Month: April 2012

There Goes Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived

Written and Illustrated by Matt Tavares
(Candlewick Press, Boston, 2012, $16.99)

Talent alone won’t get you to the top; hard work – and luck – are essential, too. In There Goes Ted Williams, Matt Tavares shows how persistence made the Red Sox hitter a baseball legend. In simple, present-tense prose, Tavares relates Williams’ journey from the sandlot to Fenway Park, including his triumphant final game. Along the way, readers see young Williams practicing his swing in front of the bedroom mirror; he also serves his country during World War II and the Korean War. Tavares captures the tension of the most dramatic moments in Williams’ life: his narrow escapes in combat and his returns to the game after military service.

If There Goes Ted Williams is about the virtues of determination, it is also about the joy Williams felt in the game. One of the book’s most captivating illustrations shows Williams, who has just hit a home run, bounding around the bases, his legs suspended in mid-air, his mouth open in a wide grin. He is not taunting his opponents; his is the celebration of a boy who has just realized his dream. Later, in the spread depicting Williams’ final home run, a slight smile plays over the batter’s lips as he runs around the bases. It is the quiet satisfaction of a man who can look back with pride on his life and career.

Dorothy A. Dahm

Meet the Illustrator: Tim Bowers

Last year, Tim Bowers illustrated Kwame Alexander’s Acoustic Rooster, a picture book about a jazz-loving rooster who meets some jazz greats – in barnyard form, of course. This week, Bowers chatted with Kidsbiographer about bringing these jazz legends to life and designing a guitar for a rooster.

Kidsbiographer:  Can you tell me about your own experiences with jazz and with music generally?

Tim Bowers: I’ve been surrounded by music my entire life. My grandpa played guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and harmonica. He and his musical friends would have barn dances on weekends. My Dad always had music playing at the house. I’ve played guitar since childhood and started listening to jazz in college. It was great background music for creating artwork.  My childhood was filled with pop and rock music, but in art school, jazz became my music of choice.

Kidsbiographer: I enjoyed your visual character development, particularly the way the animals resembled their real-life counterparts: for example, Bee Holiday sports a gardenia just as Billie Holiday did. Can you tell me a little bit about how you translated these legends into barnyard animals?

Tim Bowers: The types of animals were predetermined in the text by the author. As I researched the characters, I thought it would be fun to capture some resemblance to the actual person when creating the animal character. Thelonious Monk wore some pretty cool hats, so I placed one of the hats on the Thelonious Monkey character. Duke Ellington wore a black top hat and played a light colored piano in some photos so I combined those elements for Duck Ellington. Billie Holiday wore large floral decorations in her hair so Bee Holiday wore a flower and Miles Davis wore large-rimmed sunglasses, which were added to the character, Mules Davis. Also, I looked at the way Miles Davis held his trumpet and positioned his body so that I could reflect some of that in my art. 

Kidsbiographer:  What sort of research did you do to illustrate Acoustic Rooster?

Tim Bowers: Other than finding the historic jazz personalities, I researched the Cotton Club and the guitar that Rooster played. I almost used Jaco Pastorius as the bass player reference. I ran that idea past Kwame Alexander, and he mentioned that the person he was thinking of was jazz guitar great, Wes Montgomery so I switched directions. Montgomery played a Gibson L-5 guitar (not a bass) so I started with that model. I turned the L-5 into a bass, customized the f-holes with chicken heads and added a chicken to the tailpiece (which is the metal part at the end of the guitar). So basically, I’ve designed Rooster’s signature model L-5 bass guitar.

Kidsbiographer:  What’s the most gratifying feedback you’ve received from young readers about your work?

Tim Bowers: I really love to hear readers laugh at the humor in the art, notice the details and try to copy the characters in their own artwork. If I inspire anyone to laughter, discovery or being creative, I am a very happy guy.

Kidsbiographer:  Can you tell me about your current or future projects?

Tim Bowers: Sure! Music continues to play a part in my work. I recently illustrated a book by Neil Sedaka and his son, Marc Sedaka, titled Dinosaur Pet (published by Imagine Publishing- a Charlesbridge Imprint). I also have some other projects with a music connection, but they aren’t quite ready to announce.

I am finishing the artwork for a book titled, Not Your Typical Dragon published by Viking. I’m starting the artwork for a Sleeping Bear Press book about zoo animals. Later this year, I will work with Marshall Cavendish on a book that features a dog character named “Tinka”.  And finally, I’ll be closing the year with another Sleeping Bear Press book about a hamster… stay tuned!

I’ll be listening to a lot of jazz and western swing music while working on all of these stories.  Duke Ellington and His Orchestra have been playing a lot lately.

Meet the Biographer: Amy Novesky



Amy Novesky, a former editor at Chronicle Books, has written picture books about Frida Kahlo and the Hindu god Ganesh. Today, she discusses Georgia in Hawaii, her 2012 picture-book biography of artist Georgia O’Keefe, with Kidsbiographer.

Kidsbiographer: Biographies are one of the few texts in which children encounter adult protagonists. How did you approach Georgia O’Keefe as a character for young readers? 

Amy Novesky: Even a story about a real person must work as a story (with conflict and character arc and complexity), and so, yes, that means approaching the subject as a character. To just tell a story about Georgia’s travels in the Hawaiian Islands was not enough. And so, my editor encouraged me to develop the story of Georgia’s refusal to paint the pineapple. That allowed me to develop Georgia’s character: her stubbornness, yes, but also her sense of artistic integrity. I think most readers can relate to not wanting to be told what to do and how to do it.

Kidsbiographer:  How has the research you did for Georgia in Hawaii changed the way you view O’Keefe’s art? 

Amy Novesky: I think when we think of Georgia O’Keeffe, we think of the Southwest and its iconic imagery (cow skulls and calico roses, adobe hues, wide blue skies). Georgia is so tied to that part of the world. And so, for me, spending so much time with her Hawaii paintings (lush green mountains, the blue blue sea, tropical flowers) has broadened my appreciation of her and her work and will, hopefully, broaden readers’ appreciation of her and her work, as well.

Kidsbiographer:  Setting, narrative, and character are intricately linked in your picture-book biographies. In Me, Frida, you explore how Frida Kahlo found herself as an artist in San Francisco. In Georgia in Hawaii, O’Keefe grows both personally and artistically during her time in the islands. Why do you think travel has become such a strong motif in your children’s nonfiction? 

Amy Novesky: I not only try to find a lesser known story to tell, I always try to find a personal connection. With Frida, it was San Francisco, my home; with Georgia, it was Hawaii, my home away from home. I wrote a story about Jacqueline Kennedy in India, after I traveled to India, and my first book, Elephant Prince, was also inspired by India. I have a strong sense of place; I always have. A sense of place defines us. And travel, takes us out of our place, awakens, inspires, and allows us to appreciate our place even more. I love to travel, or at least to think about traveling. And I love to write about it.

Kidsbiographer: How did O’Keefe’s art influence your prose style in this book? 

Amy Novesky: I have always been a rather flowery writer, and so it was fun to be able to develop the flowery (literally!) details of the story, including describing the things Georgia painted and the gorgeous Hawaiian landscape which deeply inspires me. But I also strive to write spare and elegant prose — the picture book form demands it — which I think is a good fit for Georgia, who was a spare and elegant person.

Kidsbiographer: Can you describe the most gratifying feedback you’ve received from young readers about Georgia in Hawaii? 

Amy Novesky:  I celebrated the publication of the book by traveling to Hawaii, myself, and visiting some schools on the island of Kauai and the Arts Academy in Honolulu. It was especially meaningful to read my book about Georgia in Hawaii to kids in Hawaii. My very first reading for the book was at an elementary school in Kalaheo. I removed my shoes at the library door and was greeted with a lei. The students had studied Georgia O’Keeffe and knew as much (if not more) about her as I did, and they had painted flowers inspired by the book. It was great. And it was really wonderful to read the book to kids in Koloa, which is one of the towns Georgia visited and featured in the book.

Kidsbiographer:  Would you like to discuss any upcoming projects?

Amy Novesky: I have a book about photographer Imogen Cunningham, illustrated by Lisa Congdon, due out this fall. Writing about Frida led me to Imogen (Imogen photographed Frida when she was in San Francisco) and now Imogen is in Hawaii with Georgia; her work is currently being exhibited at the Honolulu Arts Academy, where I discovered Georgia’s Hawaii paintings. I have a book about Billie Holiday due out next spring. Speaking of character, this is my most character-driven nonfiction story yet, and I think it’s my best. I have a new picture book about an artist under consideration, in addition to some stories in progress. I’m trying to diversify my work a bit, but I do love writing the picture-book biographies!

Kidsbiographer: We hope you continue!

Check out two more recent interviews with Amy Novesky: