Wiesner, David 1956-
WIESNER, David 1956-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "weez-ner"; born February 5, 1956, in Bridgewater, NJ; son of George (a research manager at a chemical plant) and Julia (a homemaker; maiden name, Collins) Wiesner; married Kim Kahng (a surgeon), May 21, 1983; children: Kevin, Jaime. Education: Rhode Island School of Design, B.F.A., 1978.
ADDRESSES: Home—Milwaukee, WI. Agent—c/o Clarion Books, 215 Park Ave., S., New York, NY 10003.
CAREER: Author and illustrator of children's books. Has appeared as a guest on the Today show, NBC-TV, 1992. Exhibitions: Wiesner's paintings have been displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 1982, as well as in various galleries, including Master Eagle Gallery, New York, NY, 1980-89, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, 1986—(permanent exhibit), Museum of Art at Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI, 1989, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY, 1990, Muscarele Museum of Art, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, 1990, Society of Illustrators, New York, NY, 1991 and 1992, and Greenwich Public Library, Greenwich, CT.
AWARDS, HONORS: Children's Picturebook Award, Redbook magazine, 1987, for The Loathsome Dragon; Caldecott Honor Book citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1989, for Free Fall; Pick of the Lists citation, American Booksellers Association, 1990, for Hurricane; Notable Children's Book citation, ALA, Reviewer's Choice citation, Sesame Street Parents' Guide, "Ten Best Books of 1991" citation, Parenting Magazine, and Pick of the Lists citation, American Booksellers Association, all 1991, and Caldecott Medal, ALA, 1992, all for Tuesday; Parent's Choice citation, 1992, for June 29, 1999; Caldecott Medal, ALA, 2002, for The Three Pigs.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS
(Reteller, with wife, Kim Kahng) The LoathsomeDragon, Putnam (New York, NY), 1987.
Free Fall, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1988.
Hurricane, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Tuesday, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1991.
June 29, 1999, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Sector 7, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Three Pigs, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Gloria Skurzynski, Honest Andrew, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1980.
Avi, Man from the Sky, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
Nancy Luenn, The Ugly Princess, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.
David R. Collins, The One Bad Thing about Birthdays, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1981.
Jane Yolen, The Boy Who Spoke Chimp, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.
Jane Yolen, Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of theUndersea Folk, Philomel (New York, NY), 1982.
Mike Thaler, Owly, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Vera Chapman, Miranty and the Alchemist, Avon (New York, NY), 1983.
Allan W. Eckert, The Dark Green Tunnel, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1984.
William Kotzwinkle, E. T.: The Storybook of the GreenPlanet (based on a story by Steven Spielberg), Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
Allan W. Eckert, The Wand: The Return to Mesmeria, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.
Dennis Haseley, Kite Flier, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1986.
Nancy Willard, Firebrat, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
Marianna Mayer, reteller, The Sorcerer's Apprentice: A Greek Fable, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Laurence Yep, The Rainbow People, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.
Laurence Yep, reteller, Tongues of Jade (Chinese American folk tales), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Eve Bunting, Night of the Gargoyles, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.
ADAPTATIONS: Free Fall has been adapted into a videocassette with teacher's guide, distributed by American School Publications, 1990; Tuesday has also been adapted into a videocassette, distributed by American School Publications, 1992.
SIDELIGHTS: "I create books I think I would have liked to have seen when I was a kid," David Wiesner once told CA. "I loved being able to get lost in paintings and to get involved in all the details." Winner of the 1992 Caldecott Medal for his picture book Tuesday and the 2002 Caldecott Medal for The Three Pigs, Wiesner combines his imaginative powers with his talent for illustration, producing award-winning works like Free Fall, Hurricane, and The Loathsome Dragon. He was born into a creatively inclined family—art and music number among his sibling's interests—and grew up in an environment that encouraged his own flair for drawing. "I never had the sense that I had to rebel at home so my parents would let me be an artist," he recalled in his interview. "They made my love of drawing seem like something natural—I thought it was the norm." Eventually, his love of drawing fused with his fascination for storytelling, and he found his niche in children's literature, particularly in picture books. He works primarily in watercolors, and expresses his passion for creativity in humorous and inventive tales. "What I really find interesting is that opportunity to take a normal, everyday situation and somehow turn it on its end, or slightly shift it. I love to introduce a 'what if?,' or juxtapose things that aren't normally together. Those just happen to be the kind of ideas I generate."
Born in 1956 to George and Julia Wiesner, David found the diverse landscape of his Bridgewater, New Jersey, hometown well-suited to his active imagination. Making use of the local cemetery, the river that bordered it (which neighborhood kids called a swamp), the nearby woods, and the town dump, Wiesner and his friends concocted all sorts of games, among which "army" was a particular favorite. "We had very specific rules when we played army," Wiesner once recalled, "that said if you were chasing someone and came to a road in the cemetery (which was to us a river), you had to shuffle your feet and hold your hands over your head to keep your gun dry (which was usually a stick). As soon as you got to the other side you could run again because you'd be on dry land." Ordinary objects were also transformed by the young Wiesner's creativity: wire hangers and plastic bags formed homemade hot-air balloons for a pastime called UFO, and a tree and some sticks made wonderful tree forts. "There was that constant ability to transform the everyday world into the pretend. We continually reinvented the world around us when we played."
Even though neighborhood companions in Bridgewater were in abundance, Wiesner enjoyed spending long stretches of time by himself, so much so, he laughingly admitted, that "there were times my parents were probably worried that, somehow, I didn't have any friends." During these periods of solitude, Wiesner often found himself drawing. "Art has always been a part of my life. I can't pinpoint the exact time when I began drawing; it was something I was always doing, and it became part of how I was perceived. It also defined my personality to a certain extent: clearly when relatives were aware of my interest in art, I would get various art supplies on Christmas and birthdays, and a lot of hand-me-downs—boxes of pastels, watercolors—from Carol, my oldest sister, and George, my brother, who are both pretty artistically inclined. I loved to watch them draw things."
Wiesner's penchant for drawing was fueled further by a television show he watched when he was about six or seven years old. Hosted by artist Jon Gnagy and originally aired in the late 1940s, You Are an Artist marked one of TV's first forays into instructional programming. Wiesner, who caught the telecast in reruns, was fascinated with Gnagy's work, particularly with the artist's attention to perspective, light, and scale. The youngster bought Gnagy's instruction books and earnestly practiced drawing all the pictures first in charcoal, then in color. "The books and program probably provided my first formal exposure to techniques and ideas about drawing," Wiesner recalled for CA. "Gnagy could stand there and in fifteen or twenty minutes turn out these drawings. I thought it was just miraculous. I still keep a framed picture of him on my wall."
By junior high school Wiesner had discovered the Renaissance and Surrealism, two creative movements that helped shape his artistic style. The Renaissance artists of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries appealed to the youngster because of their sensitivity to space and perspective. He found himself particularly enchanted by the works of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Duerer, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder—"the real draftsmen," he declared in an interview for Clarion News. "I could sit and look at those paintings for hours. There was so much happening in them, from the foreground back to the very, very far distance. You could follow things back to deep space." Surrealism, a twentieth-century art movement committed to the distorted portrayal of reality, also captured Wiesner's attention. "When I finally came across the surrealists," he once observed, "it was like all hell broke loose—not only because they were painting with a similar quality that I saw in the Renaissance painters, but because the subject matter was just unbelievable. I really responded to it. Conceptually, I was really taken with the imagery, the bizarreness, that other-worldliness, that weirdness—it was really very appealing."
That love of the fantastic found its way into Wiesner's creative outlets throughout his teenage years. Horror movies and sci-fi films provided favorite forms of entertainment, and one film in particular, Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, even helped inspire his enthusiasm for wordless storytelling. "I remember going to see 2001 in 1968," Wiesner recalled in Clarion News. "I don't want to be too dramatic, but I remember coming out of the theater a changed person. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen. It's almost a silent film; there's very little dialogue. It's all pictures, which tell a remarkably complex story and set of ideas, up there for the viewer to decipher."
Drawing continued to engage Wiesner's interest throughout high school, and he especially enjoyed sketching "sort of odd subjects," he once recalled. "I would conjure up images that usually got some very strange responses. It was really a direct response to the surrealist work that I saw—lots of weird, creepy, floating and flying things which have always been part of the work I do." His own anti-hero super-hero creation, Slop the Wonderpig, grew out of his love of comic books, and his own film, The Saga of Butchula, about a milquetoast-turned-vampire who avenges an attack by young thugs, grew out of his desire to experiment with the storytelling process. "Showing Butchula at the senior talent show at Bridgewater Raritan East was one of the high points of high school," Wiesner exclaimed, "because the audience reacted at all the right points. I experienced this incredible feeling. It was great!"
High school provided Wiesner with one other strong creative influence: his art teacher Robert Bernabe. "In Mr. Bernabe I finally found someone I could talk to about art," Wiesner told CA. "He essentially encouraged me to follow whatever inclinations I had and was willing to do what he could to facilitate that. This was the first time something like that had happened. He became a sort of confidant for me—I think that to a large degree art is this very personal thing, and Mr. Bernabe was someone with whom I could share my work. He didn't so much influence the projects I was pursuing as he provided me with a sense of encouragement."
However strong his interest in art, Wiesner scarcely entertained the idea of turning his craft into a career until a student from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD; pronounced "riz-dee") visited his art class. "He gave this presentation to the class," Wiesner said, "and brought along these eight millimeter films of some of the projects he had completed at RISD—interactive sorts of things that were set up in the middle of school. He brought some little contraptions he had made as well as a commercial he had developed for one of his classes. I was just amazed at all the wonderfully creative stuff. I thought, 'Here's a place where everybody is doing art all the time, as opposed to once a week,' and it finally dawned on me that I could actually keep doing this and go to school and study it and make this my living. I kept expecting someone to say, 'okay, now you have to figure out what you want to do before you go to college for four years.' It finally became clear that I could in fact be an artist."
With encouragement from his parents, Wiesner applied to five art schools in 1973, including New York's Pratt Institute, the Philadelphia College of Art, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and RISD. Accepted by all five, there was no question as to which one he would attend: "I was totally ready for RISD and ready to immerse myself in what the school had to offer," Wiesner said. The aspiring artist was greeted with a "pretty intense first year"—one in which he had unlearn many old habits and absorb new ideas and ways of thinking about art. "I remember going to my life-drawing class and noticing that while the teacher didn't really respond to my work, he would look at another student's work and say, 'this is really terrific,' or something like that. I would look at the same work and wonder, 'why is he saying that? He doesn't understand.' Yet by the end of the year I was able to look at that same work and realize 'that's great stuff.' RISD helped me reorient myself and helped me get rid of some of my preconceived notions."
In short, though Wiesner's experience at RISD was an active one, it was hardly a painful one. In fact, when asked to describe just one highlight he recalls from the school, he was at a loss for words; there were too many, he explained. However, one project does stand out in his memory with particular fondness. The assignment was simply the word "metamorphosis"—a vague suggestion that Wiesner finds challenging; a ten-foot-long, forty-inch-tall painting was the result. "I had this big piece of paper I'd been waiting to use," Wiesner once explained, "and I started to play around with these images that began to change and metamorphosize. I suppose it also relates to Dutch artist M. C. Escher (whose work I admire), who tended to focus on flat, graphic objects that shift and change from one to the other. I began the painting with images of oranges, then drew the orange sections falling away and turning into sailing ships. The ground then turned into water, and the ships changed and mutated into giant fish swimming out in the ocean. When I finished I knew I was on to something—the response in class was really good and I just kept thinking about it. Clearly there was more I could do with this."
The thought of expanding the painting into a narrative—either with words or without—fascinated Wiesner, and his assignments at RISD began to reflect this interest. At first he directed his talent toward adult-fantasy, short, wordless sequences done in oils. As he gained experience, he began developing his own style, primarily using watercolors, and experimenting with characters, settings, and story lines of a lengthier nature. By his senior year he completed a forty-page wordless picture book for adults based on the short story "Gonna Roll the Bones" by science fiction author Fritz Leiber. "The idea of wordless storytelling was really appealing to me," Wiesner once commented. "I was learning how to compress information as well as how to convey that information visually."
As graduation loomed, Wiesner tossed around the idea of working as an illustrator in some kind of published format, possibly for adult fantasy magazines. Pursuing a career in children's literature hardly crossed his mind. "If you looked at the work I was doing, though," he admitted to CA, "it was obvious I should be going into children's books." Evidently Lester Abrams, one of his instructors at RISD, thought the same thing, for he encouraged his pupil to show his work to noted children's author and illustrator (and later Caldecott Medalist) Trina Schart Hyman, who happened to be speaking at RISD. Hyman, who in 1978 was the art director for Cricket, a children's magazine recognized for its exceptional illustrations, took one look at Wiesner's work and promptly offered the young artist a magazine cover. Wiesner was both surprised and pleased to discover an audience for his work in children's literature. "I realized," he once said, "that there really is this remarkable range in children's literature open to very different personal visions of books. Not all illustrations are fuzzy bunnies and little cute things."
In children's literature Wiesner found his artistic niche. After graduating with his bachelor of fine arts in illustration in the spring of that same year, he procured work illustrating textbooks, which allowed him to compile a professional portfolio and compelled him to work under a variety of constraints involving size, medium, and content. "It's funny," he once noted. "One of the harder things to resolve coming out of school was moving from a situation in which I wasn't working with too many restrictions into an environment where someone would say, 'Okay, down here in these couple inches along the bottom and maybe partly up the side we want to see Robin Hood, his band of men, the archery contest, the bleachers in the back, the king, and the sheriff of Nottingham.' It's a very difficult thing to adapt to without losing some of your spontaneity. It took me a while to reconcile these different ways of working. Early on, it was somewhat intimidating."
Intimidating or not, Wiesner persevered, and in 1980 secured contracts (with the help of agent Dilys Evans) to illustrate two children's books: Gloria Skurzynski's Honest Andrew and Avi's Man from the Sky. By this time he had moved to New York City with Kim Kahng, who would later become his wife, and during the next few years he kept busy illustrating a variety of children's books. He also used the time to experiment with and fine-tune his own technique and form. At first, as he candidly admitted, his work appeared a bit unpolished—due in part to his inexperience in the field and in part to having to work with preseparated art, in which color is added only at the printing stage. However, with experience came the development of his own distinctive style as well as the ever-increasing desire to pursue his own book ideas. (The idea for Free Fall, inspired by the ten-foot long painting he had completed at RISD, was already forming in his mind.) However, in 1983 his career was unexpectedly put on hold. The apartment building housing himself and his wife, Kahng, burned to the ground, destroying everything the newly married couple owned.
By the time the Wiesners rebuilt their lives, David faced pressing deadlines for illustrations that had been contracted for a year or two years down the road. Consequently, he was compelled to work on Free Fall only in pieces—he would complete a picture or two for the book, then be forced to stop and work on other titles. The pattern continued throughout the 1980s, during which time he illustrated such works as William Kotzwinkle's E. T.: The Storybook of the Green Planet, Allan W. Eckert's Wand: The Return to Mesmeria, and Dennis Haseley's Kite Flier. In 1987 he tackled another self-illustrated project—The Loathsome Dragon, retold with Kahng and based on the English fairy tale The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Huegh. The narrative relates the story of the beautiful Princess Margaret, who becomes trapped inside the body of an enormous dragon through the sorcery of her evil, jealous stepmother. Only three kisses from Margaret's brother, Childe Wynd, who is traveling in a far-off land, will free the princess from the spell. Wiesner captured The Loathsome Dragon's medieval setting with double-page watercolor paintings, which portray detailed landscapes and seascapes, sprawling castles, elaborate robes, jewelry, and armor, and the frightful, yet gentle dragon. Reviewers applauded Wiesner's carefully crafted and attractive scenes as well as his regard for historical accuracy. Wiesner's artwork is "delicate, misty, and enchanting, extending and harmonizing with the traditional motifs of this fairy tale," noted School Library Journal contributor Constance A. Mellon. Perhaps the most flattering remarks came from 1991 Caldecott Medalist and RISD department head David Macaulay, who wrote in Horn Book: "Take a look at the watercolor landscapes [The Loathsome Dragon] contains and tell me you don't see a little Da Vinci in there."
By the time The Loathsome Dragon was completed, Wiesner was at the point of finishing Free Fall. "It had taken me longer than I had hoped to get to the point of completing Free Fall," he once observed, "and the breaks in working on it were hard. But it was better than rushing it. Throughout that time I was focusing on the RISD assignment about metamorphosis—the continuous picture that tells a story. It was when I came up with the idea of the dream, using sleeping and then waking as a framework, that Free Fall really began to come together and make sense. The structure of the dream afforded me the opportunity to have the book be less a strict narrative and more a sort of free floating imagery—more impressionistic than a straight storyline."
Released in 1988, Free Fall is an imaginative, wordless picture book that follows a young boy through the fantastic journey he experiences during one of his dreams. Featuring images that continually transform into other images, the narrative opens as the youngster falls asleep while studying a book of maps. Reality fades as his bedspread metamorphosizes into a landscape, and he is transported along with exotic companions onto a chessboard with live pieces, to a medieval castle housing knights and a dragon, to rocky cliffs that merge into a city skyline, and to a larger-than-life breakfast table. Finally he floats among swans, fishes, and leaves back to his starting place. Especially characteristic of Wiesner's creative ingenuity are the many events and characters the young boy encounters during his dream; most of them correspond to objects in the youngster's bedroom—from the goldfish next to his bed, to the chess pieces stashed in his nightstand, to the pigeons hovering near his window, to the leaves sketched on his wallpaper.
"When I finished Free Fall," Wiesner emphasized, "I realized that this was the type of work I really wanted to do. A lot of the sample pieces I had shown to publishers were geared toward typical fairy tale/folk tale kind of works, but there were also these other illustrations in the back of my portfolio that were just weird—editors would usually look at them and go 'oh, this is very interesting....'I would ask if they had any manuscripts to fit the drawings, and they'd invariably say 'no.' So I knew that ultimately I would have to invent my own ideas for books. Free Fall was the first true expression of the kind of work that I wanted to be doing."
Critical reaction to Free Fall was decidedly mixed. On one hand, reviewers admired the author's technical skill, his attention to architectural detail and form, and his visual creativity. The book is "an excellent replication of a dream," decided one Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic. On the other hand, some commentators found the book too complex to be readily understood by a young audience, and they criticized what they perceived as a murky narrative sequence. "The nameless protagonist's . . . adventures are confusing, complicated, and illogical," assessed Julie Corsaro in School Library Journal. Instead of being upset by the critical response to his first book, Wiesner was amused: "I sort of enjoyed the fact that some reviewers got it," he once confessed. "Some of the reviews were absolutely right on and connecting with everything, and others seemed not at all there. It was actually kind of interesting to get that very mixed reaction."
The mixed reaction did not extend to the committee selecting the Caldecott Honor Books in that year, for "the phone rang one Monday morning," Wiesner once related, "and the chair of the committee said they had chosen Free Fall as an honor book. I experienced the classic reaction: I was left speechless—I just hung up the phone." After some time passed, Wiesner was able to verbalize his reaction: "Having Free Fall named a Caldecott Honor Book was a wonderful confirmation that 'yes, this does seem to be the way to go.' It felt really, really satisfying because all along I had the feeling I had been going in the right direction with the pieces I had done and conceived on my own. It was really encouraging that they [the committee] chose a work that isn't in the strict mold of the usual picture book—one that was even perceived by a lot of reviewers as difficult and something that kids wouldn't even relate to."
Wiesner's next book was based on a real incident from his childhood, when a storm toppled over a tree in his neighborhood. Hurricane opens with the artist's "detailed, exquisitely rendered paintings [which] draw the reader into his story of a hurricane's progress," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer described it. After the storm, two young boys (named David and George, just like Wiesner and his brother) create exotic imaginative landscapes using a tree that was downed by the hurricane. Each adventure is anticipated by the wallpaper pattern in the brothers' bedroom—details that Wiesner drew from his own childhood memories—and each painting also features the cat that was a childhood pet. "The child-focused, low perspective gives even ordinary scenes an extra measure of drama," Patricia Dooley observed in School Library Journal, "and the fantasy spreads are detailed delights."
The same year Free Fall was named an honor book, Wiesner was asked by Cricket to design an cover (ironically, ten years from the time he illustrated his first Cricket cover). Given the artistic freedom to draw whatever he wished—the folks at Cricket told him only that the March issue would feature articles on St. Patrick's Day, frogs, and the like—Wiesner responded enthusiastically. "St. Patrick's Day didn't strike a chord—but frogs, they had potential," he said in his Caldecott acceptance speech, as reprinted in Horn Book. "I got out my sketchbook and some old National Geographics for reference. Frogs were great fun to draw—soft, round, lumpy, and really goofy-looking. But what could I do with them?" The rhetorical question was no sooner asked by Wiesner, than it was answered. As he once recalled: "I envisioned a frog on a lily pad, which reminded me of a flying saucer in a 1950s B movie. As soon as I saw that frog on the lily pad fly, the cover was pretty much right there—this whole bunch of frogs flying out of the swamp."
But a simple cover didn't satisfy the storyteller in Wiesner, who was already envisioning a narrative featuring the frogs. "I was sitting in an airplane, looking through my sketchbook," he continued in his Caldecott acceptance speech, "and I thought, Okay, if I were a frog, and I had discovered I could fly, where would I go? What would I do? Images quickly began to appear to me, and for fear of losing them I hastily scribbled barely legible shapes onto the page: a startled man at a kitchen table; a terrified dog under attack; a roomful of frogs bathed in the glow of a television. A chronology began to take shape, and within an hour I had worked out a complete layout, which remained essentially unchanged through to the finished book. Everything was there: the story, the use of the panels, the times of day, and the title." Tuesday, Wiesner's almost wordless 1991 picture book, was created.
Winner of the 1992 Caldecott Medal, Tuesday is a whimsical tale about a night when a crowd of frogs ascend to the sky on lily pads and soar over the surrounding neighborhood. Zooming past startled birds and an incredulous resident indulging in a late-night snack, the frogs speed through a clothesline (causing some minor entanglements), and spook Rusty, a sizable dog. They even sneak into a living room housing a sleepy elderly lady and watch some television (one member of the assemblage operates the remote control with his spindly tongue). "I really felt good when I finished Tuesday," Wiesner told CA, "and the response was immediate from everyone who saw it."
Critics not only hailed the creativity and composition of Wiesner's paintings, but their humor as well. A Publishers Weekly critic termed the illustrations "stunning . . . and executed with a seeming flawless command of palette and perspective." "What saves this book from simply being a gorgeous gallery of paintings," Roger Sutton explained in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "is its warmth and humor: these frogs are having a lot of fun." Carolyn Phelan likewise noted the humor of the illustrations, writing in Booklist that "the narrative artwork tells a simple, pleasant story with a consistency and authenticity that make the fantasy convincing." School Library Journal contributor Patricia Dooley also praised Wiesner's use of color and perspective, and predicted that "kids will love its lighthearted, meticulously imagined, fun-without-a-moral fantasy."
Despite critical acclaim, winning the Caldecott Medal was something Wiesner hardly imagined. As he once described his reaction: "I couldn't quite really believe it had happened . . . My reaction is hard to explain . . . The Children's Book Council puts out little bookmarks that list all the Caldecott winners back to 1938, and each year they just add the new winner. Looking at that list and seeing my name at the end of it as part of that tradition . . . whatever else happens, that's there forever. It really felt good to be included in that."
Wiesner followed up Tuesday with an off-beat tale, 1992's June 29, 1999. This amusing, innovative picture book revolves around young Holly Evans, who sends an assortment of vegetable seedlings into the atmosphere as part of a science experiment for school. A little more than a month later, on June 29, 1999—a Tuesday, of course—gigantic rutabagas, avocados, lima beans, artichokes, cucumbers, peas, and all sorts of vegetables begin falling to the earth. Amazement, anxiety, and confusion overcome citizens. In addition, rumors spread ("4000 lb. Radish Has Face of ELVIS!" screams one tabloid headline); business opportunities in real estate flourish ("Gourd Estates" quickly sprouts in North Carolina); and at least one Iowa farmer is ecstatic ("At last, the blue ribbon at the state fair is mine!" he announces upon finding a gargantuan head of cabbage on his property). Critics observed that with this book, Wiesner managed to create a text that matched the wit of his artwork. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the "brief tongue-in-cheek text . . . a plus for story time," while Linda Perkins commented in the New York Times Book Review that "the succinct story . . . provides just enough background with perfect deadpan wit and even a few alliterative flourishes, and packs a final punch of its own."
While the text earned much praise, it was again Wiesner's artwork that garnered the most glowing comments. "The exquisite watercolors are truly out of this world," Luann Toth remarked in School Library Journal, pointing out the artist's use of "unusual perspective" and "clever detail." As Perkins explained, "Wiesner's real strength is vivid, innovative illustration," and his "sly details" add greatly to the book's humor. "Wiesner's dry humor, irony and artistic wizardry have been masterfully marshaled into a visual and literary feast," a Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly noted, concluding: "Spectacular to look at, great fun to read—it is, in sum, executed with consummate skill."
Odd metamorphoses are again evident in Sector 7, a wordless book that follows an imaginative young boy from a visit to the Empire State Building to a tour of the celestial cloud factory known as Sector 7. "The illustrations . . .," wrote a Horn Book reviewer, "are startlingly and powerfully conceived, the fanciful cloud-shapes both funny and elegant." A Publishers Weekly contributor lauded the book as a glimpse into "an ingenious world of nearly unlimited possibilities," adding that Wiesner's paintings "contain such a wealth of details that they reveal new discoveries even after repeated examinations."
In The Three Pigs, Wiesner brings such visual inventiveness to the classic tale that Booklist critic Gillian Engberg described it as a "post-modern fantasy" that "deliciously reinvents the pigs' tale [and] invites readers to step beyond the boundaries of story and picture book altogether." Instead of adhering to the traditional narrative in which the wolf blows down the pig's straw house, for example, Wiesner makes his wolf blow the pig right out of the picture; soon the other pigs escape as well, capering through flying pages of text and discovering story-book "planets." Finally, they put the pages of their own story back together, returning to a world in which they outwit the still-waiting wolf. "Wiesner has created a funny, wildly imagined tale that encourages kids to leap beyond the familiar," wrote Engberg, "to think critically about conventional stories and illustration, and perhaps to flex their imaginations and create wonderfully subversive versions of their own stories."
In early 2002, Wiesner received another call from the Caldecott Medal committee, this time informing him that with The Three Pigs, he again won the highest honor for children's picture books in the United States. He admitted in his 2002 acceptance speech published in Horn Book that when he first received word that Tuesday was a Caldecott Medalist, he was alone in his studio, and "after a flurry of phone calls I . . . went to work." However, with two young children in the family, news of the second award found a more receptive audience. According to Wiesner, his wife and children celebrated the honor, "chanting 'Daddy won the Caldecott! Daddy won the Caldecott!' Being able to share that moment with my family has been the best part of this experience."
Wiesner continued to collaborate with writers during the 1990s as well, earning favorable notice for his illustrations for Eve Bunting's story Night of the Gargoyles. This oddly macabre tale of stone gargoyles at play while the city sleeps is interpreted by Wiesner with a surreal sense of whimsy. The illustrator's charcoal pictures "capture the huge heaviness of the stone figures and their gloomy malevolence," wrote reviewer Hazel Rochman in Booklist. Claiming "if anyone could bring gargoyles to life pictorially, it's Wiesner," School Library Journal contributor Julie Cummins applauded the artist's work, saying the illustrations combine to create "a deliciously eerie, spooky scenario."
If there is one common thread running through Wiesner's works, it is that his books are entertaining. "I'm hoping kids have fun when they read my books," he expressed to CA. Wiesner has fun creating them—the abundance of innovative, imaginative, and fantastic events and characters in his works attest to that—yet he also enjoys the challenge of expressing his ideas in a visual format. "I have found that wordless picture books are as enriching and as involving as a book with words in it. In a wordless book, each reader really completes the story; there is no author's voice narrating the story. In books like Free Fall or Tuesday, there is a lot going on there, and you really need to read the picture. A reader can't just flip through the book; all the details add up to more fully tell the story. It's exciting to me to develop that visual literacy."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors of Books for Young People, edited by Martha E. Ward, third edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.
Children's Book Illustration and Design, edited by Julie Cummins, Library of Applied Design, PBC International (New York, NY), 1992.
Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, pp. 679-680.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 43, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 196-217.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 1118-1119.
Wiesner, David, June 29, 1999, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Booklist, May 1, 1991, Carolyn Phelan, review of Tuesday, p. 1723; October 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Night of the Gargoyles, p. 331; September 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Sector 7, p. 270; May 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Three Pigs, p. 1761.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1988, review of Free Fall, p. 193; November, 1990, p. 74; May, 1991, Roger Sutton, review of Tuesday, p. 231; November, 1992, pp. 93-94.
Horn Book, January-February, 1991, pp. 61-62; January-February, 1992, p. 84; July-August, 1992, David Macaulay, "David Wiesner," pp. 423-428; July-August, 1992, David Wiesner, "Caldecott Acceptance Speech," pp. 416-422; September, 1999, review of Sector 7, p. 603; May, 2001, review of The Three Pigs, p. 341; July-August, 2002, David Wiesner, "Caldecott Medal Acceptance," p. 393; July-August, 2002, Anita Silvey, "David Wiesner," p. 401.
Instructor, September, 2001, Judy Freeman, review of The Three Pigs, p. 26.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1992, review of June 29,1999, p. 1262.
Mosaic (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada), June, 2001, Perry Nodelman, "Private Places on Public View: David Wiesner's Picture Books," p. 1.
New York Times Book Review, August, 1988, p. 99; September 25, 1988, p. 51; November 8, 1992, Linda Perkins, "Hocus-Pocus in Ho-Ho-Kus," p. 31; November 21, 1999, Andrew Leonard, review of Sector 7, p. 36; May 20, 2001, Sean Kelly, review of The Three Pigs, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1986, pp. 187-188; October 30, 1987, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 70; May 12, 1989, p. 294; August 31, 1990, review of Hurricane, p. 66; March 1, 1991, review of Tuesday, p. 73; September 20, 1991, p. 134; October 26, 1992, review of June 29, 1999 p. 69; August 8, 1994, p. 436; August 31, 1999, review of Sector 7, p. 83; November 1, 1999, review of Sector 7, p. 57; November 22, 1999, Cindi Di Marzo, interview with David Wiesner, p. 22; February 26, 2001, review of The Three Pigs, p. 86.
School Library Journal, January, 1986, p. 66; November, 1986, p. 78; March, 1988, Constance A. Mellon, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 178; June-July, 1988, Julie Corsaro, review of Free Fall, p. 95; August, 1988, p. 99; May, 1990, pp. 107-108; October, 1990, Patricia Dooley, review of Hurricane, p. 104; December, 1990, p. 25; January, 1991, p. 56; May, 1991, Patricia Dooley, review of Tuesday, p. 86; December, 1991, p. 132; November, 1992, Luann Toth, review of June 29, 1999, p. 81; October, 1994, Julie Cummins, review of Night of the Gargoyles, p. 86; September, 1999, Julie Cummins, review of Sector 7, p. 209; April, 2001, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Three Pigs, p. 26.
Clarionews, spring, 1992, "An Interview with David Wiesner."
David Wiesner Web Site,http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (March 22, 2003).