Ruth Brown (1941–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1941, in Tiverton, England; Education: Attended Bournemouth College of Art, 1957–59; Birmingham College of Art, degree (with first-class honors), 1961; Royal College of Art, M.A., 1964. Politics: Liberal. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, walking the dog in the countryside, reading, traveling, visiting antique shops, cooking.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Andersen Press, Ltd., Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.
Author and illustrator, 1979–.
Shortlisted for Kate Greenaway Medal, British Library Association, 1988, for Ladybird, Ladybird and 1996, for The Tale of the Monstrous Toad; Redbook Children's Book Award, 1988, for Blossom Comes Home.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Crazy Charlie, Andersen (London, England), 1979, reprinted, 1998.
A Dark, Dark Tale, Dial (New York, NY), 1981, published with Arabic translation by Azza Habib, Andersen (London, England), 1998.
If at First You Do Not See, Andersen (London, England), 1982, Holt (New York, NY), 1983.
The Grizzly Revenge, Andersen (London, England), 1983.
The Big Sneeze, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1985, reprinted, Andersen (London, England), 2002.
Our Cat Flossie, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986, reprinted, Andersen (London, England), 2004.
Our Puppy's Holiday, Andersen (London, England), 1987, published as Our Puppy's Vacation, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
Ladybird, Ladybird, Andersen (London, England), 1988, published as Ladybug, Ladybug, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.
I Don't Like It!, Andersen (London, England), 1989, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
The World That Jack Built, Andersen (London, England), 1990, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
The Four-Tongued Alphabet: An Alphabet Book in Four Languages, Andersen (London, England), 1991, published as Alphabet Times Four: An International ABC, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
The Picnic, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
One Stormy Night, Andersen (London, England), 1992, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
Copycat, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
(Reteller) Greyfriars Bobby, Andersen (London, England), 1995, published as The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
The Tale of the Monstrous Toad, Andersen (London, England), 1996, published as Toad, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Baba, Andersen (London, England), 1997, published as Cry Baby, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
A Mad Summer Night's Dream, Andersen (London, England), 1998, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
One Little Angel, Andersen (London, England), 1998, published as The Shy Little Angel, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
Holly: The True Story of a Cat, Andersen (London, England), 1999, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
Snail Trail, Crown (New York, NY), 2000.
The Happy Frog, Red Fox (London, England), 2001.
Ten Seeds, Knopf (New York, NY), 2001.
Lion in the Long Grass, illustrated by Ken Brown, Andersen (London, England), 2002.
Helpful Henry, Andersen (London, England), 2002.
Ruggles, Anderson (London, England), 2003.
The Christmas Mouse, Red Fox (London, England), 2003.
The Winter Garden, Andersen (London, England), 2004.
Night-Time Tale, Andersen (London, England), 2005.
Imagine, Andersen (London, England), 2006.
James Herriot, The Christmas Day Kitten, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1986.
James Herriot, Bonny's Big Day, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1987.
James Herriot, Blossom Comes Home, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.
James Herriot, The Market Square Dog, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1989.
James Herriot, Oscar, Cat-about-Town, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
James Herriot, Smudge's Day Out, Michael Joseph (London, England), 1991, published as Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Peter Barrett) James Herriot, James Herriot's Animal Storybook, Michael Joseph (London, England), 1992, published as James Herriot's Treasury for Children, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Jeanne Willis, In Search of the Hidden Giant, Andersen (London, England), 1993, published as In Search of the Giant, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
Frances Thomas, Mr. Bear and the Bear, Andersen (London, England), 1994, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
Toby Forward, The Christmas Mouse, Andersen (London, England), 1996, published as Ben's Christmas Carol, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
Hiawyn Oram, The Wise Doll: A Traditional Tale, Andersen (London, England), 1997, published as Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll: A Traditional Russian Folktale, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
ILLUSTRATOR; "YOU AND ME" STORYBOOK SERIES
Judith Miles, The Three Little Pigs, Longman (London, England), 1979.
Barbara Parker, The Three Bears, Longman (London, England), 1979.
Mary Harris, The Black and White Cat, Longman (London, England), 1979.
Judith Miles, The Ugly Duckling, Longman (London, England), 1979.
Francesca Zeissl, King Gargantua, Longman (London, England), 1981.
Barbara Parker, Town Mouse, Country Mouse, Longman (London, England), 1981.
Several of Brown's books have been adapted for audiocassette.
Ruth Brown has written and illustrated numerous children's books, which have won her fans in both in her native England and North America. Known for her delicate use of watercolors, her particular love of cats, and her realistic and atmospheric representations of rural life, she has been particularly praised for her richly textured and colored artwork. "I'm very lucky to earn my living by writing and illustrating books," Brown once told SATA. "It means I can work at my own pace in my own time and in my own house. Sometimes I work very hard—seven days a week—and then when I've finished a book I can take a little time off before I start the next one." Among the many original picture books Brown has created are Toad, Ten Seeds, and Mad Summer Night's Dream, the last praised by Booklist contributor John Peters as "a lighthearted romp, depicted with [Brown's] characteristically sweeping brushstrokes." In a review of Baba—published in the United States as Cry Baby—about a pesky baby sister, Angela Redfern wrote in School Librarian: "you come to Ruth Brown's books with high expectations. You know she will write about something that matters."
Born in England in 1941, Brown grew up in Germany and in Bournemouth, England. After five years of arts studies, she married fellow illustrator Ken Brown and began a family. In 1979 she published her first children's book, Crazy Charlie. The story of a voracious crocodile who becomes less intimidating after his teeth fall out, the book was well received in England, and its 1983 publication in the United States introduced the author to U.S. audiences. Christine C. Seibold, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "children will identify with Charlie's longing for attention, and will cheer when he finally learns it's better to smile than growl." Seibold also commented on the "bold double-spread watercolor illustrations … rich in jungle colors and detail."
"The very hardest part of my job is thinking of good ideas," Brown once noted to SATA. "The writing is the next most difficult thing and doing the illustrations is the most fun." In creating her stories, she takes inspiration from the most commonplace of events. A fly lands on the nose of a sleeping farmer in The Big Sneeze, and sets off a chain reaction of accidents when it causes the dozing agrarian to sneeze. A Junior Bookshelf contributor called Brown's artwork for this book "delightfully evocative," while Moira Small noted in Books for Keeps that Brown "has produced a visual treat in this wonderful picture book … and a lesson in logic for small people!"
Familiar inspirations such as nursery rhymes and the alphabet serve as inspiration for several books by Brown. The World That Jack Built employs "the old cumulative Jack verse for a picture book about the environment," according to Booklist writer Hazel Rochman. Two contrasting valleys—one verdant and pristine, the other industrial and polluted—combine with the traditional format to bring home the author/illustrator's conservation message in what Magpies reviewer Cynthia Anthony described as a "powerful book." Alphabet Times Four: An International ABC (published in England as The Four-Tongued Alphabet: An Alphabet Book in Four Languages) goes beyond the bounds of traditional A-B-C books by spelling out words in four different languages—English, Spanish, French, and German—that happen to begin with the same letter. Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted that "teachers, librarians, and parents will find this a long-term, broad-based aesthetic investment." Reviewing the British edition, a Junior Bookshelf critic called Brown's book "beautifully pictured, in richly coloured and mysterious, imaginative paintings."
Animals of all sorts have provided Brown with one of her richest sources of inspiration. In A Dark, Dark Tale a black cat finds its way across a dark moor to a gloomy castle and then to a darkened corner of a mysterious room. "Brown's rich acrylic paintings are all shadows and cobwebs," noted Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, adding that A Dark, Dark Tale "will work well as a read-aloud with young listeners." Featuring another feline, her book Our Cat Flossie follows a house cat through a typical day that includes favorite haunts and favorite pastimes. "Brown is, quite obviously, gone on cats," Christina Olson remarked in a School Library Journal review of the book, adding that her "softly colored portraits" of the beloved pet "are charming" and enhance "a book that is simple—fulfillingly so." Chris Powling, writing in Books for Keeps, called Our Cat Flossie a "straightforward charmer." Praised for its "masterfully painted, realistic" illustrations by a School Library Journal reviewer, Holly: The True Story of a Cat follows as an abandoned coal-black kitten brings meaning to the holiday festivities of an English family. Based on Brown's own experience, the book features a simple text, while the author/illustrator's obvious understanding of the "cuddly, wily and sometimes standoffish ways of felines" will win points with cat lovers, in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Moving from cats to dogs, Brown serves up the adventures of a Labrador puppy in Our Puppy's Vacation, which Kristi Thomas Beavin called "visually appealing" in School Library Journal, and Betsy Hearne deemed "well worth the trip!" in her review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. In One Stormy Night the reader is presented with another dog's-eye view of life, this time a stormy night. Readers worry as a lonely dog enters the gates of a scary manor, searching for shelter from the severe weather. When the storm clears in the morning, the white dog has been transformed: it appears as a carved figure sitting guard on a tomb at a nearby church. A Junior Bookshelf critic concluded a review of the book by stating that "Brown knows her animals and her architecture, and she captures the muted tones of night with great skill."
Other popular animal and nature titles from Brown include Ladybird, Ladybird (released in the United States as Ladybug, Ladybug), The Picnic, and Ten Seeds. The ladybird or ladybug of the first book is the subject of a Mother Goose rhyme which Brown adapts into something of an environmental message, expanding the rhyme to include the animals and plants of the countryside. "It is Brown's lush, dramatically staged illustrations that add real weight to the poem," noted Phyllis Wilson in Booklist. Margery Fisher wrote in Growing Point that "there is an unobtrusive lesson in natural history implied in the pages of this expressive picture-book."
Humans venturing into the countryside unwittingly threaten disaster for the rabbits, mice, and moles inhabiting an underground burrow near a picnic site in The Picnic, while in Ten Seeds Brown weaves a simple counting lesson into a story about life in a backyard vegetable garden. "Brown's talent for illustrating nature is admirably displayed here," commented Judy Constantinides in a School Library Journal review of The Picnic, while Kristina Lindsay remarked in Magpies that the author/illustrator's artwork is "superb, with her delicate watercolours highlighting the stark difference between the bright daylight outside and dark burrow underground." In Ten Seeds Brown creates what a Horn Book contributor cited as a "marvelous opportunity to discuss plant life cycles and survival," as ten sunflower seeds are planted and through the works of slugs, mice, moles, and other garden visitors only a single flower opens, revealing a wealth of new seeds. Brown's detailed watercolors introduce young readers to the life cycle "with accuracy and charm," according to School Library Journal reviewer Patricia Pearl Dole.
Moving to literature, Brown retells the tale of a loyal dog in The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby and tips her hat to British writer Charles Dickens in a mousey version of Ben's Christmas Carol, a holiday classic penned by Toby Forward. In The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby two modern-day children, tourists in Edinburgh, Scotland, take readers back in time when they happen upon a fountain commemorating a dog called Bobby who was buried in a nearby churchyard. They—and the reader—learn, through a bit of magical flashback, of the loyalty of the dog that followed its master to his grave and then lingered nearby for fourteen years until it died as well. "Atmospheric prose and beguiling full-spread watercolors unfold Bobby's life with his master, Old Jock," commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Lisa S. Murphy, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "Brown's masterful watercolors paint an inviting picture of both the town of Edinburgh and the gorgeous Scottish countryside," and deemed the book a "beautiful retelling of a hard-to-find legend." From a loyal dog, Brown shifts her focus to a stingy mouse in illustrating Ben's Christmas Carol, casting Ben the mouse as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Ben's Christmas Carol was heralded by several critics, Susan Dove Lempke writing in Booklist that the book's "sumptuous" paintings display London "in all its moods—from spooky and grimy to celebratory."
With The Tale of the Monstrous Toad—also published simply as Toad—Brown moves from the sumptuous to the grotesque. As Brown's text makes clear, Toad is the tale of a "toad odorous, foul and filthy, and dripping with venomous fluid." Toad's very ugliness is his defense, however: when he wanders into the jaws of a large predator, he is quickly spit back out again. Deborah Stevenson, reviewing the book for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, wrote that it "seems a bit unfair to turn the toad's natural defenses into such a condemnatory judgment … about his personal charms, but the story trips along rhythmically nonetheless." Focusing on Brown's artwork for the book, Caroline Ward commented in School Library Journal that, "from the wart-encrusted end paper to the browns and greens of the slimy mire, the fluid watercolor illustrations aptly depict the setting."
As part of her work creating illustrations for stories by other writers, Brown has taken paintbrush in hand to illustrate several stories by beloved veterinarian-turned-writer James Herriot, providing atmospheric and lovingly detailed artwork that enhances and often transcends the usual bounds of book illustration. Reviewing her illustrations for Herriot's The Market Square Dog, for example, a Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked that "Brown's softly shaded watercolors recall an England of an earlier era, a place of cozy stone cottages and country gardens." Other books by Herriot that have been transformed into picture-book classics with the help of Brown's detailed watercolor illustrations include Oscar, Cat-about-Town, Smudge, the Little Lost Lamb, and The Christmas Day Kitten.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 1, 1981, Ilene Cooper, review of A Dark, Dark Tale, p. 494; March 1, 1991, Hazel Rochman, review of The World That Jack Built, p. 1397; October 1, 1994, Ellen Mandel, review of Copycat, p. 331; September 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Ben's Christmas Carol, p. 1; July, 1997, p. 1822; January 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll: A Traditional Russian Folktale, p. 818; October 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of The Shy Little Angel, p. 334; November 1, 1998, Phyllis Wilson, review of Ladybug, Ladybug, p. 479; June 1, 1999, John Peters, review of A Mad Summer Night's Dream, p. 1838; September 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Holly, p. 129; May 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Ten Seeds, p. 1754.
Books for Keeps, May, 1986, Chris Powling, review of Our Cat Flossie, p. 27; May, 1992, p. 27; May, 1993, Moira Small, review of The Big Sneeze, pp. 7, 36; September, 1997, p. 20.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1987, Betsy Hearne, review of Our Puppy's Vacation, p. 23; March, 1991, pp. 159-160; November, 1991, Betsy Hearne, review of Alphabet Times Four: An International ABC, pp. 57-58; September, 1996, p. 6; March, 1997, Deborah Stevenson, review of Toad, p. 2442; December, 2000, review of Holly, p. 136.
Growing Point, July, 1988, Margery Fisher, review of Ladybird, Ladybird, p. 5013.
Horn Book, January-February, 1986, p. 54; January-February, 1987, p. 46; March-April, 1998, Lauren Adams, review of Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll, p. 227; September, 2001, review of Ten Seeds, p. 570.
Junior Bookshelf, December, 1982, review of If at First You Do Not See, p. 218; August, 1985, review of The Big Sneeze, p. 172; December, 1991, review of The Four-Tongued Alphabet: An Alphabet Book in Four Languages, p. 238; February, 1993, review of One Stormy Night, p. 11.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1981, review of A Dark, Dark Tale, p. 1403; September 15, 1991, p. 1230.
Magpies, March, 1991, Cynthia Anthony, review of The World That Jack Built, p. 26; July, 1993, Kristina Lindsay, The Picnic, p. 27; March, 2002, review of Ten Seeds, p. 26.
New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1993, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1983, review of If at First You Do Not See, p. 57; October 13, 1989, review of The Market Square Dog, p. 51; July 5, 1993, p. 70; August 22, 1994, review of Copycat, p. 54; December 12, 1994, p. 62; March 11, 1996, review of The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby, p. 63; September 30, 1996, p. 89; January 12, 1998, review of Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll, p. 58; September 28, 1998, review of The Shy Little Angel, p. 57; June 7, 1999, review of Mad Summer Night's Dream, p. 82; November 13, 2000, review of Holly, p. 103.
School Librarian, August, 1997, Angela Redfern, review of Baba, pp. 129-130; winter, 2002, review of Lion in the Long Grass, p. 185; summer, 2003, review of Helpful Henry, p. 73.
School Library Journal, September, 1983, Christine C. Seibold, review of Crazy Charlie, p. 102; November, 1986, Christina Olson, review of Our Cat Flossie, pp. 72-73; January, 1988, Kristi Thomas Beavin, review of Our Puppy's Vacation, p. 63; March, 1993, Judy Constantinides, review of The Picnic, p. 171; March, 1995, p. 187; August, 1996, Lisa S. Murphy, review of The Ghost of Greyfriar's Bobby, p. 133; March, 1997, Caroline Ward, review of Toad, p. 149; February, 1998, p. 79; October, 1998, review of The Shy Little Angel, p. 40; October, 2000, review of Holly, p. 57; July, 2001, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Ten Seeds, p. 73.
Times Educational Supplement, July 18, 1997, p. 35.
Andersen Press Web site, http://www.andersenpress.co.uk/ (April 27, 2006), "Ruth Brown."
- Oscar Brown Jr. Biography - Took to Airwaves as Teen, Fought Racism with Politics and Revolution
- Jo Brown (1964–) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
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