Alison Jackson (1953-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1953, in Alhambra, CA; Education: University of California, Irvine, B.A., 1975; San Jose State University, M.L.S., 1977. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, snow skiing, waterskiing.
Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach, CA, children's librarian, 1977-80; Newport Beach Public Library, Newport Beach, CA, children's librarian, 1980-87; Fullerton Public Library, Fullerton, CA, children's librarian, 1987-97; Seminole County Public Library, Longwood, FL, children's librarian, 1997—; writer.
American Library Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, California Library Association, Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People, Florida Library Association.
My Brother the Star, illustrated by Diane Dawson Hearn, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
Crane's Rebound, illustrated by Diane Dawson Hearn, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
If the Shoe Fits, illustrated by Karla Firehammer, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.
Turkey's Best Thanksgiving (reader), illustrated by Patrick Girouard, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 2001.
The Ballad of Valentine, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Over in the Desert (reader), illustrated by Ka Botsiz, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 2002.
Rainmaker, Boyd Mills Press (PA), 2005.
Work in Progress
Thea's Tree, a picture book based on "Jack and the Beanstalk," with illustrations by Tricia Tusa, for Dutton.
Alison Jackson's career as a children's librarian—she has worked in both California and Florida—made her aware of books for young people that needed to be written, and she has set about to fill these voids. The Ballad of Valentine, for example, came about when Jackson realized that Valentine's Day was under-represented on the library's book shelves, and her beginning readers, as well as the middle-grade novels Crane's Rebound and My Brother the Star, answer the continual need for engaging fiction that appeals to boys as well as girls.
Raised in southern California, Jackson's interest in writing resulted in her serving on the staff ofher high school newspaper and yearbook. In college at the University of California, Irvine, she took many creative writing courses and produced several short stories. However, as she once recalled to Something about the Author (SATA), "I certainly wouldn't have dared to send anything in for publication. I didn't think I had enough talent!"
After working as a children's librarian for ten years, Jackson finally decided to return to writing. Her first book, My Brother the Star, was published by Dutton Children's Books in 1990. School Library Journal contributor Trish Ebbatson called the novel, which focuses on a boy's brief career in television, "nicely written" and described Jackson's protagonist, Leslie, as "a likable and believable central character." Jackson created a sequel, Crane's Rebound, which recounts Leslie's adventures at summer basketball camp. In addition to competition on the court, Leslie is saddled with an obnoxious roommate, who also happens to be the best player on the team. Another problem for Les is found in feisty basketball-playing tomboy Bobby Lorimer, who develops a major crush on Leslie. Booklist critic Kay Weisman called Jackson's portrayal of Leslie's insecurities "right on target," and noted that the author's "comic touch … will appeal to sports fans and problem-novel enthusiasts alike."
Bobby Lorimer returns in Jackson's third novel, Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, which focuses on Bobby's drop in social standing when she decides to try out for the boys' basketball team at her middle school. Although she makes a few enemies among the boys who view her as competition, Bobby also finds allies in the female student body after she is unfairly turned down by the coach. A Kirkus Reviews critic predicted that female readers will "enjoy Bobby's breezy voice, admire her gumption, and share her confusion over the awkwardness of boy-girl relationships." School Library Journal contributor Renee Steinberg also appreciated the "likeable, well-drawn heroine" in Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, and added that the author's "smooth prose style and believable characters make this an enjoyable read."
In addition to her novels for middle-grade readers, Jackson has also created several picture books, including I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie. The elderly lady introduced in this story seems to have one interest: eating. In this humorous parody of the traditional rhyme about the old woman who swallows a fly, Jackson's heroine has been invited to share a family's Thanksgiving dinner, and proceeds to devour not only a pie, but the entire feast, down to the roasting pan. The result is "an amusingly successful variation" on the original, remarked Gahan Wilson in the New York Times Book Review. Several critics complimented Jackson on her inventive, holiday-appropriate conclusion, in which the family finally trusses up the old lady with ropes and throws her out the door, where she floats away among the other enormous balloons in the Thanksgiving-day parade. Told in whimsical rhymes that mimic the original, the story prompted Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic Elizabeth Bush to predict: "Sing it once, and kids'll beg for seconds."
In another take-off on a well-known story, If the Shoe Fits begins with a familiar premise to nursery-rhyme fans: An elderly woman living in a large shoe finds space at a premium due to her many children and doesn't know what to do. In Jackson's version, the woman takes action, and moves her brood to, first the teacup used by Miss Muffett on her tuffet, then the woolen coat worn by Jack Horner sitting in his corner. Other encounters include watching the demise of Humpty Dumpty, being chased by twenty-four blackbirds (none too pleased about being baked in a pie), and even trying out the well-heeled boot of the duke of York. Ultimately, the old woman learns the lesson: "If the shoe fits, then wear it," in a book that a Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed a "romp through the world of nursery rhymes." School Library Journal contributor Piper L. Nyman praised Jackson for her "deft touch for humor," while Kathy Broderick dubbed If the Shoe Fits a "clever story" with a "brisk pace perfect for energetic toddlers and preschoolers" in her Booklist review.
The Ballad of Valentine does dual duty, providing a Valentine's Day storybook and also parodying the folk song "My Darling Clementine." In this 2002 work, Jackson presents an update on the old song, retaining the rhythm but altering the words to tell the story of a pair of lovers whose communications are continually thwarted. Valentine's suitor produces love letters, but has a difficult time actually getting them to his beloved; as he grows increasingly frustrated and flustered, trying everything from the U.S. Postal Service to homing pigeons to smoke signals, Valentine calmly finishes up her chores, bakes a special pie, and arrives at her suitor's door with a smile. "This inspired treatment of an age-old tale communicates plenty about love," a Publishers Weekly contributor noted, while in Kirkus Reviews a reviewer praised Jackson's sing-song text as "funny and satisfying without being too sugary." Dubbing The Ballad of Valentine "ideal for Valentine's Day programs," School Library Journal contributor Shawn Brommer also praised Tricia Tusa's "quirky watercolor illustrations," which "portray a simpler time."
Focusing on the lives of central Florida farmers during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Rainmaker tells the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose town faces its longest drought in forty years. A miracle is in order, and Pidge's father hopes that sending for a "rainmaker" can provide one. In School Library Journal, Diana Pierce noted that Jackson's story expresses a cohesive theme: "accepting change as a part of life, even when one doesn't like it," while in Booklist Shelle Rosenfeld described Pidge as a "well-characterized, sympathetic protagonist that readers will connect with." In a Kirkus Reviews appraisal of Rainmaker the critic concluded that Pidge's "candid and earnest voice will linger, just as the rain clouds after the rainmaker's departure."
Discussing her career as a writer, Jackson once told SATA that "a number of sources have influenced my writing. One University of California, Irvine professor in particular, by the name of Oakley Hall, gave me much encouragement and advice. He taught me some of the finer points of plotting and characterization, and he continually emphasized the use of realistic detail." Other sources of inspiration include her children, as well as "the students who come into the library every day, either to do homework or just to chat with each other. I find that children will talk about almost anything, if I simply stay in the background. And I have already used quite a few of their inspirational conversations in my books.
"I think this is the real reason why I want to continue writing for children," Jackson added. "They are so un-inhibited and funny that I find them irresistible, not only as subjects in my work, but as members of my potential audience. So I feel safe in saying that as long as kids keep on reading … I will continue writing books for them."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 1990, Denise Wilms, review of My Brother the Star, p. 917; September 15, 1991, Kay Weisman, review of Crane's Rebound, pp. 151-152; November 1, 1993, pp. 521-523; September 1, 1997, p. 139; October 1, 2001, Kathy Broderick, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 325; November 15, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 602; March 15, 2005, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Rainmaker, pp. 1292-1293.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1989, review of My Brother the Star, p. 1328; November 1, 1993, review of Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, p. 1392; August 15, 2001, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 1214; December 1, 2002, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 1769; March 15, 2005, review of Rainmaker, p. 353.
New York Times Book Review, November 16, 1997, Gahan Wilson, "Perhaps She'll Die," p. 56.
Publishers Weekly, August 27, 2001, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 83; December 2, 2002, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 52.
School Library Journal, January, 1990, Trish Ebbatson, review of My Brother the Star, p. 104; January, 1994, Renee Steinberg, review of Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, p. 114; November, 1997, p. 84; December, 2001, Piper L. Nyman, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 104; December, 2002, Shawn Brommer, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 98; April, 2005, Diana Pierce, review of Rainmaker.
Alison Jackson Web site, http://www.alison-jackson.com (May 3, 2005).