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Brenda Seabrooke (1941-) - Sidelights

review summer war book

Brenda Seabrooke grew up surrounded by storytellers in a rural part of Georgia and became a dedicated reader at a young age. When reading as a child, "I always hated to let go of the characters in the end," she wrote in a profile published on the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. Web site. "So after I finished a book, I continued the stories, making up further adventures that went on and on." She added, "As soon as I figured out that books had authors, I knew that was what I wanted to be." This desire to create stories meshed with the inspiration she found later in memories of her childhood, in her son and daughter, and in the children she taught. Moving often because of her husband's career in the Coast Guard, the author has used this experience as well in several of her books that focus on young people adjusting to life in unfamiliar places.

The Bridges of Summer tells a story of cross-cultural interactions in a distinctive place, an island off the coast of South Carolina. Zarah, a fourteen-year-old New Yorker with dancing and acting ambitions, comes to spend the summer on the island with her grandmother Quanamina while Zarah's mother, a nightclub singer, is on tour. Quanamina is a Gullah, a descendant of former slaves who settled the island after the Civil War. She is superstitious and dedicated to traditional ways of living, which causes conflict between her and Zarah. Zarah must also learn to get along with Quanamina's young great-grandson, Loomis, who lives with her. Zarah misses modern conveniences—her grandmother's home is without electricity or running water—and longs for city life. Meanwhile, Zarah becomes friends with a white girl, Benicia, who is visiting her own grandparents, and the girls find themselves constrained by their respective grandmothers' ideas about race. Zarah finally comes to appreciate Gullah culture, but then, when Quanamina dies, the young girl must find a way to get herself and Loomis to New York.

A Publishers Weekly reviewer thought readers may be disappointed with this conclusion and wonder whether Zarah "really had to burn those bridges she crossed in going to her grandmother." Kliatt critic Dean E. Lyons allowed that some "controversy" might arise from the ending, but he praised the book overall. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "past and present mores are contrasted in an absorbing story . . . with acumen and sympathy." The issues the book deals with, remarked Sylvia V. Meisner in School Library Journal, "are not only those of black and white, but also of old and new and the fear of change."

Like The Bridges of Summer, The Haunting of Holroyd Hill also portrays a displaced character and is set in the American South. What's more, it is one of several Seabrooke works to deal with the supernatural. Melinda and her brother, Kevin, have moved with their parents from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to a rural part of Virginia, and Melinda is unhappy with the change. Eventually, she finds that her new home is haunted, and her brother and a neighborhood friend join with her to learn why the ghost walks through the house. Their research connects the ghost to happenings in the Civil War. "Seabrooke believably weaves the supernatural elements into the story," observed Elaine Fort Weischedel in School Library Journal.

A ghost and the Civil War also figure in The Haunting at Stratton Falls. In 1944, with World War II raging, eleven-year-old Abby and her mother relocate from Florida to live with relatives in the small town of Stratton Falls in upstate New York. Abby's father has been fighting in Europe and has been declared missing in action. She feels his absence deeply, and she dislikes her new home. She finds the home more interesting, though, after she discovers it is haunted by the ghost of a young girl, Felicia, who died eighty years earlier, when her father was away serving in the Civil War. Local residents say that Felicia's visitations come when someone is going to die. With the help of her cousin Chad, Abby learns more about the ghost, who goes on to make one appearance that is life-saving rather than death-predicting. School Library Journal reviewer Connie Tyrrell Burns thought the novel "formulaic but diverting," with a "fastpaced and suspenseful" plot. While she praised the book's detailed World War II-era background, Burns found the characters underdeveloped. Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld, however, liked its "diverse characters" as well as its "well-paced suspense, period detail, and descriptive, expressive prose."

In The Vampire in My Bathtub, thirteen-year-old Jeff has settled in a new and very small town in West Virginia with his mother after his parents' divorce. Initially, he finds the town boring, but he begins to enjoy life more after he accidentally frees a vampire, Eugene, who has been locked in a trunk for more than 100 years. Eugene is a "good" vampire—he does not drink blood—and also a funny and likable one, who loves television and sleeps in Jeff's bathtub. He longs to be reunited with Carlotta, the female vampire he loves, but he must do battle for her with his evil vampire cousin, Vennard. Jeff and a friend, Alison, end up assisting Eugene in this effort. A Publishers Weekly critic found the novel marred by "stilted" language and lacking in suspense, though offering a few "humorous moments." Booklist's Rosenfeld, on the other hand, thought it both funny and suspenseful, with well-developed characters and creative plotting making it a "delightful read."

Also set in West Virginia is The Haunting of Swain's Fancy. Taylor, an eleven-year-old girl, is visiting her father and her new stepmother and stepsiblings at their West Virginia home, which dates to the eighteenth century. She is wary at first of her stepsister, Nicole, and stepbrother, Pete, but eventually they all join forces, along with a friend, to find out why there are ghosts in their house. What they discover is a Civil War-era rivalry between brothers who fought on different sides in the war while also battling over the family fortune and the woman they both loved; their struggle culminated in murder. "Seabrooke ably combines a ghost story with stepsibling rivalry," commented Diane Foote in Booklist, while School Library Journal reviewer Terrie Dorio observed that the novel has "suspenseful pacing that will draw readers in." A Kirkus Reviews contributor added, "The ghostly drama's source in the Civil War lends the whole an historical frisson entirely appropriate to the setting."

Seabrooke's rural Georgia childhood inspired her prizewinning Judy Scuppernong and its follow-up, Under the Pear Tree. In Judy Scuppernong, the author uses a series of prose poems to relate the summer a new girl moves into a small Southern town. School Library Journal critic Sally T. Margolis found the work "a delightful, delicate book, full of color and light and feelings of childhood." In Under the Pear Tree, set in the early 1950s, three girls, all age eleven, spend a lovely, lazy summer discovering their growing interest in boys and dealing with other coming-of-age issues. "These poems are gentle, quiet, insightful, and timeless," Sharon Korbeck remarked in School Library Journal, and a Kirkus Reviews critic wrote that "the emotions are genuine, powerful, and sweet."

Taylor is drawn into the mystery of a murder perpetrated during the Civil War when she spends the summer with her new stepfamily at Swain's Fancy, an old stone house that turns out to be haunted. (Cover illustration by Terry Julien.)

Many of Seabrooke's books are written for students in the middle grades, but some are aimed at younger readers. These include The Dragon That Ate Summer, about a boy who finds a dragon in his garden and decides to make it his pet, and its sequel, The Care and Feeding of Dragons, in which the dragon must be saved from would-be thieves. Discussing the sequel in School Library Journal, Beth Wright reported that it "will keep readers smiling." Other Seabrooke works include the picture book Looking for Diamonds, inspired by her walks with her grandfather, and the original fairy tale The Swan's Gift, about a swan who assists the boy who has spared its life.


Seabrooke has remained not only a respected writer but also a devoted reader, commenting in her online piece for the Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C., "I'd still rather read a good book than anything but write one!"

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS


Booklist, January 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Vampire in My Bathtub, p. 927; July, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Haunting at Stratton Falls, p. 2030; May 15, 2003, Diane Foote, review of The Haunting of Swain's Fancy, p. 1662.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1992, review of The Bridges of Summer, p. 924; June 1, 1997, review of Under the Pear Tree, p. 879; June 15, 2003, review of The Haunting of Swain's Fancy, p. 864.

Kliatt, January, 1995, Dean E. Lyons, review of The Bridges of Summer, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, October 12, 1992, review of The Bridges of Summer, p. 80; January 3, 2000, review of The Vampire in My Bathtub, p. 76.

School Library Journal, November, 1990, Sally T. Margolis, review of Judy Scuppernong, p. 117; September, 1992, Sylvia V. Meisner, review of The Bridges of Summer, p. 279; April, 1995, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of The Haunting of Holroyd Hill; September, 1997, Sharon Korbeck, review of Under the Pear Tree, p. 236; February, 1998, Beth Wright, review of The Care and Feeding of Dragons, p. 91; August, 2000, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of The Haunting at Stratton Falls, p. 189; August, 2003, Terrie Dorio, review of The Haunting of Swain's Fancy, p. 166.


ONLINE


Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C. Web Site, http://www.childrensbookguild.org/ (January 28, 2004), biography of Brenda Seabrooke.

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