2006.07.22: July 22, 2006: Headlines: COS - Eastern Caribbean: Art: Painting: Kids Point: Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame as an Illustrator

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Eastern Caribbean: Peace Corps: Eastern Caribbean : Peace Corps Eastern Caribbean: Newest Stories: 2006.07.01: July 1, 2006: Headlines: COS - Eastern Caribbean: Happiness: Art: Painting: Horn Book Magazine: Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka says: Being thankful is easy, being happy is a little harder, but being useful is the hardest thing of all : 2006.07.22: July 22, 2006: Headlines: COS - Eastern Caribbean: Art: Painting: Kids Point: Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame as an Illustrator

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Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame as an Illustrator

Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame as an Illustrator

He and his wife spent time as Peace Corps Volunteers in St. Croix, then went to the Virgin Islands, where they had a chance to exhibit and sell their artwork. Afterwards, he thought for a while that it was time to settle down and become a doctor. But at the last second, he just couldn't bring himself to do it: "The morning of my first day of medical school, I called the school and told them that I wasn't going to come. That was when I knew I really wanted to be a painter."

Eastern Caribbean RPCV Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame as an Illustrator

The Rhythms of Raschka

By Virginia Johnson, CRRL Staff

2006 Caldecott Medal-winning artist Chris Raschka took a roundabout road to fame. His travels around the world and varied jobs give him a different perspective from most American artists. And, if fate hadn't taken a hand, this beloved artist might instead be knee-deep in muck as a crocodile farmer!

Chris spent part of his childhood in Austria, his mother's homeland. The children's authors and artists he loved were European: Madeline's Ludwig Bemelmans, Wilhelm Busch, and Winnie Gebhardt. His mother told him Viennese fairy tales and sagas. By the time Chris returned to America in first grade, he had forgotten most of his English and could only speak in German for a while.

He always loved to draw, and his big brother would help him out by sharing his paints with him. Sciences, especially the zoology (the study of animals), were his favorite subjects in school. Chris also tried to play the violin, but his music teacher begged him take up the viola instead. He played with both the high school and the college orchestras. For him, music was and remains a source of joy.

Chris graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a degree in biology. Ready to take on the world of animals, he thought he would fulfill a longtime dream of working on a crocodile farm in India. That job wasn't ready for him, however, so he spent some time at a children's orthopedic clinic in Germany. He learned a lot from those brave kids, including how to make them laugh.

Later, he and his wife spent time in St. Croix, the Virgin Islands, where they had a chance to exhibit and sell their artwork. Afterwards, he thought for a while that it was time to settle down and become a doctor. But at the last second, he just couldn't bring himself to do it:

"The morning of my first day of medical school, I called the school and told them that I wasn't going to come. That was when I knew I really wanted to be a painter."

He did not have a job lined up, but he checked out the classifieds and was soon working as a paralegal. From those contacts, he found his first steady work in the art field, illustrating the Michigan Bar Journal while his wife taught in a Montessori school. He also played his viola with two professional symphony orchestras.

Eventually, both he and his wife found themselves without work, so they took the plunge and headed to New York City. At this point Chris could not decide whether he wanted to follow his love of music or his love of art. He practiced on his viola all summer in preparations for orchestra try-outs. He practiced so hard that he developed tendonitis and could no longer play. Suddenly, the decision was made for him. He would be an artist. But he still kept his love of music.

He illustrated other people's children's books, and every morning while he worked he would listen to a radio station that played the jazz music of the legendary Charlie Parker. He created the book, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, as a way to get kids interested in jazz music. He went on to write other books (Mysterious Thelonious and John Coltrane's Giant Steps) which teach the rhythms of music greats with images and a few carefully chosen words to young children.

Chris finds New York City to be very inspiring. While watching street scene one day, he was struck by the words people use and how they tell other people who they are. Yo! Yes? is the story of two city kids whose words are first a barrier and then a bridge to friendship. This book won the Caldecott Honor in 1994.

Bits About Chris

He and his wife have a son named Ingo.

His favorite color is yellowish-purple

His pets: two cats, Alaska Wolf Joe and Alma; one snail, Slimey; and two goldfish, Martha and Sigmund

His hobbies: Knitting and surfing

His favorite activities as a child: building with Legos

His favorite food: oysters on the half shell

Chris has illustrated and written A LOT of books. Many of them are quite short, but their careful rhythms in color and words make them very unusual stories that stay with readers and listeners long after story hour. Click here for a complete list of books featuring his artwork.

In 2006, The Hello, Goodbye Window, a story about a young girl and her loving grandparents, won the Caldecott Medal, the top award in American children's illustration. Chris' artwork was highly praised by the committee:
"With a few energetic lines, Raschka suggests a world filled with affection and humor. The richly textured tones of these expressive illustrations convey the emotional warmth of the intergenerational connection."

What's in the works for Chris Raschka? Among his other projects, he's creating a retelling of the musical favorite for children, Peter and the Wolf. He also visits schools to share his stories with students. When he comes, he makes sure the class joins in the telling so they can experience first-hand the wonderful rhythms of his books.





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