Award-winning illustrator speaks about his work at the Joslyn

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By Jacob Snyder, Contributor

Chris Raschka had a monumental decision to  make. He could either go to medical school, which would mean closing his sketch books for the next 10 years, or he could take a leap of faith into an art career.

Raschka jumped. He phoned the school and said he was not coming, according to a biography prepared by Lauren Hall on the Penn State University website in 2006. Instead, Raschka took his first position in the arts field as the illustrator for the Michigan Bar Journal.

“Art was always part of my life, but it was never something I thought I could build a career around,” Raschka said.

His illustrator led to another, drawing political cartoons. Then one day, according to an article posted on the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature website, picture book artist Vladimir Radunsky persuaded Raschka to move to New York with his wife and son to be closer to opportunities to illustrate children’s books.

Raschka’s first book, “Charlie Parker Played Be Bop,” was published in 1992. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Today, Raschka has written and/or illustrated over 40 children’s books. On Feb. 25, he presented some of these works at the Joslyn Art Museum, including reading aloud three of his books, “Yo! Yes?,” “A Ball for Daisy,” which won the 2012 Caldecott Award, and “Charlie Parker Plays Be Bop.”

“Yo! Yes?” is about two strangers who become friends. Nancy Anderson, a former reading teacher for kindergarten through sixth grade, said it was “life-changing” for her students.

“This book has changed the attitude of so many of my struggling readers who have said they cannot read,” Anderson said. “It is just appealing to kids. They can read it, they can act it out and it is a lot of fun.”

Except for the title, “A Ball for Daisy” is a word-free book telling the story of love, loss and a dog named Daisy who has a red ball she loves. It gets broken but is replaced the next day. Raschka said the story was inspired by his son, who had this experience.

Following each read-aloud, Raschka invited children from the crowd to act out the book. Toward the end of the presentation Raschka read aloud “Charlie Parker Plays Be Bop,” tapping along with the “beat of the book.” Raschka then fielded questions from the audience.

When asked about the Caldecott, an award given to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children, Raschka joked that he was worried about how his friends would react to him winning it.

“My friend Peter Sis, a wonderful illustrator, called…to congratulate me,” Raschka said. “I was not there so my wife talked to him. She told him I was worried that all my friends would hate me and he said, ‘They will.'”

Audience member Stephanie Burdic, an adjunct professor at Grace University, said she could use some of the information in the presentation to teach her students.

“One of things I try to do is see authors and illustrators when they come to town,” Burdic said, “so when I teach my students, I have an idea, background or get some insight into what goes into being an illustrator. I think it adds a lot to the topic I teach if I have seen the illustrator talk.”

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