Books by Stephen Alcorn

A GIFT OF DAYS by Stephen Alcorn
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Sept. 15, 2009

Beautifully designed and imaginatively conceptualized, this volume presents 366 days and 366 quotations from famous people, tagged to the days they were born. Alcorn lays this out on each double-page spread with a stunning polychrome-relief block-print bordered with pattern on one leaf and, facing, a week of birthdays and quotes. These images are often brilliantly inventive: Billie Holiday's camellia has a death's head in its center; John Lennon is figured as the King of Hearts with a Mozart overlay; Leonardo da Vinci is posed like the Mona Lisa. Some are less inspired, offering only pleasing busts with little iconic imagery. Librarians, educators and historically minded kids will take much pleasure from looking up birthdays to see the associated wisdom from women and men across the ages: LL Cool J (Jan. 14), Mercator (March 5), Mia Hamm (March 17), Golda Meir (May 3), Barack Obama (Aug. 4), Cellini (Nov. 3), Emily Dickinson (Dec. 10). While there is an index and a brief biographical listing for each, there are no citations for the quotations, which is a lamentable omission. (Reference. 8-14)Read full book review >
ADVENTURE
Released: Jan. 1, 2009

"Matt was born in 1866, just after the Civil War, at a time when poor black boys like him had few chances to roam the next county, to say nothing of another country, the seven seas, or the top of the world." Nevertheless, he went on to do all of those things, first serving on a China trader and later joining Robert E. Peary in the Arctic explorations that culminated in their reaching the North Pole. Timed to the 100th anniversary of the achievement, this brief biography hits hard on the strengths Henson brought to the partnership—his facility with the Inuit language, his ability to fix nearly anything, his rapport with the sled dogs—presenting readers with a portrait of a singularly determined yet ever-affable man. While Hopkinson's text, which is complemented by excerpts from Henson's memoir, cannot compare in poetic power to Carole Boston Weatherford's I, Matthew Henson, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (2008), its straightforward account has its own appeal. Alcorn's hand-tinted prints feature stylized swirls of waves and snow in monumental tableaux. Handsome. (author's note, timeline, resources) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)Read full book review >
AMERICA AT WAR by Lee Bennett Hopkins
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 4, 2008

Some 55 poems memorialize America's wars from the Revolutionary War through the Iraq War, touching on both bravery and sacrifice, emphasizing, according to anthologist Hopkins's introduction, "the emotional impact." Illustrator Alcorn uses iconic imagery and proportions informed by the great American muralists of the last century to deliver a quietly emotional punch. Many of the poems are reprints of well-known masters (Whitman, cummings, Teasdale), while others are newly commissioned from the ranks of today's children's poets (Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Betsy Franco, Jane Yolen). The poems vary from elegiac to angry; some are piercingly incisive, while some do not directly address war at all. This is perhaps one of the book's great weaknesses; two of the Civil War poems revolve around the Underground Railroad, not combat. Most mystifying is the placement of two Langston Hughes poems, "Youth" (World War I) and "Dreams" (Iraq War); both seem oddly out of place. Another cavil is the omission of dates of composition of the poems, a device that would help readers understand both context and historical changes in perspective. A worthy but flawed effort. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Feb. 1, 2008

The author of an adult study of the history of lynching addresses a younger audience in this stirring tribute to an African-American journalist who, more than any other single figure, is associated with bringing the despicable practice to an end. Born a slave, Wells grew up to be a dedicated reformer who took on a number of social injustices in the course of a long career. Dray retraces the biographical high spots, then closes with a photo-enhanced look at her later achievements and a capsule history of lynching. Adding strong notes of reverence to the narrative, Alcorn's big cubist paintings center on Wells, who is often seen floating gracefully, surrounded by people with downcast eyes and tilted heads, fluttering pages of print and scales or other symbols. Capped by a well-chosen list of additional resources at several levels, this handsomely packaged introduction to one of the most important progenitors of the Civil Rights Movement is just the ticket for young readers not yet ready to tackle the Fradins' definitive profile. (Picture book/biography. 7-9)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Jan. 1, 2005

The latest offering from distinguished poet and anthologist Hopkins celebrates each day of the year in a glorious mélange of facts, quotes, and poetry from the best poets, new and old. Every month receives a double-paged calendar spread, with a fact box describing the month's flower, birthstone, zodiac sign, and the origin of its name, and each date on the calendar shows important inventions, birth dates of poets, artists, and influential people, historical happenings and a most unusual weather fact. Hopkins includes six to eight pages of poems that relate in some way to each month, along with facts about those whose birthdays are featured. The poems for February, for instance, include works by Langston Hughes, Mother Goose, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Joyce Carol Thomas, and topics include groundhogs, the weather, rainy days, and Marian Anderson. Alcorn's watercolor-and-ink illustrations are bright and whimsical, based on the style found in old almanacs. There is much to share in this splendid volume—a must-have for every collection. (Poetry/nonfiction. 7-12)Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Oct. 1, 2003

Krull takes her remarkable gift for witty, brief, and incisive biography to new heights in this compendium. Most of the artists get a single page (the Beatles get more) facing one of Alcorn's fabulous polychrome relief-block prints. Her choices are sound: Elvis to Kurt Cobain, and a host of people who only need one name: Dylan, Jimi, Janis, Joni, Santana, Bono, Bruce. She captures the essence of their music in ways that will send young readers to their parents' or grandparents' music collections (a fine list of sources includes a book, a Web site, and a CD for each artist). Alcorn's dramatic images use the texture inherent in his medium to make beautiful contrasts of patterns, and color creates almost psychedelic light-and-dark effects. He uses iconic imagery brilliantly: showing Bono with a sword and a halo; Cobain as a broken mirror. Readers will be sobered to see just how many of the dead rock stars died because of drug use, but Krull never equates their creativity with their excesses. (Biography. 9+)Read full book review >
POETRY
Released: April 1, 2003

A powerful selection of 25 poems by American women ranges from Anne Bradstreet to Naomi Shihab Nye. One of the strengths of this collection is its time line, from 1678 to this very year; another is the energy that flows from the choice of poems; a third is that even the oldest of these still rings sharp and true. Young readers of any age and gender will be taken by Bradstreet's "The Author to Her Book," which begins "Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain" and goes off from there, likening her publication to a recalcitrant child. Seeing all the verses of Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" set as poetry enables one to read it freshly; and all the verses that come after "Over the river, and through the wood" are quite charming in a delicious old-fashioned way. Sylvia Plath as a young mother, Lucille Clifton's love song to her hips, and Nikki Giovanni's giggling girls segue into Adrienne Rich's paean to dream-bears (ideas? nightmares? uncloseted desires?) is the verso of Julia Alvarez's lying awake, thinking of writing, to "the lonesome sound / of their sweet breathing as my sisters slept." Alcorn's bright, occasionally surreal casein paintings clearly use the poems as jumping-off places, sometimes they go to a slightly different place than the poetry does. There's a long introduction by the editor and half-page biographies of each poet. (author, illustrator notes) (Poetry. 10+)Read full book review >
BROKEN FEATHER by Verla Kay
CHILDREN'S
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

Although a beautiful combination of history and poetry, Kay's (Tattered Sails, 2001, etc.) tale of displaced Native Americans will be difficult, for the traditional picture book audience to comprehend without knowledge of the Nez Percé Native tribe's history. Flat, stylized illustrations, beautiful as they are, do little to bring the story into the realm of the young reader. Those familiar with the plight of the Nez Percé will find the clipped, rhyming text to be a poetic capsule of the historical plight of a people driven from their land and forced onto a reservation after defeated efforts to defend their homeland. Each word is filled with meaning and glistens in the context of the overall depiction of the era. ("Gold sun rising, / Horned lark sings. / Eagle soaring, / Spreading wings. / Bushes rustle, / Horses snort. / White men riding, / Far from fort.") Relief block prints surround the words with strong clean lines and restrained color. The prints are technically sophisticated and display superb craftsmanship. The art will attract many, but the major appeal will be for those with a firm grasp of the history of the Nez Percé. (author and illustrator notes) (Picture book/poetry. 6-10)Read full book review >
HOME TO ME by Lee Bennett Hopkins
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2002

Hopkins and Alcorn (Hoofbeats, Claws, and Rippled Fins, p. 46, etc.) repeat their successful collaboration with a new themed collection. Fifteen poets were commissioned to write about the special places in America that are dear to their hearts. The poets seem to have been selected by the diversity of their geographical locations. Perhaps it was originally intended as a kind of journey through America; what has emerged is a rather powerful sense of Americans who not only love their country, but their particular corner of it. The poets describe the beauty of a beloved place, or the life-affecting significance of that place. Many indicate a sense of spiritual ownership with the repeated use of possessive pronouns. Joan Bransfield Graham writes, "What do I like best about the sea? The fact that it belongs to ME!" Similarly Patricia Hubbell writes, "On my island far at sea, this island-home to me." Other poets feel the deep roots of home as a connection to the past and a sense of belonging. Joseph Bruchac understands that "hidden roots still give you strength." While roaming along mountain trails Fran Haraway knows "if briefly, where I am and where I plan on going." These are the farms, islands, small towns, deserts, mountains, prairies, and cities, each place unnamed, a place of the heart rather than a particular dot on a map. Each poem is given a two-page spread with a banner title. Alcorn's softly colored, stylized illustrations interpret the text in imagery that is both literal and figurative. The wind blows on the prairie, mermaids swirl in the waves, a loon splashes in the lake, a farmer milks a cow, and a child waves to neighbors. The endpapers are decorated with samples of the places encountered in the poems. Hopkins provides a thoughtful introduction, and an afterword that introduces each poet and where they live. A lovely work. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
HOOFBEATS, CLAWS & RIPPLED FINS by Lee Bennett Hopkins
CHILDREN'S
Released: March 1, 2002

Hopkins, the preeminent and prolific anthologist of children's poetry, teams up again with Alcorn for their second thematic collection (My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, 2000). This time, the collection focuses on 14 different animals, from the common, domestic variety to the more unusual. Several renowned poets are included (Lillian M. Fisher, Karla Kuskin, and Hopkins himself) as well as more contemporary poets (Ralph Fletcher and Janet S. Wong) and well-known authors who also write in other genres (Joseph Bruchac and Tony Johnston). The 14 poems are presented on jazzy, colored backgrounds with creative typographic treatments, including larger type for key words and several concrete poems (a fish poem with waves of words, an iguana's two-sentence tale curled into the shape of its tail). Alcorn's sophisticated relief block prints may not appeal to children at first glance, and the rather static cover design is not as dynamic as the art and poems inside. However, teachers will appreciate this fine work for its wide variety of poetic formats and the thought-provoking nature of the poems themselves, and with a helpful introduction by an adult, both art and poetry will find success with kids. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Hopkins (Lives: Poems About Famous Americans, 1999, etc.) is one of the foremost anthologists of children's poetry, with thematic collections on an amazing variety of topics, including school-related subjects such as math, science, American history, even school supplies and books themselves. This collection of 50 poems reflects the diversity of the US in several ways: in geography, weather, and history, in people, and in many different types of monuments, buildings, and homes, from the landmarks of Washington, D.C., to the cornfields of the Midwest. Hopkins has done a remarkable job of covering so much territory with only 50 poems, 20 of them commissioned for this collection. Many poems are by well-respected authors such as Carl Sandburg, Gary Snyder, and Myra Cohn Livingston, and writers of color are represented, including Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, and Shonto Begay. Alcorn's stylized paintings complement each poem with a palette of textured jewel tones. The poems are organized in eight divisions based on geography, with a map of the area and a quick summary of basic facts for each state preceding the poems in every section. Indexes of authors, titles, and first lines are also included. Most students study the 50 states in the upper elementary grades (with many teachers integrating poetry across the curriculum), so this volume will be a logical and welcome choice for larger school and public library collections. (Poetry. 8-12)Read full book review >
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

This exciting collective biography features ten important women in the historic struggle to win freedom and civil rights. Pinkney (Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, 1998, etc.) tells the well-known stories of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks. Other women such as Biddy Mason and Dorothy Irene Height are in the history books but are less familiar. They span the 18th and 19th centuries, from Sojourner Truth, born into slavery circa 1797, to Shirley Chisholm, born in 1924 and living today. Each story contains essential demographic and biographical information written in an accessible, informal style, which provides a vivid picture of the women's lives, their personalities, backgrounds, and the actions that made them memorable. Many of the women also had to fight against prejudice toward women in addition to their causes. Some did not live to see the results of their struggle, but successful or not, all were courageous leaders who paved the way for a more democratic and inclusive America. The introduction gives the reader a glimpse into Pinkney's own life and her rationale for the selection of biographies. A bibliography for further reading lists what are probably her research sources, but are not identified as such and quotations within the chapters are not footnoted in any way. Another quibble is a small mistake in the biography of Dorothy Irene Height as to the two degrees she received in four years. Both were in educational psychology, but Pinkney lists the bachelor's as in social work. However, these flaws do not compromise the value of the book. Alcorn's (Langston Hughes, not reviewed, etc.) paintings, oil on canvas, are as magnificent as his figures and add much to this handsome volume. Vibrant colors, rhythmic lines, and collage-like compositions are allegorical in design and convey the essence of each woman and her work. A truly inspiring collection for personal as well as institutional libraries. (Biography. 8-12)Read full book review >
POETRY
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

A splendid, rattling good collection of African-American poetry. Represented are 25 poets (and 35 poems), some of whom are household names—W.E.B. Du Bois, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, Amiri Baraka, and Langston Hughes. There are examples of the influential Harlem Renaissance poets—Angelina Weld GrimkÇ, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, for example—and the first known poem composed by an African-American, Lucy Terry's "Bars Fight." The brimming anger of James M. Whitfield comes through, along with the injustice of lines that had to be transcribed by others because African- Americans were denied by law the right to put poetry to paper. Clinton includes short biographical sketches and critical snippets on every poet, and these only further the impact of the tragic, warm, sad, and ferocious voices of great presence that survived beyond all odds. Acorn's elegant illustrations have an expressiveness that honors the words. (Poetry. 10+) Read full book review >
LINCOLN by Milton Meltzer
BIOGRAPHY
Released: Sept. 1, 1993

Describing Lincoln as "one of the greatest masters of the English language," Meltzer lets him speak eloquently for himself, skillfully selecting passages from Lincoln's speeches, letters, and other writings to characterize the man, follow the development of his ideas, and exemplify his achievements. Roughly half the words here are Lincoln's, with Meltzer's commentary setting them in context with enough specific events, telling details, and lucid interpretation to make this a fine biography, as well as a compilation of beautifully balanced prose substantiating Meltzer's assessment of Lincoln as a "great mind and...noble spirit"—a political realist whose determination to save the Union was always informed by his compassion for the slaves. Included are 14 "Brief Profiles of Lincoln's Contemporaries," significant figures from Jefferson to Grant- -writers, abolitionists, politicians; their portraits are among the many striking full-page linocuts adorning this handsome volume. Alcorn's art is a mixed success: some of his fanciful depictions of the era are clumsy or obscure, but, overall, they're moving and sometimes decorative. His portraits, too, are not equally effective, but at their best they are powerful and telling. An excellent illustrator's note elucidates Alcorn's philosophy and aims; a lengthy chronology samples contemporaneous political and social history; there's also a fine note on sources; index. A splendid book, for every library. (Nonfiction. 12+) Read full book review >
REMBRANDT'S BERET by Johnny Alcorn
CHILDREN'S
Released: May 22, 1991

Tiberius, a Florentine painter, tells his granddaughter the story of the remarkable portrait that has a place of honor in his studio: As a boy, he once spent siesta time accidentally locked in the Uffizi. Wandering into the legendary Hall of the Old Masters, he was fascinated by the portraits: Titian, Caravaggio, Picasso, and many more. Coming to life and climbing from their frames, the artists joked about each other's styles before deciding that Rembrandt should paint Tiberius: Portrait of the Artist as a Very, Very Young Man—wearing Rembrandt's own beret. Variants on the theme of paintings coming to life are now familiar; this one is smoothly told, unobtrusively including a few hints of the painters' characters. Most outstanding are the illustrations: vibrant oils painted with broad, free strokes in the rich tones of the old masters, highlighted with the livelier impressionist palette and with amusing references to well-known works. A fine collaboration from these two brothers. (Picture book. 5-9) Read full book review >