The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books:

True Blue
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books.. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

Mordicai Gerstein

Mordicai Gerstein spent twenty-five years working as a designer and director of animated films* before turning to children's books. In 1971 he joined forces with author Elizabeth Levy, and together they created what has become a staple of library collections for transitional readers, the Something Queer At (the Library, the Deli, etc.) series, simple chapter books featuring kid detectives, humorous plots, and mysterious happenings. The twelfth title in the popular series was recently published by Hyperion.

In 1983 Gerstein wrote and illustrated Arnold of the Ducks, a fanciful tale about a boy lost in the wild and raised by ducks. (This fascination with feral child syndrome recurs in Gerstein's later work about the wild boy of Aveyron, see below.) Arnold of the Ducks was named one of the year's best books for children by the New York Times, and a thirty year (so far) career in children's books was launched. Arnold of the Ducks was not just "beginner's luck"- Gerstein's The Mountains of Tibet was selected as one of 1987's Ten Best Illustrated Books by the New York Times, as well as one of the year's Ten Best Books for Children; The Wild Boy (a picture book about the wild boy of Aveyron) was named Best Illustrated by the New York Times in 1998, and his young adult novel, Victor (a more in-depth and tragic look at that same wild boy) was named one of the Best Books of the same year.

Unique to Gerstein's work is its inherent spirituality. His interpretations of Bible tales (Noah and the Great Flood, Esther, the Morning Star, Jonah and the Two Great Fish ) have obvious religious significance, but even the titles that do not have apparent religious roots (The Story of May, The Seal Mother ) still carry an underlying respect for the undefinable, a sense of awe at the world, faith that there is something more than just this mortal coil. Gerstein's concern with the big questions--what makes one human? How do we know that humans have souls? What force does faith have in our lives and the lives of those around us?--is evident in nearly every title he has written. His style of illustration, too, has an inherent liveliness of line that imbues his work with a robust sense of life; his washes of pure, unmixed colors infuse the landscapes his characters inhabit with an almost ethereal light. What comes through in Gerstein's words and pictures is a contagious zest for living, a shared joy in and understanding of the human condition and all its nuances.

--Janice M. Del Negro, Editor

*His independently produced short film, The Room, won an award at the Belgian Experimental Film Festival; another, The Magic Ring, won a Cine Golden Eagle, as did his Beauty and the Beast, narratted by Mia Farrow.

Selected Titles By Mordicai Gerstein:

Illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein and written by Elizabeth Levy:

More information about Mordicai Gerstein can be found at:

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This page was last updated on July 1, 2001.