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Pat(ricia) Lowery Collins (1932-) - Sidelights

review fattening hut wonders

Pat Lowery Collins has written many poems and books for children, but she may be best known for her dramatic novels for young adults. In books such as Signs and Wonders, Just Imagine, and The Fattening Hut, articulate young women grapple with the transition to adulthood in the face of cultural challenges ranging from poverty to female genital mutilation.

Signs and Wonders, Collins' first young adult novel, is about a fourteen year old named Taswell who believes that she is pregnant with "the prophet for the New Millennium." The girl was abandoned by her mother many years ago. Her father has remarried, and her grandmother, Mavis, decides to send her to a convent school because the older woman is too busy to care for her granddaughter. The story is told through the letters that Taswell writes to her grandmother, her father and stepmother, and to her guardian angel, Pim. "The epistolary form allows easy access to the protagonist's thoughts," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "but not necessarily an easy identification with her." Eventually, the reader comes to realize that Taswell is not actually pregnant but has convinced herself that she is as a way of dealing with her feelings of abandonment. This "inevitable discovery that hers is a hysterical pregnancy … is well played," Ilene Cooper wrote in Booklist.

Just Imagine is set in a different time period—the Great Depression of the 1930s—but once again a young girl deals with abandonment through her imagination. Mary Francis's family has been split in two. Her mother and younger brother Leland live in Beverly Hills, California, where Leland is trying to become a child star, while Mary Francis and her father have moved in with the girl's grandmother in New England. Despite Gram's efforts to take good care of Mary Francis, the girl is still traumatized by the constant fighting within the family. Mary Francis has an interest in spiritualism, and she develops the ability to "project" her spirit across the country in an attempt to be closer to her mother and to escape the tensions at home. "Juggled between these vastly different realities" of her mother's seemingly glamorous life in Hollywood and her father's cold, hard struggle to make a living in Massachusetts, "Mary Francis emerges as an endearing and memorable character," Alison Follos wrote in School Library Journal.

Collins' third novel, The Fattening Hut, is written as one long poem. The book's narrator, Helen, is a member of a tribal culture which practices female circumcision (also called female genital mutilation). Now considered old enough to be married, Helen is sent to the fattening hut to be prepared to become a bride. There, she and other young women will eat and eat until they are plump, beautiful, and ready for their arranged marriages. But before they can be married, they must pass through the cutting ceremony. Helen does not know exactly what the cutting ritual entails, but she fears it. Helen is unusually bright and educated for a girl in her culture; her Aunt Margaret was taught to read by the British colonizers of their island, and she passed the skill down to her niece. The woman also encourages the girl in her rebellion, even helping her to escape from the fattening hut. "This is a tough book that expects a lot from its readers," Roxanne Burg commented in School Library Journal. However, the process of female circumcision is presented "carefully, with the meaning clear enough but events not graphically depicted—so middle school readers would be able to handle it," Claire Rosser wrote in Kliatt.

Collins once commented: "As a writer, I'm a poet first and believe that children's picture books are like good poetry in their simplicity and singular vision. Writing them hones my skills for all levels of poetry.

"My work takes other directions as well, into older juvenile fiction, adult fiction, and some nonfiction, and I always have work in progress in many areas. Having the space and time for close observation of the world and people in it is a necessary part of the creative process for me and what I had in mind when writing my book I Am an Artist, which advances the premise that art is more process than product. I will mull over an idea for minutes or months—even years—working it out in my head or on paper. When I'm finally ready to pull a story together, my best writing is done in the morning, and since I always read over and revise what I've written on the computer the day before, there is rarely anything that could be called a first draft.

"I'm also a visual artist and an illustrator. The major link between my painting and writing is my abiding interest in people—how they think, what they feel, their expressions, the things that touch their lives—which I may try to capture at one time with words and at another with paint, pencil, or pastel.

"Coming from a family of writers, I always understood that reading is an integral part of learning to be a writer and that the great writers of the past and present are the best teachers of how to use words well and how to craft compelling stories."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Collins, Pat Lowery, Signs and Wonders, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1999.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1992, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of I Am an Artist, p. 433; June 1, 1994, Kathryn Broderick, review of Don't Tease the Guppies, p. 1836; October 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Signs and Wonders, p. 370; April 1, 2001, Karen Simonetti, review of Just Imagine, p. 1481; November 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The Fattening Hut, p. 490.

Horn Book, November-December, 1990, Martha V. Parravano, review of Waiting for Baby Joe, pp. 738-739; January, 2000, review of Signs and Wonders, p. 74.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Schooner, p. 878; September 1, 2003, review of The Fattening Hut, p. 1121.

Kliatt, September, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of The Fattening Hut, pp. 6-7.

Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1999, review of Signs and Wonders, p. 68; October 20, 2003, review of The Fattening Hut, pp. 55-56.

School Library Journal, April, 1981, Nancy Palmer, review of My Friend Andrew, p. 110; March, 1983, A. S. T. Blackburn, review of Tumble, Tumble, Tumbleweed, p. 160; March, 1989, Ellen Dibner, review of Taking Care of Tucker, p. 156; December, 1992, Alexandra Marris, review of I Am an Artist, p. 78; May, 1994, John Sigwald, review of Don't Tease the Guppies, p. 90; December, 1995, Marjorie Lewis, review of Dreams of Glory: Poems Starring Girls, p. 116; October, 1999, Joel Shoemaker, review of Signs and Wonders, p. 148; May, 2001, Alison Follos, review of Just Imagine, p. 148; November, 2003, Roxanne Burg, review of The Fattening Hut, p. 134.

ONLINE

Author Illustrator Source, http://www.author-illustr-source.com/ (January 12, 2004), "Pat Lowery Collins."

Pat Lowery Collins Home Page, http://www.patlowerycollins.com/ (January 12, 2004).

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