Writer & Photographer
I BOOK ORDERING
work as a writer and a
grew out of my love
the farms and small towns of
Having spent a good
of my childhood in a small
in southern Indiana, I have vivid memories of those joyous years.
Later, our family moved to southern Michigan. I missed the charming
atmosphere of my old hometown,
I loved taking care of the livestock and running through the woods,
marsh, and fields around my home.
I was thirteen, our family moved back to Illinois, and I deeply
missed the farm. Years later, after attending the university and
to the East Coast, I realized just how much I longed for the geography
of home. Vividly, I recall flying home for Christmas and walking
the tree-lined streets. The snow came down so quietly, filling
up the streets, glittering against the street lamps, that I was
overcome with the beauty of that moment. The next day I borrowed
a camera from my brother, drove the back roads and started taking
pictures. My first photograph was of a barn riddled by wind and
snow. What stayed with me was the memory of those two episodes
-- one on a hometown street muffled with snow and the other in
the country. These scenes were so remarkably lovely that I had
to find some means of sharing my feelings about them with others.
was also struck by the changes that had occurred in the region
during the few years since I had left for college. Thereafter,
on every visit home I took random drives through the countryside,
often taking photographs. These first photographs were in color,
but I quickly came to appreciate black and white images, notably
the ability of the interplay of light and shadow to evoke a distinct
mood through which I could both document a subject and express
myself. As much as I was fascinated by the pulse of city life,
I also loved to return home to wander the backroads, observing
the subtleties of light, and seeking those subjects which had
mattered to me so much in my youth.
these years I also scratched out a few stories and articles, all
of which were written in a lyrical, highly visual style. Only
as an adult in my early twenties did I realize how strongly I
felt about writing. In fact, I became overwhelmed with the need
to create - both to write and to make photographs. After a short
stint in graduate school, I was back home, writing and photographing
the security of a regular job, I began earning a living through
a variety of manual jobs in factories and on farms. I was to be
an artist, but wasn't at all sure what that meant. As a friend
of mine once observed, artists are the only people who must declare
themselves 'artists' before they have a body of work to substantiate
describe my early years at length because it had such a pervasive
influence upon my work as an author and illustrator of children's
books. During this period in my life I honed my skills as a photographer
and made a commitment to creating works of enduring value. I carefully
studied the work of master photographers, yet I also insisted
upon my own unique style that combines strong documentary and
I set to work on my first two children's books, my editor asked
me, 'Where have you been hiding yourself?' I responded that I'd
enjoyed a lengthy apprenticeship as an artist making black and
white photographs before I turned my attention to writing and
illustrating Corn Belt Harvest and County Fair.
I also explained that anyone who can make good black and white
photographs understands light and can make color photographs with
ease. Having acquired the necessary technical expertise, I found
that I could apply to my children's books the same insight and
lyrical feeling regarding light and composition that distinguished
my work for adults.
have since published over eighty books for children and adults.
Many of these books, such as Amish Home, Shaker Home,
Portrait of a Farm Family, A Handful of Dirt,
and others reflect the constancy of my love for rural life. However,
in recent years, I have broadened into other interests in American
cultural and social history. In this area, I have published Frontier
Home, The Underground Railroad, Mist over the
Mountains: Appalachia and Its People, With Needle and
Thread, Where Lincoln Walked, One-Room School,
Ghost Towns of the American West, and Tenement: Immigrant
Life on the Lower East Side. Moreover, a few years ago, I
embarked on a signature series about Native American people entitled
"Lifeways." The twenty-four books published to date
in this critically-acclaimed series have now carried me far from
home again. Ironically, I once came back to the heartland to make
photographs, but now I travel all over the United States and Canada
to visit Indian tribes and make photographs of the people in these
places. In this grand undertaking, I have visited the forests
of the East and South, the sweeping plains and mountains of the
West. I have traveled to the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona.
Many times I have journeyed to Montana, but I've also been to
California and Washington, as well as Alaska and the muskeg of
northern Canada. In all of these varied locales, I have been honored
to meet many wonderful people.
the research, writing, and photography for all of my children's
books, I have been concerned with several primary elements. Essentially,
I have been devoted to a quest for excellence in writing and photography.
As a serious writer and photographic artist, I have committed
myself only to those projects which have mattered deeply to me.
Furthermore, I have only published books for which there is a
compelling need to learn more about a particular subject or better
understand another culture. I have also insisted upon high production
values in editing, design, and printing. Fortunately, my editors
have been dedicated to the same principle: that children deserve
the very best.
most important and satisfying aspect of publishing children's
books has been that they have been appreciated. In fact, although
technically classified as 'children's books,' my books have been
enjoyed by young and old alike. As crossover books, they may be
read to young children by parents, teachers, and grandparents.
Children in the middle grades can read them in groups or on their
own, and adults are drawn to the books because they enjoy the
photographs. They may also read the books when they want an introduction
to a particular subject.
now live in Urbana, Illinois. I have a wife, three children, and
I try to plan family vacations that coincide with photography
excursions. I am able to write and make photographs, enjoy my
family, and lead a purposeful life. Who could ask for anything