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Katonah Museum's Learning Center to Open Julie Downing Exhibit
Julie Downing from “The Magpies’ Nest”. Clarion Books, 1995.

KATONAH, NY.- This summer the Learning Center features Julie Downing’s rich, jewel-like watercolor illustrations from the children’s books How Do You Know?, The Magpies’ Nest, and Where is My Mommy? Downing is an internationally published author and illustrator of over 30 children’s books, as well as the recipient of a Parents Choice Award and the New York Public Library Best Books Award. Visitors to the Learning Center will also learn about Impressionist art.

Author and illustrator Julie Downing's work often focuses on the gentler topics of children's books, including lullabies, charming animals, and family relationships. Known for her soft, appealing illustration style, Downing's books tell Bible stories, historical tales, and reassuring vignettes. In Where Is My Mommy? Downing provides a "gentle offering about young animals (including the human variety) reuniting with their mothers," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. In the book, Downing's watercolors depict several creatures in two spreads; in the first, each creature is looking for its mother, and in the second, the animal is shown being taken care of by its mother. Bunnies, puppies, birds, and human children all seek, and find, their mommy, reassuring toddlers and young readers that their mothers have not abandoned them.

Downing addresses another powerful symbol of childhood security, the lullaby, in Lullaby & Good Night: Songs for Sweet Dreams. The book contains the lyrics to fourteen well-known lullabies, including popular English lullabies, a Puerto Rican song, and "Kumbaya." Melody lines are included to provide basic information on the song's tune, but Downing notes that the lullabies can be sung or read to other tunes than those provided. Downing also offers "luxurious illustrations" of tired children, attentive parents, and sleeping animals, wrote Mollie Bynum in School Library Journal. "The detailed watercolor illustrations are what shine here," Bynum concluded.

Downing's solo work also includes a series of Bible stories adapted to board book format, including Noah's Ark, Baby Jesus, Joseph's Colorful Coat, and Jonah and the Whale. The illustrator's pictures depicting "Jonah being swallowed by the whale are a highlight," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic in a review of the books.

As an illustrator, Downing frequently collaborates with other authors on their books. In The Chicken Salad Club, written by Marsha Diane Arnold, young Nathaniel loves to share sandwiches and stories with his one-hundred-year-old great-grandfather, "Greatpaw." Nathaniel relishes Greatpaw's stories of the old days, but Greatpaw hopes to find a wider audience for his tales. Early attempts to start a storytelling club are unsuccessful, but Nathaniel persists until an ad in the paper brings ninety-nine-year-old Sadie Johannsen to the door with her own stories and welcome company. Neighborhood children gather to listen, and Sadie and Greatpaw's stories are transmitted to a new generation. "The soft lively watercolor and colored-pencil drawings pull readers into the plot and will make their . . . spirits yearn for a good yarn," commented Beth Tegart in School Library Journal. Kathleen Squires, writing in Booklist, observed that Downing's artwork "bring[s] to life this heartwarming story about an intergenerational bond."

In Soon, Annala, written by Riki Levinson, Anna and her family, immigrants to early-twentieth-century America, eagerly look forward to the day when Anna's two younger brothers are able to join them in New York City. Everyone works to earn the money to bring the rest of the family over, while Anna embraces her new life by learning English to augment the Yiddish she and her family speak at home. Finally, the news arrives that Anna's aunt, uncle, their new baby, and her two brothers are on their way to a joyful reunion. As the boys sit on Anna's bed and look out the window at their new home, they begin to count the stars, in Yiddish. But Anna stops them and teaches them the English words, gently beginning their transition to a new life. "Downing's watercolor illustrations are full of warmth and of period details lovingly rendered," remarked Hanna B. Zeiger in Horn Book. The book is "a touching portrait of immigrant life in the early 1900s," Zeiger concluded.

Downing's "delicately misted, shimmery watercolors are the chief attraction" of Toby Speed's Water Voices, commented a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The text offers riddles describing familiar uses for and interactions with water, from a bath to a yard sprinkler to a thunderstorm. Writing in School Library Journal, Judith Gloyer found the illustrator's "watery watercolors in soft blues and greens . . . a lovely accompaniment to the text," while Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, observed that "the watercolor artwork [is] suitably misty in many spreads."

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