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Ginger Wadsworth (1945-) - Sidelights

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Ginger Wadsworth is, as she has pointed out, "a third-generation writer." Not only was her father, Hal G. Evarts, Jr., a writer, but so was his father before him, and all three generations have sought to capture aspects of the American West in their prose. Biographies form the core of Wadsworth's published work, and most of these concern either prominent Western figures or environmentalists, and sometimes—as in the case of naturalist John Muir—both.


The subject of Wadsworth's first book, Julia Morgan, Architect of Dreams, is most famous for her design of Hearst Castle, the San Simeon, California, playground for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and his many celebrity guests during the early twentieth century. This structure alone constituted the work of a lifetime—"Morgan devoted 27 years to creating a setting for [Hearst's] life," explained Cathy Simon in the New York Times Book Review—but Morgan also managed to design some seven hundred other buildings, ranging from churches to libraries to private residences. Working as she did in the early years of the twentieth century, Morgan was a ground-breaking figure for women in the field of architecture, but she did not tend to be outspoken about her abilities. In fact, she was reserved about disclosing the facts of her life, which may be why the first biography of her, Sara Holmes Boutelle's Julia Morgan, Architect, did not appear until 1988, some thirty years after Morgan's death. Wadsworth's book followed two years later, and distinguished itself as "a lively read," in the words of Deborah Stevenson in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. "It should be an inspiration," wrote Rosilind von Au in Appraisal, "to young women who feel called to scientifically oriented careers, such as architecture, where women are not in great number."


Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth examines the life of the woman whose books Silent Spring and The Sea around Us are credited with spawning the environmental movement of the late twentieth century. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, commented favorably on "Wadsworth's competent research, writing, and source notes." Appraisal contributor Kathryn L. Harvis called Rachel Carson "a well-done, laudatory effort by an author who obviously has done her homework." Comparing Wadsworth's effort to other biographies, School Library Journal contributor Pat Katka maintained that it "stands up well" and "is more visually appealing than most."

Long before Carson, there was John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club and started the movement to conserve the nation's vast natural resources in the 1800s. Wadsworth's biography, John Muir, Wilderness Protector, is "far superior to any series biographies about the naturalist," wrote Judith Walker in Appraisal, "and one can sense the author's respect and admiration for Muir." The book was particularly timely, Walker noted, given "the resurgence of interest in the environmental movement" during the 1990s. Kathleen Odean in School Library Journal called John Muir a "readable biography," and also noted its timeliness: "With the increasing interest in environmental issues, this inspiring story should have wide appeal."

In contrast to her earlier books, Wadsworth takes a slightly different approach in Along the Santa Fe Trail: Marion Russell's Own Story. The book is an adaptation of a pioneer's diary, written when Russell was eighty years old. As Julie Corsaro noted in Booklist, whereas Russell herself wrote from the perspective of an adult, Wadsworth utilizes the viewpoint of the seven-year-old Marion. The book, Corsaro concluded, "deserves a place in large regional or pioneer [library] collections." Pioneer children are also the subject of another of Wadsworth's books, Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers. This book, intended for middle-grades students, mixes excerpts from the journals, diaries, and letters of children who traveled westward with their families together with Wadsworth's own explanations of the subject. The text is accompanied by period photographs and engravings, as well as maps and an extensive bibliography. Critics praised the volume for presenting so vividly the experience of being a young pioneer, with its delights as well as its perils—at its best, riding in a wagon across the prairie, watching the scenery go by by day and singing around a campfire by night, was much more fun than sitting in a schoolroom for the young travelers. "This book will be a valuable addition to large collections of Western history because of its unique primary-source material," Ginny Gustin concluded in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews contributor also praised Words West, noting Wadsworth's "clear prose and . . . passion for her subject" and calling the finished result "a model of fine history writing."

In Laura Ingalls Wilder: Storyteller of the Prairie Wadsworth profiles a much more famous pioneer woman. The facts of the biography, several reviewers noted, will be familiar to anyone who has read Wilder's novels, which chronicle her story in a fictionalized form.

Nonetheless, Wilder leaves out a painful chapter about her loss of an infant baby boy, which Wadsworth reports. Pat Mathews, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, maintained that the book is "a fine contribution to any biography collection," with its Little House addresses, bibliography, map called "Laura's Tracks," sources, index, and "twelve readable chapters." Adele Greenlee, writing in School Library Journal, also praised Laura Ingalls Wilder as a "readable biography."

Wadsworth has also written other well-received biographies. Susan Butcher, Sled Dog Racer describes an athlete who, like Julia Morgan, competed as a woman in a man's world, in Butcher's case, the grueling Iditarod sled-dog race through Alaska and Canada. John Burroughs, the Sage of Slabsides tells the life story of a figure who occupied a place similar, in the history of American naturalism, to that of John Muir. John Burroughs, whose woodland hideaway in New York was called Slabsides, rejected the urban life of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and yet some of the era's most distinguished figures—President Theodore Roosevelt, poet Walt Whitman, and automaker Henry Ford—became his friends. Wadsworth's biography, observed Marilyn Fairbanks in School Library Journal, is "written with a familiar, almost intimate tone." Horn Book reviewer Mary M. Burns called it "an accessible, respectable, and respectful treatment
. . . aimed at young nature buffs, for whom little else about this significant individual is readily available." A Kirkus Reviews commentator called Wadsworth's book Through actual documents, Wadsworth allows readers to experience the hardships, challenges, joys, and sense of adventure that captured the imagination of the American nation during the nineteenth century. (Cover illustration by G. E. Anderson.) "a capable biography," noting that it "offers a good sense of Burroughs's gregarious personality."


Wadsworth has also written fiction and other works for a younger audience. Her picture book Tomorrow Is Daddy's Birthday introduces a young narrator named Rachel, who is so excited about the gift she plans to give her father that she cannot resist telling everyone she knows. Patricia Pearl Dole, writing in School Library Journal, called the book "an enjoyable story of family giving and sharing." One Tiger Growls: A Counting Book of Animal Sounds is also geared for young children, but not quite as young as the usual counting-book audience. Twenty animals are presented, from one tiger growling, through llamas um-m-m-m-m-ming and sea lions ork-ork-orking, all the way to twenty frogs ribbiting. Each two-page spread features a single animal, depicted realistically in its natural habitat, and Wadsworth's inclusion of a paragraph detailing scientific facts about the animal represented makes the book a potentially useful teaching tool. "There's not enough information for report writers," Kay Weisman commented in Booklist, but the book is perfect for "sophisticated browsers who may be almost ready for research."


Tundra Discoveries and River Discoveries also share information about wildlife with young listeners and readers. The former book follows various Arctic inhabitants, including caribou, musk oxen, foxes, lemmings, and ground squirrels, through a year, month by month. Watercolor paintings depict the animals going about their lives, while graphs on each page visually display information about the weather in that month, such as the number of hours of daylight versus darkness and the average temperature. The book's "attractive visuals together with the focused facts will engage many young naturalists," thought Booklist reviewer Ellen Mandel. River Discoveries uses a similar format, but only takes readers through a single day, rather than an entire year in the life of a waterway. The animals featured in this volume live both in the river—catfish, trout, river otters, water beetles—and near it—blackbirds, raccoons, mountain lions, and moose, for example. As in Tundra Discoveries, each page of River Discoveries features a question, such as "How does this trout keep from floating downriver with the currents?," to help keep children engaged. Overall, "the book offers children an attractive, informative introduction to riparian ecology," Catherine Andronik concluded in Booklist, and, as Barbara L. McMullin commented in a review for School Library Journal, it is one that "is equally effective as a read-aloud or for research."


Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Wadsworth, Ginger, River Discoveries, illustrated by Paul Kratter, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2002.

PERIODICALS

Appraisal, spring-summer, 1991, Rosilind Von Au, review of Julia Morgan, Architect of Dreams, pp. 49-50; autumn, 1992, Kathryn L. Harvis, review of Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth, pp. 38-39; winter, 1993, Judith A. Walker, review of John Muir, pp. 52-53.

Booklist, June 1, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth, p. 1761; August, 1992, Mary Romano, review of John Muir, Wilderness Protector, pp. 2003; January 15, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of Along the Santa Fe Trail, p. 928; March 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of John Burroughs, the Sage of Slabsides, p. 1241; February 1, 1999, Kay Weisman, review of One Tiger Growls: A Counting Book of Animal Sounds, p. 978; September 1, 1999, Ellen Mandel, review of Tundra Discoveries, p. 136; September 15, 2002, Catherine Andronik, review of River Discoveries, p. 230.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1990, Deborah Stevenson, review of Julia Morgan, Architect of Dreams, p. 104; May, 1997, review of John Burroughs, the Sage of Slabsides, pp. 336-37; September, 1997, Pat Mathews, review of Laura Ingalls Wilder: Storyteller of the Prairie, p. 30.

Horn Book, July-August, 1992, Ellen Fader, review of Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth, pp. 471-472; July-August, 1997, Mary M. Burns, review of John Burroughs, the Sage of Slabsides, pp. 478-479.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, November, 2004, review of Words West: Voices of Young Pioneers, p. 268.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1992, p. 856; February 1, 1997, review of John Burroughs, the Sage of Slabsides, p. 229; February 15, 1997, p. 307; July 1, 2002, review of River Discoveries, p. 964; October 1, 2003, review of Words West, p. 1232.

New York Times Book Review, March 17, 1991, Cathy Simon, review of Julia Morgan, Architect of Dreams, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1993, review of Along the Santa Fe Trail, p. 479; February 1, 1999, review of One Tiger Growls, p. 83.

School Library Journal, February, 1991, Jeanette Larson, review of Julia Morgan, Architect of Dreams, p. 101; July, 1992, Pat Katka, review of Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth, p. 88; September, 1992, Kathleen Odean, review of John Muir, Wilderness Protector, p. 271; December, 1993, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of Along the Santa Fe Trail, p. 108; June, 1994, pp. 142-143; November, 1994, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Tomorrow Is Daddy's Birthday, p. 92; April, 1997, Adele Greenlee, review of Laura Ingalls Wilder: Storyteller of the Prairie, p. 162; May, 1997, Marilyn Fairbanks, review of John Burroughs, the Sage of Slabsides, p. 151; May, 2000, Kathleen Simonetta, review of Laura Ingalls Wilder, p. 165; August, 2002, Barbara L. McMullin, review of River Discoveries, p. 181; December, 2003, Ginny Gustin, review of Words West, p. 175.


ONLINE

Ginger Wadsworth Home Page, http://www.gingerwadsworth.com (December 23, 2004).

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