Kuskin, Karla (Seidman) 1932-

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KUSKIN, Karla (Seidman) 1932-

(Nicholas J. Charles)

PERSONAL: Born July 17, 1932, in New York, NY; daughter of Sidney T. (in advertising) and Mitzi (Salzman) Seidman; married Charles M. Kuskin (a musician), December 4, 1955 (divorced, August, 1987); married William L. Bell, July 24, 1989; children: (first marriage) Nicholas, Julia. Education: Attended Antioch College, 1950-53; Yale University, B.F.A., 1955.

ADDRESSES: Home—96 Joralemon St., Brooklyn, NY 11201; Arlington, VA; Bainbridge Island, WA. Agent—Harriet Wasserman, Harriet Wasserman Literary Agency, Inc., 137 East 36th St., New York, NY 10016.

CAREER: Writer and illustrator. Has done illustrating for Harper & Row Publishing, Inc., Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., Seabury Press, Inc., Atlantic Monthly Press, Putnam Publishing Group, P. F. Collier, Inc., and Atheneum Publishers. Worked variously as an assistant to a fashion photographer, a design underling, and in advertising. Conducts poetry and writing workshops.

AWARDS, HONORS: American Institute of Graphic Arts Book Show awards, 1955-57, for Roar and More, 1958, for In the Middle of Trees, and 1958-60, for Square as a House; Children's Book Award, International Reading Association, 1976, for Near the Window Tree: Poems and Notes; Children's Book Showcase selection, Children's Book Council, 1976, for Near the Window Tree: Poems and Notes, and 1977, for A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat; award for excellence in poetry for children, National Council of Teachers of English, 1979; Children's Science Book Award, New York Academy of Sciences, 1980, for A Space Story; American Library Association Award, 1980, for Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams: A Collection of Poems; named Outstanding Brooklyn Author, 1981; The Philharmonic Gets Dressed was named a best illustrated book by the New York Times, 1982; American Library Association Award, 1982, and National Book Award nomination, 1983, both for The Philharmonic Gets Dressed; Parenting-Reading Magic award, 1992, for Soap Soup; Parents' Choice Humor Book Award, 1993, for A Great Miracle Happened There; John S. Burroughs award, 1994, for City Dog; Children's Book of Distinction, Riverbank Review, 1999, for The Sky Is Always in the Sky.



A Space Story, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.

The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.

The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.

Jerusalem, Shining Still, illustrated by David Frampton, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

A Great Miracle Happened Here: A Chanukah Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

Patchwork Island, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

Paul, paintings by Milton Avery, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.

City Noise, (poem), illustrated by Renee Flower, HarperCollins (New York, NY) 1994.

Thoughts, Pictures and Words, photographs by Nicholas Kuskin, R. C. Owen Publishers (Katonah, NY), 1995.

The Sky Is Always In the Sky, illustrated by Isabelle Dervaux, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 1997.

The Upstairs Cat, illustrated by Howard Fine, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1997.

I Am Me, illustrated by Dyanna Wolcott, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

The Animals in the Ark, illustrated by Michael Grejniec, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.

Moon Have You Met My Mother?: The Collected Poems of Karla Kuskin, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2002.


Roar and More, Harper (New York, NY), 1956, revised edition, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.

James and the Rain, Harper (New York, NY), 1957.

In the Middle of the Trees (poems), Harper (New York, NY), 1958.

The Animals and the Ark, Harper (New York, NY), 1958.

Just like Everyone Else, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.

Which Horse Is William?, Harper (New York, NY), 1959.

Square as a House, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.

The Bear Who Saw the Spring, Harper (New York, NY), 1961.

All Sizes of Noises, Harper (New York, NY), 1962.

Alexander Soames: His Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1962.

(Under pseudonym Nicholas J. Charles) How Do You Get from Here to There?, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1962.

The Rose on My Cake (poems), Harper (New York, NY), 1964.

Sand and Snow, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.

(Under pseudonym Nicholas J. Charles) Jane Anne June Spoon and Her Very Adventurous Search for the Moon, Norton (New York, NY), 1966.

The Walk the Mouse Girls Took, Harper (New York, NY), 1967.

Watson, the Smartest Dog in the U.S.A., Harper (New York, NY), 1968.

In the Flaky Frosty Morning, Harper (New York, NY), 1969.

Any Me I Want to Be: Poems, Harper (New York, NY), 1972.

What Did You Bring Me?, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.

Near the Window Tree: Poems and Notes, Harper (New York, NY), 1975.

A Boy Had a Mother Who Bought Him a Hat, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1976.

Herbert Hated Being Small, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1979.

Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams: A Collection of Poems, Harper (Boston, MA), 1980.

Night Again, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.

Something Sleeping in the Hall, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.

Soap Soup, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

City Dog, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1994.


Violette Viertel and John Viertel, Xingu, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1959.

Margaret Mealy and Norman Mealy, Sing for Joy, Seabury Press, 1961.

Virginia Cary Hudson, Credos & Quips, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1964.

Marguerita Rudolph, Look at Me, McGraw (New York, NY), 1967.

Sherry Kafka, Big Enough, Putnam (New York, NY), 1970.

Marcia Brown, Stone Soup, Great Books Foundation, 1984.


Author of screenplays, including What Do You Mean by Design? and An Electric Talking Picture, both 1973. Also author and narrator of filmstrip Poetry Explained by Karla Kuskin, Weston Woods, 1980. Contributor of essays and reviews to books and periodicals, including Saturday Review, House and Garden, Parents, Choice, and Village Voice.

ADAPTATIONS: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed was adapted for film by Sarson Productions. Jerusalem, Shining Still has been recorded on audio cassette.

SIDELIGHTS: Award-winning author and illustrator Karla Kuskin, who first achieved popularity with the 1956 publication of Roar and More, has written and illustrated more than twenty-five children's books. Noted for their short, rhythmic verse and neatly designed drawings, Kuskin's works reflect her unique insight into the world of the young and her understanding of a child's sense of humor. "The children who hear my verses, or read them to themselves," the author commented in Somebody Turned on a Tap in These Kids: Poetry and Young People Today, "will, hopefully, recognize a familiar feeling or thought. Or possibly an unfamiliar feeling or thought will intrigue them. If that spark is lit, then my verse may encourage its individual audience to add his own thought or maybe even a poem of his own, to try his own voice in some new way."

Kuskin began writing poetry very early in her childhood and received much encouragement from her parents. Kuskin was raised in New York City except for a short period between the ages of three and five when she lived in Connecticut. "My first verifiable memories begin in that fieldstone house [in Connecticut] with hydrangea bushes on either side of the front door," she once said. "I made up a poem about that spot and my mother wrote it down for me because I was four and could not write yet." As the only child of Mitzi and Sidney Seidman "I was the focus of a lot of approving attention and scrutiny," Kuskin continued. "I preferred the attention. But my mother, a dry cleaner's daughter, has always had the ability to spot an imperfection in the material at fifty feet. While I was often highly praised, I was also continually judged by that eye and have inherited the same sharp vision."

Kuskin's loves of poetry, reading books, and writing—interests she believes to be instrumental in her choice of career—were fostered by her parents as well as her teachers once she entered school. "My parents and my teachers were my best audience," Kuskin related in Language Arts. "Beginning when I was very young, both my parents and teachers read poetry to me and listened to me read aloud. I had wonderful teachers."

Kuskin's final requirement before receiving her bachelor's degree from Yale was to create and print a book using a small motor-driven Vandercook press that had recently been purchased by the university. "The subject of my slim book, Roar and More, was animals and their noises," she explained, "a subject well-suited to typographical illustration. The overall design was simple. On the left-hand page was a verse about an animal set in fourteen-point Bell Roman [type]. On the opposite right-hand page was a picture of the animal made from a linoleum cut. The cut fitted easily on the bed of the press. Turn the page and the animal's noise took up the next double-page spread. It was a straightforward layout that worked smoothly." Roar and More was soon accepted for publication, though in a slightly different form than the original; a number of colors were eliminated and the linoleum cuts were changed to drawings. Despite the alterations, the book fared well with critics and young readers, won an award from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, and was reprinted in a much more colorful edition in 1990.

Kuskin worked a series of not very satisfying jobs after graduating from college, including one in her father's small advertising agency. She often wondered if she could write and illustrate another children's book even though she no longer had use of the printing facilities at Yale University. In the summer of 1956 Kuskin contracted hepatitis and was told by her doctor that she had to stop working. "I didn't object," she wrote. "I had a number of book ideas in my head and I was anxious to pursue one." She and her husband Charles Kuskin traveled to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to vacation at a friend's house. The stormy weather that persisted throughout the couple's stay inspired Kuskin to create a second book titled James and the Rain, the story of a young boy who sets out to discover what various animals do when it rains.

James and the Rain, like most of her following books, are based on Kuskin's personal experiences. For instance, Kuskin's experiences as a parent became a source of topics for a number of her books. The Bear Who Saw the Spring, for example, was written when Kuskin was pregnant and contemplating motherhood. The story focuses on a knowledgeable, older bear who teaches a young dog about the seasons of the year; the relationship of the two characters is similar to that of a parent and child. Sand and Snow, about a boy who loves the winter and a girl who loves the summer, was dedicated to Kuskin's infant daughter, Julia. And Alexander Soames: His Poems, a book Kuskin acknowledges was partly inspired by her children, recounts a conversation between a mother and her son Alex, who will only speak in verse despite his mother's repeated requests that he express himself in prose.

Kuskin also draws upon vivid memories of her own youth as themes for her books. Growing up in New York City, Kuskin reflected, "there was . . . the sense of being a small child in big places that was very much a part of my childhood. And I was determined to remember those places and those feelings. I vowed to myself that I would never forget what it was like to be a child as I grew older. Frustration, pleasure, what I saw as injustices, all made me promise this to myself." Kuskin has been lauded for knowing "what is worth saving and what is important to children," according to Alvina Treut Burrows in Language Arts. "Her pictures and her verse and poetry," the reviewer continued, "are brimming over with the experiences of children growing up in a big city."

Kuskin has employed an educational technique in some of her poetry collections. In Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams: A Collection of Poems, for example, Kuskin adds notes to each poem, explaining her inspiration for the particular verse and encouraging the reader to write his own poetry. Critics lauded the author for including her commentary. Washington Post Book World contributor Rose Styron concluded that Dogs & Dragons, Trees & Dreams "works nicely" and praised Kuskin's "variety, wit and unfailing sensitivity" in addressing children.

In addition to teaching children to read, write, and appreciate poetry, Kuskin's self-illustrated books contain appealing pictures that serve to emphasize her themes. Her early books, such as All Sizes of Noises—an assortment of everyday sounds translated into visual representations—display Kuskin's belief that "the best picture book is a unity, a good marriage in which pictures and words love, honor, and obey each other," she once wrote in CA. "For many years," Kuskin continued, "I assumed that I would illustrate whatever I wrote." In the late 1970s, however, the author asked Marc Simont to illustrate A Space Story, a book about the solar system that won an award from the New York Academy of Sciences. Her later collaborations with Simont and then David Frampton are among her most popular and acclaimed books.

After A Space Story Simont illustrated the well-received The Philharmonic Gets Dressed, which earned Kuskin several awards, including one from the American Library Association. The book, which New York Times Book Review contributor George A. Woods called "a marvelous idea," describes the pre-performance activities of 105 orchestra members. Their preparations include bathing, shaving, powdering, hair drying, and dressing. Woods declared that Kuskin and Simont "are in perfect tune with each other and, most important, with their audience." The reviewer termed The Philharmonic Gets Dressed a "symphony in words and pictures."

A similar topic is addressed in Kuskin's and Simont's third collaboration, The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed. After a difficult game, forty-five members of a victorious football team retreat to the locker room until the coach tells them they must go home and rest for practice the next morning. As reluctantly as a child who wishes to avoid an early bedtime, each player removes layers of football gear, takes a shower, dresses in street clothes, and leaves for home. Though Molly Ivins commented in the New York Times Book Review that The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed is "a much better book for boys than for girls," she described it as "neat" and "funny." And Horn Book contributor Hanna B. Zeiger found the story "a totally original and very funny behind-the-scenes look at a large organization."

For Jerusalem, Shining Still, a book she wrote after a 1982 trip to the city, Kuskin chose a woodcut artist named David Frampton to provide illustrations. Recounting three thousand years of the history of Jerusalem, Israel, was a challenging task for the author. She spent a considerable amount of time thinking about her visit there and deciding what elements of the city and its past she would include in her book. "I wrote and cut and cut and wrote and condensed that long history into seven and a half pages," she related. Kuskin eventually chose Jerusalem's survival and growth despite frequent attacks by foreigners as the theme of Jerusalem, Shining Still, and she was praised for making the city's complex history more accessible to children.

Kuskin published Patchwork Island, Paul, City Dog, and City Noise during the same year. Of these, City Dog is the only self-illustrated title. Patchwork Island tells of a mother who makes a quilt for her baby out of scraps of material. The finished product forms a picture. In Booklist, Carolyn Phelan noted that "although the idea is rather static, the words flow poetically, sometimes rhyming, and the artwork has a folk-art quality that suits the subject." In Paul a young boy has a new song, but no one has time to listen, so he flies on a flying pig in search of his magical grandmother. Paul was originally created by the late Milton Avery. While some of Avery's illustrations remained, the text was lost. Kuskin created new text for Avery's illustrations. Remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor: "Kuskin's text is, in the main, straight-faced—a good foil for the primitive, outlandish figures pictured in the art. Yet it is satisfyingly sprinkled with a dry, understated wit." In City Dog a canine accustomed to the city gets to romp in the country. The frisky canine discovers rabbit holes, fast bikes, and bare toes. A Publishers Weekly said the dog's "joy is infectious," and added, "This simple, poetic text evokes the sights and sounds of nature." City Noise tells of a girl who discovers she can hear the sounds of the city in a tin can. "With a few well-chosen words, the noise intensifies, matched by comically frenetic pictures in which every object is personified and given a tannic expression," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

The Upstairs Cat recounts a tense feud between two house cats: one that has claimed the upstairs for its territory and another who stakes its claim on the first floor. In Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin commented that "Kuskin's brief text hammers home the message." Zvirin recommends the book for "adults wanting to introduce the subjects of war, peace, and getting along with one another." A Publishers Weekly reviewer believed "the feline antics will wring true for cat owners of any age" and explained that "Kuskin's signature blend of whimsy and contemplation lies at the heart of this poem."

Kuskin's I Am Me, illustrated by Dyanna Wolcott, tells of a little girl and her extended family on an excursion to the beach. The little girl's family members explain that she is actually a combination of all of them. The child explains "My feet are Dad's/except my funny little toe/which is a lot more like Aunt Jen's." Then the confident child concludes that she is "no one else but me." Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman noted that the illustrations and words in the book compliment each other. "The pictures are full of mischief, and with the words, celebrate the unique child in a loving universe," she praised. Maryann H. Owen in School Library Journal deemed the book "a reassuring lesson of belonging and being unique."

Moon, Have You Met My Mother? is a collection of more than forty years of Kuskin's poetry and also includes a few never-before-published poems. Booklist's Gillian Engberg described Moon as "sly, joyful, wise, and filled with delicious sounds." Engberg believed the book will "invite new generations of children to delight in the simplest words and explore their own secret selves." The poems in Moon are grouped by themes, such as animals and other creatures and the seasons. This organization has been criticized by reviewers, who felt that it is not the best way to showcase the poems. A Kirkus Reviews remarked, "the encyclopedic nature of this collection results in an inevitable feeling of sameness about many of these poems." Writing in School Library Journal, Margaret Bush also noted that "none of the poems are titled, which tends to blur the distinction among them."

Kuskin teamed up with illustrator Michael Grejniec to publish The Animals in the Ark, which retells the story of "Noah and the Ark," with a gentle slant appropriate for children. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "the poet's rhythm and rhyme unfold with deceptive ease, yet she varies the scheme to create a sense of urgency or to pause for a laugh." According to the same reviewer, "As the Ark nearly disappears within the torrents of rain, Kuskin lessens the danger by depicting the animals as very much like children." Kuskin shifts the focus away from the danger and onto the animals playing inside the Ark.

Though many of Kuskin's works have earned her acclaim and awards, the author believes, as she once wrote in CA, that "basically one works for oneself. It is the process that keeps you going much more than the little patches of appreciation you may have the good fortune to stumble into here and there. . . . Anyone can succeed gracefully. The trick is learning how to fail. I find failure as frightening, discouraging, and unpleasant as everyone else does, but I am quite sure that the ability to survive it, to get up and begin again, is as necessary as a good idea, a reasonable portion of talent, and a disciplined mind."



Children's Literature Review, Volume 4, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Hopkins, Lee Bennett, Pass the Poetry Please, Citation Press, 1976.

Kuskin, Karla, I Am Me, illustrated by Dyanna Wolcott, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

Kuskin, Karla, Thoughts, Pictures, and Words, photographs by Nicholas Kuskin, R.C. Owen Publishers (Katonah, NY), 1995.

Larrick, Nancy, editor, Somebody Turned on a Tap in These Kids: Poetry and Young People Today, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1971, pp. 38-48.


Belles Lettres, fall, 1994, review of Patchwork Island, p. 70.

Booklist, May 15, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Patchwork Island, p. 1681; March 1, 1994, review of City Dog, p. 1270; June 1, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of Paul, p. 1840; December 15, 1994, review of City Noise, p. 756; June 1, 1995, Kathy Broderick, review of James and the Rain, p. 1787; August, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Thoughts, Pictures, and Words, p. 1943; November 15, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Upstairs Cat, pp. 565-567; May 15, 1998, Carolyn Rochman, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky, p. 1628; March 15, 1999, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky, p. 1343; June 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of I Am Me, p. 1909; January 1, 2002, review of The Animals and the Ark, p. 861; April 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Moon, Have You Met My Mother?, p. 1408.

Books for Keeps, review of James and the Rain, p. 25.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1994, review of City Dog, p. 292; June, 1994, review of Paul, p. 324; July, 1995, review of Thoughts, Pictures, and Words, p. 378.

Children's Book and Play Review, January, 2001, review of Roar and More, p. 7.

Children's Book Review Service, June, 1994, review of Paul, p. 123; November, 1994, review of City Noise, p. 27; November, 1997, review of The Upstairs Cat, p. 27.

Children's Bookwatch, November, 1997, review of The Upstairs Cat, p. 4.

Christian Science Monitor, review of City Noise, p. 10.

Horn Book, November-December, 1986, pp. 737-738; July-August, 1995, Ellen Fader, review of Thoughts, Pictures, and Words, pp. 476-477; March-April, 2002, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Animals and the Ark, p. 223.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1994, review of Patchwork Island, p. 847; May 1, 1998, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky, p. 660; December 15, 2001, The Animals ad the Ark, p. 1759-1761; February 1, 2003, review of Moon, Have You Met My Mother?, p. 234.

Language Arts, November-December, 1979, pp. 934-940.

Library Talk, January, 1995, review of Paul, p. 23; March, 1995, review of Roar and More, p. 540.

New York Times Book Review, August 17, 1986; November 9, 1986, p. 40; May 22, 1994, review of City Dog, p. 307; May 28, 1994, review of Paul, p. 95; June 5, 1994, review of City Dog, p. 27; December 4, 1994, review of City Dog, p. 69; August, 1995, review of James and the Rain, p. 23; July 19, 1998, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky p. 24.

Parents' Choice, summer, 1994, review of Paul, p. 4.

Publishers Weekly, March 28, 1994, review of Paul, p. 95; March 28, 1994, review of City Dog, p. 96; April 11, 1994, review of Patchwork Island, p. 63; May 22, 1994, review of Patchwork Island, p. 22; July 18, 1994, review of City Noise, p. 244; May 29, 1995, review of James and the Rain, p. 86; October 13, 1997, review of The Upstairs Cat, p. 74; February 16, 1998, review of City Dog, p. 213; May 18, 1998, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky, p. 78; June 26, 2000; review of I Am Me, p. 74; April 1, 2002, review of Animals in the Ark, p. 79.

Reading Teacher, October, 1995, review of City Noise, p. 156.

School Library Journal, July, 1994, review of City Noise, p. 244; August, 1994, p. 139; November, 1994, review of City Noise, p. 98; July, 1995, review of James and the Rain, p. 66; September, 1995, review of Thoughts, Pictures, and Words, pp. 194-195; December, 1997, review of The Upstairs Cat, p. 95; July, 1998, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky, p. 89; August, 1998, review of Soap Soup and Other Verses, p. 26; August, 1998, review of The Sky Is Always in the Sky, p. 78; April, 2000, review of The Animals and the Ark, p. 79; July, 2000, Maryann H. Owen, review of I Am Me, p. 81; February, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of Moon, Have You Met My Mother?, p. 162.

Times Educational Supplement, June 28, 1996, review of James and the Rain, p. R6.

Washington Post Book World, March 8, 1981, pp. 10-11.

Young Readers Review, March, 1965.


Bookpage.com, http://www.bookpage.com/ (May 28, 2003), Lynn Beckwith, review of Moon, Have You Met My Mother?

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Online, http://www.soemadison.wisc.edu/ccbc/ (May 28, 2003), interview with Kuskin.

Charlotte Zolotow Web site, http://www.charlottezolotow.com (May 28, 2003), "Karla Kuskin."

New York Times Book Review Online, http://www.nytimes.com/ (May 18, 2003), review of Moon, Have You Met My Mother?

Scholastic, Inc. Web site, http://teacher.scholastic.com/ (May 28, 2003), "Karla Kuskin."*