The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image

Illustration by E.B. Lewis from Staying Cool, Copyright 1997. Used by permission of Dial.
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist, sometimes a new talent whose work has begun to come into its own and sometimes an old favorite whose reliable contributions deserve notice. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

E.B. Lewis

We see a lot of capable and realistic watercolor art in children's literature, and it's easy to overlook the subtly excellent in that category in favor of other flashier illustrations. We note with self-congratulation that that's not happening here.

We first noticed the art of E. B. Lewis in Jane Kurtz' Fire on the Mountain, where quiet, dignified lines and dappled pigments in muted colors expressed the solitude of the protagonist and the archetypal nature of the folktale. Soon on its heels was Big Boy, where Lewis' restrained images of the gargantuan boy towering over his Tanzanian village made the situation all the more absurd for being realistic. Down the Road partnered him with Alice Schertle for a contemporary story closer to home, in which a lively young girl proves susceptible to distraction on her important errand to town. He depicted another contemporary setting, this time an urban one, in Dakari Hru's The Magic Moonberry Jump Ropes. Now he's provided the illustrations for Nancy Antle's Staying Cool, a warm and original account of a boy's training for the Golden Gloves under his grandfather's expert coaching.

Though his images include landscape and animals, adults and buildings, his strength increasingly appears to be kids. It's not so much that the faces are evocative-he often leaves them impressionistic or suggested, in fact-but that he captures the way th ey move in some of the most expressive figures going. The gleam of the sun on an upturned face, a young boy's feet kicking at the rungs of his chair, a girl's braids flying as she leaps into the jumprope, the sober stare of a pair of youthful boxers are more than details making the characters recognizable as people, they convey attitude and mood, serving as an objective correlative for the emotions of the story. Lewis doesn't produce pyrotechnics and doesn't shift the focus from the story, but enhances it by making it seem an almost palpable slice of life, filled with rustling trees, hot sun (he seems drawn to hot climes and summer scenes), and the sounds of the world beyond the pictures.

With most realistic art we're satisfied merely that it gets things right. Lewis's reality draws us in, reminding viewers of how it feels to walk that road or to stretch up to hug your grandfather. It also reminds us of just how beautiful those simple r ealities are.

--Deborah Stevenson, Assistant Editor

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This page was last updated on August 1, 1997.