Uri Shulevitz (1935–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Given name pronounced "oo-ree"; born 1935, in Warsaw, Poland; came to United States, 1959; naturalized U.S. citizen c. 1960s; Education: Teacher's College, Israel, teacher's degree, 1956; studied painting privately with Ezekiel Streichman, 1950–52; attended Tel-Aviv Art Institute, evenings, 1953–55, and Brooklyn Museum Art School, 1959–61; studied painting at Provincetown workshop with Leo Manso and Victor Candell, summer 1965; studied painting techniques of the High Renaissance with Peter Hopkins, 1977–83. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Art, music, travel, old tales and parables of Eastern traditions, movies, theatre, New York City, yoga, and tai-chi-chuan.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Sq. W., New York, NY 10003.
Kibbutz Ein-Geddi (collective farm), Israel, member, 1957–58; art director of youth magazine in Israel, 1958–59; illustrator of children's books, 1961–; author of children's books, 1962–; School of Visual Arts, New York, NY instructor in art, 1967–68; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, instructor in art, 1970–71; New School for Social Research (now New School University), New York, NY, instructor of writing and illustrating of children's books, 1970–86; Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY, director of summer workshop in writing and illustrating children's books, 1974. Exhibitions: Work included in American Institute of Graphic Arts Children's Books exhibitions, 1973–74 and 1980; Children's Book Exhibition, New York Public Library, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1973, and 1974; International Biennale of Illustrations (Bratislava, Czechoslovakia), 1969. Military service: Israeli Army, 1956–59.
American Society of Contemporary Artists, Authors Guild, Authors League of America (member of children's books committee), New York Artists Equity Association.
Children's Book Awards, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1963–64, for Charley Sang a Song, 1965–66, for The Second Witch, 1967–68, for One Monday Morning, and Certificates of Excellence, 1973–74, for The Magician and The Fools of Chelm and Their History, and 1979, for The Treasure; American Institute of Graphic Arts Children's Books citation, 1967–68, for One Monday Morning; Notable Book citations, American Library Association (ALA), 1967, for One Monday Morning, 1968, for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, 1969, for Rain Rain Rivers, 1974, for Dawn, and 1982, for The Golem; Horn Book honor list citations, 1967, for One Monday Morning, 1969, for Rain Rain Rivers, and 1979, for The Treasure; Certificate of Merit, Society of Illustrators (New York), 1965, for Charley Sang a Song; Caldecott Medal, ALA, 1969, for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship; The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship was included in American Booksellers 1969 Gift to the Nation for the Library of the White House; Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year citations, 1969, for Rain Rain Rivers, 1972, for Soldier and Tsar in the Forest: A Russian Tale, 1974, for Dawn, and 1976, for The Touchstone; Bronze Medal, Leipzig International Book Exhibition, 1970, for Rain Rain Rivers; Book World Children's Spring Book Festival Picture-Book honor, 1972, for Soldier and Tsar in the Forest; Book World Children's Spring Book Festival Award for Younger Children, and New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year designation, both 1973, and Children's Book Showcase of the Children's Book Council (CBC) honor, 1974, all for The Magician; New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year designation, 1974, Christopher Award, and CBC Children's Book Showcase, both 1975, International Board of Books for Young People honor list citation, 1976, and Brooklyn Art Books for Children citations, 1976, 1977, and 1978, all for Dawn; New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year citations, 1978, for Hanukah Money, and 1979, for The Treasure; Caldecott Honor Book citation, 1980, for The Treasure; New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year citation, and School Library Journal Best Children's Books citation, both 1982, and Parents' Choice Foundation Award for Literature, 1983, all for The Golem.
The Moon in My Room, Harper (New York, NY), 1963, reprinted, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
One Monday Morning, Scribner (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.
Rain Rain Rivers, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, 1998.
(Adapter) Oh What a Noise! (text based on "A Big Noise" by William Brighty Rands), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971.
(Adapter) The Magician, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973.
Dawn, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1974, reprinted, Econo-Clad Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
The Treasure, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1979.
Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books, Watson-Guptill, 1985.
The Strange and Exciting Adventures of Jeremiah Hush, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1986.
Toddlecreek Post Office, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1990.
The Secret Room, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1993.
(Reteller) The Golden Goose, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.
Snow, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.
What Is a Wise Bird like You Doing in a Silly Tale like This?, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.
The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2005.
SoSleepyStory, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2006.
Author's works have been translated into Spanish.
Charlotte Zolotow, A Rose, a Bridge, and a Wild Black Horse, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.
Mary Stolz, The Mystery of the Woods, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.
H.R. Hays and Daniel Hays, Charley Sang a Song, Harper (New York, NY), 1964.
Sulamith Ish-Kishore, The Carpet of Solomon, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1964.
Jack Sendak, The Second Witch, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.
Molly Cone, Who Knows Ten? Children's Tales of the Ten Commandments, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1965.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, translated by Elizabeth Shub, Scribner (New York, NY), 1966.
Mary Stolz, Maximilian's World, Harper (New York, NY), 1966.
Jean Russell Larson, The Silkspinners, Scribner (New York, NY), 1967.
Dorothy Nathan, The Month Brothers, Dutton (New York, NY), 1967.
John Smith, editor, My Kind of Verse, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1968.
Jan Wahl, Runaway Jonah and Other Tales, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1968.
Arthur Ransome, adapter, The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1968, reprinted, Econo-Clad Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Jan Wahl, The Wonderful Kite, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1971.
Yehoash Biber, Treasure of the Turkish Pasha, translated from Hebrew by Naruch Hochman, Blue Star Book Club, 1971.
Alexander Afanasyev, Soldier and Tsar in the Forest: A Russian Tale, translated by Richard Lourie, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1972.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Fools of Chelm and Their History, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1973.
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Touchstone, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.
(And translator and adapter, with Elizabeth Shub) Sholem Aleichem, Hanukah Money, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1978.
Richard Kennedy, The Lost Kingdom of Karnica, Sierra Club, 1979.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Golem, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1982.
Howard Schwartz, Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.
Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush, The Diamond Tree: Jewish Tales from around the World, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Ehud Ben-Ezer, Hosni the Dreamer: An Arabian Tale, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1997.
Fran Manushkin, Daughters of Fire, Heroines of the Bible, Silver Whistle/Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Contributor to periodicals, including Horn Book.
Weston Woods adapted One Monday Morning as a film, 1972, filmstrip, 1973; The Treasure as a film, 1980; and Dawn as a filmstrip with cassette, 1982. The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship was adapted as a filmstrip. Snow and The Treasure were adapted as audiobooks by Live Oak Media, 2000.
Embarking upon a career as an author and illustrator of children's books with his first published work, The Moon in My Room, award-winning author and illustrator Uri Shulevitz has also distinguished himself through his artwork for the texts by such celebrated writers as Arthur Ransome, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Fran Manushkin, Charlotte Zolotow, Robert Louis Stevenson, and the Brothers Grimm. Shulevitz's illustrations, which were characterized as "evocative" and "timeless" by a Kirkus Reviews critic, have garnered a host of accolades, including the 1969 Caldecott Medal for The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship. In addition, his self-illustrated works have been well regarded; his books Rain Rain Rivers and The Treasure have earned the author/illustrator both honors and critical acclaim. As Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns noted of the simply titled Snow, "through a minimalist text and carefully composed illustrations," Snow embodies Shulevitz's "belief that the true picture book, with its inevitable melding of words and art, is a distinct genre." Several of Shulevitz's early books have remained in print since their first publication in the mid-1960s.
Born in 1935, Shulevitz was drawing by age three. Unfortunately, during the next year bombs began falling on his family's home in Warsaw, Poland, and the Shulevitz's were ultimately forced to flee their country. As exiles, they wandered for eight years before settling in Paris, France, in 1947. Inspired by the illustrations he discovered in the book stalls scattered along the Seine, Shulevitz began drawing his own comic books, working from the stories a friend wrote. At age twelve he won a district-wide elementary-school drawing contest, furthering his creative ambitions. "The encouragement of my parents, who were both artistically talented, probably contributed to my early interest in drawing," he later recalled to Lee Bennett Hopkins, discussing the inspiration behind his career in Books Are by People.
After spending two years in Paris, the young artist's family moved to Israel. There, at age fifteen, Shulevitz became the youngest artist to have his drawings exhibited at the Tel Aviv Museum. To help support his family, he attended high school in the evenings and worked various jobs during the day, among them as apprentice to a rubber-stamp maker. At one point working at the dog-licensing desk in Tel Aviv City Hall, he occupied the time when business was slow by reading and writing stories. After graduating from high school, he studied literature and natural sciences at the Teachers' Institute and art at the Art Institute of Tel Aviv, while also taking private lessons with painter Ezekiel Streichman. In 1958, after two years' compulsory service in the Israeli Army, Shulevitz moved to Ein Geddi Kibbutz, a cooperative farm settlement formed by his friends and located near the Dead Sea.
After a year at Ein Geddi, the twenty-four-year-old Shulevitz traveled to New York City, and studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum Art School. His first work as an illustrator was for a publisher of Hebrew children's books. "I was strictly supervised and permitted only to work from sketches given to me," Shulevitz later recalled to SATA. "Still, this experience improved my pen and brush techniques." Interestingly, it was while working in this structured, controlled atmosphere that Shulevitz developed what would become his unique illustration style.
The young artist's first published book for children, The Moon in My Room, was released in 1963. Written and illustrated under the guidance of two editors at Harper & Row, the book allowed Shulevitz to come to terms with his own feelings of inadequacy as a speaker of English. "I eventually understood that my initial reaction, my fear that I could not write, was based on a preconception," he later explained. "A preconception that writing was strictly related to words and to spoken language. That it was essential to use many words in a skillful way. I was overlooking what was of primary importance—what I had to say; and I was caught in a secondary consideration—how to say it. That secondary concern has nothing to do with writing, but I was allowing it to take over the primary one." Shulevitz discusses his philosophy regarding the relationship between text and illustration in his 1985 book Writing with Pictures.
His life experiences in Poland, France, Israel, and New York City have provide Shulevitz with a wealth of first-hand material for works that involve travel. Still, he will maintain, anyone with an imagination can be a traveler, much as the little boy in The Moon in My Room does as he explores the world without leaving his room. In creating his own original stories, Shulevitz begins by focusing on the action of the story, first visualizing it and then figuring out how to express it in words. He tries to express the action as simply as possible, using a pictorial approach. For example, the story about a young, imaginative boy who explores the world without leaving his room that is related in The Moon in My Room "unfolded in my head like a movie," he stated. "I was the camera seeing the action conveyed by pictures. The few words necessary to communicate the story fell into place on their own. It was all so simple and natural." Shulevitz has dubbed this technique "writing with pictures," maintaining that this method can also enhance the ability to visualize for writers who do not have a background in art. "Visual thinking can also avoid excessive wordiness in writing in general," the author/illustrator added. "In this way my visual approach evolved—an approach based on my writing and teaching experience."
Although Shulevitz became a U.S. citizen in the 1960s, his interests have continued to draw on many cultures. Finding an affinity with Chinese culture, he has studied picture-writing and practices tai-chi-chuan, a regimen of Chinese exercises that is thought to bring health to the body's internal organs. Not surprisingly, his interest in Oriental art and culture has influenced his work. "Realizing the excess of words in our culture," he once explained, "I [follow] an Oriental tradition, trying to say more with fewer words. The Moon in My Room contains very brief text and suggestive rather than descriptive illustrations, that have the purpose of awakening the child's imagination." Viewing such books, children are encouraged to picture in their own minds some of the events and characters described only by the text.
Reviewers have consistently praised Shulevitz's self-illustrated books for their thoughtful storylines and engaging illustrations. Reviewing his picture book Toddlecreek Post Office, School Library Journal contributor Carolyn Vang Schuler noted that "Shulevitz's fresh, orderly, yet angular, watercolors … are just right for group sharing," and Booklist critic Ilene Cooper commended his "as always, striking" artwork. The story centers on a small post office where everything from lamp-mending to button-sewing is performed by the helpful and under-worked local postmaster. Eventually, however, the regional postal inspector visits and decides to shut the office down. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne called Toddlecreek Post Office a "fable about society's decline of humane concern."
Shulevitz's adaptation of a classic tale in The Golden Goose was dubbed "a fun version of a traditional tale" by School Library Journal contributor Donna L. Scanlon. The critic praised Shulevitz's use of contrast, as well as his "vibrant watercolor paintings, full of blocky angular characters and quirky off-kilter buildings" that "enhance the story." Characterizing the author's rhythmic text as a "challenging chant," Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Elizabeth Bush opined that The Golden Goose "should attract a new generation of listeners." Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke described Shulevitz's illustrations as "bursting with a bouncy vitality that fits the amusing story well."
One of several self-illustrated picture books Shulevitz has created, Snow has been widely praised for its spare text and its detailed illustrations, which capture "the transforming power of a snowstorm," as Horn Book contributor Mary M. Burns noted. A Publishers Weekly critic called the book "pure enchantment from start to finish," noting that Shulevitz "works a bit of visual alchemy as the tale progresses, gradually transforming the chilly gray watercolor washes with flecks of snow, until his cityscape is a frozen fairyland."
Another picture book, What Is a Wise Bird like You Doing in a Silly Tale like This?, spins a nonsensical tale about the twenty-six and one half (the one half being a half-invisible character who spoke using only half-words) residents of Pickleberry. Trouble brews when Lou, a wise talking bird who serves as counsel to the town's emperor, decides that he would be happier elsewhere. In a story within a story, the now-free Lou weaves Pickelberrians into a fantastic tale of escape. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book an "engaging bit of frippery" and went on to noted that "The silliness referenced in the title reigns supreme here." As for the illustrations, the reviewer concluded, "Shulevitz's sunny watercolors range from beautifully detailed vignettes to puckish cartoons … ratcheting up the enjoyment factor." Commenting on the cartoon elements in the book, School Library Journal contributor Marie Orlando noted that "Shulevitz's wacky tale is told both through traditional text and dialogue balloons abounding in sly wit."
Turning from whimsy to world history, Shulevitz creates what School Library Journal contributor Margaret A. Chang dubbed "a picture book of epic proportions" in The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela: Through Three Continents in the Twelfth Century. In 1159 a Jewish traveler named Benjamin left his home town in Spain for a fourteen-year-long journey through Europe, Asia, and Africa. On this trip he was a witness to many of the medieval world's wonders, such as the Tower of Babel and the tombs of ancient Hebrew Kings, to Islamic processions, and the ancient wonders still standing to be marveled at in Rome and Egypt. While noting that the observations of a twelfth-century tourist "might not seem the stuff of picture books," Ilene Cooper added in Booklist that "outstanding execution can draw readers to almost any subject."The author/illustrator "outdoes himself here," Cooper added, praising illustrations that "capture the sweep of mysterious and far-away places." "Shulevitz keeps this lengthy tale's pace brisk," added a Publishers Weekly critic, "honing in on details sure to capture readers' imaginations."
In addition to his success at bringing his own story ideas to life by writing with pictures, Shulevitz has also received praise for his success in interpreting the works of other authors. Commenting on The Diamond Tree: Jewish Tales from around the World, Horn Book reviewer Hanna B. Zeiger hailed the illustrator's watercolor renderings, noting that these "add just the right touch of wit and fantasy" to the text by Howard Schwartz and Barbara Rush. "Shulevitz's illustrations evoke a strong sense of place," asserted Robin Tzannes in her review of Ehud Ben-Ezer's Hosni the Dreamer for the New York Times. "Pictures and text work together to create a portrait of a humble and compassionate hero that young readers should love." Commenting on his contribution to Fran Minushkin's Daughters of Fire: Heroines of the Bible, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Shulevitz's watercolor and pen-and-ink "art, like the storytelling, startles the audience into fresh insights and appreciation."
Taking a visual approach to his craft, Shulevitz has noted that his books often "unfold" in his mind much "like a movie," and in the teaching he has done he encourages students to allow the art to evolve from the story itself. Using this technique, he urges his students, "all the parts of the book" are ultimately "coordinated into a coherent whole." This approach requires a measure of technical versatility on the part of the illustrator, and Shulevitz uses a variety of materials and artistic styles in his illustrations. "I am … constantly searching for a new way of illustrating," he once explained. "I use a lot of pen and ink and watercolor. I have used colored inks and tempera in full-color illustrations. In some black and white ones, I have also scratched with a razor blade the pen-and-ink line and then reworked for a long time to achieve a certain effect as in an etching (The Carpet of Solomon, The Month Brothers, Runaway Jonah, and Rain Rain Rivers). I have used a Japanese reed pen (Maximilian's World) and a Chinese brush (The Silkspinners)."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 5, 1983, Volume 61, 2000.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 61: American Writers for Children since 1960: Poets, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, Books Are by People: Interviews with 104 Authors and Illustrators of Books for Young Children, Citation Press (New York, NY), 1969.
Kingman, Lee, editor, The Illustrator's Notebook, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1978.
Lanes, Selma G., Down the Rabbit Hole, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Shulevitz, Uri, Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books, Watson-Guptil (New York, NY), 1985.
Booklist, November 15, 1990, Ilene Cooper, review of Toddlecreek Post Office, pp. 666-667; November 15, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Golden Goose, p. 562; November 1, 1997, p. 478; January 1, 1999, p. 785; August, 2000, Michael Cart, review of What Is a Wise Bird like You Doing in a Silly Tale like This?, p. 2135; March 15, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela, p. 1293.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1991, Betsy Hearne, review of Toddlecreek Post Office, p. 129; January, 1996, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Golden Goose, p. 171; January, 1999, review of Snow, p. 182.
Horn Book, February, 1982, Uri Shulevitz, "Writing with Pictures," pp. 17-22; January-February, 1992, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Diamond Tree: Jewish Tales from around the World, March-April, 1994, p. 211; January-February, 1999, Mary M. Burns, review of Snow, pp. 55-56; September, 2000, Joanna Rudge Long, review of What Is a Wise Bird like You Doing in a Silly Tale like This?, p. 557; March-April, 2005, Barbara Bader, review of The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela, p. 217.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1995, p. 1428; October 15, 1998, review of Snow, p. 1537; March 1, 2005, review of The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela, p. 295.
New York Times, November 16, 1997, Robin Tzannes, review of Hosni the Dreamer, p. 42.
New York Times Book Review, January 17, 1999, Betsy Groban, review of Snow, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, October 11, 1993, p. 85; November 6, 1995, review of The Golden Goose, August 31, 1998, review of Snow, p. 75; August 27, 2001, review of daughters of Fire: Heroines of the Bible, p. 81; July 17, 2000, review of What Is a Wise Bird like You Doing in a Silly Tale like This?, p. 193; August 27, review of Daughters of Fire: Heroines of the Bible, p. 81; March 28, 2005, review of The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela, p. 82.
School Library Journal, January, 1991, Carolyn Vang Schuler, review of Toddlecreek Post Office, March, 1992, p. 252; December, 1995, Donna L. Scanlon, review of The Golden Goose, p. 97; December, 1997, p. 81; December, 1998, p. 92; August, 2000, Marie Orlando, review of What Is a Wise Bird like You Doing in a Silly Tale like This?, p. 164; April, 2005, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Travels of Benjamin of Tudela, p. 142.
Farrar, Straus Web site, http://www.fsgkidsbooks.com/ (November 21, 2005), "Uri Shulevitz."
Horn Book Online, http://www.hbook.com/exhibit/shulevitzradio (November 3, 2001), Anita Silvey, interview with Shulevitz.
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