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He attended the University of Maryland, College Park but quit after one semester to join the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, graduating in 1973. He worked for several years as a clown before moving to Maryland and joining the Prince George's Country Puppet Theatre where he met his wife Donna Harris. In 1980, they started the Clarion Puppet Theatre (later known as the Clarion Shadow Theatre) which toured in schools, theaters and at the Smithsonian. After his children were born, he became a full-time author/ illustrator, using layers of cut paper to illustrate children's books. His book Golem, won the 1997 Caldecott Medal.
In his acceptance speech, he said of himself: "I am a self-taught artist and writer who depends on instincts developed through years of circus and puppet performance to guide a story's structure and look."
- "Elfwyn's Saga" New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1990.
- "Golem." New York: Clarion Books, 1996.
- "Rain Player" New York: Clarion Books, 1991.
- "Sumo Mouse" San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.
- "Sundiata♥: Lion King of Mali" New York: Clarion Books, 1992.
- "Tough Cookie" New York: Clarion Books, 1999.
- "The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups" New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1998.
- "The Warrior and the Wise Man" New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1989.
- "The Wave of the Sea Wolf" New York: Clarion Books, 1994.
- "Worlds of Shadow: Teaching with Shadow Puppetry", Teacher Idea Press, 1996 (with Donna Wisniewski).
- "Caldecott Medal & Honor Books, 1938-Present". American Library Association. Retrieved 18 March 2010.
- Macpherson, Karen (2002-09-24). "Author Remembered for Detailed Work". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania).
- Lipson, Eden Ross (2002-09-21). "David Wisniewski, 49, Artist And Children's Book Author". The New York Times.
- Harrison, David (1981-10-17). "Puppet Wizardry". Washington Post.