Thursday, July 18, 2013

Paul O. Zelinsky

I will be posting a spotlight interview with author and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky soon. I would like to provide a bit of background information about Mr. Zelinsky to my readers prior to this piece.

According to the 1999 edition of Talking with Artists, Volume 3 (published by Clarion Books) he was "born quite young, at about age zero" (pg. 82) on February 14, 1953 in Evanston, Illinois. His mother was a medical artist and his father a mathematician. He developed a love of drawing at an early age and created his "first recognizable drawing: a scribbly circle with two jabs for eyes and a crosswise slash for a mouth" (pg.82) at the age of eighteen months calling it "Baby! Boy!" He has been drawing since, and been quite successful. Zelinksy has been awarded three Caldecott Honors (one of only five illustrators who have been awarded this honor three different times) for Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995), and was presented with the highest recognition for illustrations in picture books for children in 1998 for Rapunzel.

Hansel and Gretel
written by Rika Lesser
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Hansel and Gretel, the first of his honored books, is filled with beautifully detailed oil paintings. According to the illustrator information in the opening pages of the book, he "grew up with a picture of Hansel and Gretel standing hand in hand before a house made of cake and candy, with dark forest all around" which was painted by his great-grandmother. When going through this book, retold by Rika Lesser, the story can easily be "read" through merely looking at the illustrations. With intricate details, in and around the home, including two cats, at least three lizards, a snail, and a chameleon, you can discover something new each time you browse the paintings.

retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
Two years later, Zelinsky was again honored for his illustrations. This time for his retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Like Hansel and Gretel the pages are filled with great detail. However, in this story about a young miller's daughter who can spin straw into gold with the help of a mysterious little man, Zelinsky has the opportunity to use his artistic talent to create even more charmingly detailed paintings of his characters and their surroundings. Where Hansel and Gretel were poor young children who only encountered great wealth at the end of the book, the miller's daughter is surrounded by the magnificence of the king's castle and all the details within. Architectural features such as the column capitals, decorative art pieces like the tapestries hanging on the castle wall, even the granite wall of the castle show how precisely Zelinsky is when creating his illustrations. In the "Note on the Text" piece at the end of Rumpelstiltskin, Zelinsky discusses how he based the text "principally on the 1819" story and he "added a few lines where it seemed necessary." He added elements "from the earlier versions, hoping to create a text best suited for a picture book." 

Swamp Angel
written by Anne Isaacs
illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
In 1995, Zelinsky received his third Caldecott Honor for the illustrations in Anne Isaacs's Swamp Angel, a Tennessee tall tale about the amazing exploits of Angelica Longrider, also known as Swamp Angel. Similar to the previous work in medium, oil, the art work seems to be more homey and comfortable, like the Tennessee countryside he is depicting throughout. The wood grain frames surrounding each of the illustrations (each piece is actually painted on wood veneer) helps to create this country vibe. When looking at the paintings for Swamp Angel, I am reminded of the style of Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses, with the rolling hillsides and the American people in the late 19th century.
retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
The Caldecott Awards committee presented Mr. Zelinsky with the award for the most distinguished American picture book for children" for a book he not only illustrated, but also retold, Rapunzel. When reading his version, we are transported to Italy. Zelinsky's attempts of creating an Italian Renaissance gallery through the pages of this book are a huge success. The details are phenomenal and one can easily see why it was chosen for the highly coveted award.

When looking at the art from Hansel and GretelRumpelstiltskinSwamp Angel, and Rapunzel side by side it is very obvious the pieces have been masterfully created by the same talented artist. Each panel could easily be pulled from the book, hung in a gilded frame, and displayed for all to see. I love the way he has brought the style of the masters into picture books. In these books for children, he does not play on the whimsy of the typical picture book. 

I would hope you have been exposed to all of the above titles, especially with their honors and awards. However, Mr. Zelinsky is not just the illustrator for these three titles. He has been illustrating for children's books since 1977, when he created the illustrations for Avi's Emily Upham's Revenge: A Massachusetts Adventure. For a complete list of all of his books, you can visit his website. This is a great resource for learning how each of the book's illustrations were created.

His latest illustrations appear in a book authored by Kelly Bingham, Z is for Moose. It is an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor Book, named to the 2013 Texas 2x2 Reading List, on the Best Picture Books of 2012 by Amazon, an American Library Association Notable Book, and named A Best Children's Book of the Year from Bank Street. I will be posting a review of this wonderful book soon.

Cummings, Pat. Talking with Artists. Clarion Books: New York, 1999.
Isaacs, Anne. Swamp Angel. Paul O. Zelinsky. Dutton Children's Books: New York, 1994.
Lesser, Rika. Hansel and Gretel. Paul O. Zelinsky. Putnam: New York, 1984.
"Paul O. Zelinsky." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2006.
    Biography In Context.  Web. 17 July 2013.
Zelinsky, Paul O. Rapunzel. Dutton Children's Books: New York, 1997. 
Zelinsky, Paul O. Rumpelstiltskin. Puffin Books: New York, 1986.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Rose Stanton said...

He's one of the very best of the very best. I'm looking forward to the interview!