Being granted the opportunity to hear Chris Raschka give a speech or make a presentation is to be transported into the very real world of this gifted author/artist who has the ability to “reach” students and adults alike. He truly wants to share strong emotions “things that affect me” with people. Such themes as love, loss, and the joy of music, loneliness, and friendship are tempered with the need to evoke “empathetic response without making it too wrenching for children.”

As a bookseller, I was always pleased to be able to share his creations with customers looking for something “really special.” As the body of his work grew, there was always a book to fit the requirements of “a unique gift,” “something they won’t already have,” or “something that will grab attention.”

And grab the attention, his work did (and continues to do so). The list of awards and accolades bestowed upon Raschka’s books include:

A Caldecott Honor in 1994 for Yo! Yes? (1993 Orchard)

The Caldecott Medal in 2006 for The Hello, Goodbye Window (written by Norton Juster; 2005 Michael Di Capua Books)

The Caldecott Medal in 2012 for A Ball for Daisy (2011, Schwartz and Wade)

Citations for Best Books of the Year (Publishers Weekly) and ALA’s Notable Children’s Books

The UNICEF-Ezra Jack Keats award for Yo! Yes?

As well as many other awards and nominations, such as the 2005 Boston Globe Horn Book Award.

When he received his first Caldecott Medal, he spoke eloquently and with great humility about the process of sharing his art and imagination with children (and adults). When I heard him speak at the Newbery-Caldecott Awards Banquet, I was greatly impressed with his humanity and how accurately his observations of human life found their way into his work. Even using a style with pared down illustrations, he is able to tell volumes with just a few strokes of his paintbrush (or what ever media he is employing at the time-he is extremely versatile).

He also excels in working with students. Because his writing and illustrations are the soul of visual storytelling, he is well versed in eliciting stories from his audiences. At the Shenandoah University’s Children’s Literature Festival, I was captivated to watch as he coaxed volunteers to “perform” one of his books. This is the same technique he uses with students. All of the teachers and librarians at the conference had a lesson by example. Watching Raschka in action was a delight, knowing the kind of responses he would draw from a group of school children. He said he thinks of his books “as little plays” so it is easy to get the children involved. This kind of involvement “influences the child’s reception of a book” and can be the springboard “for expanding vocabulary.” Also quite clear was his generosity of spirit. He was very gentle and quite thoughtful as he described working with children and his desire to connect with the “real end user-the child.” His wordless books allow children to interpret the story without the “filter” of an adult reader, yet also provides excellent opportunities for child and adult to interact with more considered discussions. He then demonstrated how he reads his books, varying the pace and emphasizing certain words and rhythms-charming the whole audience.

Raschka was at ease sharing some of the behind the scenes reactions of editors and “the publishing world,” he said that as soon as he receives a manuscript he feels “ownership” of the project. He does illustrate for other authors but enjoys illustrating his own writing more – the art and the text are from his own efforts. Raschka maintains a very organized schedule and can work on multiple projects at the same time because of the precise organization of his approach to life. While he is working, he is conscious of the fact that “the reader completes the whole process of the creation of a book.”

It is, indeed, a good thing to be “the end user” of Chris Raschka’s books! Sharing one of his books with a child or a group of children is an experience not to be missed. With over 60 picture books it is hard to limit my favorites but early on I loved Charlie Parker Played Be Bop (1992, Orchard), Arlene Sardine (1998, Orchard) and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps (2002, Atheneum, and Mysterious Thelonious (1997, Scholastic), and A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poetry (2001, Candlewick), and Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout (2009, Candlewick) and . . .well, I guess you get the picture. Now go forward and treat yourself to some of Chris Raschka’s wonderful “pictures.”

Photo Credit: Catherine Wink

Video interview with Chris Raschka:

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