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James Rumford's artwork
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Author and illustrator James Rumford had a varied career before becoming a chldren's wroter, including working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad and Afghansistan and a Fulbright lecturer in Rwanda. James was forty-six when his long-held dream of creating children's books came to fruition with the publication of his first book The Cloudmakers, thanks to the insistent encouragement of retired librarian and story-teller Harriet Oberhuas, as related by James on his website. In 1986 James set up his own letter press Mānoa Press, creating fine limited-edition handmade books.

In the last fifteen years, James has written many more beautifully crafted books, often focusing on different alphabets and writing forms from around the world. He has won many awards, including Jane Addams Peace honor awards for Sequoyah and Silent Music, winner also of a Charlotte Zolotow honor and the Peace Corps Writers Award for Best Children's Writing. His book Traveling Man won the Middle East Outreach Council 2001 Book Award for the best picture book for children and young adults. James' picture book Rain School has been selected for inclusion in the 2011 Spirit of PaperTigers Book Set.

James lives with his wife in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Quotations taken from our interview with James Rumford:

The idea for Mango Rain came to me while I was in Chad, before I had even thought of really becoming a children’s book writer and illustrator.

[...] I decided that the illustrations should be loose. I also wanted the dusty feeling of Chad; so I chose pastels to give that effect—and I chose the colors of the mango fruit to help the reader feel the intense heat of that country. Since the rain in Rain School is more violent than it is in Mango Rain, I turned to the masters of depicting rain: the Japanese ukiyo-e artists Utamaro and Hiroshige.

I also used works by Chinese and Japanese and Native American artists for inspiration when I illustrated Sequoyah. I wanted the look of a wood cut. I wanted to know how to solve the problems of composing a ‘tall’ picture. So, I went to the library and studied the artists I mentioned. If you look at my books, the art is varied. When I write a book, I want the illustrations to reflect the story not me. Thus, I have no particular style.


As the author and the illustrator, I think it is fun to put references to my other books in the pictures and sometimes in the text as well. Referring to Calabash Cat in Rain School was, for me an opportunity not to be missed. Mango Rain also has the same references. There are other references as well. The more you look at my books the more you will find, and the more you know the more you will see. Traveling Man is filled with visual and textual references that, as the reader grows and matures, will become more and more comprehensible.


I think that making handmade books started me on a journey of finding out what makes a well-designed book. I had to learn about the composition of a page and the interaction of its various elements: the text block versus the white space; the placement of the illustrations throughout the book, if there were any; the rhythm of the pages as they flowed through the book; the balance of type and binding, color and black and white. All of these things helped me with my first book, which I sent to my publisher completely illustrated. (Of course, one is not supposed to do this, especially with one’s first book, but I did it anyway. Perhaps one of the reasons it was picked up from the slush pile.)


I’d send it [Rain School] to all the schools in the inner city with the words, “If those kids can get an education so can you.” To schools in middle class neighborhoods, with the words, “Value your school and value your teacher.” To all of the private schools with the words “appreciate what you have.” To all the boards of education in the United States with the words “See how important a teacher is; pay them more!”

Posted September 2011

James Rumford - photo

By James Rumford (selected bibliography):

From the Good Mountain, How Gutenberg Changed the World
(Roaring Brook Press, forthcoming)

A Escola de Chuva,Portuguese
(BrinqueBooks, Brazil, forthcoming)

Rain School
(Houghton Mifflin, 2010)

Tiger and Turtle
(Roaring Brook Press, 2009)

Chee-Lin, A Giraffe’s Journey
(Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Silent Music, A Story of Baghdad
(Roaring Brook Press, 2008)

Beowulf, A Retelling
(Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Don’t Touch My Hat!
(Knopf 2007)

A Chuva da Manga (Portuguese)
(BrinqueBook, Brazil, 2005)

Sequoyah, the Cherokee Man Who Gave his People Writing, translated into Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller Huckaby
(Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

(Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Calabash Cat, and His Amazing Journey
(Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

Nine Animals and the Well
(Houghton Mifflin, 2003)

There’s a Monster in the Alphabet
(Houghton Mifflin, 2002)

Traveling Man, the journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354
(Houghton Mifflin, 2001)

Seeker of Knowledge, the man who deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs
(Houghton Mifflin, 2000)

The Island-below-the-Star
(Houghton Mifflin, 1998)

When Silver Needles Swam, the story of tutu’s quilt / Ka Ihe o Tūtū, English and Hawaiian
(Mānoa Press, Hawaii, 1998)

The Cloudmakers
(Houghton Mifflin, 1996)

More on PaperTigers:

Read the complete interview.

Find out more about the Spirit of PaperTigers Outreach project, including the 2011 Book Set.

More on the web:

Visit James' website and blogs: Writing and Illustrating Books for Children and Horace et Al (Horace's poems 'with a bit of Hafiz thrown in').

Visit James' hand-made books from his Mānoa Press.

Read James' interviews with Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, Saffron Tree and Writer and Dreamer at Work.









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