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Margaret Wild (1948-) - Sidelights

review books september april

Margaret Wild is a prolific author of children's books whose themes sometimes address issues outside the norm of kids' literature: death and dying, grief, divorce, aging, and fears of being lost, overwhelmed, and bullied. Her realistic portrayals of these difficult subjects have been widely praised by critics and reviewers. Far from being morbid, Wild's other books are jubilant celebrations of grandmothers, babies, and childhood. Even her somber books hold the message that children can understand and cope with a sad or scary situation.

The Very Best of Friends offers a story of an Australian farm couple, James and Jessie, and their cat, William. James is especially fond of William, and Jessie tolerates the cat for his sake. When James dies suddenly, Jessie's life is in turmoil. She shuts out everything, including William, and stops caring for the farm, the animals, and herself. The neglected cat becomes thin and vicious, in his own way shut out from the world. But when William scratches Jessie, she realizes how she has let herself and her world deteriorate, and the two develop a strong friendship. This is a "story about relationships, love and loss, survival and recovery," wrote Patricia Dooley in School Library Journal. "The poignant tale is superbly told by Wild … who achieves an enviable balance of detail and simplicity," added a reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

Let the Celebrations Begin!—also published as A Time for Toys—has the unusual setting of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. Miriam, an older child prisoner, can remember what life was like before the camp, when she had parents and a home and toys. Many of the younger children have known nothing but the camp. Miriam plans a very special party for the children, one that will happen when "the soldiers come to set us free" from their captivity. The women tear usable scraps of cloth from their already threadbare clothing to make the toys, which are indeed given when the camp is liberated. Marjorie Gann, writing in Canadian Children's Literature, noted that A Time for Toys "tells an important story well." Susan Perren, reviewing the book in Quill & Quire, commented that "A Time for Toys is about the power of hope. It is also a work of alchemy, creating something of beauty from the bleakest material."

The theme of death coupled with the hopeful message of moving on from grief while not forgetting a loved one informs two of Wild's more popular books. In Old Pig, the title character and Granddaughter live happily together, and have for a very long time. Old Pig carefully teaches Granddaughter how to fend for herself; the two do their daily chores together, have their meals together, and sleep peacefully together. One day, after being unable to get up and go about her routine as usual, Old Pig realizes what is coming and begins a tidying up—returning her library books, closing her bank account, paying her bills and giving Granddaughter the remainder, and feasting her eyes on nature for the very last time. The final picture in the book shows Granddaughter alone, feasting on nature the way Old Pig taught her to. "Beautiful in its simplicity, this captures the essence of a life; and children, even little ones, cannot help but feel the love that infuses it," wrote Ilene Cooper in Booklist.

In Toby, the family dog is elderly and ailing, but twelve-year-old Sara is indifferent, sometimes even harsh to her lifelong pet. Her two younger brothers cannot understand her anger toward the dog, so they decide to play with Toby and comfort him. Then, the vet announces that it would be kindest to put Toby to sleep, a turn of events that makes Sara react with hostility toward Toby. Sara's mom, however, realizes that Sara's reactions are in part due to the changes in her own life as she grows up and in part due to the terrible sadness she feels at the prospect of losing Toby and the entirety of her childhood that he represents. The night before Toby is to be put to sleep, Sara is found lovingly holding him and saying her last good-byes. Michael J. Rosen, writing in Washington Post Book World, called Toby "a glorious book worth weeping over together," while Booklist's Ellen Mandel declared the book "a genuinely touching illumination of a family's loss of a beloved friend."

Jenny Angel also deals with the loss of a family member. Young Davy is gravely ill and dying, but his older sister Jenny believes she can save his life by acting as his guardian angel and willing him to live. She perches protectively outside his window at night, and then spends time "flying" over the city in her imagination to bring back marvelous stories of her adventures. She even wears a heavy coat at school to hide her "wings," enduring relentless teasing and questioning in order to maintain her illusion of being Davy's guardian angel. It is only after Davy's unavoidable death and his funeral that Jenny finally takes off her coat, visits the roof one last time (with her mother), realizes that she did all she could, and accepts that Davy is gone. "Understated, honest, and ultimately hopefully, Jenny Angel does not simplify emotions nor does it give answers to impossible questions" remarked Nola Allen in Magpies. Rosemary Stores, writing in Books for Keeps, declared that "Wild's depiction of Jenny finding a way to accept her loss is … so sensitively conveyed that young readers can only be enriched by it." Margaret Dunkle, in a review in Australian Book World, remarked that Jenny Angel "is a tender, loving, beautiful story, splendidly reinforced by Anne Spudvilas' sensitive paintings. I read it with healing tears as will many others."

Optimism and exuberance, however, are not out of place in Wild's works. In Our Granny, she offers a celebration of well-loved grandmothers of all colors, shapes, and sizes, from all over the world. "And they can take part in any activities they like," wrote Russ Merrin in Magpies. "No white-haired buns pulled back from wrinkled brows here. These ladies are stirrers and doers and goers." The Queen's Holiday is a "royal romp" that will be "enjoyed by young and old" wrote Nancy Seiner in School Library Journal. The story follows the queen's trip to the beach and the steadily increasing mayhem brought about by her attendants, until the queen (who looks remarkably like Queen Victoria) declares, "This simply will not do!" and puts things right in a suitably royal manner. In Midnight Babies, a group of toddlers gather at the magic hour of midnight to dance, feast, and cavort before returning to bed and "normal" life. Ilene Cooper, writing in Booklist, called it a "fantastical ode to babydom," with characters whose "actions are whimsical, bold, and delicious."

Other books by Wild tackle subjects such as divorce and visitation (Sam's Sunday Dad); coping with homelessness (Space Travellers); a child's need for glasses After two of her boyfriends die, Jen finds herself in deep despondency until a new relationship helps her face unresolved problems in her past so she can move forward with hope. (Cover photo by Jason Gould.) (All the Better to See You With!); the aging of a relative (Remember Me and Big Cat Dreaming); and the rite of passage every child must face, the first day of school (First Day and Tom Goes to Kindergarten). Joan Zahnleitner, writing in Magpies, observed that with First Day, Wild's approach "has been towards a more optimistic side of life even while acknowledging that what may seem small worries to adults can assume monumental proportions for young children."

With 2001's Jinx, Wild steps away from the world of children's books and into a novel for teen readers. Wild wrote on the Allen & Unwin Web site: Jinx "was a new challenge for me—all those words!—but I also have a feeling of freedom as I can write about subjects that are not suitable for younger children." Told in the unconventional style of a series of interrelated poems, Jinx relates the story of Jen, a girl who considers herself a jinx and source of bad luck for those around her. Two consecutive boyfriends have died—the first by suicide, the second in an accident—and her parents have split up. Her sister is "born imperfect," and she has a stepmother she hates. She blames another boy for the accident that killed her second boyfriend, and she terrorizes him and his family relentlessly. Her circle of family and friends try to help her cope, but Jen adopts the Jinx name that she has been given at school. She assumes a cold-as-ice persona that will not let anyone get close and which seems intent on turning Jen from a nice girl into a wild thing. But then, she begins to feel bad about being so harsh to a boy who probably did not mean to harm her second boyfriend and begins to fall in love with him and shed the Jinx persona. "Jinx emerges as a subtly wrought, deeply affecting story dealing with friendship and familial and romantic love," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic. "The device of the poetry will attract many young readers; the skill with which it is told will keep them hooked."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin (New York, NY), 1995.

Wild, Margaret, Let the Celebrations Begin!, illustrated by Julie Vivas, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Wild, Margaret, The Queen's Holiday, illustrated by Sue O'Loughlin, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Wild, Margaret, Jenny Angel, illustrated by Anne Spudvilas, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.

PERIODICALS

Australian Book Review, June, 1992, Meg Sorensen, review of Sam's Sunday Dad, pp. 60-63; April, 1995, Linnet Hunter, review of Light the Lamps, pp. 61-62; December-January, 1996-1997, Linnet Hunter, review of The Midnight Gang, pp. 91-92; October, 1999, Margaret Dunkle, review of Jenny Angel, pp. 43-44; February, 2001, review of Robber Girl, p. 52.

Booklist, November 1, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of Thank You, Santa, p. 88; July, 1993, Lisa Napoli, review of All the Better to See You With!, p. 1978; October 1, 1993, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Slumber Party, p. 355; January 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Our Granny, p. 925; March 15, 1994, Ellen Mandel, review of Toby, p. 1375; April 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Going Home, p. 463; February 1, 1996, Leone McDermott, review of Remember Me, p. 940; May 15, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Old Pig, p. 1578; February 1, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Big Cat Dreaming, p. 924; December 1, 1999, Michael Cart, review of Rosie and Tortoise, p. 715; May 1, 2000, Catherine Andronik, review of Tom Goes to Kindergarten, p. 1680; February 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Pocket Dogs, p. 1051; February 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Midnight Babies, p. 1135; September 1, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Nighty Night!, p. 118; November 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of Fox, p. 585; January 1, 2002, review of Midnight Babies, p. 769; September 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Jinx, p. 228; January 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Kiss Kiss!, p. 884.

Book Report, September-October, 1995, Carol Burbridge, review of Beast, p. 42.

Books for Keeps, March, 2000, Rosemary Stores, review of Jenny Angel, p. 24.

Books in Canada, December, 1997, Gillian Chan, review of Big Cat Dreaming, p. 35.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1991, review of Let the Celebrations Begin!, p. 25; November, 1992, review of Thank You, Santa, p. 94; May, 1993, review of Space Travellers, p. 298; June, 1994, review of Toby, p. 339; February, 1995, review of Beast, p. 218; March, 1996, review of Old Pig, p. 247; March, 2001, review of The Pocket Dogs, p. 283; September, 2001, review of Nighty Night!, p. 40.

Canadian Children's Literature, 1993, Marjorie Gann, review of A Time for Toys, pp. 34-36.

Emergency Librarian, March-April, 1987, Anne Hazell, review of Creatures in the Beard, p. 23.

Family Matters, winter, 2000, Carole Jean, review of Sam's Sunday Dad, p. 70.

Horn Book, November-December, 1989, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Mr. Nick's Knitting, p. 766; March-April, 1990, Karen Jameyson, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 235; May-June, 1990, Margaret A. Bush, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 331; September-October, 1992, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of The Queen's Holiday, pp. 580-581; March-April, 1993, Karen Jameyson, review of My Dearest Dinosaur, pp. 241-244; September-October, 1993, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of The Slumber Party, pp. 593-594; May-June, 1994, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Our Granny, pp. 322-323.

Horn Book Guide, spring, 1996, Sheila Geraty, review of Remember Me, p. 50; fall, 2000, Patricia Riley, review of Tom Goes to Kindergarten, p. 259.

Junior Bookshelf, December, 1984, There's a Sea in My Bedroom, pp. 244-245; August, 1991, review of Let the Celebrations Begin!, p. 149.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1992, review of Thank You, Santa, p. 1195; May 1, 1994, review of Going Home, p. 638; November 15, 1997, review of Big Cat Dreaming, p. 1714; September 15, 2001, review of Fox, p. 1371; July 15, 2002, review of Jinx, p. 1048.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 17, 1989, Patricia MacLachlan, review of Mr. Nick's Knitting, p. 7; May 27, 1990, Patricia MacLachlan, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 8; June 9, 1996, Michael Cart, review of Old Pig, p. 15.

Magpies, March, 1991, review of Something Rich and Strange, p. 28; July, 1991, Melanie Guile, review of Remember Me, p. 27; November, 1991, Margot Tyrrell, review of Let the Celebrations Begin!, p. 29; May, 1992, review of A Bit of Company, p. 27; November, 1992, Lynne Ferencz, review of The Slumber Party, p. 31; May, 1993, Stephanie Owen Reeder, review of Sam's Sunday Dad, p. 27, Mandy Cheetham, review of All the Better to See You With!, p. 26, and Robyn Shehan, review of Beast, p. 29; July, 1993, Stephanie Owen Reeder, review of Space Travellers, pp. 30-31, and Mandy Cheetham, review of My Dearest Dinosaur, p. 29; November, 1993, Renya Spratt, review of Christmas Magic, p. 27; July, 1994, Russ Merrin, review of Our Granny, p. 26; March, 1995, Melanie Guile, review of Light the Lamps, p. 24; July, 1996, Mandy Cheetham, review of Big Cat Dreaming, p. 25; March, 1996, Annette Dale-Meiklejohn, review of Looking after Alice and Co., p. 34; May, 1998, Moira Robinson, review of Rosie and Tortoise, p. 27; September, 1998, Margaret Phillips, review of Bim Bam Boom!, p. 28, and Joan Zahnleitner, review of First Day, p. 24; November, 1998, Linnet Hunter, review of Miss Lily's Fabulous Pink Feather Boa, p. 24; November, 1999, Nola Allen, review of Jenny Angel, pp. 8-9, and Joan Zahnleitner, review of The Midnight Feast, p. 26; July, 2000, Anne Hanzl, review of Robber Girl, p. 46; November, 2001, Kevin Steinberger, review of The House of Narcissus, p. 17.

New York Times Book Review, February 18, 1990, review of Mr. Nick's Knitting, p. 25.

People, November 28, 1994, review of Our Granny, pp. 42-43.

Publishers Weekly, October 13, 1989, review of Mr. Nick's Knitting, p. 53; March 16, 1990, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 69; July 25, 1991, review of Let the Celebrations Begin!, p. 52; August 24, 1992, review of The Queen's Holiday, p. 78; September 7, 1992, review of Thank You, Santa, p. 68; September 28, 1992, review of My Dearest Dinosaur, p. 78; April 12, 1993, review of Space Travelers, p. 63; July 19, 1993, review of The Slumber Party, p. 252; February 14, 1994, review of Going Home, pp. 88-89; September 20, 1999, review of Rosie and Tortoise, p. 87; May 1, 2000, review of Tom Goes to Kindergarten, p. 70; February 5, 2001, review of Midnight Babies, p. 87; April, 2001, review of The Pocket Dogs, p. 63; July 9, 2001, review of Nighty Night!, p. 66; October 8, 2001, review of Fox, p. 65; August 5, 2002, review of Jinx, p. 74; January 19, 2004, review of Kiss Kiss!, p. 74.

Quill & Quire, May, 1991, Susan Perren, review of A Time for Toys, p. 24.

Reading Teacher, February, 1991, Barbara Kiefer, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 410; October, 1992, Barbara Tolin, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 146, and Barbara Tolin, review of Let the Celebrations Begin, p. 146.

School Librarian, summer, 2000, Trevor Dickinson, review of Jenny Angel, p. 91.

School Library Journal, October, 1989, Jeanne Marie Clancy, review of Mr. Nick's Knitting, pp. 98-99; June, 1990, Patricia Dooley, review of The Very Best of Friends, p. 106; July, 1991, Susan Scheps, review of Let the Celebrations Begin!, p. 75; October, 1992, review of Thank You, Santa, p. 45, and Nancy Seiner, review of The Queen's Holiday, pp. 99-100; January, 1993, Cathryn A. Camper, review of My Dearest Dinosaur, p. 88; April, 1993, Karen K. Radtke, review of Space Travellers, pp. 103-104; August, 1993, Anna DeWind, review of All the Better to See You With, p. 154; October, 1993, Karen James, review of The Slumber Party, p. 114; March, 1994, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Toby, p. 212; April, 1994, Karen James, review of Our Granny, pp. 114-115, and Louise L. Sherman, review of Going Home, p. 114; February, 1995, Tim Rausch, review of Beast, pp. 100-101; January, 1996, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Remember Me, p. 98; April, 1996, Christina Dorr, review of Old Pig, p. 121; February, 1998, Lauralyn Persson, review of Big Cat Dreaming, p. 92; September, 1999, Kathleen Staerkel, review of Rosie and Tortoise, p. 209; April, 2000, Ginny Gustin, review of Tom Goes to Kindergarten, p. 117; April, 2001, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Midnight Babies, p. 126; June, 2001, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of The Pocket Dogs, p. 132; September, 2001, Debbie Stewart, review of Nighty Night!, p. 208; December, 2001, Susan Scheps, review of Fox, pp. 114-115; November, 2002, Sharon Morrison, review of Jinx, p. 178; January, 2004, Faith Brautigam, review of Kiss Kiss!, p. 107.

Spectator, December 5, 1992, Juliet Townsend, review of The Queen's Holiday, p. 49.

Times Educational Supplement, August, 1984, review of There's a Sea in My Bedroom, p. 21; May 31, 1991, Ann Thwaite, review of Let the Celebrations Begin!, p. 24; April 19, 1996, Robert Dunbar, review of Old Pig, p. B18.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 8, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Our Granny, p. 6.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1995, Karen S. H. Roggenkamp, review of Beast, p. 29.

Washington Post Book World, May 8, 1994, Michael J. Rosen, review of Toby, p. 18.

Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1994, review of The Slumber Party, p. 119.

ONLINE

Allen & Unwin Web Site, http://www.allen-unwin.com/ (December 12, 2002).*

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