Rohmann, Eric 1957–
Rohmann, Eric 1957–
Born 1957, in Riverside, IL. Education: Illinois State University, B.S. (art), M.S. (studio art); Arizona State University, M.F.A. (printmaking/fine bookmaking).
Home—Near Chicago, IL. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Roaring Brook Press, 143 West St., New Milford, CT 06776.
Illustrator. Belvoir Terrace Art Center, Lenox, MA, instructor in printmaking, painting, and fine bookmaking; St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN, instructor in introductory drawing, fine bookmaking, and printmaking. Exhibitions: Work exhibited in galleries in Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio; included in permanent collections.
New York Times Best Children's Books listee, Colorado Children's Book Award nominee, and American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book for Children designation, all 1994, and Caldecott Medal Honor Book designation, 1995, all for Time Flies; Georgia Children's Literature award, 2002, for The Cinder-Eyed Cats; Caldecott Medal, Best Children's Book of the Year honor, Bank Street College of Education, and ALA Notable Book for Children designation, all 2003, all for My Friend Rabbit; ALA Notable Book for Children designation, 2005, for Clara and Asha.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS
Time Flies, Crown (New York, NY), 1994.
The Cinder-Eyed Cats, Crown (New York, NY), 1997.
My Friend Rabbit, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2002.
Pumpkinhead, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Clara and Asha, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.
Jennifer Armstrong, King Crow, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
Antoine O Flatharta, The Prairie Train, Crown (New York, NY), 1999.
When Chicago-based author and illustrator Eric Rohmann got a call one dark January morning from someone from the American Library Association, he worried that he had forgotten to return his library books on time. However, panic turned to amazement when he was told that his picture book My Friend Rabbit had been selected for the prestigious 2003 Caldecott Medal, awarded to the artist of the year's most distinguished children's picture book. A talented painter whose illustrated picture books, such as The Cinder-Eyed Cats and Pumkpinhead, have been highly praised for their spare, unique texts and engaging and thought-provoking illustrations, Rohmann "has perfected the art of letting the pictures tell the story," in the opinion of a Publishers Weekly contributor reviewing his 2005 picture book Clara and Asha. In addition to his own books, the artist/ author has also created illustrations for other authors and has produced the cover art for Philip Pullman's popular "His Dark Materials" novel trilogy.
Born in Illinois, Rohmann grew up in suburban Chicago, where he grew up spending more time drawing than on more academic pursuits. A volunteer job at a local zoo during high school gave him the opportunity to observe a variety of animals for long periods of time, and ultimately inspired the finely detailed paintings in several of his picture books, such as The Cinder-Eyed Cats and Clara and Asha, the latter about a girl's unusual friendship with a giant blue fish. By the time he reached college it was clear that his career would be in the arts, and Rohmann has earned advanced degrees at both Illinois State University and Arizona State University. Working primarily in oil paints because their slow drying time allows him extra time to develop his pictures, he also has taught printmaking, painting, drawing, and bookmaking in Massachusetts and Minnesota. "I'm interested in what books do that other art forms don't …," he noted in discussing his transition from fine-art painter to illustrator during an interview for the Random House Web site. "Time passes as the reader turns the pages, revealing events in a sequence—a story. My paintings have always been narratives, and the natural next step was books." "I try to look at each picture as a film director considers a scene for a film," Rohmann also explained during his interview. Viewing a subject "from many angles and in many lights" allows him to "find a composition that is interesting and dynamic but that, above all, works to make the story stronger."
Rohmann's first published picture book, Time Flies, tells its story without words; in the book, which earned the artist a Caldecott Honor designation in 1995, readers follow a bird that wings its way into a museum, flies into a displayed dinosaur skeleton, and travels back in time to witness the world inhabited by the giant creatures that may, in fact, be bird's ancestors. His second work, The Cinder-Eyed Cats, takes readers on another journey, in this case a dreamlike trip taken by a young boy into a twilight world inhabited by amazing cats who dance with sand fish and other creatures freed from the sea. In Publishers Weekly a reviewer described The Cinder-Eyed Cats as being "as mesmerizing as a vivid dream that seems at once perfectly clear and vaguely puzzling." Praising Rohmann's "enigmatically beautiful book," Michael Cart wrote in Booklist that the author/illustrator's "paintings are wonderful in the same sense that the rhyming, surreal text is: they inspire wonder and, in several cases, awe."
The artwork in My Friend Rabbit marked a change of pace for the author/illustrator. Moving from the detailed paintings of his early work, he experimented with a variety of printing techniques, as well as collage, paper sculpture, watercolor, and pastel, before finally choosing the relief prints used in the book. "I needed the change to stay interested," Rohmann told Vicki Arkoff and Stephanie Gwyn Brown in an interview for Child-rensLit.com. "I had become … so practiced at my way of painting that I had stopped inventing and began to copy myself…. 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.'"
Fortunately for Rohmann, his new "wings" worked, and My Friend Rabbit is one of his most beloved books for children. In the story, which a Kirkus Reviews writer dubbed "engagingly wacky," Rabbit faces a predicament after accidentally tossing friend Mouse's toy airplane high into a nearby tree. As a solution, Rabbit convinces his many helpful friends—including a bear, duck, reindeer, hippo, crocodile, and elephant—into a wobbly tower. Retrieving the toy just as the menagerie takes a tumble, Rabbit provides Rohmann with the opportunity to create illustrations that allow the storybook set to "chortle at the silliness of it all," according to the critic. In Booklist Connie Fletcher noted that the book's "tremendous physical humor delivers a gentle lesson about accepting friends as they are."
Rohmann opts for an illustration style similar to that of My Friend Rabbit in his book Pumpkinhead, although he returns to detailed, painted pictures in Clara and Asha. In Pumpkinhead he introduces a human boy named Otto who stands out from his family and friends due to his round orange head. Untimately, his pumpkin head gets the even-tempered boy into all sorts of trouble: After a tumble into the ocean, a hungry fish confuses him with a tasty vegetable, and Otto ultimately winds up in a mackerel's tummy and purchased by his observant mother at a fish market. Deeming the book "a perfect blend of art and text," School Library Joural contributor James K. Irwin wrote that Pumpkinhead "captures the vulnerable emotions of a lost child," while Booklist critic Julie Cummins noted that young children will be "intrigued with the quirky, imaginative misadventure."
While a fish is also cast as a central character in the picture book Clara and Asha, it is a dreamtime playmate rather than a dinner companion: in the story Asha is a huge, blue, smiling fish that joins toddler Clara on nighttime adventures when the young girl cannot sleep. The story, which follows the two friends on a series of magical adventures, was described by Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg as an "archetypal tale of imaginary escape" enhanced by Rohmann's deeply toned, "sweeping [oil] … paintings." Wendy Lukehart noted in a School Library Journal review that the author/illustrator's "characteristically spare story line and larger-than-life visuals" present the storybook set with a "glorious" story that shows that "time spent with a friend is one of life's greatest joys."
"Children are the best audience," Rohmann noted in his Random House online interview: "they are curious, 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 open-hearted, with a voracious hunger for pictures and stories." His advice to anyone considering a career as an illustrator? Draw. "Drawing is seeing," he explained to Arkoff and Brown, "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…. For me, it all begins with good drawing."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, July, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of King Crow, p. 1882; November 15, 1997, Michael Cart, review of The Cinder-Eyed Cats, p. 559; December 1, 1999, Marta Segal, review of The Prairie Train, p. 713; May 15, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of My Friend Rabbit, p. 1602; June 1, 2003, Julie Cummings, review of Pumpkinhead, p. 1788; July, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of Clara and Asha, p. 1930.
Horn Book, July-August, 2003, Eric Rohmann, "Caldecott Medal Acceptance," pp. 393-401; Philip Pullman, "Eric Rohmann," p. 401; September-October, 2005, Lolly Robinson, review of Clara and Asha, p. 568.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2002, review of My Friend Rabbit, p. 577; July 15, 2003, review of Pumpkinhead, p. 967; July, 2005, review of Clara and Asha, p. 742.
Publishers Weekly, April 17, 1995, review of King Crow, p. 59; September 22, 1997, review of The Cinder-Eyed Cats, p. 80; November 29, 1999, review of The Prairie Train, p. 70; February 10, 2003, Diane Ro-back, "Going Gold," p. 81; June 9, 2003, review of Pumpkinhead, p. 51; August 22, 2005, review of Clara and Asha, p. 62.
School Library Journal, May, 2002, Kristin de Lacoste, review of My Friend Rabbit, p. 126; July, 2003, Pat Scales, "Year of the Rabbit" (interview), p. 52, and James K. Irwin, review of Pumpkinhead, p. 105; August, 2005, Wendy Lukehart, review of Clara and Asha, p. 105.
ChildrensLit.com, http://www.chldrenslit.com/ (July 1, 2003), Vicki Arkoff and Stephanie Gwyn Brown, interview with Rohmann.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (July 1, 2003), Vicki Arkoff and Stephanie Gwyn Brown, interview with Rohmann.