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Joan Hiatt Harlow (1932-)


Joan Hiatt Harlow is the author of several novels for children that focus on the history of the author's native New England, including the award-winning adventure tale Star in the Storm, the Revolutionary War-era historical mystery Midnight Rider, and Joshua's Song, an historical novel set in Boston just after World War I. Taking place during World War II, Harlow's award-winning 2003 novel Shadows on the Sea finds fourteen-year-old Jill suspicious that a Nazi U-boat submerged off the Maine coast may be in contact with someone living near her grandmother's house, where Jill is spending the summer. The novel was praised by a Publishers Weekly contributor, who cited Harlow for her "excellent job of describing the hardships of war on those back home" in a mystery novel that "offers an enjoyable slice-of-life" portrait of a wartime childhood. Harlow includes an afterword to Shadows on the Sea that discusses the submarine and spy activity that actually took place along the northern New England coast.

Harlow's first novel, Star in the Storm, features Sirius, a large black dog with a white star on his chest who lives with Maggie's family in 1912 Newfoundland. When a new law bans all dogs except those used in sheep herding, Sirius risks being shot, so young Maggie hides her beloved dog in a cave. When a steamer runs into trouble offshore, Sirius is called upon to swim to the foundering ship with a rope, saving the passengers. This 2003 novel draws readers back to the early years of World War II, as a teen is sent to live with her grandmother in Maine and becomes caught up in the suspicions running rampant in her new coastal community. (Cover illustration by Sammy J. Yuen.) Debbie Carton, reviewing Star in the Storm for Booklist, wrote that "the relationship between the girl and her beloved dog is beautifully drawn." A Horn Book contributor found that "Maggie is a likable, self-reliant protagonist; and dog-lovers will revel in the many exploits of the gentle giant she loves so dearly." Renee Steinberg in School Library Journal noted that "Harlow's descriptive prose clearly evokes images of the Newfoundland coast and life in 1912, and she carefully incorporates folklore of the region into her story." Star in the Storm won the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Henry Bergh Companion Animals Award, as well as a Disney Adventures book award and the Michigan Reading Association Readers' Choice Award.

Moving ahead a decade to 1929, Thunder from the Sea finds orphaned, thirteen-year-old Tom Campbell working at the Newfoundland home of childless couple Enoch and Fiona Murray. During a fishing trip with Enoch, a sudden storm comes up, and in the rough waters Tom sees a floundering Newfoundland pup. Rescuing the dog and naming his new friend Thunder, Tom gains the dog he always wanted, but is soon disheartened when another family, the Bosworths, attempt to part him from his new companion. Ultimately, several close encounters with danger and a shooting convince the Bosworths that Tom and Thunder should remain together, in a dog-and-boy story that School Library Journal contributor Shawn Brommer described as "fast paced," while Booklist reviewer Linda Perkins dubbed "nonstop action for dog lovers." Joshua's Song is set in 1918 Boston where young Joshua must quit school and earn a living after the death of his wealthy father during a flu epidemic. Working as a newsboy in the streets, he comes into conflict with a gang of young toughs who control newspaper distribution in downtown Boston. He also witnesses and describes the Great Molasses Flood, an event triggered by an explosion in a tank storing tons of molasses that killed twenty-one people. Chris Sherman, writing in Booklist, claimed that "even readers who don't usually like historical fiction will enjoy Harlow's vivid depiction of early-twentieth-century working-class life and conditions," while Sally Bates Goodroe concluded in School Library Journal that the author "skillfully integrates historical fact to make a colorful setting believable."

Harlow confessed to an interviewer with the Lowell Sun that writing children's books is "very easy, if you can think like a child," although she admits the craft itself requires passion, dedication, hard work, and the ability to deal with rejection. For Harlow, the pleasure of writing comes from " Escaping into another time realm with characters who wait patiently for my return. I love sharing this experience with children I've never met who enjoy my stories and feel affection for my characters. E-mails and letters from fans help me to realize how universal my books have become, and the responsibility that my stories may affect the lives of children. I want my books to portray courage, clean Drawing on her interest in New England history, Harlow centers her story of a thirteen-year-old newspaper boy around a 1918 explosion that destroyed a Boston molasses storage facility. (Cover illustration by Larry Day.) morals, good choices, and hope for the future." Her intense involvement has transformed many a family vacation into a research trip. "It's difficult not to get carried away at times," she once remarked. "I must be strange, because I really enjoy research!"

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, January 1, 2000, Debbie Carton, review of Star in the Storm, p. 922; December 15, 2001, Chris Sherman, review of Joshua's Song, p. 731; September 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Shadows on the Sea, p. 231; August, 2004, Linda Perkins, review of Thunder from the Sea, p. 1934.

Horn Book, March, 2000, review of Star in the Storm, p. 195; July-August, 2004, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Thunder from the Sea, p. 452.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2003, review of Shadows on the Sea, p. 1073.

Kliatt, May, 2004, John E. Boyd, review of Shadows on the Sea (audiobook), p. 55.

Library Journal, September, 2003, Cheri Estes Dobbs, review of Shadows on the Sea, p. 214

Lowell Sun (Lowell, MA), June 10, 1979, interview with Harlow.

New York Times Book Review, April 26, 1981, Karla Kuskin, review of Shadow Bear, p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, February 21, 2000, review of Star in the Storm, p. 88; August 27, 2001, review of Star in the Storm, p. 87; October 29, 2001, review of Joshua's Song, p. 64; September 15, 2003, review of Shadows on the Sea, p. 66; September 15, 2003, review of Shadows on the Sea, p. 66.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune Style, November, 2002, interview with Harlow, pp. 34-37.

School Library Journal, January, 1982, review of Shadow Bear, p. 64; April, 2000, Renee Steinberg, review of Star in the Storm, p. 134; November, 2001, Sally Bates Goodroe, review of Joshua's Song, p. 158; August, 2004, Gay Ann Loesch, review of Shadows on the Sea (audiobook), p. 76; September, 2004, Shawn Brommer, review of Thunder from the Sea, p. 207.


Joan Hiatt Harlow Web site, http://www.joanhiattharlow.com (February 1, 2005).

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Bob Graham (1942-) Biography - Awards to Francis Hendy Biography - Born to SewJoan Hiatt Harlow (1932-) Biography - Personal, Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress