9 minute read

Patrick Jennings (1962-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1962, in IN; Education: Arizona State University, B.F.A., 1985; attended San Francisco State University, 1987-91.


Agent—Ruth Cohen, P.O. Box 7626, Menlo Park, CA 94025.


Educator in San Francisco, CA, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, and Bisbee, AZ, 1991-96; writer, 1991—; Copper Queen Library, AZ, library technician, beginning 1994.

Honors Awards

Booklist Editors' Choice selection, 1996, for Faith and the Electric Dogs.

Patrick Jennings


Faith and the Electric Dogs, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

Faith and the Rocket Cat, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.

Putnam and Pennyroyal, illustrated by Jon J. Muth, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

The Beastly Arms, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

The Wolving Time, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.

Out Standing in My Field, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005.


The Bird Shadow, illustrated by Anna Alter, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.

The Tornado Watches, illustrated by Anna Alter, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

The Weeping Willow, illustrated by Anna Alter, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.

The Lightning Bugs, illustrated by Anna Alter, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

The Ears of Corn, illustrated by Anna Alter, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

The Pup Tent, illustrated by Catharine O'Neill, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2005.


In West Coast writer Patrick Jennings' Faith and the Electric Dogs, ten-year-old Faith is saved from bullies by a stray dog she names Edison (a stray dog in Mexico is called un perro corriente, or "electric dog"). Unhappy living in Mexico, Faith wants to return to San Francisco, and with Edison as her humorous, multilingual narrator and companion, she proceeds to build a rocket ship that takes the pair to a desert island. A Kirkus Reviews critic described Edison as "a witty ambassador of languages and cultures," and Susan Dove Lempke, writing in Booklist, attributed both "charm and substance" to Jennings' first novel.

Faith returns in Faith and the Rocket Cat. While her wish has been granted and she has moved back to San Francisco, Faith and Edison still find an excuse to take another rocket trip. By setting the story in the United States, Susan Dove Lempke noted in Booklist, Jennings has "an opportunity to skewer modern American educational techniques … and also to celebrate … multiple languages and ethnic groups."

Jennings is also the author of a series of short chapter books for early readers, collected as the "Ike and Mem Stories." These books feature simple tales about a brother and sister named Ike and Mem, their friends, and the small disputes and apologies that make up their lives. In the first book of the series, The Bird Shadow, Ike and Mem let their friend Dave bully them into trespassing on the property of a house they think is haunted. When Dave throws a rock through the window of a shed by the house, letting a flock of pigeons fly free, it is Ike and Mem who wind up being confronted by the house's owner, Mr. Hawkins. The two guilty children eventually apologize and become friends with Mr. Hawkins, and all ends well. "This simple adventure will ring true with any children who have been goaded by a bully into participating in an activity they know is wrong," thought School Library Journal contributor Alice Casey Smith. In addition, commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, the book's "simple sentence structure and gentle repetition" will help to "instill a sense of confidence in readers just starting to tackle longer stories."

In related adventures, Ike struggles to trust that his parents will take care of him when a tornado watch is declared, Ike and his friend Buzzy have a falling-out over how to build a treehouse in a weeping willow tree, and Mem is appalled when Dave and Ike kill lightning bugs for fun. "The characters' dialogue and hurt feelings are adeptly expressed" in the middle story, The Weeping Willow, JoAnn Jonas commented in School Library Journal, and Booklist critic Shelle Rosenfeld described the same tale as "a well-written, perceptive story with likable characters."

Jennings's supernatural novel The Wolving Time is intended for slightly older readers. This story is set in the sixteenth century, in the Pyrenees mountains in the south of France. Laszlo Emberek is a thirteen-year-old shepherd from an unusual family: his parents are were-wolves, and when he becomes a man he will turn into one too. Although there is a certain humorous potential in a story about werewolves keeping sheep, "this tale is no comedy," Joel Shoemaker noted in School Library Journal, "but rather a compelling, thoughtful story." In fact, the ability to turn into wolves comes in handy for these shepherds, as it allows them to negotiate wolf-to-wolf with the local packs in order to keep the wild wolves away from their flock. Even with this advantage, however, the Embereks are barely making a living; they are shunned by their neighbors for being different and are persecuted by their village priest, a serious threat at a time when execution is accepted punishment for religious offenses. Yet despite the risk to themselves, the Embereks decide to take in Muno, an orphan whose parents were burned at the stake for being witches and who was subsequently turned into a near-slave by the priest.

"This page-turner delivers a fascinating commentary on what constitutes true goodness," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor in a review of The Wolving Time, and Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan noted that, whether one considers the evil-versus-good role-reversal In Jennings' 2003 novel, after budding paparazzi Nickel learns that his family will be moving to a new apartment, he tries to convince his mom that the Beastly Arms would make the perfect new home; despite the fact that its owner, Mr. Beastly, may be slightly crazy and the building gives his Mom the shivers. (Cover illustration by Brian Selznick.) in The Wolving Time "irony or revisionist history, Jennings makes his case with dramatic and ethical clarity."

Jennings once told Something about the Author: "When I was ten, I wrote a play. I convinced my teacher to allow me to stage it (with me as director and star) and, with his consent, 'The Half-True Story of Jesse James' was presented to the student body of South Ward Elementary School, Crown Point, Indiana. It closed after only one performance. I kept writing after that. I wrote essays and stories and reviews and screenplays. (This was done in seats of higher learning, not in South Ward's.) I learned a lot about writing and a lot about what I do and don't like to do. I learned so much in fact, that I left film school and took a job as a preschool teacher. I chose preschool because I love kids. I mean that seriously. I have always loved to be around them. They know how to do what they like. Kids paint pictures then paint over them. They say memorable things, like 'I've hidden a whisper bomb in everybody's house.' They think screaming is exercise. They look at the bookshelf and never say, 'I really should read more.' You've got to like that.

"I read a lot of children's books at preschool. My exposure to children's literature up to then amounted to the small collection of books I had as a child (Pooh, Dr. Seuss, Charlie Brown), the books I'd checked out of the Crown Point Public Library (Cleary, Dahl, E. B. White, Meindert DeJong, Paddington Bear, the Mushroom Planet), and the books I'd studied in seats of higher learning (Huck Finn, Alice, The Little Prince, etc.). Consequently, I was unprepared for the great big happy bright world of books for children. The Amazing Bone stunned me, as did The Night Kitchen, not to mention The Runaway Bunny, Madeline, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, A Hole Is to Dig, and Harold and the Purple Crayon. Beyond their virtues of perfect pitch, rhythm, balance, and humor, these books worked. Children loved them, chanted them, used them in their play. (Alas, I discovered not all writers for children understand childhood so well. Some books read more like primers for adulthood than books for kids.)

"I began to read kid's books at home—just for my own pleasure! I reread Milne, White, Cleary, Seuss, Carroll, and Cameron. My books on deconstructionist filmmaking gathered dust. Then one day, as I read how James' parents were gobbled up by a rhinoceros, I decided to start a story of my own. The voice came first, just a whisper in my ear—a dog's voice. Then came the rocket ship and the rocket girl. Later, when I moved to Mexico, the story moved with me. The dog became electric, his narration, multilingual. Language became a key element of the story. Until I taught preschool, I labored under the typical adult delusion that children consider reading and writing to be chores tantamount to, say, yardwork. Nothing could be further from the truth. Language to children is like twittering is to birds, roaring to lions, grunting to pigs, barking to dogs. Kids chant and warble and make up very silly things to say. They bask in the sound of their voices. They smile when understood. And they adore stories—to tell, to hear, to look at, to read. Children love language, whether they are aware of it or not. This is why I write books for them.

"I continue to spend lots of time with kids. I love visiting them in their schools, or reading stories to them at the local library, or inviting them (and their parents) over for dinner. We have a lot of things in common. We like to laugh. We like to fool around. We like books. We like kids."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Book, May-June, 2002, review of The Beastly Arms, p. 29.

Booklist, December 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Faith and the Electric Dogs, p. 653; September 15, 1998, review of Faith and the Rocket Cat, p. 230; November 15, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Putnam and Pennyroyal, p. 626; May 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of The Beastly Arms, p. 1678; August, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Tornado Watches, p. 1961; December 15, 2002, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Weeping Willow, p. 759; September 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Wolving Time, p. 231.

Childhood Education, 2003, Terre Sychterz, review of The Weeping Willow, p. 324.

Horn Book, January, 2000, review of Putnam and Pennyroyal, p. 77; July, 2001, review of The Beastly Arms, p. 454; January-February, 2003, Roger Sutton, review of The Tornado Watches, p. 75.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1996, review of Faith and the Electric Dogs, pp. 1402-1403; January 1, 2002, review of The Bird Shadow, p. 47; June 15, 2002, review of The Tornado Watches, p. 882; October 15, 2002, review of The Weeping Willow, p. 1531; October 1, 2003, review of The Wolving Time, p. 1225.

Publishers Weekly, October 28, 1996, review of Faith and the Electric Dogs, p. 82; April 30, 2001, review of The Beastly Arms, p. 79; December 10, 2001, review of The Bird Shadow, p. 70; December 1, 2003, review of The Wolving Time, p. 57, review of The Beastly Arms, p. 59.

School Library Journal, March, 2000, Arwen Marshall, review of Putnam and Pennyroyal, p. 239; April, 2001, John Peters, review of The Beastly Arms, p. 144; March, 2002, Alice Casey Smith, review of The Bird Shadow, p. 190; December, 2002, Shawn Brommer, review of The Tornado Watches, p. 98; February, 2003, JoAnn Jonas, review of The Weeping Willow, p. 114; August, 2003, Linda B. Zeilstra, review of The Lightning Bugs, p. 135; January, 2004, Joel Shoemaker, review of The Wolving Time, p. 130; February, 2004, Jean Lowery, review of The Ears of Corn, p. 114.


Scholastic Web site, http://www.scholastic.com/ (April 3, 2005), "Patrick Jennings."*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dan Jacobson Biography - Dan Jacobson comments: to Barbara Knutson (1959–2005) Biography - Personal