Random Illustrator Feature:
Kevin Hawkes and the Road to Oz

h1 October 15th, 2008 by jules

Look at this moment of loveliness above, brought to us by illustrator Kevin Hawkes. I am such a fan of his work, so I’m pleased to share a couple of illustrations from his most recent illustrated title, what Publishers Weekly calls a “cheeky yet informative biography,” The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum (Knopf Books for Young Readers, September ’08), written by the very talented author of a whole slew, to be precise, of award-winning biographies for children, Kathleen Krull. And, as someone who has a big honkin’ space in her heart devoted to the Oz characters (translated: as a child, I was obsessed with the books and film adaptation)—even though I’d agree with Trull in her Storyteller’s Note at the close of this book that “the quality of {Baum’s} books was uneven”—I love that stunning opening illustration, in particular. School Library Journal wrote about Hawkes’ work in this book, “Hawkes’s merry paintings of the author and his characters invoke the magic of Oz within the great author’s real-world setting.” Merry, indeed.

In The Road to Oz, Krull tells the life story of Baum from his pampered (“some might say spoiled”) childhood to his adult life, rife with a wide variety of careers, Krull portraying Baum as the “go-getter” he was. As someone attracted to risky enterprises (“{b}ad luck, bad planning, too much ambition, too much risk . . .”), he threw himself into everything from chicken-breeding to a life on the stage to sales to owning his own store to editing a newspaper…and much more. At one point, he founded his own theatre company, writing his own dramas:

One night, as Hamlet, Frank accidentally moved a plank. Suddenly the actor playing a ghost vanished below. The audience howled, thinking this was deliberate, and made them enact the absurd maneuver over and over.

(Not exactly the glamorous life he had envisioned.)

Krull goes on to emphasize Baum’s love for his family (at age twenty-six, he married his true love, Maud Gage—daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous women’s suffrage and radical feminist activist—and devoted himself to their four sons) and his telling of tales to his children and their friends in the evenings:

Frank also took note of what his listeners didn’t like. Romances between princes and princesses made them itch. No lecturing. They hated being talked down to. Nothing cute, or what he called “goody-goody.” Long descriptions of nature put them to sleep, as did fairy tales where girls were always being rescued.

Gradually, he discovered what worked best—taking his audience to a new universe, full of marvels and details.

By now, he was telling stories to fourteen, fifteen children at a time.

(To the point about his children not wanting lectures and the rescue of girls*: Indeed, as Kirkus stated in their review, “{this profile} leaves readers understanding just how groundbreaking The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was, as an adventure story with both a female protagonist and no overwhelming Moral Lesson.”)

Krull explains how Baum “threw himself into creating original, modern American fairy tales,” his first title being Adventures in Phunnyland, and eventually “pouring his powers of imagination into one big story. It was called ‘The Emerald City’—a sort of green version of Chicago’s White City.”

And, as the aforementioned SLJ review points out, it is with great sympathy that Krull describes Baum’s failures in his business affairs and his eventual bankruptcy.

Hawkes not only brings Baum to life with his vivid colors, expert composition, and great animation and emotion, but he also occasionally incorporates sketches in emerald of Oz characters into the text, finding connections from Baum’s life to some of the Oz characters — such as, the Scarecrow on the book’s second spread, which includes mention of “{t}hose scarecrows out in the farms and fields around Rose Lawn {the Baum family estate}—at night he dreamed they were chasing him.”

If you’re a Hawkes fan, as I am, don’t miss his work in this one.

Thanks to Random House for the images.

* * * * * * *

* Let’s be clear that the books hardly serve as a feminist manifesto: In The Land of Oz (book two), General Jinjur may be leading her all-girl Army of Revolt, which plans to overthrow the Scarecrow, but the General tells Tip it’s because “the Emerald City has been ruled by men long enough, for one reason…Moreover, the City glitters with beautiful gems, which might far better be used for rings, bracelets and necklaces; and there is enough money in the King’s treasury to buy every girl in our Army a dozen new gowns.” I mean, I like a nice gown, too, but come on…

* * * * * * *

Illustrations from THE ROAD TO OZ. Text copyright © 2008 Kathleen Krull.
Illustrations copyright © 2008 Kevin Hawkes. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

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15 comments to “Random Illustrator Feature:
Kevin Hawkes and the Road to Oz”

  1. Oh, wow. Just… wow.
    I have always kind of hated The Wizard of Oz because I had the misfortune to see the movie first, and it didn’t half make sense to me. But this is gorgeous looking book, and it makes me want to read the whole story. (Well done, Mr. Henkes!)


  2. …and of course I meant HAWKES. Sorry. It’s early.


  3. I love Krull and Hawkes and can’t wait to read this. I remember getting thoroughly sick of Baum’s writing while reading aloud volume after volume of Oz books to my enchanted daughter. I find teaching children’s literature to college students that the some who’d been Oz loving children felt let down by that flat/uneven prose, but the ones who come to it new fall so in love with the friendships among the characters that they hardly care, just as we had on our first encounters. And now after some critical rereadings I’m back to that happy state, too.


  4. I can’t believe I don’t already own this book at WPL. Shame on me.

    I really like that first illustration of Baum writing. Nice, nice.


  5. TadMack, I adore Hawkes’ work, but I still almost typed “Henkes” a billion times, too. It’s just so easy to do. I do the same Hawkes/Henkes switcheroo when I’m trying to type “Henkes,” too.

    Adrienne, don’t beat yourself up. It just came out. I’ve had an ARC for a while. I’m just reeeeeeeeeally slow these days. And I HEAR YA on that illustration. I want it ON MY WALL.

    Jeannine, I know what you mean. I read the first one twice to my four-year-old, and then as soon as Book Two, which I don’t think she even wanted to finish, the writing started to fall really flat to me. As a child, I was hooked, though.

    Still, like I said, it will always have a little home in my heart. I recently saw again that little “Return to Oz” film, which I was so excited about as a child (it was originally released in ’85). And, holy crap, now I know where my weird phobia of stone things perhaps came from (big, heavy stone things make me feel icky), what with that Nome King (that wikipedia link spells it “Nome,” for some reason) in the mountain. Ick. I mean, the special effects seem antiquated today, of course, but as a child, geez…those scenes might have permanently lodged themselves in the phobia center of my brain.


  6. Green rapture! This book looks gorgeous and fascinating. I’m an Oz fan too and agree that the stories are uneven — I’m anxious to learn more about Baum.


  7. I’m embarrassed — well, not really, just sorta want to mumble — that I don’t know anything of the 1985 “Return to Oz”… yet DO remember the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated version. (Which I thought was pretty horrible, even from my kid’s-eye view). (Amazon reviewers don’t agree, alas. All I can recall is a godawful song whose refrain went “Don’t go back without me/I want to go BACK, I want to go BACK, I want to go BACK…” You had the impression that she really really wanted to go back.)

    The Hawkes/Krull book sounds fantastic. That story about the Baum-ized Hamlet alone would be worth the price of admission!


  8. I’ll keep an eye out for it – sounds great!


  9. Ah yes, I remember Return to Oz, with a young Fariuza Balk (sp?). I had a bit of a non-romantic crush on Ozma because she and Dorothy were such good friends and Ozma could do magic. I look forward to reading this book. By the way, have you ever read Margaret, Frank and Andy? It’s a little biography of Margaret Wise Brown, L. Frank Baum and E.B. White.


  10. JES, never seen that Rankin/Bass version. Sounds pretty horrendous. Or kitschy. Or maybe both.

    Alkelda, yes, Fairuza Balk. And, no, I’ve never read that book, but now I want to.


  11. Jes, I bought a copy of Journey Back to Oz (with Liza voicing Dorothy) just for that “godawful song.” Which, as it turns out, was not in the videotape I bought. I don’t know if there was a rights issue so that when the video was released the song was deleted. As I recall it, Dorothy sings this song early on as she reminisces about Oz. The lyric was something like…”Oz just can’t survive without me. I want to go back, I want to go back, I want to go back.” I want that SONG!!!! Otherwise, the movie is pretty horrible yet amusing just to hear the famous voices doing such rot.


  12. Great blog you have!


  13. Oh, wow. Just… wow.
    I have always kind of hated The Wizard of Oz because I had the misfortune to see the movie first, and it didn’t half make sense to me. But this is gorgeous looking book, and it makes me want to read the whole story. (Well done, Mr. Henkes!)
    http://hivietnam.vn/


  14. Ah yes, I remember Return to Oz, with a young Fariuza Balk (sp?). I had a bit of a non-romantic crush on Ozma because she and Dorothy were such good friends and Ozma could do magic. I look forward to reading this book. By the way, have you ever read Margaret, Frank and Andy? It’s a little biography of Margaret Wise Brown, L. Frank Baum and E.B. White.


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