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Jan Fearnley Biography (1965-) - Sidelights

wolf review billy tibbles

Jan Fearnley worked as a preschool teacher before devoting herself to her first love—writing and illustrating books for children. With dual degrees in early childhood education and graphic art, Fearnley has learned how to entertain young listeners with brightly-colored and engaging tales, many of which feature animals acting like people. The youngest of six children, Fearnley sometimes found herself left behind while her older brothers played together. She entertained herself by drawing and making up stories, and by reading. In an interview for the Year of Reading Web site, the author-illustrator said: "A book can help you deal with emotions or problems, comfort you, make you laugh or move you to tears. They're powerful things. Have you got a favorite old book that you read over and over again, especially when you're feeling down? I rest my case!"

Fearnley broke into publishing with a Christmas story, released in England as Little Robin Red Vest and in America as Little Robin's Christmas. Little Robin has seven warm, red vests—one for each day of the week. But as he sees other animals suffering from the cold, he gives his vests away one by one, until he is the one left shivering in the snow. Santa Claus rides to the rescue, endowing the little bird with a new vest made from a thread from his famous red coat. "Little Robin's unhesitating generosity will also kindle a response in young readers at any time of year," noted John Peters in Booklist.

One of Fearnley's most popular characters is Mr. Wolf, an affable sort who knows how to get a job done. In Mr. Wolf's Pancakes, he cannot seem to get any help from his neighbors—including a snobbish Chicken Little—in his quest to create a batch of warm pancakes. Undaunted, Mr. Wolf sets to work in his kitchen, and when his neighbors smell the tantalizing results, they try to join him in the feast. He turns the tables on them with a comic twist. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt that youngsters would enjoy Fearnley's "sympathetic wolf and the savory surprise ending." A contributor to Horn Book praised Mr. Wolf as "likably drawn" with a "gentle smile" that belies his quirky appetite.

Mr. Wolf makes another appearance in Mr. Wolf and the Three Bears. This time he is hosting a birthday party for Baby Bear, and Grandma Wolf is providing the feast. The party is on the verge of ruin when Goldilocks crashes it and misbehaves, bringing Baby Bear to tears and ignoring every plea to curb her nastiness. Grandma Wolf solves the problem by forbidding Goldilocks to go into the kitchen—and a short time later, Grandma emerges from that very room, carrying a steaming hot pie. "Fearnley tells the story with enough of a wink and a nod so as not to alarm children," observed Rosalyn Pierini in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed the book "archly hilarious" for Mr. Wolf's "take-no-prisoners approach to etiquette."

Other Fearnley picture books include Just Like You, A Perfect Day for It, and Billy Tibbles Moves Out! In each story, likable animals provide chances for children to learn important messages about parental guidance, friendship, and sharing. The little mouse in Just Like You wonders what his mother can do for him after seeing and hearing bigger, more powerful animals making promises to their children. Mother mouse assures him that her tiny size does not diminish the amount of love she holds for him. Martha Topol in School Library Journal observed that Fearnley's book "reminds readers of the daily expressions of unconditional love that make their relationship so unique." In A Perfect Day for It, curious animals follow Bear to a mountaintop because he declares it is "a perfect day for it," while not specifying what "it" is. At the top, all the animals receive a great treat. Billy Tibbles, a cat with attitude, finds his comfortable world threatened in Billy Tibbles Moves Out! Told he must share his room with his brother, Billy rebels—until he discovers that a roommate brings rowdy pillowfights and a chance to sleep with Dad. "Kids will immediately connect with Billy Tibbles," maintained Ilene Cooper in Booklist. "Here's a book that gets it all right."

Fearnley lives in England, where her books have sold more than 300,000 copies in the past several years. In her spare time she enjoys walking, cycling, and caring for her Cornish Rex cats.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 1998, John Peters, review of Little Robin's Christmas, p. 236; July, 2001, Cynthia Turnquest, review of Just Like You, p. 2019; February 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Billy Tibbles Moves Out!, p. 1062.

Horn Book, March, 2000, review of Mr. Wolf's Pancakes, p. 184.

Publishers Weekly, January 10, 2000, review of Mr. Wolf's Pancakes, p. 67; June 12, 2000, review of A Special Something, p. 71; March 25, 2002, review of Mr. Wolf and the Three Bears, p. 62; January 26, 2004, review of Billy Tibbles Moves Out!, p. 252.

School Library Journal, August, 2000, Martha Topol, review of A Special Something, p. 154; April, 2001, Martha Topol, review of Just Like You, p. 108; June, 2002, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Mr. Wolf and the Three Bears, p. 94; December, 2002, Olga R. Kuharets, review of A Perfect Day for It, p. 95; March, 2004, Bina Williams, review of Billy Tibbles Moves Out!, p. 157; April, 2004, Jane Barrer, review of Watch Out!, p. 110.*

ONLINE

David Higham Associates, http://www.davidhigham.co.uk/ (February 3, 2004), "Jan Fearnley."

Hungry Wolf, http://www.hungry-wolf.com/ (June 2, 2004), author's home page.

Year of Reading, http://www.yearofreading.org.uk/reading/writers/fine/ (October 1, 2004), "Jan Fearnley."

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