6 minute read

Juanita Havill (1949-) Biography

Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

(Jennifer Havel)


Born 1949, in Evansville, IN; Education: Attended Université de Rouen, 1969-70; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, B.A., 1971, M.A., 1973. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Theater, cinema, listening to piano music, reading philosophy and biography, walking, and swimming.


Freelance writer, 1981—. Translator for companies in France and United States; instructor at École Bi-Lingue de Fontainebleau, Wabash Valley College, The Loft, Writer's Voice Project, Phoenix College, and Ottawa University, Phoenix; lecturer. Worked in personnel department, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France.


Authors Guild, Authors League, Society of Children's Bookwriters and Illustrators, Children's Reading Roundtable.

Honors Awards

Child Study Children's Book Award, Bank Street College, Children's Choices award, Children's Trade Books, Children's Book of the Year award, Library of Congress, all 1986, and Ezra Jack Keats New Writer award, 1987, all for Jamaica's Find; Child Study Children's Book award, Bank Street College, 1989, and Mrs. Bush's Story Hour selection, 1992-93, both for Jamaica Tag-Along; Minnesota Book Award nomination, 1991, for Leona and Ike.



Jamaica's Find, illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.

Leroy and the Clock, illustrated by Janet Wentworth, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.

Jamaica Tag-Along, illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1989.

The Magic Fort, illustrated by Linda Shute, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1991.

Treasure Nap, illustrated by Elivia Savadier, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.

Sato and the Elephants, illustrated by Jean and Mou-Sien Tseng, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1993.

Jamaica and Brianna, illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1993.

Kentucky Troll (folktale), illustrated by Bert Dodson, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1993.

Jennifer, Too, illustrated by J. J. Smith-Moore, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

Saving Owen's Toad, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.

Jamaica's Blue Marker, illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.

Jamaica and the Substitute Teacher, illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1999.

Embarcadero Upset, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1999.

Brianna, Jamaica, and the Dance of Spring, illustrated by Anne Sibley O'Brien, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2002.

The Blue Racer, illustrated by Judy Love, Zaner-Bloser (Columbus, OH), 2004.

Zox, illustrated by Reggie Holladay, Zaner-Bloser (Columbus, OH), 2004.

I Heard It from Alice Zucchini, and Other Poems about the Garden, illustrated by Christine Davenier, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2005.


It Always Happens to Leona, Crown (New York, NY), 1989.

Leona and Ike, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.

Eyes like Willy's, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.


(Under pseudonym Jennifer Havel) The Wacky Rulebook, Parker Brothers, 1984.

I Love You More, Western Publishing, 1990.

(Editor) Booklove: Creating Good Books for Children in an Age That Values Neither, Phoenix College Press (Phoenix, AZ), 2000.

Also contributor to periodicals, including Cricket, Jack and Jill, U.S. Kids, and Children's Magic Window.


In 1986 children's book author Juanita Havill introduced readers to a young African-American girl named Jamaica in her first published picture book, Jamaica's Find. Over a dozen years later, together with sometime-friend Brianna, brother Ossie, and assorted teachers and classmates, Jamaica has continued to entertain readers as she undergoes a series of everyday experiences that most children can relate to. In Jamaica and Brianna, for example, after Brianna makes fun of Jamaica for wearing a pair of Ossie's old, cast-off boots to school, the clever young girl shows her mother that the boots contain holes that make them unserviceable. When she comes to school the next day in a new pair of cowboy boots, the uncharitable and slightly jealous Brianna finds something else to tease, prompting Jamaica to think up a clever retort before the two friends ultimately call a truce. In another book in the series, Jamaica's Blue Marker, the annoying scribbling of a classmate proves frustrating to Jamaica until she realizes that the scribbler is moving away and has only been scribbling to get attention. And in Brianna, Jamaica, and the Dance of Spring the fierce competition for plum parts in an upcoming ballet school recital is ended when Brianna and her sister Nikki both wind up with strep throat; fortunately, a private at-home recital allows all three girls to take the lead, bringing a happy ending to another volume in Havill's popular picture-book series.

Throughout the series, the author "displays a clear grasp of what matters to children," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor in reviewing Jamaica and Brianna, adding that Havill's likeable young characters are convincingly brought to life in Anne Sibley O'Brien's watercolor illustrations. In a review for Horn Book, Maeve Visser Knoth commended the inclusion of multicultural elements—Brianna and her family are Asian American—and noted that both "text and illustrations work together to create a portrait of a warm family, ethnically diverse school, and close friendship between the two girls."

In addition to the "Jamaica" books, Havill has also authored a number of stand-alone picture books. In Jennifer, Too she introduces a tag-along seven-year-old sister, who decides to prove herself as brave and adventurous as the older boys who play with her big brother. The realization of a young ivory carver that in order for him to practice the craft of his ancestors elephants must be killed is the focus of Sato and the Elephants, a picture book that Booklist contributor Deborah Abbott cited as an effective story to begin a discussion of the African ivory trade. For older children, Eyes like Willy's also prompts questions, this time with regard to the meaning of friendship as two young friends—one Austrian and one American—grow up and find themselves on the opposite sides of the battlefield in World War I. Praising Havill's middle-grade novel in a Booklist review, Carolyn Phelan noted that Eyes like Willy's succeeds as a "spare, thoughtful story [that] does a superb job of personalizing the pain of this brutal, futile war."

"In a sense, even before I could print, I began to write," Havill once told Something about the Author. "I dictated stories to my mother and she wrote them down for me…. When I went to school, I learned to print, then to write in cursive, and I experienced all the frustration of not being able to get the words down as fast as I thought them. I began to write down stories and ideas and poems."

In high school Havill wrote for her school newspaper, contributing editorials, articles, and even poetry. "I learned how to be straightforward and factual and how to argue in print, and I loved it." Following college, she found a job as a typist, then worked as a teacher and a translator. "I traveled and married, and when my children were born, I settled down to write. When I took a course in Minneapolis taught by Emilie Buchwald, I discovered my audience: young people, and I have been writing for them ever since."

Discussing her craft, Havill once explained: "I write to find out what I think, to give form to thought. That is why I have stacks of journals on my office floor. The act of writing helps me to get what is hidden out in the open so that I may examine it, study it, describe it, remember it, perhaps understand it."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, March 15, 1988; June 6, 1989; July, 1989; June 1, 1991; October 15, 1993, Hazel Rochman, review of Jamaica and Brianna, and Deborah Abbott, review of Sato and the Elephants, p. 452; June 1, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of Jennifer, Too, p. 1820; July, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Jamaica's Blue Marker, p. 1883; February 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Jamaica and the Substitute Teacher, p. 1975; March 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Eyes like Willy's, p. 1189.

Horn Book, November-December, 1993, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Jamaica and Brianna, p. 732; May, 1999, Terri Schmitz, review of Jamaica and the Substitute Teacher, p. 314.

Hungry Mind Review, summer, 1992.

Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2002, review of Brianna, Jamaica, and the Dance of Spring, p. 257; May 15, 2004, review of Eyes like Willy's, p. 492.

Publishers Weekly, May 30, 1986; February 24, 1989; January 18, 1991, p. 58; March 8, 1993, review of Kentucky Troll, p. 78; July 26, 1993, review of Jamaica and Brianna, p. 71.

School Library Journal, April, 2002, Dorian Chong, review of Brianna, Jamaica, and the Dance of Spring, p. 110.


ChildrensLit.com, http://www.childrenslit.com/ (October 21, 2004), "Juanita Havill."

Underdown.org, http://www.underdown.org/ (1998), Anna Olswanger, interview with Havill.*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Bob Graham (1942-) Biography - Awards to Francis Hendy Biography - Born to Sew