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John Winch (1944–) Biography

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

Born 1944, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; Education: Attended Sydney Teachers College; National Art School, diploma in design; Alexander Mackie C.A.E., graduate diploma. Hobbies and other interests: Classical music.


Office—P.O. Box 7, Stuart Town, 2820, New South Wales, Australia.


Self-employed artist, illustrator, and writer since c. 1967. Kings School, Cambridgeshire, England, Art Master, 1968–70; guest lecturer, S.S. Canberra. Exhibitions: Numerous one-man shows; work exhibited at National Gallery of Australia; Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France; British Council, London, England; Art Gallery of New South Wales; and Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY.

Honors Awards

International Board on Books for Young People Honour Book, Australia, for The Old Woman Who Loved to Read; Mary Gibbs fellow, University of Canberra, 2002; numerous prizes for painting in Australia.



One Sunday, Angus & Robertson (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1988.

One Saturday, Walter McVitty Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1989.

The Old Man Who Loved to Sing, Scholastic (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1993.

The Old Woman Who Loved to Read, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1997.

Millennium Book of Myth and Story, Millennium (Alexandria, New South Wales, Australia), 1997.

Keeping up with Grandma, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

The Folly, 2000.

The Boatman, 2000.

Two by Two, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

Run, Hare, Run!: The Story of a Drawing, Little Hare Books (Surry Hills, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.

The Deluge, in press.


Ian Hansen, Leonardo Pigeon of Siena, Margaret Hamilton (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998.

Ursula Duborasky, The Game of the Goose, Viking (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.

Patricia Hooper, Where Do You Sleep, Little One?, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.

Marni McGee, The Colt and the King, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

Laurie Lawlor, Old Crump: The True Story of a Trip West, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

Eric Kimmel, Brother Wolf, Sister Sparrow: Stories about Saints and Animals, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.


Artist and writer John Winch creates picture books that celebrate the joys of the Australian "bush" where he lives. Both The Old Man Who Loved to Sing and The Old Woman Who Loved to Read feature main characters who, like the author/illustrator, moved to a rural area to enjoy the natural silence only to be found there. In The Old Man Who Loved to Sing an elderly man loves the sound of music—and of his own singing voice—so much that he moves to the country, where he can listen to both undisturbed by the noises of the city. At first his music disturbs the animals in his care, and they are later disturbed by its absence, when the old man becomes so elderly that he forgets to sing, whistle, or play his gramophone records while he performs his chores. The animals decide to remind the man of music by beating their tails, croaking, or trilling, thus making their own variety of noise. Their plan works, and the man bursts into song. "Winch's beautifully detailed paintings give this slight tale tremendous charm," observed Janice Del Negro in Booklist. Ellen Fader, writing in Horn Book, similarly observed that while Winch's Combining an original text with his detailed oil paintings, Winch tells a very old and very familiar story about a man named Noah and a great flood in the 2004 picture book Two by Two.story "possesses a simple elegance," the illustrations "command the most attention." Executed in gouache and watercolor on paper made to look like it has been torn from an old book, the illustrations for The Old Man Who Loved to Sing are distinguished by unusual perspectives and animals with human expressions.

In The Old Woman Who Loved to Read the main character leaves the city behind and rents a farm in search of the peace and quiet she needs to be able to read all the books she owns. Living on a farm entails numerous chores, however, and every season brings its own emergency, from a newborn lamb that needs bottle feeding in the spring to bush fires in the summer to autumnal rains that bring a flood. The old woman never has enough time to read until the middle of winter, which finds her sitting before a fire with a book in her lap—falling asleep! Reviewers noted that Winch keeps his text to a minimum, as he did in The Old Man Who Loved to Sing, and lets the pictures extend the narrative thread. Booklist contributor Ellen Mandel remarked of The Old Woman Who Loved to Read that "it's a simple story line that finds rich and humorous embellishment in Winch's engagingly detailed watercolors." In his illustrations, which again feature animal portraits, Winch allows the realism of the basic story to expand to include some elements of fantasy without abandoning what a reviewer in Publishers Weekly called the book's "core of recognizable feelings." A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded: "All of it—house and inhabitants—are cunningly, winsomely painted by Winch, who makes his story gently wry."

Keeping up with Grandma again features an elderly woman and an elderly man. Grandma is an adventurous sort, and although Grandpa, a painter, is not as enthusiastic, Grandma persuades him to go on journeys and try out adventure sports. Grandpa cannot keep up, however, and eventually the couple come home and return to their normal lives. Although Grandpa returns to his paints, the journeys have a surprising result: new material for his paintings. "The action-filled text and eye-catching art make this book a winner for group sharing," observed Carolyn Stacey in School Library Journal. Shelle Rosenfeld, reviewing Keeping up with Grandma for Booklist, noted that Winch's "wonderfully detailed, richly hued illustrations, with folk-art flavor, are filled with subtle wit."

Winch turns to the Bible for his self-illustrated Two by Two. Telling the story of Noah's ark from the perspective of the animals, Winch shows the animals trying to evade the rain and finding shelter on a large boat. While the animals may not have realized the un-named Noah working to getting ready for the flood, "all along, keen-eyed readers have observed the ark being built in the background of Winch's dramatic oil paintings," pointed out a Publishers Weekly contributor. Booklist critic Gillian Engberg also commented on Two by Two, praising its "simple, poetic sentences" and "lush, detailed paintings."

Beyond his self-illustrated titles, Winch has also provided illustrations for several picture books by other writers, including a story of animals finding places to sleep in Patricia Hooper's Where Do You Sleep, Little One?, a Palm Sunday tale in Marni McGee's The Colt and the King, an excursion through the Old West in Laurie Lawlor's Old Crump: The Story of a Trip West, and a collection of stories about the lives of saints in Eric Kimmel's Brother Wolf, Sister Sparrow: Stories about Saints and Animals. Of his illustrations for Where Do You Sleep, Little One?, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted, "his brush strokes are so delicate that individual feathers can be discerned." School Library Journal reviewer Patricia Pearl Dole noted that the paintings in The Colt and the King, "inspired by Renaissance frescoes, delineate every hair, blade of grass, and wisp of straw in intricate detail." In a Publishers Weekly review of Old Crump, the critic commented, "The illustrations set the artist's characteristic folk-art-style against photographs of the Valley's lunar rocks and sands." Reviewing Brother Wolf, Sister Sparrow for School Library Journal, Harriett Fargnoli wrote that "Winch's dramatic, full-page paintings are filled with deep colors and images that highlight each saint's identity and significance."

Winch once told SATA: "I live in the 'bush' five hours west of Sydney in an old mining town of the gold rush era. Nothing has changed much, except the steam train is now a flash silver streak. With the help of the other four or five artists that have fled here from the city, we are trying to keep the town in the last century. Here most of my work is based on simple country life—the struggles with the seasons, drought, fire, floods, clinging onto old values.

"Apart from writing children's books, I am also an artist and my work encompasses printmaking, sculpture, painting, and ceramics. I have had exhibitions in Paris at the Bibliotheque National, and my work is in major museums throughout the world. I often feel I am spreading myself too thin over so many activities instead of concentrating on one media—but I'm having fun—which after all is more important that having a glowing reputation."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 1996, Janice Del Negro, review of The Old Man Who Loved to Sing, p. 1447; March 1, 1997, Ellen Mandel, review of The Old Woman Who Loved to Read, p. 1175; November 15, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Keeping up with Grandma, p. 651; September 1, 2001, Marta Segal, review of Where Do You Sleep, Little One?, p. 115; April 1, 2002, Kathy Broderick, review of The Colt and the King, p. 1334; October 1, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Two by Two, p. 346.

Children's Bookwatch, December, 2004, review of Two by Two.

Five Owls, January, 2001, review of Keeping up with Grandma, p. 67.

Horn Book, July-August, 1996, Ellen Fader, review of The Old Man Who Loved to Sing, p. 458; March-April, 2002, Mary M. Burns, review of The Colt and the King, p. 202.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 1997, review of The Old Woman Who Loved to Read, p. 308; March 1, 2002, review of The Colt and the King, p. 340; August 15, 2004, review of Two by Two, p. 814.

Magpies, July, 2000, review of Keeping up with Grandma, p. 44; May, 2005, review of Run, Hare, Run!, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, February 10, 1997, review of The Old Woman Who Loved to Read, p. 84; August 27, 2001, review of Where Do You Sleep, Little One?, p. 83; February 11, 2002, review of Old Crump: The True Story of a Trip West, p. 185; February 18, 2002, review of The Colt and the King, p. 65; October 25, 2004, review of Two by Two, p. 46.

School Library Journal, April, 1996, pp. 121-122; May, 1997, p. 117; November, 2000, Carolyn Stacey, review of Keeping up with Grandma, p. 138; April, 2002, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of The Colt and the King, p. 116; June, 2002, review of Old Crump, p. 98; May, 2003, Harriett Fargnoli, review of Brother Wolf, Sister Sparrow, p. 137; October, 2004, Kathy Piehl, review of Two by Two, p. 152.


Scholastic Australia Web site, http://www.scholastic.com.au/ (November 7, 2005), "John Winch."

University of Canberra Mary Gibbs Fellowship Program Web site, http://www.canberra.edu.au/marygibbs/ (November 7, 2005), "John Winch."

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