Michael J. Rosen
Highlights of a Life
“We live in a culture that sentimentalizes everything, believing that if, say, someone dies, you only feel one thing and that’s why you need this greeting card. . . . Humor provides a way to let in another emotion, mitigating against sentimentality. It really acknowledges the reader as the intelligent, empathic person he or she is, by engaging the reader’s own understanding in the context of connections and inventions that the writer has brought to the page.”—Michael J. Rosen, in an interview in How to Write Funny, F&W Books, 2001.
Michael J. Rosen was born and raised in a Jewish family in Columbus, Ohio, and he’s passionate about dogs, cooking, and philanthropy. All of these parts of his personality find their way into his work as a writer and illustrator of poetry, humor, and children’s books.
Rosen was born in 1954, the first of three children born to Marvin and Nona Rosen. According to Rosen’s website, www.fidosopher.com, a year-end evaluation from his pre-school teacher mentions qualities that remained with him until adulthood: “my interests in building and dabbling with things; my talkativeness and inquisitiveness; my need to be engaged with duties and other people; even my need to be reminded, occasionally, to hang up my coat.”
Michael attended summer camp from age four to twenty-six, making the transition from camper to counselor at age fourteen. He also worked at the community center that sponsored the camp. These experiences awakened his love for outdoor activities: “At camp, sailing, canoeing and horseback riding made me feel at home (though we had no horses, canoes or sailboats at home),” Michael says in “My Life in 600 Words,” a short autobiography on his website. The experiences also taught him the importance of community and service, and bred in him a love for children.
As a child, Rosen was also enthusiastic about art. “The art room became my haven,” he said, “where I spent every elective class, volunteered during study-hall, and even made artwork during lunch period.” Weekends he hung out with a friend at his friend’s father’s advertising agency, “dazzled by the fancy art supplies and machines.”
After high school, Rosen attended Kent State University for a year, then transferred to Ohio State where he studied pre-med. “Family practice seemed a way to combine working with children (my year-round job since ninth grade) and my fascination with natural history,” he said. “I majored in animal behavior, [and] sneaked in a few writing and ceramics classes.” Rosen completed his B.S. in 1976. After a brief stint in medical school at St. George’s School of Medicine in Grenada, Rosen gave in to writing and earned his MFA in poetry from Columbia University in 1981.
In 1983, Rosen became literary director of the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. The job included editing a number of collections of the stories and essays of noted American humorist James Thurber. A year earlier, he became design consultant to the Jefferson Center for Learning and the Arts, an organization affiliated with the Thurber House. Keeping his commitment to the local community, Rosen has taught in the Ohio Art Council Poetry-in-the-Schools Program and Greater Columbus Arts Council Artist-in-the- Schools Program. He has conducted over 500 young authors’ conferences, in-service days, writing workshops, guest author days, and residencies (for elementary, middle school, and high school students and teachers), as well as giving readings from his works.
Michael J. Rosen’s first publication was a book of poetry, A Drink at the Mirage, in 1984. His next book was a collection of poems for kids, which he illustrated himself: Fifty Odd Jobs: A Wild and Whacky Rhyming Guide to One-of-a-Kind Careers. This book started a long string of books for children. An essayist for the St. James Guide to Children’s Writers stated: “Rosen’s work has contributed to the field of children’s literature in many ways… His inclusion of a diversity of people interacting in natural contexts provides authentic stories of the similarities and differences that connect people to each other… by providing stories and illustrations on topics of interest to many, readers can add their own stories and contemplate the value of each situation for them individually.”
The books Our Eight Nights of Hanukkah and The Blessing of the Animals deal with religious themes, as well as Rosen’s love for animals. In addition to books like Kid’s Best Field Guide to Neighborhood Dogs, The Dog Who Walked with God, and With a Dog like That, a Kid like Me… Rosen also edited collections of essays about dogs by other writers: The Company of Dogs: Twenty-one Stories by Contemporary Masters, Speak! Children’s Book Illustrators Brag about Their Dogs, and Dog People: Writers and Artists on Canine Companionship.
A Thanksgiving Wish is a picture book about a family’s first Thanksgiving after their beloved grandmother, Bubbe, dies. The story celebrates the idea that traditions keep loved ones with us even after they are gone. The School Library Journal writes: “Rosen’s story is filled with the warmth of family togetherness and the comfort of holiday traditions.”
In addition to this touching account of Thanksgiving, don’t miss Rosen’s web piece: Sage advice for Thanksgiving…or any other family gathering. (Sage not included.) The article lists topics to avoid at the Thanksgiving table, topics to discuss, and ways to steer the conversation away from dangerous territory. “As a rough indicator of how you fared this holiday season, give yourself one point for each benevolent topic you manage to bring to the table; two, for each dicey topic that you managed to avert. This is much easier, if not statistically fussier, than hooking up the home blood pressure test kit.”
Michael J. Rosen is also noted for his philanthropic efforts. He established the Company of Animals Fund in 1990 to provide grants to animal welfare agencies around the world, to which he devotes the profits from seven of his anthologies. Four of his children’s books, and two cookbooks featuring recipes from distinguished chefs, benefit Share Our Strength, a Washington, D.C. based organization which helps anti-hunger agencies in the nation and abroad.
In an interview with Contemporary Authors, Rosen said: “In the last fifteen years, I’ve been engaged by ways in which an individual can contribute to significant social issues beyond the financial and political channels—that is, beyond donations and activism… My anthologies created ways that individuals could contribute their talent and their good names to urgent and chronic social problems. Such collections of well-known authors provide volumes that garner not only funds but genuine media attention. It has been an enormous honor to precipitate such collections and a concomitant reward to know that these generated funds offer such lasting benefits. Rather than imagine this a unique design, I hope that such collective philanthropy becomes a perennial enterprise in publishing.”
Michael Rosen currently lives in Glenford, Ohio, only 30 minutes away from the site of his childhood summer camp.