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Spotlight on Award Winning Author Cynthia Rylant

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cover art, When I was Young in the Mountains
Puffin

Cynthia Rylant has written more than 60 children's books since her first book was published in 1982. Her work has been honored with numerous awards, including a Newbery Medal. Rylant writes both picture books and novels for older readers. In a few cases, she has also illustrated her own books.

Her Early Years
Cynthia Rylant was born in Virginia. After her parents divorced, Cynthia went to live with her grandparents in Cool Ridge, West Virginia, while her mother attended nursing school. When Cynthia was eight, she and her mother moved to Beaver, West Virginia. Although she went on to college and graduate school, ultimately earning a Master of Library Science degree at Kent State University in Ohio, her early years had a great impact on her writing.

The Appalachian Influence
Cynthia Rylant's first book, When I Was Young in the Mountains, is based on her life with her grandparents in the 1950s. The family lived simply, with no electricity or running water but enjoyed living in the country. The book was designated a Caldecott Honor Book for the quality of the artwork by Diane Goode that so effectively illustrated the text. The Relatives Came, illustrated by Stephen Gammell, was also a Caldecott Honor Book. It was published in 1985.

Rylant went on to write other books that were set in Appalachia. Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds benefits from the fact that the illustrator as well as the artist grew up in Appalachia. Barry Mosher's watercolors help to bring Rylant's words to life. The book was published in 1991. In 1996, Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story was published.

Favorite Characters
If you didn't immediately recognize Cynthia Rylant's name, you will probably recognize some of the characters she has created. Four to eight year olds love Poppleton, Henry and Mudge, and Mr. Putter and Tabby. Poppleton is a very large pig who has wonderful adventures in a series of books for beginning readers. Mr. Putter is an old man who adopts an old cat, Tabby. The most popular characters of all are Henry and Mudge.

There are over 20 Henry and Mudge books. They are excellent for young readers in grades 1-3. Younger children enjoy them as read alouds. Henry is a little boy, who has no one to play with until he gets a dog. Mudge grows from a tiny puppy into an 180-pound loveable companion. While the books have illustrations like picture books, they are divided into several chapters, creating a nice transition for young readers ready for something more (but not much more) than picture books.

Books for 9 to 12 Year Olds
Cynthia Rylant's books for children in grades 5-8 have also won acclaim. The topics tend to be more serious than many of her picture books. Rylant was honored with a Newbery Medal for Missing May, a story of love and coping with the death of a loved one. A Fine White Dust was also a Newbery Honor Book. Rylant now lives in the Pacific Northwest and her haunting novel The Islander is set on an island off of British Columbia.

Written and Illustrated By Cynthia Rylant
When our dog died, I gave my husband a copy of Cynthia Rylant's Dog Heaven. In simple rhyme and exuberant acrylics, Rylant paints a picture of a special heaven populated with all of the things that dogs like best. Her book Cat Heaven, while it has the same type of artwork and God is the same grandfatherly person, creates a picture of a special heaven for cats that is quite different from dog heaven. After all, if you have pets, you know that cats and dogs are very different.

I find it intriguing that Rylant is able to excel in writing books for children of all ages. If your children haven't discovered Cynthia Rylant yet, introduce them to her books.

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