Art prof’s Arctic tern picture book wins Riverby prize

 

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The phone call last December from the granddaughter of one of America’s foremost naturalists came as a big surprise – Tim Musso, an artist and wilderness trekker had won an award, she said, for his children’s book on the migration of the Arctic tern. The award was being given by her grandfather’s namesake, the John Burroughs Association.

<p> Tim Musso holds his book, "Chasing the Sun," at the Yale Club in New York City where he was awarded the Riverby prize for his work. </p>

Tim Musso holds his book, "Chasing the Sun," at the Yale Club in New York City where he was awarded the Riverby prize for his work.

<p> Tim Musso, right, back row, with other winners of the Riverby Award for Young Readers presented by the John Burroughs Association in April. </p>

Tim Musso, right, back row, with other winners of the Riverby Award for Young Readers presented by the John Burroughs Association in April.

<p> Artist and auther Tim Musso, an assocate Art+Design professor at Ӱ̳, presents his book at a Barnes &amp; Noble store in Riverside. </p>

Artist and auther Tim Musso, an assocate Art+Design professor at Ӱ̳, presents his book at a Barnes & Noble store in Riverside.

<p> Tim Musso gives a presentation about his book, "Chasing the Sun" to children at a bookstore in Utah during a book tour. </p>

Tim Musso gives a presentation about his book, "Chasing the Sun" to children at a bookstore in Utah during a book tour.

<p> Giving a presentation about the artwork in the book, "Chasing the Sun," to a class at Weber State University in Utah. </p>

Giving a presentation about the artwork in the book, "Chasing the Sun," to a class at Weber State University in Utah.

<p> Images from an edition of the Adventure Journal featuring artist Tim Musso's artwork. </p>

Images from an edition of the Adventure Journal featuring artist Tim Musso's artwork.

<p> On a wilderness expedition in Utah in spring 2023, which serves as the inspiration for second picture book, currently in the works. </p>

On a wilderness expedition in Utah in spring 2023, which serves as the inspiration for second picture book, currently in the works.

Musso, an associate art professor with Ӱ̳’s Art+Design department and director of its Brandstater Gallery last summer celebrated ’s publication of the book, his first ever. He served as both author and illustrator of “Chasing the Sun” which details the migration and life of an Arctic tern family and the species’ extensive yearly flights between Earth’s poles heralded as the longest in the animal kingdom. Through in-depth scientific research relayed in simple terms and illustrated with richly colored and intricate hand-cut wood reliefs, the picture book tells the story of the small, three-ounce birds and their epic journeys covering upwards of 50,000 miles. The story idea and artwork is drawn from Musso’s expedition to Alaska’s Arctic circle in 2018.

On April 1, Musso, along with authors of five other books on nature published last year, gathered at the opulent Yale Club of New York City to receive the Riverby Award for Young Readers 2024 from the Burrough’s association, over which John Burroughs’ great granddaughter Joan Burroughs presides as president.

“It’s super cool,” Musso said in reaction to the award. “That’s my wheelhouse, the environment, nature.”

The juried process considers hundreds of publishers’ book submissions in choosing top prize winners of the Riverby, a recognition of exceptional scientifically-based nature books designed for young readers. The Riverby joins the John Burroughs Nature Essay Award and the John Burroughs Medal as literary award categories offered by the Burroughs association.

Administered out of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the John Burroughs Association, commemorates the life and works of foremost nature essayist and naturalist who counted among his friends famed poet Walt Whitman and former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, as well as iconic industrialists Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone. Burroughs entertained such notable guests at his famous ‘Slabsides’ cabin in the Hudson Valley as conservationist and ‘Father of the National Parks’ John Muir with whom he traveled to Yosemite. He garnered a following through his simply-worded observations on nature that were published in magazines and collected into books.

Burroughs received honorary doctorates from Yale and Colgate universities, and the University of Georgia, and the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Riverby Award is named after Burrough’s nine-acre fruit farm located on the Hudson River. Slabsides is now part of a surrounding nature preserve in his name.

Musso arrived for the awards in New York City, the nation’s most populous metropolis, for the awards event fresh off the trail from his one-week backpacking expedition through the Escalante-Grand Staircase wilderness in Utah. The trek served as a follow-up to his 10-week sabbatical in Utah in spring 2023. The trips serve as a reference for a second picture book he is working on related to water cycles and ecology in the southwest.

“It was my second time in New York. I came straight from Escalante, Utah, which is the least populated place in the contiguous United States to Manhattan,” he said. “It’s quite a contrast, it’s quite a shock, but I like that contrast.”

Musso took advantage of his stay in The Big Apple and made time for visits to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the American Museum of Natural History where the Burroughs association is based. He also attended a luncheon for awardees and their book publishers at the Yale Club where Riverby prize winners received copies of each other’s books and spoke for two minutes about their respective works.

For Musso, who is new to the world of book publishing, the awards event served as an important networking occasion and opportunity to seek input from experienced authors. “It’s just so nice to have some insight from other people who are making children’s books,” he said.

Musso is an avid naturalist who spends weeks each year hiking through wilderness areas usually in the American west, sometimes on developed trails, sometimes navigating his own path through remote reaches. He sketches and takes photographs for his artworks -- his backpack contains the tools of his trade in a waterproof sack – toned paper sketchbook, a white charcoal pencil, and a felt tip pen.

During the months following his expeditions, he creates wood and linocut prints, often in large scale based on images and rubbings of trees, plants and other elements of nature. His treks have taken him throughout the American Southwest, throughout the Sierra Nevadas and the Pacific Crest Trail, and internationally including the mountains of New Zealand. 

He exhibits internationally with works held in museums and private collections. Recent exhibits have taken place at the Missoula Art Museum in Missoula Montana in 2022, the Wonzimer Gallery in Los Angeles in 2021, and the Sydney Contemporary Art Fair in Sydney, Australia in 2019. His art is among permanent collections of the Fort Wayne Art Museum in Indiana, the Zuckerman Museum of Art in Georgia, and Montana's Missoula Art Museum. His sketches were also published last year in the prestigious dedicated to exploration and the outdoors.

Since its publication, “Chasing the Sun” has received positive reviews including from Publisher’s Weekly and from Children’s Literature which noted, “Musso’s handmade wood carvings are mesmerizing, majestic illustrations that hook readers in to the journey.” Last summer he went on a book tour in Utah which included a lecture at the University of Utah and signings at bookstores. He also gave a talk to local audiences at the Riverside Art Museum and readings with local elementary classes.

Recently, Musso’s book was placed on a librarian book selection list through the University of Wisconsin which prompted so many orders of “Chasing the Sun” that its publisher had to run a second printing.

Musso will give readings and art demonstrations for “Chasing the Sun” at the Woodcrest Library in Riverside on Wed., June 19 at 10:30 a.m. and at Home Gardens Library on Thurs., June 20 at 10:30 a.m. He has also been invited to present his book at the Jackson Hole Book Festival in Wyoming this October and will give readings and art classes at local schools there.

“I have been very fortunate to have travelled extensively in wild places around the world and am thrilled to share some of my observations and knowledge about the natural world in this picture book,” Musso said. “The migration of the Arctic tern is a true story about adventure, travel and taking risks. The tern’s story is a metaphor for what we should all do—explore the uncharted territories in the adventure of life.

“Being honored with the Riverby Award gives me confidence to continue to write and illustrate books,” Musso continued. “The follow up to my first book is based on my decade-long travels in Southern Utah. I am excited to see where it takes me and to share the journey.”