Burleigh, Robert 1936-
BURLEIGH, Robert 1936-
PERSONAL: Born January 4, 1936, in Chicago, IL; married; children: three. Education: Attended DePauw University, 1953-57; University of Chicago, 1958-62.
ADDRESSES: Home—415 West North Ave., Chicago, IL 60610. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Author and artist. Worked for Society of Visual Education as a writer and artist.
AWARDS, HONORS: Orbis Pictus Award, National Council of Teachers of English, 1992, for Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh.
A Man Named Thoreau (picture book biography), illustrated by Lloyd Bloom, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh (picture book biography), illustrated by Mike Wimmer, Philomel (New York, NY), 1991.
Who Said That? Famous Americans Speak (picture book biography), illustrated by David Catrow, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
Hoops (picture book), illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson, Silver Whistle (San Diego, CA), 1997.
Black Whiteness: Admiral Byrd Alone in the Antarctic (picture book biography), illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
It's Funny Where Ben's Train Takes Him, illustrated by Joanna Yardley, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.
Hercules, illustrated by Raul Colon, Silver Whistle (San Diego, CA), 1999.
Edna, illustrated by Joanna Yardley, Orchard (New York, NY), 2000.
Messenger, Messenger, illustrated by Barry Root, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.
Lookin' for Bird in the Big City, illustrated by Marek Los, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.
I Love Going through This Book, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Goal (picture book), illustrated by Stephen T. Johnson, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest, Abrams (New York, NY), 2002.
Pandora, illustrated by Raul Colon, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
The Secret of the Great Houdini, illustrated by Leonid Gore, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Into the Air: The Story of the Wright Brothers' First Flight (picture book biography), illustrated by Bill Wylie, Silver Whistle (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, illustrated by Wendell Minor, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor) Earth from Above for Young Readers, photographs by Yann Arthus Bertrand, illustrated by David Giraudon, Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor) Volcanoes: Journey to the Crater's Edge, photographs by Philippe Bourseiller, illustrated by David Giraudon, Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor) The Sea: Exploring Life on an Ocean Planet, photographs by Philip Plisson, illustrated by Emmanuel Cerisier, Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.
Amelia Earhart: Free in the Skies, illustrated by Bill Wylie, Silver Whistle (San Diego, CA), 2003.
Langston's Train Ride, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, Orchard (New York, NY), 2004.
Martin Luther King, Jr.: Until Justice Runs Down Like Water, illustrated by Bill Wylie, Silver Whistle (San Diego, CA), 2004.
American Moments: Scenes from American History, illustrated by Bruce Strachan, Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Seurat and "La Grande Jatte": Connecting the Dots, Abrams (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Tiki and Ronde Barber) By My Brother's Side, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Mary Jane Gray) Basic Writing Skills, Society for Visual Education (Chicago, IL), 1976.
The Triumph of Mittens: Poems, Boardwell-Kloner (Chicago, IL), 1980.
Colonial America, illustrated by James Seward, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1992.
Also writer and producer of over one hundred filmstrips and cassettes on educational subjects.
SIDELIGHTS: A writer of informational books of biography and history as well as a poet, Robert Burleigh is noted for introducing difficult historical topics to young readers in an accessible and effective manner. Characteristically using a picture book format, the author presents facts about his subjects—most often notable Americans such as Henry David Thoreau, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Harry Houdini, and Admiral Richard Perry—in simple language and present-tense narration. Burleigh favors clipped, staccato texts in both his prose and his poetry, a style credited with expressing the ideas, drama, and importance of each of his topics in an evocative fashion. Reviewers also note the successful marriage of the author's texts with the illustrations of such artists as Lloyd Bloom, Mike Wimmer, and Stephen T. Johnson.
Nineteenth-century writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau is the subject of Burleigh's first biography, A Man Named Thoreau. Considered a balanced overview of Thoreau's life and influence, the book addresses its subject's time at Walden Pond, his love for nature, his literary works, and his civil disobedience, among other topics. Burleigh presents Thoreau and his ideas by combining biographical facts with quotes from the philosopher's popular work Walden. Writing in School Library Journal, Ruth Semrau called A Man Named Thoreau a book that "unfolds new pleasures on every page" and deemed it an "exquisitely simple introduction to a difficult subject." David E. White observed in Horn Book that the quotations "interspersed throughout the text . . . are beneficial in capturing the essence of this noted figure." A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books declared that to "have simplified concepts so much without distortion is a gift to the younger reader or listener."
In his picture book Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh, Burleigh describes Lindbergh's famous nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. Basing his text on Lindbergh's memoir The Spirit of St. Louis, Burleigh focuses on the pilot's journey at the age of twenty-five. Once again, the author is credited with successfully conveying a sophisticated concept, in this case the difficulty of, in the words of New York Times Book Review contributor Signe Wilkinson, "staying awake, alert and in charge of a plane and one's life for two days and a very long, lonely night before sleep" to an audience "too young to appreciate what pulling an all-nighter feels like." Horn Book reviewer Ann A. Flowers remarked that the text conveys Lindbergh's bravery, the drain on him personally, and the primitive state of his plane in "completely convincing detail" and noted that Burleigh's use of the present tense "keeps the reader in suspense from the moment the plane takes off until [its arrival in] Paris." Flowers concluded that the book is a "pioneer example of the 'right stuff,' splendidly and excitingly presented." Burleigh's use of sentence fragments and single-sentence paragraphs "conveys the excitement of Lindbergh's historic flight," noted a critic in Kirkus Reviews, who called Flight a book "that brings new life to one of the stories of the century." Burleigh received the Orbis Pictus Award in 1992 for this work.
Shifting to sports, Burleigh wrote a picture book biography of baseball's most widely known hero in Home Run: The Story of Babe Ruth, as well as two picture books of poetry, Hoops and Goal, that describe basketball and soccer in verses that simulate the action of the players and the excitement of the game. Filled with tactile imagery, Hoops and Goal outline the way the game feels to its players. "An ode to the game for older children, veteran players, and NBA fans," declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer of Hoops, "this book will give language to teenagers' experience both on and off the court." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that Goal uses soccer as a frame "to demonstrate the power of teamwork to achieve success." The critic concluded that the book is "a real winner."
In his picture book Black Whiteness: Admiral Byrd Alone in the Antarctic, Burleigh retells the explorer's incredible six-month stay alone in the Antarctic. Based on Byrd's daily journal, Black Whiteness includes detailed descriptions of Byrd's enduring hardships—subzero temperatures, continuous darkness with limited lighting equipment, and loneliness. "Burleigh's spare prose eloquently captures the spartan surroundings in which Byrd conducted daily meteorological studies," observed a critic in Kirkus Reviews, who concluded that the explorer's story is "severe, often depressing, and always riveting." A similar adventurous hero can be found in Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream. Burleigh uses rhyming couplets to communicate Audubon's decision to give up business in order to wander through the wilderness, painting and drawing the sights he sees during his adventures. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote of Into the Woods that Audubon's "philosophy wafts through the volume like a summer breeze." A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book a "tribute" to Audubon and a "feast for bird lovers."
Burleigh is as comfortable writing about big cities as he is about wilderness explorers. Messenger, Messenger follows a bike messenger through his busy day, from waking up in his book-filled apartment to making deliveries throughout the city. At the book's end, the tired worker returns to his flat to be warmly greeted by his cat. Writing in Booklist, Gillian Engberg felt that the picture book "beautifully captures the energizing pulse of urban life and satisfying work." In Lookin' for Bird in the Big City, a teenaged Miles Davis, trumpet in hand, makes music in the city streets as he goes in search of his hero, Charlie Parker. Once again, Burleigh employs poetic language and rhythms to convey the flavor of jazz music and the enthusiasm Davis feels for it. "Words and art harmonize in this creatively imagined account," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. School Library Journal contributor Mary Elam concluded that the work offers "a lovely and lyrical look at this all-American art form."
Ancient Greece abounds with mythical tales about super-human exploits and misadventures. Burleigh has brought two of these to younger readers with his Hercules and Pandora. In Hercules, the hero tests his mettle against supernatural challenges, culminating in his descent to the underworld to battle the three-headed dog, Cerberus. Booklist's Ilene Cooper liked the fact that Hercules uses "language that draws on the strength of its subject yet speaks in the lilt of poetry." In her Booklist review, Stephanie Zvirin felt that Hercules would inspire young readers to search for other ancient myths about Hercules and other Greek gods, calling the book a "beautiful retelling." Pandora puts a human face to the curious woman who, according to Greek myth, unleashed all the world's ills by opening a container. In his version of the story, Burleigh uses verse to illuminate how Pandora's curiosity becomes an obsession, despite her understanding of the danger she faces opening the jar. In a School Library Journal review of the work, Patricia Lothrop-Green praised "the graceful drama that unfolds" in the story, concluding: "This Pandora is tempting." Gillian Engberg of Booklist found Pandora to be "another fine retelling of a Greek myth."
Burleigh offers middle-grade readers a detailed look at a favorite confection in Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest. The illustrated book covers many aspects of chocolate, from its history as a food of the Maya and Aztecs to its journey from cacao pod to candy bar. The author writes about the slave labor once used in the cacao and sugar industries, and about how Milton Hershey revolutionized the sale of milk chocolate from his factory in Pennsylvania. In a School Library Journal review, Augusta R. Malvagno praised the "delightful" book for its "kaleidoscope of fascinating information," while a contributor to Kirkus Reviews concluded that the title is "a well-conceived and executed work on a subject of great interest."
Some critics have particularly praised Burleigh's The Secret of the Great Houdini. Burleigh explores Houdini's escape from a trunk hurled into deep water from the point of view of a youngster named Sam and his Uncle Ezra, who have joined a crowd to watch the feat. While Sam and Uncle Ezra anxiously await Houdini's escape, Uncle Ezra tells Sam about Houdini's childhood and hardscrabble youth. Sam can hardly concentrate on what his uncle is saying, so terrified is he of the possibility that Houdini will drown. "Burleigh achieves immediacy by writing his poetic text in the present tense," observed Marianne Saccardi in School Library Journal. "Houdini is a fascinating figure for all ages," maintained a Kirkus Reviews critic. "This snapshot of one incredible feat . . . may spur further exploration, and inspiration." In her Booklist review, Gillian Engberg declared that the work "captures the mystique of its famous subject."
Burleigh lives and works in Chicago. In addition to his writing, he enjoys making presentations to schools on the subjects he writes about and the uses of poetry in literature. He has also served as the writer and producer of a variety of educational filmstrips and cassettes and has worked as a writer and artist for the Society of Visual Education.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of It's Funny Where Ben's Train Takes Him, p. 979; August, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Hercules, p. 2050; March 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Edna, p. 1377; May 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Messenger, Messenger, p. 1742, and Stephanie Zvirin, review of Hercules, p. 1758; February 15, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Lookin' for Bird in the Big City, p. 1152; June 1, 2001, Marta Segal, review of I Love Going through This Book, p. 1888; June 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Pandora, p. 1711; July, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of The Secret of the Great Houdini, p. 1854; January 1, 2003, Julie Cummins, review of Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream, p. 874.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1985, review of A Man Named Thoreau, p. 63.
Horn Book, March, 1986, David E. White, review of A Man Named Thoreau, pp. 215-216; November, 1991, Ann A. Flowers, review of Flight: The Journey of Charles Lindbergh, p. 752.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1991, review of Flight, p. 1086; December 1, 1997, review of Black Whiteness: Admiral Byrd Alone in the Antarctic, p. 1773; February 1, 2001, review of Goal, p. 180; March 1, 2002, review of Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest, p. 330; May 1, 2002, review of Pandora, p. 650; June 15, 2002, review of The Secret of the Great Houdini, p. 876; January 1, 2003, review of Into the Woods, p. 58.
New York Times Book Review, January 26, 1992, Signe Wilkinson, review of Flight, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, October 6, 1997, review of Hoops, p. 83; August 9, 1999, review of Hercules, p. 352; May 14, 2001, review of Lookin' for Bird in the Big City, p. 82; June 19, 2000, review of Messenger, Messenger, p. 54; June 4, 2001, review of I Love Going through This Book, p. 79; April 1, 2002, review of Pandora, p. 83; June 3, 2002, review of The Secret of the Great Houdini, p. 88; December 2, 2002, review of Into the Woods, p. 52.
School Library Journal, January, 1986, Ruth Semrau, review of A Man Named Thoreau, p. 64; October, 1999, Nina Lindsay, review of Hercules, p. 135; April, 2000, Kate McClelland, review of Edna, p. 92; April, 2001, Lee Bock, review of Goal, p. 129; June, 2001, Marianne Saccardi, review of I Love Going through This Book, p. 104, and Mary Elam, review of Lookin' for Bird in the Big City, p. 104; April, 2002, Augusta R. Malvagno, review of Chocolate, p. 129; May, 2002, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of Pandora, p. 134; July, 2002, Marianne Saccardi, review of The Secret of the Great Houdini, p. 85; September, 2002, Dona Ratterree, review of Into the Air, p. 241; January, 2003, Laurie von Mehren, review of Earth from Above for Young Readers, p. 150; February, 2003, Robyn Walker, review of Into the Woods, p. 128.
Teacher Librarian, June, 2000, Jessica Higgs, review of Hercules, p. 54.*