Shemie, Bonnie (Jean Brenner) 1949-

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SHEMIE, Bonnie (Jean Brenner) 1949-

PERSONAL: Born May 10, 1949, in Cleveland, OH; daughter of William (an engineer) and Louise (a nurse; maiden name, Lundgren) Brenner; married Milo Shemie (an engineer), 1974; children: Khuther William, Benjamin David, Daniel Naim. Education: Allegheny College, B.A., 1971. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Skiing, hiking, canoeing.

ADDRESSES: Home—4474 De Maisonneuve W., Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3Z 1L7.

CAREER: Author and illustrator. Worked in graphic design and illustration for various advertising agencies in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 1973-76; freelance illustrator, 1976-85. Presenter at elementary schools, public libraries, Reading Association, and library and school conferences. Exhibitions: Shemie's works have appeared in a number of group and solo shows since 1975.

AWARDS, HONORS: Canadian Children's Book Centre, "choice book" citations, 1991, for Houses of Bark: Tipi, Wigwam and Longhouse; Native Dwellings,Woodland Indians and Houses of Snow, Skin and Bones: Native Dwellings, the Far North, "our choice" citation, 1993, for Houses of Wood: Native Dwellings, the Northwest Coast; Prix d'Excellence de l'Association des Consommateurs de Québec, 1991, for Houses of Bark; "notable book" citation, Canadian Materials, 1992, for Houses of Hide and Earth: Native Dwellings, Plains Indians; "notable book" citation, International Reading Association, for Building America.


Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones: Native Dwellings, the Far North, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1989.

Houses of Bark: Tipi, Wigwam, and Longhouse; Native Dwellings, Woodland Indians, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Houses of Hide and Earth: Native Dwellings, Plains Indians, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

Houses of Wood: Native Dwellings, the Northwest Coast, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992.

Mounds of Earth and Shell: The Southeast, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.

Houses of Adobe: Native Dwellings, the Southwest, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1995.

Houses of China, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Building Canada, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

(Illustrator) Janice Weaver, Building America, Tundra Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Research on the history of Canadian engineering projects for children.

SIDELIGHTS: Bonnie Shemie is the author and illustrator of a series of books for elementary-age children on the dwellings of Native Americans. The series began with Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones: Native Dwellings, the Far North, a detailed look at the various types of homes built by the Inuit tribes of Alaska. In text that alternates between simple descriptions aimed at younger readers and more complex discussions intended for older children, the author places the building of homes in the context of the culture as a whole. "Shemie looks at these dwellings with admiration," noted Denise Wilms of Booklist. In a statement that would be echoed by reviewers of later volumes in the series, Noel McDermott in Canadian Children's Literature proclaimed the work "a well-written and beautifully illustrated book, in which carefully researched information is presented, clearly and accurately and without any tendency to eulogize or romanticize."

Houses of Bark: Tipi, Wigwam, and Longhouse; Native Dwellings, Woodland Indians was received by commentators with similar enthusiasm. Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan noted that "the softly textured artwork" creates "an appealing vision of tribal life in eastern North America." Houses of Wood: Native Dwellings, the Northwest Coast, the fourth book in the series, describes the dwellings built by the Indian groups who lived from northern California through British Columbia and into southern Alaska, where the region's massive trees were the most sensible resource for building materials. "Like its predecessors, Houses of Wood focuses on the homes while giving detailed information on other facets of the particular people's way of life," observed Patricia Fry in Canadian Materials. Although Annette Goldsmith, a reviewer for Quill and Quire, noted the lack of table of contents and index to help guide readers through the information in the book, she also concluded: "The subject and length are sufficiently limited, however, and the book so interesting, that this should not deter readers."

In Mounds of Earth and Shell: The Southeast, Shemie turned from Native homes to explore the mysterious mounds that probably served as burial sites and ceremonial and sacred places in the southeastern United States, where a few of these mounds still remain. Shemie's illustrations demonstrate what the mounds looked like during the time they were in use and offer diagrams of several mounds showing the location of artifacts found in modern times. The book provides one of the few sources of information on the subject for children, noted Carolyn Phelan in her Booklist appraisal, calling Mounds of Earth and Shell an "attractive book."

Shemie's books for children on the architecture of Native Americans are equally admired for the author's clear presentation of useful information and the warmth and attractiveness of her precise drawings and color illustrations. "Shemie is that rare combination of writer/artist who is equally dedicated to intensive research and to art," remarked critic Patricia Fry in Canadian Materials. Works such as Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones and Houses of Bark have captured attention for the way in which the author integrates information about the construction of such dwellings with details about the lives of the people who built and lived in these homes. Shemie "places house-building within its cultural context," Goldsmith stated. In addition, critics have noted that the author's dual text, with simple explanations on pages with color illustrations alternating with more complex narratives on pages with line drawings, makes the books in this series useful and attractive to a broad range of students looking for information on the history of Native American dwellings.

Shemie once told CA: "I was very fortunate. My work was noticed at a local exhibition by the editor and owner of Tundra Books, May Cutler. She coached and cajoled me into writing as well as illustrating my books. I work at home in the basement, in the winter surrounded by heaters and bicycles, where it is quiet and I can concentrate.

"My advice to young author/illustrators: there are many wonderful topics yet to be explored. Extraordinary things are produced by ordinary people like you and me."

Shemie told CA, "I have been deeply interested in the things we build since I was a child. My brother, who I thought was a genius, built a multi-storied treehouse and marvelous huts in the woods behind the house. When he became an architect he educated me with books and marvelous city tours. Meanwhile, I liked to draw buildings with all their tiny details, and paint complicated cityscapes. The more I drew, the more I saw and learned."

She also commented: "I was born in a village in northeast Ohio in 1949 and spent my entire childhood in the same house. At sixteen, scholarship gave me the opportunity to live with a family in New Zealand for a year. There I saw my first exotic dwellings, the beautifully carved, pitched-roof houses of the first inhabitants, the Maori. After getting a degree from Allegheny College, in Pennsylvania, I moved to Montreal. I have worked in the graphic design field, met my husband and had three boys. I continue to paint as well as write and illustrate children's books. My first love is travel, and one of the great things about writing is to be able to go to places like China to do research. As a family we do a lot together out-of-doors such as ski, bike, swim, and hike."

Recently Shemie told CA: "Building Canada begins with French settlement in Quebec and Montreal, followed by examples from the Maritimes and loyalist Lower Canada, the gothic and neo-classic styles associated with the early Victorian period, the opening of the prairies with buildings from the fur trade and the Canadian Pacific railway, the Canadian chateau style, vernacular building influenced by immigration, the beginnings of industrialized housing, provincial and national legislature buildings after Canadian Confederation in 1867, various styles of domestic architecture, Art Deco, and construction between the world wars, modern architecture, and, lastly, Postmodernism. The combined influences of French Canada, the patrimony of England, and Canada's powerful neighbor, the United States, is felt throughout, as well as adaptations to a cold northern climate. There are sixty-two examples in all.

"Building America begins with examples from the colonial period such as the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe (1610-1614) and the Adam Thoroughgood House (1690), followed by the work of Jefferson, Bulfinch, and Latrobe from the revolutionary period, revivals of the Gothic, Romanesque, and Renaissance styles, the building of state and national capitols, the creation of religious and educational edifices, development westward and railway architecture, the influence of the Columbian exhibition of 1893, the dawning of the twentieth century and Louis Sullivan, the Prairie style, design for the jazz age, the development of Modernism and the International style, and Postmodernism. Featured are landmark buildings such as Fallingwater and the Woolworth Building, and lesser known buildings and vernacular architecture such as Graumann's Chinese Theater, a Quaker meetinghouse, and a street from a frontier town. There are seventy examples in all."



Booklist, December 15, 1989, Denise Wilms, review of Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones: Native Dwellings, the Far North, pp. 835-836; January 15, 1991, Carolyn Phelan, review of Houses of Bark: Tipi, Wigwam, and Longhouse; Native Dwellings, Woodland Indians, p. 1058; January 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mounds of Earth and Shell: The Southeast, pp. 825-826; September 1, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of Houses of Adobe: Native Dwellings, the Southwest, p. 71.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1989, p. 96.

Canadian Children's Literature, Number 63, 1991, Noel McDermott, review of Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones, pp. 78-79; spring-summer, 2002, review of Building Canada, pp. 171-172.

Canadian Literature, winter, 1991, Carole Gerson, review of Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones, p. 204.

Canadian Materials, December, 1989, review of Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones, p. 265; January, 1991, review of Houses of Bark, p. 24; March, 1992, review of Houses of Hide and Earth: Native Dwellings, Plains Indians, pp. 75-76; March, 1993, Patricia Fry, review of Houses of Wood: Native Dwellings, the Northwest Coast, p. 57; May-June, 1994, review of Mounds of Earth and Shell, p. 78.

Junior Bookshelf, June, 1994, pp. 102-103; June, 1996, pp. 113-114.

Quill and Quire, August, 1989, review of Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones, p. 16; September, 1990, review of Houses of Bark, p. 21; October, 1992, Annette Goldsmith, review of Houses of Wood, pp. 36, 38; October, 1993, p. 43; March, 2001, review of Building Canada, p. 59.

Resource Links, February, 1997, review of Houses of China, pp. 119, 122; April, 2001, Ann Abel, review of Building Canada, p. 20.

School Library Journal, April, 1990, Jeanette Larson, review of Houses of Snow, Skin, and Bones, p. 111; February, 1997, Linda Greengrass, review of Houses of China, p. 125; May, 2003, Mary Ann Carcich, review of Building America, p. 178.