Author/illustrator Rosalyn Schanzer, who writes books about American history’s greatest adventures and tallest tales, can’t seem to sit still. That’s why she has had a few adventures of her own. This nationally ranked Master’s swimmer and avid photographer has swum with sharks in Belize and kayaked with whales in Alaska, Canada, and Mexico. She has hiked the Andes, fished for piranhas, and explored ancient Incan ruins in Peru and Bolivia. And she has rafted through whitewater in the lush rainforests of Costa Rica, tasted tamarinds is the remote dry forests of Ecuador, photographed the fabled golden temples of Thailand, and helped to sail a world-famous racing boat from Bermuda to Boston via the Bermuda Triangle.
For years, Schanzer painted the pictures for literally hundreds of books, magazine articles, posters, and games for children, but they were all written by other people. Finally, she decided to try a new kind of adventure; if she wanted to paint the kinds of things she loved the best, she would have to start writing a few books herself. So back in 1994, she began to write and illustrate the first of many highly acclaimed books about famous adventurers from American history.
The writing has turned out to be more fun (and more challenging) than Schanzer ever imagined. How could she tempt readers to step into the past? First she became a detective. Her job was to ferret out highly accurate and unusual research that few people have found before. That way she could offer peeks at the juiciest journals, letters, and songs of real people who lived through wild adventures long ago. And she could mix heroic deeds with funny stories and small everyday events so that the stars of her books weren’t just wooden statues. One time, she wrote a hilarious tall tale to introduce a southern superhero, and another time, she uncovered a more serious saga from her very own ancestors that told about their escape from war-torn Poland in 1921. In a couple of early books, she even invited kids to step directly into the pictures in her stories. How? By daring them to solve colorful, rollicking picture mazes that wound through the scenery from days of yore. (The dead ends were truly perilous!)
Besides adventures, what does Rosalyn Schanzer like best? Eating chocolate. Watching pictures fall out of her fingers. Being a detective who finds true stories from history that hardly anybody has ever heard. And living with her amazing husband Steve in Fairfax Station, Virginia.
John Smith Escapes Again!
A very attractive format invites the reader to discover why John Smith was “probably the greatest escape artist on the planet” during the early 17th century. Best known for being saved by Pocahontas, there is so much more to this man’s life. Through maps, small panels that provide many fascinating facts about his life, and longer sections accompanied by larger illustrations, the reader learns some details about his childhood, how he lost his money and became a pirate, how he escaped from slavery and journeyed to America, how he dealt with the Indians, became president of the Jamestown colony, and traveled to Plymouth Colony. The small frames, with dates, a brief amount of text, and an illustration with a great deal of research behind it will help readers remember the facts. The lively tone of the well-focused, succinct text will have the readers eager to turn the pages. The action-packed illustrations are bright and cleanly drawn and provide a sense of time, place, and the culture of the region. The map on the end papers is significant to the text and will be a problem for libraries that cover the book jackets and tape them to the book. Part of the map will be covered. Perhaps another way can be found to attach the jacket. There are smaller, more detailed maps within the pages of the book. A note from the author includes information on her research for both the text and illustrations in this 64 page biography. There is a bibliography and an index in the back. It is immensely informative, inviting, and inspirational. 2006, National Geographic Society, $16.95. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Sharon Salluzzo (Children’s Literature).
What Darwin Saw: The Journey that Changed the World
This is a wonderful book! When Charles Darwin left on the Beagle, he did not stop communicating. His letters, his sketches, his diary, his autobiography all tell not only what he saw, but his enthusiasm for the trip. Schanzer paints exuberant and accurate images of the animals that Darwin saw. She also quotes Darwin’s journals and letters, letting Darwin tell us about the journey. Schanzer’s own voice comes through only as a narrator. This powerful storytelling brings us to the South America that Darwin saw, including his stay on the famous Galapagos Islands. “The black Lava rocks on the beach are frequented by disgusting clumsy Lizards. They are hideous creatures that live on sea weed.” It is difficult to maintain the image of a standoffish, dignified scientist when Darwin speaks of clumsy lizards. Darwin was there. He rode the tortoises. He fell out of his hammock. He joked with the crew. He immersed himself in the tour. Back in England, Darwin starts to make sense of his observations. Schanzer’s drawings and writing make quick explanations of his discoveries including evolution, which Darwin compares to an ancient tree. The book includes several maps, an index, an author’s note, a list of sources, and a bibliography. 2009, National Geographic, $17.95. Ages 8 up. Reviewer: Amy S. Hansen (Children’s Literature).
Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
For the smart, stunning Witches!: The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem, Schanzer chose a subject that is well suited to her talents as a writer and illustrator: the mass hysteria that erupted in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 and 1693, and led to more than 150 arrests and 20 executions. Schanzer’s appealing storyteller’s style will draw readers into this strangest of episodes in American history and keep them riveted. She deftly manages a large cast of characters and structures her narrative just as she should: straightforwardly and chronologically, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions or make broader comparisons. “The root of all this horror and pandemonium lies buried in a dark and misty past,” Schanzer writes. Her black and white scratchboard illustrations–highlighted with startling touches of red–evoke that past and the spirit of the tale. Their stylized sophistication recalls the wood engravings of Fritz Eichenberg, yet one also sees playful touches that mark this as Schanzer’s work. I love the enormous demonic beast lurking beneath the Atlantic’s waves; the decorated initials that begin each chapter; the imaginative use of patterns. Witches! will appeal to readers seeking an accurate, entertaining account of the Salem witch trials. This fine book will also attract students who have read The Crucible and want the complete story behind the play. 2011, National Geographic, $16.95. Ages 10 up. Reviewer: Catherine Reef (Children’s Literature).
Rosalyn Schanzer is available for presentations to groups ages 5-adult; any size group. She speaks nationwide and internationally at schools (usually grades K-8), universities, seminars, conferences, panel discussions, workshops, etc. All presentations are customized to meet your needs and can include any combination of the following:
- CD Shows: Gloriously illustrated, fast-paced, informative, and humorous. Great choice for all ages and every show. (A CD projector, laptop for the CD, projector table, and screen must be provided by the school or institution.)
- Storytelling in costume with props and sound effects: Rollicking, riveting shows for grades K-3 featuring volunteers from the audience and plenty of interaction! Includes the song The Old Chisholm Trail and the tall tale Davy Crockett Saves the World
- Absolutely True Stories from History: Presented in an exciting way to directly coordinate with your school’s own curriculum. Most talks feature one book per session. Examples include exuberant and accurate images of the animals that Darwin saw during his voyage around the world on the Beagle; amazing tales about John Smith’s greatest escapes (can also be geared toward Colonial Jamestown); the many inventions of Benjamin Franklin; what both George Washington and King George III really believed during the Revolutionary War; the daring exploits of Lewis and Clark; the incredible California Gold Rush; how my own family escaped to America; and much more. All talks are guaranteed to appeal to the age level of your group or classes.
- Writing Workshops and/or Illustration Workshops: A few examples include writing a tall tale; writing your own autobiography; writing an amazing journal about a not-very-amazing day; how to write about history by becoming a detective; and some fun ways to illustrate all of the above.
- Adult presentations: How teachers can make history spring to life; the scoop on combining illustration with writing; finding great research for just about any topic; how my books were written; and practically anything else you can come up with.
Autographing sessions and lunches with students: Can be added to each day’s presentations.
Fees: Up to 3 presentations per day, $1,500. Overnight trips or trips over 50 miles away, $1,650 per day plus all travel expenses. Discounts are available for multiple-day events.
To learn more about Rosalyn and her publications please visit www.rosalynschanzer.com.