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Jackie French Koller (1948-) - Sidelights

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Children's book author Jackie French Koller has spent her life immersed in stories: listening as her mother read to her when she was a child; conjuring up make-believe adventures to entertain herself as a schoolgirl; and developing a lifetime habit of avid reading. As an adult, she has entertained legions of readers, transforming the history of her native New England into young adult novels such as Someday and The Primrose Way; conjuring up fantastic adventures in her "Keeper" trilogy as well as in her books The Dragonling, Dragon's Quest, and Dragon Trouble, about the friendship between a boy and a young dragon; and translating her love of young children into picture books that depict affectionate families and loyal friendships.


Born and raised in Connecticut, Koller developed the ability to entertain and amuse herself early on. "I developed a vivid imagination and was forever pretending," she recalled in an interview for Authors and Artists for Young Adults. "I would dream up great adventures for my siblings and friends to act out, and I, of course, was always the star, the hero, or, one might say, the main character, for as I look back now I can see that those early games of pretend were my first attempts at creating stories." To survive her teen years she took solace in books and nature, hiking in the woods near her home or diving into a book and losing herself in the story and characters, leaving all the pain of the real world behind.

Although she first contemplated a career in art, as a student at the University of Connecticut Koller studied interior design. She met George J. Koller her junior year, and the two were married in 1970. When her husband went on to graduate school, Koller supported him by working in the insurance industry. She began to write for children while raising her three children, and her first book, Impy for Always, was published in 1989.

Koller's first novel for older readers, Nothing to Fear, focuses on an Irish immigrant family living in poverty in New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The only family income is what Danny can make shining shoes and what his mother earns doing laundry, and when his father leaves town to seek work, Danny becomes the man of the house. Pregnant and weary, his mother loses her laundress jobs and Danny begins begging for food. The family finally gains relief, ironically, by helping a sick and hungry stranger who appears at their doorstep. While Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Rosemary Moran described the story as "in turn depressing and enriching," School Library Journal reviewer Ann Welton commended Nothing to Fear and added that Koller's "interesting supporting characters will hold readers' attention." A critic in Kirkus Reviews dubbed Nothing to Fear an "involving account of the Great Depression . . . conjuring an entire era from the heartaches and troubles of one struggling family."


The Primrose Way tells of a sixteen-year-old girl, Rebekah Hall, who comes to live with her Puritan father in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. While pretending that she is converting the local Native Americans, Rebekah befriends Qunnequawese, the chief's niece. Their friendship awakens a cultural understanding between the two teens, and Rebekah's interest in the Native-American way of life makes her question the Puritan salvation. Her problems worsen as she falls in love with the tribe's holy man, Mishannock. Reviewing the novel, Esther Sinofsky wrote in the Voice of Youth Advocates that The Primrose Way is a "beautiful story" of a young woman's search for identity highlighted by "carefully researched" scenes depicting early New England. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised Koller's creation of a vivid landscape that "successfully de-romanticizes the early settlers' struggles," while School Library Journal contributor Barbara Chatton remarked that the "carefully researched book incorporates authentic language in a readable text."

Koller introduces readers to fifteen-year-old Anna O'Dell in A Place to Call Home. In this novel, the teen returns home from school to discover that her infant brother, Casey, alone and screaming. Anna's alcoholic mother is later discovered to have drowned in a lake, a suicide. Determined to keep her five-year-old sister, Mandy, and Casey with her, Anna shows her intelligence, strength, and determination to fight for her family, according to Hazel Moore in Voice of Youth Advocates. Carolyn Noah, writing in School Library Journal, called A Place to Call Home an "eloquent depiction of impoverishment and courage," adding that the novel contains a "fast paced" and "compelling" story laced with "satisfying social values."

In The Falcon Koller uses a journal format to reveal a secret about Luke, the novel's principal protagonist. Luke's self-destructive behavior lands him in a psychiatric hospital, where he must overcome a deep emotional scar on his way to recovery. "Koller's portrayal of a foolhardy teen who feels invincible is incredibly well drawn," asserted School Library Journal contributor Alison Follos, the critic adding that Luke's "past seeps out surreptitiously, adding powerful impact to an already interesting life." Writing in Booklist, reviewer Roger Leslie maintained that "Luke's strong voice comes through quite believably," while Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick called The Falcon an "involving and often suspenseful tale."

Based on a true story, Someday follows a teen who loses her childhood roots when her hometown in a Massachusetts river valley is flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir. Taking place during the 1930s, the coming-of-age novel finds fourteen-year-old Cecelia Wheeler forced to say goodbye to her best friend, adjust to life in her new home in Chicago, and also encounter first love in the form of Mr. Parker, a handsome young reservoir employee who lodges at the Wheeler homestead. In School Library Journal Beth L. Meister called Someday "a moving and well-plotted story about the end of an era," while Diane Foote wrote in her Booklist review that Koller creates a "heartbreaking account" of a teen's transition in which "scenes of the town's dismantling are truly harrowing." A Kirkus reviewer described the novel as "a perceptive picture of small-town life" and noted that Koller's "readers will understand how emotional ties to a place can define who you are." Koller moves from historical fiction to fantasy with her "Keepers" series: A Wizard Named Nell, The Wizard's Apprentice, and The Wizard's Scepter. The series draws readers into the kingdom of Eldearth, which is threatened by the dark forces of the evil Lord Graieconn. When the ageing imperial wizard of Eldearth begins to wilt in his role as Keeper of the Light and protector of the realm, a search for a successor begins. While wizards have always been old men, young Princess Arnelle believes that she may be the one destined to fulfil a prophecy and take up the role of Keeper of the Light. To prove her worthiness to apprentice to the imperial wizard she undertakes a quest fraught with danger, joined by her friend Owen. Praising A Wizard Named Nell, Susan L. Rogers wrote in School Library Journal that Koller has created "a fast-moving and easy-to read" novel that features a "steadfast and admirable heroine."

In addition to novels for older readers, Koller has also penned a number of well-received picture books for children. In No Such Thing Howard has just moved with his family into a new home. Unable to fall sleep because he is certain that there is a monster under his bed, Howard summons his mother over and over in a futile attempt to convince her. Meanwhile, a little monster under Howard's bed cannot get to sleep because he is certain there is a boy on top of his bed, and he is also unable to convince his reassuring mother. "Any child who has been convinced of the presence of a monster at bedtime will feel vindicated by [this] satisfying story," maintained a Kirkus Reviews critic, dubbing the story "irresistible."

The counting books One Monkey Too Many and Seven Spunky Monkeys center on the adventures of vacationing monkeys. Horn Book reviewer Marilyn Bousquin, in a review of One Monkey Too Many, praised Koller's "infectious, rollercoaster rhythm," while School Library Journal contributor Lauralyn Persson wrote that "the infectious rhythm of the text never falters. . . . Spilling, breaking, dropping, and crashing have never been this much fun."

Other picture books by Koller include Horace the Horrible: A Knight Meets His Match, in which a robust knight widely praised for his dragon-slaying abilities meets his match when babysitting his young niece, the In the first part of a series that takes place in Eldearth, Princess Arenelle is determined to undertake the traditional quest demanded of those who hope to be apprentice wizards, and she finds an ally in the form of an orphaned boy named Owen. (Cover illustration by Rebecca Guay.) young and homesick Princess Minuette. Praising the quirky watercolor and pencil illustrations by Jackie Urbanovic, School Library Journal contributor Laurie Edwards called Horace the Horrible "a rollicking, humorous tale" about two equally stubborn characters as well as an upbeat choice for story hour. Koller also depicts a test of wills in Baby for Sale, in which young Peter decides that it's time for his toddler sister Emily to find a new home after she throws his new cap into the toilet. While Peter attempts to convince a succession of neighbors of Emily's good qualities, her toddler antics gradually win him over in what Rosalyn Pierini praised as a "sweet, recognizable family story" in her School Library Journal review.


Koller lives on ten acres of mountaintop land in Western Massachusetts in a house she shares with her husband and Labrador retriever. "It amazes me that I'm actually a published author," she noted on her Web site, adding that, even with dozens of books in print, "sometimes I still have to pinch myself."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 28, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1995, Merri Monks, review of A Place to Call Home, p. 396; April 15, 1998, Roger Leslie, review of The Falcon, p. 1436; June 1, 2002, Diane Foote, review of Someday, p. 1723; September 1, 2002, Lauren Peterson, review of Baby for Sale, p. 136; October 1, 2003, Eva Mitnick, review of A Wizard Named Nell, p. 321.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1991, p. 168; April, 1992, Zena Sutherland, review of The Last Voyage of the Misty Day, p. 211; March, 1997, p. 237.

Horn Book, March-April, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of One Monkey Too Many, p. 194.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 1991, review of Nothing to Fear, September 15, 1992, review of The Primrose Way, p. 1189; January 1, 1997, review of No Such Thing, p. 60; May 1, 2002, review of Someday, p. 659; August 1, 2002, review of Baby for Sale, p. 1134; October 1, 2003, review of Horace the Horrible, p. 1226.

Kliatt, July, 1998, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Falcon; November, 2003, Sherri F. Ginsberg, review of Someday, p. 52.

Publishers Weekly, December 30, 1996, p. 67; April 19, 1999, review of One Monkey Too Many, p. 72; July, 2002, review of Someday, p. 80; August 12, 2002, review of Baby for Sale, p. 299.

School Library Journal, May, 1991, Ann Welton, review of Nothing to Fear, p. 93; June, 1992, p. 116; September, 1992, Barbara Chatton, review of The Primrose Way, p. 278; October, 1995, Carolyn Noah, review of A Place to Call Home, p. 155; June, 1997, p. 95; May, 1999, Lauralyn Persson, review of One Monkey Too Many, p. 92; July, 2002, Beth L. Meister, review of Someday, p. 122; September, 2002, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Baby for Sale, p. 196; October, 2003, Cheryl Preisendorfer, review of Someday, p. 90; November, 2003, Laurie Edwards, review of Horace the Horrible, p. 104, and Susan L. Rogers, review of A Wizard Named Nell, p. 142; June, 2004, MaryAnne Karre, review of A Wizard Named Nell (audio version), p. 73.

Teacher Librarian, April, 2004, Helen Moore, review of A Wizard Named Nell, p. 10.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1991, Rosemary Moran, review of Nothing to Fear, p. 228; December, 1992, Esther Sinofsky, review of The Primrose Way, p. 280; February, 1996, Hazel Moore, review of A Place to Call Home, p. 373.


ONLINE

Jackie French Koller's Author Page, http://www.geocities.com/~jackiekoller (February 1, 2005).*

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almost 3 years ago

Where can I find "The Liberty Pole" by Jackie French Koller? I would like to get a copy for my granddaughter, since the Daggetts are mentioned and we are distant ancestors.