Books by Leonard Everett Fisher

Released: April 10, 2007

Kimmel remakes the Washington Irving classic into a shorter, more moralistic episode, preserving major events but changing the original by having Rip, after his long sleep, suffer remorse for his lazy ways and go forth with his grown children to become an industrious farmer. Fisher adds strong figures with eyes that are usually downcast, hidden or averted—a device that makes Hudson's gnomic bowlers in the mountains all the more mysterious, but keeps viewers at arm's-length from the characters. He also takes some missteps, opting not to depict the arrival of shrill Mrs. Van Winkle among the tavern idlers, which is a significant plot point as it galvanizes Rip's hasty trip into the hills, and for Rip's return, choosing a color for the rents in his blouse that make them look startlingly like splashes of dried blood. Along with the problematic alterations, this consequently lacks the seamlessness of such other illustrated retellings as Freya Littledale's, illustrated by Michael Dooling (1991), and Will Moses's (1999). (afterword) (Picture book. 8-10)Read full book review >
Released: April 6, 2006

A renowned pirate meets his bloody end in this fictionalized episode, spun from historical accounts. Pointedly noting the illegality of the enterprise, Kimmel takes a cabin boy's-eye view as the governor of the Virginia Colony hires Royal Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard to mount a surreptitious private attack on Blackbeard, who has taken up residence in North Carolina after securing a formal pardon from that colony's governor. Pitting his two sloops against Blackbeard's Adventure, Maynard prevails by the skin of his teeth after a violent dustup, then sails off in triumph with the pirate's severed head hanging from the bowsprit. Sadly, Fisher neglects to depict this last scene—but does deliver several rousing portraits of the living Blackbeard, dressed in black and royal purple with a heavy, braided beard and lit matches fuming beneath his tricorn hat. Exciting fare for pirate fans—as well as a discussion-provoking case study in international relations. (afterword) (Picture book/nonfiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
DYBBUK by Barbara Rogasky
Released: Oct. 15, 2005

From Jewish folklore comes this tale of a restless spirit that enters the body of a living being. Wealthy Sender wants the best for his daughter, Leah, and arranges a marriage with a rich man. When she meets poor scholar Konin, however, they fall instantly in love. Neither knows that fate had decreed their love match before they were born. Their respective fathers, once best friends, had made a solemn pact that their children would someday marry. Doleful consequences ensue when Sender breaks his promise: Konin dies of anguish; Leah invites his ghost to the wedding; he inhabits her body on the day she is to be married; and an exorcism is performed. The moral lesson is a Romeo and Juliet-like ending, in which Leah joins Konin in death. Rogasky's retelling, seemingly narrated by an oral storyteller, is strong and to the point and filled with Yiddish and Hebrew words, inflections and religious references; Fisher's monochromatic paintings of shtetl life are vigorous and dramatic. (Folklore. 11-14)Read full book review >
THE HERO BEOWULF by Eric A. Kimmel
Released: May 7, 2005

Though here Grendel resembles a balding, peg-toothed civil servant who happens to have green skin, and claws rather than fingers, this retelling of the first part of our oldest surviving epic poem in English retains echoes of the original's melodramatic violence and in the names—Hygelac, Ecgtheow, Wealhtheow—of its language. Monster aside, Fisher's monumental figures have a ruggedly heroic look, and seem to glow with color—in contrast to the art's murky gloom in Charles Keeping's abridgement (1982). Still a grand tale, even when rendered into such a sketchy retelling as this, and well worth introducing to younger audiences. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
Released: April 2, 2004

One of the greatest heroes of Western literature is played for a fool in this picture-book adaptation of Cervantes's classic. An exposition sets up Don Quixote's transformation from bookish dreamer to knight errant wannabe, and then the text (and the knight) launch into the famous windmills, ending abruptly immediately afterward. The original runs to 1,000 pages, more or less; any attempt to squeeze it into a 32-page picture book is necessarily going to cut a little. In leaving most of the story on the cutting-room floor, however, this version so compresses Quixote's character development that he is nothing but a buffoon, with none of the original's ennobling qualities. Fisher's illustrations are colorful and amusing enough, but do not compensate for the compression of the text. The whole begs the question: does the picture-book audience really need to be introduced to Don Quixote? There are legions of stories out there that, when rendered for children, entertain while maintaining their integrity, and Kimmel is no slouch at presenting them. But please, let kids grow up and encounter this good knight when they are ready for the real thing. (Picture book. 5-8)Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 15, 2003

In his latest gallery of divinities, Fisher profiles 17 of "the most popular" deities in traditional Chinese culture, from the mighty Jade Emperor Yu Huang Da Di to two nameless Menshen, soldiers elevated to the status of "door gods," and charged with ensuring peaceful sleep. As usual, the art slightly evokes a national style, but is mostly Fisher; opposite a page-length disquisition on the origin and attributes of each, he poses monumental, slant-eyed, robed figures floating against monochromatic backgrounds and, generally, glowering up at the viewer. Though the information here is strictly recycled, and readers may be confused by the sight of Zhong Kui, the putative god of healing, wielding a sword—not to mention Tibet included among the "Lands of Ancient China" on the endpaper maps—for supporting classroom units or introducing younger children to an unfamiliar system of worship, this album has few competitors. Fisher closes with a helpful list of sources, along with a Pinyin pronunciation guide. (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 15, 2002

Fisher (Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Maya, 1999, etc.) looks to Scandinavia for his latest gallery of the gods, presenting somber portraits of Odin, Thor, and a dozen of their associates paired to tossed-off bits of information about each. Despite some arresting images—one-eyed Odin glowering up from the front cover, for instance, or Loki, chained for his misdeeds, writhing in agony as a snake drips venom onto his face—overall the art is unusually static even for Fisher, who either poses his figures making melodramatic but obscure gestures, or just has them stand around looking off into the distance. The writing too is inconsistent; readers learn the name of Heimdall's trumpet but not Thor's hammer, are left in the dark about what Niffleheim is, and get either fragments of tales, or vague comments like "[Odin] allowed his body to be hurt to learn the mysterious writings called ‘runes'." A schematic map and family tree help, but this is a weak link in the series. (Picture book/nonfiction. 8-10)Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1999

The downcast eyes and grave expressions of the monumental figures in Fisher's paintings set a tone that occasionally contradicts the text's exuberance, e.g., Bell's "joyous capacity for learning all there was to know about the universe grew as large as his waistline"—but this recap of the inventor's character and accomplishments is engrossing reading and a grand tribute to an extraordinary imagination. Fisher provides detailed accounts of the inventions and incisive views of their significance; his pictures may lack the visual flash of those in Tom L. Matthews's Always Inventing (see review, below), but they provide clear, straightforward detail. The lack of a bibliography is the only disappointment; Fisher finds plenty to admire in Bell, as will readers. (diagrams, chronology) (Picture book/biography. 7-10) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 15, 1999

The Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, is the oldest Jewish house of worship in the US; Fisher traces its history and details the design and construction of the beautiful two-story Georgian-style building, describing "the quietness of the building's exterior, its gentleness" which "belied the tormented history of its congregants, resolute in their beliefs." Constructed from 1759—1763, the synagogue was the focus of President George Washington's comments in 1790 that "the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." This well-documented history will remind readers that the US was settled by people of many faiths who were united in their "search for freedom and peace of mind." (photos and reproductions, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
ANASAZI by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

Fisher (Niagara Falls, 1996, etc.) admirably cobbles together a picture of Anasazi life from the mere fragments of culture that have weathered the centuries. The Anasazi civilization grew and flourished in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest for over a thousand years. Then, abruptly, about 700 years ago they left their traditional haunts and vanished into history. Fisher explains the development of Anasazi weaving, pottery, and toolmaking, speculates on their shift from hunter-gatherers to mesa farmers, and details the evolution of their architecture from pithouses to log-and-pole structures, to complex pueblos (one had 1,826 rooms), and finally to the glorious sandstone-block cliff houses that continue to mesmerize visitors today. Relevant terms are introduced, and a fascinating time chart alerts readers to what was happening elsewhere on the globe during the years of the Anasazi: Irish monks were toiling on the Book of Kells, chess was invented in India, Eric the Red sailed to Greenland, Cambridge University started up in England. Moody sepia illustrations, with highly contrasted areas of light and shadow, lend an ancient feel and just the right note of mystery. (map, chronology) (Picture book/nonfiction. 5-9) Read full book review >
THE JETTY CHRONICLES by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: Sept. 15, 1997

Fisher (Anasazi, p. 1388, etc.) admits to some fictionalizing of the details, but this brief memoir of a few adolescent, preWW II years in Brooklyn has the authenticity that comes from well-chosen details, lovingly and honestly observed. With no attempt to turn this into an autobiography, Fisher finds some metaphors for living in the ``immortal'' jetty from which, in his youth, he watched ships come and go from New York City's waters. From an old professor comes a geology lesson, from an artist a lesson in painterly verisimilitude, from a buff young man a lesson in false pride, and from a poor, delusioned soul, a lesson in—among other things—the abuse of religion. That the war is coming hangs over many paragraphs, that Fisher would become an artist and storyteller all but hidden. The volume, with so many speakers expounding on various topics, may be more suited to Fisher's admirers than to readers unfamiliar with his work; he sticks to a particular reference—the jetty and the people around it—and a particular time, and makes it utterly palpable. (Memoir. 12-14) Read full book review >
NIAGARA FALLS by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: June 15, 1996

In an account published in 1683, the first European to write about Niagara Falls, Father Louis Hennepin of France, called it a ``Waterfall, which has no equal.'' Fisher (William Tell, 1996, etc.) creates a readable, humorous history of the falls from the 1500s, when the Seneca tribe controlled the area around it, to the times, past and present, when it has been a popular tourist attraction (``There I stood, and humbly scanned/The miracle that sense appals,/And I watched the tourists stand/Spitting in Niagara Falls''—Morris Bishop) and a great natural source of water power. Fisher's inclusion of the death-defying stunts (from walking a tightrope over the falls to plunging over them in barrels) by daredevils seeking fame and fortune is sure to entertain readers. (b&w photos and reproductions, map, index.) (Nonfiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
WILLIAM TELL by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: March 22, 1996

William Tell ($16.00; March 22, 1996; 32 pp.; 0-374-38436-3): The cool gaze of a boy on this book's jacket startles; he has an apple on his head and is posed against a thick tree trunk. From the first, Fisher (Gandhi, 1995, etc.) pulls readers into the legend of William Tell, the man who aimed an arrow at that apple (and his son) rather than kneel before the hat of an Austrian tyrant. Exquisite paintings of a mountain village, a close shot of the arrow in flight, the apple cut cleanly in half: If the story weren't already legendary, Fisher's work would make it so. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
FESTIVALS by Myra Cohn Livingston
Released: March 15, 1996

Festivals ($16.95; March 15, 1996; 32 pp.; 0-8234-1217-2): In a companion to this pair's Celebrations (1985), colorful streamers beckon readers toward 14 poems commemorating holidays, from the Creek Indian New Year and the Vietnamese festival of clean slates, to the bonfires of the Iranian Now-Ruz. The celebrations aren't all noisy: cherry blossoms get quiet praise, as do the saplings of Arbor Day. In fact, the timbre of Livingston's words often varies—fierce for Purim, hushed for Luciadagen, suppressed excitement for the Hindu Diwali. Fisher's paintings are also varied, a series of memorable images evoking entire events and cultures. (glossary) (Picture book/poetry. 5-10) . . . Read full book review >
GANDHI by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

The latest in Fisher's series of black-and-white picture-book biographies (Marie Curie, 1994, etc.) follows the established format: It begins with a chronology and a map, followed by a dramatically illustrated and concisely worded account of Gandhi's life, sprinkled with short quotes from his writings; an afterword describes his assassination and his place in history. While there is no shortage of children's biographies of this charismatic and inspiring figure, what makes this one worth having is Fisher's meticulous skill at rendering the information honestly and memorably. The acrylic paintings make vivid India's varied landscapes, people, and philosophies, sketching powerful emotions from a flung arm or a cowering figure. (Picture book/biography. 8- 11) Read full book review >
MARIE CURIE by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: Sept. 1, 1994

By focusing on the shadows of the world in which Marie Curie lived, Fisher's (Kinderdike, 1994, etc.) striking black-and-white illustrations powerfully convey the obstacles that Curie faced even as she was being celebrated for her work on the discovery and isolation of pure radium. As the text explains with a quiet drama that pulls no punches, every step of the way Curie was denied what was rightly hers: As a child in Russian-occupied Poland, she was denied her heritage, and as a woman she was denied a slew of academic honors—including entrance into the French Academy of Science—even after she won the first of an unprecedented two Nobel Prizes. Right up to the end, Fisher refuses to condescend to his readers: After explaining her death by radium poisoning, Fisher states simply: ``Her aches and pains were no longer a mystery.'' The life of Marie Curie is riddled with so many ``firsts'' and is literally such a brilliant and explosive story that it would be difficult to create illustrations that do it justice, let alone add to it. Fisher succeeds. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 7-11) Read full book review >
Released: March 15, 1994

Determined to marry the poorest—and most handsome—of the princes vying for her hand, the princess sends them for ``the rarest thing'' each can find. The wonders they bring when they meet a year later are similar to those in ``The Princess Nouronnihar and the Three Rarities'' in The Arabian Nights: a flying carpet, a crystal ball, and a life-restoring orange. Kimmel eliminates details of the princes' quests to focus on their discovery (through the crystal ball) that the princess is deathly ill, their return to her via the carpet, her recovery after eating the orange, and her choice of her original beloved on the grounds that only he has given up his treasure to save her life (in The Arabian Nights version, the princess's uncle—who's also the princes' father—makes this judgment; Kimmel makes the princes cousins, not brothers). Both Fisher and Kimmel provide notes. The artist details using acrylics over chalk and black underpainting to create his luminous double spreads; Kimmel doesn't cite specific sources, but he does mention Egyptian, Moroccan, and Persian versions as well as the tale's inclusion in ``later editions'' of The Arabian Nights. A smooth, accessible adaptation, much enhanced by the spare, powerful art. (Folklore/Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
KINDERDIKE by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: March 1, 1994

With still another series of handsome paintings—their intense, sophisticated color contrasts glowing from austerely powerful compositions—this accomplished artist recounts a Dutch legend about the decision to rebuild a village destroyed in a spring flood after it is discovered that a kitten and a baby in its cradle have miraculously survived, perched on a dike. Unfortunately, Fisher's doggerel text is of an entirely different quality from his art: couplets like ``Here villagers fished in the summer parch/Here they skated from December to March'' or ``The village was named for the foundling tyke,/and called forever after, Kinderdike'' convey information and caption the illustrations, but that's the best that can be said for them. Still, they're brief, and the fine illustrations almost tell the story without them. (Folklore/Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
DAVID AND GOLIATH by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: April 15, 1993

In the style of Fisher's Cyclops (1991), etc.: a straightforward retelling accompanied with powerful full-bleed paintings using close-ups and low points of view that pull readers into the action. Fisher's simple, prosaic text is arguably a valid choice for accessibility, but the biblical original—in any standard translation—would do his heroic art more honor. His figures are monumental, yet subtly characterized: David strong yet complex and introspective; Saul ambivalent, a touch self-indulgent; Goliath thick-necked and brutish. His palette of intense color—apricot, sharp greens and pinks, rich blues and purples, dramatically highlighted and shadowed—is extraordinarily effective. A handsome pictorial narrative that would splendidly interpret whichever text accompanied it. (Nonfiction/Picture book. 4+) Read full book review >
IF YOU EVER MEET A WHALE by Myra Cohn Livingston
Released: Oct. 15, 1992

Seventeen poems on whales, interestingly varied in tone though somewhat uneven in quality. Beginning with Ciardi's humorous explanation of ``Why Noah Praised the Whale'' (he didn't have to feed it) and several other amusing entries, the collection moves on to mothers and babies, whale songs (Yolen's ``Sea Canary''), some Native American verse about hunting, and a somber conclusion: di Pasquale's ``Stranding,'' Tony Johnston's ``Beached,'' and Lilian Moore's ``The Whale Ghost'' (``When we've emptied/the sea of the/last great/whale...''). The five specially commissioned poems are among the weakest (the muse is never easy to command). Still, as a whole, this is an effective and thoughtful tribute, with Fisher's handsome full-bleed paintings as a noble complement to the verse: the huge, streamlined whales and the subtle contrasts between their rich, dark hues and the deep undersea blue-greens are wonderfully suited to his monumental style and elegantly simple compositions. (Poetry/Picture book. 7+) Read full book review >
Released: May 15, 1992

Fisher expands handsomely on his The Railroads (1979), adding nearly 100 period photos, prints, and maps and describing in detail the industry's growth. He begins in England with the development of steam-driven pumps; in 1829, Horatio Allen displayed his Stourbridge Lion in the US and the race was on, impelled by westward expansion and the Industrial Revolution. Fisher devotes chapters to the use and abuse of railroads in the Civil War; the CrÇdit Mobilier and other scandals; the just, but futile, Native American resistance; wrecks—the Camp Hill Disaster, the Angola Horror and, of course, Casey Jones's heroic end; robbers, tycoons, and workers (including the Harvey Girls); and the violent beginnings of organized labor. He closes with a brief discussion of technical innovations that made rail transport so fast and cheap by the century's end. Though the narrative is occasionally interrupted with lists of routes and companies that will interest only confirmed enthusiasts, the author clearly shows how and why railroads came to be pivotal in our history and society. Bibliography; index. (Nonfiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
LITTLE FROG'S SONG by Alice Schertle
Released: March 30, 1992

A familiar storyline in an especially felicitous setting. In concrete, evocative language, Schertle describes Little Frog's happiness in ``the wonderful wet world that was home,'' then his bewilderment when a sudden rain washes him away; her use of repetition as he seeks his lost home, sojourning with first a sheep and next a dog, is classic in form but fresh in expression (``The sheep, who spoke a different language, didn't understand. But...Little Frog settled down beside her. He tried to sing, but the meadow had no music for a frog. Still, he saw the same wind that whispered through the water reeds...''). The third to befriend Little Frog is a boy, who may not speak the frog's language but understands his needs enough to take him back to his home. Fisher's quietly luminous paintings are a perfect match for the text's mood of joyful tranquillity. In spare, lucid compositions and subdued yet intense colors, he sets the simple scene and provides refreshingly unconventional portraits (a doleful, angular dog; a sturdy, heavy-haired boy) and unusual pictorial effects (the frog glimpsed in the dark of the boy's pocket). Unusually pleasing—and a book that will have several uses (Patricia MacLachlan's Minna Pratt would enjoy sharing it with her friend Lucas). (Picture book. 4-10) Read full book review >
CYCLOPS by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

A well-known illustrator chooses a heroic tale that is especially well matched to his own powerful style: the story of Odysseus's terrifying encounter with Polyphemus, one of the ``ugly, mean giants who had one hideous eye in the center of their foreheads...and made thunderbolts for Zeus.'' Fisher cites several standard sources for his narrative, which simply restates the stark events in Homer's original. Seeking refuge in the Cyclops's cave, Odysseus and his men are discovered and trapped; Polyphemus devours several before the wily wanderer and his remaining men contrive to blind him and escape by hanging beneath the giant's sheep as they exit from the cave. Merely serviceable prose, but Fisher's paintings wonderfully convey the tale's strength, terror, and universality. The mariners and their ship are tiny against the roiling waves, Sicily's mammoth cliffs, and the giant's fearsome bulk, yet they are undaunted. Polyphemus is a muscle-bound immensity whose single eye glares from a curiously realistic face that's sure to lure any child fascinated by such monstrous figures. The play of the Mediterranean sky's lush blue against the giant's flesh tones, his fire's evil glow, and the black depths of his cave enriches the drama. A fine achievement. (Folklore/Picture book. 8+) Read full book review >
THE OREGON TRAIL by Leonard Everett Fisher
Released: Oct. 15, 1990

The best feature of this straightforward narrative account is its jacket: a gorgeous 1869 Bierstadt painting in red and gold tones. Within, well-selected b&w reproductions of other contemporary art and photos vividly depict the experience along the trail. Text here, however, is merely competent, outlining significant facts and providing some illuminating quotes but never quite bringing this historic migration to life. And, while Fisher comments dutifully on the Native Americans' position in their conflict with the settlers, his picture by and large is the traditional one of courageous pioneers braving the Indian terror. An attractive-looking book that promises more than it delivers. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1967

The reluctant prophet comes full circle with the aid of various percipient animals in Mrs. L'Engle's verse-drama, offering an unusual entree into biblical themes. Jonah is obdurate, even truculent, as he refuses to warn the people of Nineveh of God's intentions: "It's too far away in the first place./ In the second place I hate cities./ And in the third place...Nineveh is the enemy." But the birds will not let him be: Jay is impudent, Owl pontificates, Catbird explains: "It's not so much that he isn't willing to be his brother's keeper, as that he quite naturally feels he has a right to choose Just who his brother is." Stoned in Gath-hepher (Catbird: "A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country"), Jonah departs "from your presence. And His." In his travels, more troubles: a turbulent sea ("cast me forth"); an admonition in the belly of the whale ("You shall listen to me until you see the light of day/ And that will be when you decide to have not your way/ But God's way"): at Nineveh, the warning from Jonah and repentance by the populace but no wrath from God—Judah is incensed; And then "the voice of the turtle is heard in the land:" "It is easy to destroy one's enemy without suffering/ but to love him is the most terrible of pain." The philosophical interplay between Jonah and the animals advances with an easy, ironical wit that only occasionaly turns into farce, and the characterization of each is distinctive and vivid. This can be staged (and has been) but it makes intriguing reading also for the receptive young person. Read full book review >