Chris Raschka Visits Monte Cassino

Chris Raschka is the author of many children's books, including "A Ball for Daisy" and "Yo! Yes?"

Award-winning children’s book author and illustrator Chris Raschka always enjoyed creating art, but never considered it something that he could do as his life’s work. Today, however, Raschka is a two-time Caldecott Medal Winner (“The Hello, Goodbye Window” and “A Ball for Daisy”) and the author/illustrator of over 30 children’s books. His book “Yo! Yes?” was a 1994 Caldecott Honor Book.

Raschka was in Tulsa last month talking with Monte Cassino preschool and elementary school students about his life and work.

Raschka’s route to becoming a renowned children’s book author and illustrator was anything but linear. A biology student at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Raschka said he took classes in the art department, but didn’t think of art as a career. After graduation, Raschka traveled and worked at two homes for handicapped children, the first in Germany, and the second one in St. Croix. Raschka was newly married, and his wife, an artist, also worked at the St. Croix children’s home where Raschka said the conditions were so bad that they both painted in the evenings “just to keep ourselves sane.”

After the stint in St. Croix, Raschka became more serious about working as an artist. “That’s where I thought I could follow a career in art,” he said.

Even then, he was headed to medical school but, on the first day, he called the school and told them he wasn’t going to come. “I knew I wanted to be a painter,” he said.

Raschka began his career as an illustrator and, ultimately, a children’s author, publishing his first book, “Charlie Parker Played Be Bop,” in 1992. The text and illustrations in the book flows like jazz music, mirroring the sound and rhythm of Parker’s sax.

Describing his artistic approach, Raschka said he keeps a line from the poet William Wordsworth in mind: “The matter always comes out of the manner.”

“My art has always been very rough, immediate and messy,” Raschka said. “I like art myself where I see each movement. There’s no hiding. No coloring in, in a sense. I always had a dread of coloring in.”

Raschka’s art is deceptively simple, each brushstroke evoking movement, each line telling its own story. Demonstrating a painting to the Monte Cassino students, Raschka held the kids spellbound as a couple of splotches of red watercolor quickly became a cow eating grass. Single half-moon black lines for eyes were all that were needed to show the contented cow’s emotional state.

While children obviously love Raschka’s illustrations, he said a Barnes and Noble buyer once told him that his outside-the-lines art was “too sophisticated.”

Raschka says that ideas for books come in different ways. “’A Ball for Daisy’ was based on my son’s experience,” he said. That book has no words, and many of his books, like ‘Yo! Yes?,’ have minimal text. “I like the notion of trying to tell a story with as few words as possible. It’s very difficult to write an engaging book of any kind.”

Raschka believes that creating children’s literature is important.

“It’s an interesting time,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been making picture books, there’s a notion that it’s the end of picture books because of phones, computers and iPads. Sometimes when I see a baby with an iPad, I think it’s the end of the world. But a picture book is made for the lap and sharing, which never go out of style.”

Categories: Books and Literacy