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(Anne) Eve(lyn) Bunting (1928-) - Sidelights

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The author of over two hundred titles, children's book author Eve Bunting has entertained children in genres ranging from mystery to science fiction to contemporary problem stories. Proficient in picture books, middle-grade readers, and young-adult novels, she has won a flotilla of awards in a career that has spanned over three decades. Featuring African-American, Chinese-American, Japanese, Jewish, Caucasian, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, and Irish protagonists in her novels and picture books, Bunting strives to make her books all-inclusive. "I like to write for every child," she once wrote in the St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers. "For every age, for every interest. That is why I have such a variety of books—from pre-school, through the middle grades and beyond. The young adult novels I write border on the true adult novel, but I enjoy keeping my protagonists in their upper teens, where lives are new and filled with challenge, where nothing is impossible." Bunting elaborated on her ability to reach diverse audiences in an interview with a contributor for Top of the News: "There is no special secret to writing for all age levels. You climb inside the head and the heart of the young person in your story. You think like that child. You feel like that child. You are that child."

Bunting was born in Maghera, Northern Ireland, where her father was a well-to-do merchant. When she was nine years old, she was sent to boarding school, where she often entertained the other girls by telling stories and tall tales in the evenings. "It was certainly there that I developed my life-long love of books and reading," she explained in the Junior Literary Guild. Bunting also commented in Writer magazine that her talents benefitted from the fact that "the educational system in Ireland is geared to the 'essay answer' in examinations, and at that I had always excelled." In her St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers essay, she also noted that "There used to be Shanachies in the Ireland of long ago. The Shanachie was the storyteller who went from house to house telling his tales of ghosts and fairies, of old Irish heroes and battles still to be won. Maybe I'm a bit of a Shanachie myself, telling my stories to anyone who'll listen."

In the early 1940s Bunting attended Methodist College in Belfast, Northern Ireland. After graduating in 1945, she studied at Queen's University, Belfast, where she met Edward Davison Bunting, whom she married in 1951. After their marriage, the couple moved to Scotland, where they started their family. In 1959, the Bunting family—which by this time included three children—relocated to the United States, living first in San Francisco, California, then moving south to settle in Pasadena, where the author continues to make her home.

Once in her new country, Bunting noticed that a local community college was offering a class in writing for publication, and she decided to sign up. As she recalled in Writer magazine, "I find myself sometimes thinking what different turns my life might have taken had I not seen that junior college brochure." By 1972, Bunting had published her first book for children, The Two Giants, a book dealing with the legendary Irish and Scottish giants Finn McCool and Culcullan. The book marked the beginning of Bunting's "Magic Circle" series, as well as her prolific career as a children's author.

As she did with The Two Giants, Bunting frequently uses either the stories or the scenery of her native Northern Ireland in her books. She explained in Writer that her book Ghost of Summer "is set in contemporary Northern Ireland with its political upheaval, its senseless hatreds and killings in the name of religion." As she elaborated in the Junior Literary Guild: "I tried to write a story that children would find exciting but that would also show them the insidious horror of prejudice and the tragedy of a people torn apart by old hatreds. I tried to be objective, to be fair in showing both sides of the Irish problem. I hope no child reading it will know if the author is Protestant or Catholic. I hope no child reading it will care. I put into Ghost of Summer the feelings I have for Ireland; the love and the sorrow."In Spying on Miss Muller Bunting mines memories of her days in boarding school in Ireland, spinning a tale about a similar school located in Belfast that takes place during World War II. In her story, the school's once-adored language teacher, Miss Muller is now looked upon by everyone at the school with suspicion because of her German heritage. Her late-night walks also seem to come at the same time as German air raids; thus the girls begin to suspect the teacher of being a spy and start investigating her. Reviewing Spying on Miss Muller, a contributor to Publishers Weekly maintained that there is "much to enjoy here," especially the "school ambience deftly conveyed in numerous small details." Similarly, Horn Book reviewer Martha V. Parravano called the book a "thoughtful, moving, coming-of-age novel . . . portrayed with page-turning immediacy."

With her historical novel SOS Titanic Bunting focuses on fifteen-year-old Barry O'Neill, who is traveling from Ireland to New York on the ill-fated ocean liner. Barry already misses his grandparents, who have raised him for the last ten years, and is anxious about rejoining his parents. Added to this are his apprehensions about the Flynn brothers, who are traveling in steerage and are antagonistic toward him. When tragedy strikes the luxury ship, it is funneled through the emotions and actions of Barry in this "well-wrought historical fiction," as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly described the novel. Booklist critic Debbie Carton also had positive words for SOS Titanic, noting that "Bunting accurately and dramatically describes the ship's sinking and, at the same time, immerses readers in the many human tragedies."

While many of her stories feature Irish themes and settings, Bunting has also set a number of books in her adopted country. Going against Cool Calvin, for instance, concerns a Mexican teenager who is an illegal alien in the United States. She also takes on controversial issues, such as teenage prostitution in If I Asked You, Would You Stay?, "perhaps one of Bunting's most successful books," according to a contributor to the St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers. This unusual tale features two runaways who manage to turn an uneasy friendship into love. Bunting deals with surrogate motherhood in Surrogate Sister, and teenage suicide in Face at the Edge of the World. Alcoholic abuse and the destruction it wreaks are at the center of her A Sudden Silence. And in Would You Be My POSSLQ, she features a plucky young college freshman who sets up an unusual living arrangement with a Person of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters.

As Bunting admitted in Writer: "I can spot a trend long before it comes.... Ninety percent of my story seeds come from something I've read in my daily paper or in my weekly periodical." But in another Writer article, she cautioned against focusing on a particular topic to the detriment of writing a good story: "If you set out to write a book that you don't care about just because the subject matter is 'hot,' you're heading for disappointment."Bunting sometimes uses the picture-book format to illustrate serious themes, as with the book Smoky Night, in which she portrays the 1992 Los Angeles riot through a child's eyes. In other picture books, such as One Candle, she focuses on the Holocaust, while issues surrounding the Vietnam War Memorial are addressed in The Wall. In Gleam and Glow Bunting uses the picture-book format to deal with the devastation wrought by the war in Bosnia. Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido found that this picture book for older readers serves as an "effective tale of loss and hope," while in Publishers Weekly a critic wrote that the "image of hope and renewal strikes a strong keynote in Bunting's bittersweet story."

In addition to drawing from current events and history, Bunting can also write out of nostalgia, for thrills and chills, or for just plain fun. In Coffin on a Case! twelve-year-old Henry Coffin, the son of a private investigator, helps a gorgeous high-school girl in her dangerous attempt to find her kidnaped mother. As Henry narrates the story, aiming to emulate the wit and swagger of his hero, Sam Spade, the mystery "unfolds skillfully and swiftly, aided by a breezy, humorous style," commented School Library Journal contributor Connie Tyrrell Burns. "This is a cheerful homage to hard-boiled detecting," noted Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Deborah Stevenson, "with its own twists and charm." The Presence: A Ghost Story finds a handsome ghost named Noah haunting a Pasadena churchyard and drawing beautiful young women into an ultimately deadly relationship. When seventeen-year-old Catherine comes to town, grieving the recent death of a close friend, Noah gains her trust by offering to communicate with Catherine's dead friend, but his ultimate goal is evil. Susan Riley, writing in School Library Journal, wrote that with The Presence, "Bunting, long a favorite of teen thrill seekers, has produced another winner in this well-written story of acute loneliness, alienation, romance, the occult, hope, and tragedy."

Lighter in tone are books such as I Don't Want to Go to Camp, a picture book that finds a young girl dreading the prospect of leaving home for the great unknown, and the middle-grade novel Wanna Buy an Alien?, in which Ben gets an intergalactic present for his eleventh birthday. Another eleven year old sets off on an adventure of a different sort in The Summer of Riley. A stray dog comes into William's life just when he needs it most: his grandfather has just died and his parents are separating. But when Riley, the dog, proves to be a hazard to animals on nearby farms, William must sacrifice him to a dog trainer in order to save the dog from being put down. Carol Schene, reviewing the novel for School Library Journal, praised Bunting for capturing "the dilemma of our contemporary society, which wants simple solutions to complex situations, often demands perfection and rejects anything less." A contributor to Publishers Weekly found the novel "heartwarming despite some heavy touches," and Booklist reviewer Chris Sherman praised the book's "bittersweet but satisfying resolution."

Bunting credits much of her books' popularity to her decision to put a well-crafted, entertaining story first. Speaking with Stefanie Weiss of NEA Today, she explained: "I don't ever start off to give a message in my books, although often it must seem as though I do. I like to write about loving and caring and how both can ease everyone's way through life. Maybe that sounds Pollyanish, maybe it's optimism carded to the nth degree, but that's what I want to do."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Children's Literature Review, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 28, 1992, Volume 56, 1999, Volume 82, 2003.

Cullinan, Bernice E., and Diane G. Person, editors, Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Continuum Publishing (New York, NY), 2001.

St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 15, 1978; March 1, 1984, p. 966; March 15, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of Spying on Miss Muller, p. 1328; March 15, 1996, Debbie Carton, review of SOS Titanic, p. 1352; July, 2001, Chris Sherman, review of The Summer of Riley, p. 2004; December 15, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Gleam and Glow, p. 738; October 15, 2003, Ilene Cooper, The Presence: A Ghost Story, p. 404; January 1, 2004, Jennifer Locke, review of Snowboarding on Monster Mountain, p. 852; September 1, 2004, Traci Todd, review of The Presence (audiobook), p. 148.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1992, Deborah Stevenson, review of Coffin on a Case!, p. 69.

Early Years, October, 1986.

Horn Book, April, 1984, p. 181; September-October, 1995, Martha V. Parravano, review of Spying on Miss Muller, p. 596.

Junior Literary Guild, March, 1977; March, 1987.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2003, review of The Presence, p. 1121.

Kliatt, September, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of The Presence, p. 6

Lion and the Unicorn, June, 1988.

Los Angeles Times, August 10, 1979; February 20, 1995, p. 4.

NEA Today, April, 1995, Stefanie Weiss, "Eve Bunting: Suitable for Children?," p. 7.

New York Times, May 21, 1995, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, April 3, 1995, review of Spying on Miss Muller, p. 62; February 5, 1996, p. 89; March 18, 1996, review of SOS Titanic, p. 70; August 6, 1999, review of Blackwater, p. 86; April 3, 2000, review of Wanna Buy an Alien?, p. 81; May 21, 2001, review of The Summer of Riley, p. 108; August 20, 2001, review of Gleam and Glow, p. 80; September 29, 2003, review of The Presence, p. 66.

Reading Today, February-March, 2002, Lynne T. Burke, review of Gleam and Glow, p. 32.

School Library Journal, September, 1978; October, 1992, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Coffin on a Case!, p. 112; August, 2000, Judith Everitt, review of Wanna Buy an Alien?, p. 177; June, 2001, Carol Schene, review of The Summer of Riley, p. 143; October, 2003, Jennifer Ralston, review of Your Move, p. 97, Susan Riley, review of The Presence, p. 162.

Top of the News, winter, 1986, pp. 132-134.

Writer, April, 1979, Eve Bunting, "New Trends in Children's Books"; April, 1984, Eve Bunting, "What's New in Children's Books?"; September, 1988, Eve Bunting, "Think Picture Book."

ONLINE

BookPage Web site, http://www.bookpage.com/ (September 10, 2004), Alice Cary, "A Talk with Eve Bunting."

KidsRead.com, http://www.kidsread.com/ (September 11, 2004), "Eve Bunting.".

Scoop Web site, http://www.friend.ly.net/scoop/ (September 10, 2004), "Eve Bunting."*

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