Alan Marks Biography (1957-)
Alan Marks once told SATA: "Drawing was important to me as a child. I can't remember a time when I didn't draw. I guess there is still a part of me that loves to hold up a drawing and say, 'Look what I've done.' There is something very magical about drawing—starting with a blank page and filling it with movement, depth, colour, light, and atmosphere." And, according to Financial Times contributor Michael Glover, Marks does appear to create movement in his illustrations. In his review of Marks's Ring-a-Ring O'Roses and a Ding, Dong, Bell: A Book of Nursery Rhymes, Glover stressed that "animals leap, jump, fly, skedaddle off the edge of the page, leaving the eye breathless with excitement."
Marks acknowledged the latitude that he has been given with his work when he once told SATA: "Michael Neugebauer (from Picture Book Studio) has given me great scope to choose and illustrate texts, a freedom used to best effect in my first nursery rhyme book, Ring-a-Ring O'Roses and a Ding, Dong, Bell. I'm not sure that an English publisher would have allowed me such freedom. But, as Glover suggested in Financial Times, the result was a 'zestfulness and an edge of originality.'" Rachel Fox, in her School Library Journal review of the volume, called the drawings "refreshing" and "eye-catching."
"Largely with the wish to make whole books, and perhaps to explore my own childhood," Marks continued, "I have written my own texts on occasions. Nowhere to Be Found, published in 1988, was my first book with Neugebauer and a turning point in my career."
Nowhere to Be Found is the story of a boy who loses his temper, then disobeys his mother's instructions by straying into "The Land of Nowhere," where everyone is continuously lost. In this imaginative world, many adults have lost their sense of smell and their memories; some are lost in thought, and one elderly woman has lost a stitch from her knitting. A Growing Point reviewer noted that the young boy embarks on a "journey very familiar to children working their way through a tantrum." Writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Leigh Dean called Nowhere to Be Found "a charming, light-hearted cautionary tale."
Marks also once told SATA: "I have … written a story for seven-to nine-year-olds called The Thief's Daughter, which has been published by Simon and Schuster in England. I love to write, but it takes me a long time. Again, I'm inspired by other writers: Jill Paton Walsh, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Alan Garner, Lawrence Durrell, and J. D. Salinger, to name a few. My influences are wide—Auguste Rodin to Arthur Rackham, you might say—but they can all draw. Others include Edgar Degas, Jim Dine, Ralph Steadman, Alan Lee, and Edmund Dulac. My work has also been coloured, I think, by my early childhood in the docklands of London and a very contrasting move to the Kent countryside."
Another of Marks's self-illustrated works is Childe Roland, a folktale he adapted which revolves around a courageous prince who embarks on a dangerous quest. Commentator Betsy Hearne, reviewing the title in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, especially praised Marks's illustrations, noting that his watercolor paintings are "openly imagined and well composed, with good drafting and subtle color blends." A contributor to Publishers Weekly commended the artwork as well, calling the pictures "well-executed and appropriately eerie."
Throughout his career Marks has also illustrated several books for other authors, including Fiona Waters's Golden Apples, Jill Paton Walsh's Birdy and the Ghosties, Joan Aiken's Shoemaker's Boy, Andrew Clements's Temple Cat, and Kathleen Benner Duble's Pilot Mom. The illustrations for Pilot Mom, the story of a girl who is preparing for her mother's departure for an Air Force training mission, feature "many realistic renderings of the planes and the inside of a cockpit," a reviewer noted in Publishers Weekly. But in addition to displaying his skill in this area, Marks also used subtle changes of color in his pastel watercolors to "reflect the girl's emotional roller coaster as she sees her mother off," wrote Booklist contributor Connie Fletcher.
Marks's work on It's Bedtime!, written by Brigitte Weninger, has received particular praise. His "full-page watercolors are marvelously expressive" and "draw readers into Ben's world," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. The story, a German import, is about a little boy named Ben who does not want to go to bed. As he trudges towards his bedroom, "his turned-down mouth and slumped posture [are] the very picture of reluctance," thought Booklist's GraceAnne A. DeCandido. His mother tries to entice him with the softest, most cuddly stuffed animals, but Ben refuses them all. He will only go to bed with the scariest-looking, most gruesome stuffed animal that he has, reasoning that "he will scare away the ghosts and monsters and keep me safe."
Marks once admitted to SATA: "I wouldn't go so far as to say that I couldn't do anything else, but I feel privileged to find work as an illustrator. Watching my own children with books has reinforced my belief that books and reading have a universal and instinctive appeal, and that writing and drawing are important to the human spirit."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Weninger, Brigitte, It's Bedtime!, translated by Kathryn Grell, North-South Books (London, England, and New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, June 15, 1989, p. 1824; March 1, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of Ring-a-Ring o' Roses and a Ding, Dong, Bell, p. 1283; April 15, 1993, Emily Melton, review of Matthew and the Sea Singer, p. 1518; September 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Over the Hills and Far Away, p. 43; December 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of David Cooperfield, pp. 697-698; December 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Abby, p. 652; April 15, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of With Love, p. 1438; October 1, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of How Long?, p. 334; December 1, 1998, Sally Estes and Carolyn Phelan, review of With Love, p. 676; April 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of The Little Green Goose, p. 1538; February 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of The Midsummer Bride, p. 1030; July, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of It's Bedtime!, p. 1861; July, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Pilot Mom, p. 1896.
Book Report, November-December, 1990, Richard K. Moore, review of Peace and War, p. 50.
Boston Herald, July 26, 1998, Karyn Miller-Medzon, review of With Love, p. 61.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1988, Leigh Dean, review of Nowhere to Be Found, p. 143; June, 1989, Betsy Hearne, review of Childe Roland: An English Folk Tale, pp. 257-258.
Childhood Education, winter, 2002, Terre Sychterz, review of It's Bedtime!, p. 111.
Entertainment Weekly, November 25, 1994, Leonard S. Marcus, review of Over the Hills and Far Away, p. 100.
Financial Times, December, 1991, Michael Glover, review of Ring-a-Ring O'Roses and A Ding, Dong, Bell: A Book of Nursery Rhymes, p. 16.
Growing Point, September, 1988, review of Nowhere to Be Found, pp. 5045-5046.
Horn Book, September, 1989, Ethel R. Twichell, review of The Fisherman and His Wife, p. 647; March, 1990, Carolyn K. Jenks, review of Peace and War, pp. 214-215; May, 1992, Margaret A. Bush, review of Ring-a-Ring o' Roses and a Ding, Dong, Bell, pp. 350-351.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of It's Bedtime!, p. 502.
New Yorker, November 27, 1989, Faith McNulty, review of Birdy and the Ghosties, pp. 142-143.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1988, review of Nowhere to Be Found, p. 93; May 12, 1989, review of Childe Roland, p. 291; March 9, 1998, review of With Love, p. 69; July 6, 1998, review of How Long?, p. 59; April 26, 1999, review of The Little Green Goose, p. 82; July 16, 2001, review of Planet Zoo: One Hundred Animals We Can't Afford to Lose, p. 183; July 7, 2003, review of Pilot Mom, p. 72.
School Library Journal, June-July, 1988, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Nowhere to Be Found, p. 93; July, 1989, Kenneth Marantz, review of The Fisherman and His Wife, p. 79; September, 1989, Linda Boyles, review of Childe Roland, p. 242; February, 1990, Susan L. Rogers, review of Birdy and the Ghosties, pp. 142-143; November, 1990, Regina Pauly, review of The Ugly Duckling, p. 74; February, 1991, Annette Curtis Klause, review of Peace and War, p. 94; March, 1992, Rachel Fox, review of Ring-a-Ring O'Roses and A Ding, Dong, Bell, p. 232; May, 1993, Virginia Opocensky, review of Matthew and the Sea Singer, p. 90; April, 1994, Mary Jo Drungil, review of The Thief's Daughter, p. 110; October, 1994, Sally R. Dow, review of Over the Hills and Far Away, p. 111; June, 1995, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Good-Bye, Daddy!, p. 97; May, 1992; December, 1996, Maura Bresnahan, review of Ragged Bear, p. 109; September, 1998, Christine A. Moesch, review of Alexander the Great: The Greatest Ruler of the Ancient World, pp. 192-193; January, 1999, Esther C. Ball, review of Roald Dahl: The Champion Storyteller, p. 117; September, 1999, Linda Ludke, review of The Little Green Goose, p. 203; March, 2000, Miriam Lang Budin, review of The Midsummer Bride, p. 230; August, 2001, Kathy Piehl, review of Planet Zoo, p. 192.
Science Activities, fall, 1998, Donald J. Nash, review of With Love, p. 44.
Times Literary Supplement, September 9, 1988, Julia Eccleshare, review of Nowhere to Be Found, p. 1000.
Charlesbridge Publishing Web Site, http://www.charlesbridge.com/ (November 11, 2003), "Illustrator: Alan Marks."*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalAlan Marks (1957-) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights