Amy Gordon (1949-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1949, in Boston, MA; Education: Bard College, graduated, 1972. Politics: "Eclectic." Religion: "Eclectic." Hobbies and other interests: "Writing, reading, mountain climbing, sailing, spending time with people I like, traveling."
Agent—George Nicholson, Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012.
Bement School (K-9 boarding school), Deerfield, MA, drama teacher and director, chair of fine arts program, 1980—.
Texas Blue Bonnet Award nomination, 2004, and Missouri Association of Librarians award, both for The Gorillas of Gill Park.
(Under name Amy Lawson) The Talking Bird and the Story Pouch, illustrated by Craig McFarland Brown, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.
(Under name Amy Lawson) Star Baby, illustrated by Margot Apple, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1991.
Midnight Magic, illustrated by Judy Clifford, BridgeWater (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
When JFK Was My Father, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
The Gorillas of Gill Park, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.
Work in Progress
The Blue Gang of Gill Park, for Holiday House.
Amy Gordon's books for young people reflect their author's belief in the positive power of imagination. While her 1995 chapter book Midnight Magic extols the value and fun of imagination for beginning readers, Gordon's teen novel When JFK Was My Father asserts the power of a fantasy life for adolescents. Harnessing imagination through the creative act of writing is at the core of Gordon's 2004 novel, The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat, a book that had its basis in the author's own experiences. As Gordon recalled, after two years living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with her family, "I was sent back to the United States for a more serious education at a girls' boarding school. I went there for five years—five years of a blue uniform skirt, a white blouse, sensible shoes, and crazy housemothers. In the fall of my first year, John F. Kennedy was shot; in the spring of my last year, Bobby Kennedy was shot." After attending Bard College "during the turbulent years of the late '60s and early '70s," Gordon explained: "I found my way to teaching; I was a camp counselor for many years and knew that I loved working with kids. Now I teach drama and put on plays with kids and write as much as I can between teaching and raising my two sons." Midnight Magic finds Uncle Harry babysitting Jake and Sam during a weekend of crises: Sam has lost a tooth and Jake's pet hamsters are missing. Uncle Harry distracts the children by enacting their favorite story, "Puss in Boots," and when they wake up on Saturday morning, Sam finds a golden key left under his pillow by the Tooth Fairy. When Sam and Jake begin a search for the evil ogre of the "Puss in Boots" story, hoping to return the golden key to him, they somehow end up on the hamster's trail. School Library Journal reviewer Mary Jo Drungil singled out Gordon's "utterly realistic" portrait of two likeable young boys, as well as their "ideal" uncle, for special praise, and predicted that Midnight Magic is "certain to be appreciated by young fairy-tale fans."
Geared for middle-grade readers, The Gorillas of Gill Park is a humorous novel that focuses on Willy, a lonely middle-schooler who finds a world of new friends while spending the summer with his widowed aunt. The practical-minded Willy is instantly set at ease by his quirky Aunt Bridget, whose job as a costume designer now keeps her busy sewing gorilla costumes in her small urban apartment. Nearby, Willy discovers a small park run by an equally eccentric wealthy musician, and when the park is threatened by land developers the boy's practical sense helps win the day. In Booklist Gillian Engberg praised The Gorillas of Gill Park as a "suspenseful, winning story" in which "delicious words, clever dialogue, and endearing characters" retain reader attention. Noting that Gordon draws her cast of characters from among "folk of varying degrees of eccentricity," a Publishers Weekly critic added that the young protagonist's "gradual discovery of his own worth is satisfying" and the storyline "often funny."
Taking place in the 1960s, Gordon's novel When JFK Was My Father centers on fourteen-year-old Georgia Hughes, who lives in Brazil with her emotionally remote parents. When her parents get divorced, Georgia and her mother move back to the United States, and Georgia is deposited in a boarding school. The highly inventive Georgia feels abandoned by both parents, particularly her father, and she compensates for her loneliness as she did in Brazil: by pretending that recently assassinated U.S. president John F. Kennedy is her real father. When Tim, a friend from Brazil who has run away from his boarding school, invites Georgia to hit the road with him, she suddenly realizes that her school, and the friends she has made there, may have filled an important void in her life. "Georgia's account of her virtual abandonment at school by her parents and her barely conscious search for a home is both poignant and gently funny," contended Lauren Adams, reviewing When JFK Was My Father for Horn Book. Praising Gordon's novel as "well paced with moments of dramatic tension," the critic added that "Georgia's refreshing narrative" ably reveals the cast of interesting secondary characters. "Gordon writes in a vivid, defining style that allows Georgia to emerge as a fresh, fully realized character," attested Ilene Cooper in Booklist, while Connie Tyrrell Burns wrote in School Library Journal that the success of When JFK Was My Father rests on Gordon's creation of a "likable and well-drawn character" with whom readers can identify. The gift of a diary by her grandmother proves to be Lydia's salvation in The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat. Also taking place in the 1960s, the novel follows Lydia Rice, a seventh grader who feels isolated, not only because of her parents' divorce and their decision to ship her off to boarding school, but also because of the recent death of a beloved grandmother. Written in the form of the diary Lydia starts while at Miss Pocket's Boarding School, the novel follows the girl's efforts to solve a puzzle from the past, a task put to the lonely girl by the school's kind-hearted maintenance man. Noting the novel's "lively pacing and appealing if improbable … characters," a Publishers Weekly contributor predicted that "many readers will be caught up in the mystery" like Lydia. In Horn Book Susan Dove Lempke had special praise for the young protagonist's "lively personality" and Gordon's depiction of "the intergenerational friendship she forms" with the school handyman, while a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat a "pleasant read."
Gordon once told Something about the Author: "When I was young, I was a shy person in a verbal, intellectual, talkative family. I discovered that if I wrote entertaining stories as Christmas presents, then I could get the entire family to stop talking and pay attention to me. The written word allowed me to have a voice.
"I loved to read when I was young, and spent quite a lot of time pretending. I loved the world of childhood and left it reluctantly. In my adult life, I am very lucky to have a career (teaching drama and directing plays with 6th-9th graders) which allows me to encourage pretending. The creative problem-solving involved in teaching helps my writing, and the kids I teach, also, of course, inspire me. I am a lot less shy, now, but I still feel the written word is my best tool for expressing and sharing my real self."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, June 1, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of When JFK Was My Father, p. 1813; June 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The Gorillas of Gill Park, p. 1776.
Horn Book, July-August, 1999, Lauren Adams, review of When JFK Was My Father, pp. 463-464; July-August, 2004, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat, p. 452.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2004, review of The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat, p. 394.
New York Times Book Review, October 17, 1999, Patricia McCormick, review of When JFK Was My Father, p.31.
Publishers Weekly, May 26, 2003, review of The Gorillas of Gill Park, p. 70; March 22, 2004, review of The Secret Life of a Boarding School Brat, p. 86.
School Library Journal, December, 1995, Mary Jo Drungil, review of Midnight Magic, pp. 80-81; April, 1999, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of When JFK Was My Father, p. 134.