Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Featured Illustrator: Melissa Sweet

If I could be any illustrator, I think I would want to be Melissa Sweet. Something about her style appeals so deeply to me, and I love how she incorporates layers of found materials and other ephemera into her work. I've actually tried to make a few "Melissa-Sweet inspired" scrapbook pages of my own, and let me tell you, it is a lot of work to put something like that together!

In this post, I'm sharing two of my favorite categories of books by Melissa Sweet: her biographies (both written by her or with Jan Bryant) and her illustrations for books or poems or books on writing. Interested in more illustrators? Click the "Featured Illustrator" tag to see all the posts.


Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (2016) by Melissa Sweet. I need to write an ode about how much I love Melissa Sweet. Her scrapbooky style of artwork is always so inspiring, and she did an amazing job incorporating so many actual photographs and ephemera from the White family. This biography seems like an instant classic for anyone who loves and appreciates the stories of E. B. White. As a teacher, one of my favorite insights was the inclusion of multiple (wildly different) drafts of the opening page of Charlotte's Web. A mini-lesson in the making.

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus (2014) by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet [a Siebert Award winner and a Newbery Honor winner]. This is a great biography of Roget with a lot of insight into the creation of the original thesaurus. Will definitely share this one with students when we get to talking about how and why to use a thesaurus. Fascinating to read how the idea evolved and to see the original meaning-based organization of the first edition.

River of Words: the story of William Carlos Williams (2007) by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I shared pieces of this bibliography every year with my students when we studied some of the poems of William Carlos Williams (read full details in Teaching Poetry with Love that Dog). I really like how the illustrations convey the connections between Williams's "real" profession (being a doctor) and the sights and sounds of his farm that inspired his poetry.

On Poems and Writing

You Nest Here with Me (2015) by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. This precious poetry book is one that I fell in love with immediately. The soothing and rhythmic rhymes are perfectly complemented by the endearing collage and mixed media style of Melissa Sweet. Different birds and their nests are introduced, and the mother reassures her daughter through the repeating refrain of "You nest here with me." This is a book that I have given as a gift to several friends to read to their children.

Firefly July: a year of very short poems (2014) selected by Paul Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.The book is arranged seasonally with a wonderful array of short poems for each season. Each poem is accompanied by the incredible art of Melissa Sweet, whose bright collage style ought to make anyone want to create art. A combination of one and two-page spreads as well as clever poem juxtapositions make this book a treasure.

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. There are so many great things going on in this book! First, of course, is the fact that Little Red (the pencil) is writing her own Red Riding Hood parody, but I also love the inclusion of individual parts of speech and the "story path" for how to create a fiction story. This could be a touchstone text for students when writing their own fiction stories, as well as helping them use different grammar and parts of speech to bolster their writing. Fun!

A quick search of my public library reveals many many more wonderful books written or illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Did I miss any of your favorites? Please share in the comments below.

Looking for more great illustrators? Click the "Featured Illustrator" tag for more.

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