Adkins, Jan 1944-

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ADKINS, Jan 1944-

* Indicates that a listing has been compiled from secondary sources believed to be reliable, but has not been personally verified for this edition by the author sketched.

PERSONAL: Born November 7, 1944, in Gallipolis, OH; son of Alban Blakemore (a sheet-metal contractor) and Dixie Lee (Ellis) Adkins; married Deborah Kiernan, September 14, 1968 (died, June, 1976); married Dorcas Sheldon Peirce, December, 1977 (marriage ended); married Deborah Fenning (marriage ended); children: (first marriage) Sally, Samuel Ulysses, Robbie (stepchild). Ethnicity: "Caucasian; Welsh, German, Scots." Education: Ohio State University, B.A., 1969. Politics: "Skeptic." Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, hiking, sailing, singing, bicycling, cooking for friends.

ADDRESSES: Office—Jan Adkins Studio, 25 Wildwood Ln., Novato, CA 94947. Agent—Writer's House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER: Author and illustrator. Ireland & Associates Architects, Columbus, OH, architectural designer, 1963-66; writer, graphic designer, and illustrator, 1969—; math and science teacher in Mattapoisett, MA, 1969-70; Buzzard Inc. (advertising agency), Marion, MA, vice president and art director, 1974-76; National Geographic magazine, Washington, DC, associate art director, 1980-88; Design Lab, Providence, RI, art director, 1995-96. Teacher of illustration at Rhode Island School of Design and Maryland Institute College of Art, 1990-96. Consultant to art museums, zoos, and natural history and science museums.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

AWARDS, HONORS: Brooklyn Museum Art citations, 1972, 1973, and 1974; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, University of Wisconsin, and National Book Award nomination, both 1972, both for The Art and Industry of Sandcastles: Being an Illustrated Guide to Basic Constructions along with Divers Information; Children's Book Showcase awards, Children's Book Council, 1974, for Toolchest, and 1976, for Inside: Seeing beneath the Surface; Children's Science Book Award, New York Academy of Sciences, 1981, for Moving Heavy Things; Best Science Book, American Society of Science Teachers, 1985, for Workboats; Silver Addy Award for Design, Orlando Art Directors; Gold Medal for Best Essay of 1999, International Regional Magazine Association; Elementary & Early Childhood Award, Bridgewater State College, 2001, for contributions to literacy in young readers; Gold Medal for Best Editorial Illustration, San Francisco Society of Illustrators, 2001; Author of the Year, Naval Institute, 2002, for contributions to young people's naval history; Nonfiction Honor List selection, Voice of Youth Advocates, 2003, for Bridges: From My Side to Yours; numerous design and illustration awards from Society of Illustrators, Art Directors Clubs of Metropolitan Washington and New York, Communication Arts, and others.



The Art and Industry of Sandcastles: Being an Illustrated Guide to Basic Constructions along with Divers Information, Walker (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, 1994.

The Craft of Making Wine, Walker (New York, NY), 1971.

How a House Happens, Walker (New York, NY), 1972.

The Craft of Sail, Walker (New York, NY), 1972.

Toolchest, Walker (New York, NY), 1973.

Small Garden, Big Surprise, Ginn (Lexington, MA), 1974.

The Bakers: A Simple Book about the Pleasures of Making Bread, Scribner (New York, NY), 1975.

Inside: Seeing beneath the Surface, Walker (New York, NY), 1975.

Luther Tarbox (children's fiction), Scribner (New York, NY), 1977.

Moving On: Stories of Four Travelers, Scribner (New York, NY), 1978.

Symbols: A Silent Language, Walker (New York, NY), 1978.

Wooden Ship, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1978.

The Art and Ingenuity of the Woodstove, Everest House (New York, NY), 1978.

Moving Heavy Things, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1980.

The Wood Book: An Entertaining, Interesting, and Even Useful Compendium of Facts, Notions, Opinions, and Sentiments about Wood and Its Growing, Cutting, Working, and Burning, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

Heavy Equipment, Scribner (New York, NY), 1980.

Letterbox: The Art and History of Letters, Walker (New York, NY), 1981.

A Storm without Rain (young adult novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983, reprinted, Beech Tree Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Workboats, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1985.

String: Tying It Up, Tying It Down, Scribner (New York, NY), 1992.

Machines in Our Garden ("Collections for Young Scholars" series), Open Court Publishers (Chicago, IL), 1995.

The Wonder of Light, Newbridge Communications (New York, NY), 1997.

Bridges: From My Side to Yours, Roaring Book Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.

John Adams, Young Revolutionary, illustrated by Merle Henderson, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.

What If You Meet a Pirate?, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.


(Illustrator) Laurence Pringle, Chains, Webs, and Pyramids: The Flow of Energy in Nature, Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.

Cookie (mystery novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1988.

Deadline for Final Art (adult mystery novel), Walker (New York, NY), 1990.

Solstice: A Mystery of the Season (young adult novel), Walker (New York, NY), 1990.

(Editor and illustrator) The Ragged Mountain Portable Wilderness Anthology, Ragged Mountain Press (Camden, ME), 1993.

(Illustrator) Bill Pinkney, Captain Bill Pinkney's Journey ("Collections for Young Scholars" series), Open Court Publishers (Chicago, IL), 1995.

(Illustrator) Dean Torges, Hunting the Osage Bow: A Chronicle of Craft (originally published in Traditional Bowhunter magazine), Gilliland Press (Arkansas City, KS), 1998.

(Author of text) Dream Spinner: The Art of Roy Andersen, Settlers West (Tucson, AZ), 2000.

Contributor to periodicals, including Air and Space, Island Journal, Chesapeake Bay, Harper's, Mother Earth News, Sail, Smithsonian, and WoodenBoat. Contributing editor to magazines, including Cricket, Smithsonian, Muse, and Click. Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including Unusual Suspects. Author of scripts for television documentaries, including works for the Nova series and the Discovery Channel. Adkins's books have been published in Braille editions, as well as in Swedish and Danish.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Villains; Red Rover Comes Over; Kinky Wang's Disappearing Zoo; Gold Rush, a young adult novel; The Browning of Greenville; Lt. Kijé.

SIDELIGHTS: An award-winning author and illustrator whose detailed drawings involve and inspire young readers, Jan Adkins has created books on subjects as diverse as sand castles, baking bread, and sailing, each inspired by his curiosity, his own desire to learn about a certain subject, and his enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge with others. In addition to nonfiction titles such as How a House Happens, The Wonder of Light, and Moving Heavy Things, he has also penned fiction for both teens and adults.

Born in Ohio and raised across the river in Wheeling, West Virginia, Adkins inherited both his creativity and his ability to figure things out from his parents, whom he describes on his Jan Adkins Studio Web site as "a sheet-metal contractor who invented clever devices and could fix anything" and "a loopy, beautiful woman with wit and a lyric Welsh soprano." After graduating from high school in Ohio, he studied architecture at Ohio State University, but ultimately changed his major to English literature and creative writing. Meanwhile, Adkins apprenticed as an architectural designer, developing his illustration skills and his ability to present technical objects in clear, easy-tounderstand diagrams. In 1980, he was invited to join the staff of National Geographic, where he worked as an associate art director, teaming up with authors, illustrators, and researchers to create the illustrated texts for which the magazine is noted. The recipient of numerous design awards from professional organizations and others for his books, magazine work, and exhibitions, Adkins cites his favorite job as writing nonfiction for young people.

Adkins's first book, 1971's The Art and Industry of Sandcastles: Being an Illustrated Guide to Basic Constructions along with Divers Information, is a whimsical illustrated guide to building with wet sand. More than that, it also provides readers with an introduction to the history and structure of actual castles as well as to life in medieval times. Illustrated with detailed drawings of historical castles and their sand counterparts, the book was favorably reviewed by critics, several of whom remarked on the author's unusual presentation. Scientific American contributors Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison dubbed the work "a small tour de force" and a "loving study of medieval life and times," while in School Library Journal, Ruth M. McConnell called The Art and Industry of Sandcastles "an instructive, fun ramble on sandcastle building that is doubtless the definitive work on the subject."

Adkins has brought the same combination of skillful drawing, lucid explanation, and novelty to bear on each of the subjects he has tackled since, claim reviewers, including a discussion of the tools, materials, and terminology involved in each topic. While some reviewers have expressed concern that such technical information might be unappreciated by younger readers, Adkins once commented in an interview with Norma Bagnall published in Language Arts: "I don't want children to understand everything; I want them to read the book. . . . If children understand everything the first time around, they'll throw the book away, and they ought to."

In his 1992 title String: Tying It Up, Tying It Down, Adkins presents a knot primer that details techniques from the half-hitch to the square knot, with practical uses ranging from boat-docking to necktie-tying. "Using fun illustrations and text," the book "shows how to securely tie everything from shoes to ships," explained W. E. Butterworth IV in his review for Boy's Life, while in Booklist, Deborah Abbott praised Adkins for creating "a text that reads like a novel—smooth flowing, carefully woven, precise, lively." While noting that the text might be too advanced for younger readers, Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Sherry Hoy nonetheless praised String as "an esoteric, eclectic blend of lore." Commending the author/illustrator for his "detailed black-and-white pencil drawings," School Library Journal contributor Carole B. Kirkpatrick found the book to be "more practical and far-reaching in scope" than its title would imply; "that it's enjoyable just to read through is a pleasant bonus."

Other nonfiction titles by Adkins include The Art and Ingenuity of the Woodstove, Moving Heavy Things, The Craft of Sail, Letterbox: The Art and History of Letters, and Bridges: From My Side to Yours. Reviewing Letterbox, Barbara Elleman commented in Booklist that the work contains Adkins's "well-known precision, wit, and attentive style," while in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor cited it as one of the author's "earnestly high-toned, craft-looking anomalies" that contains "lots of fine calligraphy" intermixed with such a wealth of extraneous details that the book becomes a kind of "cultural collage." The more focused Bridges presents a 10,000-year history of bridge construction from the days of the Roman Empire to the present. Mixing stories about engineering advances and the people who made them, Adkins reveals a "fascination with his subject," according to Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns, and "his knowledge of history is as dazzling as his understanding of engineering principles." In addition, "fascinating human interest tidbits add historical context," Mary Ann Carcich wrote in her School Library Journal review, praising Bridges as well-illustrated and a useful volume for "a wide audience."

In addition to writing nonfiction, Adkins has found success as a fiction writer. His first self-illustrated picture book, 1977's Luther Tarbox, follows a lobsterman as he pulls in his traps in a dense New England fog, his work hastened by the novice boaters nearby who hope he will lead them back to shore. In her HornBook review, Charlotte W. Draper praised the humorous tale for its "rich and rhythmic" language, while in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Zena Sutherland dubbed Luther Tarbox "a brisk and salty tale" that "conveys the appeal of the sea" to young listeners.

The sea also figures in 1990's Solstice: A Mystery of the Season, as Charlie and his father travel by motorboat to an island off the Maine coast for Christmas. When their boat engine fails, the two are taken in by a lobsterman and his family who teach them some simple lessons about family, but their hosts ultimately turn out to be ghosts from the distant past. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the book "slender but hypnotic," and noted that Adkins's "almost mystical novel captures the intensity of the holiday season in both its promise and its pain."

For adult readers, Adkins's Deadline for Final Art is a "taut mystery/thriller," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. In the novel, an associate art director for National Geographic magazine finds himself in the center of Cold War espionage involving a highly sensitive missile defense system, resulting in what the Publishers Weekly reviewer described as "a brisk, savvy thriller, spiced with Washington and magazine-publishing details."

Adkins ventures into sci-fi territory with A Storm without Rain. Set in eastern Massachusetts and drawing on its author's knowledge of shipbuilding and sailing, the young adult novel follows the adventures of fifteen-year-old Jack Carter, who begins a short sailing trip in 1981 and ends up in 1904. In his family's shipyard, Jack meets his own grandfather, then a teen himself, and together the two boys try to find a way to help Jack return to his own time. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Jane Langton commended Adkins for including details about turn-of-the-twentieth-century Massachusetts that bring Jack's plight to life for young readers. She also hailed Adkins's "memorable" illustrations, which with the text create "an authentic background." The critic concluded, "The reader puts down the book with admiration for craftsmanship—for that of the boatbuilders . . . and for that of the writer, who honed his fanciful tale so authentically."



Children's Literature Review, Volume 7, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1984, pp. 17-28.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 19, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.


American Biology Teacher, July, 1998, Teri Clark, review of The Wonder of Light, p. 550.

Appraisal, fall, 1973, p. 5; fall, 1981, review of Moving Heavy Things and Heavy Equipment, pp. 8-9.

Backpacker, April, 1994, Nancy Humes, review of The Ragged Mountain Portable Wilderness Anthology, p. 102.

Booklist, July 15, 1971, review of The Art and Industry of Sandcastles: Being an Illustrated Guide to Basic Constructions along with Divers Information, p. 913; October 1, 1973, review of The Craft of Sail, p. 168; February 1, 1976, Barbara Elleman, review of Inside: Seeing beneath the Surface, p. 763; February 1, 1979, Barbara Elleman, review of Symbols: A Silent Language, p. 862; September 1, 1981, Barbara Elleman, review of Letterbox: The Art and History of Letters, p. 40; April 15, 1983, Barbara Elleman, review of A Storm without Rain, p. 1089; April 15, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of String: Tying It Up, Tying It Down, p. 1524; July, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Bridges: From My Side to Yours, p. 1838.

Boy's Life, December, 1992, W. E. Butterworth IV, review of String, p. 19.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1971, Zena Sutherland, review of The Art and Industry of Sandcastles, p. 149; September, 1972, Zena Sutherland, review of How a House Happens, p. 1; January, 1974, Zena Sutherland, review of The Craft of Sail, p. 73; April, 1974, Zena Sutherland, review of Toolchest, p. 121; April, 1976, Zena Sutherland, review of Inside, p. 121; May, 1976, Zena Sutherland, review of The Bakers: A Simple Book about the Pleasures of Making Bread, p. 137; February, 1978, Zena Sutherland, review of Luther Tarbox, p. 89.

Christian Science Monitor, October 23, 1978, William Jaspersohn, review of Wooden Ship, p. B2.

Cricket, May, 1977, p. 54.

Horn Book, February, 1978, Charlotte W. Draper, review of Luther Tarbox, p. 42; October, 1978, Karen M. Klockner, review of Wooden Ship, pp. 512-513; April, 1979, Kate M. Flanagan, review of Symbols, pp. 203-204; February, 1981, Karen Jameyson, review of Heavy Equipment, p. 65; August, 1983, Mary M. Burns, review of A Storm without Rain, pp. 448-449; March-April, 1986, p. 215; July-August, 2002, Mary M. Burns, review of Bridges, p. 481.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1973, review of The Craft of Sail, p. 569; November 15, 1973, p. 1266; November 15, 1975, review of Inside, p. 1289; February 1, 1976, review of The Bakers, pp. 135-136; February 1, 1979, p. 127; August 1, 1980, review of Moving Heavy Things, p. 980; January 1, 1981, review of Heavy Equipment, p. 9; September 1, 1981, review of Letterbox, pp. 1084-1085.

Kliatt, September, 1993, Jody K. Hanson, review of A Storm without Rain, p. 15.

Language Arts, May, 1980, Norma Bagnall, interview with Jan Adkins, pp. 560-566.

Library Journal, August, 1973, p. 2326.

New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1973, Lavinia Russ, "How to Make Almost Everything," p. 62; November 16, 1975, Louise Armstrong, review of Inside, p. 46; May 2, 1976, Craig Claiborne, review of The Bakers, p. 41; October 30, 1977, Joyce Milton, review of Luther Tarbox, p. 34; December 10, 1978, Rex Benedict, "Trains and Boats," review of Wooden Ship, pp. 77, 91; September 13, 1981, pp. 49-50; September 18, 1983, Jane Langton, review of A Storm without Rain, p. 39.

Publishers Weekly, July 5, 1971, review of The Art and Industry of Sandcastles, p. 50; June 24, 1983, review of A Storm without Rain, p. 58; February 19, 1988, p. 77; June 22, 1990, review of Deadline for Final Art, pp. 46-47; November 30, 1990, review of Solstice: A Mystery of the Season, p. 70.

Reading Teacher, May, 1979, review of Toolchest, p. 945.

School Library Journal, September, 1971, Ruth M. McConnell, review of The Art and Industry of Sandcastles, p. 147; October, 1972, Barbara Gibson, review of How a House Happens, pp. 108-109; October, 1973, Don Reaber, review of The Craft of Sail, p. 111; March, 1976, review of The Bakers, p. 98; October, 1978, Phyllis Ingram, review of Wooden Ship, p. 152; January, 1979, Daisy Kouzel, review of Symbols, p. 50; August, 1981, Lorraine Douglas, review of Letterbox, p. 61; October, 1983, p. 155; April, 1986, p. 81; October, 1990, p. 33; June, 1992, Carole B. Kirkpatrick, review of String, p. 127; July, 2002, Mary Ann Carcich, review of Bridges, p. 128.

Scientific American, December, 1971, Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison, review of The Art and Industry of Sandcastles, p. 112; December, 1973, p. 134; December, 1980, review of Moving Heavy Things, pp. 47-48; December, 1986, p. 32.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1992, Sherry Hoy, review of String, p. 180.

Washington Post Book World, February 12, 1984, Michael Dirda, review of Toolchest, pp. 10-11.


Jan Adkins Studio, (June 10, 2003).