Gerstein, Mordicai 1935–

views updated

Gerstein, Mordicai 1935–


Born November 24, 1935, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Samuel (a playwright) and Fay (a homemaker) Gerstein; married Sandra MacDonald (a painter), 1957 (divorced, 1969); married Susan Yard Harris (an artist and illustrator of children's books), May, 1984; children: (first marriage) Jesse, Aram; (second marriage) Risa Faye. Education: Attended Chouinard Art Institute, 1953-56. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, drawing, reading, bicycling and bicycle touring, occasionally playing the banjo and mandolin, cooking, eating, running, traveling.


Home—Northampton, MA. Agent—Literary: Joan Raines, Raines & Raines, 103 Kenyon Rd., Medusa, NY 12120; Illustrations: Temma Siegel, Craven Design, 304 Park Avenue S., 11th Fl., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer, designer, and illustrator of books for children; animated film writer, director, and producer; painter. United Productions of America, artist-designer at studio in Los Angeles, CA, 1956-57, and New York, NY, beginning 1957; freelance animation designer in New York, NY; Summer Star Productions (animation company), New York, NY, founding owner, 1969-79.

Awards, Honors

Award of the Film Clubs of France, 1966, for film The Room; CINE Golden Eagle Award, International Film and Television Festival of New York, 1967, for film The Magic Ring; Outstanding Books of the Year citation, New York Times, 1983, for Arnold of the Ducks; Parents' Choice Award, 1986, for Tales of Pan; Ten Best-Illustrated Children's Books and Notable Book cita-

tions, New York Times Book Review, both 1987, both for The Mountains of Tibet; CINE Golden Eagle Award, Gold Medal, first prize for children's entertainment, American Film Institute Video Awards, first prize for short video, Chicago International Festival of Children's films, and Parents' Choice Award, all 1989, all for film Beauty and the Beast; Best Illustrated Book of the Year citation, New York Times, Best Book citation, School Library Society, Fanfare List selection, Horn Book, Editors' Choice Award, Booklist, and Parents' Choice Award, all 1998, all for The Wild Boy; Notable Book of the Year citation, New York Times, 1998, for Victor; Parents' Choice Award, and Notable Book selections, Horn Book and American Library Association, all 2002, all for What Charlie Heard; Boston Globe/Horn Book Award and Caldecott Medal, both 2004, both for The Man Who Walked between the Towers.



Arnold of the Ducks, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.

Follow Me!, Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.

Prince Sparrow, Four Winds (New York, NY), 1984.

Roll Over!, Crown (New York, NY), 1984.

The Room (adapted from his film; also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1984.

William, Where Are You?, Crown (New York, NY), 1985.

Tales of Pan, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.

The Seal Mother, Dial (New York, NY), 1986.

The Mountains of Tibet, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

The Sun's Day, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

(Reteller) Madame LePrince de Beaumont, Beauty and the Beast, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.

Anytime Mapleson and the Hungry Bears, illustrated by wife, Susan Yard Harris, Harper (New York, NY), 1990.

The New Creatures, Harper (New York, NY), 1991.

The Gigantic Baby, illustrated by Arnie Levin, Harper (New York, NY), 1991.

(With Susan Yard Harris) Guess What?, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.

The Story of May, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.

The Shadow of a Flying Bird: A Legend of the Kurdistani Jews, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Susan Yard Harris) Daisy's Garden, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.

The Giant, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.

Bedtime, Everybody!, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.

Behind the Couch, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.

Jonah and the Two Great Fish, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.

Stop Those Pants!, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

The Wild Boy, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1998.

The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Noah and the Great Flood, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.

Queen Esther the Morning Star: The Story of Purim, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

Fox Eyes, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2001.

What Charlie Heard, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2002.

Sparrow Jack, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2003.

The Man Who Walked between the Towers, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.

Carolinda Clatter!, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2005.

The Old Country, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2005.

The White Ram: A Tale of Rosh Hashanah Based on Jewish Legends, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.

Learning to Fly, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2007.


Elizabeth Levy, Nice Little Girls, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1974.

Elizabeth Levy, Frankenstein Moved in on the Fourth Floor, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.

Patricia Thomas, "There Are Rocks in My Socks!" Said the Ox to the Fox, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1979.

Elizabeth Levy, Dracula Is a Pain in the Neck, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.

Elizabeth Levy, The Shadow Nose (mystery), Morrow (New York, NY), 1983.

Rosalie Silver, David's First Bicycle, Golden Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Robert Southey, The Cataract of Lodore, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.

Leslie Norris, Albert and the Angels, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2000.

Eric A. Kimmel, The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

Elizabeth Spires, I Am Arachne: Fifteen Greek and Roman Myths, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Eric A. Kimmel, Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

Erica Silverman, Sholom's Treasure: How Sholom Aleichem Became a Writer, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 2004.

(And translator) Jacques Preévert, To Paint the Portrait of a Bird, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2007.


Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer Is Going On, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1973.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer at the Ballpark, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1975.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer at the Library, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1977.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer on Vacation, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1980.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer at the Haunted School, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer at the Lemonade Stand, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer in Rock 'n' Roll, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer at the Birthday Party, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1990.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer in Outer Space, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1993.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer in the Cafeteria, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer at the Scary Movie, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1995.

Elizabeth Levy, Something Queer in the Wild West, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.


Elizabeth Levy, A Hare-raising Tail, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.

Elizabeth Levy, The Principal's on the Roof, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2002.

Elizabeth Levy, The Mixed-up Mask Mystery, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2003.

Elizabeth Levy, The Mystery of Too Many Elvises, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2003.

Elizabeth Levy, The Cool Ghoul Mystery, Aladdin (New York, NY), 2003.


Creator of "The Inner Man," editorial cartoons for periodicals such as Village Voice and Oui; author of children's films The Room, 1965, and The Magic Ring, 1966; adapter of children's film The Nose, 1965.


Arnold of the Ducks was adapted as an animated film and broadcast on the Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS-TV) program Storybreak, 1985; Beauty and the Beast was adapted for film by Stories to Remember, 1989; The Seal Mother and Prince Sparrow were adapted for filmstrips by McGraw-Hill; The Room was published in a Braille edition.


Mordicai Gerstein is the author and illustrator of dozens of books for young readers, including picture books, chapter books, and novels. In addition, his illustrations for works by other writers, especially those of Elizabeth Levy, have earned him many more publishing credits. Gerstein also worked for many years in animation, but since the early 1980s he has devoted his time to children's books. In 2004, he was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal for his picture book The Man Who Walked between the Towers. "The important question for me has been: how do you write anything?," Gerstein stated in his Caldecott acceptance speech, transcribed on his home page. "As a painter, animated-film maker and illustrator, I came late to writing, and it was to make picture books, a fascinating art form, which is mostly for children. And so I'm always looking for things that puzzle and disturb or amuse me, things that are fun to make pictures of. I make books for people, most of whom happen to be children, and I try to address the most essential parts of all of us."

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

Born in 1935 in southern California, Gerstein grew up in East Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and was introduced to literature and art at an early age. His mother loved painting and books, and his father, Samuel Gerstein, was a playwright who also made his living in business. Deeply influenced by the stories and books he read as a youngster, Gerstein began drawing illustrations for his favorites even as a child. "It seems my parents wanted an artist," Gerstein stated on his home page. "I never thought I'd be anything else. I never dreamed I'd be an author. Writing stories and creating characters that spoke and had lives that seemed real was, to me, an amazing and mysterious ability."

After high school, Gerstein studied painting privately in New Mexico and then attended the Chouinard Art Institute in California. Leaving school in 1956, he worked for the animation studio United Productions of America, painting in his spare time. After getting married, he moved to New York City, continued painting, and also began making his own animated films, He earned a successful living from animated films, commercial animation, and a weekly cartoon he drew for the Village Voice. Self-taught in the technique of color separation, he uses a wide range of media in his illustrations, which critics have generally praised for their ability to communicate, to show detail, and to capture the sense of movement.

In 1973, Gerstein turned to illustrating, entering an ongoing working partnership with children's writer Elizabeth Levy and providing illustrations as well as ideas for her children's books. As the collaboration between the two has continued, Gerstein has provided the illustrations for Levy's popular "Something Queer Is Going On" mystery series, as well as for her "Fletcher" mystery series, a spin-off of Levy's "Queer" works. The books in the first series trace the adventures of best friends Gwen and Jill, while the books in the second series feature Jill's canine, Fletcher, as he solves comical mysteries in stories geared for beginning chapter-book readers. Reviewing Something Queer at the Ball Park, a contributor for Publishers Weekly claimed that Gerstein's "tongue-in-cheek asides … move the action right along." Judy Greenfield, reviewing Something Queer in Rock 'n' Roll for School Library Journal, praised the book's "hilarious cartoon-like illustrations." Anne Connor, also writing for School Library Journal, found Gerstein's illustrations for Something Queer in Outer Space to be "full of humor," while Sharon R. Pearce, writing in the same periodical, praised Gerstein's artwork for Something Queer in the Wild West, noting that his "detailed" gouache and black-line illustrations add "tidbits of information and a lighthearted tone."

In the early 1980s Gerstein began to write and illustrate his own stories, even as he continued to illustrate the work of others. His first book, Arnold of the Ducks, combines memories of the author/illustrator's childhood and the boy-raised-by-wild-animals theme shared by stories such as Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. In Gerstein's whimsical fantasy, young Arnold is plucked from a shallow pool by a pelican with bad eyesight who deposits the human child in a nest of recently hatched ducklings. Accepted by the mother duck, Arnold is raised along with her feathered offspring, first learning to swim and then to fly. Eventually, through a mishap with a flying kite, Arnold is returned to his natural parents via the family dog. Years after he has readjusted to being human again, the sound of familiar quacking passing overhead causes him to vainly try to follow the soaring ducks. But like Arnold's innocence, that part of his life is gone forever.

In The Room, a 1984 adaptation of his film of the same title, Gerstein provides a history of all the tenants who lived in a small New York apartment. The odd assortment of renters includes twin bank robbers, a magician, and a dentist who keeps a throng of ducks. While his theme concerns the passage of time, Gerstein's story focuses on the events of everyday life. Commenting on The Room in the New York Times Book Review, Martha Saxton praised "its richly detailed illustrations … full of vivid people and fascinating objects." Like a friend "whose good qualities emerge slowly," Saxton further remarked that "one wants to keep this book around for a long time."

Tales of Pan features the antics of the mischievous half-man/half-goat god of Greek mythology. During the course of this story, Gerstein introduces readers to a number of Pan's relatives, whose adventures are presented along with the behavior of the prankish deity. Entertained by Gerstein's depiction of feats involving the supernatural changes of gods into various animals, New York Times Book Review contributor Jacques d'Amboise wrote that Pan's death comes "too soon. I want to know more." Affirming, too, that Tales of Pan "succeeds in pleasing," the reviewer expressed disappointment in Gerstein's encouragement to merely "watch for Pan…. You might see him, close by and up to his old tricks"—and called instead for a sequel on the mythical being's return.

The Mountains of Tibet was inspired by the ancient volumes collectively known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. When recited properly, the Book of the Dead was meant to deliver the deceased's soul through a safe journey to the plane of death, thus avoiding the hazards associated with the afterlife. Addressing the issue of souls returning to earth to live another life, Gerstein's story chronicles a small boy's passage into manhood, where he learns the trade of woodcutting, and finally old age. After death, the elderly woodcutter is mysteriously given a choice between experiencing another life and going to heaven. The man opts for rebirth, hoping to see another part of the world, but ironically he is reborn in the same Tibetan valley of his former home. Discussing The Mountains of Tibet in the New York Times Book Review, John Bierhorst noted that "a charming surprise" is revealed at the story's end. The reviewer added that Gerstein's colorful pictures present some features of Tibetan art and contribute to a classic picture book.

In 1993 Gerstein produced The Story of May, a fanciful tale about the girlish month and her efforts to meet her father, December. May travels throughout the year, meeting up with relatives such as Uncle July and Aunt February and learning from them how the months came to be ordered and why her mother, April, was separated from her father. "What could easily be coy becomes touching," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, referencing May's quest to discover her roots. Ruth K. MacDonald, writing in School Library Journal, observed that "the story is both light and serious, given its mythic roots and the general silliness of the stereotypical characters." Gerstein's illustrations colorfully portray each distinct month; "each is a dazzling embodiment of the month for which he or she is named," New York Times Book Review critic Janet Maslin observed. Praising the "inspired playfulness" reflected in the book's pictures and prose, the critic concluded of The Story of May that young readers will "embrace Mr. Gerstein's enchanting calendar and make it a permanent memory."

Gerstein's picture books take their inspiration from many quarters, including myths and the Bible, as well as from contemporary events. The artist's father's pass- ing in 1991 led to The Shadow of a Flying Bird: A Legend of the Kurdistani Jews, a story dealing with the theme of death. In this tale, Moses, 120 years old, grouses when God tells him it is finally time for him to die. The old man's prayers for continued life are barred from heaven, and the Sun and Moon turn a deaf ear to his pleas for more life so that he can finally reach the land of milk and honey. When God must finally take the soul of Moses himself, he sits down and weeps. John Crowley, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found Gerstein's book, illustrated with oil paintings, "both intriguing and visually compelling enough to last a long time." Crowley commended the fact that Gerstein's treatment of death "does not diminish the toughness of the matter." In Booklist Ilene Cooper called the picture book "a moving fable" and dubbed its illustrations "Chagall-like" and "full of magic." Hanna B. Zeiger lauded Gerstein's oil paintings in a Horn Book review, noting that they "convey the magnitude of the heavenly debate" and adding that "this Biblical legend leaves a powerful image of death as the inevitable partner of life."

Further Biblical legends from the Old Testament are served up in Jonah and the Two Great Fish and Noah and the Great Flood. In a review of the first book, Janice M. Del Negro commented in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that, "in simple prose Gerstein retells the story of the reluctant prophet, Jonah, enriching the Biblical account with details from Jewish legend." Patricia Pearl Dole also had praise for Jonah in a School Library Journal review, calling it "a delightful version" of the well-known story that will make "a lively and colorful read-aloud."

Gerstein tackles the story of the Ark in Noah and the Great Flood, an "exuberant picture book," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Again combining Jewish legend with a Biblical tale, Gerstein creates a work that both "children and adults will marvel at," according to the same critic, who went on to laud the "bold energy" of the oil-painting illustrations. Horn Book reviewer Jennifer M. Brabander was pleased that Gerstein did not feel compelled to invest his Noah with "a trendy environmental or moralistic slant," instead treating the tale as the "blockbuster of a story" it is. Del Negro concluded in a review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Gerstein's gift for retelling Bible stories is evident," and his text and pictures provide "a cheerful reverence to this familiar tale."

With Queen Esther the Morning Star, Gerstein retells the Biblical story of Esther, the young Jewish girl who saved her people by becoming the queen of Persia. "He has followed the Old Testament tale closely," noted Susan Scheps in School Library Journal, the critic further praising Gerstein's cartoon artwork for giving "a strong Persian flavor" to his "appealing" retelling. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a critic found the same title to be a "dynamic, evocatively-illustrated retelling" in which Gerstein's story "proceeds at a masterly pace."

Gerstein again serves as Biblical reteller with The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac. In this picture book, he relates the story of Abraham, who agrees to God's request that he sacrifice his son, Isaac, as a test of his faith. In a unique twist, Gerstein narrates the story from the viewpoint of a white ram God created and placed in the garden of Eden with the instructions to wait until it is summoned. When the ram hears God's call, it endures many travails (including temptation) on its journey to reach Abraham and offer itself as a sacrifice in place of the child. While the ram ultimately gives up its own life, in Gerstein's retelling the selfless animal's soul is returned to God, while its remains are used in the construction of a holy temple. While acknowledging that the subject matter "is not for the faint-hearted," Booklist critic Ilene Cooper commented that Gerstein's "art does not shy away from the fearsomeness of the story but it, too, attempts to offer hope." Writing in School Library Journal, Lisa Silverman called the work "a masterful melding of illustration and story," while a Publishers Weekly contributor remaked that Gerstein's artwork "will have young readers repeatedly poring over these pages."

The Old Country was inspired by tales Gerstein's maternal grandparents told about growing up in the Ukraine, as well as by his father's childhood in Poland. The story concerns Gisella, a young girl living in a war-torn nation who mysteriously trades bodies with a sly fox. Separated from her human family, Gisella begins an arduous journey accompanied by a woodland sprite. In The Old Country, "Gerstein explores whether evil is inherent in the world, the costs of war, and the existence of magic," observed School Library Journal contributor Susan Hepler. According to Horn Book critic Joanna Rudge Long, "wise questions are raised but—wisely—remain open; that the subtext concerning man's inhumanity remains a subtext makes this an even more thought-provoking and engaging fantasy."

Often working the everyday and contemporary concerns of young readers into his works, Gerstein spins two tales around young Daisy: Daisy's Garden and Bedtime, Everybody! In collaboration with his wife, Susan Yard Harris, Gerstein takes young readers through the growing season of a garden in the first tale, from early spring to late fall. On each page Daisy and her animal friends complete some garden task, from tilling to planting to harvesting. The text is in simple rhyme accompanied with watercolor illustrations. Jane Marino, reviewing the title for School Library Journal, called it "a soft, appealing book," while Leone McDermott, writing in Booklist, praised the "cheery rhymes and sweetly detailed drawings."

Bedtime, Everybody! finds Daisy trying to get her stuffed animals ready for bed, but they are not cooperating. Only after Daisy herself nods off does her animal entourage get tired eyes. A critic for Kirkus Reviews dubbed the story "an amiable bedtime tale," although Cynthia K. Richey, reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, found it a "bland fantasy." Richey nonetheless thought that Gerstein's "stylized, cartoonlike characters are well realized."

The versatile Gerstein serves up humor in several of his picture books, including Stop Those Pants! and The Absolutely Awful Alphabet. In the first title, the author/illustrator takes a "witty look at unexpected delays in getting dressed," according to Booklist reviewer Shelle Rosenfeld. Getting up in the morning, young Murray cannot find his pants; they have become bored and are now in hiding, hoping to find adventure. Murray and the missing pants play hide and seek until they finally come to an interesting compromise. In her review, Rosenfeld noted that the story demonstrates the virtues of "being brave, persistent, and sharp." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly called the same book a "surreal escapade," and Susan Pine, writing in School Library Journal, similarly referred to Stop Those Pants! as "an entertaining look at morning mayhem."

More chaos is served up in The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, as each letter represents some dreadful monster or demon. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews noted that "fiends and ghouls abound in a tongue-in-cheek take on standard alphabet fare."

Gerstein has also tackled longer works such as chapter books and beginning novels. Zachary discovers a magical world behind the couch while in search of his stuffed purple pig, Wallace, in Behind the Couch, a "delight" and a "fast-paced romp," according to Christina Dorr writing in School Library Journal. A boy and a wily fox change places in Fox Eyes, a chapter book recounting the amazing month Martin spends with his aunt, including the day he is able to live inside the body of Sharpnose the fox. "Gerstein's easy chapter book opens with whimsy," noted Janice M. Del Negro of the book in a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review, "but the matter-of-factness of the prose … anchors the fantasy." Similar praise came from a Kirkus Reviews critic who concluded of Fox Eyes that "new chapter book readers will be won over by the episode's engaging cast and well-tuned sense of wonder."

Gerstein devotes both a novel and a picture book to the story of the so-called Savage of Aveyron, a boy found naked and abandoned in the woods of the south of France in 1800. With no language and lacking most human social skills, the boy had clearly been living in the wild alongside animals. Under the tutelage of a doctor, the boy was force-fed civilization and renamed Victor. Tragically, he did not lose his wild ways: Never able to master speech, his short life "was spent on the cusp of a society that could neither fully form nor accept him," according to Kathryn Harrison, writing in the New York Times Book Review. Gerstein produced both the picture book The Wild Boy and the novel Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron to explore this fascinating tale.

A Publishers Weekly critic, in a review of Victor, noted that Gerstein gives an "arresting account" of the doctor's attempts at socializing the boy in this "compelling intellectual and social history." Roger Leslie, writing in Booklist, remarked on the novel's "emotional remoteness," but also commented that the book "remains intriguing thanks to well-researched details." Jennifer A. Fakolt, reviewing Victor in School Library Journal, found the book to be a "dark, often complex novel for older readers that is well worth the time, effort, and thought."

Reviewing The Wild Boy, a critic for Publishers Weekly noted that "nature and civilization collide in this thought-provoking picture book." The same reviewer also praised Gerstein's "smoothly-paced writing." Del Negro, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, found the story "much simplified in text but beautifully evoked in watercolor illustrations." Horn Book critic Mary M. Burns also lauded the picture book, noting that it "has a haunting, wistful charm captured in a minimal space through a well-honed poetic text accompanied by delicately limned, impressionistic illustrations." A critic for Kirkus Reviews, while writing about the picture book, also captured the essence of the novel's appeal. Noting that the wild boy never really gives up the wildness at his center, the reviewer concluded this is "a fact that will rivet children."

Gerstein has occasionally turned his hand to biography in picture books such as What Charlie Heard, about American composer Charles Ives, and Sparrow Jack,

which profiles English immigrant John Bardsley. Reviewing What Charlie Heard, a critic for Publishers Weekly felt that, in his book, Gerstein "plies an artistic style as densely and consciously layered as one of Ives's compositions." Gerstein provides details such as the sounds Ives might have heard as a child, his efforts in high school to compose, and the competing needs of his job as an insurance agent and his desire to create music in this "inspired picture-book biography," as the same critic typified it. A Kirkus Reviews writer also lauded Gerstein's effort, calling What Charlie Heard, an "unusual and joyful treatment of an unusual and joyful subject." John Peters, writing in Booklist, had further praise: "Not only a fine book about following one's own star, this is also a glimpse at a composer many children won't know about."

Sparrow Jack features the little-known story of Bardsley, who settled in Philadelphia during the middle of the nineteenth century. When the greenery in his adopted city was being devoured by an invasion of leaf-eating inchworms, Bardsley devised a simple solution that, despite the skepticism of some citizens in the city of brotherly love, proved to be effective. A lover of sparrows in his native country, Bardsley returned to England and captured one thousand of these birds, transporting them back to America by ship and tending to them in his house throughout the winter. The next spring, as all the sparrows sought food for their newly hatched offspring, the abundant supply of inchworms turned out to be an excellent source, thereby ridding the city of the pest. Describing the book as "an enjoyable and unusual bit of history," School Library Journal critic Steven Englefried called Sparrow Jack a "pleasing blend of history and legend." "In Gerstein's skilled hands," according to a critic in Publishers Weekly, "this odd historical tidbit … shapes up into a funny and engrossing tale."

Gerstein's The Man Who Walked between the Towers is a memorial to the World Trade Center buildings that were destroyed on September 11, 2001. Based on an actual event, The Man Who Walked between the Towers recounts a daring 1974 stunt performed by Philippe Petit, a French tightrope walker. Disguised as construction workers, Petit and several of his friends suspended a cable between the twin towers; the next day Petit performed tricks high above the New York City streets. The inspiration for Gerstein's story came after the 9/11 attacks. As he told Jeffrey Brown on the Public Broadcasting Service Web site, "I started to think about the towers, and I remembered Philippe Petit's walk, and remembered that I used to see him perform on the street back in the '70s at that time, and that he was a brilliant street performer, great juggler, great unicyclist. He did amazing things. And when the towers went down, I remembered Philippe's walk. I found an old New Yorker with a profile of him in it, and I started to write the story."

The Man Who Walked between the Towers received strong reviews, with several critics complimenting Gerstein's playful yet dramatic illustrations. "An inventive foldout tracking Philippe's progress across the wire offers dizzying views of the city below; a turn of the page transforms readers' vantage point into a vertical view of the feat from street level," observed a contributor in Publishers Weekly. Wendy Lukehart, reviewing the work in School Library Journal, noted that "the vertiginous views paint the New York skyline in twinkling starlight and at breathtaking sunrise. Gerstein captures his subject's incredible determination, profound skill, and sheer joy." "The story of Philippe Petit's walk is, for me, one that addresses the question, what is a human being?," Gerstein stated in his acceptance speech. "He proposes that we are creatures who can leave fear behind and walk through the air—that life can be exciting and fun and may be lived in learning to do the impossible—that the human imagination has no bounds. For Philippe, the Towers were there for no other reason than to provide two anchors for his wire, just as for a spider the most magnificent statue is only a place to spin a web."

Though Gerstein still occasionally illustrates works for other authors, he prefers creating the artwork for his own tales. "Generally I find it more satisfying to illustrate my own writing," he told Publishers Weekly interviewer Sally Lodge. "It's great to come across a story by someone else that intrigues and makes me want to draw, but it doesn't happen very often. Illustrating my own work gives me more freedom."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Ward, Martha E., and others, Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.


American Music Teacher, December, 2002, Jane Cassidy, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 82.

Booklinks, July, 2005, Cyndi Giorgis and Nancy J. Johnson, "Talking with Mordicai Gerstein," pp. 50-53.

Booklist, October 1, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird: A Legend of the Kurdistani Jews, p. 330; July 15, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of Daisy's Garden, pp. 1882-1883; June 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Bedtime, Everybody!, p. 1731; April 15, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of Something Queer in the Wild West, p. 1429; October 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Jonah and the Two Great Fish, p. 322; July, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Stop Those Pants!, pp. 1885-1886; October 1, 1998, Roger Leslie, review of Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron, p. 324; January 1, 1999, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Noah and the Great Flood, p. 881; April 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, p. 1416; December 15, 1999, Ellen Mandel, review of Queen Esther the Morning Star, p. 787; April 1, 2002, John Peters, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 1338; April 1, 2003, Michael Cart, review of Sparrow Jack, p. 1402; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, p. 498; October 1, 2006, Ilene Cooper, "Fathers and Sons," p. 63.

Books for Keeps, November, 1993, review of The Mountains of Tibet, p. 31.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1985; July-August, 1986; November, 1986; January, 1988; April, 1993, pp. 248-249; November, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Jonah and the Two Great Fish, pp. 84-85; December, 1998, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Wild Boy, p. 131; February, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Noah and the Great Flood, pp. 200-201; September, 2001, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Fox Eyes, p. 14; December, 2003, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, p. 152.

Catholic Library World, June, 1999, review of Victor, p. 63.

Childhood Education, summer, 2004, Jennifer L. Doyle, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, p. 212.

Five Owls, January, 1995, review of The Story of May, p. 51; May, 1995, review of The Seal Mother, p. 95.

Horn Book, March-April, 1995, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird, pp. 205-206; November-December, 1998, Mary M. Burns, review of Victor and The Wild Boy, p. 714; March-April, 1999, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Noah and the Great Flood, p. 222; November-December, 2003, Lolly Robinson, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, pp. 763-764; July-August, 2004, "Caldecott Medal Acceptance," pp. 405-409, and Elizabeth Gordon, "Mordicai Gerstein," pp. 411-414; January-February, 2005, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, pp. 19-22; May-June, 2005, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Old Country, pp. 323-324; September-October, 2005, Susan P. Bloom, review of Carolinda Clatter!, p. 563.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1996, review of Bedtime, Everybody!, p. 226; August 1, 1998, review of The Wild Boy, p. 1117; March 1, 1999, review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, p. 375; June 1, 2001, review of Fox Eyes, p. 801; January 15, 2002, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 104.

Language Arts, January, 2003, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 238.

Library Talk, May, 1995, review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird, p. 54.

New York Times Book Review, April 10, 1983; June 10, 1984, Martha Saxton, review of The Room, p. 35; August 10, 1986, Jacques d'Amboise, review of Tales of Pan, p. 25; November 8, 1987, John Bierhorst, "Going around Once or Twice," p. 44; June 6, 1993, Janet Maslin, review of The Story of May, p. 32; November 20, 1994, John Crowley, review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird, p. 30; November 15, 1998, Kathryn Harrison, "Who Is the Real Savage?," p. 50; December 3, 2000, Molly E. Rauch, review of The Jar of Fools: Eight Hanukkah Stories from Chelm, p. 85; May 19, 2002, Abby McGanney Nolan, "The Sounds of Music," p. 34; November 16, 2003, Robin Tzannes, "A Walker over the City," p 31.

Publishers Weekly, July 6, 1984, review of Something Queer at the Ball Park, p. 65; April 12, 1993, review of The Story of May, p. 62; August 15, 1994, review of The Shadow of a Flying Bird, pp. 95-96; April 27, 1998, review of Stop Those Pants!, pp. 65-66; July 13, 1998, review of Victor, p. 79; July 13, 1998, review of The Wild Boy, p. 77; February 22, 1999, review of Noah and the Great Flood, p. 86; March 15, 1999, review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, p. 57; February 21, 2000, review of Queen Esther the Morning Star, p. 53; January 27, 2002, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 290; January 27, 2003, review of Sparrow Jack, p. 258; March 17, 2003, review of Three Samurai Cats: A Story from Japan, p. 76; September 1, 2003, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, p. 89; April 18, 2005, Sally Lodge, "Building on Childhood Memories," p. 63, and review of The Old Country, p. 64; July 31, 2006, review of The White Ram: A Story of Abraham and Isaac, p. 77.

Reading Teacher, November, 2002, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 312.

Riverbank Review, spring, 2003, review of Sparrow Jack, p. 35.

School Library Journal, January, 1988, Judy Greenfield, review of Something Queer in Rock 'n' Roll, p. 67; April, 1993, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of The Story of May, p. 96; February, 1994, Anne Connor, review of Something Queer in Outer Space, p. 88; September, 1994, pp. 207-208; April, 1995, Jane Marino, review of Daisy's Garden, pp. 101-102; June, 1996, Cynthia K. Richey, review of Bedtime, Everybody!, p. 100; July, 1996, Christina Dorr, review of Behind the Couch, p. 65; May, 1997, Sharon R. Pearce, review of Something Queer in the Wild West, p. 104; August, 1997, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Jonah and the Two Great Fish, pp. 147-148; June, 1998, Susan Pine, review of Stop Those Pants!, p. 103; October, 1998, Jennifer A. Fakolt, review of Victor, p. 135; April, 1999, Torrie Hodgson, review of Noah and the Great Flood, p. 113; May, 1999, Robin L. Gibson, review of The Absolutely Awful Alphabet, p. 106; April, 2000, Susan Scheps, review of Queen Esther the Morning Star, p. 119; November, 2001, Blair Christolon, review of Fox Eyes, pp. 123-124; March, 2002, Lisa Mulvenna, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 214; June, 2003, Steven Englefried, review of Sparrow Jack, p. 99; June, 2003, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Three Samurai Cats, p. 129; November, 2003, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, p. 125; May, 2004, Anita Silvey, "Sitting on Top of the World," pp. 54-57; May, 2005, Susan Hepler, The Old Country, pp. 126-127; November, 2005, Julie Roach, review of Carolinda Clatter!, p. 92; September, 2006, Lisa Silverman, review of The White Ram, p. 172.

Teacher Librarian, March, 1999, Shirley Lewis, review of The Wild Boy, p. 44; June, 2003, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 37.

Teaching Music, October, 2003, review of What Charlie Heard, p. 76.

Time, December 14, 1987, p. 79; December 5, 2005, Christopher Porterfield, "Destination: Make Believe," review of Carolinda Clatter!, p. W1.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 7, 2003, review of The Man Who Walked between the Towers, p. 5.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1999, Megan Isaac, review of Victor, p. 433.


Mordicai Gerstein Home Page, (May 1, 2007).

Public Broadcasting Service Web site, (February 16, 2004), Jeffrey Brown, interview with Gerstein.

About this article

Gerstein, Mordicai 1935–

Updated About content Print Article