Chris Raschka (1959–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1959, in Huntingdon, PA; Education: St. Olaf College, B.A., 1981. Hobbies and other interests: Yoga, walking, playing solitaire, playing viola and concertina, knitting.
Office—310 Riverside Dr., No. 418, New York, NY 10025. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
Writer, artist, and musician. Art teacher in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, 1985–86; freelance artist, cartoonist, and editorial illustrator, Ann Arbor, MI, 1987–89; freelance artist and children's book writer and illustrator, New York, NY, 1989–. Member, New York City School Volunteers Program; member, Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, Ann Arbor, 1982–84, 1986–89, and Flint Symphony Orchestra, Flint, MI, 1983–84. Also worked as an intern in an orthopedic clinic in Germany, 1981–82, and as a respite care worker in Ypsilanti, MI, 1982–84. Exhibitions: Artwork included in numerous exhibitions, including From Sea to Shining Sea—An American Sampler: Children's Books from the Library of Congress, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, 1998; America Illustrated, Bolzano, Padua, Rome, and Venice, Italy, 1998–2000; The Art of the Book, Grand Valley State University, Michigan, 1999; Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, NY, 2001; Charmed: The Art of Chris Raschka, Thurber Center Gallery, Columbus, OH, 2003; and Padiglione Esprit Nouveau, Bolobna, Italy, 2005.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Municipal Art Society, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.
Best Books of the Year citation, Publishers Weekly, Notable Children's Book citation, American Library Association (ALA), and Pick of the Lists citation, American Booksellers Association, all 1992, all for Charlie Parker Played Be Bop; New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year inclusion, Caldecott Honor Book award, ALA, and U.S. winner of UNICEF-Ezra Jack Keats Award, all 1994, all for Yo! Yes?
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
(Under name Christopher Raschka) R and R: A Story about Two Alphabets, Brethren Press, 1990.
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Orchard (New York, NY), 1992.
Yo! Yes?, Orchard (New York, NY), 1993.
Elizabeth Imagined an Iceberg, Orchard (New York, NY), 1994.
Can't Sleep, Orchard (New York, NY), 1995.
The Blushful Hippopotamus, Orchard (New York, NY), 1995.
Mysterious Thelonious, Orchard (New York, NY), 1997.
Arlene Sardine, Orchard (New York, NY), 1998.
Like Likes Like, DK (New York, NY), 1999.
Moosey Moose, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Doggy Dog, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Goosey Goose, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Lamby Lamb, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Ring! Yo?, DK (New York, NY), 2000.
Sluggy Slug, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Snaily Snail, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Whaley Whale, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Wormy Worm, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Waffle, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Little Tree, based on a poem by e. e. cummings, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Vladimir Radunsky) Table Manners: The Edifying Story of Two Friends Whose Discovery of Good Manners Promises Them a Glorious Future, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Talk to Me about the Alphabet, Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Vladimir Radunsky) Boy Meets Girl; Girl Meets Boy, Seuil Chronicle (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
New York Is English, Chattanooga Is Creek, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2005.
Five for a Little One, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2006.
James H. Lehman, The Saga of Shakespeare Pintlewood and the Great Silver Fountain Pen, Brotherstone (Elgin, IL), 1990.
James H. Lehman, Owl and the Tuba, Brotherstone (Elgin, IL), 1991.
Phyllis Vos Wezeman and Colleen Aalsburg Wiessner, Benjamin Brody's Backyard Bag, Brethren Press (Elgin, IL), 1991.
George Dolnikowski, This I Remember, Brethren Press (Elgin, IL), 1994.
Nikki Giovanni, The Genie in the Jar, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
Simple Gifts: A Shaker Hymn, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Margaret Wise Brown, Another Important Book, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
bell hooks, Happy to Be Nappy, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.
Sharon Creech, Fishing in the Air, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Paul Janeczko, editor, A Poke in the Eye, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
bell hooks, Be Boy Buzz, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
Claude Nougaro, Armstrong, Didier Jeunesse (Paris, France), 2002.
Francis Bellamy, I Pledge Allegiance: The Pledge of Allegiance, with commentary by Bill Martin, Jr., and Michael Sampson, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
bell hooks, Skin Again, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2004.
Agnès Grunelius-Hollard, Petite fille et le loup, Didier Jeunesse (Paris, France), 2004.
Paul B. Janeczko, editor, A Kick in the Head, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2005.
Norton Juster, The Hello, Good-bye Window, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.
Caldecott Honor-winning author and illustrator Chris Raschka likes to take chances. Employing only thirty-four well-chosen words in his book Yo! Yes?, and artwork that Publishers Weekly contributor Diane Roback dubbed "brash, witty, and offbeat," Raschka manages to convey volumes about not only the process of making friends, but also about race relations and the subtle nuances of emotion. His Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, constructed like a jazz piece with its text forming the rhythm and cadence of be bop, "stretched the definition of picture book," according to Roback in another Publishers Weekly review. Raschka is a chance-taker in his private life as well: accepted to medical school in the early 1980s, he made an eleventh-hour decision to forego the financial security of a doctor's life for the risk and reward of being a freelance artist. It is a decision he has never regretted. Raschka credits Vladimir Radunksy, a picture book artist with whom he later collaborated, with having been the inspiration for moving to New York to be nearer opportunities to illustrate children's books.
Born in Pennsylvania, Raschka is the only one of his siblings not born abroad. His parents met while both were doing refugee work after World War II: his father is an American from Detroit, and his mother is from Vienna, Austria. "So I grew up with a little bit of both in me," the author/illustrator once told SATA in an interview. "My earliest stories were Viennese fairy tales and sagas of Vienna that my mother would tell me." Growing up speaking both German and English, Raschka attended first grade in Marburg, Germany, where his father, a seminary professor of church history, was on sabbatical. "At that time of my life, I actually forgot English," he said. "When I got back to the United States, I remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Ericson, saying 'Do you understand, Christopher?' I thought this was strange." His entire childhood was not spent solely in distant locales, however. Living in suburban Chicago, "I played in the storm sewers and ditches," he also recalled. "They were the one interesting place in the whole bleak environment."
Though Raschka remembers some of the American cultural artifacts from his youth, such as the "Dick and Jane" readers, it is primarily the picture books from his mother's part of the world that informed his earliest imaginings and that still influence his own work. "I loved books such as Die kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) by [Otfried] Preussler," he explained to SATA. "Another all-time favorite is the illustrator Winnie Gebhardt Gayler and Wilhelm Busch with his 'Max and Moritz' stories. I even liked Struwelpeter when I was growing up. I know they are all pretty frightening, with horrific things happening to children who disobey their parents, but I think that kids are so used to seeing dangers all around them that they can deal with it. I was disturbed by some of the cruelty of the old German stories, but I loved the drawings and still do." Only as an adult did Raschka "catch up" on the great illustrators known to British and American audiences.
Raschka was involved in art and music from an early age. As a child, he loved to draw, and also started studying the piano at age six. From the piano he went on to the recorder and then violin. "But I was such a bad violinist," Raschka said, "that the director of the junior high orchestra made me take up viola." He went on to play in both high school and college orchestras. "But all the while I planned to be a biologist. I just loved animals of all types, especially crocodiles and turtles. I also loved drawing and music, but never thought I could make a living at those." Raschka was a biology major at college, and after graduation he planned to work on a crocodile farm in India on a project to restore the crocodile population in the country's rivers, thereby reviving a limited harvesting of the animal. But when these plans were put on hold, he took a position as an intern in a children's orthopedic clinic in Germany instead. "I learned so much from those kids," Raschka said, "and I loved the work. It was after that experience that I decided to go to medical school." After studying for and passing the entrance tests, Raschka was ultimately admitted to medical school, but again he put his plans on hold while he and his new wife went to St. Croix, Virgin Islands.
"I had a lot of luck in St. Croix," Raschka recalled. "My wife and I both decided to try our art—we had met in an art class—and we had shows there. My work was in galleries and I began to get freelance work as an illustrator. It was there that I first realized I might be able to make it as an artist." But the time came to enter medical school, and Raschka and his wife returned to the United States and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The very night of his orientation, Raschka decided not to go to school. Instead, he opted to work as an illustrator for various regional newspapers and magazines, doing everything from political cartoons to illustrations for legal text. Meanwhile, Raschka's wife trained as a Montessori teacher. "After a couple of years illustrating, I thought I would try a children's book," Raschka said. "That's how R and R came about."
Raschka's first picture book explores a theme he continues to develop: finding commonality in difference and allowing tolerance to bridge the gaps between people and peoples. "Actually the second 'R' in the title should be backwards, like in the Russian alphabet," Raschka once explained to SATA. "The book is a story that contrasts the English and Russian alphabets and the two letters are the main characters. It's a Russian-American friendship book and the text is both in English and Russian." With this first book, Raschka was already demonstrating the care and attention to detail that have become characteristic of his work. "My goal is to create a book where the entire book—text, pictures, shape of book—work together to create the theme. The placement of images and text on the page is crucial for me." Raschka began painstaking work toward this goal with R and R, which he finished in only three weeks. Encouraged by a professor of children's literature at the University of Michigan, Raschka prepared a complete package with lettering, design, and layout all camera-ready, and submitted it to Trethren Press of Elgin, Illinois. "The idea was to get into print," Raschka told SATA. "The publishing house liked my work and this led to other illustration jobs." He worked on three picture books with text by other authors at this time. "It was all sort of my apprenticeship period," Raschka recalled. "It taught me the amount of work involved in creating a picture book and how to put books together. And most of all this work taught me to see the book as a whole work and not just one illustration after another."
Meanwhile, Raschka was still pursuing his second love: music. As a member of two professional symphony orchestras, he still held hope of a career as a viola player. New York City also began to beckon. "My wife and I spent a couple of summers in New York and it was a wonderful experience. For me, New York City is the best blend of two worlds. It has the feeling of a big European city." In 1989, with no job prospects, Raschka and his wife decided to make the leap. For Raschka, this was the point where he made the decision between art or music. All that summer he practiced on a new viola, hoping to audition for the big orchestras in the fall. He even experimented with a new hand position on the instrument, and then nature took over. "I developed this incredibly painful case of tendonitis," he related in his interview. "I simply couldn't play anymore. My decision was made for me."
It was this musical inclination that won Raschka his first big break. After struggling for a couple of years to find freelance illustration work, and creating a small body of work in children's books, Raschka felt he knew the children's book trade and was ready to take a chance with something really innovative. "I start work early every morning," Raschka said. "And I like to listen to the radio when I work. In New York there is this one show on morning radio that plays all the music of [jazz saxophone player] Charlie Parker. This is every morning, and the man who does the show, Phil Schaap, plays every last scrap of the music. I was caught up by his enthusiasm for Parker. That and my own love for the music convinced me I should do a book on him. Ultimately I dedicated my book to Schaap." Convinced that jazz will be the classical music of the next century, Raschka decided it was time kids learned something more about jazz greats like Parker than that their lives were messed up by drugs. "I wanted to write about Parker for the birth of be bop, and not for the downside of his life."
Initially planning to write a straightforward biography of the musician, Raschka's intention was derailed after the very first sentence of the book: "Charlie Parker played be bop," which also became the book's title. "I realized these words could fit one of the great be bop tunes of the time, 'Night in Tunisia,' by Dizzy Gillespie," Raschka recounted for SATA. "After these first words I put away the notion of a regular biography and decided to convey just two facts: that Parker played the saxophone and played be bop. The rest was like a be bop tune itself, based on a repeating stanza or motif, with pure nonsense stanzas in between—a simple line that gets modified over and over again." Raschka blended this text with art done in charcoal and watercolors, angular and skewed and quite humorous. The finished book was turned down by one publisher, and then an illustrator friend of Raschka's suggested he submit it to Richard Jackson at Orchard Books, who took an immediate interest in the project.
Doubts as to whether the public would understand what Raschka was trying to do with Charlie Parker Played Be Bop were quickly dispelled by reviews. "Rather than attempting to teach his young audience about Parker's music," Booklist contributor Bill Ott noted, "Raschka allows them to hear it—not with sounds but with words and pictures." Raschka's text sticks in the head like a persistent ditty: "Charlie Parker played be bop./ Charlie Parker played saxophone./ The music sounded like be bop./ Never leave your cat alone./ Be bop./ Fisk, fisk./ Lollipop./ Boomba, boomba./ Bus stop./ Zznnzznn./ Boppity, bibbitty, bop. BANG!" In addition, Raschka's artwork gives his figures "extraordinary energy; creating jaunty, fantastical creatures to move with the beat," explained a Kirkus Reviews critic. Roback, writing in Publishers Weekly, added that "even the typeface joins in the fun as italics and boldface strut and swing across the pages." Roback also noted the inside jokes Raschka plays, such as the birds which are used as decorative motifs on some pages—Parker's nickname was "Bird." Raschka "has created a memorable tribute" to Parker, wrote Elizabeth S. Watson in Horn Book, calling the work "one of the most innovative picture books of recent times." Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie himself praised the book in Entertainment Weekly. Comparing the text to scat singing, Gillespie liked the "drawings of Bird, too; they're funny. So was he. I think this book would make him laugh a lot. It will surely make kids laugh."
Like Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, Mysterious Thelonious is a tribute to a famous figure in jazz history; this time it is composer Thelonious Monk. And like Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, the text of Mysterious Thelonious mimics the music of its subject. Critics compared the text of the earlier book to the improvisational bebop music it celebrates; in the latter book, the author/illustrator associates the placement and color of each page's illustration with placement of a note on the musical scale. Thus the book may be "played" as music to the tune of the composer's famous "Mysterioso." Watson, in another Horn Book review, remarked that while not all readers would be able to access this aspect of Raschka's tribute, those who could would find "Raschka's fresh, inventive use of color, rhythm, and melody will sing."
Returning to jazz with John Coltrane's Giant Steps, Raschka adapts one of Coltrane's songs to the printed page by representing each instrument with a "performer": a kitten representing the saxophone, snowflakes taking the part of the piano, raindrops as drums, and boxes for the bass. The characters depicting the instruments all refer to another number of Coltrane's, the jazz interpretation of the song "My Favorite Things." Raschka explained his goal with John Coltrane's Giant Steps to a writer for Children's Literature Web site: "The thing that I hoped to get across with this book was mostly a feeling of the potential for complexity that comes from a very simple layering of abstract things. Which is the case in Coltrane's music. It's more a visual experimentation to see what happens if you follow principles that are developed in music and try to translate them into graphic materials." While some reviewers noted that the book would be best accompanied by a recording of Coltrane playing "Giant Steps," most applauded Raschka's visual representation. "Raschka's transparent watercolors layer colors and shapes the way a musician would notes and harmonies," reported a Publishers Weekly critic. Wendy Lukehart in School Library Journal noted that "the sequential design and layering of the organic forms are a creative, joyful, and energetic match" for the original music.
The positive reception earned by Charlie Parker Played Be Bop encouraged Raschka to push ahead with another project that had started germinating about the same time as that book. "I was walking to the post office one day," Raschka recalled for SATA, "and was suddenly struck with how rich the street scene was. I've got a real interest in language and how words such as 'Yo' come into use. And so I began thinking about how language and culture and race all seem so big, but are actually small. They shouldn't really stand between people and keep us apart." With this germ of an idea—the interplay of language and race—Raschka started playing with story ideas. He wanted to talk about friendship, about the process of making friends. And he wanted to keep it simple and direct. "When I was a kid, my dad would play this little one-word game with us. We used to carry on whole dialogues with just one word back and forth." From these elements, Yo! Yes? was born.
With just thirty-four words Raschka portrays a potential racial stand-off that turns into friendship. On the left-hand page, an African-American boy, coolly outfitted in baggy shorts and unlaced sneakers, calls "Yo!" across the book to a shy white boy who seems to be inching off the right-hand page. From this beginning, the picture book progresses through one-word exchanges that show the white kid to be lonely for lack of friends, and culminates in the more outgoing black kid offering friendship, an offer accepted in an ecstatic high-five as the two join together on the final page and shout "Yow!" with joy. "Raschka exhibits an appreciation of the rhythms of both language and human exchange in his deceptively simple story," Maeve Visser Knoth wrote in Horn Book. "The succinct, rhythmic text and the strong cartoon-like watercolor-and-charcoal illustrations are perfect complements," Judy Constantinides similarly commented in School Library Journal. Raschka's artwork and layout are "bold, spare and expressive," summarized a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer, who concluded that "the language has the strength of a playground chant; the story is a ritual played out worldwide."
Named a Caldecott Honor Book, Yo! Yes? was a further step in Raschka's attempt to innovate the picture book: his placement of illustrations on the very bottom edge of the page is as important as the hand-lettered text. The structure of the book itself also adds to the story, as the two boys seem to be looking across, and eventually bridge, the actual seam between the book's left and right pages. The book is also a distillation of some of the kids Raschka plays basketball with in New York and of himself as the shy new white kid on the block. "Beneath it all," Raschka told SATA, "the black kid is shy too. It's a risk for him to offer friendship. I hope it's always a risk worth taking."
In The Blushful Hippopotamus Raschka offers up his signature combination of expressionistic depictions of characters and unusual, rhythmic text. Like the earlier Yo! Yes?, Raschka tells much of the story in The Blushful Hippopotamus visually, using the simple technique of rendering confident characters large and timid characters small. Roosevelt Hippopotamus is so overpowered by his sister's teasing that he practically slinks off the right-hand page while his sister looms so large that only part of her face and body can fit on the left-hand page. But, as Roosevelt's bird friend Lombard boosts his confidence, Roosevelt grows in stature (and his sister shrinks correspondingly). The book ends with a grateful embrace by the two friends. "Ah, the sweet balm of friendship," beamed a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, continuing: "its magic works as admirably on these pages as it does in real life." Raschka's Like Likes Like is another celebration of friendship with a story played out mainly in the author/illustrator's expressive drawings. This book "features Raschka at his most amenable," contended Julie Corsaro in Booklist.
Of The Blushful Hippopotamus, School Library Journal reviewer Barbara Kiefer predicted: "This simple story will comfort any child who's ever been teased unmercifully." Reviewers likewise praised Raschka's evident sympathy for the uncomfortable feelings of children that are demonstrated in Can't Sleep. Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns described Raschka's illustrations as "a minimum of detail but supercharged with emotion," depicting a small dog as he goes to bed and lies awake listening to the sounds of the rest of his family preparing for sleep. Burns singled out for praise the author's "brilliantly imaginative and completely childlike conclusion," in which the moon watches over the fearful child/dog at night so that, during the day, when the moon is asleep and the dog awake, the child can watch over the moon "and keep her safe."
Although much of Raschka's early works are considered innovative, none got the kind of reaction evoked by Arlene Sardine. In this book, Raschka chronicles the two-year life of Arlene, from her birth in a fjord among thousands of her kind, to her death on the deck of a fishing boat and, beyond death, to her processing in a sardine factory. Ilene Cooper observed that the sardine's short life and subsequent death "seems a dubious topic upon which to write a book for preschoolers," in a Booklist review. School Library Journal reviewer Carol Ann Wilson expressed a similar viewpoint while observing that "the graphic design [of the book] is masterful," and praising the touches of whimsy injected into the fact-based account of Arlene's life via the poetic rhythms and use of repetition in the text. Still, "Arlene's saga, like sardines, is an acquired taste," Wilson concluded. While Betsy Hearne, in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, acknowledged the issues raised concerning the appropriateness of the book for its intended audience, she also praised Arlene Sardine by writing that "it's refreshing to have a visual storyteller trying innovative things." "One thing for sure," Hearne continued, "Raschka's work always surprises, challenges, and intrigues us one way or another."
Raschka explained the basis for his idea to create Arlene Sardine to Etta Wilson of BookPage.com. "One day, as he was putting away an assortment of food donations from the United States, he was struck by the amazing journey of a can of sardines," Wilson explained. Raschka wrote to sardine companies, curious about the process of transforming brisling fish into sardines, and he received responses from around the world, with his most valuable information coming from Norway. This curiosity led to a picture book in which, according to Wilson, although "the story may be hard to swallow for an adult … young readers will certainly like the interesting depiction."
After creating several titles about animals, including Snaily Snail and Wormy Worm, Raschka tells the story of a protagonist who cannot make up his mind in Waffle. Poor Waffle worries constantly, until he finally finds his inner strength and learns to fly. "Conceptually, and visually, the book is ingenious," praised Martha V. Parravano in Horn Book, although noting that "it's difficult to be as enthusiastic about the text." While other critics also noted the story's awkward cadences, Michael Cart wrote in Booklist that "Raschka's spare, alliterative text will be great fun to read aloud." According to a Publishers Weekly critic, Raschka "captures the essence of a mood with the merest hint of text and the briefest of brush strokes."
Raschka followed Waffle with Little Tree, a Christmas tale inspired by a poem by e. e. cummings. Creating text to expand upon cummings's original tale of a fir tree who wants to become a Christmas tree, Raschka delivers the story "with loads of repetition and an al-most hypnotic rhythm," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The picture book "embodies the warm sense of love and belonging that for many defines the true meaning of Christmas," wrote a reviewer for School Library Journal.
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In 2001, Raschka collaborated with artist Vladimir Radunsky on Table Manners: The Edifying Story of Two Friends Whose Discovery of Good Manners Promises Them a Glorious Future. Chester and Dudunya ask questions about appropriate manners and give examples of good restaurant conduct, as well as teaching readers to say "please" and "thank you" in six different languages. Commenting on the "free-spirited" illustration style, a Publishers Weekly reviewer found that, "together, these two [artists] are anything but uptight." Kathleen Whalin, writing in School Library Journal, called the collaboration "a funny, artistic creation on the subject of living well." In a second collaboration between Raschka and Radunsky, Girl Meets Boy; Boy Meets Girl, the words of the story are the same from right to left and from left to right, and are occasionally sprawled across the page upside-down. The experimental format "busts linear narrative to smithereens," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A Publishers Weekly reviewer likened the story to "a Mobius strip that never stops."
A list of letters with attitude is the subject of Talk to Me about the Alphabet, Raschka's first alphabet book since his first self-illustrated title. A lumpy looking narrator demands to be told about the alphabet, going through the letters with his cat for company. Due to the lack of theme that tied R and R together, some critics, including a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, found "the end result is underwhelming." However, other critics, including GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist, described Raschka's unconventional style as "quirky and satisfying." Marian Creamer noted, "The strength of the book lies in the vibrancy of the rhythmic text and ink-and-watercolor illustrations," in her School Library Journal review.
Raschka has also illustrated titles for such well-known writers as poet bell hooks and children's author Sharon Creech. When Raschka illustrated hooks's Happy to Be Nappy, he faced controversy as a white illustrator of black-themed books. "My own perspective is that bell hooks asked me to illustrate her lovely text and I said 'sure,' and that's the level on which I view it," he explained to a writer for ChildrensLit.com. Of his illustrations for hooks's Be Boy Buzz, a Publishers Weekly contributor commented on "Raschka's trademark visual haiku." On his work for Skin Again, also written by hooks, Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman wrote that Raschka's "art vividly celebrates history and the realism, fun, and fantasy inside each one of us."
Raschka's collaboration with Creech on Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, was considered by Maria B. Salvadore in School Library Journal to be "a meal that should not be missed." His illustrations have also adorned poetry collections, including A Poke in the Eye and A Kick in the Head, both edited by Paul B. Janeczko. Raschka "works in tandem with each poem's design," noted a Publishers Weekly critic in a review of the earlier anthology. A Horn Book reviewer wrote of A Poke in the Eye that "Raschka decorates rather than interprets, but he does so with strong, vertical lines and bold colors that add energy to the collection without overwhelming it."
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Raschka generally has several projects going at once. "I may be finishing up one book while another one is in the early stages of artwork and still another one is just a few words scribbled onto a bit of scrap paper and left to ripen for a time," he said. "With my illustrations, I am working very close to the surface. Most of the information is right up front without great detail in the background. That's why I like to position them on the bottom of the page. To make them almost come out of the frame, to jump off the page. I work for young kids who want things close up and are immediate and tactile." As for content and theme, Raschka writes out of personal experience and necessity: "My books are my own thoughts about things that are important to me," he once explained to SATA. "I work through how I feel about such things as language, art, music, and friendship with these loose, colorful and slightly wild drawings."
"I hope that my books create an openness to the world," Raschka concluded in SATA. "An openness to cultural and racial differences. So far, I've looked at language and music and diversity. I want kids to be able to be positive toward these things. To enjoy difference and not be frightened by it."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 1988, Ilene Cooper, review of Arlene Sardine, p. 126; June 15, 1992, Bill Ott, review of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, p. 1843; April 1, 1999, Julie Corsaro, review of Like Likes Like, p. 1409; May 15, 2001, Michael Cart, review of Waffle, p. 1760; November 1, 2002, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 508; April 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of John Coltrane's Giant Steps, p. 1414; May 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Talk to Me about the Alphabet, p. 1606; September 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Skin Again, p. 250.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1993, review of Yo! Yes?, pp. 262-263; September, 1998, Betsy Hearne, review of Arlene Sardine, pp. 3-4.
Entertainment Weekly, October 9, 1992, Dizzy Gillespie, "What about Bop?," p. 70.
Horn Book, November-December, 1992, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, pp. 718-719; May-June, 1993, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Yo! Yes?, p. 323; March-April, 1996, Mary M. Burns, review of Can't Sleep, p. 191; January-February, 1998, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Mysterious Thelonious, p. 68; May, 2001, Martha V. Parravano, review of Waffle, p. 315; July, 2001, review of A Poke in the Eye, p. 466.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1992, review of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, p. 853; August 15, 2001, review of Little Tree, p. 1210; October 1, 2001, review of Table Manners, p. 1431; July 1, 2003, review of Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, p. 908; August 1, 2004, review of Girl Meets Boy; Boy Meets Girl, p. 748.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 20, 1993, p. 3.
Publishers Weekly, October, 1992, Diane Roback, review of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, p. 108; February 15, 1993, Diane Roback, review of Yo! Yes?, p. 236; December 13, 1993, Diane Roback, review of Elizabeth Imagined an Iceberg, p. 69; August 5, 1996, review of The Blushful Hippopotamus, p. 441; April 16, 2001, review of Waffle, p. 64; September 24, 2001, review of Little Tree, p. 49; October 29, 2001, review of Table Manners, p. 62; June 25, 2002, review of John Coltrane's Giant Steps, p. 55; August 26, 2002, review of I Pledge Allegiance, p. 68; September 30, 2002, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 71; February 3, 2003, review of Talk to Me about the Alphabet, p. 74; December 22, 2003, review of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, p. 63; August 30, 2004, review of Boy Meets Girl; Girl Meets Boy, p. 53.
School Library Journal, July 6, 1992, p. 54; May, 1993, Judy Constantinides, review of Yo! Yes?, p. 90; April, 1994, Kate McClelland, review of Elizabeth Imagined an Iceberg, p. 112; September, 1996, Barbara Kiefer, review of The Blushful Hippopotamus, pp. 117-118; September, 1998, Carol Ann Wilson, review of Arlene Sardine, p. 179; April, 2001, review of Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (audiobook), p. 92; October, 2001, review of Little Tree, p. 63; November, 2001, Kathleen Whalin, review of Table Manners, p. 134; July, 2002, Wendy Lukehart, review of John Coltrane's Giant Steps, p. 97; December, 2002, Anna DeWind Walls, review of Be Boy Buzz, p. 97, and Krista Tokarz, review of I Pledge Allegiance, p. 127; February, 2003, Lee Bock, review of Yo! Yes?, p. 97; March, 2003, Kirsten Martindale, review of John Coltrane's Giant Steps (audiobook), p. 93; June, 2003, Marian Creamer, review of Talk to Me about the Alphabet, p. 113; August, 2003, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, p. 158; November, 2004, Marie Orlando, review of Girl Meets Boy; Boy Meets Girl, p. 116.
BookPage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September, 1998), Etta Wilson, interview with Raschka.
ChildrensLit.com, http://www.childrenslit.com/ (December 1, 2005), "Chris Raschka."
Storyopolis Art Gallery Online, http://www.storyopolis.com/ (December 1, 2005).
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