Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Meet David Shannon

Academic journal article Journal of Children's Literature

Meet David Shannon

Article excerpt

This article analyzes the work of author/illustrator David Shannon and includes an interview with him.

THE CHILDREN'S LITERATURE ASSEMBLY breakfast speaker for the 2012 NCTE Convention is picture book author/illustrator extraordinaire David Shannon. Known particularly for No, David!, a delightful tale recounting the naughty antics of a preschool boy, Shannon has created many other picture books that are beloved by children and only occasionally horrifying to adults. As a child, Shannon was more of a drawer than a reader, although he read a fair amount. "I loved Dr. Seuss early on, particularly Bartholomew and the Obleck. The Story of Ferdinand was a favorite, as well as The Boy's King Arthur (illustrated by N.C. Wyeth) and the Chronicles of Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander. Later I got totally absorbed in The Lord of the Rings. I also read and drew from a lot of sports biographies." He further describes how "I had drawings all over my room of whatever book I was currently reading" (personal communication, April 12, 2012).

The Books of David Shannon

Shannon knew he wanted to become an artist, at one point considering a career in comic book illustration. However, it wasn't until he moved to New York after graduating from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, that Shannon realized he could actually make a living as an illustrator. Following regular appearances in the New York Times Book Review and OpEd sections, he was asked to illustrate How Many Spots Does a Leopard Haue? And Other Tales (1989), Julius Lester's adaptations of stories from African and Jewish traditional literature. The book was well reviewed and Shannon's career as a picture book illustrator was launched.

His work on Lester's book led to an invitation to collaborate with Rafe Martin on The Rough-Face Girl (1993), a Cinderella variant from the Algonquin tradition. This story tells of a young girl who is badly disfigured from the constant forced tending of her family's fire. Every young woman in her community wishes to become the bride of the Invisible Being, but only one can achieve this honor. True to the Cinderella tradition, Rough-Face is the only one who can see the Invisible Being. He reveals her true beauty, then marries her. Shannon researched Algonquin culture to ensure that details of dress and lodging were authentic in the dark hued, acrylic paintings he created for this mystical story. Shannon continued his collaboration with Martin in The Boy Who Lived With the Seals (1993), a Chinook legend of a young boy who wanders away from his family and finds refuge with a group of seals, and The Shark God (Martin, 2001), a Polynesian tale of a shark freed from a net by young children who repays them when they are in peril.

Shannon has also collaborated with other notable children's authors including Jane Yolen and Audrey Wood. One of his most notable collaborations was with Yolen for her well-respected book Encounter (Yolen, 1992), a story of Christopher Columbus' landing on San Salvador as seen through the eyes of a young Taino native inhabitant of the island. The haunting story is enhanced by Shannon's powerful acrylic illustrations which effectively use space and color to show how the two cultures try to make sense of each other. For example, the young native boy wonders if the Spaniards "whose skin is moon to my sun" are real men. He is shown juxtaposed against a large pale hand which he has pinched to convince himself that these strange beings truly are flesh and blood. The Bunyans (Wood, 1996), for which he collaborated with Audrey Wood, is a rollicking tale of Paul Bunyan and his family who together create the Rocky Mountains, Niagara Falls, and Old Faithful, among other natural wonders. For each book, Shannon carefully considered the story and context, creating stunning illustrations that uniquely complement the text.

Eventually Shannon began writing and illustrating his own books. How Geòrgie Radbourn Saved Baseball (1994) is an emotionally dark comedy about a boy who can only speak in baseball language ("Batter up! …

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