Daniel Pennac (1944-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1944, in Casablanca, Morocco.
Agent—c/o Gallimard, 5 rue Sebastian-Bolton, Paris 75007, France.
Novelist and author of nonfiction. Worked variously as a woodcutter, Paris cab driver, and illustrator; high school teacher in Nice, France.
Le petite marchande de prose named one of the best novels of the year, Le Figaro (Parisian newspaper), 1989-90, and won the Prix Inter, 1990.
Le grand rex, Centurion, 1980.
Cabot-Caboche, Éditions Nathan (Paris, France), 1982, translated by Sarah Adams as Dog, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, [England,] 2003, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
L'oeil du loup, Éditions Nathan (Paris, France), 1982, translated by Sarah Adams as Eye of the Wolf, illustrated by Max Grafe, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Kamo et moi, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1992.
Kamo, l'agence Babel, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1992.
Kamo, l'idée du siècle, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1993.
Commme au théâtre, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1996.
L'evasion Kamo, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1997, translated as Kamo's Escape, 2004.
Also author of Miró: Le tour du ciel, illustrated by Miró.
(With Tudor Eliad) Les enfants de Yalta, J. C. Lattes (Paris, France), 1978.
Messieurs les enfants, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1997.
Le dictateur et la hamac, Gallimard (Paris, France), 2003.
"MALAUSS&EGRAVE;NE" SAGA; FICTION
Au bonheur des ogres, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1985, translated by Ian Monk as The Scapegoat, Harvill (London, England), 1998.
Le fée carabine, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1987, translated by Ian Monk as The Fairy Gunmother, Harvill (London, England), 1997.
Le petite marchande de prose, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1989, translated by Ian Monk as Write to Kill, Harvill (London, England), 1999.
Monsieur Malaussène, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1995, translation published, Harvill (London, England), 2003.
Monsieur Malaussène au théâtre (play), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1996.
Des crétiens et des maures (title means "Of Christians and Moors"), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1997.
Aux fruits de la passion (originaly serialized in Nouvel Observateur), Gallimard (Paris, France), 1999, translated by Ian Monk as Passion Fruit, Harvill (London, England), 2001.
Le service militaire au service de qui?, Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1973.
La sens de la Houppelande, Futuropolis (Paris, France), 1991.
Comme un roman, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1992, translated by Daniel Gunn as Reads like a Novel, Quartet (London, England), 1994; translated by David Homel as Better than Life, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.
(With Jean Marigny) Sang pour sang, le réveil des vampires, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1993.
Vercors d'en haute: La réserve naturelle des Hauts Plant-eaux, Beaux Livres (Milan, Italy), 1996.
La fée carabine was adapted as a film for French television, 1987.
Heralded by several French critics as one of the most creative comic storytellers of his generation, writer Daniel Pennac is a celebrity in his native France, where his novels about the Malaussène family have enjoyed both popular success and critical acclaim due to their imaginative plots and themes. In addition to the seven books in the "Malaussène" saga, most of which have been translated into English by London's Harvill Press, Pennac has authored a number of books for children. Of these, both Dog and Eye of the Wolf are available to American readers in translation.
Pennac was born in Morocco in 1944. Since his father was in the military, the Pennac family traveled frequently, and by the time he was a young adult Daniel had lived in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. As an adult he worked as a woodcutter, as well as a cab driver in Paris, before settling down to teach literature as a secondary school teacher in Nice, France. His first book for children, Le grand rex, was published in 1980, and he has continued to author books for younger readers while also beginning his "Malaussène" saga in 1985.
Pennac's first children's book to be translated into English was Eye of the Wolf. In this story a one-eyed Alaskan blue wolf is trapped in a cage, and spends his time pacing back and forth until he suddenly observes that he is being watched by a young boy. Every day the boy appears at the wolf's cage. The wolf stares into the boy's eyes, and the boy stares into the wolf's single eye. Eventually, through the magical power of the boy, their inner thoughts and memories transfer from one to the other. The boy learns how, ten years before, the blue wolf was taken from his home in Alaska and transferred from cage to cage and zoo to zoo, while the wolf learns that the boy, an orphan who has an empathy for animals, has also been taken from his home in Africa to this Other World. By story's end, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the two "forge a kind of kinship and help each other heal." The healing process is reinforced by Max Grafe's "dreamlike mixed-media illustrations." Noting that Pennac's story will likely "inspire discussion" after being read aloud, School Library Journal contributor Susan Oliver praised Eye of the Wolf as "a simple but affecting allegory about how we treat animals, children, and our environment." In Booklist Ed Sullivan dubbed it a "cleverly told, introspective novel."
By turns humorous and poignant, Pennac's Dog finds a young stray excited about finally finding a stable home with a human family. However, his initial happiness turns to sadness when his new human, a girl named Plum, fails to give Dog the love and attention he needs. As a Kirkus Reviews writer noted, Pennac's "simple, elegant dog's-eye-view uncurls into a dark-edged musing" on the problems that come when humans mistreat animals; in this case a saddened Dog returns to the streets and ends up in the local pound before Plum realizes her loss and comes to save him. In an emotion-filled story that belatedly, but ultimately, has a happy ending, Pennac's "canine narrator offers a realistic perspective" and his "dog's-nose view of the world is cleverly conceived," noted Jennifer Mattson in a Booklist review.
In a far more whimsical vein, Pennac's "Malaussène" saga revolves around publisher Benjamin Malaussène and his unconventional family, who live in the Belleville region of Paris and to whom mysteries are drawn magnetically. Signature characteristics of Pennac's work include the use of coincidences, humor, and morality, as well as a host of quirky characters. Times Literary Supplement reviewer David Coward compared Pennac's prose favorably with that of American novelist Raymond Chandler, while in French Review Michael B. Kline found the French writer's "naive simplicity of characterization" similar to that not only of Chandler, but also to that of mid-twentieth-century crime novelists Dashiell Hammett and Chester Himes. While some mystery novels feature too-good-to-be true heroes and villains who are more interesting characters than their heroic counterparts, this is not the case in Pennac's fiction. In the novel The Fairy Gunmother, for example, the villains are "made of cardboard" and the "good guys are much more interesting," according to Coward.
In addition to his novels for both adults and children, Pennac, a former French high school teacher, has also penned a book containing his reflections on reading. In addition to becoming a best seller in France, this work has been translated for English readers as both Reads like a Novel and Better than Life. In this work, Pennac discusses how a child first gains a love of reading, then looks at how that love is lost and how it can be reacquired. He views the media as a prime deterrent to reading and argues that both parents and the educational system fail to instill young people with a love for books because of their focus on dissecting literary classics in an academic setting rather simply reading for enjoyment. As a countermeasure, Pennac presents what he calls a reader's bill of rights, including the right to not read, the right to skip pages, the right to not finish a book, the right to reread, the right to read no matter what and anywhere, and the right to read aloud.
Reads like a Novel elicited mixed reviews from British and American critics. "Arguing against this torture of both book and reader is clearly necessary," asserted Nicholas Tucker in New Statesman and Society, adding that Pennac "is a teacher as well as an author, and is doubly qualified to do so." Library Journal contributor Ali Houissa found Pennac's style to be "witty and masterly" and the work overall "entertaining and engrossing."
Biographical and Critical Sources
American Libraries, May, 2000, Bill Ott, review of Write to Kill, p. 93.
Booklist, October 15, 1999, Bill Ott, review of Write to Kill, p. 422; August, 2001, Bill Ott, review of Passion Fruit, p. 2098; March 1, 2003, Ed Sullivan, review of Eye of the Wolf, p. 1199; January 1, 2004, Bill Ott, review of Monsieur Malaussène, p. 826; May 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Dog, p. 1620.
English Journal, November, 1996, p. 125.
French Review, April, 1991, Michael B. Kline, review of La petite marchande de prose, pp. 875-876; February, 1994, pp. 558-559; December, 1996, William Cloonan, review of Monsier Malaussène, p. 355.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1994, review of Reads like a Novel, pp. 1197-1198; August 15, 2001, review of Passion Fruit, p. 1171; December 15, 2002, review of Eye of the Wolf, p. 1855; December 15, 2003, review of Dog, p. 1453.
Library Journal, November 1, 1994, Ali Houissa, review of Reads like a Novel, p. 77.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 13, 1994, p. 6.
New Statesman and Society, May 27, 1994, Nicholas Tucker, review of Reads like a Novel, p. 38.
Observer (London, England), May 8, 1994, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, December 1, 1997, review of The Fairy Gunmother, p. 46; July 20, 1998, review of The Scapegoat, p. 211; September 13, 1999, review of Write to Kill, p. 61; January 13, 2003, review of Eye of the Wolf, p. 61.
Quill & Quire, January, 1995, p. 29.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1995, Brooke Horvath, review of Better than Life, p. 189.
School Library Journal, February, 2003, Susan Oliver, review of Eye of the Wolf, p. 146.
Times Literary Supplement, July 28, 1995, p. 25; October 6, 1995, p. 27; May 16, 1997, David Coward, review of The Fairy Gunmother, p. 24.
CoolFrenchComics.com, http://www.coolfrenchcomics.com/ (October 26, 2004), "Malaussène."
Fantastic Fiction Web site, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (October 26, 2004), "Daniel Pennac."*
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