the sense of anticipation that swirls around a fair, as well as offering an insightful look at what goes on behind the scenes," noted Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper. Focusing on everything from livestock barns to homemade pies to and rides and other amusements, the book features "Attractive color photos [that] … stand out on the pages," according to Cooper.

Dairy farming is the subject of 1995's Portrait of a Farm Family. Mary Harris Veeder, writing in Booklist, noted that the author's profile of the "everyday world" of the Steidinger family "fits its subject neatly into an excellent discussion of family-farm based agriculture in the U.S. economy." Horn Book contributor Elizabeth S. Watson praised the work, noting that Bial's "fine photoessay radiates the warmth of a close ten-member family engaged in hard work toward a common goal—the survival of the family farm." Moving from the farm directly down to the land itself, A Handful of Dirt introduces readers to the many creatures—from bacteria to bugs and worms to shakes and gophers—that live on and in the soil. Noting the inclusion of photographs taken with an electron microscope, Book contributor Kathleen Odean predicted that Bial's "fine photo-essay will change how children view everyday dirt."

With Amish Home Bial struck on a winning formula: introducing America's diverse culture through domestic artifacts. His focus on things rather than people was a necessity in his first book of this type; the Amish people do not wish to be photographed. In more recent volumes, however, such as Frontier Home, Cajun Home, artifacts take on almost totemic values, introducing readers to the language, culture, food, and even history of the groups described. Frontier Home conjures up a bygone life through photos taken at pioneer villages and sites, pairing them with the letters of actual pioneers, while in Cajun Home, Bial profiles the ethnic group which originally came from France, settled in Canada, and later moved on to Louisiana.

Reviewing Amish Home for Booklist, Kay Weisman praised the work as "haunting" and noted that Bial's work "will be welcomed by libraries everywhere." Alexandra Marris, reviewing Amish Home for School Library Journal, called the work "attractive and compelling," adding that "Bial clearly demonstrates his deep respect for these people and their complex system of values." Booklist critic Carolyn Phelan commented of Frontier Homes that "Bial's photography gives the book a look of integrity as well as a window into the lives of the pioneers," while Judith Constantinides, reviewing Cajun Home in School Library Journal, remarked on Bial's "stunning full-color pictures of little things" by means of which he "meticulously builds a portrait of a fascinating people."

Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side stands in contrast to much of Bial's works because, while it presents a look backward to a historic time and place, it takes readers far from its author's rural roots. Inspired by the author's visit to New York City's Lower East Side Tenement Museum and the writings and photographs of turn-of-the-twentieth-century social reformer Jacob Riis, Tenement weaves together many threads, including what School Library Journal reviewer Diane S. Marton praised as a "finely written, spare text" and the author's "beautifully composed, stunning" photographs, to depict a harsh life of cramped, unsanitary living conditions, brutal poverty, and debilitating work. Praising the book as a "substantial historic overview," a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that Bial's "out-of-towner" status aided in his work: "his picture is a clearer one, especially for non-New Yorkers," than other books on the subject, the critic explained. With an eye toward the book's audience, Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper wrote that Tenement "will certainly be an eye-opener to many young people who are used to their own space."

The people of Appalachia received the Bial treatment in Mist over the Mountains: Appalachia and Its People. As much a culture as a place, this region of small farms and folk arts is rich in culture and history, both of which Bial illuminates in text and photos. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Bial's book a "superb photo-essay," while Booklist writer Phelan concluded that "this hand-some book casts its beam of light with care and respect." A popular American handicraft forms the focus of With Needle and Thread: A Book about Quilts, a survey of patch-fabric stitchery from pioneer days through the era of the AIDS quilt. "With quiet prose and clear, lovely full-color photographs, Bial has stitched together a 'sampler' about people and the quilts they sew," commented Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman in her review of this title.

The lives of American presidents have also come into clearer focus through Bial's work. Where Lincoln Walked traces the career of the man who guided the nation through a civil war from his humble log-cabin beginnings to his years in Washington, D.C. Interspersed with the text are photos of places associated with Abraham Lincoln, including his homes and offices, as well as contemporary mid-nineteenth-century images, such as paintings and engravings. Eunice Weech, writing in School Library Journal, called this book "another of Bial's beautifully executed photo-essays," while a Kirkus Reviews writer dubbed it an "extraordinarily honest, if brief, pictorial portrayal."

Where Washington Walked is a similar work that follows the revolutionary general and first president on his path through the country's early history, pairing what School Library Journal contributor Elaine Fort Weischedel dubbed an "interesting" text with prints, paintings, and Bial's photographs of historic landmarks in Washington's life. From the first president's boyhood home of Ferry Farm to Mount Vernon and the sites now contained in Colonial Williamsburg, Bial's "sharply focused, well-composed" color photographs were cited by Booklist contributor Phelan, along with the book's "clearly written biographical account." Where Washington Walked comprises a "unusually vivid photographic record" of its subject's life and accomplishments, concluded Phelan.

Beginning the "Lifeways" series in 1999, Bial has completed fact-based histories of over two dozen Native American tribes, profiling "the history, culture, and social traditions" of each people "in clear, respectful language," according to Linda Greengrass in her School Library Journal review of The Inuit. Each volume contains an example of tribal folklore as well as a discussion of the ceremonies, geography, language, history, way of life, crafts, and community organization that make each group unique. Not surprisingly, these histories also have a special feature: what School Library Journal reviewer Sue Morgan characterized as "elegant full-color photography" of both tribal landmarks and existing artifacts. Also containing the author's photographs, a related volume, The Long Walk: The Story of Navajo Captivity focuses on the 300-mile march endured by the Navajo to a U.S. government reservation Using original art as well as contemporary photographs, Bial traces the path of America's first president in Where Washington Walked, which follows George Washington from his parents' farm through battlefields and political office to his final years at Mount Vernon. (Painting by Emanuel Leutz.)in southeastern New Mexico during the late 1800s, an imprisonment policy that was later overturned. Bial also includes an overview of Navajo history in this well-illustrated work.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Book, March, 2001, Kathleen Odean, review of A Handful of Dirt, p. 86.

Booklist, December 15, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of Corn Belt Harvest, p. 761; February 1, 1992, Ilene Cooper, review of County Fair, p. 1023; February 15, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of Amish Home, p. 1055; November 1, 1993, Carolyn Phelan, review of Frontier Home, p. 516; April 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Underground Railroad, p. 1390; September 1, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Portrait of a Farm Family, p. 73; March 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of With Needle and Thread, p. 1175; March 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mist over the Mountains, p. 1156; September 15, 1997, p. 224; March 1, 1998, p. 1125; March 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Cajun Home, p. 1236; March 1, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Canals and The Houses, p. 1132; October 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side, p. 406; December 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Where Washington Walked, p. 739.

Horn Book, May-June, 1994, Ellen Fader, review of Shaker Home, p. 332; July-August, 1995, p. 474; November-December, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Portrait of a Farm Family, pp. 759-760; May-June, 1998, p. 355; November-December, 2002, Susan P. Bloom, review of Tenement, p. 773.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1991, review of Corn Belt Harvest, p. 1529; February 1, 1993, review of Amish Home, p. 142; July 15, 1993, p. 930; July 15, 1995, p. 1021; January 1, 1996, p. 64; February 15, 1997, review of Mist over the Mountains, p. 297; November 15, 1997, review of Where Lincoln Walked, p. 1704; February 15, 1998, p. 264; July 1, 2002, review of Tenement, p. 949; December 15, 2004, review of Where Washington Walked, p. 1198.

Publishers Weekly, March 22, 1993, p. 80; January 16, 1995, review of The Underground Railroad, p. 455; December 15, 1997, p. 59; July 20, 2002, review of Tenement, p. 73.

School Library Journal, February, 1992, Joyce Adams Burner, review of Corn Belt Harvest, p. 92; May, 1993, Alexandra Marris, review of Amish Home, p. 112; March, 1994, pp. 225-226; April, 1995, p. 140; December, 1995, p. 112; June, 1996, p. 134; May, 1997, p. 142; November, 1997, p. 125; December, 1997, p. 120; February, 1998, Eunice Weech, review of Where Lincoln Walked, p. 94; May, 1998, Judith Constantinides, review of Cajun Home, p. 150; February, 1999, p. 39; February, 2002, Marlene Gawron, review of The Canals, p. 140; April, 2002, Linda Greengrass, review of The Inuit, p. 163; September, 2002, Diane S. Marton, review of Tenement, p. 240; March, 2003, Ginny Gustin, review of The Long Walk, p. 246; June, 2003, S. K. Joiner, review of The Mandan, p. 155; May, 2004, Sue Morgan, review of The Chumash and The Wampanoag, p. 162; January, 2005, Joyce Adams Burner, review of Cow Towns, p. 107; February, 2005, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of Where Washington Walked, p. 114.


Raymond Bial Home Page, http://www.raybial.com (October 20, 2005).

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