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Judy Cox (1954-) Biography - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1954, in San Francisco, CA; Education: Lewis-Clark State College, B.A., 1979; Northern Arizona University, M.A., 1984. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Music, bird watching, reading, playing bass guitar.

Addresses

Agent—c/o Author Mail, Holiday House, 425 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017.

Career

Welches School District, Welches, OR, teacher, 1985-92; West Linn-Wilsonville School District, West Linn, OR, teacher, 1996-2002; Ontario Public Schools, Ontario, OR, reading specialist, 2004—.

Member

Author's Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Honors Awards

First place, Oregon Association of American Mothers Short-Story Contest, 1993, for "When the Meadowlark Sings"; Kid's Pick-of-the-List selection, 2000, Children's Choice AWard, 2001, Nevada Young Readers Award, 2002, and Beverly Cleary Award runner up, 2003, all for Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café; Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award, and Chickadee Award nomination, Maine Children's Choice Picture Book Project, both 2004, both for My Family Plays Music.

Writings

Now We Can Have a Wedding!, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1998.

The West Texas Chili Monster, illustrated by John O'Brien, Bridgewater Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Third Grade Pet, illustrated by Cynthia Fisher, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1998.

Rabbit Pirates: A Tale of the Spinach Main, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Harcourt/Browndeer Press (San Diego, CA), 1999.

Mean, Mean Maureen Green, illustrated by Cynthia Fisher, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, illustrated by Diane Kidd, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.

Butterfly Buddies, illustrated by Blanche Sims, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.

Cool Cat, School Cat, illustrated by Blanche Sims, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

My Family Plays Music, illustrated by Elbrite Brown, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Go to Sleep, Groundhog, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.

That Crazy Eddie and the Science Project of Doom, illustrated by Blanche Simms, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2005.

Don't Be Silly, Mrs. Millie!, illustrated by Joe Mathieu, Marshall Cavendish (New York, NY), 2005.

Also contributor of short stories, articles, poems, and essays to Cricket, Spider, Highlights for Children, Children's Playmate, Instructor, Learning, Family Times, Single Parent, Family Fun, Hopscotch, and Poem Train. Short stories have appeared in anthology Stories from Highlights, Boyds Mill Press.

Sidelights

The picture books and beginning chapter books by Judy Cox, which include My Family Plays Music, Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, and Go to Sleep, Ground-hog!, have been praised for their jovial characters and humorous scenarios. Characteristic of Cox's books, Go to Sleep, Groundhog! features an insomniac groundhog who wanders out of his burrow into several other holiday celebrations before finally making his annual appearance on his own special day. The book prompted School Library Journal reviewer Kathleen Kelly MacMillan to note that "at last, Groundhog Day finally has an irresistible story to call its own," while a Kirkus reviewer described the book as a "toasty story of autumn and winter festivities" that is "ideal for bedtime" due to its "pleasing mood and gentle pacing."

In her very first book, Now We Can Have a Wedding!, Cox's young narrator goes from kitchen to kitchen in the apartment house where she lives. In each, she helps out or merely observes as residents prepare a special dish to bring to the wedding feast for the girl's older sister and her betrothed, a young man who lives in apartment 4-B. "Without being didactic, the book is a showcase for ethnic diversity through gastronomy," contended Ilene Cooper in Booklist. Other critics voiced similar observations. "Cox cleverly combines the meanings of the terms 'melting pot' and 'pot luck,'" observed a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, noting that the story is strengthened by the author's use of repetition and by emphasizing what the neighbors have in common: "their pleasure in preparing for a wedding and in sharing their traditions." Aided by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan's welcoming watercolor renditions of the various kitchens, the result is "a sweet and joyful twist on weddings," Patricia Pearl Dole concluded in School Library Journal.

The West Texas Chili Monster is a "goofy story about a chili cook-off that produces smells powerful enough to attract the attention of a roving space creature," wrote John Sigwald in School Library Journal. Cox employs the same brand of whimsical humor in her picture book Rabbit Pirates: A Tale of the Spinach Main, in which two old friends retire from pirating and open a restaurant in the Provence region of France. Though Monsieur Lapin and Monsieur Blanc wax nostalgic about their days on the open sea, they seem content enough to argue over old times, and prepare and serve food at the Spinach Main, their restaurant. Then a fox comes in one day and expresses the desire to see the cooks featured on the menu. Though Cox's scenario may have more appeal for adult readers than for the children to whom they read Rabbit Pirates, Hazel Rochman nevertheless remarked in Booklist that many children will "recognize the tough-guy talk and enjoy the clever tricks the rabbits use to get rid of" the fox. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly described Cox's book as "a wonderful mix of humor, food and friendship, with just the right touch of je ne sais quoi."

While Cox has earned several awards for her writing, the two books that have sparked the most enthusiasm are My Family Plays Music and Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café. Within a family where everyone plays an instrument—from pots and pans to a pipe organ—a young girl learns about rhythm by serving as percussionist to each musician in My Family Plays Music. In addition to introducing a number of musical terms and profiling ten different musical genres through the performances of each of the girl's family members—from marching bands to orchestras to rock and roll—Cox's "upbeat" tale is "more a celebration of sound than a story," according to Jane Marino in School Library Journal. Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido dubbed My Family Plays Music a "charmer" and a Kirkus reviewer noted that, in addition to learning about music, "it's the pride" Cox's young narrator "takes in her family, and her place in that family," that resonates with readers.

Winner of the Nevada Young Readers Award as well as several other honors, the chapter book Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café finds Sam and his uncle moving to the Nevada desert to escape the city's noise and bustle. Highly distracted by a novel he is hoping to write as soon as something interesting happens, Uncle Clem opens a restaurant, oblivious to the fact that he begins to assemble a very unusual staff indeed: the bread delivery man looks a whole lot like Elvis Presley, a Santa Claus character named Mr. C. and a skinny guy in a spaceship who could pass for E. T. soon ask to hire on, and behind the grill is none other than Big Foot! While Uncle Clem remains oblivious, Sam is quick to recognize that this is no ordinary restaurant. In Booklist Gillian Engberg noted that Cox's "first-person narrative is clever and playful," while Pat Leach commented in School Library Journal that Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café will also "appeal to more sophisticated older reluctant readers" due to the repetitive text and the humorous plot.

While Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café takes the top spot for Cox's quirkiest chapter book, her first book for more advanced readers was Third Grade Pet. In this 1998 work a third-grade class votes to adopt a pet rat, and Rosemary, despite her disgust, is selected to be one of the animal's first caretakers. Critics applauded Cox's descriptions of her protagonist's initial fear of the rat and "how creepiness gives way to cuddly affection," as Hazel Rochman put it in Booklist. Rosemary becomes so attached to Cheese the rat, in fact, that when a boy she does not trust is assigned to take Cheese home for the weekend, Rosemary kidnaps the pet and tries to hide him in her home. Cox's "writing has a clarity and an energetic freshness that keeps the rodential hijinks … realistic rather than corny and contrived," Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Deborah Stevenson stated. Similarly, a critic for Publishers Weekly wrote that Cox properly keeps her focus on her human rather than rodent characters, and their "fresh and credible voices … give this brief, quick-moving novel plenty of life." Lisa Gangemi Krapp, writing in School Library Journal, compared Third Grade Pet to chapter books by Suzy Kline and Betsy Duffey, concluding that readers who enjoy those books "will feel right at home with this light and breezy story."

Other chapter books by Cox include Mean, Mean Maureen Green and Butterfly Buddies, both which feature young girls learning to deal with social situations. In Mean, Mean Maureen Green third-grader Lilley learns to conquer her fear of a neighborhood bully, a ferocious dog, and riding her two-wheeler bike with the help of a friend and her father. The result is a "solid, well-paced chapter book," according to Gillian Engberg in Booklist. Butterfly Buddies finds Robin eager to find approval with Miss Wing, a new teacher she adores—so eager, in When the arrival of a new teacher is followed by a spunky new classmate named Zoey, third-grader Robin tries to win acceptance by hiding the things that make her unique. (From Butterfly Buddies, written by Judy Cox and illustrated by Blanche Sims.) fact, that she attempts to dress and act just like Miss Wing, with humorous results. Commenting on Cox's chapter books, School Library Journal contributor Debbie Whitbeck noted that in each work "readers will find much to relate to" in the actions of the young protagonists.

Cox once told Something about the Author: "I am the oldest of five children. We grew up near San Francisco. Even when I was young, I loved to tell stories to my brother and sisters. As soon as I learned to read, reading became my favorite thing to do. I love books, the way they look, the way they feel, the way they smell. I wanted to be a part of that. I wrote my first story in third grade. In those days, students didn't have much chance to write stories in school. We only had 'creative writing' every other Friday. By the time I was eleven, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I started a novel about six girls who had a club in a tree house. I wrote long descriptions and drew pictures of each of them. I got so involved planning my characters that I never finished the first chapter!

"In the sixth grade, a poem I wrote was published in the local newspaper. My grandmother was so proud of it, she framed it. It hung in her house for the rest of her life. I wrote without getting published again for many, many years! I wrote journals, essays, poems, short stories, picture books. I started several novels. I read somewhere that you have to write a million words before you write anything worth reading and I thought, 'I'd better get busy.' I wrote on an old refurbished manual typewriter my parents gave me when I graduated from high school. I wrote in longhand on yellow, lined tablets.

"After I married, my husband bought me an electric typewriter for Christmas because he liked one of my science-fiction stories, and I wrote on that. I sat on the screened sun porch of the old farmhouse we rented in Idaho, and I wrote my first children's novel, a mystery, on the backs of old dittos he brought home from his teaching job. I wrote in pencil and ink and marker. But I couldn't sell anything. I got discouraged, not realizing that all this practice was leading somewhere. I dreamed of being published. But it seemed as if my dreams would never come true.

"Finally, years and years later, I wrote an article about dinosaurs. I mailed it to Instructor magazine. They bought it! I was so excited! My husband and I went out for pizza to celebrate. But I didn't really start to write seriously again until I left teaching to stay home with my baby. I began to write every day. I'd turn on Sesame Street and write straight through until Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was over. When I heard Mr. Rogers sing his closing song, I knew it was time to stop.

"I started keeping a journal. I used to think nothing interesting ever happened to me. But I discovered the interesting stuff in the stuff in your head. Your dreams. Your fantasies. Your pretends, and wishes, and ideas. Once I knew that, I had lots to say after all. I use big spiral-bound notebooks and write my journal on one side of each page. The other side I use for story ideas. I started to send things out to magazines and book publishers. My husband calls me 'The Queen of Persistence' because I have more than 350 rejection slips. I have written seven books and more than thirty short stories for magazines such as Cricket, Spider, and Highlights for Children. Not everything I write gets published. But writing is like piano practice. You do it every day to keep in shape."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Now We Can Have a Wedding!, p. 1019; December 15, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Third Grade Pet, p. 749; October 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Rabbit Pirates: A Tale of the Spinach Main, p. 451; December 1, 1999, Gillian Engberg, review of Mean, Mean Maureen Green, p. 703; April 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, p. 1542; October 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of My Family Plays Music, p. 417; November 15, 2003, Jennifer Mattson, review of Go to Sleep, Groundhog!, p. 599.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1999, Deborah Stevenson, review of Third Grade Pet, p. 198; April, 2000, review of Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, p. 275.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2002, review of Cool Cat, School Cat, p. 1465; September 1, 2003, review of My Family Plays Music, p. 121; December 15, 2003, review of Go to Sleep, Groundhog!, p. 1449.

Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1998, review of Now We Can Have a Wedding!, p. 94; December 14, 1998, review of Third Grade Pet, p. 76; August 2, 1999, review of Rabbit Pirates: A Tale of the Spinach Main, p. 83; April 24, 2000, review of Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, p. 91; October 6, 2003, review of My Family Plays Music, p. 83; January 12, 2004, review of Go to Sleep, Groundhog!, p. 53.

School Library Journal, March, 1998, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Now We Can Have a Wedding!, p. 168; June, 1998, John Sigwald, review of The West Texas Chili Monster, p. 103; February, 1999, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of Third Grade Pet, p. 83; June, 2000, Pat Leach, review of Weird Stories from the Lonesome Café, p. 104; October, 2001, Debbie Whitbeck, review of Butterfly Buddies, p. 113; September, 2002, Wendy S. Carroll, review of Cool Cat, School Cat, p. 183; October, 2003, Jane Marino, review of My Family Plays Music, p. 116; February, 2004, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Go to Sleep, Groundhog, p. 104.

ONLINE

Judy Cox Web site, http://www.judycox.net (April 29, 2005).

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