Lowenstein, Sallie 1949–
Lowenstein, Sallie 1949–
PERSONAL: Born July 20, 1949, in Washington, DC; daughter of Frank (an agricultural economist) and Min-del (a teacher and mathematician) Lowenstein; married Robert E. Kenney (an attorney), August 24, 1974; children: John, Rachel. Education: Attended Carnegie-Mellon University, 1967–68; Tulane University, B.F.A., 1971; American University, M.F.A., 1973; attended University of Arizona at Guadalajara, Mexico, 1972.
ADDRESSES: Home—4921 Aurora Dr., Kensington, MD 20895. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Studio artist, 1966–; freelance illustrator and book illustrator, 1970–; writer, 1991–. Arlington County Division of Recreation, teacher, 1973–80; Glen Echo National Park, teacher, 1973–76; BCC-JCG, Inc., teacher, 1988–93. Glen Echo Park Art Gallery, visual arts director, 1974–75; Arlington Arts Center, consulting director, 1976; Round House Theatre Arts Camp, art director, 1989. Exhibitions: Art work represented in solo and group exhibitions, 1966–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Max Beckman Memorial Award, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts, 1971; Artists in Education Award, Maryland State Council of the Arts, 1988–89; Excellence in Print Award, Printing and Graphic Communication Association, 1997, for design and production of The Mt. Olympus Zoo; listed among books for the teen age, New York Public Library, 2000, for Evan's Voice, 2004, for Sender Unknown and 2006, for Waiting for Eugene; included among best children's books of the year, Bank Street College, 2002, for Focus.
JUVENILE; AUTHOR AND ILLUSTRATOR
The Frame-It-Alphabet Book, privately printed, 1977.
Daniel the Medusa Hunter, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 1996.
(With son John Kenney) The Mt. Olympus Zoo, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 1997.
Evan's Voice, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 1999.
The Festival of Lights: A Family Hanukkah Service, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 1999.
Focus, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 2001.
Sender Unknown, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 2003.
Waiting for Eugene, Lion Stone Books (Kensington, MD), 2006.
Sir Kyle and Lady Madeline, 2007.
Contributor to Washington Post and Voice of Youth Advocates. Illustrator of posters and informational brochures for Bartleby Books, Arlington Arts Center, Books Unlimited, Glen Echo Park, DC Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Tulane University, American University, and the Council of Governments, Librarians, DC Metropolitan area.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Staring Cheldai, children's fiction, completion expected in 2008; Wolfley-O's, a picture book, 2009; Maxematics, a picture book; Purple Prose, young adult fiction; and Shadows of the Schwedagon, young adult science fiction.
SIDELIGHTS: "I love kids," Sallie Lowenstein once commented. "They are funny, endearing, imaginative, creative, and usually happy. So as an artist, author, and illustrator I try to have a lot of contact with them. When my kids were little that was easy. Now I find as many opportunities as I can to work with them in schools, book groups, libraries, and bookstores. And there is one question they ask me that always makes me pause: if I had to choose one thing that I would be, what is it? And I can't answer. From the time I was ten I knew I was going to be an artist. My family had traveled around the world to seventeen countries on a trip that took us to and from Rangoon, Burma, where we lived for a little over a year. On that trip I saw most of the great art galleries and architectural monuments that those countries we visited in Asia and Europe had to offer. By the time I was fifteen, I was selling my paintings. I went to art school, earned an M.F.A., won awards, exhibited, had one-person shows, and created. Years later, when my husband and I bought our house, he happily pointed out that we had bought a studio with a house attached. While in college, I began illustrating professionally for universities and businesses. And while pregnant with my first child, I began stone carving.
"I come from a family that loves to tell stories and I had always loved writing, but as a younger person I found it hard to both write and paint, and so put off the inevitable. When my second child was eight I began writing seriously and because I loved kids and was so involved with them, I chose to write for children. I discovered that as I wrote, I saw how the books would look. I could see the illustrations. They were an integral part of the writing process, even when I wrote novels. It was a natural outgrowth of both my lifelong involvement in art, and of a developing interest in screens and books formatted like screens, that the art and writing would be so entangled. So now I was a painter, sculptor, illustrator, and writer. And I could no more choose one of these art forms over another than I could stop breathing.
"So when kids ask me which part of my creativity I would choose over another, I pause, I stutter, and finally I shrug. True creativity cannot be separated out of one's life like a piece of clothing. It is not a choice any more than being born is. It has taken me a while to stop thinking of myself solely as an artist and accept that I am also a writer, and it was probably this very question that the children asked me that made me realize how integral all aspects of creativity are to my life.
"The other question that kids and adults frequently ask me is, 'Where do you get your ideas?' I have a rampant imagination and always have had. I am not afraid to pretend, which is really what is at the core of all good fiction writing. I hope my books will take readers where they cannot go without my words and art, but what I always hope for with kids is that once they have traveled there, they will find how to take themselves to these wonderful new places on their own and grow up to use their own rampant imaginations."
More recently Lowenstein told CA: "People frequently ask me when I began writing. In some ways, I find that an indefinable question. I began making up stories for my friends and me to act out from the time I was five. I wrote in high school and took creative writing classes in college, and made up stories in my mind all the time. If people are asking when I began writing professionally, I can tell them precisely when I began publishing my writing, but when you begin writing professionally and when you begin writing are two different things.
"People also ask me who influenced my work. If they are looking for a single author, they are out of luck. I love literature in its full range and have read voraciously my whole life. I love how literature is constructed. I love the sound and rhythm and language of literature. I love how words come together to make image and mood. I love the ideas and depth of human emotion found in literature. Although I do have some authors I don't care for, I cannot pick one author I prefer over many another. My taste ranges from Virginia Woolf to Daniel Pinkwater to Harper Lee and back to Dr. Seuss; from Langston Hughes to Shakespeare to Borges to Bradbury and back to Derek Walcott. The range of imagination and creativity is what I seek in books and is what intrigues and influences me. People ask me which of my own books is my favorite, and I say 'the next one,' for it is the creative challenge that holds me to writing and illustrating, to creating and designing books—not the finished book, but rather the works that are yet to come.
"Oddly, people never ask me why I illustrate novels as well as picture books. Very few people both illustrate and write young adult literature, so I keep waiting for the question. Still it doesn't come. In any case, I am not always sure how my literary ideas come together, or where they come from. Certainly, things that happen and have happened in my life influence what I write, and certain things I observe on a daily basis become details in what I write, but the process itself is hard to describe.
"Sometimes a story idea will haunt me for years. One such idea was near and dear to my heart. I wanted to write about what it was like for a child to know, absolutely, without doubt, that she had to be an artist. For years, another story had haunted me as well. When I was a child, my mother had a friend who, as a six-year-old, had spent many weeks hidden in a hole in the ground when the Nazis came through Greece. She had survived the isolation by making up stories and imaginary friends to play with. Maybe these two topics don't sound like they could possibly go together. I certainly didn't put them together consciously, but somewhere along the way, the ideas met and became like conjoined twins, attached at the hip and inseparable.
"What was born of this was my novel Waiting for Eugene. Oddly, as I wrote the book, I realized that it was the perfect topic for what I have come to call Double Vision: the blending of visual art with storytelling. It is a term I have come to apply to my own creative process, for I cannot write a book without seeing the art work for it, so that until the art work is completed, the 'writing' of the book remains incomplete. It matters not what age group I am writing for, I illustrate my books profusely. And, as in the best of picture books, what I find is that the art expands the reading experience, and the reading of the book expands the visual experience.
"Waiting for Eugene was different from the rest of my books, because this one was about a very specific experience I had been through myself. I was ten when I declared with absolute certainty that I would become an artist. I was fifteen when I sold my first oil painting, nineteen when I became a professional illustrator, twenty-nine when I added stone carving to my repertoire. I know what it is like to be obsessively controlled by the need to create. It has dominated my life.
"Of course, as I wrote the book, it took on elements that I hadn't expected. The father, who is the raconteur in the book, is verging on mental illness. The stories he tells to his daughter of his past as a hidden child are colored with magic realism. It is an intense book, the writing is highly visual, the drive to be an artist is at its core, along with the redemptive power of creativity, even though some see it as a Holocaust book. The book virtually wrote itself, wrapping in and out of complex relationships, a loving nuclear family, and the ever-present creative drive of both father and daughter.
"And of course, as I wrote, I saw drawings and more drawings of both the daughter Sara's art works and her father's architectural renderings. I was all set to scatter them appropriately throughout the pages of the book when passed the rough manuscript around to a group of teen writers I had been working with for years and asked them for comments. One girl said 'Don't break the power of the narrative with art.'
"She had made a good point, but I had to have art in this book. In a flash of vision, I knew exactly what to do. The art would go on a foldout page in the back of the novel. It would be like walking into the characters' world. It would provide a second climax, related to the book, but also eerily independent.
"So far, Waiting for Eugene has been received with open arms. I am happy when a book I write receives this kind of welcome, but sometimes books get both great and average reviews simultaneously. Although readers loved it, some reviewers found a previous book, Sender Unknown, mystifying. It did not meet their idea of a young adult book. The protagonist was too old, caught up in a corporate world, and the children in the book were not what they expected—nor, for that matter, were they what the protagonist expected. An odd ball book, it is set slightly in the future where mail has more or less vanished, except for the ever-pervasive junk mail. A young man takes a job designing software toys and is so successful that his company pressures him into moving out of his rental cottage and into a giant house where he will be able to entertain properly. The problem is that the house he buys gets about twenty toy catalogs per day through the mail slot. When he casually decides to order ten action figures to give to children, he fails to remember the old caveat—let the buyer beware—and instead of action figures, he unexpectedly becomes the parent of ten very strange and slightly impossible children.
"I had a great time writing this fun and whacky book, part fairy-tale-prince-and-princess novel, part fantasy, part science fiction. My problem was that, due to cost, I couldn't afford to print the illustrations in color. Each chapter title incorporates a page or a cover of one of the catalogs, and these illustrated pages as a body encompass the range of children's literature from robots to Jane Eyre. I modeled heads from Sculpy, built robots out of little bits and pieces of nuts and bolts, took feathers for the wings of fairies, and scanned them all so that they looked like photographs. I let my imagination go into full gear, gave it one of my trademark noncommercial covers, and put it on the shelves. The result was a double-visioned book that teens, young kids, and adults devour with equal delight.
"After all these years of writing and publishing, my readers have come to expect to find double vision in my books. It's my trademark. My readers know that my books will have art, and that it will be neither secondary to the writing nor an afterthought nor a gimmick. In my opinion, what encourages kids to read is a compelling, imaginative story line, rhythmic writing, universal theme, a revelatory change in the characters' understanding of the world, and if possible—art! It is true that, even when a story cannot reach a child who cannot read, art can and does. I have seen this with my books as I work with children of all ages, from all economic and ethnic backgrounds, as I work with adults, whether they are teachers, wannabee writers, or elderly African Americans whose grandparents were slaves—art in combination with writing and reading makes for writers and readers."
Lowenstein's first children's book, Daniel the Medusa Hunter, is the tale of Daniel, a modern-day hero who seeks out the ugly in order to transform it into something beautiful. Daniel saves Amy from her Aunt and Uncle's tacky house, which offends the little girl's aesthetics during an extended stay while her parents are away. The slender story is wrapped around twenty-seven illustrations, described by Sunil Freeman in the Montgomery Gazette as "luscious, with a subtle play of colors and a fine line throughout." The illustrations are actually silk-screened prints hand-bound in the traditional Japanese fashion in an edition of 300; each print can be removed from the binding for framing and hanging and instructions for reinserting the print back into the book are included. "[The artwork] can stand on its own," Freeman observed, "but it also has a light, almost dreamy charm that is quite in tune with the narrative."
Lowenstein took her inspiration from mythology in The Mt. Olympus Zoo, a children's novel that follows a family visiting various unusual zoos on their vacation. At the Mt. Olympus Zoo, mythological creatures originating in cultures all over the world live and breathe and talk to the Powers family during their visit. The Powers are so sympathetic to the creatures they meet that they intervene between them and the worried townspeople, who are agitating to close the zoo after seeing one of the animals disguised as a vampire. A reviewer for Library Talk reported that The Mt. Olympus Zoo "combines good story with a lot of information about mythology." The book concludes with factual information on the mythological creatures featured in the story, written and compiled by John Kenney, the author's son. "Kenney's compilation is so rich in references … it could inspire adults as well as children to further study of these strange creatures so deeply rooted in our collective memory," observed Freeman.
For her next book, Lowenstein stepped out of the realm of fantasy and into the realm of science fiction. In Evan's Voice, the author imagines a future world staggering under the aftereffects of a plague that has decimated the world population, with the remaining people divided strictly into the haves and have-nots. The book stars Jake, an adolescent boy who cares for his plague-sickened little brother Evan in the absence of their mother. Jake and his friend Mellie travel into the Dead Zone to interview a mysterious storyteller whose tales hint at the possibility of a better future. Independent Publisher reviewer Paula Frosch praised the realism with which Lowenstein depicts her teenage characters: "The characters in the story combine the raucous teasing qualities of their ages with the sensitivity and needs common to us all." Lowenstein's illustrations contrast scenes of Jake's world and the scenes of the storyteller's tales shown on television and the combination makes for a highly illustrated story. "Young adults will savor this unique marriage of story with image in a classy form of almost-graphic novel," predicted Anne Raymer and Cathi Dunn MacRae in the Voice of Youth Advocates. For Roger Leslie in Booklist, the highlight of Evan's Voice lies in the scenes in which the need for literature and education is argued "with such conviction the reader is sure to recall that message long after the book is shut."
Focus is another novel of the future, in which the haves and have-nots are defined by their level of creativity or specialization. In this world, teenagers choose their path to the future, not by declaring a "major" field of study for college or trade school, but by a process Lowenstein defines as genetic augmentation, which selectively heightens the innate skills required for the chosen profession to the detriment of other talents deemed unnecessary for that path. Focus is the story of a boy who does not wish to make that choice. Andrew wants to remain unspecialized, which would doom him to the inferior life of a have-not. Andrew's parents support their son's right to choose, and they move the family to another planet called Miners World. There the boy can explore the potential risks and benefits of such a choice by observing the various human and once-human populations of that world before he passes the point of no return. Though some reviewers cautioned that Focus is not a book for everyone, they also found the novel interesting. Dorcas Hand wrote in the School Library Journal that Focus "reads quickly and is often exciting."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter, November/December, 2005, Fred Isaac, review of Waiting for Eugene.
Booklist, March 1, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of Evan's Voice, p. 1214; April 15, 2001, Anne O'Malley, review of Focus, p. 1554; December 1, 2005, Debbie Carton, review of Waiting for Eugene, p. 36.
Independent Publisher, January-February, 1999, Paula Frosch, review of Evan's Voice.
Library Talk, March-April, 1998, review of Mt. Olympus Zoo.
Montgomery Gazette, June 6, 1997, Sunil Freeman, "Mythological Figures Inspire Children's Literature."
School Library Journal, August, 2001, Dorcas Hand, review of Focus, p. 195; November, 2005, Miranda Doyle, review of Waiting for Eugene, p. 140.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1999, Anne Raymer and Cathi Dunn MacRae, review of Evan's Voice.
Washington Parent, October, 2005, Mary Quattlebaum, review of Waiting for Eugene.
Washington Post Book World, October 30, 2005, Elizabeth Ward, review of Waiting for Eugene.
Writing Matters: Children as Authors (video interview), Reading Is Fundamental, Show #503.