Melanie W. Hall (1949–) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Illustrator, Sidelights
Born 1949, in Gloucester, MA; Education: Attended Rhode Island School of Design, 1967–70; Pratt Institute, B.F.A., 1978; Marywood College, M.A., 1993. Hobbies and other interests: Archery, reading, meditation.
Worked variously as a painter, museum curator, printer's assistant, editorial illustrator, graphic designer, and fashion illustrator. Freelance illustrator and painter, 1978–; children's book illustrator, 1991–. Lecturer, Pratt Institute and Marywood University.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Graphic Artists Guild.
Award for work exhibited at Original Art Show, Society of Illustrators, 1992; Don Freeman grant, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1993; Parents' Choice Award.
Charles Temple, On the Riverbank, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.
Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, adapted by Freya Littledale, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, selector, Weather, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
Patrick Lewis, July Is a Mad Mosquito, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.
Charles Temple, Shanty Boat, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman, On Passover, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman, On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman, On Hanukkah, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
Nancy Sohn Swartz, In Our Image: God's First Creatures, Jewish Lights (Woodstock, VT), 1998.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman, On Purim, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman, On Shabbat, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Ivy O. Eastwick, I Asked a Tiger to Tea, and Other Poems, compiled by Walter B. Barbe, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2002.
Melinda Kay Busch, Born on Christmas Morn: The Story of Jesus' Birth, Luke 2:1-20 for Children, Concordia (St. Louis, MO), 2003.
Nancy Sohn Swartz, How Did the Animals Help God?, SkyLight Paths (Woodstock, VT), 2004.
Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Over in the Pink House: New Jump Rope Rhymes, Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 2004.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, selector, Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Lee Bennett Hopkins, selector, Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Cathy Goldberg Fishman, On Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Kar-Ben (Minneapolis, MN), 2005.
Deborah Bodin Cohen, The Seventh Day, Kar-Ben (Minneapolis, MN), 2005.
Work included in The Very Best of Children's Book Illustration, Society of Illustrators/Northlight Books, 1993.
Melanie W. Hall is an illustrator of children's books noted for employing a variety of mixed media, from watercolors to crayons. Hall's artwork can be both folksy and vibrant, even flashy, depending on the theme of the material she is illustrating. Working in collaboration with authors such as Charles Temple and Cathy Goldberg Fishman, she has illustrated books dealing with topics from a day on the river to the months of the year and weather to the Jewish holidays.
"Illustrating children's books is a dream come true for me," Hall once told SATA. "When I was a little girl I made a series of books called 'The Fun Book,' which came out seasonally and were filled with illustrations, rebuses, puzzles, and stories. I laugh to myself remembering how I sat on the beach with colored pencils and paper finishing up the latest fun book so I wouldn't be late for the deadline. I didn't know that was a taste of what was to come."
After attending the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design from 1967 to 1970, Hall worked in a variety of careers allied to the visual and studio arts. "I've had a checkered career as a painter, museum curator, printer's assistant, editorial illustrator, graphic designer, and fashion illustrator," Hall once recalled to SATA. She returned to school to earn her B.F.A. at the Pratt Institute, but still did not discover her niche. "I wasn't very happy. One day, while sitting at my drawing table doing my umpteenth fashion illustration, I wondered, 'Will I be doing this boring stuff when I'm sixty?' I complained to my girlfriend, 'I want to do children's books!' She replied, 'Well, why don't you?' At that moment, lights flashed and bells rang. I said to myself, 'Yeah, why don't I? What's stopping me?' Everything fell into place. I went back to school and learned how to do children's books.
"The day I got my first book contract changed my life forever. After my editor, Matilda Welter of Houghton Mifflin, offered me On the Riverbank, I jumped up and down and whooped for joy. I tried to sound calm, cool, and collected but failed miserably. Matilda chuckled appreciatively at my delight. I told her, 'This is the day all my dreams come true,' quoting Bob Dylan's song 'New Morning.' Afterward, I called up every member of my family and every friend to crow about the news."
Hall's first illustrated title, Temple's On the Riverbank, is a story of a family of three who are out for a fishing trip on the shores of a river lit by moonlight. Daddy and Mama bring along a picnic basket and all the assorted gear necessary for an evening of catfishing. Together the young narrator and his father bait the lines and eagerly await the first bites. Told in pulsing, rhythmic stanzas, the book details the simple joys of catching fish and swapping tall tales around a campfire. Hall adds to the down-home feel with her debut illustration effort; her "rustic-looking, mixed-media paintings call to mind colored woodblock prints," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The "cool palette of blues, purples and shimmering whites winningly matches the story's setting of a June night steeped in moonglow," the critic added. Booklist contributor Denia Hester called attention to Hall's technique, noting that "the several applications of paint give the art a textured look." "This effect sometimes roughens the art, occasionally obscuring a facial detail," Hester added, "but it also gives the book a unique look." Anne Connor, reviewing On the Riverbank in School Library Journal, felt that the "soft, mixed media illustrations have a verve that echoes the text and adds a romanticized dimension of a fond reminiscence to this story of an African-American family that has spent a winter anticipating such an outing."
Hall again collaborated with Temple on Shanty Boat, a 1994 picture book about the life of Uncle Sheb, a boatman who plies his trade on the Mississippi River. Sheb spent his whole life on the river, never settling down or having a family. In fact, Sheb's home WAS the river, and after his death people reported seeing him and his ramshackle little boat when the moon shines brightly. Against this story, Hall paced her paintings to Temple's hard-driving textual rhythms, and her "mixed-media illustrations … portray the bucolic existence of this solitary oarsman," according to Booklist critic Kay Weisman. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Hall and Temple's picture-book collaboration "part ballad, part ghost story and part tall tale," noting that "Hall's collagraphs bustle with a tone of joyous confusion." Reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, Lisa S. Murphy commented: "The art is luminous with light ranging from the warmth of the morning sun to the mysterious glow of the moon."
Hall has also provided artwork for an adaptation of the classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and her artwork has appeared in the anthology The Very Best of Children's Book Illustration, compiled by the Society of Illustrators. Her inclusion in the latter stands as a compliment to an illustrator with—at the time of that volume's 1993 publication—only two books to her credit. In 1994 Hall teamed up on two poetry book projects: Weather, a book of verses edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Patrick Lewis's July Is a Mad Mosquito. In the former title, Hall provided artwork to accompany the poems of both famous—such as Carl Sandburg and Ogden Nash—and lesser-known versifiers. "The dominant col-ors are pink and orange—more sunny than rainy," noted Ruth K. MacDonald in School Library Journal. Mac-Donald went on to observe in her review that "the overall impression is of brightness, lightheartedness, and fun." Horn Book critic Margaret A. Bush noted that Hall's work for the book includes "pastel sketches, warmly energetic views of children and simple nature scenes."
To accompany Lewis's twelve poems about the months of the year, collected as July Is a Mad Mosquito, Hall produced "zippy collagraphs," according to a critic for Publishers Weekly. If the text falters, "Hall's literal interpretations should clear up any confusion," the same reviewer decided. Judy Greenfield, writing in School Library Journal, called attention to the "full-color, double-spread impressionistic painting" designed to interpret the central motif of each poem, while Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan cited "Hall's lively illustrations, fanciful scenes in popsicle-bright pastels and muted blues and browns."
Hall has worked with author Cathy Goldberg Fishman on several books dealing with Jewish holidays. Passover is the subject of their first collaborative effort, On Passover, which Booklist critic Ilene Cooper called "more attractive and lyrical than many other Passover books." Here the story is told by a young girl who asks a series of questions of her family as they prepare for the traditional Jewish holiday. There is the ritual dinner, the Seder plate, and the Passover service, among other parts of the ceremonial aspects of the holiday. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Hall's rich mixed-media creations bustle with energy." Further collaborative efforts have produced On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, On Hanukkah, On Purim, and On Shabbat. In the first-named book, the High Holidays are explored, with particular focus on Rosh Hashanah, again employing a little girl's voice to get to the heart of the celebration. Once more, Fishman's text explores both the meaning of the holiday as well as the common holiday practices and food. "Hall's beautiful, rosy, expressionistic pictures are a fine complement to Fishman's text," according to Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist. Reviewing On Hanukkah in Booklist, Julie Corsaro felt that Hall's "fanciful, mixed-media paintings feature strong texturing and glowing, gilt-edged colors." On Shabbat explains the weekly celebration of the Sabbath. "Hall's marbled, multilayered collagraphs are alive with intriguingly textured images," wrote Ellen Mandel of Booklist, adding that "they radiate the warmth, comfort, and refreshing strength" symbolized by Shabbat. According to School Library Journal contributor Martha Link, "the illustrations are the highlight of this book."
Hall turned to biblical stories for her illustrations of Nancy Sohn Swartz's picture book In Our Image: God's First Creatures. This "nondenominational, nonsectarian retelling of the creation story … focuses on the period before man and woman were created," as Yapha Nussbaum Mason described the book in a School Library Journal review. In Swartz's tale, a group of animals informs God of the gifts they would like to present to humans, including the chimps who think curiosity would be a fine thing, and the ostriches who opt for humans minding their own business. Worried when God tells them that humans will have dominion over them, the animals are finally reassured when God further informs them that the humans will not abuse this sacred trust. "The vibrantly colored illustrations nearly leap off the page in this delightful interpretation," concluded Mason. Booklist critic Ilene Cooper deemed Hall's artwork "particularly nice," noting that her illustrations both extend and elaborate Swartz's text, and "capture the feeling of life that is the essence of the story." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly concluded of the combination of soft watercolor with sharper, black and neon images, "the effect is both complex and magical."
Ivy O. Eastwick's poems, collected in I Asked a Tiger to Tea, and Other Poems and jump rope rhymes collected by Rebecca Kai Dotlich in Over in the Pink House: New Jump Rope Rhymes, have both provided Hall with new subjects for her illustrations. The poetry in Eastwick's compilation are based on the poet's childhood in early 1900's England. The poems "are in concert with Hall's richly textured, lushly colored art," according to Ellen Mandel in Booklist. Kathleen Whalin, writing in School Library Journal, felt while that the poems have been better collected in other compilations, "Hall's bright, impressionistic paintings do much to enliven the book." The traditional rhymes of Over in the Pink House contain elements of folklore and fantasy, as well as realistic images accompanied by a steady jumping beat. "The style of each picture perfectly captures the tone of the accompanying poem," wrote Sally R. Dow in her School Library Journal review. Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist that "Hall's clear, colorful illustrations … keep the scenarios open, whether realistic or magical."
In 2004, Hall again provided illustrations for collections of poetry selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins. Focusing on the winter holidays, Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry and Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry both feature poetry and illustrations to tie in with the season. Of both books, a Horn Book reviewer noted that Hall's paintings "accent the verses without overwhelming them." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote of Christmas Presents that "Hall's attractive illustrations eschew traditional Christmas colors" and give the collection "a lively flair." In the same periodical, a reviewer noted of Hanukkah Lights: "Whimsical paintings full of swirls and curves … complete the Judaic settings for each poem." A Publishers Weekly critic found that Hall's paintings in the same book "combine visual flights of fancy with cozy scenes of Jewish domesticity."
A traditional Jewish tale is the focus of The Seventh Day, written by Rabbi Deborah Bodin Cohen. The author combines the creation story with a prayer that names God an artist, a potter, and a musician. "The mixed-media illustrations are quite lovely, with a Chagall-like feel," complimented Amy Lilien-Harper in a review for School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic felt that Hall's illustrations "swirl with color and energy. Her palette balances purple sunsets, fluffy white clouds and verdant fields and mountains all in a vibrant, appealing rainbow of life."
Both magical and earthy, Hall's illustrations assure her a continued place in children's-book illustration. Having come a long way from her fashion-designing days, she doubts she will seek another career change. As she once concluded to SATA: "I am completely happy now and love what I do!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Artist's, May, 1992; January, 1994.
Booklist, November 15, 1992, Denia Hester, review of On the Riverbank, p. 64; June 1, 1994, Kay Weisman, review of Shanty Boat, p. 1846; July, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of July Is a Mad Mosquito, p. 1950; March 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of On Passover, p. 1165; October 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, p. 322; September 1, 1998, Julie Corsaro, review of On Hanukkah, p. 132; October 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of In Our Image: God's First Creatures, p. 345; April, 1, 2001, Ellen Mandel, review of On Shabbat, p. 1474; December 15, 2002, Ellen Mandel, review of I Asked a Tiger to Tea, p. 756; May 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Over in the Pink House: New Jump Rope Rhymes, p. 1560; August, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Christmas Presents: Holiday Poetry, p. 1938.
Children's Bookwatch, May, 2005, review of Over in the Pink House.
Horn Book, July-August, 1994, Margaret A. Bush, review of Weather, p. 468; November-December, 2004, review of Christmas Presents and Hanukkah Lights: Holiday Poetry, p. 661.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Over in the Pink House, p. 267; November 1, 2004, review of Christmas Presents, p. 1050, review of Hanukkah Lights, p. 1050.
Publishers Weekly, October 5, 1992, review of On the Riverbank, p. 70; February 14, 1994, review of Shanty Boat, p. 87, and review of July Is a Mad Mosquito, p. 89; February 24, 1997, review of On Passover, p. 83; September 28, 1998, review of In Our Image, p. 95; September 27, 2004, "Hanukkah Notes," p. 60; February 14, 2005, review of The Seventh Day, p. 78.
School Library Journal, November, 1992, Anne Connor, review of On the Riverbank, p. 79; March, 1994, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of Weather, p. 216; April 1994, Judy Greenfield, review of July Is a Mad Mosquito, p. 120; July, 1994, Lisa S. Murphy, review of Shanty Boat, p. 98; March, 1999, Yapha Nussbaum Mason, review of In Our Image, p. 202; February, 2000, Amy Lilien-Harper, review of On Purim, p. 110; August, 2001, Martha Link, review of On Shabbat, p. 168; November, 2002, Kathleen Whalin, review of I Asked a Tiger to Tea, p. 142; April, 2004, Sally R. Dow, review of Over in the Pink House, p. 130; October, 2004, review of Over in the Pink House, p. S26; August, 2005, Amy Lilien Harper, review of The Seventh Day, p. 86.
Melanie Hall Home Page, http://www.mhallillustration.com (March 28, 2006).