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Celia Barker Lottridge (1936-) - Sidelights

review book rooster tales

Celia Barker Lottridge writes novels that focus on life in her adopted country of Canada, where she settled permanently in the mid-1970s. A former librarian, she has worked as a storyteller for several years, and several of her books, such as The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button: A Hungarian Folktale and The Name of the Tree: A Bantu Tale, present her favorite folk stories. Lottridge has created both picture books and longer, novel-length works geared for readers in the early elementary grades, and has also collected shorter stories in the anthologies The American Children's Treasury and Letters to the Wind. For older readers, she has also written longer novels, including Ticket to Curlew and Wings to Fly, which recount life in rural Canada at the turn of the twentieth century. "Lottridge is particularly adept at evoking time and place," noted Jennifer Sullivan in Canadian Review of Materials, praising Wings to Fly for featuring "independent and resourceful women" as protagonists.

Born in Iowa City in 1936, Lottridge and her family moved frequently due to her father's transient career as a college professor, and by age twelve she could count seven towns in the United States that she had, at one time or another, called home. She credits these moves with broadening her perspective on people and places, as well as with transforming her into "an avid reader," as she recalled to Dave Jenkinson in Canadian Review of Materials. "I gave up really working at making friends when I was going on ten, but books were always there, so reading, and the people in books, were very important to me."

After graduating from high school, Lottridge attended Stanford University and graduated with a degree in modern European history in 1957. Two years later, she earned her master of library science degree at Columbia University. Married to a man in the U.S. Navy, she soon found herself moving again, this time to San Diego, where she got a job as a children's librarian before transferring to a library position in a private school in New York City when her husband's career brought the couple back to the East Coast. When Lottridge and her husband divorced in the early 1970s, she decided to move with her six-year-old son to Toronto, where her brother lived, and she has remained there ever since.

Becoming an accredited teacher-librarian, Lottridge worked for the Toronto School Board for a year, then found a job at a local bookstore, where she was quickly promoted to book buyer. After a few years Lottridge began to combine her work at the store with storytelling In Ten Small Tales: Stories from around the World Celia Barker Lottridge gathers magical stories that draw on many cultures, such as the tale of a monkey who cannot get too many bananas. (Illustration by Joanne Fitzgerald.) Lottridge's retelling of the Hungarian tale The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button finds a farmyard animal fighting the will of a king to keep his sparkly treasure. (Illustration by Joanne Fitzgerald.) and writing, and her first published work, Gerasim and the Lion, was released in 1979. She helped to form the Storyteller's School of Toronto to promote storytelling in the city's schools, and in the 1980s she began to take writing seriously as a way to supplement her income as a single parent. In addition to producing the nature books Mice and Prairie Dogs, she retold foreign-language folk tales for English-speaking readers, publishing several works under a pseudonym.

The Name of the Tree was the first book where, as the author later recalled to Jenkinson, "I just said, 'I'll write this book myself.'" The story, based on a tale Lottridge recalled from her own childhood, finds a lack of rain forcing Africa's animals to search for a new source of water. Full of much-needed liquid, the fruit of a tall tree might suffice, but it can only be had if the animals formally request the tree to release its fruit. To properly address the tree, the animals must learn the tree's name. Quill & Quire contributor Michele Landsberg had lavish praise for The Name of the Tree, declaring that "Lottridge's subtlety and skill as a storyteller reverberate on every page," making the book "a joy to read aloud." Landsberg further commended Lottridge's storytelling skills, citing the tale's "delectable rhythm, just the right amount of repetition, gentle suspense, and deftly underplayed humor."

Other books by Lottridge that have their basis in spoken stories are Something Must Be Hiding, about moving to a new town and coping with feelings of not fitting in; Music for the Tsar of the Sea, a tale of a Russian minstrel whose music brings both bounty and problems when it pleases a powerful sea spirit; and Ten Small Tales, a collection of folk that proved to be favorites at Lottridge's own storytelling programs. "I'm mainly interested in putting into print stories that aren't already easily available and usually ones that I've told a lot so that I have a real feeling for the story," the author explained to Jenkinson. Ten Small Tales includes several lesser-known folk tales—such as a Malaysian tiger story and a Khanti fairy tale of a mouse sailing in a walnut shell—which Horn Book critic Sarah Ellis noted would be "welcome in a world that contains too many lush editions of 'Goldilocks.'" Reviewing Ten Small Tales Julie Corsaro declared in Booklist that "Lottridge knows what little ones like in their folklore: simple and direct storylines, rhythmic rhyme and repetition . . . plenty of action, and a reassuring ending."

Several of Lottridge's retellings, as well as original stories such as Berta, a Remarkable Dog, feature animal characters. In The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button, folk story and farmyard collide when a rooster living with a poor old woman scratches around the dusty farmyard and discovers a sparkling diamond button instead of the typical bug, worm, or seed. When the button is snatched from the beak of the rooster by a greedy sultan who is passing by on his way to his palace, the rooster pursues the thief, crowing loudly. When the sultan attempts to drown the noisy bird, the rooster drinks up all the water; when the sultan tries roasting, the bird releases the water and puts out the cooking fire. Other attempts by the sultan at ridding himself of the button's rightful owner also fail in a story that has parallels in tales from many lands, as Lottridge notes in a special note to readers of her book. Dubbing The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button "a perfect read-aloud," Resource Links contributor Linda Ludke cited the author's "wonderfully constructed text" and "lyrical refrains," while Be Astengo commented in School Library Journal that "young audiences will clamor for this tale over and over again." Berta, a Remarkable Dog, Lottridge's beginning chapter book, focuses on a farm-dwelling Dachshund who mothers chicks, piglets, and even a young lamb. The work was praised by Resource Links reviewer Veronica Allen for its "lively style" and "soothing quality," while in Booklist Carolyn Phelan cited the book's "appealing" and detailed story of life on a farm.

In 1991, while working as writer-in-residence at the public library in Regina, Saskatchewan, Lottridge began what has become one of her most well-known books, the award-winning novel, Ticket to Curlew. The book, which was published in the United States as Ticket to Canada, tells the story of Sam Ferrier, a pre-teen growing up in the Alberta prairie around the turn of the twentieth century. Based on Lottridge's father's memories of his years spent on an Alberta farm, the novel brings to life an era where things moved at a much slower pace. "For children," Lottridge noted in her interview, "I think that what brings historical fiction alive is a character in the book they feel akin to or have empathy with. Then they can experience the historical part of it. They're not just reading it as: 'Well this happened here back then.'"

A sequel to Ticket to Curlew, titled Wings to Fly, takes place in 1918, and focuses on Sam's younger sister, twelve-year-old Josie, as she tries to adjust to the isolation of living on the prairie. When British couple Mr. and Mrs. Graham and their daughter Margaret move into a nearby sod house, Josie's hopes of finding a friend rise when she discovers that Margaret is her age. Unfortunately, Margaret is less than friendly, leaving Josie hurt and confused until her imagination is captured by the exploits of a daring female pilot. "In Wings to Fly, the rigors of prairie life are made real," Jennifer Sullivan declared in Canadian Review of Materials, "from the influenza epidemic and winter storms that ravage the small community, to the patriarchal society that confines women to the home." Sullivan also praised the novel for depicting the coming-of-age of its young protagonist and for "painting an interesting picture of a society on the verge of reform" in the wake of World War I. Quill & Quire reviewer Barbara Greenwood called Lottridge's story "appealing" and "well-written" and her characters "fully developed," concluding that the plot of Wings to Fly "will keep readers turning the pages."


Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, March 15, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of Ten Small Tales, p. 1368; February 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Ticket to Canada, p. 932; August, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Something Might Be Hiding, p. 1908; January 1, 1999, Kathy Broderick, review of Music for the Tsar of the Sea, p. 882; May 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Berta, a Remarkable Dog, p. 1526.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 1997, p. 516.

Canadian Children's Literature, Volume 47, 1987, p. 96; spring, 1996, p. 45.

Canadian Review of Materials, January, 1988, p. 7; November, 1994, p. 208.

Five Owls, May-June, 1990, p. 85.

Horn Book, March, 1990, p. 85; January-February, 1994, Sarah Ellis, review of Ten Small Tales, pp. 112-114.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1987, p. 164.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1994, review of Ten Small Tales, pp. 481-482.

Publishers Weekly, February 28, 1994, review of Ten Small Tales, p. 88.

Quill & Quire, July, 1980, p. 57; December, 1985, p. 27; June, 1986, p. 28; October, 1989, Michele Landsberg, review of The Name of the Tree, p. 13; October, 1993, p. 37; June, 1995, p. 58; June, 1997, Barbara Greenwood, review of Wings to Fly, p. 66.

Resource Links, December, 2001, Linda Ludke, review of The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button, p. 7; June, 2002, Veronica Allan, review of Berta, a Remarkable Dog, p. 14.

School Librarian, May, 1988, p. 53.

School Library Journal, March, 1990, p. 209; June, 1994, p. 122; June, 1996, p. 104; August, 1995, p. 125; January, 2002, Be Astengo, review of The Little Rooster and the Diamond Button, p. 120.

Times Educational Supplement, August 21, 1987, p. 17.


ONLINE

Canadian Review of Materials Online, http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/ (June 4, 1999), Dave Jenkinson, "Celia Lottridge"; (January 16, 1998) Jennifer Sullivan, review of Wings to Fly.

CANSCAIP Web site, http://www.canscaip.org/ (January 19, 2005), "Celia Barker Lottridge."*

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