Rumford, James 1948–

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Rumford, James 1948–

(Lin Chien-min)


Born August 13, 1948, in CA; son of Sydney (a salesman) and Audrey (a store clerk) Rumford; married Carol Drollinger (an office manager), 1969; children: Jonathan. Education: University of California-Irvine, B.A. (French literature), 1970; University of Hawaii, M.A. (English as a second language), 1976. Hobbies and other interests: Foreign languages, travel.


Home—Honolulu, HI. E-mail—[email protected].


Author and illustrator. Peace Corps, 1971-75; Fulbright lecturer, 1977-81; Manoa Press (publisher), owner, 1986—; writer and illustrator, 1996—.


Honolulu Printmakers, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Awards, Honors

Charlotte Zolotow Award, 2004, for Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey; Robert F. Sibert Honor Book citation, and Jane Addams Children's Book Award, both 2005, and Normal A. Sugarman Award, Cleveland Public Library, 2006, all for Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing.



The Cloudmakers, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1996.

The Island-below-the-Star, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

When Silver Needles Swam: A Story of Tutu's Quilt, Manoa (Honolulu, HI), 1998.

Seeker of Knowledge: The Man Who Deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Houghton Mifflin, (Boston, MA), 2000.

Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

Ka-hala-o-puna: The Beauty of Manoa, Manoa Press (Honolulu, HI), 2001.

There's a Monster in the Alphabet, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

Nine Animals and the Well, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves (bilingual English and Hawaiian), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2007.

Don't Touch My Hat!, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, Roaring Brook Press (New York, NY), 2008.

Chee-lin: A Giraffe's Journey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2008.


(Translator and commentator) Tsung-mu Wang, An Essay on Paper: Observations Made by Wan Zongmu at the Imperial Paper Mill at Jade Mountain, Manoa (Honolulu, HI), 1993.

(Under pseudonym Lin Chien-min) Wu Wei-yun, Cloudmaker: A Translation of a Page from the T'ang chi'i shuo, Strange Stories from the T'ang Dynasty, Manoa (Honolulu, HI), 1996.

(Co-illustrator) Martha G. Alexander, Max and the Dumb Flower Picture, Charlesbridge Publishers (Watertown, MA), 2009.

Author's books have been translated into Hawaiian.


The self-illustrated picture books of James Rumford, which have won awards for their originality, sometimes include texts in more than one language. With the exception of his books on Hawaii, Rumford tends not to repeat himself, moving through projects that illuminate ancient and modern cultures in the United States and throughout the globe. Through titles such as Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey, Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves, Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, and Silent Music, to name just a few, the author/illustrator introduces young readers to serious topics through a combination of story, artwork, and elements of native languages and lore. As Rumford once told SATA, "Each book has been a new and rewarding experience. Writing and illustrating children's books—I can't think of a better way to spend the rest of my life."

In The Cloudmakers Rumford explains how the secret of papermaking traveled from the Chinese world to Arabia in the eighth century A.D., according to Arab legend. As the story starts, a Chinese grandfather and his grandson are captured in Turkestan during a battle with troops of the Sultan of Samarkand. In a bid to win their freedom, the young man brags that his grandfather can make clouds, and when challenged to do so, they produce a billowing piece of paper. Adding poetry and drama to the process, Young Wu describes each step "as if the end product will actually be a cloud," observed Margaret A. Chang in School Library Journal. Rumford's "lyrical watercolor paintings perfectly complement the spare, engaging text," remarked a critic for Kirkus Reviews, while Julie Corsaro concluded in Booklist that Rumford's "smoothly written text and … soft, atmospheric watercolors" in The Cloudmakers "encourage children to use their imaginations."

In The Island-below-the-Star Rumford reimagines the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Polynesian explorers before the time of recorded history. In the story, five brothers, each with a unique talent, leave home in search of a certain star and the island that lies beneath it. The youngest is a stowaway; when his brothers' skill with the wind, currents, stars, and waves cannot save them after a storm blows their ship far off course, the youngest brother's skill with birds aids them in reaching the island of their quest. "Told with the spare formulaic structure of a folktale," The Island-below-the-Star "has the appeal of a youthful adventure while it uses the five brothers to tell the story of the migration of a whole people," observed Sally Margolis in School Library Journal.

The five Polynesian brothers from The Island-below-the-Star return in Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves. This time, the youngest brother shirks his duties in favor of caring for an injured sea lion washed up on the beach. The four older brothers berate the boy for laziness, but the sea lion proves to be a devoted friend when a crisis later erupts. To quote Gillian Engberg in Booklist, Rumford's "attention to Hawaiian culture and language is a rare treat." Harriet Fargnoli in School Library Journal also maintained that Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves gives its audience "a taste of Hawaii's diverse flora and fauna."

Both Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354 and Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey feature footloose characters who set out to explore the world. Ibn Battuta is an actual historical figure: he was a Muslim scholar who spent nearly thirty years traversing the Eastern hemisphere, from Tangiers to China and back again. Rumford's take on the tale includes stylized calligraphic passages from Battuta's actual diaries, as well as maps and landscape renderings. "This is the sort of book you keep handling as you read, tilting and turning it so as not to miss a phrase as the text winds its way across mountains, seas and deserts," wrote Laura Shapiro in the New York Times Book Review. Shapiro deemed Rumford's "dazzling" book "a fine testament to the lure of the road in any age," and Nina Lindsay wrote in School Library Journal that the author/illustrator's account of Battuta's journey will please "readers intrigued by the ancient past."

Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey strikes a more whimsical tone, as Calabash Cat sets out to located the end of the world. As he sojourns, he seeks the aid of various other animals, all of whom assure the cat that he has reached his journey's end when they can no longer help him. The horse, for instance, stops at the edge of the grassy field bordering the jungle and declares it the end of the world—once inside the jungle, a tiger escorts Calabash Cat further yet before claiming that the world's end has been reached. As Susan Dove Lempke observed in Horn Book, the book suggests that "different parts of the world tend to see things from their own unique perspectives." In Booklist Michael Cart called Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey "a lovely … book, with multigenerational appeal."

Rumford won several awards and citations for Sequoyah. Tall and slender in format, the book explains how Cherokee Chief Sequoyah experimented with symbols until he created a unique writing for the people of his nation. Using a simple narrative tone and illustrations that incorporate Cherokee translations, Rumford helps readers to understand not only the Cherokee culture but also how alphabets are devised. In School Library Journal, Sean George called Sequoyah "one of those rare gems of read-aloud nonfiction," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Rumford's bilingual text as "economical yet lyrically told" and set off by illustrations characterized by a "pleasingly subtle, roughhewn texture."

The ancient epic Beowulf is both complex and violent, not necessarily good fare for children, but in Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold Rumford meets the challenge of bringing the famous story to life for younger readers. The author decided to infuse his text with Anglo-Saxon words wherever possible in order to evoke the feel of the original work. According to Charles McGrath in the New York Times Book Review, the result is "a not-bad approximation … easily comprehensible to readers in, say, the fourth and fifth grades." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the epic retelling "a very skillful presentation," and Horn Book contributor Martha P. Parravano deemed Beowulf "superb on all counts."

At the commencement of the Iraq War, Rumford was inspired to write a children's book from the point of view of a youngster caught in the violence in Baghdad. In Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, Ali, the central character, retreats into the solace of calligraphy while the war rages, drawing strength from the tales of his hero, Yakut, who did the same when the Mongols invaded the same region in the thirteenth century. According to Joy Fleishhacker in School Library Journal, Silent Music "sheds light on life in war-torn Iraq and builds empathy for those caught in the crossfire." In Horn Book Robin L. Smith concluded of the book that, "told plainly and without bathos, this is one story of how people use art to find understanding."

Rumford's self-illustrated books for preschoolers included Nine Animals and the Well and Don't Touch My Hat! A counting book, Nine Animals and the Well introduces one animal after another, as each successive creature carries more items than the animal preceding it. All become greedy when they learn that the last of the nine animals has nine coins. In Don't Touch My Hat! Sheriff John is convinced that his toughness comes from his cowboy hat—until one night when he arrives at a brawl wearing one of his wife's prissy bonnets. "Hat's off to

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this one!" exclaimed a Kirkus Reviews critic, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer called Don't Touch My Hat! a "romp of a read."

In an online interview with the Internationalist, Rumford explained how he chooses the topics he covers in his children's literature: "I'm writing books that I would've wanted to read when I was in 2nd or 3rd or 4th grade," he said. "I was sorely disappointed at how shallow most of the books were. I wanted to know more. So I'm writing those kinds of books now."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, September 15, 1996, Julie Corsaro, review of The Cloudmakers, p. 250; December 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of There's a Monster in the Alphabet, p. 670; October 15, 2003, Michael Cart, review of Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey, p. 420; June 1, 2004, Gillian Engberg, review of Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves, p. 1748; October 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing, p. 402; December 15, 2006, Julie Cummins, review of Don't Touch My Hat!, p. 51; August, 2007, Ian Chipman, review of Beowulf: A Hero's Tale Retold, p. 67; April 15, 2008, Gillian Engberg, review of Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad, p. 51.

Horn Book, January-February, 2002, Margaret A. Bush, review of Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354, p. 106; May-June, 2003, Susan P. Bloom, review of Nine Animals and the Well, p. 337; November-December, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey, p. 734; May-June, 2004, Margaret A. Bush, review of Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves, p. 321; November-December, 2004, Margaret A. Bush, review of Sequoyah, p. 730; March-April, 2007, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Don't Touch My Hat!, p. 189; July-August, 2007, Martha P. Parravano, review of Beowulf, p. 412; March-April, 2008, Robin L. Smith, review of Silent Music, p. 210.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1996, review of The Cloudmakers, p. 904; March 1, 1998, review of The Island-below-the-Star, p. 343; September 15, 2003, review of Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey, p. 1181; May 1, 2004, review of Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves, p. 448; October 15, 2004, review of Sequoyah, p. 1013; December 15, 2006, review of Don't Touch My Hat!, p. 1272; July 1, 2007, review of Beowulf; February 15, 2008, review of Silent Music; July 15, 2008, review of Chee-Lin: A Giraffe's Journey.

New York Times Book Review, November 18, 2001, Laura Shapiro, "Pilgrims' Progress: The Stories of Two Celebrated Islamic Travelers, One of Them a Scholar and the Other One a King," p. 27; June 17, 2007, Charles Mcgrath, review of Beowulf, p. 17.

Publishers Weekly, April 21, 2003, review of Nine Animals and the Well, p. 62; November 8, 2004, review of Sequoyah, p. 55; February 5, 2007, review of Don't Touch My Hat!, p. 58; August 13, 2007, review of Beowulf, p. 67; March 10, 2008, review of Silent Music, p. 80.

School Library Journal, September, 1996, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Cloudmakers, p. 189; June, 1998, Sally Margolis, review of The Island-below-the-Star, p. 121; October, 2004, Nina Lindsay, review of There's a Monster in the Alphabet, p. 150; October, 2004, Harriett Fargnoli, review of Dog-of-the-Sea-Waves, p. 128; October, 2004, Sean George, review of Sequoyah, p. 150; January, 2007, Julie Roach, review of Don't Touch My Hat!, p. 108; August, 2007, Susan Scheps, review of Beowulf, p. 138; April, 2008, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Silent Music, p. 121.


Houghton Mifflin Web site, (September 8, 2008), "James Rumford."

Internationalist Online, (April 12, 2007), "Exposing America to the World, One Child at a Time."

Scholastic Web site, (September 8, 2008), "James Rumford."