Rachel ?)– Isadora (1953() Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1953 in New York, NY; Education: Attended American School of Ballet.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, William Morrow and Co., 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
Dancer with Boston Ballet Company, Boston, MA; freelance author and illustrator of children's books.
Children's Book of the Year awards, Child Study Association, 1976, for Max, 1985, for I Hear and I See, and 1986, for Flossie and the Fox and Cutlass in the Snow; Children's Choice award, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council (CBC), 1976, Children's Book Showcase award, CBC, 1977, American Library Association (ALA) notable book citation, and Reading Rainbow selection, all for Max; ALA notable book citation, 1979, for Seeing Is Believing; Boston Globe/Horn Book honor book for illustration citation, 1979, Best Book for Spring designation, School Library Journal, 1979, and Caldecott Honor Book award, ALA, 1980, all for Ben's Trumpet; A Little Interlude included in American Institute of Graphic Arts Book Show, 1981; Best Book award, School Library Journal, and ALA notable book citation, both 1982, both for The White Stallion; Children's Book award, New York Public Library, 1983, for City Seen from A to Z; Outstanding Science Trade Book citation, National Science Teachers Association/CBC, 1985, for I Touch; Horn Book honor list citation, 1987, for Flossie and the Fox; ALA notable book, 1991, for At the Crossroads.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Max, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1976.
The Potters' Kitchen, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1977.
Willaby, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1977.
(With Robert Maiorano) Backstage, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.
Ben's Trumpet, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1979.
My Ballet Class, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.
No, Agatha!, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1980.
Jesse and Abe, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1981.
(Reteller) The Nutcracker, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1981.
City Seen from A to Z, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1983.
Opening Night, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1984.
I Hear, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.
I See, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.
I Touch, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1985.
The Pirates of Bedford Street, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1988.
(Adaptor) The Princess and the Frog (based on The Frog King and Iron Heinrich by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1989.
(Adaptor) Swan Lake: A Ballet Story (based on the ballet Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky), Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
Friends, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.
Babies, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1990.
At the Crossroads, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1991.
Over the Green Hills, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1992.
Lili at Ballet, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1993.
(Adaptor) Firebird (based on the ballet by Stravinsky), Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
My Ballet Diary, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
Lili on Stage, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.
(Adaptor) The Steadfast Tin Soldier (based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen), Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
(Adaptor) The Little Match Girl (based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen), Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
Lili Backstage, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
Young Mozart, Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.
(Adaptor) The Little Mermaid (based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen), Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
Isadora Dances, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 1998.
A South African Night, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Caribbean Dreams, Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
Listen to the City, Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
ABC Pop!, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 1999.
Sophie Skates, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
123 Pop!, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.
Nick Plays Baseball, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2001.
Bring on That Beat, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Peekaboo Morning, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 2002.
Mr. Moon, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.
On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2003.
Not Just Tutus, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
In the Beginning, Putnam (New York, NY), 2003.
What a Family, Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.
Luke Goes to Bat, Putnam (New York, NY), 2005.
Yo, Jo!, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.
Also author of Fulton Fish Market, Putnam (New York, NY).
Robert Maiorano, Francisco, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1978.
Elizabeth Shub, Seeing Is Believing, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1979.
Robert Maiorano, A Little Interlude, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan (New York, NY), 1980.
Elizabeth Shub, The White Stallion, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1982.
Elizabeth Shub, Cutlass in the Snow, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1986.
Patricia C. McKissack, Flossie and the Fox, Dial (New York, NY), 1986.
Ruth Young, Golden Bear, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
Sandol Stoddard, editor, Prayers, Praises, and Thanksgivings, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
Reeve Lindbergh, Grandfather's Lovesong, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
Jane Kurtz, In the Small, Small Night, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2005.
Deborah Hopkinson, Saving Strawberry Farm, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2005.
Ben's Trumpet was adapted for video and as a filmstrip with audiocassette.
After an injury forced her to abandon her first career as a professional dancer, Rachel Isadora turned to children's-book illustration and writing, and has produced a body of work notable both for its achievements and variety. Her books include award-winning titles such as Max and Ben's Trumpet as well as biographies, retellings of fairy tales and ballet stories, and her "Lili" series about a little girl's love affair with ballet. As an illustrator, Isadora brings her painterly eye and artist's perception to her work, producing art in a variety of mediums for both her own books and those of other writers. The recipient of a Caldecott Honor award, she peoples her books with characters of many cultures, nationalities, and ages. "Work like this is a dancer's fantasy," she once commented. "Because ballet is so demanding, dancers' stage careers are short. They can only dream of going on and on forever. With art, I can go on and on, and for me it's the only work that compares in intensity and joy."
Isadora began dancing as a toddler after wandering into her older sister's dance class, and by age eleven she was performing professionally and studying at the American School of Ballet on a scholarship. Despite the public nature of her art, she battled shyness as a girl, and in class would wait to be alone before practicing new movements. To deal with the pressures that came from training professionally, she also turned to drawing. "Ballet was very real to me: my world," she revealed to Elaine Edelman in a Publishers Weekly interview. "To escape it, I drew—so that became my fantasy world. I could express my thoughts in it, I could even express my anger. I couldn't do that as a dancer."
Seven years of study finally culminated in an offer to dance with the New York City Ballet; however, instead of accepting, Isadora broke down. "I went into my room," she told Edelman, "and didn't come out for three months." A few years later she joined the Boston Ballet Company, but a foot injury ended her brief career, and she was forced to establish herself in another vocation. So she loaded a paper bag with her sketches—all "odds and ends on bits of paper," she once commented—and took them to New York, hoping to obtain work as an illustrator. Her venture proved successful, for almost immediately she was assigned to work on her first book.
Both written and illustrated by Isadora, Max received considerable attention. Winner of the 1976 Child Study Association Children's Book of the Year award, the story revolves around the title character, a young baseball player who one day joins his sister at her ballet class. Clad in his uniform, the boy exercises along with the young ballerinas and decides to join the class when he realizes that ballet training will improve his athletic skills. Many reviewers praised Isadora for the nonsexist message in Max: that ballet can be enjoyed by all. Her black-and-white illustrations also drew praise as grace-ful, lively, and lifelike. The dancers in Max's class are "poised but fetchingly unpolished," decided a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
Isadora incorporates music and dance in one of her best-known works, Ben's Trumpet. Winner of the 1980 Caldecott Honor award, the book is set during the 1920s Jazz Age and centers on Ben, a young boy who lives in the ghetto. Ben longs to play the lively music that emanates from a neighborhood club, but he cannot afford to buy a trumpet. His dream finally comes true when a seasoned jazz musician not only gives the youngster an instrument, but also teaches him to play. Ben's Trumpet is a "poignant, spare story," observed Marjorie Lewis in School Library Journal. Reviewers also lauded Isadora for the story's inventive artwork, which is appropriate reminiscent of the art deco style popular during the 1920s and 1930s. Bold outlines, dancing silhouettes, keyboards, and zigzag lines cover the pages of the book, forming a pictorial image of the music. "Jazz rhythms visually interpreted in black and white fairly explode," proclaimed Mary M. Burns in a Horn Book review, while Linda Kauffman Peterson, writing in Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books, declared that Isadora's drawings possess a "swinging, throbbing beat."
Isadora shares her love of ballet in several of her books for children, drawing praise for her realistic portrayals of dancers' movements. In Backstage, which Isadora wrote with her first husband, ballet dancer Robert Maiorano, she describes a young girl's trek through the theater to meet her mother, who is rehearsing a part in the famous ballet The Nutcracker. Opening Night features a nervous and excited young dancer who is braving her first performance, and the story traces her steps from the time she walks backstage, to her first leap in front of the audience, to discovering roses in her dressing room following the production. Yet another book, My Ballet Class, portrays young ballerinas of all nationalities as they laugh together, clutter the dressing room floor, put on their tights and ballet slippers, stretch, and begin their practice. The dancers are sketched "with fluid agility," judged Booklist reviewer Barbara Elleman, adding that "facial expressions and body movements are surely and thoughtfully captured."
Focusing on younger dance-lovers, Isadora has created the poetry collection Not Just Tutus, which contains short verses that bring to life the dreams of determined young ballerinas alongside the author's "elegant pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations [that] depict dancers of all shapes and sizes," according to School Library Journal contributor Joy Fleishhacker. The poems, which are divided into two sections, takes second stage to the art, according to some critics. In On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC brightly hued pastel drawings that correspond to twenty-six words from Arabesque to Zipper "pulsate with the excitement of a grand jeté and a pas de chat," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer, while School Library Journal writer Carol Schene praised the work for presenting "a dreamy look at the world of ballet."
Introducing Isadora's "Lili" series, Lili at Ballet centers on one young girl who dreams of becoming a serious ballerina. Through Lili's experiences, young readers of a similar mindset learn about the practical aspects of ballet training, such as clothing, exercises, and some of the classic steps. A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised Isadora's illustrations for "nicely capturing [the dancers'] poise and grace." Deborah Stevenson, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted that "actual young dancers may want more sweat and less gossamer," but she also felt that Lili at Ballet "is a nice Nutcrackery treat for armchair Giselles." "Isadora's own background in ballet is evident in the abundance and precision of her illustrations and in her understanding of the enthusiasm of the young dancer," concluded Horn Book reviewer Hanna B. Zeiger.
Readers meet the young dancer again in Lili on Stage and Lili Backstage. In Lili on Stage the girl performs the role of a party guest in act one of The Nutcracker. Returning home that evening, she dreams of her next performance. "The book's charm lies partly in the subject, but mainly in the simplicity and realism of both text and illustrations," wrote Carolyn Phelan in a Booklist review, while Zeiger noted in Horn Book that Isadora's "watercolor illustrations are like confections and will be a delightful reminder for children who have seen the ballet performed." Lili next leads readers to the excitement occurring behind the curtains in Lili Backstage. "For the stagestruck," Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman commented, "even the technical names will be magical, and they will pore over the graphic details of professionals at work."
In her writing and illustrating, Isadora has not confined herself to the performing arts. Her urban alphabet book, City Seen from A to Z is a collection of street scenes—all drawn in gray, black, and white—depicting the moods, settings, and ethnic diversity of metropolitan New York. Black, Asian, and Jewish people populate the pages, window shopping, relaxing in the sun, or just strolling through city streets. Isadora also incorporates an element of surprise into many of her scenes: "L," for example, points to the picture of a ferocious lion ironed onto the back of a young boy's T-shirt, while "Z" stands for the chalk-drawn zoo two children have sketched on the sidewalk. She also portrays elderly people sharing ice cream with their grandchildren or minding them at the beach. "Young and old people of different cultures and individual tastes all seem snugly at home," wrote Leonard S. Marcus in a review of the book for the New York Times Book Review. Beryl Lieff Benderly concluded in the Washington Post Book World that "Isadora's elegant, perceptive pictures capture small realities of city life."
The sounds of the city are evoked in Listen to the City, while its illustrations are rendered in pop art that captures "the sights and sounds of the city," according to a Horn Book reviewer. "In keeping with the Lichtenstein look, the text is limited to painted onomatopoeic words and brief utterances enclosed in dialogue bubbles," noted the same writer. Grace Oliff called Listen to the City an "exuberant picture book" in her review for School Library Journal. "The use of rich primary colors, coupled with the unique design of the pages, sometimes juxtaposing images in oddly angled segments, captures the energy of urban life," Oliff further observed.
With ABC Pop! and 123 Pop! Isadora uses pop-art imagery to produce an alphabet and a counting book respectively. Reviewing the former title, Horn Book contributor Lolly Robinson noted that "Isadora has created a striking alphabet book in homage to the pop art she admired as a child…. But the pacing is pure Isadora, revealing a vitality that harks back to Ben's Trumpet and City Seen from A to Z." Also reviewing ABC Pop!, In Booklist Michael Cart felt that the author/illustrator's "artfully energetic book will appeal to eyes of all ages." Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg found 123 Pop! to be a "sophisticated, playful introduction to numbers," while Robinson noted in another Horn Book review that the artist "manages to maintain her spontaneous style with vibrant gestural lines, surprising color choices, and unexpected whimsical touches."
South Africa is the subject of three picture books by Isadora: At the Crossroads, Over the Green Hills, and A South African Night. In the first title several South African children gather to welcome home their fathers, who have been away for several months working in the mines. Over the Green Hills "is a loving portrait of the Transkei and its people," according to a critic for Junior Bookshelf, while A South African Night is a "simply written picture book [that] focuses on the transition from day to night" in Kruger National Park, according to Gebregeorgis Yohannes in School Library Journal. Yohannes further observed that "Isadora's vibrant watercolor illustrations are evocative of both the human bustle and the wild untamed life force of the animals." More exotic locations are served up in Caribbean Dream, an "evocative" book, according to Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, and one that "captures the mood of an island and the spirit of children." A writer for Publishers Weekly called this same book a "simple, rhythmic paean to the Caribbean."
The Creation myth is celebrated in gentle watercolor in In the Beginning, which was described by Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper as a "small, ethereal picture book" that reflects the Biblical story from the Book of Genesis. In Isadora's newly formed heaven and Earth, "a host of angelic babies" await the arrival of each new creation, according to School Library Journal reviewer Linda L. Walkins, and the story closes as Adam and Eve walk along the shore at sunset, awaiting the birth of their first child. Noting that toddlers will enjoy the depictions of happiness, a Publishers Weekly contributor added that "Isadora's message of love is unmistakable."
Isadora turns to the baseball diamond for inspiration in Nick Plays Baseball and Luke Goes to Bat. In the first book, Nick plays on the Rockets, a boys-and-girls team that is involved in a championship game. The story relates in text and pictures the preparation for the game, playing the game, and the triumphant conclusion. "For all the ground the author covers," wrote a contributor for Publishers Weekly, the author's "presentation is simple and carefully pared down, keenly attuned to a picture book audience." The same reviewer concluded that Nick Plays Baseball is "just the ticket for aspiring sluggers." Little brother Luke gets his chance to play stickball in a neighborhood street team in Luke Goes to Bat, and after striking out on his turn at bat, he retains his enthusiasm for the game with the encouragement of his Grandma; after all, the boy understands, even local baseball hero Jackie Robinson strikes out sometimes at nearby Ebbets Field. Praising the nostalgic approach to the story, which takes place in early twentieth-century Brooklyn, Booklist reviewer Engberg added that Isadora's illustrations of African-American children "extend the sports action and reassuring emotions." Praising Luke Goes to Bat in Kirkus Reviews, a critic cited the author's "simple tale of love, baseball, and determination," dubbing Isadora's watercolor illustrations "warm" and "expressive."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 7, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 102-109.
Peterson, Linda Kauffman, and Marilyn Leathers Solt, Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor Books: An Annotated Bibliography, G.K. Hall (New York, NY), 1982, p. 372.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, fifth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, January 15, 1980, Barbara Elleman, review of My Ballet Class, p. 720; November 15, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Lili on Stage, March 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Lili Backstage, p. 1247; May 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Young Mozart, p. 1500; February 15, 1998, p. 1019; March 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Isadora Dances, p. 1246; November 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Caribbean Dreams, p. 503; July, 1999, Michael Cart, review of ABC Pop!, p. 1949; December 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Sophie Skates, p. 711; May 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of 123 Pop!, p. 1672; June 1, 2000, p. 1909; September 1, 2000, p. 118; February 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Bring on That Beat, p. 1034; March 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Peekaboo Morning, p. 1142; January 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Not Just Tutus, p. 907; May 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of In the Beginning, p. 1605; July, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, p. 1895; February 1, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Luke Goes to Bat, p. 978.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1993, Deborah Stevenson, review of Lili at Ballet, p. 253; September, 1997, p. 14; April, 1998, p. 82; July, 1998, p. 386; June, 1999, p. 354; January, 2002, review of Bring on That Beat, p. 175; April, 2003, review of Not Just Tutus, p. 318; September, 2003, review of On Your Toes, p. 49.
Horn Book, June, 1979, Mary M. Burns, review of Ben's Trumpet, pp. 293-294; May-June, 1993, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Lili at Ballet, p. 318; January-February, 1996, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Lili on Stage, p. 98; July-August, 1997, p. 443; May-June, 1999, Lolly Robinson, review of ABC Pop!, p. 315; January-February, 2000, review of Sophie Skates, p. 66; March-April, 2000, review of Listen to the City, p. 186; May-June, 2000, Lolly Robinson, review of 123 Pop!, p. 294.
Junior Bookshelf, August, 1993, review of Over the Green Hills, pp. 127-128.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1991, p. 672; January 1, 1993, review of Lili at Ballet, p. 61; April 1, 1997, p. 558; January 15, 1998, p. 113; April 1, 1998, p. 496; October 1, 1998, p. 1460; May 1, 1999, p. 722; April 15, 2002, review of Peekaboo Morning, p. 570; February 15, 2003, review of Not Just Tutus, p. 309; March 1, 2003, review of On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, p. 388; February 1, 2005, review of Luke Goes to Bat, p. 177.
New York Times Book Review, May 22, 1983, Leonard S. Marcus, review of City Seen from A to Z, p. 39; November 11, 1984, p. 55; January 15, 1995, p. 25; July 20, 1997, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, August 2, 1976, review of Max, p. 114; February 27, 1981, Elaine Edelman, "Rachel Isadora and Robert Maiorano," pp. 66-67; October 10, 1994, p. 70; February 13, 1995, p. 79; March 31, 1997, review of Young Mozart, p. 73; March 2, 1998, review of Isadora Dances, p. 67; October 26, 1998, review of Caribbean Dreams, p. 65; October 11, 1999, review of Sophie Skates, p. 74; January 1, 2001, review of Nick Plays Baseball, p. 92; November 19, 2001, p. 70; December 10, 2001, review of Bring on That Beat, p. 69; April 15, 2002, review of Peekaboo Morning, p. 62; December 16, 2002, review of Not Just Tutus, p. 67; April, 2003, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Not Just Tutus, p. 122; August 4, 2003, review of In the Beginning, p. 76.
School Library Journal, February, 1979, Marjorie Lewis, review of Ben's Trumpet, p. 43; June, 1991, p. 80; March, 1998, p. 196; August, 1998, Gebregeorgis Yohannes, review of A South African Night, p. 140; April, 1999, p. 99; June, 1999, p. 116; August, 1999, p. 39; November, 1999, p. 143; May, 2000, Grace Oliff, review of Listen to the City, p. 144; June, 2000, p. 133; April, 2001, Adele Greenlee, review of Nick Plays Baseball, p. 131; January, 2002, Marianne Saccardi, review of Bringon That Beat, p. 102; July, 2002, Lisa Dennis, review of Peekaboo Morning, p. 93; June, 2003, Carol Schene, review of On Your Toes: A Ballet ABC, p. 129; August, 2003, Linda L. Walkins, review of In the Beginning, p. 135; February, 2005, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Luke Goes to Bat, p. 103.
Teacher Librarian, May, 1999, p. 47.
Washington Post Book World, May 8, 1983, Beryl Lieff Benderly, "This Is the Way the World Works," pp. 16-17.
Harper Children's Web site, http://www.harperchildrens.com/ (November 21, 2005), "Rachel Isadora."