5 minute read

Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen (1965-)


Although Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen has always enjoyed writing, she did not begin to make it a career until after her children were born. Raised on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Stuve-Bodeen went to Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer after graduating from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls. Her experiences in Africa inspired the setting and characters for her first picture book, Elizabeti's Doll, as well as a series of other books that follow Stuve-Bodeen's likeable young protagonist: Mama Elizabeti and Elizabeti's School. Elizabeti's Doll relates the story of a little girl's adjustment to the birth of a new baby brother, Obedi. Wanting a baby of her own to care for, Elizabeti finds a rock that becomes her doll. Naming the doll Eva, Elizabeti bathes and feeds it, and ends up saving Eva from the cooking fire where her older sister has inadvertently placed it. Elizabeti's Doll drew warm praise for its unpretentiousness and its Stuve-Bodeen shares with readers the common experiences that unite young girls of all parts of the world in her award-winning 1998 picture book Elizabeti's Doll. (Illustration by Christy Hale.) sensitivity to Tanzanian culture. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly hailed it as an "impressive debut" enhanced by "well-balanced prose" and a fittingly gentle tone. In School Library Journal, Martha Topol called the book "a splendid celebration of life and the power of a child's imagination."

The idea for Elizabeti's Doll came from Stuve-Bodeen's experiences staying with a Tanzanian village family for a week during her Peace Corps stint. "I was in a mud hut with rats under my bed at night . . . ," she recalled to John Coyne for PeaceCorpsWriters.org "I spent my days with the family's six kids and their entourage, who were extremely imaginative when it came to creating toys." Several years later, while at dinner with other former Peace Corps volunteers, one of Stuve-Bodeen's dining companions "mentioned a girl in her village with a rock for a doll. I remembered the same, and wrote the story at 3 a.m. the next day."

In Mama Elizabeti Stuve-Bodeen's young protagonist finds herself put in charge of her younger brother Obedi after her mother gives birth to a new baby sister. Because of her experience caring for the rock doll Eva, Elizabeti hopes to fulfil her new role with ease, but squirmy, curious, and playful Obedi is a lot more difficult than Eva. Calling Mama Elizabeti "funny and tender," Black Issues Book Review contributor Khafre Abif added that the book "is perfect . . . for mothers hoping to spend some quality reading time with their daughters." Elizabeti's School finds the young girl leaving her brother behind for her first day at school. With braided hair, new shoes, and a new uniform, she is excited to follow her older sister, Pendo, to school, until she reaches the schoolyard and anxiety sets in. Noting that the book "distills the essence of the school experience" and "first-day jitters," a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised Stuve-Bodeen for allowing North American readers a "winning peek at a life that's different but the same." As with the other "Elizabeti" books, Elizabeti's School depicts a "family life . . . rich in love and warmth," noted Lynda Ritterman in School Library Journal, dubbing the book "the perfect story for sharing with young children."

In Babu's Song Stuve-Bodeen also introduces readers to an elderly mute Tanzanian toymaker who makes a music box for his grandson, Bernardi. When the boy sells his grandfather's gift at market in the hopes of buying a soccer ball, an admission of his action to Babu results in a wise outcome that allows Bernardi to follow his dreams. Praising Babu's Song in School Library Journal, Luann Toth added that Stuve-Bodeen tells her story "with economy of language but with heaps of feeling," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "the rapport between grandfather and grandson emerges as genuinely heartwarming."

Stuve-Bodeen again explores a sensitive topic in We'll Paint the Octopus Red, which is about the birth of a baby with Down syndrome. Again, Stuve-Bodeen approaches the subject through the eyes of a child. Emma is at first unhappy that she is about to have a younger sibling, but she warms up to the idea after her father helps her imagine all the fun she will have with the new baby. When Isaac is born with Down syndrome, Emma learns that, although he will be able to do all the things with her that she had hoped, he will have to do them more slowly. School Library Journal reviewer Lisa Gangemi Krapp found the book thoughtful and appropriate for young readers. "The fine text gets right to a child's level of understanding," wrote Ilene Cooper in Booklist. Although Cooper pointed out that We'll Paint the Octopus Red avoids some difficult issues, she nonetheless recommended the book highly.

Stuve-Bodeen, who has lived in Minnesota and Hawaii, now makes her home in the state of Washington with her family. In addition to her Peace Corps job, she has worked as a teacher in junior and senior high schools, and enjoys visiting schools and speaking with students and readers.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Black Issues Book Review, July, 2000, Khafre Abif, review of Mama Elizabeti, p. 74.

Booklist, September 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of We'll Paint the Octopus Red; August, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Mama Elizabeti, p. 2150; February 15, 2001, Henrietta M. Smith, review of Elizabeti's Doll, p. 1161; June 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Babu's Song, p. 1788.

Horn Book, November, 1998, p. 720; July, 2000, Martha V. Parravano, review of Mama Elizabeti, p. 448; November-December, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of Elizabeti's School, p. 741.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Elizabeti's School, p. 1237; April 15, 2003, review of Babu's Song, p. 612.

Publishers Weekly, August 24, 1998; March 17, 2003, review of Babu's Song, p. 75.

School Library Journal, September 1998, Martha Topol, review of Elizabeti's Doll, pp. 183-184; December 1998, Lisa Gangemi Kropp, review of We'll Paint the Octopus Red, p. 92; July, 2000, Martha Topol, review of Mama Elizabeti, p. 88; September, 2002, Lynda Ritterman, review of Elizabeti's School, p. 206; December, 2003, Luann Toth, review of Babu's Song, p. 128; July, 2004, Lisa G. Kropp, review of Elizabeti's School, p. 45.


PeaceCorpsWriters.org, http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/ (January 9, 2001), John Coyne, interview with Stuve-Bodeen.

Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen Web site, http://www.rockforadoll.com (March 7, 2004).

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyStephanie Stuve-Bodeen (1965-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Career