St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
By Cindy Novak
When people first meet Chris Raschka, they might be surprised to learn he is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator, says Heidi Neumark, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, an ELCA congregation in New York City, where Chris is a member.
And even though he received the 2012 Caldecott Medal for his book, “A Ball for Daisy,” Chris remains “one of the most humble people I know,” Heidi says. “You wouldn’t necessarily know that he is famous at all. He doesn’t talk about or advertise that.”
In fact, “A Ball for Daisy” marks Chris’ second Caldecott Medal — a prestigious honor awarded annually by the American Library Association to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. He won the medal in 2006 for the illustration of “The Hello, Goodbye Window” by Norton Juster. He also earned a Caldecott Honor in 1994 for “Yo! Yes?”
“It’s a nice thing to be recognized for the work one is doing,” Chris says.
And knowing the Caldecott Medal award comes from librarians makes winning “very satisfying,” he says. “Many of the librarians I have gotten to know over the years are very thoughtful and dedicated. They play a crucial role in directing books into the hands of children and their parents.”
At one time, it looked as if Chris would become a doctor, rather than a children’s author and illustrator. He graduated from St. Olaf College, an ELCA college in Northfield, Minn., with a degree in biology and set his sights on a vocation in medicine. But after realizing he’d have to give up his passion — art — for the rigorous studies ahead of him, Chris left medical school the night before he was to start.
“Art was something I always did,” he said. “It was something I could not give up. I realized that being a full-time medical student would mean having to stop my painting, which I did not want to do.”
So when faced with the choice between a career in medicine or art, Chris followed his heart, even if that meant taking a risk. “I didn’t know if I’d make it as an artist, but I was willing to try,” Chris recalls of his decision to leave medical school.
Since then, Chris has established himself as a respected, talented artist. And since moving to New York City, and becoming a member of Trinity, he has participated in the life of Trinity in a variety of ways.
For example, he cares for the church turtle, Elmo, by changing its water and rearranging its tank. He volunteers and befriends those staying at Trinity Place, a homeless shelter for LGBT youth, and has designed materials for the shelter. “This is something our church absolutely wants to be a part of, and I want to be a part of, as well,” he says. Chris also plays viola as part of Trinity’s music program, and is “willing to do dirty clean-up jobs that other people might not be willing to do,” Heidi says.
Chris looks forward to continuing to write and illustrate, as he happily has done over the years. “I hope to continue to make books that will have meaning and relevancy for my little readers,” he says.
Cindy Novak is a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Naperville, Ill. She lives in Lisle, Ill., with her husband, David, and her children, Sam and Emily.