Wiesner, David 1956–
Wiesner, David 1956–
Surname pronounced "weez-ner"; born February 5, 1956, in Bridgewater, NJ; son of George (a research manager at a chemical plant) and Julia (a homemaker) Wiesner; married Kim Kahng (a surgeon), May 21, 1983; children: Kevin, Jaime. Education: Rhode Island School of Design, B.F.A., 1978.
Author and illustrator of children's books. Exhibitions: Works displayed at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 1982, and at galleries, including Master Eagle Gallery, New York, NY, 1980-89, Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA; Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art, Providence; Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY; Muscarele Museum of Art; College of William and Mary, Society of Illustrators, New York, NY; and Greenwich Public Library, Greenwich, CT.
Children's Picturebook Award, Redbook magazine, 1987, for The Loathsome Dragon; Caldecott Honor designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1989, for Free Fall; Pick of the Lists citation, American Booksellers Association (ABA), 1990, for Hurricane; Notable Children's Book citation, ALA, Ten Best Books of the year citation, Parenting magazine, and ABA Pick of the Lists citation, all 1991, and Caldecott Medal, 1992, all for Tuesday; Parent's Choice citation, 1992, for June 29, 1999; Bank Street College of Education Best Book designation, Carolyn W. Field Award Honor designation, and New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing designation, all 1994, all for Night of the Gargoyles by Eve Bunting; Caldecott Medal, 2002, for The Three Pigs, and 2007, for Flotsam; Caldecott Honor designation, ALA Notable Book designation, Bank Street College of Education Best Books designation, New York Public Library Best Book for Reading and Sharing designation, and ABA Choice designation, all 2000, all for Sector 7.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS
(Reteller, with wife, Kim Kahng) The Loathsome Dragon, Putnam (New York, NY), 1987, revised edition, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Free Fall, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1988.
Hurricane, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Tuesday, Clarion Books (New York, NY, 1991.
June 29, 1999, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Sector 7, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Three Pigs, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Flotsam, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Gloria Skurzynski, Honest Andrew, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1980.
Avi, Man from the Sky, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.
Nancy Luenn, The Ugly Princess, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.
David R. Collins, The One Bad Thing about Birthdays, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1981.
Jane Yolen, The Boy Who Spoke Chimp, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.
Jane Yolen, Neptune Rising: Songs and Tales of the Undersea Folk, Philomel (New York, NY), 1982.
Mike Thaler, Owly, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
Vera Chapman, Miranty and the Alchemist, Avon (New York, NY), 1983.
Allan W. Eckert, The Dark Green Tunnel, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1984.
William Kotzwinkle, E.T.: The Storybook of the Green Planet (based on a story by Steven Spielberg), Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
Allan W. Eckert, The Wand: The Return to Mesmeria, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.
Dennis Haseley, Kite Flier, Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1986.
Nancy Willard, Firebrat, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.
Marianna Mayer, reteller, The Sorcerer's Apprentice: A Greek Fable, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Laurence Yep, The Rainbow People, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1989.
Laurence Yep, reteller, Tongues of Jade (Chinese-American folk tales), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Eve Bunting, Night of the Gargoyles, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.
Free Fall was adapted for videocassette with teacher's guide, American School Publications, 1990. Tuesday was adapted for videocassette, American School Publications, 1992. The Three Pigs was optioned for film by Disney Feature Animation, 2002.
"I create books I think I would have liked to have seen when I was a kid," award-winning author and illustrator David Wiesner once remarked in an interview for SATA. "I loved being able to get lost in paintings and to get involved in all the details." Winner of the prestigious Caldecott Medal for his picture books Tuesday, The Three Pigs, and Flotsam, Wiesner has also produced other highly praised original works, among them Free Fall, Hurricane, and Sector 7.
Born in 1956, Wiesner grew up in a creatively inclined family—art and music number among his sibling's interests—and an environment that encouraged his own flair for drawing. "I never had the sense that I had to rebel at home so my parents would let me be an artist," he recalled in his interview. The diverse landscape surrounding the Wiesner family's Bridgewater, New Jersey, hometown encouraged his active imagination: making use of the local cemetery, a nearby river, woods, and the town dump, Wiesner and his friends concocted various games, "army" being a particular favorite.
Even though neighborhood companions in Bridgewater were in abundance, Wiesner enjoyed spending long stretches of time by himself, often drawing. His interest in art was fueled further by the television You Are an Artist, which was hosted by artist Jon Gnagy and which aired in reruns when Wiesner was about six or seven years old. Fascinated with Gnagy's attention to perspective, light, and scale, the budding illustrator bought Gnagy's instruction books and earnestly practiced drawing all the pictures first in charcoal, then in color. "The books and program probably provided my first formal exposure to techniques and ideas about drawing," Wiesner recalled in his SATA interview. "I still keep a framed picture of him [Gnagy] on my wall."
In junior high school Wiesner discovered the Renaissance and surrealism, particularly the works of Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder. He also developed a love of the fantastic, especially horror and science-fiction films such as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. High school provided Wiesner with another creative influence in the person of art teacher Robert Bernabe. "In Mr. Bernabe I finally found someone I could talk to about art," Wiesner revealed in his SATA interview. "He essentially encouraged me to follow whatever inclinations I had and was willing to do what he could to facilitate that."
Accepted at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) after high school, Wiesner experienced what he later described in his interview as a "pretty intense first year" during which he unlearned many old habits and absorbed new ideas and ways of thinking about art. "I remember going to my life-drawing class and noticing that while the teacher didn't really respond to my work, he would look at another student's work and say, ‘this is really terrific,’ or something like that. I would look at the same work and wonder, ‘why is he saying that? He doesn't understand.’ Yet by the end of the year I was able to look at that same work and real- ize ‘that's great stuff.’ RISD helped me reorient myself and helped me get rid of some of my preconceived notions."
The thought of expanding the painting into a narrative—either with words or without—fascinated Wiesner, and his work at RISD began to reflect this interest. At first he directed his talent toward adult fantasy, short, wordless sequences done in oils. As he gained experience, he began developing his own style, primarily using watercolors, and experimenting with characters, settings, and story lines of a lengthier nature. As graduation loomed, Wiesner considered working as an illustrator for adult fantasy magazines; a career in children's literature hardly crossed his mind. "If you looked at the work I was doing, though," the artist later admitted, "it was obvious I should be going into children's books." Fortunately, RISD instructor Lester Abrams encouraged Wiesner to show his art portfolio to noted children's author and illustrator Trina Schart Hyman during Hyman's visit to the RISD campus. Hyman, then art director for Cricket children's magazine, promptly offered the young artist the opportunity to create art for a magazine cover.
Children's literature has proved to be a fertile artistic niche for Wiesner. Beginning as a textbook illustrator after graduation, he compiled a professional portfolio. By the 1980s he was living in New York City with partner Kim Kahng and developing a distinctive style as a picture-book illustrator. Despite a personal setback in 1983—the apartment building where Wiesner and Kahng lived burned to the ground, destroying everything the newly married couple owned—during the 1980s he illustrated such works as William Kotzwinkle's E.T.: The Storybook of the Green Planet, Allan W. Eckert's Wand: The Return to Mesmeria, and Dennis Haseley's Kite Flier.
In 1987 Wiesner and Kanhg collaborated on The Loathsome Dragon, a work based on the English fairy tale "The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Huegh" that was re-released in 2005 with a revised text, new cover, and re-formatted artwork. The narrative relates the story of the beautiful Princess Margaret, who becomes trapped inside the body of an enormous dragon through the sorcery of her evil, jealous stepmother. Only three kisses from Margaret's brother, Childe Wynd, who is traveling in a far-off land, will free the princess from the spell. Wiesner's detailed watercolor paintings for the original edition of The Loathsome Dragon feature medieval-styled landscapes and seascapes, sprawling castles, elaborate robes, jewelry, and armor, drew praise from reviewers. Responding to this version, Caldecott Medalist and RISD department head David Macaulay wrote in Horn Book: "Take a look at the watercolor landscapes [The Loathsome Dragon] contains and tell me you don't see a little Da Vinci in there." Describing the 2005 revision, School Library Journal reviewer Marie Orlando called the images "more vivid," adding that Wiesner's "softly colored and patterned frames have been replaced with white borders that make the pictures less remote."
The product of several years' work, Wiesner's 1988 work, Free Fall, is a wordless picture book that follows a young boy on a fantastic journey he experiences during a dream. The narrative opens as the youngster falls asleep while studying a book of maps. Reality fades as his bedspread transforms into a landscape, and he is transported, along with exotic companions, onto a chessboard with live game pieces, then to a medieval castle housing knights and a dragon, to rocky cliffs that merge into a city skyline, and then to a larger-than-life breakfast table. Finally the boy floats among swans, fishes, and leaves and arrives back at his starting place. Many events and characters the young boy encounters during his dream correspond to objects in the youngster's bedroom, from the bowl of goldfish next to his bed to the chess pieces stashed in his nightstand, the pigeons hovering near his window, and the leaves sketched on his wallpaper.
Critical reaction to Free Fall was mixed. While a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic deemed it "an excellent replication of a dream," some commentators found the book too complex to be readily understood by a young audience. "The nameless protagonist's … adventures are confusing, complicated, and illogical," Julie Corsaro maintained in School Library Journal. This divided reaction did not extend to the committee selecting the 1989 Caldecott Honor books, which awarded Wiesner's work an Honor Book designation. As the artist later recalled, "having Free Fall named a Caldecott Honor Book was a wonderful confirmation that ‘yes, this does seem to be the way to go.’ It felt really, really satisfying because all along I had the feeling I had been going in the right direction with the pieces I had done and conceived on my own."
Based on an incident from Wiesner's childhood, Hurricane opens with "detailed, exquisitely rendered paintings [that] draw the reader into his story of a hurricane's progress," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer described it. After the storm, two boys create exotic imaginative landscapes using a tree that was downed by the hurricane. "The child-focused, low perspective gives even ordinary scenes an extra measure of drama," Patricia Dooley observed in School Library Journal, the critic adding that Wiesner's "fantasy spreads are detailed delights."
Wiesner's first Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, Tuesday, is a whimsical tale about a night when a crowd of frogs ascend skyward on lily pads and soar over the surrounding neighborhood. Zooming past startled birds and an incredulous resident indulging in a late-night snack, the frogs speed through a clothesline (causing some minor entanglements), and spook Rusty, a sizable dog. They even sneak into a living room housing a sleepy elderly lady and watch some television (one member of the assemblage operates the remote control with his spindly tongue). A Publishers Weekly critic termed the book's illustrations "stunning … and executed with a seeming flawless command of palette and perspective." "What saves this book from simply being a gorgeous gallery of paintings," Roger Sutton explained in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, "is its warmth and humor: these frogs are having a lot of fun." Carolyn Phelan likewise noted the humor of the illustrations, writing in Booklist that "the narrative artwork tells a simple, pleasant story with a consistency and authenticity that make the fantasy convincing." School Library Journal contributor Patricia Dooley also praised Wiesner's use of color and perspective, predicting of Tuesday that "kids will love its lighthearted, meticulously imagined, fun-without-a-moral fantasy."
Wiesner followed up Tuesday with June 29, 1999. This amusing and innovative picture book revolves around young Holly Evans, who sends an assortment of vegetable seedlings into the atmosphere as part of a science experiment for school. A little more than a month later, on June 29, 1999—a Tuesday, of course—gigantic rutabagas, avocados, lima beans, artichokes, cucumbers, peas, and all sorts of other vegetables begin falling to earth. Amazement, anxiety, and confusion overcome citizens. In addition, rumors spread ("4,000 lb. Radish Has Face of ELVIS!" screams one tabloid headline); business opportunities in real estate flourish ("Gourd Estates" quickly sprouts in North Carolina); and at least one Iowa farmer is ecstatic ("At last, the blue ribbon at the state fair is mine!" he announces upon finding a gargantuan head of cabbage on his property).
In June 29, 1999 Wiesner's story matches the wit of his art, according to critical consensus. Linda Perkins, for example, commenting in the New York Times Book Review, wrote that "the succinct story … provides just enough background with perfect deadpan wit and even a few alliterative flourishes, and packs a final punch of its own." It was Wiesner's artwork in June 29, 1999 that garnered the bulk of the praise, however. "The exquisite watercolors are truly out of this world," Luann Toth remarked in School Library Journal, pointing out the artist's use of "unusual perspective" and "clever detail." As Perkins explained, "Wiesner's real strength is vivid, innovative illustration," and his "sly details" add greatly to the book's humor. Dubbing June 29, 1999 "a visual and literary feast," a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded: "Spectacular to look at, great fun to read—it is, in sum, executed with consummate skill."
Odd metamorphoses are again evident in Sector 7, a wordless book in which an imaginative young boy is transported during a visit to the Empire State Building and winds up on a tour of the celestial cloud factory known as Sector 7. A Horn Book reviewer wrote that Wiesner's illustrations "are startlingly and powerfully conceived, the fanciful cloud-shapes both funny and elegant." In Publishers Weekly, a contributor lauded the book for providing a glimpse into "an ingenious world of nearly unlimited possibilities" via paintings that "contain such a wealth of details that they reveal new discoveries even after repeated examinations."
Wiesner earned his second Caldecott Medal for The Three Pigs, which brings such visual inventiveness to the classic tale that Booklist critic Gillian Engberg described it as a "post-modern fantasy" that "deliciously reinvents the pigs' tale [and] invites readers to step beyond the boundaries of story and picture book altogether." Instead of adhering to the traditional narrative in which the wolf blows down the pig's straw house, Wiesner's wolf blows the pig right out of the picture; the two other pigs escape in a similar fashion, capering through flying pages of text and discovering other storybook "planets." Finally, the pigs put the pages of their own story back together and return to their world to outwit the still-waiting wolf. "Wiesner has created a funny, wildly imagined tale that encourages kids to leap beyond the familiar," wrote Engberg, "to think critically about conventional stories and illustration, and perhaps to flex their imaginations and create wonderfully subversive versions of their own stories."
Yet another Caldecott Medal came Wiesner's way with Flotsam, a captivating wordless picture book that uses the passage of years and a sea-tossed underwater camera to transcend both time and the reader's perception about the underwater world. During a day at the beach, a boy discovers a black box camera washed up by the tide. Exposing the reel of film inside, he discovers that the camera has captured amazing images of undersea life, including fantastic fishes and other sea creatures whose actions seem surreal and oddly human-like. Some developed pictures reveal images of other children who have also encountered the camera during the many years it has floated and bobbed through the world's waterways. In each snapshot, a child holds a photo from the camera that depicts another child holding a photo of still other child, creating a visual time tunnel into the camera's past. Praising the "clue-and fancy-strewn" images in Flotsam, Sutton concluded in Horn Book that "the meticulous and rich detail of Wiesner's watercolors makes the fantasy involving and convincing." "Masterfully altering the pace with panel sequences and full-bleed spreads, [Wiesner] … fills every inch of the pages with intricate, imaginative watercolor details," a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted. In School Library Journal, Joy Fleishhacker noted of Flotsam that, "filled with inventive details and delightful twists, each snap-shot is a tale waiting to be told," and all combine in "a mind-bending journey of imagination."
In addition to his original picture books, Wiesner continued to create art for texts by other writers through the mid-1990s. One of his most notable collaborations was with Eve Bunting on Night of the Gargoyles. Bunting's oddly macabre tale of stone gargoyles at play while the city sleeps is interpreted by Wiesner with a surreal sense of whimsy. The illustrator's charcoal pictures "capture the huge heaviness of the stone figures and their gloomy malevolence," according to Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman. Claiming that "if anyone could bring gargoyles to life pictorially, it's Wiesner," School Library Journal contributor Julie Cummins applauded the artist's work on this book, adding that the illustrations combine to create "a deliciously eerie, spooky scenario."
"I'm hoping kids have fun when they read my books," Wiesner noted in his SATA interview. "I have found that wordless picture books are as enriching and as involving as a book with words in it." "In a wordless book, each reader really completes the story," he also explained; "There is no author's voice narrating the story. In books like Free Fall or Tuesday, there is a lot going on there, and you really need to read the picture. A reader can't just flip through the book; all the details add up to more fully tell the story. It's exciting to me to develop that visual literacy."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors of Books for Young People, edited by Martha E. Ward, third edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.
Children's Book Illustration and Design, edited by Julie Cummins, Library of Applied Design, PBC International (New York, NY), 1992.
Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, pp. 679-680.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 43, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 196-217.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 1118-1119.
Wiesner, David, June 29, 1999, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Booklist, May 1, 1991, Carolyn Phelan, review of Tuesday, p. 1723; October 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Night of the Gargoyles, p. 331; September 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Sector 7, p. 270; May 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Three Pigs, p. 1761; February 15, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 1082; August 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of Flotsam, p. 76.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1988, review of Free Fall, p. 193; November, 1990, p. 74; May, 1991, Roger Sutton, review of Tuesday, p. 231; November, 1992, pp. 93-94; September, 2006, Deborah Stevenson, review of Flotsam, p. 44.
Horn Book, January-February, 1991, pp. 61-62; January-February, 1992, p. 84; July-August, 1992, David Macaulay, "David Wiesner," pp. 423-428; July-August, 1992, David Wiesner, "Caldecott Acceptance Speech," pp. 416-422; September, 1999, review of Sector 7, p. 603; May, 2001, review of The Three Pigs, p. 341; July-August, 2002, David Wiesner, "Caldecott Medal Acceptance," p. 393; July-August, 2002, Anita Silvey, "David Wiesner," p. 401; September-October, 2006, Roger Sutton, review of Flotsam, p. 571.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1992, review of June 29, 1999, p. 1262; August 1, 2006, review of Flotsam, p. 798.
New York Times Book Review, August, 1988, p. 99; September 25, 1988, p. 51; November 8, 1992, Linda Perkins, "Hocus-Pocus in Ho-Ho-Kus," p. 31; November 21, 1999, Andrew Leonard, review of Sector 7, p. 36; May 20, 2001, Sean Kelly, review of The Three Pigs, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1986, pp. 187-188; October 30, 1987, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 70; May 12, 1989, p. 294; August 31, 1990, review of Hurricane, p. 66; March 1, 1991, review of Tuesday, p. 73; September 20, 1991, p. 134; October 26, 1992, review of June 29, 1999, p. 69; August 8, 1994, p. 436; August 31, 1999, review of Sector 7, p. 83; No- vember 1, 1999, review of Sector 7, p. 57; November 22, 1999, Cindi Di Marzo, interview with Wiesner, p. 22; February 26, 2001, review of The Three Pigs, p. 86; February 21, 2005, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 175; July 24, 2006, review of Flotsam, p. 56.
School Library Journal, January, 1986, p. 66; November, 1986, p. 78; March, 1988, Constance A. Mellon, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 178; June-July, 1988, Julie Corsaro, review of Free Fall, p. 95; August, 1988, p. 99; May, 1990, pp. 107-108; October, 1990, Patricia Dooley, review of Hurricane, p. 104; December, 1990, p. 25; January, 1991, p. 56; May, 1991, Patricia Dooley, review of Tuesday, p. 86; December, 1991, p. 132; November, 1992, Luann Toth, review of June 29, 1999, p. 81; October, 1994, Julie Cummins, review of Night of the Gargoyles, p. 86; September, 1999, Julie Cummins, review of Sector 7, p. 209; April, 2001, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Three Pigs, p. 26; April, 2005, Marie Orlando, review of The Loathsome Dragon, p. 116' September, 2006, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Flotsam, p. 186.
BookPage Web site,http://www.bookpage.com/ (September, 1999), Miriam Drennan, interview with Wiesner.
Houghton Mifflin Web site,http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/ (August 27, 2007).