Shepard, Aaron 1950–
Shepard, Aaron 1950–
Born October 7, 1950. Education: Attended Carleton College, 1968-69, and Humboldt State University, 1984-87.
Office—P.O. Box 2698, San Pedro, CA 90731. Agent—Barbara Kouts, P.O. Box 560, Bellport, NY 11713. E-mail—[email protected]
Professional storyteller and performer in reader's theater, 1985-91; children's author, 1987—. Has also worked as a publisher, journalist, computer programmer, musician, instrument maker and repairer, printer, and salesman.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, California Reading Association.
Celebrate Literacy Award, International Reading Association, 1991; Aesop Accolade, American Folklore Society, 1995, for The Gifts of Wali Dad, 1996, for Maiden of Northland, and 1997, for The Sea King's Daughter; Honor designation, Storytelling World Awards, 1996, for The Gifts of Wali Dad, and 1998, for The Sea King's Daughter; Notable Children's Book designation, American Library Association, 1998, for The Sea King's Daughter.
Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1992.
The Legend of Slappy Hooper: An American Tall Tale, illustrated by Toni Goffe, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
The Gifts of Wali Dad: A Tale of India and Pakistan, illustrated by Daniel San Souci, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1995.
The Enchanted Storks: A Tale of Bagdad, illustrated by Alisher Dianov, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.
Maiden of Northland: A Hero Tale of Finland, illustrated by Carol Schwartz, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.
Master Maid: A Tale of Norway, illustrated by Pauline Ellison, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
The Sea King's Daughter: A Russian Legend, illustrated by Gennady Spirin, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
The Crystal Heart: A Vietnamese Legend, illustrated by Joseph Daniel Fiedler, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
Forty Fortunes: A Tale of Iran, illustrated by Alisher Dianov, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.
The Magic Brocade: A Tale of China, illustrated by Xiao Jun Li, EduStar, 2000.
Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria, illustrated by David Wisniewski, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Lady White Snake: A Tale from Chinese Opera, illustrated by Song Nan Zhang, Pan Asian (Union City, CA), 2001.
The Princess Mouse: A Tale of Finland, illustrated by Leonid Gore, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
King o' the Cats, illustrated by Kristin Sorra, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Timothy Tolliver and the Bully Basher, Skyhook Press (Olympia, WA), 2005.
The Adventures of Mouse Deer: Tales of Indonesia and Malaysia, illustrated by Kim Gamble, Skyhook Press (Olympia, WA), 2005.
One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes! A Very Grimm Fairy Tale, illustrated by Gary Clement, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2006.
(And illustrator) The Magic Flyswatter, Skyhook Press (Olympia, WA), 2008.
The Legend of Lightning Larry, illustrated by Toni Goffe, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Stories on Stage: Scripts for Reader's Theater, Wilson, 1993.
The Business of Writing for Children, The Story Project, 2000.
Also contributor of stories to Cricket.
Aaron Shepard opens a window on the world's cultural richness through his picture-book interpretations of folklore from many lands. His sensitive and literate retellings bring to life treasured tales from Iran, Vietnam, Nigeria, Russia, Norway, Finland, China, and India, as well as from Europe and the United States. Critics have consistently praised Shepard's writing and storytelling techniques, School Library Journal contributor Denise Anton Wright describing his 1997 work Master Maid: A Tale of Norway, as "an ideal choice for telling or reading aloud" due to its author's ability to pair a "concise story line and evocative language." Also in praise of Shepard's abilities, Shelle Rosenfeld wrote in her Booklist review of The Princess Mouse: A Tale of Finland that the author's "charmingly droll" retelling "combines classic elements with unexpected, witty details."
Born in 1950, Shepard developed an early love of writing. As he once explained: "As a kid, I wanted to be a fireman and a writer, or a policeman and a writer, or a lawyer and a writer—but always a writer! I think that's partly because my mother read wonderfully to me when I was very young. Reading books to kids is the best way to get them to love reading and writing."
Shepard first got involved in storytelling in the mid-1980s, by performing and teaching at workshops on a part-time basis. "My audiences were all ages," he recalled, "but I soon learned I enjoyed young people the most." Because of this instant rapport with young people, Shepard decided to take his craft a step further and write down the stories he told aloud. In 1989 his first original story was published in Cricket magazine, and his first picture book, Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India, appeared in bookstores three years later. Other books followed in quick succession, each one furthering its author's goal of introducing new cultures to English-speaking readers.
Savitri is based on a story from the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic. In Shepard's version, the beautiful princess Savitri falls in love with Satyavan, a poor young man of noble birth. When the god of death comes in search of her beloved, Savitri draws on her wits to save her husband and restore his family's wealth as well. Describing Shepard's retelling of this Indian fable as "delicately rendered," Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor Betsy Hearne perceived the value of the story to be its ability to "open children's eyes and ears to an unfamiliar lore" and provide young people with a "rich contrast" to Western literary traditions. In her Booklist appraisal of Savitri, Denia Hester praised Shepard's "respectful telling" of an "elegant love story with classic endurance."
Like Savitri, The Crystal Heart: A Vietnamese Legend also features a beautiful woman, this time Mi Nuong, the shy daughter of a wealthy and powerful family. Falling in love with a man whose singing she overhears but whose face she has never seen, the spoiled Mi Nuong rejects the love of Truong Chi, a local fisherman, after he is found to be the singer and is brought before her. Truong dies of sadness, and his heart turns to crystal, a gift for his beloved. Only after he dies does the young woman realize the value of what she has lost. Booklist contributor Kay Weisman praised Shepard for his "simple yet elegant prose," while in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Pat Mathews remarked that the author's version of The Crystal Heart "captures all the romantic feeling in an economical use of text without forfeiting any of the haunting mood of the tale."
As in The Crystal Heart, love figures prominently in much of folklore, often merging with tragedy. In Lady White Snake: A Tale from Chinese Opera Shepard teams with artist Song Nan Zhang to recount the story of a white serpent that transforms itself into a human woman in order to find true love. When that love is threatened, Lady White Snake summons her immortal friends, including Lady Blue Snake, and shows herself to be a fierce yet skillful warrior. Noting the authenticity of the tale, which is well documented in Chinese folklore, Margaret A. Chang wrote in School Library Journal that the author's "vivid, engaging prose" pairs well with Zhang's art, making Lady White Snake a "dramatic, action-packed" read-aloud.
The search for true love is also a theme found in Maiden of Northland, Shepard's picture-book adaptation of the Kalevala, Finland's national epic. In the story, two friends compete for the hand of a beautiful young woman. Also from Scandinavia comes Master Maid, another story wherein love blooms despite outrageous odds. In this saga a young man foolishly agrees to work for a troll and, in true folktale fashion, must perform three seemingly impossible tasks. Fortunately the young man gains the help of a clever young woman, and when he accomplishes the tasks, much to the angry troll's dismay, he escapes with her and the two fall in love.
Based on a Slavic folktale, The Sea King's Daughter: A Russian Legend concerns Sadko, a musician who, like Lady White Snake, wishes for someone to love. Sitting on the banks of the River Volkhov, Sadko plucks the strings of his instrument, and his music summons forth the Sea King, who asks the musician to visit the king's underwater kingdom. While there he is offered the hand of the Sea King's beautiful daughter, Volkhova, but Sadko rejects the possibility of love because its cost—forever leaving the above-ground world—is too high. Praised by a Publishers Weekly contributor for creating a "mood of eloquent enchantment," Shepard augments his story by including notes regarding sources, pronunciation, and other background on the poignant tale.
While love is most often the goal in folk tales, sometimes characters value other things more. In Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria strength is the thing most sought after, and Shadusa renames himself Master Man as a way to let everyone in his Hausa village know that he is the strongest person alive. Not surprisingly, Shadusa soon hears word of a man whose strength is greater than his, and when he goes to trounce this rival, he proves to be far weaker. Now, with the stronger man angered and in pursuit, Shadusa runs away and soon encounters yet another man of incredible strength. As the giant men start to battle each other for the right to be called Master Man, Shadusa hides in a tree. The fighters, evenly matched, climb higher into the sky, and eventually can only be heard as the rumbling of thunder. Humorously illustrated by David Wisniewski, Master Man was dubbed by Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg a "lively, well-paced story" that "will leave kids giggling." Shepard's "fresh, funny, and perfectly paced narrative simply screams story hour," asserted a Horn Book contributor, adding that Wisniewski's cartoon art "proves unbeatable."
In The Gifts of Wali Dad: A Tale of India and Pakistan Shepard moves from Russia to India and its environs. School Library Journal critic Marilyn Taniguchi dubbed the story a "superior retelling." Based on a story from the classic "colored" fairy-tale collection by nineteenth-century British folklorist Andrew Lang, Shepard's picture-book adaptation emphasizes humor in the tale of a poor grass-cutter whose habit of saving results in more money than he knows what to do with. Trying to divest himself of his wealth, Wali Dad spends his fortune on a beautiful bracelet, which he gives to the noble princess of Khaistan. When she reciprocates with a valuable token, the grass-cutter is forced to give that away also—to the valiant prince of Nekabad. Another gift is sent to him in return, which Wali Dad forwards to the young princess; and so the cycle continues, until the clever peasant finds a way to bring prince and princess together and the two young people fall deeply in love.
The folk stories collected in past centuries by Lang, Joseph Jacob, and the brothers Grimm are some of the most beloved of all, and Shepard retells one of these in One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes! A Very Grimm Fairy Tale. In a story originally written down by the Grimm brothers, little Two-Eyes is viewed as different by her sisters One-Eye and Three-Eyes; after all, she has an even number of eyes, while theirs are odd. Left to watch over the family goat, Two-Eyes begins crying, and a passing fairy helps to cheer the crying girl by casting a spell that results in the growth of a magic apple tree. The golden apples the tree bears attract the interest of a passing prince, and because Two-Eyes is the only sister able to harvest the fruit, she is asked to become his wife. While noting that Shepard takes liberties with the Grimm version of the story, School Library Journal reviewer Grace Oliff wrote that "children will enjoy the humor in this reincarnation." "Shepherd one-ups the classic fairytale by giving the cruel sisters their just deserts," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor who called One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes! "a treat for a new generation of readers."
A story from Jacobs' More English Fairy Tales come up for a retelling in Shepard's King o' the Cats, as a young church sexton reports to Father Allen that, every night, he sees cats donning human clothes and acting out human habits. Because the young man is known for telling tall tales, his stories are ignored. When he is finally asked by the cats to relay a message to Father Allen, the church leader has a surprising reaction, marking a speedy end to Shepard's version of the well-known British folk tale. "Less dramatic than the original," King o' the Cats "builds nicely and creates a fuller sense of the alternate life of the cats," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor Margaret Bush. Noting the contribution of "large-scale, dramatic illustrations" by Kristin Sorra, Carolyn Phelan in Booklist deemed the retelling "an entertaining tale" and "a fine choice" at story hour.
In addition to retelling tales from other lands, Shepard reacquaints children in the United States with their own traditional stories such as The Legend of Slappy Hooper and the holiday fable The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale. The Legend of Slappy Hooper recounts the story of a sign painter able to create pictures so realistic that, as Sheilamae O'Hara explained in her Booklist review, painted-on "flowers wilt, birds fly away, and beach bunnies get sunburned." Hooper's incredible talent is finally put to good use when "the Boss" makes the artist a permanent part of his heavenly staff. Now, day in and day out, Hooper paints the sky with sunrises, sunsets, and rainbows. A Kirkus reviewer called Shepard's interpretation of The Legend of Slappy Hooper a "well-told, amiably satirical tale."
Although his stories are nearly all drawn from traditional sources and previously set down in written form by folklorists and other writers, Shepard views each of his books as "an artistic creation by itself." As he went on to explain, "it is also a building block in a larger artistic creation: the career of a children's author. I'm excited about this career of mine, and I'm learning a lot as I work on it. For instance, I've discovered there's much more to being a successful author than just writing. There's also answering the mail, talking on the phone, visiting schools and bookstores, attending conferences, [and] teaching workshops."
"For me, the most fun part of being an author—even more fun than writing stories—is going out and reading them to kids. In fact, I get high on kid energy…. I feel very lucky, because I'm doing exactly the kind of work I want. Some people can't do that, because they have too many responsibilities. Others could do it, but they don't—because it seems too hard, or they don't want to live on less money, or they're just afraid. So they stay unhappy. If there's one thing I want to tell young people, it's this: Follow your dreams!"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1992, Denia Hester, review of Savitri: A Tale of Ancient India, p. 1353; November 1, 1993, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of The Legend ofSlappy Hooper: An American Tall Tale, p. 526; September 15, 1995, The Gifts of Wali Dad: A Tale of India and Pakistan, p. 173; June 1-15, 1997, review of The Sea King's Daughter: A Russian Legend, p. 1714; October 1, 1998, Kay Weisman, review of The Crystal Heart: A Vietnamese Legend, p. 333; January 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Master Man: A Tall Tale of Nigeria, p. 964; October 15, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Lady White Snake: A Tale from Chinese Opera, p. 391; February 1, 2003, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Princess Mouse: A Tale of Finland, p. 999; October 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of King o' the Cats, p. 408.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1992, Betsy Hearne, review of Savitri, p. 193; September, 1997, review of The Sea King's Daughter, p. 27; July-August, 1998, Pat Mathews, review of The Crystal Heart, p. 412; March, 2003, review of The Princess Mouse, p. 290; February, 2007, Hope Morrison, review of One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes! A Very Grimm Fairy Tale, p. 265.
Horn Book, January, 2001, review of Master Man, p. 102; January-February, 2007, Susan Dove Lempke, review of One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes!, p. 76.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1993, review of The Legend of Slappy Hooper, p. 1152; May 15, 1995, The Gifts of Wali Dad, p. 716; June 1, 1997, review of The Sea King's Daughter, p. 880; July 1, 1998, review of The Crystal Heart, p. 973; December 15, 2002, review of The Princess Mouse, p. 1857; July 1, 2004, review of King o' the Cats, p. 636; November 15, 2006, review of One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes!, p. 1178.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 1993, review of The Legend of Slappy Hooper, p. 71; April 17, 1995, The Gifts of Wali Dad, p. 60; August 25, 1997, review of The Sea King's Daughter, p. 72; July 6, 1998, review of The Crystal Heart, p. 61; January 1, 2001, review of Master Man, p. 92; December 9, 2002, review of The Princess Mouse, p. 84; November 13, 2006, review of One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes!, p. 56.
School Library Journal, May, 1992, review of Savitri, p. 127; August, 1995, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of The Gifts of Wali Dad, p. 138; June, 1997, Denise Anton Wright, review of Master Maid, pp. 112-113; December, 1997, review of The Crystal Heart, p. 115; August, 1999, Grace Oliff, review of Forty Fortunes, p. 150; February, 2001, Carol Ann Wilson, review of Master Man, p. 115; July, 2001, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Magic Brocade: A Tale of China, p. 98; March, 2002, Margaret A. Chang, review of Lady White Snake, p. 220; February, 2003, Grace Oliff, review of The Princess Mouse, p. 138; August, 2004, Margaret Bush, review of King o' the Cats, p. 114; June, 2005, Kelly Czarnecki, review of Timothy Tolliver and the Bully Basher, p. 128; January, 2007, Grace Oliff, review of One-Eye! Two-Eyes! Three-Eyes!, p. 120.
Aaron Shepard Home Page,http://www.aaronshep.com (February 15, 2008), includes writer resources.