John Shearer

(b. 1947)

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(b. 1947), photographer and author of fiction and nonfiction.

Known for his books for children, John Shearer was born and raised in New York City and attended Rochester Institute of Technology and School of Visual Arts. In 1970, he became staff photographer for Look and Life, and contributed photographs to other national magazines, including Popular Photography and Infinity.

Shearer entered the field of children's and young adult literature with I Wish I Had an Afro (1970), a nonfiction essay exploring the challenges of rearing an African American boy in poverty. Shearer's black-and-white photographs contribute to the intense depiction of an urban family's struggle against ignorance, gangs, and drugs. Shearer's talent for illustrating narratives of childhood experience is seen also in Little Man in the Family (1972), a double photographic essay exploring the lives of two boys from differing racial and class backgrounds. Louis Berrios is Puerto Rican and lives in a New York City ghetto with his mother and five sisters, while David Roth is white and the son of a suburban dentist. The essay explores the children's life ambitions through dialogue taken from interviews with the boys, their parents, teachers, and friends. The graphic candor of the photographs and the boys' revealing narratives communicate the sharp contrasts of their lives and the similarities of their dreams.

In 1976, John Shearer published Billy Jo Jive Super Private Eye: The Case of the Missing Ten Speed Bike, the first of five in the “Billy Jo Jive” fiction series for children. All illustrated by his father, Ted Shearer, The Case of the Sneaker Snatcher (1977), Billy Jo Jive and the Case of the Missing Pigeons (1978), Billy Jo Jive and the Walkie Talkie Caper (1981), and Billy Jo Jive and the Case of the Midnight Voices (1982) are mystery stories about a boy detective and his sidekick, Sunset Susie. Pairing up to solve small-time neighborhood crimes, the child “private eyes” recover stolen goods as well as locate the source of eerie noises. Targeted at primary grade readers, the series' fast-paced plots, first-person narration marked by urban vernacular, and vivid illustrations offer visually and textually entertaining yet educational stories. The series became so successful that short films based on the stories were shown regularly on the children's television program Sesame Street, produced by the author. In 1978, John Shearer received a Ceba award for the animated film adaptation of Billy Jo Jive Super Private Eye: The Case of the Missing Ten Speed Bike.

The recipient of over twenty national awards, John Shearer has had his work exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in shows at Grand Central Terminal, the IBM Galleries, and Eastman Kodak. He has also taught photojournalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. His essays and stories contribute to African American literature by offering young readers characters with whom they can identify, plots to which they can relate, and myriad images of African American children rarely seen in children's literature.

“ Shearer, John” in Something about the Author, vol. 43, ed. Anne Commire, 1986, pp. 192–196. “John Shearer” in Children's Literature Review, vol. 34, ed. Gerard J. Senick, 1995, pp. 165–168.


Subjects: Literature.

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