Born February 13, 1932, Mr. Taback grew up in the East Bronx of New York City in the 1930s and 40s. His family was Jewish, and they had strong ties to Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood was made up of many such families who together created a community rich in the traditions of the Old Country. When he was a young boy, he spoke the Yiddish language. Although he remembered little of it as he grew older, the traditional songs, stories, and ways of life made a tremendous impact on the work of this Caldecott Award-winner. In old Poland, a village such as the one he grew up in would be called a shtetl.
Jacqueline Woodson was born on February 12, 1963, in Columbus, Ohio. She had her growing up days in both South Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. One reason that she writes is because she believes that "language can change the world."
When she was young, she rarely saw books that had pictures of people who looked like her or her family or her friends. Her books have helped to fill in that gap, making it easier for libraries to succeed in their mission of letting every child find herself or himself in a book.
Without Jacob and Wilhelm’s efforts to gather folk tales from their German homeland and making them popular worldwide, it’s unlikely we’d know Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, or Snow White.
When David Small was, well, small, he was often sick and had to stay home from school. He would spend hours drawing and making up stories for fun to keep from being bored. He grew up in the very big city of Detroit, but he spent his summers out in the countryside with his grandparents. David was shy, but he enjoyed being with the animals on the farm, and he loved visiting museums with his parents and taking art lessons.
When he was two, Paul Zelinsky’s family moved from an apartment near Chicago to a house in Kyoto, Japan. Most of the Japanese houses had walls made of paper. Though his was an exception, he does wonder if all that paper might have influenced him to become an artist. While in Kyoto, he drew the stylish and elegant geisha ladies. When they came back to Chicago, their family home overlooked a construction site, so he took to drawing tractors and steam shovels being driven by geishas!*
He kept on drawing and kept on getting better and found a market for his work after college. Through the years, he has illustrated many, many books and written some himself. Today, his life, as chronicled on Facebook, is a happy blend of family, visiting schools, and, of course, drawing!
Picture book writer and illustrator Uri Shulevitz came into a world on the brink of a devastating war. The son of son of Abraham and Szandla (Hermanstat) Shulevitz, Uri (pronounced oo-ree), he was only four years old when German bombs falling on Warsaw drove his Jewish family out of the city and into an eight-year period of travel in exile throughout Europe before finally settling in Paris in 1947, when Uri was twelve years old.
When Laura Elizabeth Ingalls got married, she asked the minister to change the wording in the wedding ceremony. She did not want to promise to always obey her husband, and in this as in many things she got her way. But she and Almanzo (whom she called Manly—he called her Bess) had a long and happy marriage working a farm not on the prairie that Laura loved so well but in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, leaving the Little House her Pa built far behind.
She's been compared to Hans Christian Andersen and that clever fable maker Aesop. For children (and adults!) in today's world, her carefully crafted stories sing with a timeless rhythm and an honest truth. Her family's Russian-Jewish roots have given her the jumping-off place for many a tale (And Twelve Chinese Acrobats, Firebird, and Baba Yaga), but some stories seem to drawn from the heart of the world itself.
Jane Yolen, born in New York City on February 11, 1939, showed a talent for writing early on when she wrote and composed the words and music to her grade school pageant, starring as the lead carrot. She seems to have never slowed down during her years in high school: news editor of the school paper, Spanish club vice president, singing with the a capella choir, and captain of the varsity basketball team. Summers spent at a Vermont camp run by Quakers influenced her deeply. Several of her later books (The Gift of Sarah Barker and Friend: The Story of George Fox and the Quakers) relate to this period of spiritual growth.
Imagine: the roads to your neighborhood are blocked by armed guards. You cannot leave without risking being shot. You have neighborhood stores, neighborhood meetings, and for a while, things go along in a scary way, and you get to the point where it seems almost normal. But people do disappear, a few at a time.
Every morning you follow your Dad into the rope factory where he and all the other men have been told to work. When your mother doesn’t come back home from visiting another walled off neighborhood, you don’t ask too many questions. She may come home, but she probably won’t. It’s better not to ask.