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Mary Ann Hoberman (1930-) - Sidelights

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A poet who finds inspiration in writing for children, Mary Ann Hoberman employs playful rhythms and rhymes in her picture books. Celebrating the everyday lives and concerns of children, Hoberman's books deal with animals, pesky little brothers and other family relationships, growing up, the idea of home, and a myriad of other commonplace subjects, though her handling of such themes is far from commonplace. In A House Is a House for Me, which won the American Book Award, Hoberman takes the concept of house and home to the generic level, investigating rabbit hutches, mule sheds, and garages—houses for cars. "Hoberman's own imagination entices the reader/listener to use his imagination, to add more houses for more things," commented Mary Lystad in a critical analysis of Hoberman's work in St. James Guide to Children's Writers. It is this teasing of imagination for which Hoberman is best known; her many books attest to an imagination ever at work. As a contributor to Riverbank Review noted in its 1999 Children's Books of Distinction awards list, Hoberman's "overriding theme is the joy of playing with words."

Born on August 12, 1930, in Stamford, Connecticut, Hoberman grew up in various towns in the Northeast before returning to Stamford and the house "that is the locus and inspiration for most of my writing for children," as she noted in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS). The older of two children, Hoberman was often put in charge of her younger brother, a sibling relationship that also found expression in her later writing. One thing was certain: "I have always wanted to be a writer," Hoberman explained in SAAS. "This conviction saved me a lot of career counseling later on in life, but it has always puzzled me. How did I know so early on that that was what I wanted to do with my life?"

Books and words were among Hoberman's best friends as a young girl and adolescent. She made up rhymes everywhere, especially on the swing where the natural physical rhythm encouraged word play. Graduating from Stamford High School, she went on to Smith College on the advice of one of her teachers who had graduated from that college. Hoberman was on one of the first post-war junior-year-abroad programs, traveling to France to study in the company of young women from other prestigious schools. Among these was Jacqueline Bouvier, the future Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Her year in France was a revelation for Hoberman, and only reluctantly did she return to America and her senior year at Smith. But soon she met a senior at Harvard Law School and the two were married within four months.

During the Korean War, both Hoberman and her husband finished school before he was sent off to the military. As luck would have it, he was ultimately stationed in Canada where Hoberman could join him, and there the couple had their first baby. After military service, Hoberman's husband decided to return to college to study architecture. During her husband's studies, Hoberman became a freelance editor at Little, Brown in Boston and also a mother for the second and third times. It was during this time, as a mother giving birth to three children in three years, that Hoberman began playing with rhymes once again. Wheeling the children in the park one day, she came up with a short couplet, "All my shoes / Come in two's," that she turned into her first rhyming picture book, illustrated by her husband. It was a sudden inspiration and something of a lark to put the book together; then she sent it off to an editor at Little, Brown and forgot about it. Months later came the acceptance. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, C. Elta Van Norman called All My Shoes Come in Two's "a unique treatment of a subject fascinating to the small child." Hoberman was on her way to becoming a children's author.

The Hobermans collaborated on several books, looking at modes of transport in How Do I Go?, at greetings in Hello and Good-by, and at fantasy worlds in What Jim Knew. Generally well received, Hoberman's books of verses for young and very young children began to win a friendly readership. She experimented with a variety of poetic techniques and forms, from free verse to metered poems, from internal rhyme to end rhyme, and from alliteration to the tongue twister. Teaming up with other illustrators, Hoberman has gone on to create award-winning titles in her verse picture books, and has also penned the chapter book Mr. and Mrs. Muddle, about a horse couple who learn the art of compromise.

Of Hoberman's early works, A House Is a House for Me is one of her most popular. Collaborating with illustrator Betty Fraser, the author employs "alternating lines of anapestic trimeter and tetrameter with lots of end and internal rhyme," according to Sharon Elswit in School Library Journal. Hoberman created "a rich book," and one that should inspire kids to "reach for the colors and chorus the refrain," according to Elswit. Harold C. K. Rice called it "an astonishing picture book, one of the best of the year," in the New York Times Book Review. A House Is a House for Me won the American Book Award for picture book paperback.

Twenty years later, Hoberman once again teamed up with Fraser for The Llama Who Had No Pajama, a collection of one hundred poems. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that this "inventively illustrated" collaboration"brims with enough wordplay and silliness to please a room full of young wordsmiths."

After taking a hiatus from writing during the 1980s to return to college to complete an advanced degree, Hoberman subsequently came back to writing with renewed vigor. As she noted in SAAS: "My sabbatical had done its work; after all those years of academic papers, I was eager to write for children once more." Her A Fine Fat Pig and Other Animal Poems features a favorite Hoberman motif—description of animals. Mary Jo Salter, writing in the Washington Post Book World, found Hoberman's verse in this collection "irresistibly memorizable." Reviewing Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers, Hoberman's 1991 collection of poems dealing with the family, a writer for Kirkus Reviews called the work "wise, witty, and neatly constructed."As Hoberman commented in SAAS, the idea for Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers "had been evolving over a lifetime. In the poems I write about many of the feelings I had as a child, of the relationships I experienced and observed, as well as of new kinds of family life and configurations."

A departure for Hoberman is My Song Is Beautiful, a collection of multicultural poems from around the world, which she edited. Here are included Eskimo chants, a Chippewa song, a verse from ancient Mexico, as well as lines from A. A. Milne and Nikki Giovanni. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the collection an "outstanding multicultural anthology," and concluded that "this eclectic and joyful volume underscores Hoberman's conviction that 'Every you everywhere in the world is an I; / Every I in the world is a you!'" Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman commented that this "small anthology celebrates diversity, not only in culture, but also in mood and genre." Writing in School Library Journal, Dot Minzer called the volume a "first-rate collection that definitely deserves consideration."

Finicky gourmands get the Hoberman treatment in The Seven Silly Eaters, "a highly comic rhyming romp," according to Barbara Elleman writing in School Library Journal. Mrs. Peters, eternally pregnant, would like nothing better than to play her cello in peace, but she is continually at work catering to the likes and dislikes of her children, some who like milk, some who like lemonade—but not from a can. Another wants homemade bread, while only creamy oatmeal will satisfy other taste buds. "The combination of food and farce makes for an affectionate rhyming picture book," observed Booklist's Rochman. Ann A. Flowers concluded in a Horn Book review that The Seven Silly Eaters will be a "pleasure for parent and child."

Hoberman returns to the animal kingdom for One of Each, featuring a hound dog, and Miss Mary Mack, starring a clumsy pachyderm. In the former title, Oliver Tolliver is "a dapper and bewhiskered hound," according to Carol Ann Wilson in School Library Journal, who is happy with his home and possessions, of which he has one of each. Inviting the cat, Peggoty Small, to enjoy his home, he is surprised when she finds it all too predictable and boring—there's nothing for her there. Readjusting his singular possessions, he invites Peggoty back, and she suddenly enjoys the new dual-item household. "A 'peachy' offering from a talented team," Wilson concluded in her review. Elizabeth Bush advised in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that teachers should "run this by the preschool or primary students when it's time to lay down the classroom laws: sharing and caring." Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing the book in Booklist, called it a "surefire story-time hit."

Miss Mary is definitely surprised to find an elephant crashing her backyard barbecue in Miss Mary Mack, an adaptation of "a favorite hand-clapping rhyme," according to Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin. Escaping from the zoo, the rambunctious pachyderm has a great time at the barbecue cum tea party. "Hands will be clapping and toes will be tapping to this spunky rendition of a favorite schoolyard rhyme," declared a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Jane Marino echoed these sentiments in School Library Journal: "This high-flying package of fun, complete with music and hand instructions, will have children clapping along in no time."

Hoberman has also adapted several other familiar songs into picture books, including There Once Was a Man Named Michael Finnegan, Bill Grogan's Coat, and Yankee Doodle. Hoberman's The Marvelous Mouse Man is an adaptation of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. In the work, a small town is overrun by mice, and the residents turn to a mysterious stranger for help. Using an enticing array of cheesy odors, the stranger soon rids the village of its mouse problem, but when their cats, dogs, and children also begin to disappear, the townspeople devise a clever solution to restore order. "Hoberman's agile and comical verse cleverly contorts a classic," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, while a Kirkus Reviews critic judged The Marvelous Mouse Man to be "a rollicking, readable remake from one of the best versifiers in the business."

A young boy faces a series of unusual challenges in "It's Simple," Said Simon, described as an "agreeable picture book" by a critic in Publishers Weekly. While out for a walk, Simon meets a dog who challenges him to growl, a cat who challenges him to stretch, and a horse who challenges him to jump. Simon completes each task with ease, but he appears to meet his match when a sly tiger, who plans to eat the boy for dinner, issues his own challenges. Simon must rely on his wits to escape the big cat and return home safely. "It's Simple," Said Simon received generally positive reviews. Horn Book contributor Christine Heppermann deemed the tale "delectable," and Booklist reviewer Shelley Townsend-Hudson called the work a "simple, winning fable."

In 2001 Hoberman published the first book in a popular read-aloud series designed for two voices. You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together collects twelve brief poems that allow participants to read both individually and as partners. "Each poem bounces back and forth between readers beautifully," noted Horn Book reviewer Roger Sutton, and Mary Ann Carcich, writing in School Library Journal, praised the "delightful choreography of rhythm, rhyme, and repetition that begs to be read aloud in tandem by children and adults." Hoberman followed the work with You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together and You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together.

The author examines the wonders of nature in her verse picture books Right outside My Window and Whose Garden Is It? In Right outside My Window, a young girl observes the changes that occur during the four seasons as she peers through a window in her home. "This lyrical offering is just right any time of the year," observed a contributor in Publishers Weekly. In Whose Garden Is It?, Mrs. McGee and her young companion happen upon a wonderful garden full of vegetables and flowers. Though a rather surly gentleman claims sole ownership of the plot, Mrs. McGee learns that the garden belongs to many creatures, including a rabbit, a woodchuck, and a honeybee. "Hoberman's creative words and upbeat rhythms cheerfully introduce some basic players in the garden web of life," observed Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg.

It is exactly such infectious rhyming and rhythms that have made Hoberman a school favorite. "Children love it," she once told Allen Raymond in Early Years. "Adult poetry tossed out rhyme and regular rhythm; that's old hat now. Limericks, light verse—no one does that anymore. If I want to write poetry that way, writing for children is the last bastion."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Authors of Books for Young People, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.

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

Children's Literature Review, Volume 22, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, edited by Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Sixth Book of Junior Authors, H. W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1989.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 18, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of My Song Is Beautiful: Poems and Pictures in Many Voices, p. 1828; March 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of The Seven Silly Eaters, p. 1172; November 1, 1997, Susan Dove Lempke, review of One of Each, p. 466; March 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Miss Mary Mack, p. 1245; April 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of There Once Was a Man Named Michael Finnegan, p. 1475, and Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of "It's Simple," Said Simon, p. 1478; August, 2001, John Peters, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together, p. 2124; July, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of The Looking Book: A Hide-and-Seek Counting Story, p. 1859; August, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of Right outside My Window, p. 1972; April 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Yankee Doodle, pp. 1443-1444, and Gillian Engberg, review of Whose Garden Is It?, p. 1446; July, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together, p. 1840.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1994, p. 261; May, 1997, pp. 324-25; October, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of One of Each, p. 53.

Early Years, January, 1985, Allen Raymond, "Mary Ann Hoberman: Fun-loving Poet, Student of Literature. . . ," pp. 23-24.

Horn Book, January-February, 1974, Paul Heins, review of The Raucous Auk: A Menagerie of Poems, pp. 59-60; January-February, 1996, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Cozy Book, p. 98; May-June, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Seven Silly Eaters, p. 308; March, 2001, Christine Heppermann, review of "It's Simple," Said Simon, p. 196; November-December, 2001, Roger Sutton, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together, p. 766; May-June, 2004, Roger Sutton, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together, pp. 315-316.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1991, review of Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers: A Collection of Family Poems, p. 1295; October 15, 1995, review of The Cozy Book, p. 1493; February 1, 1997, p. 223; April 1, 2002, review of The Marvelous Mouse Man, p. 493; May 1, 2002, review of Right outside My Window, p. 657.

New York Times Book Review, May 26, 1957, C. Elta Van Norman, "Slippers with Zippers," p. 26; December 10, 1978, Harold C. K. Rice, "Good Looking," pp. 72-73, 93; July 6, 1997, p. 16; April 15, 2001, review of It's Simple, Said Simon, p. 24; January 20, 2002, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, May 9, 1994, review of My Song Is Beautiful: Poems and Pictures in Many Voices, p. 73; April 20, 1998, review of Miss Mary Mack, p. 65; November 23, 1998, review of The Llama Who Had No Pajama, p. 97; March 19, 2001, review of "It's Simple," Said Simon, p. 99; April 23, 2001, "All A-Board!," p. 80; August 6, 2001, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You, p. 89; March 18, 2002, review of The Marvelous Mouse Man, p. 102; April 15, 2002, review of The Looking Book, p. 63; April 29, 2002, review of Right outside My Window, p. 68; April 5, 2004, Whose Garden Is It?, p. 61.

Riverbank Review, spring, 1999, review of The Llama Who Had No Pajama, p. 22.

School Library Journal, October, 1978, Sharon Elswit, review of A House Is a House for Me, p. 133; June, 1994, Dot Minzer, review of My Song Is Beautiful, p. 119; March, 1997, Barbara Elleman, review of The Seven Silly Eaters, p. 160; September, 1997, Carol Ann Wilson, review of One of Each, p. 183; April, 1998, p. 118; May, 1998, Jane Marino, review of Miss Mary Mack, p. 117; May, 2001, Piper L. Nyman, review of There Once Was a Man Named Michael Finnegan, p. 142; August, 2001, Mary Ann Carcich, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together, p. 153; April, 2002, Carol Schene, review of Bill Grogan's Goat, p. 132; May, 2002, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Marvelous Mouse Man, p. 117; June, 2002, Dona Ratterree, review of The Looking Book, p. 97; November, 2002, Sally R. Dow, Right outside My Window, p. 126; May, 2004, Janet M. Bair, review of Whose Garden Is It?, p. 114, and Shelley B. Sutherland, review of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together, pp. 132-133.

Washington Post Book World, May 12, 1991, Mary Jo Salter, "Peaceable Kingdom," p. 18.

ONLINE

Mary Ann Hoberman Web site, http://www.maryannhoberman.com (March 24, 2005).

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