Rohmann, Eric 1957-
American illustrator and author of picture books.
The following entry presents an overview of Rohmann's career through 2004.
Children's book author and illustrator Rohmann received the 1995 Caldecott Honor award for his wordless storybook Time Flies (1994) and the 2003 Caldecott Gold Medal for his whimsical picture storybook My Friend Rabbit (2002). Critics have noted Rohmann's masterful use of two distinct styles of illustration—the highly realistic oil paintings of his earlier stories and the bold, cartoon-like images of his later stories. "I've always made pictures that told stories—pictures that are like still frames of a film—small bits of a longer narrative," Rohmann has stated. "Over time, it made sense that I'd string these bits together and make a book." Rohmann is also the illustrator of the cover-jackets for the His Dark Materials trilogy of novels for children, authored by Philip Pullman. Pullman, expressing his great respect for Rohmann's work, has observed that, "[w]hen you look at a page of Mr. Rohmann's work, you see not only the expression of a great innate talent but also the consequence of solid work and study and thought."
Rohmann was born in Riverside, Illinois, in 1957. He attended Illinois State University, where he earned his B.S. in Art and an M.S. in Studio Art, and later attended Arizona State University, where he received his M.F.A. in Printmaking/Fine Bookmaking. He taught printmaking, painting, and fine bookmaking at Belvoir Terrace in Massachusetts and introductory drawing, bookmaking, and printmaking at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. His work has been exhibited in several galleries throughout the United States and Europe. "My schooling in visual storytelling was comic books." Rohmann has explained. "As a boy, sometime around fourth grade, I began to read anything that used pictures and words to tell stories. The Sunday funnies, picture books, the illustrated instructions for a model battleship, the airline safety information card … but I mostly read comic books. I thrilled at all those colored panels and word balloons. And it wasn't just the drawings, it was also that, page by page, the story unfolded before me." Rohmann has further remarked, "[i]t was also during this time that I became curious about the natural world. I recall that I could never pass a fallen log without turning it over to see what lived underneath. In an effort to understand the things I'd discovered, I began to draw." Shortly before receiving the 2003 Caldecott Medal for My Friend Rabbit, Rohmann had seriously considered pursuing another career, as he felt that he was not entirely successful as a children's book illustrator. However, receiving the prestigious award secured his success in further developing his career as an illustrator. Commenting on his creative process in developing children's books, Rohmann has stated, "[i]t all begins with what you want the book to say. What is the tone of the story, the mood, the desired audience response? The choice of art media, book dimensions, composition, pacing, text placement, etc. must be decided by what best serves the story. I try hard to find the ideal pairing of images, text and book form. They shouldn't say the same thing, but should complement and strengthen one another."
For his first two children's books, Time Flies and The Cinder-Eyed Cats (1997), Rohmann established a signature visual style characterized by detailed, highly realistic oil paintings of animals and people in soft, moody tones. Time Flies is a wordless picture storybook about a bird who flies through a window to find refuge from a storm and finds itself in the dinosaur exhibit of a natural history museum. When the dinosaur skeletons inexplicably acquire flesh and come to life, one dinosaur swallows the bird. But when the dinosaur turns back into a museum skeleton, the bird is able to fly out through its ribcage. The Cinder-Eyed Cats begins with a wordless picture sequence in which a boy steps into a boat that is floating in the air and sails through the night sky to land on a beach at the edge of a jungle. The boy builds a giant fish sculpture out of sand and falls asleep on the beach. When he awakens, the sand fish has turned to life, and the boy is joined by a group of wild cats, a whale, and other sea creatures in a fantastical dance in the sky around the moon. My Friend Rabbit relates the adventures and mishaps of Mouse, the narrator of the story, and his friend Rabbit, who "means well" but somehow always gets into trouble. Rabbit launches Mouse in the pilot seat of Mouse's new airplane, and the plane gets stuck high up in a tree. Rabbit's unlikely solution to this problem is to recruit a host of animals—an elephant, a rhinoceros, a duck, a squirrel, and so on—to stand atop one another, thus building an animal-ladder for Mouse to climb up and retrieve his plane. For the visual climax of the story, which depicts the tower of animals created by Rabbit, Rohmann made unique use of a double-page illustration for which the reader must turn the book sideways to view the image. My Friend Rabbit represents a significant departure from the style and technique Rohmann had established in his previous children's book illustrations. Rohmann's new visual style was characterized by flat, cartoon-like animals in bold, thick black outlines, filled in with bright colors. To create these images, Rohmann utilized a technique of carving the outlines of each image from a linoleum-like tile, from which a black-and-white print is made, to be colored in with watercolor paints. Pumpkinhead (2003) relates the adventures of Otho, a boy who was born with a pumpkin for his head. Although the other members of his family have normal human heads, Otho is loved and accepted by his parents, despite his unusual features. Otho's adventures begin when a bat flying overhead snatches his pumpkin head from his body, thinking it would make a nice place to build a nest. Because it is too heavy to carry for long, the bat drops Otho's head into the ocean, where it is swallowed by a fish, squeezed out of the fish by a squid, and caught in the net of a fisherman, who marvels that he has never before caught a "pumpkinfish." When the fisherman takes his "pumpkinfish" to the market to sell, Otho's mother happens to come along and barters with the fisherman to purchase Otho's head. She takes his head home and reattaches it to Otho's body, reminding him that, "You know the world will always be difficult for a boy with a pumpkin for a head." Rohmann illustrated Otho's adventures in the same style as My Friend Rabbit, with a print process resulting in bold black outlines colored in with watercolors. Rohmann has also illustrated two works for other authors: King Crow (1995), by Jennifer Armstrong—the story of two warring kings—and The Prairie Train (1999), by Antoine Ó Flatharta—the tale of a young Irish immigrant who rides a train in his dreams.
Rohmann has been widely praised for his oil-painting illustrations and cartoon-esque print-process images. Critics have applauded both styles as distinctive and visually engaging for children as well as adults. Reviewers have been further impressed by Rohmann's skill at harmonizing simple storylines, enticing illustrations, and overall design in his children's picture books. Time Flies has met with generally positive reviews, however, some have found the book's wordless narrative overly ambiguous and hard to follow. The Cinder-Eyed Cats has won acclaim for the simplicity of the story and Rohmann's whimsical treatment of the book's fantastical premise. Pullman has offered high praise for The Cinder-Eyed Cats, maintaining, "[t]he story is a charming fantasy—a dream, really, all moods and wishes.… As for the color, the whole book is suffused with a warm tonality that glows off the page: the tints are exquisite." Commentators have lauded My Friend Rabbit for its bold, simple illustrations and captivating characterizations of animals through evocative facial expressions. Such critics have also commended Rohmann's imaginative use of double-page design in the climactic image of the story. Kristin de Lacoste has observed that, "[t]he double-page, hand-colored relief prints with heavy black outlines [in My Friend Rabbit] are magnificent, and children will enjoy the comically expressive pictures of the animals before and after they attempt to extract the plane. The text is minimal; it's the illustrations that are the draw here." Reviewers of Pumpkinhead have complimented Rohmann's overall book design, Otho's humanistic response to his adventures, and the simple morality of the narrative. In her review of Pumpkinhead, Julie Cummins has asserted that, "[t]he blue, black, and orange relief prints provide heft for the story. The borders and images outlined in thick black lines entice children from page to page while the serio-comic style adds buoyancy.… The message about individuality will bypass kids, but they'll be intrigued with the quirky, imaginative misadventure."
Time Flies (picture book) 1994
King Crow [illustrator] (picture book) 1995
The Cinder-Eyed Cats (picture book) 1997
The Prairie Train [illustrator] (picture book) 1999
My Friend Rabbit (picture book) 2002
Pumpkinhead (picture book) 2003
Eric Rohmann, Avi, and Diane Roback (interview date 10 February 2003)
SOURCE: Rohmann, Eric, Avi, and Diane Roback. "Going Gold: PW Speaks with the Freshly Minted Newbery and Caldecott Winners." Publishers Weekly 250, no. 6 (10 February 2003): 81.
[In the following interview, Rohmann discusses his reaction to winning the 2003 Caldecott Gold Medal for My Friend Rabbit.]
In perhaps the most anticipated announcement of the year (in the world of children's books, at any rate), the Caldecott and Newbery Medals were awarded on Monday, January 27. This year's winners: Eric Rohmann for his picture book My Friend Rabbit (Roaring Brook Press), and Avi, for his novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Hyperion). In interviews just after the awards, both winners told of their reactions to the news.
"An Abundance of Pleasure"
It was 6 a.m. in suburban Chicago when The Call came. A sleepy Eric Rohmann answered the phone. No one was on the line, so he hung up, and then it rang again. "I picked it up and heard, 'This is Pat Scales of the American Library Association.'"
Back in 1995, Rohmann had won a Caldecott Honor for Time Flies, so "part of me," he says, "was saying to myself, 'Hold on, this could be something.' Another part was thinking, 'I know I have some overdue books.…'" Rohmann then told Scales, "If this is my friend Bob, it's not funny."
When he realized that the call was for real, Rohmann wasn't sure if he'd heard her correctly, and thought she was calling to give him another Honor. "So I asked, 'Did you say Honor or Medal?' When she said 'Medal,' it was shocking, and in some ways, I'm still shocked."
"It doesn't cross your mind that it might happen to you," Rohmann says. "You might daydream about winning the lottery or marrying a supermodel. But you never expect that it will happen. It's causing me an abundance of pleasure."
For My Friend Rabbit, Rohmann changed his art style dramatically, from the more painterly look of Time Flies and The Cinder-Eyed Cats and his jackets for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, to a simpler, bolder, more childlike style. Such a stylistic departure was a bit of a risk, he admits, but he finds it thrilling that "when you take a risk, there's this kind of payoff."
The artist is working on another book for Roaring Brook, which he had planned to finish this spring. "I've never had an editor say this to me before, but Simon [Boughton, Rohmann's longtime editor] just told me, 'We may have to put that book on hold.'" A book already in the pipeline, called Pumpkinhead, is due out from Random House in August.
Rohmann is not too worried about the award going to his head, pointing out that "nothing keeps you more humble as an artist, no matter what you've won, than when you cross that threshold to your studio, look at a blank piece of paper, and have to do it all over again."
And he admits that the prize couldn't have come at a better time. "Every 10 years or so in my life," he says, "when things start going bad, something occurs that lifts me. I had pretty much decided that if the new books didn't do well, I might start looking for something else to do. Now I feel I can keep doing books, and I don't have to go out and get a job!"
"As Good as It Gets"
When the official phone call came, at 5:30 a.m., to notify Avi that he had won the Newbery, he was already sitting at his computer. "I'm an early riser," he says. "And I have a lot of kids, and calls come at the most ridiculous hours." But this call wasn't from one of his children; it was from Starr La-Tronica, chair of the Newbery committee.
Avi was thrilled to receive the award, and points out that it and his two Newbery Honors (for Nothing but the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) have brought attention to the diversity of his work. "The way I feel about an award like this," he says, "is that I don't win it, it's a gift. Nobody sits down and writes a 'Newbery book.' I don't confuse the award with me as a person."
"But it's very gratifying," he continues. "Writing is hard. The rewards can be extremely meager and astonishingly generous. I was very moved."
He comments on one unexpected delight of winning the Newbery. "I've been around publishing for many years," he says, "and what's taken me most by surprise is the number of people who have been calling and sharing their pleasure with me. We often talk about how big publishing is, and this has restored for me the sense of a publishing community."
Avi, who has a picture book, Silent Movie, illustrated by C. B. Mordan, coming out next month from Anne Schwartz Books at Atheneum, and is working on a novel called Never Mind for Harper-Collins, with coauthor Rachel Vail, says he has never lost his love for writing or for the publishing process. And he values its importance in the world at large. "We in the world of publishing underestimate what we do. We do good. That's a huge thing, and we don't acknowledge it often enough. There's something wonderful about the fact that we wish to entertain and move people and make stories."
He recalls how he once tried to explain to someone why authors go into bookstores to see if their books are on the shelves. "Yeah, you want to know that they're there," he says. "But you also want to see them across the room from Dickens, Gertrude Stein, Hemingway. You're there with your idols, on the shelves with these immortals, part of this great enterprise. That's as good as it gets."
Eric Rohmann (essay date 22 June 2003)
SOURCE: Rohmann, Eric. "Caldecott Medal Acceptance." Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 4 (July-August 2003): 393-400.
[In the following transcript of his Caldecott Medal acceptance speech, delivered at the annual conference of the American Library Association on June 22, 2003, Rohmann discusses his creative process in the writing and illustration of My Friend Rabbit.]
What a strange feeling to be up here, standing here speaking to you. For the past few months I have found myself in unknown territory. The truth is, I'm living my usual life, but all things have the tinge of unfamiliarity. Consider me surprised, overwhelmed, perplexed, astonished, exalted, joyful, and humbled by all that has occurred.
In the breakneck, headlong months of making a book, when you are deeply involved with little choices, when you are propelled by the buzzing energy of the work, when moments of panic rise in the shadow of the deadline, there is not a lot of time for wondering what will happen when the book goes out into the world. In the studio, day to day, you ask yourself small questions. Have I put too much red in that blue? Is the leg of the alligator drawn awkwardly? While working, you never consider that one day people will look closely at your finished book, the result of all those decisions, mistakes, and discoveries, and say, I think this deserves the Caldecott Medal. The imagination encourages such fancies, but the work is always more pragmatic. And then you get a phone call early one January morning …
… and speaking of that call: the phone rings at half past six, and I rise to answer. (The verb rise may be a touch too active. On this cold, dark January day I awaken slowly, my limbs bending like stale Twizzlers.) Through the cobwebs of early morning I hear a voice on the other end of the line—a voice way too enthusiastic for 6:30.
The voice says, "This is Pat Scales of the American Library Association." My first thought is that I have overdue books—
And then I think I hear, "Your book, My Friend Rabbit, is the recipient of the 2003 Caldecott Medal."
Silence. If this were a movie, you'd hear a ticking clock, raindrops on the windowsill, a heart beating.
I say, "You mean an honor award?"
"No, the medal."
"No, the gold."
I'm arguing with Pat, trying to convince her that this can't be, but she's resolute and I fumble for some articulate response, a meaningful reply, some eloquence equal to the moment … but I got nothing. Silence. More ticking clocks. My heart beating.
Even now I'm not sure I know how to respond to this great honor with anything resembling coherence.
I must confess that a few years back I dreamed I was speaking before a crowd much like all of you tonight—and I knew it wasn't my recurring anxiety dream about public speaking because this time I was wearing pants. I stood before the audience and an important man in a blue suit announced that I had won the Caldecott … and the Newbery … the Nobel, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Heisman Trophy … an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, the Stanley Cup, the World Cup, the Grey Cup, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and Best of Breed, Westminster Kennel Club … a Grammy, a Juno, the Boston Marathon, the Great Texas Chili Cook-Off, and runner-up, Playmate of the Year.
Don't kid yourself, there's something in all of us that wants to be visible from space. But there is also a part of us that is ever-cautious and disbelieving. This doubting part of me is well developed, made muscular through extensive use. Artists and writers are lucky this way. We start with a blank sheet of paper, work until we think the thing is finished, then wake the next day and start all over again. If you're serious, the work teaches humility early and often.
Which leads me to another dream. I had this one during graduate school, the night before I was to read my very first story in my first ever writing class. But in the dream I'm in the fourth grade—Mrs. Cerny's room—and I'm late for class.
"Sit down, Eric," she says.
I look around and don't recognize any of my classmates.
A bearded kid in a fisherman's sweater sits in Nina Oakrant's seat. Another kid, dressed in a white suit, sits behind me at Alan Holtzman's desk. I turn to him. He looks like Mark Twain.
He is Mark Twain.
And the bearded kid is Hemingway, and next to him is Faulkner, and Poe, and Melville, and Hawthorne, and Emily Dickinson …
"Now we will read our stories," Mrs. Cerny says.
One by one the other students read their stories aloud. Stories of courage and human frailty; profound tales of man and nature and the struggles of the heart and soul. Then I read mine. A story about a lost shrimp named Binky. "Binky the Shrimp Comes Home." The last thing I recall before I wake is glancing around the classroom, the other kids smiling, holding red pens in their hands like drawn swords.
At the time this felt like only a bad dream—I was a novice in a class of graduate writing students—but the dream now appears to have been happily prophetic. Binky probably won't show up in a book anytime soon; then again, every once in a while I wonder how he got lost in the first place.
As a boy, sometime around the fourth grade, I began to read anything that used pictures and words to tell stories. The Sunday funnies, picture books, the illustrated instructions for a model battleship, the airline safety information card ("located in the seat pocket in front of you") … but I mostly read comic books. I thrilled at all those colored panels and word balloons. And it wasn't just the drawings, it was also that, page by page, the story unfolded before me. Comics always awakened my imagination, drew me into the stories, and suggested further adventures. I was right there with Tarzan or the Green Lantern. Like most kids I could move between the world of stories and the world around me. I spent my weekends and afternoons after school in the forests and fields just beyond the creek that ran in front of our house. I'd imagine I was in exotic, wild places or on some far-flung planet. The pictures I made at the time were bits of stories, images from a larger, ongoing narrative. My first comic was called "Steve Star—Good Guy of the Galaxy."
It was also during this time that I became curious about the natural world. I recall that I could never pass a fallen log without turning it over to see what lived underneath. In an effort to understand the things I'd discovered, I began to draw. The pictures I made took place in imaginary worlds by way of the fields and forests across the creek. One time, while playing on the bank of the creek, I mistook a snapping turtle for a rock—its prehistoric head slowly tilting, jaws opening to warn me away. I thought that I'd never seen anything so fierce and wonderful. That same day I drew a comic about a kid who discovers a dinosaur emerging from the drain in his grandmother's kitchen. It was Thanksgiving, and no one believed the kid's story—that is, until the beast ate Uncle Earl, who was a bit of an overeater himself. I recall one wordless panel of Uncle Earl sleeping on the couch dreaming of dinner. The drooling dinosaur loomed above, thinking the exact same thing. When I was a boy, the world around me was always a point of departure.
It makes sense that that boy became this man. I still use pictures and words to tell stories, but now my medium is the picture book. And the medium is unlike any other. Although the picture book may look like a typical book—paper pages, between two pieces of cardboard—it's unique in many ways. A picture book is not just a container for text and illustrations. When you make a picture book, you use words, images, and the book form—the book's shape and heft and physical quality—to suggest the reader's path of movement through the story: right to left, up and down, in and out, page to page. If a painting is two-dimensional and a sculpture is three-dimensional, then a book brings in a fourth dimension—time. The picture book is a sequence of moments that move through time.
The picture book is a physical object—the reader holds the book in her hands, she turns the pages, forward and backward, as fast or slow as she wants. Reading a picture book involves the eye, the mind, and the hand. When you turn the pages, your imagination—your thinking, feeling mind—fills the moments between page one and page two. Imagine a boy holding a paintbrush and a can of green paint. Behind him stands an elephant. If the image is well made and the story is well told, the reader is curious, anticipating and wondering what's next. Turn the page and you see the boy standing beside an unhappy, dripping, green elephant.
When I was working on the storyboard for My Friend Rabbit, I'd make small sketches inside a rectangle that represented the border of the finished book. Then I'd place that sketch on a larger sheet of paper and draw the action going on outside of the book. When Mouse looks up at the plane stuck in the tree, we don't see the plane, but we understand that he sees the plane. The reader fills those spaces, and the story is told, not only by the person who's made the book but also by the reader. The story is incomplete without the reader, and therefore making a picture book isn't only about what you put in, but also about what you leave out. Making a book is a collaborative act. At some point you have to trust the child reading the book.
And kids will see things.
I was drawing at the Brookfield Zoo one morning when a girl, she must have been six or seven years old, asked if she could see my sketchbook. "Hippos are my favorite animal," she said.
I showed her a drawing I had made of a sleeping hippo earlier that day, and she said, "Which one is it?" I must have looked puzzled because she continued, "There are two hippos in the pen. Two big brown ones."
I recalled the hippos sleeping in the mud, and said, "I'm not sure. It's hard to tell them apart."
"One has a cut on its ear," she said.
After my talk with the girl, I walked back to look at the hippos, and she was right about the cut on the ear. This is the way children see—fully—with attention to subtlety and engagement with detail. Children are not visually sophisticated—I mean, they don't have the experience or vocabulary to describe the complexities of what they see—but they are visually aware, more so than most of us adults because it's what they do. A child's primary job from birth to eight years old is to observe the world, to learn how things work. Children are hard-wired to be curious.
Over time, I've found that children are the best audience. They are enthusiastic, impulsive, generous, and pleased by simple joys. They laugh easily at the ridiculous and are willing to believe the absurd. Children are not ironic, disillusioned, or indifferent but hopeful, open-minded, and openhearted, with an inquisitive yearning for pictures and stories. To a child, every day is a great invention.
I want to thank Pat Scales and all the members of the Caldecott Committee. Thank you for looking at my book and seeing something there. Although I have to admit that a little part of me says, "What were you thinking?" all of me is humbled, thrilled, and deeply appreciative. Also, I want to thank everyone at the Association for Library Service to Children for all their support and assistance.
My congratulations and admiration to the other winners—Peter, Tony, and Jerry. I couldn't ask for better company.
To my family, who never seem surprised when good things happen to me. I treasure their enduring, unconditional support. And then again, my father, who loves only realism in painting, reacted to my news by saying, "They gave an award to the cartoony one?" Those who love you always keep you from getting beyond yourself.
To my friend Simon Boughton, who also happens to be my editor at Roaring Brook Press. He took a chance on me a few years back and published Time Flies. When I spoke with him about making hand-colored relief prints for My Friend Rabbit, he never blinked. I treasure his steadfast confidence in my abilities even when I doubt myself. The simple truth is my books are far better for having worked with Simon.
Thanks to Lauren Wohl for the seemingly effortless way she turns difficulty into success. And to all my friends at Roaring Brook who put Rabbit on their very first list. Incidentally, if anyone here has a manuscript titled "The Little Publisher That Could," now might be a good time for submission.
Thanks to my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, who also took a chance on a green, unproven artist. I've come to rely on his insight and good sense. Thanks also to Isabel Warren-Lynch and Tracy Gates, who were in on this book at the very beginning and provided invaluable ideas and guidance.
To Harold Boyd, the best artist I've ever known. And not just because of his drawings and paintings, but also because he taught me—by example—how you can live a life as a working artist. He revealed to me what today seems so obvious: that telling stories with pictures is the way I engage the world.
To all my friends who have encouraged me in spite of my capricious temperament. Especially to my friend Bob Erickson, for listening to me howl and lament ever since graduate school. When I told him of this award, he said, "I feel as if I've won something." And to my friend, the writer Candace Fleming. When I was confused about the ending of Rabbit, it was Candy's keen sense of story and her perceptive eye for humor that rescued the final page from the brink of ordinary.
Thanks to the kids who send letters, enlightening me to all the things in my books that I hadn't seen, and for providing me with an endless supply of one-liners. To James, the seven-year-old boy who suggested that on the cover I replace the plane with a Torah scroll, put a yarmulke on Mouse, and call the book My Friend Rabbi. And to another boy, Steven, who—in a nod to the comic possibilities of Spellcheck—wrote, "Congratulations on your award. The rabbit book is good. You must be very impotent."
Finally, I spend a lot of time with my friends Mark and Mary Anne Loafman and their sons Nicholas, Ethan, and William. A few years back, after dinner one night, the three boys and I got the idea to build a tower of toys. Our building materials were cardboard bricks, toy trucks, action figures, and stuffed animals. We made the pile as high as possible and topped the swaying, precarious structure with a stuffed toy lion. Then we devised ways to knock it down. (The boys called the game "Dead Simba.") I'm sorry to say that I have never had a lightning bolt moment of inspiration. For me, and I suspect for most artists and writers, revelations come slowly, one after the other. You draw a line and then respond to the line. No heavenly flashes, but a slow brightening. The falling pile of toys did not give me the idea for the tower of animals in My Friend Rabbit, but when I made the first tentative drawings of a bear atop a goose atop a rhino atop an elephant, I recalled those nights playing "Dead Simba" and knew that if that moment was so funny in real life, it had a good chance of being funny on the page. When I made the drawings, those joyful nights with the Loafman boys returned unbidden and clear—the brightening I spoke of—a confluence of imagination and memory. When I look back over the past few months, that's what the Caldecott has felt like. Receiving this honor has been another kind of brightening, also unexpected, that has cleared away the chaff and chatter of doubt and uncertainty, making me more sure of my choices, reminding me of the good and true reasons I make books for children.
Eric Rohmann and Pat Scales (interview date July 2003)
SOURCE: Rohmann, Eric, and Pat Scales. "Eric Rohmann Crawled out on a Limb to Create the Caldecott Medal-Winning My Friend Rabbit." School Library Journal 49, no. 7 (July 2003): 52-4.
[In the following interview, Rohmann discusses his creative process in writing and illustrating My Friend Rabbit.]
Early on the morning of January 27, painter, printmaker, and bookmaker Eric Rohmann was awakened at his Chicago home by an unexpected phone message: My Friend Rabbit (Roaring Brook), his latest picture book, had won the 2003 Caldecott Medal. Since there hadn't been any buzz about My Friend Rabbit among reviewers and children's literature discussion groups, Rohmann was sure that an old pal was pulling a prank. When he finally realized the caller was a member of the American Library Association, Rohmann wondered if he was in trouble. As he explained later the same day to an interviewer for National Public Radio: "You know, they call real early, about six in the morning. And I'm thinking, 'Wow, they're really stamping down on library fines, aren't they?'"
Kidding aside, the good news was especially sweet for Rohmann: he had taken a creative risk with My Friend Rabbit. To illustrate the tale of a rabbit that creates havoc when it tries to help its friend Mouse, Rohmann had set aside his trademark oil paints and, instead, created relief prints—covering the uncarved areas of a linoleum-like material with black ink. He then painted bright, bold watercolors inside the prints' thick dark outlines. The gamble paid off.
Although Rohmann received a 1995 Caldecott Honor citation for the wordless picture book Time Flies (Crown), he admits that he was about to give up on children's book publishing because he was struggling to make a living at it. Now, buoyed by the runaway success of My Friend Rabbit, Rohmann is an overnight celebrity and, to the delight of his young fans, there are more books on his drawing table—and in his head. We recently spoke to the 45-year-old Rohmann about his experiences as a children's book creator.
[Scales]: Which comes first for you, the pictures or the words?
[Rohmann]: I usually come up with an image first. For My Friend Rabbit, it was a little animal doing something with a big animal—pushing it, pulling it, throwing it, [gathering] it up in a pile. I think of text and then the picture changes. I make a picture, and then that picture tells more than I originally thought it would, so I edit down the writing.
My Friend Rabbit probably had a hundred words in it when I first started. I find that the more I make the pictures, the more they tell the story. What you try to do is have the words and the picture do different things. The words might describe smells or sounds, things that you don't know, or necessarily hear or see. So it's sort of organic.
Take us through the process of creatingMy Friend Rabbit.
I had this story that originally used words like "push" and "pull," "lift" and "drop." As I started creating it, I started to realize that there were other things going on in the story. I started making pencil sketches, and then I realized that I wanted to use a different media. So I tried pastels. I tried watercolor. I tried pen and ink and scratchboard. I made little paper sculptures—some of them freestanding, some of them like relief sculptures [in which the form stands out from the background]. I tried all different kinds of methods to see which one would work best.
Why did you decide to use relief prints to create the bold black outlines of the characters?
I made one print and that seemed to make sense to me. I intended to do all the other colors in relief print as well, but I had no place to print for very long. So I knew I would only [be able to print] the black ones, and [I would have to] apply the other colors later. That's how it came together.
I read that you felt it was risky to choose a different art style forMy Friend Rabbit.
As an illustrator, it's easy to establish yourself as having one style, and then that becomes your identity as an artist. The risk is that you establish an audience for yourself. And then you switch your style and suddenly you have to look for a different audience. I had become so good at making the kind of paintings I make that it wasn't a challenge. And, it wasn't particularly fun. So I said to myself, you have to try something different. I have stories I want to tell, and I have to find the best visual way to make [those stories] work. Because My Friend Rabbit was for a younger audience, it just seemed that it needed something different from the large oil paintings that I did in Time Flies. As it turns out, the risk paid off.
Which one ofMy Friend Rabbit 's protagonists is most like you, Rabbit or Mouse?
I would say I'm Mouse. In fact—not to give some great secret away—if you look at all my books up till now, the bird in Time Flies, the boy in Cinder-Eyed Cats (Crown, 1997)—things happen to them. In some ways, they are all observers, and so is Mouse. I think I'm one of those people. I spend a lot of time looking at the world like Mouse. I've never known anybody like Rabbit, but I've always, in some ways, wanted to be that carefree. But I've never been able to do it.
How have kids responded to your books?
Children are so generous and willing to give back. [When I visit schools] I show pictures, I talk, I tell stories, and I draw. I'm always flattered by the response from children, but I have to also realize that they're responding to me as well as to the book that I'm showing them. The way I find out how kids are really responding to my books is from librarians and teachers, who come up to me kind of blindly and say, "This is what happened when I read your book in my class.…" So far, thankfully, no one's come up and said, "You know, I read it and they fell asleep."
What books did you read as a child?
I wasn't much of a reader as a kid. I played a lot of baseball. In the winter, we played hockey. I spent lots of time outside doing things. Just about every 40-something writer and illustrator that you talk to will mention growing up with Where the Wild Things Are. I loved The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I loved some of the Dr. Seuss books, but not all of them. I sort of loved any kind of book that had some adventure going on. I also read comic books. My schooling in visual storytelling was comic books. I didn't love the Sunday funnies until I was a little bit older. But in the '60s, when I was in grade school, I was a voracious reader and maker of comic books.
When did you become interested in making children's books?
I've always loved making books. In the early '90s, I started working with kids at a performing and visual arts program in Massachusetts. I started to see how their minds work—what they found interesting, what they found funny, and what they found fascinating. I discovered that a lot of that stuff I found fascinating and funny and interesting as well. [So] I decided to make books for them.
What's it like illustrating other writers' stories?
I think the books that I've illustrated for other people have been less successful. I just don't think I'm the guy who has that ability to tune in to the text that others have written. I find that the words and the pictures are always altering one another. I can't do that when I illustrate the words of another author.
You've also created the cover art for Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. How does that experience compare with working on your own books?
I have great admiration for jacket designers. You have to take a large book, like a novel, which of course may have many levels of meaning, and find one moment that will in some way tell a reader enough about the book to make them want to pick it up and read it. That is an enormous task. You have only about three weeks to do [the assignment] from start to finish. So the process of making a book like My Friend Rabbit is very different. You have lots of time to make mistakes and try different things. You don't have that luxury when you do covers.
How has winning the Caldecott Medal changed your life?
Everything's happening so fast right now that it's like trying to describe a landscape [while on] a train that's going 200 miles an hour. What the Caldecott has done is enable me to make the books that I haven't seen—but I want to see—without worrying about all that other stuff that affects you in the world. Now I can make the books I would make anyway, and now people will see them. And isn't that what you want?
Eric Rohmann, Vicki Arkoff, and Stephanie Gwyn Brown (interview date 16 March 2004)
SOURCE: Rohmann, Eric, Vicki Arkoff, and Stephanie Gwyn Brown. "My Friend Eric Rohmann: Q & A with the 2003 Caldecott Medal Winner for Illustration." SCBWI: Tri-Regions of Southern California—Kite Tales (online magazine), http://www.scbwisocal.org/htmls/rohmann.htm (16 March 2004).
[In the following interview, Rohmann discusses his creative process, illustrating techniques, and the development of his career as an illustrator.]
Eric Rohmann is this year's recipient of the prestigious Caldecott Medal for illustration for his book My Friend Rabbit (Roaring Brook Press), a lighthearted celebration of friendship illustrated in robust, expressive prints. In the book, Mouse lets his best friend, Rabbit, play with his brand-new airplane—and trouble isn't far behind.
A painter, printmaker, and fine bookmaker, Eric Rohmann was previously feted in 1995 with a Caldecott Honor for Time Flies, his first book for children. Rohmann holds degrees in fine arts from Arizona State University and Illinois State University, is a former teacher, and has exhibited his artwork at numerous galleries and museums. He generously took time to share his experiences with SCBWI-LA Kite Tales just days after he received the exciting news of his big win.
[Arkoff and Brown]: How did you begin your career as an illustrator, and what was your big break?
[Rohmann]: I've always made pictures that told stories—pictures that are like still frames of a film—small bits of a longer narrative. Over time, it made sense that I'd string these bits together and make a book. In 1993, I took a portfolio to New York. I had called 14 editors and art directors and asked for a few minutes of their time. My soon-to-be editor at Crown, Simon Boughton, saw the dummy and two paintings from Time Flies, and decided to make the book. Previous to that, Time Flies had been rejected a dozen times by various publishers.
How do you decide your approach to a picture book?
It all begins with what you want the book to say. What is the tone of the story, the mood, the desired audience response? The choice of art media, book dimensions, composition, pacing, text placement, etc. must be decided by what best serves the story. I try hard to find the ideal pairing of images, text and book form. They shouldn't say the same thing, but should complement and strengthen one another.
You've worked in relief printing and oil painting. What other illustrative techniques have you experimented with in picture books?
For My Friend Rabbit, I took a few weeks to experiment and tried just about every medium I could think of. I made linocuts, woodcuts, scratchboard, gouache, collage, 3-dimensional paper sculptures, watercolor, pastel, pen and ink. Some media were more effective than others—often depending on my skill and experience. Finally, I decided on the relief prints because the bright watercolor and chunky, active relief-cut line made most sense with the story.
Which medium is your favorite?
Oils and various printmaking techniques are the media I use most; my preliminary work is done with pencil, ink, watercolor and oil washes. No surprise, these are also the media I know best. I dislike acrylics—they dry too fast and because the pigment is ground so fine, the paint is flat with little character, although I realize that these very characteristics are why some people like them so much!
Illustrators are often advised to stick to one style as it helps with marketing or branding their work, but your work defies that logic. What is your opinion?
I know I sound a little like a broken record, but I use the style/media/technique that works best with the story. My Friend Rabbit would not have worked using the more elaborate, naturalistic oil paintings of my other books.
With Rabbit, I needed the change to stay interested. A few years ago I made a painting for a book jacket and when I had finished I hardly recalled making the painting. I had become so facile, so practiced at my way of painting that I had stopped inventing and began to copy myself. I answered every question with an answer I had used before. I felt I needed to try something different, to shock my system. It's what Ray Bradbury once called, "Jumping off a cliff and making wings on the way down."
I think that an artist's "style" must develop naturally. It is not artificially invented or chosen. As an artist works, the hand, eye and mind begin to work in a certain way—in a characteristic manner that is unique to that artist. As a young artist I did a lot of copying, searching for a voice, trying to borrow the look of other people's work that I admired. Many of those influences are still present, but my own way of making art emerged as well. A book is more than just a container that holds text and images. The book form—its shape, its materials, its heft, its binding—all influence the overall effect of the book.
Which of your books do you feel was a personal artistic breakthrough?
This is a tough one because each book has some discoveries, surprises that I never would have imagined, and some failures, pictures that I never made quite right. I suppose the first book, Time Flies was a breakthrough because it was the first time my work was seen by a larger audience.
My Friend Rabbit has been described as having a "living ladder" at the climax of the narrative, and a view that requires the reader to tilt the book. Why did you choose to use this technique?
I tried the tower of animals on the normal two-page layout and it simply looked too short and squeezed. Then I tried tipping the tower—angled from lower left corner to upper right. That worked better and it eventually sparked the idea to turn the book vertically. What I hadn't expected until I saw the book turned was the way the story slows, makes the reader look more closely—it makes you physically change the position of the book. All this, I hope, gets the reader more involved. At one time in the making, I had the idea to make the reader turn the book all the way around, but that was too much. Once you've involved the reader in your story you don't want to make something so clever that they leave the story to say, "Look how clever the author is!"
InThe Cinder-Eyed Cats, did you have a basic idea of how you would compose and render the illustrations?
I knew I wanted to paint with oils. The shape of the book, its size, number of pages, the composition of each page, came about through the discovery process of making sketches and rough paintings. It's difficult for me to imagine an image I haven't seen. I need to put it to paper and go from there. I also looked at lots of reference books, brochures of South Sea Islands, and visited the zoo whenever I was stuck.
In your wordless picture bookTime Flies —a 1995 Caldecott Honor book—how did you present the concept to the publisher?
With a small dummy (photocopies of the preliminary drawings put in simple, side-sewn book format). Also two larger 2″ × 3″ transparencies of finished paintings. For the dummies submitted by mail, I used normal 35-mm slides.
What pitch or submission approaches have you found work the best to impress editors and art directors?
Put only your strongest work in the portfolio—if you want to illustrate books then your samples should demonstrate your abilities to that end. Demonstrate your understanding of how narrative works in a picture book. Other things are obvious, but bear repeating—know your craft, have an interest and some knowledge of picture books, care about your audience.
In hindsight, what career mistakes have you learned from the most?
I should have drawn more. Drawing is seeing and to make books that take place in the world you have to be aware of what's around you. Drawing makes you look closely, not to just see, but to behold and understand. I'm still trying to catch up. For me, it all begins with good drawing (or fails with bad drawing).
What sage advice can you offer to unpublished illustrators looking for their first book deal?
Make sure that what you love about the work is the work itself. So often I meet authors and illustrators more interested in being published than in making books. After you send your work out forget about it and work on the next project. You'll find the bite of rejection is diminished by the excitement of making something new.
Diane Roback (essay date 3 February 2003)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane. "Hyperion, Roaring Brook Win Newbery, Caldecott Medals." Publishers Weekly 250, no. 5 (3 February 2003): 18.
[In the following essay, Roback announces the winners of several prestigious awards in children's literature, including Rohmann's Caldecott Gold Medal award for My Friend Rabbit.]
The 2003 John Newbery Medal has been awarded to Avi for his novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Hyperion), and the 2003 Randolph Caldecott Medal went to Eric Rohmann, author and illustrator of My Friend Rabbit (Roaring Brook). The Newbery and Caldecott Medals honor outstanding writing and illustration of works published in the U.S. during the previous year. The awards are administered by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the ALA, and were announced on January 27 at the ALA midwinter conference in Philadelphia.
Both winners were previous Honor recipients in their categories: Avi in 1992 for Nothing but the Truth and in 1991 for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and Rohmann in 1995 for Time Flies.
Avi's book was edited by Donna Bray, executive editor at Hyperion, and Rohmann's book was edited by Simon Boughton. Boughton is publisher of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Millbrook Press; My Friend Rabbit appeared on Roaring Brook's first-ever list, in spring 2002.
Winning the fourth annual Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults was Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers (Dutton). The Robert F. Sibert Award, for the most distinguished informational book for children, was won by The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by James Cross Giblin (Clarion). Nikki Grimes won the 2002 Coretta Scott King Author Award for Bronx Masquerade (Dial), and E. B. Lewis won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for Talkin' about Bessie: The Story of Aviator Elizabeth Coleman, also by Nikki Grimes (Scholastic/Orchard).
Other awards included the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for best work of translation, which went to The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, translated from the German by Oliver Latsch (Scholastic/Chicken House); the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime contribution in writing for young adults, to Nancy Garden; and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, given every two years to an author or illustrator for making "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." This year's recipient is Eric Carle.
Reading Today (essay date April-May 2003)
SOURCE: "Avi, Rohmann Win Newbery, Caldecott Medals." Reading Today 20, no. 5 (April-May 2003): 25.
[In the following essay, the critic announces the winners of several prestigious awards in children's literature, including Rohmann's Caldecott Gold Medal award for My Friend Rabbit.]
Avi, author of Crispin: The Cross of Lead, and Eric Rohmann, illustrator and author of My Friend Rabbit, are the 2003 winners of the John Newbery and Randolph Caldecott medals, the most prestigious awards in children's literature in the United States. These and other literature awards were announced in January during the 2003 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead, published by Hyperion Books for Children, is an action-filled page-turner set in 14th-century England.
The 2003 Caldecott Medal for illustration was awarded to Eric Rohmann for My Friend Rabbit, published by Roaring Brook Press, a division of The Millbrook Press.
Five Newbery Honor Books were named: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (a Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster); Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books); Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books); A Corner of the Universe by Ann M. Martin (Scholastic Press); and Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan (HarperCollins Children's Books).
Three Caldecott Honor Books were named: The Spider and the Fly, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi, written by Mary Howitt (Simon & Schuster); Hondo & Fabian, illustrated and written by Peter McCarty (Henry Holt & Company); and Noah's Ark, illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney (SeaStar Books, a division of North-South Books).
The awards are administered by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the ALA.
Philip Pullman (essay date July-August 2003)
SOURCE: Pullman, Philip. "Eric Rohmann." Horn Book Magazine 79, no. 4 (July-August 2003): 401-4.
[In the following essay, Pullman—noted author of the His Dark Materials trilogy—offers high praise for Rohmann's skill and technique as an illustrator of children's books.]
My first view of this gentleman's work was on the cover of Publishers Weekly, seven years ago or thereabouts. Alfred A. Knopf was publishing a book of mine which they called The Golden Compass (the British title was Northern Lights), and they'd paid to have it featured on the cover of that magazine. I arrived in New York for a pre-publication tour, and there was my publisher holding up Publishers Weekly to show the title of my book against the background of the most amazingly beautiful painting, which, as I say, I'd never seen till that moment.
"Who did that?" I said.
"Eric Rohmann," said Simon Boughton proudly.
He might as well have said "Theophrastus von Sparkenpumpe." I'd never heard of him.
"Well, he's very good," I said.
"I'm glad you said that," said Simon, "because you're going to meet him tomorrow."
What would have happened if I'd hated it, I never found out. But there was no chance of my hating it. The cover designed by Mr. Rohmann (I'm going to call him that from now on, because he is very respectable now) showed the face of the young heroine, Lyra, as she sat on the back of the armored bear Iorek Byrnison, with her dæmon Pantalaimon in the form of a mouse close by. Mr. Rohmann had done something miraculous with Lyra's face. The story depicts her poised between childhood and adulthood, on the very cusp of adolescence—and poised between several other things as well. She is very definitely a girl, and her world is a more traditionally run place than ours; but she's also what used to be called a tomboy. Mr. Rohmann's picture shows her exactly balanced between a past and a future, between safety and danger, between one world and another, between a thousand possibilities in one direction and millions of possibilities in another. It's a face full of dreams and full of wonder. It is Lyra as she truly is, better than I could ever have hoped to see her pictured.
So I was prejudiced in favor of Mr. Rohmann even before I met him, which I did in Chicago at a dinner (that tour was full of fancy dinners where I met lots of very nice booksellers and tried to engage their interest in a book that wasn't even published yet) to which he, Mr. Rohmann that is, had traveled a long way by train, and in his fine, modest way he traveled home by train as well, even though most artists of his distinction would merit a limousine.
I was glad to be able to pay tribute to him in the few clumsy and nervous words I spoke at that dinner. And I am even more glad to pay tribute to him now that his genius has been recognized with the highest honor the American book world can pay to its illustrators. Setting aside my personal esteem for the gentleman, which is unbounded, I have to say that as a worker in line and shape and color he is unsurpassed. (I shall have more to say about lines in a couple of paragraphs.)
The first book I saw that was illustrated throughout by Mr. Rohmann was King Crow, by Jennifer Armstrong. King Crow abounds in sweeping panoramas, dramatic compositions, and beautifully rich and glowing colors; but what stood out at once for me was the draftsmanship. Anyone who can get a dog to look like a dog, a crow to look like a crow, or a hand to look properly articulated with an arm that in turn fits onto a shoulder that in turn looks as if it has a proper structural relationship with a backbone—is someone who deserves respect.
(It strikes me that "the toe bone's connected to the … foot bone, and the foot bone's connected to the … ankle bone, and the ankle bone's connected to the …" is a good description of the ideal curriculum for a life drawing class.)
Anyway, I've tried drawing those things myself, and it's hard. When you look at a page of Mr. Rohmann's work, you see not only the expression of a great innate talent but also the consequence of solid work and study and thought. I mean toil, the daily engagement with the tools, the never-ending struggle to make two dimensions represent three, the fresh-every-day effort to persuade the color to flow where you want it to and to preserve its warmth and brilliance all the way through the printing process.
Take Mr. Rohmann's The Cinder-Eyed Cats. The story is a charming fantasy—a dream, really, all moods and wishes. The success of it was always going to depend on the quality of the pictures, but there was no risk that it wouldn't succeed. Mr. Rohmann's command of the medium had reached the point where he was able to draw any animal, from any angle, doing anything. As for the color, the whole book is suffused with a warm tonality that glows off the page: the tints are exquisite. Look at the various kinds of white he finds for the clouds on the spread beginning, "Quiet now the seablue sky.…" Look at the colors in the morning sky: a perfectly controlled wash of tints from lemon to lavender, so that wherever you look on the page you know that it's right—but you can't see how he's done it.
What it produces in the reader is a sense of effortless control, the experience of watching a technique so perfect that it seems to be just happening, as a bird sings. It isn't, of course, but that's what it seems like.
Not many lines, though. I do like lines.
And then came My Friend Rabbit.
At first glance, you wouldn't think these pictures were by the same hand at all. Instead of the beautifully smooth and modulated painted surface of his previous work, here was a heavy, chunky, thick black line printed from a relief block. The man was carving this stuff. Not only carving it but hacking into it with force and vigor, leaving little jagged bits uncut, to catch the ink and sparkle blackly on the page; and then painting the result in bright, vibrant colors that blow through the book like a March wind. This wasn't smooth in the least. It shook and quivered and banged and rattled. I don't know what Mr. Rohmann calls this technique, but I love it. It reminds me of the woodcuts of William Nicholson: deep black, solid color; power and simplicity and wit all bound up in one unforgettable image.
But the roughness (if I can call it that) hasn't compromised the accuracy of the drawing at all. In fact it enhances it. In one of the "Little Nemo" strips by the great Winsor McCay, there is a picture—just one frame—showing six Bactrian camels (the two-humped variety) harnessed to a chariot and all colliding with one another and falling over in a heap. Every single limb is in the right place, and the perspective is immaculate, and everything works. Now since the world began, no one has ever seen that happen; but McCay could draw it perfectly. In My Friend Rabbit, Mr. Rohmann has nine animals all doing something similar, and everything works, and it's all done in a thick, bold, hefty line that you could tow an oceangoing ship with. It's funny up close, and you can put it on a table twenty feet away, as I have just done, and it's still funny—it still works.
The man is a genius.
I haven't space to do more than mention his many other qualities: handsome, generous, witty, and debonair, he is like Ivan Skavinsky Skivar in the old song, who "could imitate Irving, play poker or pool, and perform on the Spanish guitar." But enough of that. When I heard that he'd been awarded the Caldecott Medal, I gave a yell of delight that is still echoing around the ancient rafters of this house.
Well done, Mr. Rohmann! Well done, Simon Boughton, who published My Friend Rabbit ! Well done, Caldecott committee! Well done all round!
TIME FLIES (1994)
Publishers Weekly (review date 28 February 1994)
SOURCE: Review of Time Flies, by Eric Rohmann. Publishers Weekly 241, no. 9 (28 February 1994): 87.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Yes, no—it's a metaphor! Rohmann's wordless first book [Time Flies ] shows a bird flying into a dinosaur museum one dark and stormy night. The bird flits about, perching on a dinosaur jaw and soaring on. As it flies past one particular behemoth, the bones of the creature are suddenly cloaked in flesh; the bird has entered a prehistoric landscape. A dinosaur eventually swallows the bird, but as it wings its way down the creature's throat and through its digestive system, the would-be predator is transformed to a skeleton and the bird returns once again to the museum hall. The meaning of this exercise is unclear, although a jacket note explains that Rohmann was "inspired by the theory that birds are the modern relatives of the dinosaurs." The target audience will likely be mystified. Slightly older readers, however, might be intrigued by the time-travel conceit and the scientifically minded will be wowed by Rohmann's oil paintings, which capture the textures of bone, tooth, eyeball, etc., with as much attentiveness and morbidity as, say, an 18th-century still life of gamebirds. Ages 4-9.
Language Arts (review date November 1994)
SOURCE: Review of Time Flies, by Eric Rohmann. Language Arts 71, no. 7 (November 1994): 541.
One of the truly valuable things about wordless picturebooks is that—although they contain no words themselves—they often elicit many words from "readers." Time Flies does that in two ways. First, the storyline appeals to the imagination. As the book begins, a frightened bird escapes a storm by flying through an open window in a museum. The room into which the bird has flown houses a dinosaur exhibit. The bird is transported to prehistoric times. Is it a dream or a wrinkle in time caused by the storm? Could this whole adventure be part of the bird's memory of ancient ancestors? The story invites speculation. It also contains a great deal of humor and drama. Second, the illustrations are composed in such a way that they delight the eye and stimulate the imagination. Readers are bound to want to explore each illustration in detail, considering it alone and for what it contributes to the visual story that is unfolding. This is the kind of book that will allow readers to make new discoveries with every encounter.
KING CROW (1995)
Publishers Weekly (review date 17 April 1995)
SOURCE: Review of King Crow, by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Publishers Weekly 242, no. 16 (17 April 1995): 59.
Caldecott Honor artist Rohmann's (Time Flies ) thrillingly elegant paintings [in King Crow ] immediately immerse readers in the medieval setting of Armstrong's (Hugh Can Do) resonant tale of two kings. Reluctantly drawn into battle with the wicked, jealous Bregant, wise Cormac is defeated, thrown from his horse and left for dead on the field. Awakening the next day, the newly blinded king hears pleas for mercy from a wounded crow; when Cormac removes an arrow from its wing, the bird promises to repay the king's kindness. The promise is amply fulfilled before this heroic adventure reaches its conclusion. Armstrong's heady storytelling, with its symbolism and formal diction, finds a match in Rohmann's almost operatic compositions and dramatic use of light and shadow. This collaboration takes wing. Ages 5-10.
Leone McDermott (review date July 1995)
SOURCE: McDermott, Leone. Review of King Crow, by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Booklist 91, no. 21 (July 1995): 1882.
Ages 5-9. Rich, dramatic paintings adorn this tale of treachery and kindness rewarded [King Crow ]. Wise and generous King Cormac is envied by his neighbor, evil King Bregnant, who wages war on Cormac. After the battle, Cormac awakes to find himself alone and blind. Despairing, Cormac nevertheless shows compassion to a crow with an arrow in his wing and receives the crow's promise of future aid; later, when Cormac is imprisoned, the crow brings news of Bregnant's actions, enabling Cormac to unnerve his captors with his apparent powers of prophecy. In a final confrontation, Cormac predicts Bregnant's imminent doom, and the terrified tyrant stumbles and falls to his death. Traditional folkloric elements enhance the drama and mystery of this tale, giving it a classic feeling. Rohmann's handsome paintings add to this with sweeping layouts, striking compositions, and darkly burnished colors. A picture book for a slightly older crowd than the story-hour set.
Camille Hodges (review date summer 1996)
SOURCE: Hodges, Camille. Review of King Crow, by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Childhood Education 72, no. 4 (summer 1996): 242.
Impressively told through a masterful choice of vocabulary coupled with glorious illustrations, this tale of good triumphing over evil [King Crow ] is a winner. Set in the days of knights in armor, the story tells of two kings who go into battle, resulting in the imprisonment of the good King Cormac. With the help of a grateful crow, Cormac's enemy king Bregant is foiled and the wise and good king rules again. Ages 8-12.
THE CINDER-EYED CATS (1997)
Elizabeth Devereaux and Diane Roback (review date 22 September 1997)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth, and Diane Roback. Review of The Cinder-Eyed Cats, by Eric Rohmann. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 39 (22 September 1997): 80.
The enchanted land and dream-like eyes of Rohmann's (Time Flies ) cinder-eyed cats [in The Cinder-Eyed Cats ] are likely to hypnotize readers as effectively as they have the boy in these pages. The title page begins the wordless start to a boy's adventure. He climbs a rope ladder into a Wynken-Blynken-and-Nod-style sailboat that flies through the sky and drops anchor near a sandy beach. From a foreground of jungle ferns entwined with mysterious, curling cats' tails, the reader sees the boy in the distance build an enormous sand fish and fall asleep. Then the lyrical, rhythmic text begins: "In faraway lands, / When twilight falls on fair and wind-swept days, / Cats like velvet shadows move, / Their coal-fire eyes ablaze." The boy, the cats, the sand fish (now come to life) and assorted denizens of the sea "make their getaway" to the night sky to dance in the moonlight until "the waking light of dawn." Then "suddenly they're gone." The illustrations take on the quality of animated film as silver fish "flash like cats' eyes in the light," and the boy and his cats reach for the "sea-blue sky." Rohmann's (Time Flies ) bright-eyed cats and cryptic story are as mesmerizing as a vivid dream that seems at once perfectly clear and vaguely puzzling. Even readers who prefer loose ends to be tied up neatly will respond to these enigmatic golden cats who sleep tumbled together as the boy sails home in his sky-flying boat "until … the moon comes round once more." Ages 4-8.
Margaret Bush (review date November 1997)
SOURCE: Bush, Margaret. Review of The Cinder-Eyed Cats, by Eric Rohmann. School Library Journal 43, no. 11 (November 1997): 98-9.
PreS-Gr 2—Five tigers with staring eyes fill the book jacket, front and back, suggesting a larger-than-life story [in The Cinder-Eyed Cats ]. It's a nighttime fantasy featuring a boy who climbs aboard a boat hanging in the air above a pier and sails off to faraway lands. After a wordless sequence of several pages, the text begins in blank verse and moves into rhymed couplets to recount in spare lines the child's encounter with the cinder-eyed cats and a host of fish and sea creatures that "rise up from the deep" and join a frenzied night of dancing in the air above the sand. Double-page paintings of the tropical island terrain deepen as the sunny afternoon sky and sea move through twilight and into the dark of night. The scheme of sailing off into the night and a dreamlike encounter with wild animals are certainly nothing new, but the energy and surrealism provide a well-paced adventure with intriguing moments. The boy builds a large sand fish on the beach; as he dozes against its side, its eye begins to open. The celebration of night is a cheerful melee containing visual images—a circle of dancing tigers and the tigers mounted on one another's backs—familiar from well-known stories. As the morning sun calls the fish back to the sea, it's all a bit of a well-woven pastiche, sometimes Disneyish in the drawing but often bold and rich. A bedtime piece with flair.
Michael Cart (review date 15 November 1997)
SOURCE: Cart, Michael. Review of The Cinder-Eyed Cats, by Eric Rohmann. Booklist 94, no. 6 (15 November 1997): 559.
Ages 5-9. The story [of The Cinder-Eyed Cats ] starts wordlessly with a double-page picture of a small boy climbing into a boat that hovers in midair. As the pages turn, the boy and the boat fly away to a lush tropical island where the text begins, "In faraway lands …" On the island, the boy sculpts a giant fish of sand and then falls asleep, awakening to find that he has been joined by five tigerlike cats, "their coal-fire eyes ablaze." Not to worry, they're friendly, and, as night falls, they frolic with the boy and the fish, which has magically come to life. Soon they are joined by real fish and a whole farrago of creatures from the deep, whirling and capering together in the sky beneath the moon. Until the sun rises "and suddenly they're gone." Rohmann's double-page paintings are wonderful in the same sense that the rhyming, surreal text is: they inspire wonder and, in several cases, awe, most notably a portrait of the cats and an image of whales floating, cloudlike, across the early morning sky. Although the art commands the most attention, the text is also full of memorable imagery. An enigmatically beautiful book that readers will turn to again and again.
THE PRAIRIE TRAIN (1999)
Publishers Weekly (review date 29 November 1999)
SOURCE: Review of The Prairie Train, by Antoine Ó Flatharta, illustrated by Eric Rohmann. Publishers Weekly 29, no. 48 (29 November 1999): 70-1.
With cadenced prose, first-time children's book author and Irish playwright Ó Flatharta crafts a gentle fantasy about looking back and moving forward [in The Prairie Train ]. Despite being created at "a time when train engines were as shiny and extraordinary as rocket ships," the Prairie Train longs "to be an old-fashioned boat with billowing sails, to take a journey that wasn't set by tracks." The opening point of view shifts abruptly to that of Conor, a young Irish immigrant bound for San Francisco, who holds tight to the toy boat built by his grandfather whom he left behind. After his prized possession accidentally falls from the train's window, Conor falls into a fitful sleep, dreaming of boats. Suddenly, the Prairie Train enters his dream, taking him across the ocean to see his grandfather, who comforts him by pointing him toward the future: "There's bigger boats waiting for you." Rohmann's work seems somewhat hampered by a more conventional story line here, in contrast to his breathtakingly imaginative work in the Caldecott Honor-winning Time Flies. Nevertheless, he successfully marries the fantastic and realistic elements of Ó Flatharta's tale in a united palette mirroring both prairie and sea. The book's handsome design (panel illustrations give way to full-bleed paintings during Conor's dream), as well as Rohmann's deft portraits of Conor and his fellow immigrants, adds to the book's many deeply felt pleasures. Ages 5-10.
MY FRIEND RABBIT (2002)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 29 April 2002)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 17 (29 April 2002): 69.
"My friend Rabbit means well," begins the mouse narrator [of My Friend Rabbit ]. "But whatever he does, wherever he goes, trouble follows." Once Rabbit pitches Mouse's airplane into a tree, Rohmann tells most of the story through bold, expressive relief prints, a dramatic departure for the illustrator of The Cinder-Eyed Cats and other more painterly works. Rabbit might be a little too impulsive, but he has big ideas and plenty of energy. Rohmann pictures the pint-size, long-eared fellow recruiting an elephant, a rhinoceros and other large animals, and coaching them to stand one on top of another, like living building blocks, in order to retrieve Mouse's plane. Readers must tilt the book vertically to view the climactic spread: a tall, narrow portrait of a stack of very annoyed animals sitting on each other's backs as Rabbit holds Squirrel up toward the stuck airplane. The next spread anticipates trouble, as four duckling onlookers scurry frantically; the following scene shows the living ladder upended, with lots of flying feathers and scrabbling limbs. Somehow, in the tumult, the airplane comes free, and Mouse, aloft again, forgives his friend … even as the closing spread implies more trouble to follow. This gentle lesson in patience and loyalty, balanced on the back of a hilarious set of illustrations, will leave young readers clamoring for repeat readings. Ages 4-8.
Kristin de Lacoste (review date May 2002)
SOURCE: de Lacoste, Kristin. Review of My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann. School Library Journal 48, no. 5 (May 2002): 126.
PreS-Gr 1—[My Friend Rabbit is a] simple story about Rabbit and Mouse, who, despite Rabbit's penchant for trouble, are friends. When Rabbit launches his toy airplane (with Mouse in the pilot seat at takeoff) and it gets stuck in a tree, he convinces his friend that he will come up with a plan to get it down. He does so by stacking animals on top of one another (beginning with an elephant and a rhinoceros) until they are within reach of the toy. The double-page, hand-colored relief prints with heavy black outlines are magnificent, and children will enjoy the comically expressive pictures of the animals before and after their attempt to extract the plane. The text is minimal; it's the illustrations that are the draw here.
Connie Fletcher (review date 15 May 2002)
SOURCE: Fletcher, Connie. Review of My Friend Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann. Booklist 98, no. 18 (15 May 2002): 1602-3.
Ages 4-8. Mouse, the narrator [of My Friend Rabbit ] who flies a red and yellow biplane, tells listeners that his friend Rabbit "means well," but that trouble always follows him. Then comes a smart, sassy object lesson on how much trouble Rabbit brings. The fun of this is in the spacing and sequencing of the heavily ink-outlined drawings. After Rabbit has thrown Mouse's beloved biplane into a tree, one full page consists of tiny Mouse staring up, ink accents marking his exasperation. On the facing page, Rabbit darts off, promising a solution. The next double-spread shows an anxious Mouse as Rabbit drags one enormous tail into view. The space fills with a massive elephant. Then Rabbit pulls in among others, a rhino, a reindeer, and a duck (followed, of course, by ducklings) Now, the two-page spread must be turned vertically to reveal a giant pyramid of animals, topped by a squirrel holding Mouse, who reaches for the biplane—then the mass topples. Rage-filled beasts turn on Rabbit. Mouse, flying in on his recovered plane, saves Rabbit from their clutches and claws. Tremendous physical humor delivers a gentle lesson about accepting friends as they are.
Julie Cummins (review date 1-15 June 2003)
SOURCE: Cummins, Julie. Review of Pumpkinhead, by Eric Rohmann. Booklist 99, nos. 19-20 (1-15 June 2003): 1788.
PreS-Gr 1. Otho was born with a pumpkin for a head [in Pumpkinhead ]. His parents are unfazed by this anomaly as their son "heads" out on the adventure of life. First, a black bat wanting to nest in Otho's head flies off with it. Pumpkins are heavy however, and the [bat] drops Pumpkinhead into the sea. Otho floats until a fish swallows him—but a squid squeezes the fish, and Otho pops out like a cork. He's caught by a fisherman and taken to a fish market where his mother finds him, takes him home, and reunites him with his body, which, luckily for Otho, has been kept in a cool dry place. The blue, black, and orange relief prints provide heft for the story. The borders and images outlined in thick black lines entice children from page to page while the serio-comic style adds buoyancy. The black cover with a die-cut center square framing Otho's pumpkinhead sets the stage perfectly. The message about individuality will bypass kids, but they'll be intrigued with the quirky, imaginative misadventure. Forget the logic, this story grows on you.
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean (review date 9 June 2003)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean. Review of Pumpkinhead, by Eric Rohmann. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 23 (9 June 2003): 51.
Rohmann reprises the spacious block-print style of his Caldecott Medal-winning My Friend Rabbit in [Pumpkinhead, ] this quirky tale of a boy with a round pumpkin for a head. Like Stuart Little, Otho looks peculiar among his human family, but an affectionate snapshot shows that his parents accept him. While tossing a ball outside, he gets into trouble with a black bat who "thought Otho's head would make a fine place to live." The bat swoops down and swipes Otho's head. The absurdity continues as the head falls into the ocean (Otho squeezes his oval eyes shut before splashdown), gets swallowed by a fish and ends up at a seafood market. Otho wears a benign, apprehensive smile until his mother comes along ("after some spirited dickering, she bought Otho's head and a half-pound of mackerel") and rejoins him with his body. Given the bat and pumpkin, this could be a Halloween read, but mild Otho is neither spooky nor fierce. The surreal story primarily affords Rohmann the chance to experiment with design. The square book cover frames a charming, die-cut portrait of Otho; inside, dynamic thick black outlines border the pared-down but energetic relief prints. Rohmann places high-contrast black details in expansive white space, and complements the orange of Otho's head with soft shades of blue. The wry tone and theme places this alongside his more sophisticated The Cinder-Eyed Cats and Time Flies. Ages 5-9.
James K. Irwin (review date July 2003)
SOURCE: Irwin, James K. Review of Pumpkinhead, by Eric Rohmann. School Library Journal 49, no. 1 (July 2003): 105.
PreS-Gr 2—A perfect blend of art and text works together to convey the adventures of a boy born "with a pumpkin for a head" [in Pumpkinhead ]. A crafty flying bat plucks up Otho's head and explains in rhyme why he drops it into the sea. After a large fish swallows it, an even larger squid squeezes the fish, with Otho shooting out, "like a cork from a popgun." In excellent pacing, the next page shows the pumpkin-head hero drifting at sea, then scooped up by a fisherman. Young children are sure to enjoy the bouncing rhythm of the fisherman's words as he compares Otho to all the other types of fish he has netted. Besides black and white, Rohmann consistently uses shades of blue and patches of orange throughout. In this artwork, less is truly more. The multiple-color relief prints done on an etching press, with large white space surrounding smaller, movie-still-like pictures, enhance the visual appeal. In Otho's face, Rohmann captures the vulnerable emotions of a lost child, and the wide smiles when returning to a mother's embrace. Gather your little pumpkin heads close to you in the fall as you read them this tale and watch their faces light up with a glowing grin.
Karen Coats (review date September 2003)
SOURCE: Coats, Karen. Review of Pumpkinhead, by Eric Rohmann. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 1 (September 2003): 30-1.
"You know the world will always be difficult for a boy with a pumpkin for a head." So Otho's sage mother reminds him when she has restored his errant pumpkin head to his otherwise normal (though apparently detachable) body after its adventures [in Pumpkinhead ]. Plucked off its body by a bat who sees its potential as a home with its own food supply, Otho's head is dropped in the ocean, swallowed by a fish, expelled through the pressure of a squid, and picked up by a fisherman who has seen an impressive array of fish in his day, but never a pumpkinfish. Fortunately, Otho's mother happens to be shopping in the fish market that day, so this adventure doesn't take what might have been a very nasty turn, and Otho is instead restored to wholeness. Rohmann returns to the artistic style of multi-color relief prints and playfully absurd fantasy that earned him the 2002 Caldecott for My Friend Rabbit, though here both the story and the illustrations are quieter and the humor less straightforward. The chunky black outlines and limited palette (orange, blue, and aqua) allow the shapes to take center stage; a comforting roundness rocks readers along on Otho's adventure. The plot never quite fulfills its enticingly weird premise, though, remaining blandly sequential rather than really developing. Be prepared for some very interesting theories from the more literal-minded about how Otho got a pumpkin for a head; these young folks will likely be very diligent about spitting out their seeds in future.
Gladstone, Jim. Review of Time Flies, by Eric Rohmann. New York Times Book Review (22 May 1994): 32.
Assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Time Flies.
Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. Review of Time Flies, by Eric Rohmann. New York Times 144 (1 December 1994): B2, C2.
Offers a positive assessment of Time Flies.
——. Review of The Cinder-Eyed Cats, by Eric Rohmann. New York Times 147 (4 December 1997): B8, E8.
Discusses several notable children's books published in 1997, including The Cinder-Eyed Cats.
Swanson, Susan Marie. Review of Pumpkinhead by Eric Rohmann. New York Times Book Review (19 October 2003): 26.
Comments that "we need funny, lovingly made books like Pumpkinhead."