of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
One of the most prolific, versatile children's authors still publishing, New Zealander Joy Cowley has an extraordinarily vigorous backlist. Perhaps the first writer to wow the international market with early readers, Cowley has devoted gallons of ink and tons of paper to what she calls "funny little stories that made children laugh and forget they hated reading" (Something about the Author, Vol. 118, p. 46). Her latest offerings for beginning readers, the free-spirited Agapanthus Hum books, still sport the advisory on the cover: "author of Mrs. Wishy Washy," invoking the series name that made her famous.
Cowley's humor and storycraft shine through in her picture books as well as her series readers. Her vivacious retelling of a familiar folktale in The Mouse Bride (BCCB 11/95) wins its readership with confident prose, crisply delineated characters, and lifelike dialogue, while the bilingual Gracias: The Thanksgiving Turkey (BCCB 11/96) proffers a warmhearted, robust holiday tale set in a cheerfully multicultural neighborhood. Hiccup the Seasick Viking, a "humorously offbeat swashbuckler" (BCCB 7/00), gives a sly wink to the everpresent childhood desire to overcome a weakness and save the day, a yearning The Rusty, Trusty Tractor (BCCB 3/99) addresses from the vehicular angle with old-fashioned charm and understated wit, focusing on an old tractor that can be relied upon in any emergency.
Most notable of Cowley's latest literary achievements are her collaborations with photographer Nic Bishop. In Blue Ribbon winner Red-Eyed Tree Frog (BCCB 3/99) and Chameleon, Chameleon (BCCB 4/05), Cowley's succinct prose, perfectly suited to Bishop's dramatic photographs in content and rhythm, packs a witty punch of its own. Mastering the construction of tightly plotted short stories in limited vocabulary, as Cowley does with her early readers and fiction picture books, is a challenge in and of itself; managing the entirely successful, interdependent partnering of even briefer texts with sparkling images in these nonfiction picture books is an accomplishment worth standing up and huzzahing for.
—Timnah Card, Reviewer
Chameleon, Chameleon, illus. Nic Bishop. Scholastic, 2005. (BCCB 4/05)
Gracias: The Thanksgiving Turkey , illus. Joe Cepeda. Scholastic, 1995. (BCCB 11/96)
Hiccup the Seasick Viking, illus. Cressida Cowell. Orchard, 2000. (BCCB 7/00)
The Mouse Bride, illus. David Christiana. Scholastic, 1995. (BCCB 11/95)
Red-Eyed Tree Frog, illus. Nic Bishop. Scholastic, 1999. (BCCB 3/99)The Rusty, Trusty Tractor, illus. Boyds Mills, 1999. (BCCB 3/99)