Books by Robert Andrew Parker

MR. WELLINGTON by David Rabe
Released: April 1, 2009

Children's literature abounds with both happy and sad stories about children and their pets. Occasionally, the pet is a wild animal that can't and won't be kept; think of the classic The Yearling. It is this vein that the acclaimed playwright Rabe, noted for his Vietnam-era dramas, mines in a slim novella that reads as though it were based on an actual incident. A young squirrel is separated from his family in the woods. Jonathan, a middle schooler bicycling home from soccer practice, picks him up in his sneaker and tries to keep him. The story unfolds from the perspective of each, but the squirrel's narrative never crosses into anthropomorphism: He is frightened and lonely and reacts very strongly to the strange and threatening smells of his new environment. Realizing that neither he nor his older brother who is home from college has all the answers, Jonathan turns to the Internet and contacts a woman who specializes in wildlife rescues. Taken as a whole, the tale is an object lesson presented with all the correct answers in an engaging narrative. Parker's final interior art not seen. (Fiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 8, 2008

Renowned illustrator Parker supplies both an affecting text and luminescent watercolors in homage to the virtuosic Tatum. Blending information and imagination, the plainspoken, first-person-present text examines the jazz pianist's childhood and musical development, progressing from school and church functions to Toledo bars, the club circuit and New York. Parker's phrases perfectly correlate with his subject: Early details merit short simple declaratives ("This is my father. He's a mechanic."), while Tatum's near-blindness obviates evocations of sounds and smells rather than sights: "I love our church—the way it smells like soap, furniture polish, and flowers; the way footstep sounds echo off the walls." Ink-lined watercolors revel in as resplendent an interplay of hue and tone as Tatum's improvisations. Sunny childhood scenes (a charming spot depicts toddler Arthur, playing the family piano on tiptoe) yield to clubs' sultry blue light. Gorgeous abstract washes dial Tatum's legendary extemporizations. Fusing Parker's artistic talent and passion for jazz (he's a musician, too), this sensitively embellished biography is totally on time. (author's and biographical notes, bibliography of adult sources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)Read full book review >
Released: April 24, 2006

Embroidered details and the passage of time don't make this episode from the author's family history any less topical. Looking back to childhood years, Borden recalls next door neighbor Ted Walker, a young Navy man who served aboard a cruiser at the war's beginning, then moved to a submarine, and never came back. In sensitive prose arranged as free verse, she recounts time spent with him during his rare visits, of writing weekly letters and thinking of him, and how just the awareness that someone she knew was out there in harm's way brought the distant war so much closer to her familiar daily world. Parker illustrates with sketchy, subdued scenes that move from schoolrooms and summer porches to tense imagined encounters between enemy ships, then closes in the wake of the sad telegram's arrival—and later news of the war's end—with a view of the narrator ruminating, "about the next-door neighbors / on both sides of the war / who hadn't come home. / So many many neighbors." Other than the importance of keeping and passing on family stories, there's no overt message in this understated account—which makes it more likely to leave readers moved and thoughtful. (afterword) (Picture book. 7-9)Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 2006

In Florida, 1942, a most unusual collaboration took place. George Balanchine, the great expatriate Russian choreographer, created a dance for John Ringling North's circus elephants to music by his good friend, the great expatriate Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. Schubert's understated but informative text contrasts delightfully with the grand goings-on as elephants rehearse for weeks in lovely pink tutus. With Modoc, an Indian elephant performing a pas de deux with Vera Zorina, a popular ballet and Broadway star, the staging was a dazzling success. Parker's watercolor designs swirl about, capturing the procession of elephants, the skyline of St. Petersburg and the exuberance of four-legged creatures looking even more elegant than the ballerinas. An afterword and photographs provide additional information and confirm that the ballet, occasionally performed today with ballet students, actually took place. A charming tale to share with young fans of the circus and ballet. (bibliography, web sites, extensive author note) (Picture book. 4-7)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 12, 2005

Any account of this Scottish navigator's adventurous career would make absorbing reading; Kraske adds unusual dimension by enlarging on the historical record with credible insights into his character as well. Sent off alone, with minimal supplies, to an uninhabited island far from the Chilean coast after a clash with his ship's captain, Selkirk learned survival skills through trial and error as he slowly adapted to the total lack of human company. Rescued more than four years later, he went on to become a successful privateer, and even a celebrity. However, too changed by his long isolation to fit back into human society, he ultimately enlisted in the Royal Navy, and died at 41 of a tropical disease. Kraske concludes with sketches of Daniel Defoe's tumultuous life and the genesis of Robinson Crusoe, plus a visit to Selkirk's island today and a research note. Enhanced by a map and by Parker's offhand, full-page portraits at the chapter heads, it all makes a grand, poignant tale. (bibliography) (Biography. 10-12)Read full book review >
ORVILLE by Haven Kimmel
Released: Sept. 22, 2003

Orville is a huge, unattractive stray dog who is taken in by an older couple on a farm in this overly long, depressing tale, a first children's story from memoirist Kimmel. The dog has been abused in his former life, and now he's chained to the barn and becomes an angry, chronic barker. The text describes the dog's thoughts and his perspective on the farm couple, with philosophical musings about his own hopeless life at the end of a chain. Orville "falls in love" with a pretty young neighbor from afar and then repeatedly breaks his chain and enters her house. The enigmatic conclusion hints that each character has broken free of some sort of chain to connect with others, a theme that will fly right by most children. Parker's sophisticated watercolors add some interest to the effort, but this misguided attempt is too long and too esoteric for the intended audience, another illustrated short story with adult sensibilities. (Picture book. 6-9)Read full book review >
TO FLY by Wendie Old
Released: Sept. 23, 2002

Old (Wright Brothers: Inventors of the Airplane, 2000) aims for a (somewhat) younger audience with this fresh account of the brothers' early years and their methodical quest. An oversized format offers enough space to make almost all of 15 chapters only one page long and she's chosen just the right amount of information for each plus an epilogue. With careful documentation of the instances that include speech, this reads comfortably like a story, but is clearly nonfiction. Parker, whose art is so essential to the depiction of Jackson Pollock in Action Jackson (p. 1223) here uses his loosely drawn watercolors to add more atmosphere than information. Still readers will come away with not only a clearer picture of the false starts and systematic experimentation that led to the flight at Kitty Hawk as well as some basic understanding about aerodynamics, but how Wilbur and Orville combined complementary skills and temperaments to make such a brilliant team. (timeline, bibliography, index) (Biography. 7-9)Read full book review >
ACTION JACKSON by Jan Greenberg
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

Art history specialists Greenberg and Jordan (Boston Globe/Horn Book-winning Chuck Close, Up Close, 1998; Sibert Honor-winning Vincent Van Gogh: Portrait of An Artist, 2001) have again pushed the nonfiction envelope with this astonishing biography cum evocation of action painter and abstract expressionist icon Jackson Pollock. Dubbed "Action Jackson"—or sometimes even "Jack the Dripper"—by critics and admirers alike, Pollock is an acknowledged reference point for all late-20th-century painters. His influence has captivated the likes of illustrators Norman Rockwell and Ian Falconer and even actor-directors like Ed Harris. How to parse a painter like Pollock? In a stroke of expository genius, they focus on a semi-imagined account of an intense period in Pollock's life—May through June 1950. The brief frenzy of work that produced the transcendent and transformational painting "Number 1, 1950" known as "Lavender Mist." Greenberg and Johnson make strategic use of contemporaneous accounts and press sources including Hans Namuth's photos and documentary film. The book's back matter includes the terrifically interesting and surprisingly complete two pages of notes and sources. A perfect little biographical essay offers all the needed details including this poignant passage, a discreet but unsparing observation that: "Jackson struggled with alcoholism and depression for most of his adult life. When he was sober, he painted well, but when he was drinking he felt discouraged and temperamental." In tandem with this, it is hard to convey the equally astonishing strength of Parker's illustrations. A widely exhibited watercolorist of considerable renown (winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Cold Feet, 2000), Parker shows us both the mood and sensibility of the painter while he demonstrates the how of Pollock's technique. His semi-realistic and pleasingly spiky India Ink drawings are heightened with expansive gloriously transparent watercolor washes in palette that often subtly reflect the colors and values of Pollock's "Lavender Mist." Parker evokes Pollock's painting with his own painter's hand. He masterfully conveys painting as an active dance of form and color. This stunning collaboration is both a tour de force and an uncommon pleasure. (Picture book/biography. 6+)Read full book review >
STOWAWAY by Karen Hesse
Released: Nov. 1, 2000

Presented in diary format, this is the story of 11-year-old Nicholas Young's 1768 voyage as a stowaway on Captain Cook's ship Endeavor. Hesse uses the few facts known about Nick, as well as the actual journals of Cook and naturalist Joseph Banks, as sources for her account of their three-year voyage to explore and chart the South Pacific. Nick has run away from the casual cruelty of a father who is disappointed in his son's lack of scholarship and has been apprenticed to "the Butcher" to toughen him up. Throughout, he is haunted by the nightmarish Butcher, whose memory is evoked by the brutish Midshipman Bootie. In the course of the voyage, Nick is made a Surgeon's assistant and gains the crew's acceptance. He grows into a skilled young man who recognizes his strengths and is prepared to hold his head up and make amends to the people he has disappointed. Renowned for her spare, poetic style (Out of the Dust, 1997, Newbery Medal), Hesse is just as successful telling a story rich in detail that is reflective in style and content of an 18th-century journal. Here the beauty of her language is at the service of such phenomena as a show of porpoises and the almost-human scream of the Endeavor as it is impaled on a coral reef. So adept is the pacing that, like a sea voyage, sometimes Nick's journal entries are as prosaic as days at sea and sometimes entries become almost staccato as the action drives the reader forward. Ink-and-wash drawings by Robert Andrew Parker are appropriate to the classic genre of sea adventure. In a lucid, readable style, free of excessive nautical jargon, Hesse simultaneously takes readers along on one of history's greatest enterprises, and introduces them to one of history's most prodigious natural leaders. (Historical fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
COLD FEET by Cynthia DeFelice
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Another hilariously macabre folktale from the creators of Dancing Skeleton (1989). Stumbling over a thoroughly frozen corpse in the woods, down-at-heels bagpiper Willie McPhee tries to pull off its boots, only to have both feet break off inside. When a surly farmer grudgingly allows him to sleep in the barn sometime later, Willie tucks the boots under a cow to thaw, leaves the feet and his old ragged shoes near the cow's mouth for the farmer to find, and hides. Parker's poker-faced, loosely drawn and brushed watercolors capture Willie's misery as he trudges through wintry landscapes, huddles down in the sparsely furnished barn to find what comfort he can, then gravely sets up his gruesome trick. Wait, there's more. Thinking that the cow has eaten the piper, the farmer buries the feet, and then flees in panic when he sees Willie standing on the spot piping a tune. Willie happily moves into the farmhouse, only to open the door that night to a grim looking stranger lacking boots . . . and feet. There the tale ends, but be warned: shivering delightedly, entranced readers or listeners will positively demand to know what happens next, so have some version of "Tailypo" ready as a follow-up. (Picture book/folktale. 7-9)Read full book review >
JUST JUICE by Karen Hesse
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

Down-to-earth, resourceful heroine Justus "Juice" Faulstich doesn't like going to school. She'd rather spend the day with her out-of-work father, or helping her mother, who's expecting her sixth child. Even though she's only nine, Juice believes she is more useful at home; secretly, she's afraid that someone will find out that she can hardly read. When Pa receives a letter explaining that they may lose their house because of past-due taxes, and Juice's older sister has to read it, Juice realizes that she's not the only one in the family with a secret. The struggling Faulstich family's strength and the atmospheric details of rural life lend the story a timeless, sturdy quality. This poignant story of love and endurance has a lot to say; fittingly, it never shouts. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 7-12) Read full book review >
THE HATMAKER'S SIGN by Candace Fleming
Released: March 1, 1998

Thomas Jefferson was feeling stung. The Continental Congress was demanding that he rewrite sections of his Declaration of Independence. Replace this, cut that, the delegates urged. Smoldering, Jefferson took a seat: ``I thought my words were perfect just the way they were,'' he muttered. Hoping to soothe his friend, Ben Franklin quietly told him the parable of the hatmaker, who had designed a sign for his shop: ``John Thompson, Hatmaker, Fashionable Hats Sold Inside for Ready Money.'' After his wife, Hannah, suggests one phrase be deleted, Thompson shows his revised design to others, each of whom has another cut to suggest. Thompson appears at the signmaker's shop with a blank piece of paper. Puzzled, the signmaker suggests: ``John Thompson, Hatmaker, Fashionable Hats Sold Inside for Ready Money.'' ``So you see, Tom,'' concluded Ben. ``No matter what you write, or how well you write it, if the public is going to read it, you can be sure they will want to change it.'' Grander than the story itself is its basis in real events, and Fleming (Gabriella's Song, 1997, etc.) fleshes out the particulars in an excellent author's note. Adding considerably to the charm of the book are Parker's ink-and-watercolor illustrations, with a sketched, fleeting quality that seems to summon the events from history and renders them with immediacy. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1994

A not-so-wily trickster is outfoxed by an apparently vulnerable innocent. Aunt Skilly and her goose, Buckle, are on the stoop of her lonely cabin when a stranger stops to ask for water and admire the quilts airing on her clothesline—quilts Aunt Skilly plans to sell for ``enough to keep me and Buckle through the winter.'' The old woman invites the man in for a plain but generous supper, during which he sees her laying the quilts on a chest and notes that she doesn't keep a dog and has no lock. That night, Aunt Skilly wakes to see an intruder going off with a bundle from the top of the chest, Buckley ``hissing and nipping at his heels.'' Next day, observing that ``That stranger was one part muscle and nine parts fool,'' she hears a peddler's tale of a heap of corn shucks and an empty gunnysack on the trail, meanwhile taking her quilts from inside the chest to sell to him. In his usual freely impressionistic style, Parker's seemingly casual pen lines and splashed-on watercolors evoke the mountain landscape and delineate characters with consummate skill. Lively, satisfying tale; handsome book. (Picture book. 5- 10) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1994

The poetically told story of Kael, a timber wolf captured and trained for the circus by a strong but gentle man who eventually allows his magnificent charge to return to the wild. In his first children's book, Bushnell uses the unnamed trainer's monologues to express a sense of the beauty and power of wild creatures and the awed excitement that stirs humans who watch them; he also evokes a singular feeling for the spotlit circus ring as ``a kind of charmed place'' surrounded by ``people who laugh and become afraid.'' The author skirts anthropomorphism in narrating from Kael's point of view, but—despite its romanticism—the story is deeply felt and genuinely dramatic. In an interesting endnote, he disavows any knowledge of actual performing wolves. As always, Parker is less concerned with verisimilitude than with essence; his illustrations are spare marvels of composition, line, and color, a perfect distillation of the text. (Picture book. 8+) Read full book review >
FULL WORM MOON by Margo Lemieux
Released: April 1, 1994

Before the arrival of Europeans, an Algonquian family keeps a chilly vigil on a March night, hoping to see the first earthworms emerge from the thawing earth and dance in the moonlight (as legend has it) to the music of unseen drums. The Full Worm Moon signals spring's arrival and the time to begin preparing the soil for planting. Though it isn't clear whether the legend of the dancing worms recounted here is authentic, it would be interesting to group this with other seasonal myths and lore. Parker's atmospheric watercolors capture the play of firelight and shadow within a smoky wigwam, the progression from sunset to dusk to dark, and the sharp shadows and phosphorescent outlines of objects seen in brilliant moonlight, like wraiths of mist rising through frosty air. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >
Released: March 1, 1994

Subtitling her re-creation ``An Account of the Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 by a Bear Who Was a Witness,'' the Tennessee poet (Stories I Ain't Told Nobody Yet, 1989) and picture book author (You Hold Me and I'll Hold You, 1992) evokes the three massive quakes as experienced by a bear at their epicenter in New Madrid, Missouri. Her narrator behaves like a bear and refers matter-of-factly to the earth as ``Mother,'' yet is an intelligent observer and has a poet's sensitivity to language- -and, withall, his voice is so consistently imagined and so richly entertaining that the reader gladly accepts it. ``The shakings began as if Mother was rising from her sleep. She sleeps in the winter like I do. Something itched her. I was pushed from my fold in her skin.'' Later, ``Horses, cows, and other fools who want leading froze in their tracks and drowned. I swam.'' Gleaning curious facts (e.g., ``a stag whose antlers were filled with crows'') from her research, Carson sets them among more serious observations (what people of different races imagined God meant by the quakes) and the bear's sensations, which not only offer vivid close-ups of the historical cataclysm but have a pungently idiosyncratic humor. Parker's hand-colored aquatints are a splendid complement, subtly recalling old prints while conveying the earth's awesome power and the animals' unquestioning fortitude in dark, misty tones and compositions of singular beauty. A unique and extraordinary accomplishment by all concerned. Note about earthquakes. (Picture book. 5+) Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 30, 1993

An unusually thoughtful account of the events celebrated during Chanukah, touching gently on the ethics of violence in the struggle against injustice, the nature of miracles, and why we celebrate holidays. Interfaith friendship and sharing are modeled in a framing story in which the young narrator and his mother tell the Chanukah story to the son's Gentile friend, their guest on the first night. ``Your Chanukah candles and our Christmas lights will shine across the street at each other,'' says the visitor. Kuskin's prose (as in Jerusalem, Shining Still, 1987) has a spare dignity well suited for telling of ancient and sacred things. Parker's command of his medium—delicately sketched lines and subtly glowing watercolors—is total; he suggests the tumult of battle, the warmth of a family dinner table, and the timeless radiance of the menorah with equal facility. (Picture book. 5-8) Read full book review >
THE YEAR OF NO MORE CORN by Helen Ketteman
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

When Beanie complains that ``Dad says I'm too young to help'' plant corn, Grampa allows that ``that's funny, because he said I'm too old''—and wisely seizes the opportunity to describe the spring of 1928, when his successive plantings were destroyed by a string of disasters rivaling the plagues of Egypt: floods, wind, crows, a sun so hot the hens laid hard-boiled eggs and the corn popped. With the seed corn exhausted, Grampa says, he whittled a wooden ear (like the one he's making now), planted the kernels, and grew an extraordinary, never-to-be-duplicated crop of corn-laden trees. Ketteman's wry, folksy telling of her original tale is colorful and well paced. Parker's elegantly scribbled pen drawings are drenched in the sunny colors of the Midwest; the tender scenes of the boy and the old man together are especially lovely. A lively, likable tall tale. (Picture book. 4-8) Read full book review >
Released: March 16, 1993

From a distinguished editor and translator of Native American lore (most recently, Lightning Inside You, 1992), a simple but dramatically retold creation myth. Pushed by her jealous husband, a sky woman falls from the heavens to the watery void below, where she creates the earth, sun, and stars. When her two children, Sapling and Flint, are born, they create, respectively, the world's gentle and fearsome things, then rise into the heavens trailing the bifurcated Milky Way, ``showing that there are two minds in the universe''—benevolent and harsh. Parker's gouache paintings employ a remarkable range of tones from watery pastels to deep, intense shades; his frontispiece, a closeup of the flowering tree that illuminates the heavens, is dazzling. Most satisfying to look at, to read aloud, or to hear. (Folklore/Picture book. 5+) Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1993

Goldin (Just Enough Is Plenty, 1988) adapts another story about the prophet Elijah visiting a needy, but still charitable, family and providing their Passover feast. The subtly expressive pen-and-watercolor illustration style, with its large-eyed, solemn- faced figures, is unmistakably Parker's (DeFelice's The Dancing Skeleton, 1989; Preston's Popcorn and Ma Goodness, Caldecott Honor, 1967, o.p.). His palette here is particularly lovely—russet, purple, brown, gray-blue. A fine addition to any collection of traditional Jewish tales, with a final note about Passover, Elijah, and Peretz. (Folklore/Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >