Janet McNaughton (1953–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1953, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Education: York University (Toronto), B.A. (with honors), 1978; Memorial University of Newfoundland, M.A. (folklore), 1982; Ph.D. (folklore), 1989. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, gardening, yoga, spending time with our parrot.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Quill & Quire, 70 The Esplanade, Ste. 210, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1R2, Canada.
Author of fiction for young adults. Quill & Quire, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, book reviewer.
Writers' Union of Canada, Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Writers' Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Third prize in senior poetry division, Arts and Letters Competition for Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, 1996; honor book, Canadian Library Association (CLA), 1996, Ann Conner-Brimer Award, Nova Scotia Library Association, Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People, Canadian Children's Book Centre (CCBC), Violet Downey Book Award, Independent Order Daughters of the Empire, National Chapter of Canada, and named among Top Ten Books for Grades 7 to 10, Resource Links magazine, all 1997, and Our Choice selection, Canadian Children's Book Centre, 1998, all for To Dance at the Palais Royale; Our Choice selection, CCBC, 1998, and Anne Connor-Brimer Award, 1999, both for Make or Break Spring; Ruth Schwartz Award in novel category, Mr. Christie Award Gold Seal in senior category, and Ann Connor-Brimer Award, all 2001, and Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award, and Bruneau Family Children's Literature Award, both 2002, all for The Secret under My Skin; Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award, Bruneau Family Children's Literature Award, Mr. Christie Award Silver Seal in senior category, and CLA Young-Adult Book Award, all 2004, all for An Earthly Knight.
Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, Stoddart Publishing (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
To Dance at the Palais Royale, Creative Book Publishers/Tuckamore (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 1996.
Make or Break Spring, Tuckamore (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 1998.
The Secret under My Skin, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000, Eos (New York, NY), 2005.
The Saltbox Sweater, Tuckamore (St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada), 2001.
An Earthly Knight, HarperTrophy (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Brave Jack and the Unicorn, Tundra Books (Plattsburgh, NY), 2005.
Work anthologized in This Land: A Cross-Country Anthology of Canadian Fiction for Young Readers, edited by Kit Pearson, Penguin (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998. Contributor of book reviews to Atlantic Books Today, Today's Parent, and Books in Canada.
Author's works have been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Danish, and Dutch.
A serious student of folklore during her college years, Canadian author Janet McNaughton has written several highly regarded novels for teen readers, including Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, The Secret under My Skin, and the multi-award-winning To Dance at the Palais Royale. Many of her novels takes place in a past era in Canadian history; as McNaughton explained on her home page: "When I was in school, I liked historical novels best…. When I began to write, I wanted to write the kinds of books I loved when I was younger."
McNaughton's first novel, Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, is set in the author's adopted home town of St. John's, Newfoundland, during World War II. In this book, twelve-year-old Evelyn McCallum moves with her pregnant mother to her grandparents' house in St. John's after Ev's father enlists in the army to fight in the war. Worried about her husband and uncomfortable living with her in-laws, Ev's mother withdraws from her daughter, leaving Ev adrift in a new town. While out with new friends one day, Ev surprises a small fairy creature in an abandoned spring house and saves herself from being spirited away by a silver coin given her by her new friend, Peter Tilley. The little man promises that if she catches him a second time, he will give Ev her heart's desire. But when Ev's father is reported missing in action in the war and her mother goes into a long, difficult labor, Ev is torn by what to wish for when she sees the fairy in the spring house again. Through her friendship with Peter and his Uncle Ches, as well as through her battles with her strong-willed, class-conscious grandmother, Ev begins to grow up.
McNaughton "has a splendid time with her historical setting and the hint of fairy folk that still drifts over Newfoundland," commented Pat Barclay in a review of Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice for Books in Canada. "From the start, Ev promises to be a character whose adventures will be worth following," maintained Joanne Schott in Quill & Quire, "and that promise is fulfilled." Schott added praise for McNaughton's protagonist, writing that Ev "is a character readers will want to know more about." Fortunately for fans, Make or Break Spring continues the story begun in Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice. Several years have gone by and in 1945 the war is over. Ev is now fifteen, and as she and Peter deal with the confusing decisions of adolescence and the challenges of approaching adulthood, Newfoundland wrestles with its own struggle: whether to join Canada, remain tied to Great Britain, or become an independent nation.
Because her first novels are set in Newfoundland, where she lives, setting is important to McNaughton. "When someone who lived in St. John's in World War II reads Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice or Make or Break Spring, I want them to read about the place they remember, not a place that I made up," she explained on her home page. "I don't want them to find mistakes. So I do a lot of research." That research usually begins with the daily newspapers of the period. For Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, for instance, she delved into two months' worth of local newspapers from 1942. "Newspapers are what historians call 'primary source materials,' the things people actually wrote and read at the time," explained the author on her home page. "I found many of the details in both books in newspapers and magazines. When Ev sees party dresses for $5.80 at Ayre's Department store, she is reading an ad that I found in the paper. When Ev's grandfather suggests she send a telegram to her father for Christmas, he is also reading something that really was in the paper."
McNaughton shifts her setting to the city of Toronto for To Dance at the Palais Royale. The novel takes place in the 1920s, and is narrated from the viewpoint of Aggie, a seventeen-year-old immigrant from Scotland. Mary Beaty, a contributor to Quill & Quire, noted that the Jazz Age, as the 1920s are sometimes called, is a period rarely covered in young-adult fiction, and McNaughton depicts the various social classes of the era with accuracy and without sentimentality. The title is derived from an occasion when Aggie is mistaken for an equal by a young lawyer with whom she attends a dance at Toronto's fancy Palais Royale. In a subplot, Aggie spends a short time teaching English to a young Jewish woman and learns something about anti-Semitism among the upper classes as well as the working class, a topic McNaughton handles with sensitivity while avoiding pat solutions, according to Beaty. Patricia Morley, writing in the Canadian Book Review Annual, praised the humor in McNaughton's story while asserting: "Place, era, and society are vividly re-created in this powerful coming-of-age tale."
From this recent past, McNaughton jumps ahead several centuries to the year 2368, as scattered survivors of Earth's ecological melt-down—a result of human technology gone astray—scrape out a meagre existence in scattered and highly regulated settlements on the planet's poisoned surface. Because of her reading skills, fourteen-year-old orphan Blay Raytee is taken from a grim and uncertain life in a government-run landfill mine and selected to help "bio-indicator" Marella, a young woman with a weak and thus highly sensitive immune system, monitor conditions on Earth's surface. While Blay at first believes the job will be dangerous, she learns that Earth's surface is actually recovering, and plants and animal species regenerating. Meanwhile, the Commission, which controls all technology, has exterminated all scientists and other highly educated humans in order to maintain complete control of society. Now it deceives the population, and when Blay learns that this campaign of misinformation is designed to keep most humans trapped underground, she join her friend Fraser and others in a small group in an effort to overthrow the government.
Praising The Secret under My Skin as "a detailed, richly imagined" novel "with its roots in the social and environmental problems of the present day," Horn Book contributor Timothy Capehart also cited the "authentic voice" of McNaughton's teen protagonist. In Publishers Weekly a reviewer wrote that the author's "portrait of a chilly dystopia eloquently juggles [several] … cau-
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tionary messages." Blay was called an "intelligent, fierce heroine" by Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser, who described the books as "intriguing, with challenging themes" and "intense emotion." McNaughton's "writing is clear and crisp," added Tasha Saecker in School Library Journal, calling The Secret under My Skin "one of the top science fiction novels in recent years."
For An Earthly Knight McNaughton moves to the distant past, twelfth-century Scotland, and bases her story on the traditional ballads "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight" and "Tam Lin." The story focuses on two sisters, Isabel and Jenny, who live in the castle of their wealthy and influential father. Because Isabel has committed a deed that results in the family's dishonor—she murdered an abusive lover—younger sister Jenny must salvage the family's reputation via marriage. Although she is betrothed to the boorish Earl William, heir to the Scottish throne, the forest-loving Jenny falls in love with a haunted, reclusive young man named Tam Lin. When the time for her wedding grows close, she realizes that she is pregnant by the faery-cursed Tam Lin; now she faces a difficult choice that threatens her relationship with her father, the church, and both human and faery society. Reviewing the novel, School Library Journal contributor Cheri Dobbs called it "exciting and engaging," while Booklist critic Jennifer Mattson described the book as the "story of a spirited heroine and ecstatic young love." Noting that the novel focuses on Jenny's growth as a young woman, K. V. Johansen wrote in Resource Links that An Earthly Knight is "well worth reading" due to its "realistic historical setting" and McNaughton's focus on the "status and role [of women] in the eyes of the Church and of the law."
In an interview with David Jenkinson for Canadian Review of Materials Online, McNaughton discussed why she writes for teen readers. "For me, a lot of it is political…. I'm very interested in the concerns that adolescents have. I still remember, pretty vividly actually, what it was like to be that age. I think adolescence is a time when you formulate a moral attitude that will take you through the rest of your life, and to me, that's the really interesting thing. You can actually address moral issues in adolescent literature in a way that you'd never be able to get away with if you were writing for adults. That's very appealing to me because I'm very concerned with moral issues. For some reason, the way in which most adults are able to shut down and stop feeling indignant about the world never happened with me. I just go around feeling indignant all the time. Part of it might be that I'm married to someone who teaches political science, and politics is kind of a spectator sport in [our] house, but I do have this sense of moral indignation that adolescents have that just doesn't seem to be able to scar over the way most adults can."
In her spare time, McNaughton serves on the board of the Canadian Children's Book Centre and helps organize the Eastern Horizons Children's Literature conference, held every three years. She also runs a reading group for junior-high and high school students out of a local book store. "Writing reviews gives me a good reason to read, something I love to do," she once explained. "I also interview other authors and write about gardening, publishing, libraries and book selling."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 12, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of An Earthly Knight, p. 1053; March 1, 2005, Cindy Dobres, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 1184.
Books in Canada, September, 1994, Pat Barclay, review of Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, p. 58.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 2005, Timnah Card, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 218.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 1996, Patricia Morley, review of To Dance at the Palais Royale, p. 484.
Horn Book, January-February, 2005, Timothy Capehart, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 97.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2004, review of An Earthly Knight, p. 136; February 15, 2005, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 233.
Kliatt, March, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of An Earthly Knight, p. 14; March, 2005, Claire Rosser, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, May 2, 2005, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 200; May 2, 2005, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 200.
Quill & Quire, April, 1994, Joanne Schott, review of Catch Me Once, Catch Me Twice, pp. 40-41; August, 1996, Mary Beaty, review of To Dance at the Palais Royale, p. 42.
Resource Links, June, 1997, review of To Dance at the Palais Royale, p. 231; December, 1998, review of Make or Break Spring, p. 19; October, 2000, review of The Secret under My Skin, pp. 28-29; October, 2001, Zoe Johnstone Guha, review of The Saltbox Sweater, p. 18; June, 2003, K. V. Johansen, review of An Earthly Knight, p. 28.
School Library Journal, March, 2004, Cheri Dobbs, review of An Earthly Knight, p. 216; February, 2005, Tasha Saecker, review of The Secret under My Skin, p. 138.
Canadian Review of Materials Online, http://www.umanitoba.ca/cm/ (October 17, 2000), David Jenkinson, interview with McNaughton.
Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site, http://www.canscaip.org/ (July 4, 2005), "Janet McNaughton."
Janet McNaughton Home Page, http://www.janetmcnaughton.ca (July 15, 2005).
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