Christopher Bing

Christopher Bing

won a 2001 Caldecott Honor Award for his picture book interpretation of the classic 1888 poem Casey at the Bat. His 2nd. book, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere also an ALA Notable Children's Book as well as a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Called “an impressive volume” by Publishers' Weekly. In a starred review, Booklist termed it “a remarkable visual interpretation of Longfellow’s classic poem.” He lives in Massachusetts where he works on picture books, op-editorials, humor and more. He also holds workshops, talks, and residencies.

After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1983, he immediately began work as a freelance artist; his first published illustration appeared in the Boston Globe in the spring of his senior year. Looking for a personal art project, one to stretch his own perceptions beyond the confines of the editorial page, Bing started working – with no thought of publication – on illustrations for his favorite childhood story, Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo, which had been read aloud to him many times by his grandfather. Receiving positive feedback on the drawings from friends and fellow artists, and notably from Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Bing encountered editor and publisher Christopher Franceschelli, who agreed to publish his illustrated version of the old story on one condition: that he publish two other books first. Bannerman's story seemed to controversial for a first book because of the many versions that had appeared over the years with racist and derogatory images.

Poetic illustration of “Casey at the Bat.”

Casting about for another illustration idea for a children's book, Bing remembered a gift his parents had given him when hew as in high school – Wallace Tripp's newly illustrated version of “Casey at the Bat.” At the time he was most interested in a note in the back of the book stating that the poem had originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888. He wondered why no one had ever illustrated the poem as if they were reading it in a newspaper, but the idea seemed so obvious he assumed it had been done. Over time, he would look up different versions of “Casey at the Bat” in various libraries but never did find one that matched his vision. When asked by Franceschelli to come up with another idea, he says that his own version of Casey “sprang to the front of the line and started knocking on the inside of my skull shouting 'Let me out.'” Seven years later, the book was finished and met with instant success. It was named a Blue Ribbon book by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and an ALA Notable Children's Book and captured a Caldecott Honor Award, a remarkable achievement for a first book. The intricate illustrations – created in pen and ink on scratchboard and overlaid with baseball memorabilia, newspaper ads, box scores, and vintage photographs – create the sensation of reading clippings in an old scrapbook found in a family attic. With its startling perspectives and historically accurate settings and clothing, the book appeared both innovative and “classic.”

For Bing's second book, he illustrated Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere,” again including layered images that enhance understanding of this famous episode in the early years of our country and reflect the meticulous research in Bing's artwork. This book was also named an ALA Notable Children's Book as well as a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. And that paved the way, after a 20-year labor of love, for the publication in 2003 of Little Black Sambo. Creating a vibrant black child wandering through a mythic Indian landscape, Bing gave his protagonist a larger-than-life feel in a book that has an unusually large trim size. The boy seems to be leaping off the pages as he confronts the bullying tigers and eventually triumphs over them, winning back his elegant clothes. Bing has called Little Black Sambo the “perfect story for pre-school age boys: a brave, smart hero who is loved and has the independence to explore the world alone.”

Ever mindful of the importance of friends, mentors, and teachers in his life, Bing includes their names in his books where an old-time engraver's signature would appear. The illustrator Chris Van Allsburg's name appears in Casey because as a teacher at RISD, Van Allsburg introduced Bing to the scratchboard technique, which has given depth and texture to his pen-and-ink work.