Matt Novak (1962–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1962, in Trenton, NJ; Education: Attended Kutztown State University, 1980–81; attended School of Visual Arts (New York, NY). Hobbies and other interests: Reading, hiking, biking, gardening, cooking.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Roaring Brook Press, 143 West St., New Milford, CT 06776.
Author and illustrator of children's books, and educator. Pegasus Players, Sheppton, PA, puppeteer, 1979–83; Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL, animator, 1983, 1989–91; St. Benedict's Preparatory School, Newark, NJ, art teacher, beginning 1986; Parsons School of Design, New York, NY, instructor, beginning 1986; Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, instructor, 2001–.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Parent's Choice Honor Book, for Mouse TV; Children's Choice designation, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council, 1997, for Newt.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Rolling, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1986.
Claude and Sun, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Mr. Floop's Lunch, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
While the Shepherd Slept, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Elmer Blunt's Open House, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
The Last Christmas Present, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Mouse TV, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Gertie and Gumbo, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Newt, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
The Pillow War, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1997.
The Robobots, DK Publishing (New York, NY), 1998.
Jazzbo Goes to School, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.
Jazzbo and Friends, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.
Little Wolf, Big Wolf, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Jazzbo and Googy, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
On Halloween Street (lift-the-flap book), Little Simon (New York, NY), 2001.
No Zombies Allowed, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Too Many Bunnies, Roaring Book Press (Brookfield, CT), 2005.
Flip Flop Bop, Roaring Book Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.
Pat Upton, Who Does This Job?, Bell Books (Honesdale, PA), 1991.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, selector, It's about Time: Poems, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
Dayle Ann Dodds, Ghost and Pete, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Susan Hightower, Twelve Snails to One Lizard: A Tale of Mischief and Measurement, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.
Heather Lowenberg, Little Slugger, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
Jessica Nickelson, Five Little Monsters: Glow-in-the-Dark Boogly Eyes!, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2003.
Jessica Nickelson, Dinosaur Sleep: Glow-in-the-Dark Boogly Eyes!, Little Simon (New York, NY), 2003.
Matt Novak enjoyed entertaining his family and friends with puppet shows and homemade Super-8 movies as a kid, and his studies at New York City's School of Visual Arts honed these natural creative skills. As an adult Novak channels his quirky humor and artistic talents into creating lighthearted picture books for children that have been praised for their ability to combine humor with a useful message. Alligators, salamanders, mice, and a little bear named Jazzbo are the stars of several of his books, and Novak's wacky tales focus on everything from earthshaking thunderclaps and favorite television shows to plastic flip-flops and a raucous monster party. In addition to writing and illustrating his own books, Novak has also created pictures for stories by other writers, such as Susan Hightower's Twelve Snails to One Lizard and Heather Lowenberg's Little Slugger.
Novak's first self-illustrated book, Rolling, is a story about thunder. The author's illustrations take center stage in this work, which, as a reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted, "consists of two long sentences stretched out over twenty-seven pages." In the book, wrote School Library Journal contributor Virginia Opocensky, "thunder, the mysterious, overpowering sound that frightens nearly every child at one time or another, is depicted … as a visible cloud-like force." Novak's "lines are deft and true, displaying a fine sense of form," asserted Denise M. Wilms in her Booklist review, while "gentle pastel washes keep the mood light despite the windy bluster."
Claude and Sun depicts an entirely different weather phenomenon as Claude follows his best friend, the Sun, through the course of a day. Some reviewers suggested that "Claude" is actually Claude Monet, celebrated French impressionist artist known for his paintings of water lilies and gardens. "The book's theme itself," wrote Karen K. Radtke in School Library Journal, "expresses the basic tenet of Impressionistic art—that light reflecting off an object creates what our eyes see." Radtke noted references to other well-known artists, such as Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, and Auguste Renoir, and concluded that "within this very simple storyline is a multi-faceted art lesson."
Elmer Blunt's Open House features very little text, making it, in the opinion of some reviewers, a good book for preschoolers. In this story, Elmer Blunt hurriedly rushes off to work, leaving the door to his home wide open. During the day, all manner of animals as well as a burglar enter his home, and when Elmer returns that evening he thinks the mess his unseen visitors have created was the result of his hurried departure that morning. Liza Bliss concluded in School Library Journal that Elmer Blunt's Open House is "a book that's sure to add a lot of fun to family reading." Praising the book as "bursting with action and uninterrupted by narrative," Opocensky noted in Five Owls that Novak's illustrations "beg for one-on-one sharing with a preschooler." "Since Novak's … gleeful, high-spirited art tells the story so adeptly," a Publishers Weekly critic maintained, "this is a great one for preschoolers to 'read.'"
A typical family drama plays out in Mouse TV, as a family of ten, with only one television set and varying tastes, winds up in a conflict of an amusing kind. On successive pages, Novak portrays various family members' favorite programs, such as the game show Get the Cheese and the science program It's a Frog's Life. When the much-vied-for television goes on the blink, however, the mice are surprised to discover that they have plenty of other entertaining ways to spend their time: playing games, reading, and engaging in other healthy activities. "Nobody will miss the unapologetic dig at the [television] medium," wrote Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist; "Here's the perfect picture book for pintsize couch potatoes." "The cleverest aspect of the message," maintained School Library Journal contributor Steven Engelfried, "is that TV-watching is never condemned or criticized…. Instead, Novak gently, and quite successfully, shows that there are countless ways to enjoy oneself as an active participant rather than as a passive viewer." Roger Sutton commented in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "the jokes are hip (in a way that kids and adults can share)," and Novak's artwork—which Sutton compared to Maurice Sendak's illustrations in A Hole Is to Dig—"is clean and confident."
Gertie Goomba, the human heroine of Gertie and Gumbo, spends a lot of time alone at her swampy home even though she shares space with her father and five grown 'gators. Then she finds a friend in baby alligator Gumbo, and Gumbo helps Gertie's dad with the alligator-wrestling act the man stages for tourists in order to earn a living. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly praised Novak's "lighthearted" illustrations, adding that Gumbo is depicted performing appropriately alligator-like activities such as "devouring inedible objects" and "popping out of the toilet" as well as in such uncharacteristic undertakings as learning to dance. "Gumbo's body language and toothy grins are splendid," concluded Zvirin in Booklist.
In The Pillow War siblings Millie and Fred get into a disagreement over who should be allowed to sleep with the family dog, Sam. A pillow fight ensues, and as the story continues the fight escalates down the stairs, out the door, and into the street, where others soon join in the fun. In Booklist Stephanie Zvirin observed that Novak's "rhyme is catchy, and the pictures are a riot of color and pattern," particularly double-page illustrations "that begs kids to pick their favorite characters out of the crowd." To School Library Journal contributor Julie Cummins the book's detailed crowd-scene illustration recalls the "Where's Waldo?" cartoon series, while a re-viewer in Publishers Weekly pointed out that young prereaders will enjoy scouting out the main characters "in each bustling spread and follow[ing] the amusing antics of a menagerie of animals caught up in the frenzy."
Novak introduces a likeable character in Jazzbo Goes to School, Jazzbo and Googy, and Jazzbo and Friends. In what a Publishers Weekly critic dubbed "a surefire anxiety buster for children facing the prospect of a new school," Jazzbo Goes to School finds the short-statured young cub resisting his mother's efforts to find him an appropriate preschool. After checking out the Grumpity School with its terse teachers, and Willy Nilly School, where playtime lasts all day, both mother and son fi-nally agree on Miss Boggle's Super School, where animals and books abound. Calling the series star a "charming little bear," School Library Journal contributor Sheilah Kosco praised the "goofiness" of Novak's illustrations in Jazzbo and Googy. In this book, schoolmate Googy the pig is a constant disruption, knocking things over, moving too fast, and generally making a mess. However, when the ungainly pig rescues Jazzbo's precious teddy bear from a mud puddle, the bear and pig forge an instant friendship. Noting the book's simple text and its use as a way to reassure young children finding it difficult to make new friends, Kosco cited Jazzbo and Googy as "a perfect read-aloud."
Novak has continued to dish out fun in picture books such as No Zombies Allowed, about two witches and their preparation for their annual monster bash. Deciding to eliminate some less-desirable guests from this year's festivities—such as werewolves who kept coughing up furballs, and leg-dragging zombies whose eyeballs occasionally fell into the punch—the witches eventually realize that the two most disruptive guests at last year's bash were actually the hosts themselves! "Novak's fondness for silliness is put to good use" in both the "engaging" text and "bright and eye-catching" illustrations, noted School Library Journal reviewer Carol L. MacKay, while in Horn Book Martha V. Parravano deemed No Zombies Allowed a fun read, describing Novak's witches as "appropriately warted and dentally challenged," but nonetheless unthreatening to young readers. "Novak skillfully balances the gruesome factor with a spoof on spookiness," concluded a Publishers Weekly critic, noting the book's subtle message about "acceptance and tolerance."
In what School Library Journal reviewer Catherine Callegari described as a "humorous tale great for small groups," Too Many Bunnies is an interactive counting book featuring five rabbits who realize that their current home is a bit too small for comfort. One by one, the bunnies—Chubby, Fuzzy, Floppy, Bob, and Whiskers—made a mad dash across the field to a new hole, only to find the new place too tight once the last bunny arrives. Featuring large die-cut bunny holes that allow the humorous characters to "jump" the page at each turn, Novak's book also features "cartoony illustrations" that "ramp up the humor," according to Paravanno, who praised Too Many Bunnies as "an unassuming package that toddlers and preschoolers should find endlessly entertaining." Equally full of fun, Flip Flop Bop also feature's Novak's characteristic over-the-top text, packed with what a Kirkus critic called "exuberant" rhyme and "onomatopoeia." In the book, summer means that shoes and socks are exchanged for snappy plastic flip-flops, as people young, old, and even older do a wacky thing called the flip-flop bop. In School Library Journal, Sally R. Dow noted Novak's use of "short, easy-to-read rhyming phrases," adding that, with its "frenzy of activity," Flip Flop Bop will captivate beginning readers.
Among the works Novak has illustrated for others is Lee Bennett Hopkins's poetry collection It's about Time, about which a critic in Publishers Weekly wrote: "Novak's soft pastel pencil drawings do much to bring unity to the divergent writing styles represented" in Hopkins's selections. Regarding Novak's artistic contribution to Twelve Snails to One Lizard by Susan Hightower, a Publishers Weekly commentator maintained that the illustrator's "winsome earth-toned acrylics once again amuse, with lizards who juggle and hula, a beaver wearing a tool belt, and a pair of picnicking mice who cavort" through the pages.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, August, 1986, Denise M. Wilms, review of Rolling, p. 1692; April 15, 1987, p. 1293; September 1, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Mouse TV, p. 53; September 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Gertie and Gumbo, p. 89; February 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Pillow War, p. 1020.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of Mouse TV, p. 60; February, 1996, Roger Sutton, review of Newt, p. 198.
Five Owls, September-October, Virginia Opocensky, review of Elmer Blunt's Open House, 1992, p. 12.
Horn Book, May-June, 1991, p. 319; September-October, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of No Zombies Allowed, p. 556; March-April, 2005, Martha V. Parravano, review of Too Many Bunnies, p. 192.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1992, p. 1066; September 1, 1993, review of The Last Christmas Present, p. 1149; July 15, 2002, review of No Zombies Allowed, p. 1040; February 15, 2005, review of Too Many Bunnies, p. 234; May 15, 2005, review of Flip Flop Bop, p. 594.
New York Times Book Review, February 26, 1995, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, June 27, 1986, review of Rolling, p. 87; January 4, 1991, review of While the Shepherd Slept, p. 71; July 13, 1992, review of Elmer Blunt's Open House, p. 54; May 31, 1993, review of It's about Time, p. 54; September 20, 1993, p. 37; July 4, 1994, p. 60; August 7, 1995, review of Gertie and Gumbo, p. 460; January 22, 1996; March 24, 1997, review of Twelve Snails to One Lizard, p. 82; February 9, 1998, review of The Pillow War, p. 94; June 14, 1999, review of Jazzbo Goes to School, p. 68; April 24, 2000, review of Jazzbo and Googy, p. 93; September 23, 2002, review of No Zombies Allowed, p. 71; February 14, 2005, review of Too Many Bunnies, p. 75.
School Library Journal, September, 1986, Virginia Opocensky, review of Rolling, pp. 125-126; May, 1987, Karen Radtke, review of Claude and Sun, p. 91; March, 1990, p. 199; July, 1991, Carolyn Vang Schuler, review of While the Shepherd Slept, p. 62; October, 1992, Liza Bliss, review of Elmer Blunt's Open House, p. 94; October, 1993, Jane Marino, review of The Last Christmas Present, p. 46; October, 1994, Stephen Engelfried, review of Mouse TV, pp. 95-96; October, 1995, p. 110; July, 1996, Gale W. Sherman, review of Newt, p. 70; May, 1997, p. 100; March, 1998, Julie Cummins, review of The Pillow War, p. 185; January, 2000, Pat Leach, review of Little Wolf, Big Wolf, p. 108; June, 2000, Sheilah Kosco, review of Jazzbo and Googy, p. 123; August, 2002, Carol L. MacKay, review of No Zombies Allowed, p. 162; June, 2005, Catherine Callegari, review of Too Many Bunnies, p. 123; July, 2005, Sally R. Dow, review of Flip Flop Bop, p. 80.
Matt Novak Home Page, http://www.mattnovak.com (October 20, 2005).
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