Nikola-Lisa, W. 1951-

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Nikola-Lisa, W. 1951-


Born June 15, 1951, in Jersey City, NJ; son of William Henry (an engineer) and Dorothy Ethel (a nurse) Nikola-Lisa; married June 6, 1975; wife's name Joan (divorced); married Barbara Cooper (a sculptor), August 12, 1988; children: (first marriage) Ylla, Larissa. Education: University of Florida, B.A. (religion), 1974, M.Ed., 1976; Montana State University, Ed.D., 1986. Politics: "Independent." Religion: "Agnostic."


Home—Chicago, IL. E-mail—[email protected].


Educator and author. World Family School, Bozeman, MT, head teacher, 1976-78; Irving Elementary School, Bozeman, second-grade teacher, 1978-82; National-Louis University, Evanston, IL, associate professor of education, 1986—.


International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Jane Addams Honor Book Award, and Parents magazine Best Book designation, both 1994, both for Bein' with You This Way; Indiana Hoosier Book Award Mas-

ter List inclusion, and Bank Street School of Education Best Book of the Year designation, both 2002, both for Summer Sun Risin'; Christopher Award, 2007, for How We Are Smart.



Night Is Coming, illustrated by Jamichael Henterly, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.

1, 2, 3, Thanksgiving, illustrated by Robin Kramer, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1991.

Storm, illustrated by Michael Hays, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.

Bein' with You This Way, illustrated by Michael Bryant, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 1994.

No Babies Asleep, illustrated by Peter Palagonia, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

Wheels Go Round, illustrated by Jane Conteh-Morgan, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.

One Hole in the Road, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1996.

Tangletalk, illustrated by Jessica Clerk, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.

Shake Dem Halloween Bones, illustrated by Mike Reed, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.

Till Year's Good End: A Calendar of Medieval Labors, illustrated by Christopher Manson, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.

America: My Land, Your Land, Our Land, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 1997.

(Selector and contributor) The Year with Grandma Moses, illustrated by Grandma Moses, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Hallelujah!: A Christmas Celebration, illustrated by Synthia Saint James, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.

Can You Top That?, illustrated by Hector Viveros Lee, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2000.

America: A Book of Opposites (bilingual English/Spanish text), Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2001.

Summer Sun Risin', illustrated by Don Tate, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2002.

To Hear the Angels Sing: A Christmas Poem, illustrated by Jill Weber, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

My Teacher Can Teach—Anyone!, illustrated by Felipe Galindo, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2004.

Setting the Turkeys Free, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2004.

How We Are Smart, illustrated by Sean Qualls, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 2006.

Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking, illustrated by Bonnie Christensen, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Children's Literature in Education, Horn Book, Language Arts, Lion and the Unicorn, New Advocate, and Teaching and Learning Literature.

Author's works have been translated into Spanish.


In addition to teaching education on the college level, W. Nikola-Lisa has produced a number of picture books that have been praised for their multicultural focus and

promotion of a gender-and race-neutral storyhour experience. In Summer Sun Risin' he shares the life of an African-American farming family in a text that gains "a compelling, comforting rhythm from the accumulation of small details," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. A Kirkus Reviews critic described Summer Sun Risin' as a "cheery introduction to farm life and simple poetry." In another rural-themed offering, Night Is Coming, Nikola-Lisa and illustrator Jamichael Henterly produce a "gentle, wistful book that captures the piercing beauty of a rural sunset," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Other picture books by Nikola-Lisa include the holiday-themed Shake Dem Halloween Bones, featuring a sing-song text and art by Mike Reed, and One Hole in the Road, a counting book that uses a road construction project and the attendant barricades, engineers, police, and street pavers to introduce number sequences.

In Bein' with You This Way, which Booklist contributor Julie Corsaro described as a "joyfully illustrated" story about "racial tolerance," Nikola-Lisa creates a cumulative rhyme focusing on physical differences. In a city park playground, a youngster creates a cumulative game that ultimately draws together all the children playing there. Reviewing the work for Publishers Weekly, a critic wrote that Nikola-Lisa's "bouncy, well-intentioned text" pairs with Michael Bryant's pencil and watercolor art to create a story of "buoyancy and warmth." As the author explained in a Horn Book essay, in writing the book "I wanted children to know that although we are all physically different—and certainly different in other ways as well—still we are all the same, or at least simi-

lar in that we share the same sense of human identity." Nikola-Lisa draws an analogy between the physical and racial landscape in America: My Land, Your Land, Our Land, which features illustrations from over a dozen well-known artists that reflect diverse cultural and stylistic backgrounds, and continues to explore the American identity in America: A Book of Opposites.

Setting the Turkeys Free finds a young African-American boy and his loyal pup working on a Thanksgiving craft project that is unleashed through the boy's active imagination. In his text, "Nikola-Lisa keeps sentences simple and enthused," according to School Library Journal contributor Gay Lynn Van Vleck, noting the book's year-round appeal. Calling Setting the Turkeys Free an "unusual story about art and imagination," a Kirkus Reviews writer deemed the work a "fresh, original offering" that is enhanced by Ken Wilson-Max's boldly colored art.

Tangletalk draws on the wordplay and upside-down logic of Victorian writers such as Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, creating what a Publishers Weekly critic dubbed "funny and flippant rhymed couplets fueled by inherent contradictions and role reversals." Paired with pen-and-ink drawings by Jessica Clerk, Nikola-Lisa's story shares his narrator's silly, backward view of a beautiful day, when birds bloom, daisies sing, and the best way to enjoy the sunshine is to go indoors. Calling Tangletalk "an upside-down tale in verse," Ilene Cooper also praised Clerk's art, writing in her Booklist appraisal that the detailed illustrations will fascinate young children. Nikola-Lisa takes a tall-tale approach in Can You Top That?, in which one boy's sidewalk drawing sparks a series of ever-more-boastful stories from his friends.

In a more-serious vein, Nikola-Lisa's How We Are Smart features poems, quotations, and prose. The book introduces young children to a dozen men and women who, although pursuing very different careers, are also similar in that their lives illustrate one of eight forms of intelligence: "Body Smart," "Logic Smart," and "Nature Smart," among others. The individuals profiled by Nikola-Lisa span races and cultures: Native-American Maria Tallchief was a prima ballerina, African American jurist Thurgood Marshall was an honored member of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Asian American I.M. Pei is a world-renowned architect. Although the book's subject is complex, it is made appealing to children due to its straight-forward layout and engaging artwork by Sean Qualls. As Joy Fleishhacker wrote in her School Library Journal review of the book, Nikola-Lisa's "creative blend of poetry, biography, and psychology" will "inspire youngsters to view themselves and others from a fresh perspective."

While most of his books are contemporary in their setting, both Till Year's Good End: A Calendar of Medieval Labors and Magic in the Margins: A Medieval Tale of Bookmaking bring readers back to the middle ages. Magic in the Margins takes place at a monastery, where an orphaned boy named Simon is being trained in the art of creating illuminated manuscripts. A talented apprentice, Simon is chosen by the monastery's Father Anselm for a special and somewhat unusual task. The life of the medieval peasantry scrolls through all four seasons in Till Year's Good End, Nikola-Lisa's text bringing to light the crucial importance of agriculture to these hard-working people. In a Publishers Weekly review a critic praised the author's "succinct but informative prose," adding that Christopher Manson's "handsome … pen-and-ink and watercolor" illustrations give Till Year's Good End a sense of "solidity and grace." The author provides a different perspective on the seasons with The Year with Grandma Moses, a picture book that organizes the image of the well-known American primitive painter into a season-spanning vision highlighted by selections from the artist's memoirs.

"Nikola-Lisa's careful selections and spare approach effectively convey the spirit of this self-taught, spirited woman," noted School Library Journal contributor Wendy Lukehart.

Nikola-Lisa once told SATA: "I like writing about human relationships in the context of both everyday life and special occasions. I think my strongest writing comes when I allow myself to sink way down into my feelings and explore the world when I was young. There's something intensely intimate about those moments, few and far between as they sometimes are." As he wrote in a Horn Book article, "American life is riddled with un-paralleled duality—between rich and poor, young and old, black and white." "Most of my writing … involves multicultural issues," Nikola-Lisa added: "it is the belief that we must first recognize our differences, and indeed celebrate them, but ultimately we must transcend them as well—though without sacrificing our own personal and cultural sense of identity. It is in the act of transcendence, of finding a new, even higher level of synthesis, that our future as a multiethnic, multiracial nation lies—but we have a long way to go."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 15, 1992, Quraysh Ali, review of Storm, p. 1068; July, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of Bein' with You This Way, p. 1951; October 1, 1996, Michael Cart, review of One Hole in the Road, p. 359; May 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Tangletalk, p. 1500; September 1, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of America: My Land, Your Land, Our Land, p. 134; October 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Shake Dem Halloween Bones, p. 338; October 15, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Till Year's Good End: A Calendar of Medieval Labors, p. 409; September 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Hallelujah!: A Christmas Celebration, p. 130, and Kathy Broderick, review of Can You Top That?, p. 250; October 15, 2000, Randy Meyer, review of The Year with Grandma Moses, p. 433; November 1, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Setting the Turkeys Free, p. 490; November 15, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of My Teacher Can Teach … Anyone!, p. 591; April 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of How We Are Smart, p. 38.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1997, review of Shake Dem Halloween Bones, p. 135; November, 2000, review of The Year with Grandma Moses, p. 115.

Horn Book, May-June, 1998, W. Nikola-Lisa, "‘Around My Table’ Is Not Always Enough," p. 315.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of Summer Sun Risin', p. 575; November 1, 2002, review of To Hear the Angels Sing: A Christmas Poem, p. 1623; August 1, 2004, review of Setting the Turkeys Free, p. 747; October 15, 2004, review of My Teacher Can Teach … Anyone!, p. 1011; April 15, 2006, review of How We Are Smart, p. 413.

Indian Life, July-August, 2006, Brenlee Longclaws, review of We Are Smart, p. 13.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 26, 1991, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly, December 7, 1990, review of Night Is Coming, p. 81; February 8, 1993, review of Storm, p. 85; February 21, 1994, review of Bein' with You This Way, p. 251; August 12, 1996, review of One Hole in the Road, p. 82; March 17, 1997, review of Tangletalk, p. 82; May 5, 1997, review of America, p. 209; October 6, 1997, review of Shake Dem Halloween Bones, p. 49; October 13, 1997, review of Till Year's Good End, p. 75; September 25, 2000, review of Hallelujah!, p. 69, and review of Can You Top That?, p. 116; October 9, 2000, review of The Year with Grandma Moses, p. 87; June 11, 2001, review of America: A Book of Opposites, p. 87; April 22, 2002, review of Summer Sun Risin', p. 68; September 23, 2002, review of To Hear the Angels Sing, p. 32.

School Library Journal, April, 1991, p. 100; July, 1997, Barbara Elleman, review of America, p. 72; October, 2000, review of Hallelujah!, p. 62, and Wendy Lukehart, review of The Year with Grandma Moses, p. 150; December, 2000, Alicia Eames, review of Can You Top That?, p. 119; May, 2002, Anna DeWind Walls, review of Summer Sun Risin', p. 124; October, 2002, Eva Mitnick, review of To Hear the Angels Sing, p. 62; September, 2004, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Setting the Turkeys Free, p. 176; December, 2004, Linda L. Walkins, review of My Teacher Can Teach … Anyone!, p. 116; June, 2006, Joy Fleishhacker, review of How We Are Smart, p. 182.

Smithsonian, November, 1991, p. 183.


W. Nikola-Lisa Home Page, (May 8, 2007).

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Nikola-Lisa, W. 1951-

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