Books by Robert Florczak

HORSES OF MYTH by Gerald Hausman
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2005

Husband-and-wife storytellers team up to present five short stories of mythical horses from storytelling traditions around the world: An Arabian horse tale from the 14th century; the story of Snail, a mustang race horse from the American west; Humpy, a magical Mongolian pony; Timor, Paul Gauguin's ghost horse; and Kourkig, an Armenian Karabair. The stories are well researched, with notes on their sources, but not well told. The authors' inconsistent efforts to match the voice of each story with its origin results in sentences that sound like bad parodies: "Okey-dokey, Doc, you hold Snail's halter, but you better let go kind of quicklike when I git to that big fallen tree over yonder"—and all of the stories are too long. They seem to be primarily stories of people who rode horses, rather than stories about the horses themselves; the horses stay on the outside, not the center. Uneven, but passable. (Fiction. 9-12)Read full book review >
A COWBOY CHRISTMAS by Audrey Wood
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

This longer Christmas story is set in the old West on the small ranch of a widow named Della and her son, Evan. On Christmas Eve, they are waiting for the annual arrival of their storytelling cowboy friend, Cully, who collapses from illness and falls from his horse into the snow on a ridge overlooking the ranch. A bright shooting star leads Evan and his mother to Cully, who is successfully rescued and nursed back to health. Walking with Evan's ma and some quality time with the family make it clear that the cowboy has changed and sure enough, he decides to quit the trail. It's Evan who talks him out of moving to Mexico and points the way to marrying his ma and staying right there. While the plot is melodramatic and somewhat predictable, Woods tells the tale with a sure hand, just as Cully recounts his cowboy adventures to Della and Evan in front of the fireplace. Florczak's (The Magic Fishbone, not reviewed, etc.) sumptuous full-page paintings add greatly to the overall effect, with varying perspectives and clever use of shadows. (One memorable illustration shows three shocked cowboys interrupted at their dinner of beans and coffee with the looming shadow of a bear falling across the page.) This super-sized volume has a thoughtful design with the text printed on ivory paper with a narrow rust border, adding an old-fashioned touch to a story that will be popular wherever young cowboys hang their hats. (Picture book. 5-10)Read full book review >
BIRDSONG by Audrey Wood
ANIMALS
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

Wood (The Bunyans, 1996, etc.) covers 14 birds from North America in their natural habitat in this sumptuously illustrated, visually busy picture book. The few lines of text for each bird sketch out the habitat in human terms, and include the common call for the bird shown, e.g., ``Nearby there's a little park nestled among the skyscrapers. While Jordan and Elly play, gentle pigeons splash and make their cooing calls—coo-a-roo, coo-a-roo, coo-a-roo.'' The spreads offer panoramic views of habitats, portraits of the birds, and stylized borders of state flowers characteristic of the habitats. The juxtaposition of these borders and extremely realistic paintings of the birds can be startling, but appealing. (Picture book. 3-7) Read full book review >
ROUGH SKETCH BEGINNING by James Berry
MUSIC AND THE ARTS
Released: April 1, 1996

In a work that attempts to capture the creative process of seeing and drawing, sparse, poetic descriptions of the natural world by Berry (Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird, 1995, etc.) combine with crisp, labeled landscape studies, sketches, and paintings by Florczak (illustrator of Audrey Wood's The Rainbow Bridge, 1995). The link between text and illustration, always critical in a picture book but particularly crucial in this one, is established from the outset: ``I saw the sun/a bearded saint in bliss/curled in a face of fire'' is accompanied by three different views of clouds that extend the metaphor not literally—there are no saints or faces—but abstractly, only hinting at curly, fiery, beard-like shapes. Thus Florczak adds to the text by interpreting it with a poetry of his own. What becomes clear to readers is that the ability to look at the surrounding world and reproduce it, not just as it is but with interpretive license (in words or paint) and understanding, separates the artists from the replicators and recorders. Not all of the scenes illuminate the words so well: A creek is too placid for the line ``a silver road selfmade/ignoring boundaries,'' and despite an artist's note explaining a cumulative, four-page painting that incorporates the sketched elements into an idealized whole, it still works against the more humble pages that have preceded it. Those pages imply a trust, nudging readers to glean their own dramatic insights into the ways of the poets and artists. (Picture book. 7+) Read full book review >
THE RAINBOW BRIDGE by Audrey Wood
ANIMALS
Released: Oct. 1, 1995

In appropriately poeticized language, Wood (The Tickleoctopus, 1994, etc.) relates some of the captivating legends of the Chumash Indians—how they were created on the island of Limuw, 40 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, by Hutash, the earth goddess; how they got fire; and how, having grown too numerous and noisy, some were transplanted onto the mainland over a rainbow bridge. Those who fell while crossing the bridge became dolphins. Florczak displays his virtuosity in the oil illustrations; the closest analogy to his technique would be found in the Pre-Raphaelites. The grandeur of the compositions—the goddess in majestic poses, with her drapery flying about her, the play of light on water and in the sky, the scenes of innocence and beauty in this newly formed world— contributes to an impressive piece of work. (Picture book. 5-10) Read full book review >