Rhonda Gowler Greene (1955-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1955, in Salem, IL; Education: Northern Kentucky University, B.A. (with honors), 1977; Xavier University (Cincinnati, OH), M.Ed., 1983. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, playing the piano, flower gardening.
Agent—Marilyn E. Marlow, Curtis Brown Ltd., 10 Astor Pl., New York, NY 10003.
Writer, 1985—. Goodridge Elementary School, Hebron, KY, teacher of students with learning disabilities, 1977-79; Covenant Nursery School, West Bloomfield, MI, teacher, 1990-93.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Best Books citation, School Library Journal, and Pick of the Lists citation, American Bookseller, both 1997, both for Barnyard Song.
Barnyard Song, illustrated by Robert Bender, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
When a Line Bends … a Shape Begins, illustrated by James Kaczman, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1997.
The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, illustrated by Susan Gaber, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1999.
Jamboree Day, illustrated by Jason Wolff, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Beautiful World That God Made, illustrated by Anne Wilson, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
Eek! Creak! Snicker, Sneak, illustrated by Joseph A. Smith, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
The Very First Thanksgiving Day, illustrated by Susan Gaber, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
At Grandma's, illustrated by Karla Firehammer, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
Santa's Stuck, illustrated by Henry Cole, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2004.
This Is the Teacher, illustrated by Mike Lester, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Firebears: The Rescue Team, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to magazines.
Rhonda Gowler Greene once told Something about the Author (SATA): "I've always loved to read. I think being a reader plays a big part in becoming a writer. My favorite books are children's books—from creatively illustrated picture books to Newbery Award-winning novels. I not only love to read them, I love to surround myself with them, as any visitor to my home can readily tell from my bookshelves overflowing with all kinds of children's books.
"Growing up, I never thought of becoming a writer. I always wanted to be a schoolteacher, and that's what I became after graduating from college—a learning disabilities teacher. After teaching for a few years, I began working on my master's degree and chose to concentrate in the area of educational media so I could become a school librarian. I completed my degree in 1983, but I never did become a librarian. By then I had two little boys, and I wanted to stay home with them as they were growing up. I intended to go back to teaching, but a couple of years later I had a baby girl, and two years after that another boy. So I stayed home—and read to them a lot. I think I read so much partly to satisfy my own thirst for reading and books. This is when my interest in writing began to grow. I especially liked that writing was something I could do right from my home.
"First, I sold a few pieces to the magazine market, then decided to try writing picture books. Reading all those books to my children had given me a tremendous head start, because good books are the most powerful teachers of all for someone who wants to be a writer. Those books helped me know the level of writing I needed to attain. Getting a book published wasn't easy, however. Besides taking passion, it took much patience and persistence. I received more than two hundred rejections before selling my first picture book text—Barnyard Song—to Atheneum. Surprisingly, only three months later, I sold another manuscript—When a Line Bends … a Shape Begins—to Houghton Mifflin, and a third sale came six months after that. After all that waiting and all those rejections, things began to happen fast for me.
"It just so happened that my first two books were released the same season. At first I was apprehensive about this, but it turned out that both received favorable critical attention, which was very exciting. Both publishers chose excellent illustrators for the books. Robert Bender's humorous, vibrant illustrations made the text of Barnyard Song come alive. James Kaczman made his debut with When a Line Bends … , and his work was so well received that he was highlighted in Publishers Weekly's "Flying Starts" feature on the noteworthy first efforts of several promising authors and illustrators."
Barnyard Song offers a spirited and humorous look at farm life. The animals in Greene's story have succumbed to a bad case of flu, putting a damper on their normally lively vocalization. A batch of the farmer's special soup helps restore their healthy, noisy chorus. "Greene's rhyming, mewing, cockadoodledooing text rollicks along with animal sounds that just beg for a group voice," maintained Janice M. Del Negro in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. School Library Journal contributor Lee Bock, who praised Barnyard Song as "a storytime winner," noted that "very young children will respond to the rhythm and rhyme," while "older preschoolers will giggle at the altered sounds and be reassured by the message of love and caring."
When a Line Bends … a Shape Begins, is a primer in verse that offers, according to Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Elizabeth Bush, a "simple yet engaging introduction to basic shapes." A Publishers Weekly critic praised the book in a starred review as "well-conceived, bouncy and colorful," and concluded: "In this clever and fun introduction to the assorted shapes, Greene and [illustrator] Kaczman collaborate effectively, clearly expounding an oval, square or octagon through bouncy rhyme, familiar examples and clean-edged artwork."
"Ideas for my books come from a myriad of places—sometimes from a passing phrase, or a poem or picture," Greene noted to SATA. "The idea for Barnyard Song came from a very simple poem I once read. One day my youngest son came home from school with a tiny flip book about things that are round, and that's what sparked the idea for my shape book. Often I get ideas while reading and studying other picture books. The idea for my next book, The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, came from studying cumulative-type picture books. I decided to write a cumulative tale based on the story of the nativity."
The Stable Where Jesus Was Born is "a charming introduction to the nativity story," declared Booklist contributor Shelley Townsend-Hudson. The rhyming text covers many of the details of the Christmas story, including a description of the stable and its four-legged inhabitants, Mary and Joseph, and the visits of the shepherds and angels. Greene has also used the cumulative format for several more books, including The Beautiful World That God Made, The Very First Thanksgiving Day and This Is the Teacher. In these books Greene often modifies the cumulative format; as a Publishers Weekly critic explained in a review of The Beautiful World That God Made (which retells the Creation story from Genesis), "not all phrases reappear in predictable order, but stable rhythm and judicious use of repetition create a stately structure." This book was also praised by other critics; Booklist contributor Shelley Townsend-Hudson described Greene's text as "powerful incantatory verse," and School Library Journal's Patricia Pearl Doyle also thought that "the flowing, expressive verses read aloud exceptionally well."
This Is the Teacher follows one poor instructor through one very calamitous day at school. Students run her over in their exuberance to get to class in the morning; a snake that one student brings for show-and-tell escapes; cupcakes brought for another student's birthday take a tumble; a water fountain clogs and causes a flood; a bee attacks the class; the class's ant farm is knocked over; the students have a paint-fight while they're supposed to be painting a mural; their hamster escapes. Finally the day is over and the teacher can go home and collapse in bed—at 3:30 in the afternoon. The story's "sense of comic chaos [is] reminiscent of a vintage Mad magazine parody," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor, and Laurie Edwards noted in School Library Journal that the tale "is sure to elicit giggles from the early elementary set and perhaps a bit of sympathy for their teachers as well."
Jamboree Day, has little plot, but plenty of "bouncing, hand-clapping, toe-tapping rhyme," Marlene Gawron noted in School Library Journal. Frog gets the party started, standing outside with a brightly striped mega-phone to announce Jamboree Day, then goes around personally inviting all of the other animals in the jungle to come to the party. They all arrive, including giraffes, crocodiles, hippos, spiders, cuckoos, gorillas, anteaters, and rhinoceri. The jamboree includes many activities, including train rides, the limbo, stage shows, a jazz concert, and of course dancing. "Young party-lovers will enjoy attending this celebration over and over again," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Eek! Creak! Snicker, Sneak features two young siblings who discover the true causes of all of the eerie noises they hear and strange shadows they see around their house at night. Their parents have very prosaic explanations for all of these things—the wind, a tomcat, passing trains, planes, and trucks outside—but these two children know that the noises are really caused by two tiny gremlins named Bugbear and Bugaboo. At first Bugbear and Bugaboo succeed in frightening the brother and sister with their "eeeks and cr-r-reaks and big bad h-ow-owls / and tiny squeaks and catlike yee-ow-owls!" and spine-chilling "wooooo," respectively. The children hide under their beds and blankets, but when they catch a glimpse of the little imps and see just how small they are, they decide to frighten Bugbear and Bugaboo off with one loud "Boo!" "Delivered in a funny way, the message has the authority of [President Franklin Delano Roosevelt]," declared a Publishers Weekly critic: "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Plus, as Carol Ann Wilson noted in her School Library Journal review of Eek! Creak! Snicker, Sneak, the book's "rollicking verse is full of onomatopoeia and spooky noises," providing "a great opportunity for adults to howl and yowl at bedtime storytimes."
At Grandma's follows a child through a day spent at grandma's house. Although the tale has "little plot," as a Publishers Weekly critic commented, "the various scenes add up to a day filled with enough wonders to make young readers long for a similar excursion of their own." These scenes depict the two enjoying their rural setting together by going berry-picking, picnicking, canoeing, and in the evening firefly-watching. It's "a lovely, deeply satisfying story," Traci Todd concluded in Booklist, and "resonant imagery abounds in the rhyming text."
"When an idea hits me, I usually try to get the story down as quickly as I can, either written out on paper or typed on my computer," Green once explained. "Once the main story is down, then I begin revising, which always takes longer than the initial writing. Often I take manuscripts with me and work on them while I sit and wait during my daughter's flute lessons or before my kids' soccer games.
Greene also once stated: 'The writer for children must be able to delight with his rhythms, whether his medium is verse or prose.' Writing picture books is much like writing poetry. It takes tight, rhythmical writing. This is the kind of writing I like to do best."
Biographical and Critical Sources
1999 Children's Writers and Illustrators Market, Writers Digest Books, 1998.
Greene, Rhonda Gowler, Eek! Creak! Snicker, Sneak, illustrated by Joseph A. Smith, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, August, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Barnyard Song, p. 1906; September 1, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, p. 147; February 1, 2002, review of The Beautiful World That God Made, p. 946; September 15, 2002, review of The Very First Thanksgiving Day, p. 235; June 1, 2003, Traci Todd, review of At Grandma's, p. 1768.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Barnyard Song, p. 51; January, 1998, Elizabeth Bush, review of When a Line Bends … a Shape Begins, p. 161.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of Jamboree Day, p. 1483; October 15, 2002, review of The Very First Thanksgiving Day, p. 1530.
Publishers Weekly, September 1, 1997, review of When a Line Bends … a Shape Begins, p. 104; September 27, 1999, review of The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, p. 61; November 12, 2001, review of Jamboree Day, p. 58; December 3, 2001, review of Eek! Creak! Snicker, Sneak, p. 59; April 1, 2002, review of The Beautiful World That God Made, p. 79; September 27, 2004, review of Santa's Stuck, p. 61; June 2, 2003, review of At Grandma's, p. 50; June 28, 2004, review of This Is the Teacher, p. 50.
School Library Journal, September, 1997, Lee Bock, review of Barnyard Song, p. 182; October, 1997, Jody McCoy, review of When a Line Bends … a Shape Begins, p. 96; December, 1997, review of Barnyard Song, p. 25; January, 2002, Marlene Gawron, review of Jamboree Day, p. 100; February, 2002, Carol Ann Wilson, review of Eek! Creak! Snicker, Sneak, p. 101; September, 2002, Patricia Pearl Doyle, review of The Beautiful World That God Made, p. 212; March, 2003, Rhonda Gowler Greene, letter to the editor about review of The Very First Thanksgiving Day, p. 14; August, 2004, Laurie Edwards, review of This Is the Teacher, p. 87.
Rhonda Gowler Greene Home Page, http://www.rondagowlergreene.com (April 3, 2005).
State of Michigan Web site, http://www.michigan.gov/ (April 27, 2005), "Rhonda Gowler Greene."*
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