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Roni Schotter - Sidelights

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An award-winning writer of fiction and nonfiction, Roni Schotter has written novels for teenagers and picture books for small children. Schotter's first young adult novel, A Matter of Time, was published in 1979. The novel is a "moving" story, according to a Booklist commentator, that has as its protagonist a high school senior, Lisl Gilbert, whose vivacious, artistic mother is dying of cancer. To complicate the emotional background, Lisl has always felt inferior to her mother; now she realizes that not only is her mother vulnerable, but that her mother has felt unloved and inferior at times. Lisl sorts out her tangled feelings with the help of sympathetic friends, relatives, and a social worker. The Booklist reviewer described Lisl as "believable and appealing" and commented that the way in which she is depicted as maturing rapidly under tragic circumstances is "convincing." A Horn Book reviewer lauded Schotter's "honest" and "straightforward" handling of the broad and difficult themes of life and death in A Matter of Time. While School Library Journal critic Cyrisse Jaffee thought that the resolution of conflicts were too pat and, for adult readers at least, obviously tied to current psychological theories, she nevertheless called the book "reassuring and positive." The book was ultimately adapted for television, being made into an ABC Afterschool Special.

Schotter's next venture into the young adult market was Northern Fried Chicken, whose heroine, Betsy Bergman, is a shy Jewish girl living in Providence, Rhode Island. Set in 1962, Northern Fried Chicken traces Betsy's involvement in civil rights protests, detailing the personal growth that results from her participation in the movement. A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer, although calling the pace of the novel slow and uneven, applauded it for providing "a touching picture of the way in which devotion to a cause can bring a reclusive individual to active participation." The characters and their relationships, the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic wrote, were skillfully portrayed. A Booklist critic was not enthusiastic about Schotter's characterizations, but praised Northern Fried Chicken as an "effective and true" portrayal of the time and place in which it was set; similarly, a reviewer for Horn Book declared that the novel "evokes the era's feeling of hope and of change."

Three years later, in 1986, Schotter followed with another young adult novel, Rhoda, Straight and True, in which the title character, a twelve-year-old girl in Brooklyn in the summer of 1953, realizes that appearances—such as those of a huge family of scruffylooking neighbors—are not reliable when assessing a person's character. A commentator for Publishers Weekly felt the moral was a bit "heavyhanded," but added, "the sense of locale is nicely drawn, with original characters and humor rounding out a pleasant story." A critic for Booklist praised the "strong, sure characterizations," "careful plotting," and vivid setting in Rhoda, Straight and True.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the children's book market proved highly successful for Schotter. Her first children's book, Efan the Great, was called "a touching and unusually substantial Christmas story," in the words of a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer. Ten-year-old Efan, who lives in a poor neighborhood, wants to buy a Christmas tree with his life savings of six dollars and sixty-three cents. Finding the prices of trees too high, he agrees to work for a tree-seller, and to be paid with his pick of the trees at the end of the day. When the tree he picks is too big to fit into his apartment, Efan leaves it outside and decorates it for all to see. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the tale "heartwarming" and "jubilantly told," while a Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books reviewer asserted that "Efan's emotions are varied, genuine, and set into a context of vividly projected secondary characters."

Schotter's 1989 book Captain Snap and the Children of Vinegar Lane tells the simple story of a group of children who are initially afraid of an old man, but when they discover that he is ill, they bring him food and blankets. A New York Times Book Review critic responded favorably to Captain Snap, and a Kirkus Reviews contributor also offered praise for the book's "engaging detail and the enthusiasm of a compelling storyteller."

That same year, Schotter turned to animals as characters in her work Bunny's Night Out, in which Bunny, who is afraid of bedtime, leaves his room to explore the world. Although Bunny finds the world is full of interesting creatures, he learns that he prefers his warm, safe home. A critic for School Library Journal termed Bunny's Night Out a "cheerful morality tale," while Ellen Mandel of Booklist applauded it as "perfect for settling restless youngsters into sweet dreams."

In Schotter's 1993 book Warm at Home, Bunny has a cold and complains that there is nothing to do. By using his imagination, Bunny eventually creates a long list of things to do (mostly involving vegetables). A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Warm at Home "a total charmer," elaborating, "An especially endearing tone . . . permeates all of Schotter's tale, which along the way celebrates a particularly active imagination and a quietly accepting mother." Karen James of School Library Journal called Bunny "the embodiment of any young child looking for amusement."

Schotter returns to human characters in A Fruit and Vegetable Man, in which longtime grocer Ruby Rubinstein, who has been tending his stand for fifty years, falls ill and is aided by young Asian immigrant Sun Ho and his family. Reviewing A Fruit and Vegetable Man for Publishers Weekly, a contributor responded favorably, praising the "sweet sense of continuity" in the story's portrayal of generational and cultural transition in immigrant businesses. The book was, the critic asserted, "as irresistible as a ripe peach." School Library Journal reviewer Cynthia K. Richey also applauded this "satisfying story about taking pride in one's work and helping others," while Hazel Rochman of Booklist praised the "unaffected" writing.

The end of 1993 saw the publication of When Crocodiles Clean Up. The story features a crocodile mother who gives her four little crocodile children thirty minutes to clean up their room. They begin playing instead, and when they hear their mother returning, they frantically and successfully begin cleaning, which includes gobbling down their very last toy before their mother appears. Writing in School Library Journal, Virginia E. Jeschelnig called When Crocodiles Clean Up "full of laughs" and theorized that "children will recognize their own behavior as they enjoy the antics of the crocodile kids."

That Extraordinary Pig of Paris features the main character Monsieur Cochon, a vegetarian pig with a morethan-healthy appetite, especially for pastries. He loves to eat, and becomes so fat that he is slated for slaughter by the evil butchers. Fortunately, he is saved by a variety of animal friends. A critic for Publishers Weekly called That Extraordinary Pig "a pleasing romp." The book contains a glossary of French words, which, in Booklist reviewer Rochman's view, helped create a sense of "world."

Beginning with the 1990 Hanukkah!, Schotter wrote several books about Jewish holidays. Hanukkah! contains "free and occasionally rhyming verse," according to a reviewer in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and further describes one family's celebration of the winter festival that commemorates the victory of the Maccabees against their Greek rulers. James Howe of New York Times Book Review faulted the inconsistency of the verse form, assessing the text as "cheerful," but imperfectly crafted. The book received the National Jewish Book Award for best children's picture book on a Jewish theme.

Schotter returned to the topic of Jewish holidays in 1995 with Passover Magic, a portrayal of one family's seder dinner. The emphasis of the story is on colorful characters, such as amateur magician Uncle Harry, as well as on holiday lore. The result, in the view of a Publishers Weekly reviewer, was a warm, original story filled with "intricate, often amusing details," and engagingly recounted by its narrator, daughter Molly. Stephanie Zvirin of Booklist offered a similar view, calling the book "very charming." Schotter's third book on Jewish holidays was the 1997 Purim Play. Like Hanukkah! and Passover Magic, it was illustrated by Marilyn Hafner, whose pictures for Schotter's stories have garnered considerable praise.

Schotter's Dreamland was also well received. The tale revolves around a family of tailors, some of whom possess an abundance of common sense and some who do not. Among the latter group are young Theo, who sketches plans for fantastic machines, and his uncle Gurney, who moves out West to seek his fortune. At a time when the family business is failing, Gurney writes back to Theo, asking him for exact instructions on how to build his machines. Gurney turns the machines into an amusement park. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the story was "both fantastic and credible," praising its "eloquent, image-studded prose." Carolyn Phelan of Booklist noted a lack of credibility in the narrative, but characterized the story as appealing to "dreamers who long for a brighter reality." More praise came from Constance Decker Thompson in the New York Times Book Review. She applauded Dreamland as a "splendid" book, asserting that "Schotter deftly builds suspense to a wondrous climactic scene in which Theo's family sees Uncle Gurney's project." Pointing out, as well, that Schotter is the granddaughter of a tailor, Thompson observed that "her engaging phrases . . . spring from a tailor's world."

Another children's story, Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, focuses again on the importance of imagination. Facing a report for school, Eva, the main character, sits outside her house in the city and watches the people. She receives advice from several folks and witnesses some interesting events, including a bicycle accident. J. Patrick Lewis, writing in the New York Times Book Review, enjoyed the "clever sprinkles" of characters, creating a "spicy ethnic stewpot." A critic for Publishers Weekly observed that Schotter has "a knack for creating dramatic situations filled with romantic characters."

With Captain Bob Sets Sail and Captain Bob Takes Flight, Schotter recounts the adventures of a young boy with a vivid imagination. In Captain Bob Sets Sail, he pictures himself as a pirate captain within the confines of his bubble-filled bathtub, while in Captain Bob Takes Flight, he is a pilot whose mission is to clean up his room. Bob's pirate adventures are "a series of vignettes energetically describing Bob's bath play from start to finish," explained Tim Arnold in Booklist. These adventures make for an "irresistible bathtime book" as a Publishers Weekly critic noted.

In Captain Bob Takes Flight, Bob imagines himself as a pilot soaring around his room, cleaning up the mess along the way. Diane Foote of Booklist commented that Schotter makes "cleaning one's room seem less of a chore in this colorfully illustrated story." A critic for Kirkus Reviews found Captain Bob Takes Flight to be "even more delightful than the first" book, as well as being "refreshingly clever."

Missing Rabbit concerns a young girl whose parents have divorced. Kara is shuttled between the two parents, living with each of them for a time under a joint custody arrangement. When she decides to leave her toy rabbit at her father's house to ease the pain of goodbye, she finds that she begins to miss her rabbit once she is at her mother's house. Leaving the rabbit at her mother's house, she misses him once she is back at her father's. Even the rabbit begins to wonder, "Where do I live?" The book raises the disturbing question, as a critic for Kirkus Reviews put it, of "just where one does belong in a divorced family of two households." Writing in School Library Journal, Susan Weitz found that, "for young children dealing with divorce—and their parents—this book is a winner."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Schotter, Roni, Missing Rabbit, illustrated by Cyd Moore, Clarion (New York, NY), 2002.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 1979, review of A Matter of Time, p. 495; November 1, 1983, review of Northern Fried Chicken, p. 404; October 1, 1986, review of Rhoda, Straight and True, p. 275; October 15, 1986, pp. 356-357; April 15, 1989, Ellen Mandel, review of Bunny's Night Out, p. 1471; September 1, 1993, Hazel Rochman, review of A Fruit and Vegetable Man, p. 71; January 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of That Extraordinary Pig of Paris, pp. 938-939; October 15, 1994, Linda Callaghan, review of There's a Dragon About: A Winter's Revel, p. 439; November 1, 1994, Linda Callaghan, review of There's a Dragon About, p. 509; March 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Passover Magic, pp. 1249-1250; April 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Dreamland, p. 1374; March 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, p. 1173; February 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Purim Play, p. 923; July, 2000, Tim Arnold, review of Captain Bob Sets Sail, p. 2043; March 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Room for Rabbit, p. 1204; March 15, 2003, Diane Foote, review of Captain Bob Takes Flight, p. 1334; July, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of In the Piney Woods, p. 1898.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1984, Zena Sutherland, review of Northern Fried Chicken, p. 117; December, 1986, review of Efan the Great, p. 75; November, 1990, review of Hanukkah!, pp. 69-70.

Horn Book, February, 1980, Ann A. Flowers, review of A Matter of Time, pp. 65-66; February, 1984, Kate M. Flanagan, review of Northern Fried Chicken, p. 65; January, 1991, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Hanukkah!, p. 95; January, 1994, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of A Fruit and Vegetable Man, p. 66.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1989, p. 554; February 15, 2002, review of Missing Rabbit, p. 265; February 1, 2003, review of In the Piney Woods, p. 238; March 15, 2003, review of Captain Bob Takes Flight, p. 478.

Language Arts, February, 1987, Janet Hickman, review of Rhoda, Straight and True, p. 246.

New York Times Book Review, September 17, 1989, p. 39; December 9, 1990, James Howe, review of Hanukkah!, p. 31; December 4, 1994, review of There's a Dragon About, p. 76; April 13, 1997, Constance Decker Thompson, review of Dreamland, p. 27; August 3, 1997, J. Patrick Lewis, review of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, August 22, 1986, Diane Roback, review of Rhoda, Straight and True, p. 99; September 26, 1986, review of Efan the Great, pp. 75-76; March 24, 1989, Kimberly Olson Fakih and Diane Roback, review of Captain Snap and the Children of Vinegar Lane, p. 69; July 27, 1990, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of Hanukkah!, pp. 232-233; March 8, 1993, review of Warm at Home, p. 77; September 20, 1993, review of A Fruit and Vegetable Man, p. 71; April 11, 1994, review of That Extraordinary Pig of Paris, p. 64; September 12, 1994, review of There's a Dragon About, p. 90; March 20, 1995, review of Passover Magic, pp. 60-61; March 11, 1996, review of Dreamland, p. 64; February 3, 1997, review of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, p. 106; February 23, 1998, review of Purim Play, p. 67; May 8, 2000, review of Captain Bob Sets Sail, p. 220; January 21, 2002, review of Missing Rabbit, p. 88; November 25, 2002, review of In the Piney Woods, p. 67; February 24, 2003, review of Captain Bob Takes Flight, p. 74.

School Library Journal, December, 1979, Cyrisse Jaffee, review of A Matter of Time, p. 92; December, 1983, review of Northern Fried Chicken, p. 77; October, 1986, Judith Gloyer, review of Efan the Great, p. 113; December, 1986, Marjorie Lewis, review of Rhoda, Straight and True, p. 108; May, 1989, Ruth K. MacDonald, review of Captain Snap and the Children of Vinegar Lane, p. 92; July, 1989, Virginia Opocensky, review of Bunny's Night Out, p. 76; October, 1990, Susan Hepler, review of Hanukkah!, p. 39; June, 1993, Karen James, review of Warm at Home, pp. 88-89; October, 1993, Cynthia K. Richey, review of A Fruit and Vegetable Man, p. 112; December, 1993, Virginia E. Jeschelnig, review of When Crocodiles Clean Up, p. 93; July, 1994, Ann W. Moore, review of That Extraordinary Pig of Paris, pp. 88-89; September, 1994, Kathleen Whalin, review of There's a Dragon About, p. 211; April, 1995, Susan Scheps, review of Passover Magic, pp. 116-117; April, 1996, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of Dreamland, p. 118; January, 1997, review of Captain Snap and the Children of Vinegar Lane, p. 37; March, 1997, John Peters, review of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, p. 166; April, 1998, Libby K. White, review of Purim Play, p. 110; December, 2000, William McLoughlin, review of FIs for Freedom, p. 125; April, 2002, Susan Weitz, review of Missing Rabbit, p. 122; April, 2003, Jane Marino, review of In the Piney Woods, p. 137, and Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Room for Rabbit, p. 138; May, 2003, Nancy A. Gifford, review of Captain Bob Takes Flight, p. 129.

ONLINE

Roni Schotter Home Page, http://members.aol.com/ronisch/ (April 14, 2003).*

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