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Margaret Bechard (1953-) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

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Born 1953, in Chico, CA; Education: Attended California State University, Chico, 1971–73; Reed College, B.A. (English literature), 1976.

Career

Freelance writer. Vermont College, Montpelier, member of faculty of MFA program in writing for children and young adults, beginning 2003.

Member

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (regional advisor, Oregon chapter, 1990–92, 1993–94), Authors Guild, Authors League of America.

Honors Awards

Oregon Book Awards finalist, 1993, for Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love; Sunshine Award nomina-Margaret Bechardtion, Florida Reader's Choice, 1994, for My Sister, My Science Report; Mary Jane Carr Young Readers Award finalist, Oregon Book Awards, and Children's Books of the Year citation, Child Study Association, both 1995, both for Really No Big Deal; Children's Book of the Year citation, Child Study Association, Maine Student Book Award nomination, and Golden Duck Award, Duk-Con Science Fiction Convention, all 1997, all for Star Hatchling; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year designation, and ALA Best Book for Young Adults and Quick Pick designations, all for Hanging on to Max.

Writings

My Sister, My Science Report, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.

Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.

Really No Big Deal, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Star Hatchling, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.

My Mom Married the Principal, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.

If It Doesn't Kill You, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

Hanging on to Max, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.

Spacer and Rat, Roaring Book Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.

Sidelights

Margaret Bechard's early novels, all of which feature characters in their middle-school years, are lighthearted tales that contain lessons about some of the typical dilemmas pre-teens may face in life. In My Sister, My Science Report, for example, Tess learns to understand her older sister better, while also admitting that brainy geek Phoenix Guber, with whom she becomes an unwilling science-class partner, is not such a bad kid after all. Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love features a young girl whose idealized vision of what constitutes true love are forever changed when she grows to know her Uncle Arthur and to understand his sorrow over his wife's death. Bechard's novel Really No Big Deal finds a mortified Jonah Truman coming to grips with his parents' divorce and his mother's new relationship with, of all people, his school principal.

Bechard mixes in humorous situations and realistic character development to flesh out her stories, and several reviewers have commented on her skill with characterization. A Horn Book reviewer, discussing Really No Big Deal, for example, praised Bechard's "dialogue with an ear for the subtle emotions and insecurities of her characters." Connie Tyrrell Burns, writing in the School Library Journal, called Jonah Truman the most likable fictional character since Betsy Byars's Bingo Brown, writing that Jonah is "similarly drawn with humor and empathy." Critics of Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love have also noted Bechard's ability to treat delicate issues with sensitivity. In the case of this story, which deals with death, a Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that the book would be "a good choice for children who have recently grappled with a first family death." A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books writer called it "a well-balanced account of a young girl who's beginning to realize that her relatives are real people." In a sequel to Really No Big Deal, titled My Mom Married the Principal, Jonah begins the eighth grade just after his mother remarries. Things look hopeless in his life: his best friend is changing and the two boys seem to be growing apart; Jonah is afraid to ask a girl he likes out on a date, and his step-dad now doubles as the principal at his school. Elizabeth Drennan, writing in Booklist, noted that while there is not a lot of plot resolution, the novel holds its own as "Great summer reading."

Bechard addresses an older readership with If It Doesn't Kill You, the story of a young football player named Ben who has dreams of playing on the varsity team. Ben's father has left the family for "some guy named Keith," and the teen is finding it difficult to adjust to the fact that his dad is gay. A growing friendship with a strange girl named Chynna and Keith's help in rescuing Ben from a difficult situation finally prompt the teen to question his assumptions about what it means to be a man and begin to accept his father as he is. Bechard "does a fine job of illuminating the day-to-day struggles that make us all stronger," praised Kitty Flynn in a review for Horn Book. Booklist contributor Roger Leslie commented on Bechard's "straightforward narration and appealing characters," while a Publishers Weekly critic noted that "Teens will relate to Ben's struggles with peer pressure."

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Most high-school seniors have problems, but few have the problems of being a single-parent dad like Sam in Hanging on to Max. When infant Max's mother tells Sam she plans to put their son up for adoption, Sam offers to take care of the baby and begins attending a high school for teen parents. Sam has a lot to learn about being a good father and keeping hold of his dreams, and when he befriends some single mothers at his high school he starts to question what is best for both himself and Max. "The author should be commended for taking on a tricky topic," complimented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Calling Hanging on to Max "a breath of fresh air" and "a poignant winner of a book," Jane Halsall wrote in School Library Journal that, "As Bechard deftly shows, the choices made in small ordinary moments are as important as the big 'turning points.'" Horn Book reviewer Christine M. Hepperman felt that "Bechard effectively conveys Sam's perspective," and Booklist contributor Francisca Goldsmith called the novel's storyline "both realistic and perceptive, and the characters … fully realized." A Publishers Weekly critic noted that, "While the story has been told before," in Hanging on to Max "it comes across as unfailingly real."

"When I was about three or four years old, one of my favorite places in our house was the corner of the living room behind the big, green leather chair," Bechard once told SATA. "I was the youngest of six children. It was quiet behind the big, green chair. No one could see me back there. No one even knew I was there. And I was never bored. Our encyclopedias were on the shelves in that corner. My favorite was the 'B' volume, which had several pages of color plates of birds. I would sit for hours, looking at the pictures, enjoying the feel of the glossy pages. I can remember one of my brothers yelling at me because I had worn the spine off that volume.

"One of the pictures particularly fascinated me. Now, looking back as an adult, I know that it was a picture of a large hawk or eagle, wings outspread, landing in its nest. Then, looking at it as a small child, I saw a picture of a large dog with wings. My father had a friend who was a hunter, and who often talked about his bird dog. I felt an immense satisfaction as I looked at that picture in the encyclopedia. I thought to myself, 'So that's a bird dog.' I hadn't had to ask one of my brothers and sisters or my parents. I had figured out this puzzle all by myself. I have loved books ever since.

"I spent quite a bit of my childhood pretending to be a horse. But I spent even more time reading, immersing myself in the worlds I found in books. I slipped on the wet cobblestones with Black Beauty. I ate warm bread and fresh goat's milk with Heidi. I swam in the sea of tears with Alice. I never forgave Jo for not marrying Laurie. I read every book in our library that had a horse on the cover. (I can still embarrass my children by galloping up and down the hall, tossing my head and whinnying.)

Trying to take responsibility for his actions by parenting his infant son, high school senior Sam realizes that doing the right thing sometimes means letting go in Bechard's poignant novel. (Cover photograph by Lindy Powers.)

"I wrote my first novel when I was seven. It was about a rich girl, an only child, who lived in a big house and had lots of horses. I loved making up stories and writing them down. I soon discovered that disappearing into worlds I had made up myself was even better than disappearing into worlds written by someone else. I began to think that being a writer would be a truly wonderful thing. However, I soon realized that most of the adults around me did not think it would be truly wonderful. They worried about how I would eat and where I would live. So, I told all the adults that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, and, secretly, I dreamed of being a writer.

"Fortunately, my test scores in math and science kept me out of medical school. And my marriage to an understanding, long-suffering supporter of the arts has kept me fed and housed. I spent several years trying to write serious, adult novels, being, at twenty-five or twenty-six, a very serious adult myself. My stories always crumbled under my hands, never having a middle, let alone an ending. It was hard, and I was pretty depressed, although I felt good about that, because I knew writers were supposed to be depressed. It wasn't until I had children of my own, and found myself reading between twenty and thirty picture books a day, that I con-sidered writing books for kids. It took me several more years to realize that the voices in my head are mostly the voices of people between the ages of ten and fourteen, people who are learning and discovering and experimenting. People who take themselves seriously, but can still see the essential humor of the situation."

While admitting that several of her books have been inspired by the antics of her own children, Bechard explained: "I think the essence of my stories, the heart of my stories, comes from my own childhood. From the child who loved the colored pictures of birds. From the child who ran across a playground with her mane and tail flying in the wind. From the child who lied to adults and said she really wanted to be a pediatrician. From the child who could look at a picture of an eagle and see a dog with wings and draw her own conclusions."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, May 15, 1990, p. 1795; November 1, 1992, p. 509; March 15, 1994, p. 1347; March 1, 1998, Elizabeth Drennan, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 1132; July, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 1938; June 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 1863; March 15, 2003, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 1290, 1311.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1990, p. 208; October, 1992, review of Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love, p. 37; April, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 274; June, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 344; May, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 310.

Emergency Librarian, May, 1998, review of Star Hatchling, p. 42.

Horn Book, September, 1990, p. 599; November, 1992, p. 722; July, 1994, review of Really No Big Deal, p. 449; July, 1999, Kitty Flynn, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 461.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1990, p. 726; November 15, 1992, p. 1438; June 1, 1994, review of Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love, p. 772; April 15, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 561.

Kliatt, May-June, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 324; January, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 15.

Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1992, p. 55; May 2, 1994, p. 309; July 5, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 72; June 3, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 89.

School Librarian, spring, 2005, Susan Elkin, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 44.

School Library Journal, May, 1990, p. 102; October, 1992, p. 112; May, 1994, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Really No Big Deal, p. 112; August, 1995, p. 139; March, 1998, Carrie A. Guarria, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 208; July, 1999, Alison Follos, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 92; May, 2002, Jane Halsall, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 146; October, 2003, review of Hanging on to Max, p. S68.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 384; April, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 36.

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