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Children’s Book Author Profile: David Ezra Stein

May 01, 2010
by Sarah Amandolare
David Ezra Stein's children’s books celebrate joy and simplicity, eschewing flash in favor of genuine introspection. His subtle interweaving of lessons in self-sufficiency and acceptance of change is neither intimidating nor heavy-handed. Themes of friendship and nature, seen in “Pouch!” and “Leaves” and “Monster Hug!” appeal to an international audience.

A Dreamy Childhood

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, Stein always enjoyed creating things, according to the biography on his official Web site. As a small child, he doodled on anything he found around the house, including his mother’s Post-It notepads. Stein’s Web site allows readers a glimpse into his eclectic imagination with a selection of his “hundreds of doodles.”

Daydreaming was another of Stein's favorite pastimes, along with reading and listening to his grandparents and parents read to him. Stein says he hopes to create a sense of “wonder” in his books, and to evoke the feeling of “having a whole world open” which he remembers feeling when he was read to as a child. 

How Stein Became an Author

Stein attended Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, where he met author Pat Cummings, his mentor and teacher. After graduating from Parsons, Stein found work creating window displays, as a “puppeteer and puppet builder, interior and set-design illustrator,” and cartoonist for The New Yorker, all the while meeting with editors in hopes of catching a break.

In 2006, Simon & Schuster published his first book, “Cowboy Ned & Andy,” followed by “Ned's New friend.” Putnam then published “Leaves,” “Monster Hug!” and “The Nice Book.” His latest book, “Pouch!” reached bookstore shelves in September 2009. “The Making of Pouch!” provides a behind-the-scenes look at the book and reveals bits of Stein’s process for determining the medium to use for the pictures; he settled on stencils and watercolors.

Interviews With David Ezra Stein

The blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast featured an interview with Stein in October 2008. The author discusses, among other intriguing tidbits, his impressive breakfast-cooking skills, how music influences his work and the view from his home office in Kew Gardens, Queens. When asked by interviewer Jules Danielson how he begins working on a story and illustrations, Stein said, “I follow the story, bit by bit, like picking up breadcrumbs, and write and draw as fast as I can.”

Initially, Stein was pursuing editorial illustration at Parsons, according to The Q Note. The Queens-based publication profiled Stein in September 2009. After taking a class in children’s book writing, Stein “had an awakening,” and realized how much he loved books and reading. “It was such a magical experience to enter the world of a book,” he told The Q Note of his childhood. Stein points out that each of his books “is different to me but they all look like they’re cut from the same cloth.”

Reviews of David Ezra Stein’s Work

According to Stein’s Web site, School Library Journal noted the “simple yet expressive” language in “Cowboy Ned & Andy,” and Publisher's Weekly said Stein’s writing “sounds almost like Hemingway.” In 2008, Stein was awarded the New Writer Award for “Leaves” by The New York Public Library and the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. The award, established in 1985, recognizes and encourages new children’s book authors and illustrators.

In a review of “The Nice Book” for School Library Journal, Diane Chen writes, “The illustrations are deceptive. What at first looks like a casual swirl of a fingertip dipped in paint, turns out to be carefully planned strokes that convey motion and emotion.” Using the word “nice” is also typically frowned upon in children’s literature, according to Chen, but Stein makes it work by keeping his characters “whimsical yet not icky-sweet.”

The On My Bookshelf blog captured the essence of “Pouch!” calling it “a fun little book to show children that it is great to take a few steps away from Mom and see the surprises of the world.” Perhaps most importantly, the reviewer adds, “Pouch!” shows kids “that it is okay to be nervous about encountering new things.”

For Fans of David Ezra Stein

Stein’s blog alerts fans to public appearances and events he’ll attend, and links to mentions of his books and interviews around the Web. The blog also features images of crafts, including puppets and drawings that Stein is working on. 

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