Betsy (Cromer) Byars (1928-) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1928, in Charlotte, NC; Education: Attended Furman University, 1946-48; Queens College, Charlotte, NC, B.A., 1950. Hobbies and other interests: Gliding, flying airplanes, reading, traveling, music, needlepoint, crosswords.
Children's book author.
Book of the Year selection, Child Study Association of America, 1968, for The Midnight Fox, 1969, for Trouble River, 1970, for The Summer of the Swans, 1972, for The House of Wings, 1973, for The Winged Colt of Casa Mia and The Eighteenth Emergency, 1974, for After the Goat Man, 1975, for The Lace Snail, 1976, for The TV Kid, and 1980, for The Night Swimmers; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1970, for The Midnight Fox; Newbery Medal, 1971, for The Summer of the Swans; Dorothy Canfield Fisher Memorial Book Award, Vermont Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1975, for The Eighteenth Emergency; Woodward Park School Annual Book Award, 1977, Child Study Children Book Award, Child Study Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education, 1977, Hans Christian Andersen Honor List for Promoting Concern for the Disadvantaged and Handicapped, 1979, Georgia Children's Book Award, 1979, Charlie May Simon Book Award, Arkansas Elementary School Council, 1980, Surrey School Book of the Year Award, Surrey School Librarians of Surrey, British Columbia, 1980, Mark Twain Award, Missouri Association of School Librarians, 1980, William Allen White Children's Book Award, Emporia State University, 1980, Young Reader Medal, California Reading Association, 1980, Nene Award runner up, 1981 and 1983, and Golden Archer Award, Department of Library Science of the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh, 1982, all for The Pinballs; Boston Globe—Horn Book fiction honor, 1980, Best Book of the Year, School Library Journal, 1980, and American Book Award for Children's Fiction (hardcover), 1981, all for The Night Swimmers; International Board on Books for Young People Award, 1982, for The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish (in translation); Children's Choice, International Reading Association, 1982, Tennessee Children's Choice Book Award, Tennessee Library Association, 1983, Sequoyah Children's Book Award, 1984, all for The Cybil War; Parents' Choice Award for literature, Parents' Choice Foundation, 1982, CRAB-bery Award, Oxon Hill Branch of Prince George's County Library, MD, 1983, Mark Twain Award, 1985, all for The Animal, the Vegetable, and John D. Jones; Parents' Choice Award for literature, 1985, South Carolina Children's Book Award, 1987, William Allen White Children's Book Award, Emporia State University, 1988, and Maryland Children's Book Award, 1988, all for Cracker Jackson; Parents' Choice Award for literature, 1986, for The Not-Just-Anybody Family; Regina Medal, Catholic Library Association, 1987; Charlie May Simon Award, 1987, for The Computer Nut; Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1992, for Wanted … Mud Blossom; Notable Book selection, American Library Association, 1969, for Trouble River, 1972, for The House of Wings, 1974, for After the Goat Man, 1977, for The Pinballs, 1981, for The Cybil War, 1982, and for The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish; The House of Wings named to Library Journal Book List, 1972, and named a National Book Award finalist, 1973; The Winged Colt of Casa Mia and The Eighteenth Emergency selected outstanding books of 1973, New York Times; After the Goat Man named to School Library Journal Book List, 1974; Horn Book selected The Pinballs, 1977, and Cracker Johnson, 1985, to its honor list; Good-bye Chicken Little named outstanding book of 1979, New York Times; The Cybil War selected a Notable Children's Book by School Library Journal, 1981; The Animal, the Vegetable, and John D. Jones selected among the Best Children's Books of 1982 by School Library Journal; The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish selected a notable book of 1982, New York Times.
Clementine, illustrated by Charles Wilton, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1962.
The Dancing Camel, illustrated by Harold Berson, Viking (New York, NY), 1965.
Rama, the Gypsy Cat, illustrated by Peggy Bacon, Viking (New York, NY), 1966.
(And illustrator) The Groober, Harper (New York, NY), 1967.
The Midnight Fox, illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Viking (New York, NY), 1968.
Trouble River, illustrated by Rocco Negri, Viking (New York, NY), 1969.
The Summer of the Swans, illustrated by Ted CoConis, Viking (New York, NY), 1970, reprinted, Puffin (New York, NY), 2004.
Go and Hush the Baby, illustrated by Emily A. McCully, Viking (New York, NY), 1971.
The House of Wings, illustrated by Daniel Schwartz, Viking (New York, NY), 1972.
The Eighteenth Emergency, illustrated by Robert Grossman, Viking (New York, NY), 1973.
The Winged Colt of Casa Mia, illustrated by Richard Cuffari, Viking, 1973.
After the Goat Man, illustrated by Ronald Himler, Viking (New York, NY), 1974.
(And illustrator) The Lace Snail, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.
The TV Kid, illustrated by Richard Cuffari, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.
The Pinballs, Harper (New York, NY), 1977.
The Cartoonist, illustrated by Richard Cuffari, Viking (New York, NY), 1978.
Good-bye Chicken Little, Harper (New York, NY), 1979.
The Night Swimmers, illustrated by Troy Howell, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1980.
The Cybil War, illustrated by Gail Owens, Viking (New York, NY), 1981.
The Animal, the Vegetable, and John D. Jones, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982.
The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish, Harper (New York, NY), 1982.
The Glory Girl, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.
The Computer Nut, illustrated with computer graphics by son, Guy Byars, Viking (New York, NY), 1984.
Cracker Jackson, Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
(Author of afterword) Margaret Sidney, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Dell (New York, NY), 1985.
The Not-Just-Anybody Family, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1986.
The Golly Sisters Go West, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1986.
The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.
(Author of preface) Margaret M. Kimmel, For Reading out Loud, Dell (New York, NY), 1987.
A Blossom Promise, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.
Beans on the Roof, illustrated by Melodye Rosales, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.
The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown, illustrated by Cathy Bobak, Viking (New York, NY), 1988.
Bingo Brown and the Language of Love, illustrated by Cathy Bobak, Viking (New York, NY), 1989.
Hooray for the Golly Sisters, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, Harper, 1990.
Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
Seven Treasure Hunts, Harper (New York, NY), 1991.
Wanted … Mud Blossom, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1991.
The Moon and I (autobiography), J. Messner (New York, NY), 1991.
Bingo Brown's Guide to Romance, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
Coast to Coast, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.
McMummy, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
The Golly Sisters Ride Again, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
The Dark Stairs: A Herculeah Jones Mystery, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Tarot Says Beware, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
(Compiler) Growing up Stories, illustrated by Robert Geary, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1995, published as Top Teen Stories, Kingfisher (Boston, MA), 2004.
My Brother, Ant, illustrated by Marc Simont, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
Tornado, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
The Joy Boys, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.
A Bean Birthday, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1996.
Dead Letter: A Herculeah Jones Mystery, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
Ant Plays Bear, illustrated by Marc Simont, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Death's Door, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Disappearing Acts, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
Me Tarzan, illustrated by Bill Cigliano, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
(With daughters Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers) My Dog, My Hero, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
Little Horse, illustrated by David McPhail, Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
Keeper of the Doves, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
(With daughters Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers) The SOS File, illustrated by Arthur Howard, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Little Horse on His Own, illustrated by David McPhail, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Saturday Evening Post, TV Guide, and Look. Writings included in anthologies Scary Stories to Read When It's Dark, SeaStar Books, 2000.
Author's works have been translated into several languages.
Author's manuscripts are housed at Clemson University, South Carolina.
The following were adapted as episodes of the ABC Afterschool Special, for ABC-TV: "Pssst! Hammerman's After You," adapted from The Eighteenth Emergency, 1973; "Sara's Summer of the Swans," adapted from The Summer of the Swans, 1974; "Trouble River," 1975; "The Winged Colt," adapted from The Winged Colt of Casa Mia, 1976; "The Pinballs," 1977; and "Daddy, I'm Their Mamma Now," adapted from The Night Swimmers, 1981. The Lace Snail was adapted as a film-strip with cassette by Viking; The Midnight Fox, The Summer of the Swans, and Go and Hush the Baby were recorded on cassette by Miller-Brody; Sara's Summer of the Swans was adapted for videocassette, Martin Tahse Productions, 1976; The TV Kid was recorded on cassette, 1977.
Betsy Byars is one of the most popular and prolific authors of contemporary realistic fiction for middle-school readers. Called "one of the best writers for children in the world" by critic Nancy Chambers in Signal, Byars had been consistently lauded for creating adventurous works that blend humor and sympathy to address the universal emotions of childhood. Concentrating on themes of maturation and relationships with family, peers, and animals, she frequently portrays the growth of respect and understanding between child and adult characters. A distinctive mixture of unsentimental pathos, humor, and fundamental optimism coupled with an attraction to life's oddities allows her to examine successfully subjects usually considered too disturbing for young readers.
Byars came relatively late to her writing career. "In all of my school years … not one single teacher ever said to me, 'Perhaps you should consider becoming a writer,'" she told interviewer Elizabeth Segel in Children's Literature in Education. "Anyway, I didn't want to be a writer. Writing seemed boring. You sat in a room all day by yourself and typed. If I was going to be a writer at all, I was going to be a foreign correspondent like Claudette Colbert in Arise My Love. I would wear smashing hats, wisecrack with the guys, and have a byline known round the world."
The author married Edward Byars after graduating from college, in 1950. They had been married for five years and had two daughters when Ed decided that he needed a Ph.D. degree to continue in his career. The family packed up its belongings and moved to Illinois for the next two years. Byars soon discovered that the other wives living in her neighborhood either worked or were in school. "The highlight of my day was the arrival of the grocery truck after lunch," she later wrote in Something about the Author Autobiography Series. So she got herself a second-hand typewriter—"so old I had to press the keys down an inch to make a letter"—and began to write. "I thought it couldn't be as hard as people say it is. I thought probably the reason professional writers claim it's so hard is because they don't want any more competition."
Although she wrote "constantly" for the next two years, successful writing proved more difficult than she had anticipated. "My first sale was a short article to the Saturday Evening Post and I got seventy-five dollars for it. I was elated. I had known all along there was nothing to writing. Seven months passed before I sold a second article.
"I was learning what most other writers have learned before me—that writing is a profession in which there is an apprenticeship period, oftentimes a very long one. In that, writing is like baseball or piano playing. You have got to practice if you want to be successful."
Byars's early books, including Clementine, The Dancing Camel, Rama, the Gypsy Cat, and The Groober, received a somewhat cool reception from critics. Of her next publication Byars remarked in Something about the Author Autobiography Series: "The first book that turned out the way I had envisioned it was The Midnight Fox. … I look on The Midnight Fox as another turning point of my career. It gave me a confidence I had not had before. I knew now that I was going to be able to do some of the things I wanted to do, some of the things I had not had the courage and skill to try. For this reason, and others, it remains my favorite of my books."
With The Midnight Fox and Trouble River (which was written before The Midnight Fox though published after it) Byars began utilizing humor and realistic details in her stories. Trouble River tells the story of Dewey Martin, a twelve-year-old boy who is left alone with his grandmother on the frontier during his mother's lying-in. Dewey and his dog successfully drive off a hostile Indian, but realizing he will return, the boy takes his grandmother on his raft down Trouble River to safety. Margaret F. O'Connell of New York Times Book Review remarked: "Byars has a talent for plot and dialogue that makes her low-keyed story a skillful portrayal of the growing respect between a young boy and an old woman." In The Midnight Fox, Tom is left to spend the summer at his Aunt Millie and Uncle Fred's farm while his parents take a bicycle tour of Europe. Tom is bored and lonely until he begins searching the woods and fields around the farm for the beautiful black fox he saw one day. When the fox steals one of Aunt Millie's turkeys, however, Uncle Fred decides to hunt it down, and Tom must defy his uncle in order to rescue the animal he feels so close to.
The Summer of the Swans grew out of Byars's experiences telling stories to a Brownie troop of mentally challenged children, augmented by some additional research. In this work, Sara, an unhappy adolescent, takes her mentally challenged younger brother to see six swans that have alighted on a lake near their home. Charlie is mesmerized by the birds and goes in search of them on his own late that night, quickly becoming lost. Sara's agonized search for her brother changes her perspective on many of the things that had been making her unhappy. In Children's Literature in Education, I. V. Hansen described Byars's protagonist as "a character rich in teenage humour and genuine compassion."
Byars was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1971 for The Summer of the Swans, an experience, she wrote in Something about the Author Autobiography Series, that "literally changed my life overnight. Up until this time I had had a few letters from kids. Now we had to get a bigger mailbox. I got tapes, questionnaires, invitations to speak, invitations to visit schools, requests for interviews. For the first time in my life, I started feeling like an author."
Byars's next effort, the simple picture book Go and Hush the Baby, describes an inventive older brother's attempts to quiet his younger sibling. The Lace Snail, another picture book, grew out of the author's experiments with etching and was praised for its humorous dialogue.
With The House of Wings Byars returned to realistic fiction for young adults. In this book, Sammy is left with his grandfather, a virtual stranger, in a rundown cabin in Ohio, while his parents travel on to Detroit to try to find work there. Sammy's anger at being abandoned sends him running off into the woods followed closely by his grandfather, but the chase is brought to an abrupt end when the two discover an injured whooping crane. A relationship develops as they work together to nurse the bird back to health. In The Eighteenth Emergency, "Mouse" Fawley must face one of the many emergencies for which he and his friend Ezzie have prepared—the wrath of the school bully, Marv Hammerman. Mouse successfully avoids Marv until, influenced by studying medieval chivalry in his English class, he decides to do the honorable thing and face the consequences of insulting the other boy. Hansen called The Eighteenth Emergency "a wry, sometimes uproariously humorous story, and yet the medieval vision Mouse has slips easily into its fabric."
After the Goat Man is the story of an elderly man who returns to the cabin home he was forced to give up when the state decided to build a highway on the land, was more warmly received. Three children, the cool Ada, Harold, who is overweight and rueful, and Figgy, the old man's grandson, whose fears are overwhelming without his magic rabbit foot, come to the old man's rescue and learn something about themselves in the process. Alice Bach wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Never losing control of her material (and God knows a fat kid, an uprooted old man and a puny boy scared silly could be prime candidates for a pile of damp Kleenex in the hands of a lesser writer), Byars remains a dispassionate craftsman, weaving a sturdy homespun tale with the simple words of plain people."
In The TV Kid Byars's story centers on a boy who deals with the loneliness of the drifter lifestyle he and his mother have lived by watching a lot of television. He rejects the unreality of his fantasy life after it leads him to break into someone else's home and be bitten by a snake. While some reviewers criticized what they found to be a facile morality tale preaching against the evils of television, Elizabeth Segel commented in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "The superior credibility of the contemporary children in [Byars's] books owes a great deal to her use of television and other manifestations of popular culture in characterization."
The Pinballs is one of Byars's most highly acclaimed works. The pinballs of the title are three children who have been abandoned or abused and have come to live one summer with the same foster parents. Together they help each other come to feel that they are not merely pinballs but have some control over their lives. As Ethel L. Heins remarked in Horn Book, "The stark facts about three ill-matched, abused children living in a foster home could have made an almost unbearably bitter novel; but the economically told story, liberally spiced with humor, is something of a tour de force." Writing in School Library Journal, Helene H. Levene called The Pinballs "engrossing."
In The Cartoonist, like The TV Kid, a boy seeks to escape his problems with his family. Alfie escapes to the attic to draw cartoons and locks himself in when it looks like he will have to give up his sanctuary. Of Alfie's story, Paula Fox wrote in the Washington Post Book World: Byars "tells it splendidly, with clarity, verve and grace."
With Good-bye Chicken Little Byars returns to a serious subject matter and focuses on individuality, a theme that runs through several of her more recent works. When Jimmie "Chicken" Little's Uncle Pete takes a dare to walk across a frozen river and falls through and drowns, Jimmie worries that he did not try hard enough to save him. When Jimmie's mother plans a festive Christmas party a few days later, Jimmie is offended until he realizes the she knows better than he how to honor her unique brother. Byars focuses on parental irresponsibility in The Night Swimmers, a story about three children who are left alone every evening while their father pursues his career singing country music. They often swim secretly in a nearby private swimming pool, until the youngest child is nearly drowned and the eldest child is finally relieved of responsibility for their welfare. Elaine Moss concluded in the Times Literary Supplement that, "In The Night Swimmers [Byars] has written a short novel that makes the reader hold his breath, cry and laugh; not for one moment are the emotions disengaged."
Byars turned to a more lighthearted subject in The Cybil War, which humorously depicts the troubled friendship between fourth-grader Simon and his disloyal friend Tony, both of whom are in love with a little girl named Cybil. Some critics found these characters disappointingly ordinary after those in Byars's previous works, but Zena Sutherland wrote in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that the text "seems deceptively simple, but has a polished fluency and spontaneity." Similarly, The Animal, the Vegetable, and John D. Jones is a humorous and realistic tale of a summer "family" vacation taken by two girls and their divorced father who unexpectedly invites a widowed woman and her son to join them. Critic Sutherland commented: "This doesn't have as strong a story line as some of Byars' stories, but it has the same perceptive exposition of the intricacy of ambivalent relationships."
In The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish a boy creates imaginary horror films to distract himself from the insecurity and lack of love in his own life. Marilyn Kaye of the New York Times Book Review remarked: "Byars' straightforward narration lets pure gut feelings come through." Byars depicts another outcast in The Glory Girl, which centers on Anna, the only nonmusical member of a family of gospel singers. In the story, Anna is befriended by her Uncle Newt, an ex-convict. In The Computer Nut, Byars joined forces with her son, Guy Byars, who provides the computer graphics that illustrate this story of a girl who gets a message from a space alien via her home computer.
With Cracker Jackson Byars takes on the serious subject of spousal abuse with what critics noted is a characteristic blend of realism and humor. The title character, eleven-year-old Jackson, is called Cracker only by Alma, his former babysitter, who now has a husband and small child. When the boy begins to suspect that Alma's husband, Billy Ray, is beating her, he enlists his friend Goat in a desperate rescue attempt that Lillian Gerhardt characterized in School Library Journal as leading to "some of the most harrowing but hilarious moments in the book." Audrey Laski, writing in the Times Educational Supplement, remarked of Byars: "no-body writing in America for this age range is as good." Byars reintroduces Jackson and Goat in The Seven Treasure Hunts, a humorous tale that critics called lighthearted for its episodic plot and adventurous action.
With The Not-Just-Anybody Family and its sequels Byars again addresses the importance of individuality. In The Not-Just-Anybody Family the reader is introduced to the poor and eccentric members of the Blossom family, who always seem to be getting into trouble. Katherine Duncan-Jones, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, dubbed it "a tough, entertaining American urban romance, in the best tradition of stories about children carrying more than adult responsibilities and almost magically winning the day." Like several other reviewers, Susan Kenney commented in the New York Times Book Review that some of the events depicted in this work would be frightening to younger readers. "Tragicomedy would be a truer description of what goes on here," Kenney wrote, but concluded: "Funnyha-ha maybe not; well worth reading, certainly yes."
In the second volume of the "Blossom Family" series, The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady, Junior gets caught in his own coyote trap and is rescued by the dreaded Mad Mary, a woman who lives in a cave and eats road kill. "This is a lively, likable family, handled lightly but surely by an author known for her ability to write believable dialogue and present the desires of her characters with humor and understanding," wrote Sara Miller for School Library Journal. In The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, Junior Blossom is depressed by his failure to interest anyone in the flying saucer he has made. His mother takes time out from searching for her father, Pap, who has disappeared, to rally the family around the boy. In a review in School Library Journal, Dudley B. Carlson wrote: "This is a story about love in its many forms. Like Byars' best, it is rock-solid and full of chuckles, and it lingers in the mind."
In the fourth book about the Blossoms, A Blossom Promise, the family is struck by disaster on several fronts, culminating in a mild heart attack suffered by Pap. Billed as the last in the series, the book elicited much praise from critics, who commented that children would miss the Blossom family. Kristiana Gregory wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that "This is the final, bittersweet volume in the Blossom Family Quartet, bittersweet only because the cast is so memorably quirky that you hate to say goodbye."
To appease "Blossom Family" fans, Byars published Wanted … Mud Blossoms as a fifth in the series. The story takes place one weekend when the family is plagued by the disappearance of Mad Mary, now a family friend, and the hamster entrusted to Junior by his class. In the latter case, the family dog, Mud, is suspected, and many critics praised the children's mock trial of Mud Blossom.
In The Golly Sisters Go West and Hooray for the Golly Sisters Byars introduces two women whose ignorance and exuberance lead them into and out of all sorts of adventures as they sing and dance their way westward across North America. Set up as collections of stories for young readers, the books garnered praise for their humor and accessibility. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books remarked that Byars makes a virtue of the simple vocabulary of books for beginning readers, "spoofing the choppy style with dialogue in which the childlike sisters echo each other." Also for young readers is Beans on the Roof, which introduces each character through the poem he or she composes while sitting on the roof of the house. Diane Roback commented in Publishers Weekly commented: "In the simplest language and a natural, unadorned style, Byars has created an easy-to-read chapter book that is humorous and realistic."
Byars has written a series of books centering on the lovesick adventures of Bingo Brown. In the first installment, The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown, Bingo learns that even though his love for Melissa is returned, not everyone is so lucky, as his teacher, the suicidal Mr. Markham, proves. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books concluded: "This is a story that children are going to get a lot out of and love, while adults appreciate both craft and content." In Bingo Brown and the Language of Love Melissa has moved away, inspiring many expensive long-distance phone calls between the two. Byars's universally loved protagonist must also contend with the odd behavior of his parents and the attentions of a physically well-developed classmate. Fannie Flagg reviewed Bingo Brown and the Language of Love for the New York Times Book Review, writing: "If there is such a thing as a typical American kid, Bingo Brown is it. He is funny and bright and lovable without being precocious, and Betsy Byars has demonstrated a special creative genius in pulling off this delicate balancing act."
The adventures of Bingo continue in Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover, in which Melissa tells Bingo that he resembles the hero in the romantic novel she is reading. As Christine Behrmann wrote in School Library Journal: "Bingo continues to grow … in each book, and here he progresses from slightly cocky self-preoccupation to vulnerable concern for others." This volume was followed by Bingo Brown's Guide to Romance, in which Bingo records his misadventures with Melissa, who is back in town, in the hope that his baby brother will be spared some of his troubles when the time comes for him to fall in love. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books concluded: "More episodic than cohesive, this is nevertheless keen-eyed and better-written than most series titles."
Byars is also the author of Coast to Coast, in which Birch convinces her grieving grandfather to take one last trip in his antique airplane before he sells it, the girl's hope being that the flight will raise his spirits in the wake of his wife's death. "The details about flying will draw readers in, as will the loving story of friendship over the generations," wrote Judy Fink in Voice of Youth Advocates. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books concluded: "It's an episodic trip, but one worth taking."
My Brother, Ant and Ant Plays Bear are books for early readers about a boy and his little brother Anthony, known as Ant. Although Ant does his best to annoy his big brother—scribbling on homework, making the older sibling chase "monsters' out of their room—the narrator never loses his patience. The four stories about the pair contained in My Brother, Ant "are full of homespun warmth and easy-going humor," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. "A great story teller and a great illustrator [Marc Simont] are at their very best in this tender, funny, easy-to-read chapter book," Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman declared about the same title.
Byars teamed up with her daughters, Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers, to write My Dog, My Hero and The SOS Files, collections of short stories. In My Dog, My Hero the stories are designed as entries in the "My Hero" essay contest, where contestants are asked to write about why their dog is their hero. "Drama, humor, excitement, and love fuel these short, well-written stories," Ellen Mandel noted in Booklist. In The SOS Files the stories are meant to be essays written for extra credit by students in Mr. Magro's class. Each story is about a time when the student needed help, from needing medical help after crashing a go-cart to needing a rescuer after being abandoned in a dumpster as a baby. "Some tales are poignant, others are humorous," Maria B. Salvadore commented in School Library Journal, but as a whole "this collection will be a hit with its target audience and is perfect for encouraging reluctant readers," concluded a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Little Horse and Little Horse on His Own, also for beginning readers, are fantasies about a tiny horse no bigger than a kitten. In the first title, the pint-sized horse is terrified when he loses his mother and has to fend for himself in a strange world that is full of hazards, including streams, birds, and a dog. Luckily for Little Horse, a boy comes along to take care of him. "Young horse lovers will delight in the idea of a real horse they could hold in their hands and will enjoy the small creature's adventures," Louise L. Sherman wrote in School Library Journal, speaking about the former title. In Little Horse on His Own, the tiny creature sets out to find his family, even though the world is still a very dangerous place for someone so small. The book's "brief, action-packed chapters will please horse fanciers ready to advance beyond traditional easy readers," Jennifer Mattson wrote in Booklist.
The middle-grade novel Keeper of the Doves, set during the 1890s, is told from the point of view of the youngest child in a family of five daughters. The girl, Amen McBee ("Amie' for short), is a born poet who writes her first work at the age of six. In addition to her four older sisters—Abigal, Augusta, and twins Annabella and Arabella—and her parents, the McBee household also includes Mr. Tominski, a reclusive man whom their father allows to live in the chapel on the family's estate; and Aunt Pauline and Grandmama, who help care for the girls while their fragile mother copes with her latest pregnancy. Byars's story of the joys and tragedies that come to this family over several years was widely praised by critics. Byars writes "in a prose that ripples with clarity and sweetness and an underlying evolution of spirit," declared a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and a Publishers Weekly critic concluded that "the snippets of Amie's and her family's lives add up to an exquisitely complete picture."
Byars is also the author of the highly acclaimed autobiography The Moon and I. Critic Roback called the writer's memoir "an appealingly idiosyncratic narrative that seamlessly weaves together the Newbery winner's life and art." Phyllis Graves, writing in School Library Journal, described it as "very special nonfiction that truly entertains as it informs."
Byars is often commended as a thoughtful and original writer who creates fresh, convincing characterizations, skillful portrayals of human interaction, vibrant images, and deceptively simple prose. While occasional critics find her conclusions contrived, Byars is well regarded as a compassionate explorer of the social and moral issues confronting her audience. Jennifer FitzGerald described Byars in School Library Journal as "preeminent among authors" with the ability to "combine unstinted awareness with a remarkable rollicking sense of humor, dispelling despair and self-pity without ignoring pain."
"I used to think, when I first started writing, that writers were like wells," Byars wrote in an essay for the Something about the Author Autobiography Series, "and sooner or later we'd use up what had happened to us and our children and our friends and our dogs and cats, and there wouldn't be anything left. We'd go dry and have to quit. I imagine we would if it weren't for that elusive quality—creativity. I can't define it, but I have found from experience that the more you use it, the better it works."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 19, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 3, Beacham Publishing (Osprey, FL), 1990.
Carpenter, Humprhey, and Mari Prichard, The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1984.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 16, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 35, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 52: American Writers for Children since 1960: Fiction, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Drew, Bernard A., The One Hundred Most Popular Young Adult Authors, Libraries Unlimited (Englewood, CO), 1996.
Hopkins, Lee Bennett, More Books by More People, Citation Press (New York, NY), 1974.
Kingman, Lee, editor, Newbery and Caldecott Medal Books, 1966-1975, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1975.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, 1975-1991, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1978, pp. 215-217.
Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Usrey, Malcolm, Betsy Byars, Twayne (New York, NY), 1995.
Ward, Martha E., and others, Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.
Book September, 2000, Kathleen Odean, review of Me Tarzan, p. 86.
Booklist, January 15, 1993, Ilene Cooper, "The Booklist Interview: Betsy Byars," pp. 906-907; August, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Dark Stairs, p. 2042; July, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Tarot Says Beware, p. 1878; January 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of My Brother, p. 828; June 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of Dead Letter, p. 1716; September 15, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Tornado, p. 238, Kristi Beavin, review of The Dark Stairs, p. 264; March 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Death's Door, p. 1162; September 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Ant Plays Bear, p. 116; February 15, 1998, Barbara Baskin, review of The Golly Sisters Ride Again, p. 1027; March 1, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Disappearing Acts, p. 1134; March 1, 2000, Debra McLeod, review of The Summer of the Swans, p. 1255; January 1, 2001, Ellen Mandel, review of My Dog, My Hero, p. 954; March 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Little Horse, p. 1255; October 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 322; June 1, 2004, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The SOS File, p. 1725; July, 2004, Anna Rich, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 1857; September 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Little Horse on His Own, p. 120.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1985, review of The Computer Nut, p. 81; March, 1986, review of The Not-Just-Anybody Family, p. 123; October, 1986, review of The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady, pp. 22-23; November, 1986, review of The Golly Sisters Go West, p. 44; April, 1987, review of The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, p. 143; November, 1987, review of A Blossom Promise, p. 44; November, 1988, review of Beans on the Roof, pp. 66-67; June, 1989, review of Bingo Brown and the Language of Love, p. 244; June, 1990, review of Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover, p. 234; April, 1991, review of The Seven Treasure Hunts, pp. 185-186; March, 1992, review of The Moon and I, p. 77; June, 1994, review of The Golly Sisters Ride Again, p. 314.
Children's Literature in Education, winter, 1982, Elizabeth Segel, "Betsy Byars: An Interview."
Horn Book, August, 1971, Betsy Byars, "Newberry Award Acceptance Speech"; February, 1971, Helen L. Heins, review of The Summer of the Swans, pp. 53-54; September-October, 1986, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Not-Just-Anybody Family, p. 588; July-August, 1990, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover, p. 453; January-February, 1991, Carolyn K. Jenks, review of Horray for the Golly Sisters!, p. 63; November-December, 1994, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Tarot Says Beware, p. 730; November-December, 1995, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Tarot Says Beware, p. 760; July-August, 1996, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of My Brother, Ant, pp. 459-460; November-December, 1996, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Tornado, p. 732; July-August, 1997, Martha A. Parravano, review of Ant Plays Bear, pp. 450-452; May-June, 1998, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Disappearing Acts, p. 341; May-June, 2000, review of Me Tarzan, p. 309; May-June, 2002, Betty Carter, review of Little Horse, p. 325; September-October, 2002, Joanna Rudge, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 567.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Little Horse, p. 407; July 15, 2002, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 1028; May 1, 2004, review of The SOS File, p. 439; August 15, 2004, review of Little Horse on His Own, p. 803.
New York Times, January 23, 1971.
New York Times Book Review, October 13, 1974; December 15, 1974; May 2, 1976; August 4, 1985, Mary Louise Cuneo, review of Cracker Jackson, p. 2; April 2, 1989, review of The Burning Questions of Bingo Brown, p. 26; December 15, 1991, Elizabeth Ann-Sachs, review of Wanted … Mud Blossom, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1971; September 6, 1971; July 25, 1977; May 24, 1985, review of The Glory Girl, p. 70; June 14, 1985, Jean F. Mercier, review of Cracker Jackson, p. 72; October 31, 1986, review of Cracker Jackson, p. 65; September 25, 1987, review of A Blossom Promise, p. 111; April 8, 1988, Kimberly Olson Fakih and Diane Roback, review of The Burning Question of Bingo Brown, p. 95; May 12, 1989, Penny Kaganoff and Diane Roback, review of Bingo Brown and the Language of Love, p. 294; May 11, 1990, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of Bingo Brown, Gypsy Lover, p. 260; January 25, 1991, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of Bingo Brown and the Language of Love, p. 59; April 12, 1991, Diane Roback and Richard Donahue, review of The Seven Treasure Hunts, p. 58; July 19, 1991, review of Wanted … Mud Blossom, p. 56; April 20, 1992, review of The Moon and I, p. 58; May 18, 1992, review of Bingo Brown's Guide to Romance, p. 71; October 12, 1992, review of Coast to Coast, pp. 79-80; August 16, 1993, review of McMummy, p. 105; July 18, 1994, review of The Dark Stairs, p. 246; January 15, 1996, review of My Brother, Ant, p. 462; May 22, 2000, review of Me Tarzan, p. 93; October 16, 2000, "Putting on the Dog," p. 78; August 19, 2002, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 90; February 2, 2004, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 80; May 17, 2004, review of The SOS File, p. 50.
School Librarian, March, 1986, Betsy Byars, "Spinning Straw into Gold," pp. 6-13.
School Library Journal, May, 1985, Lillian Gerhardt, review of Cracker Jackson, p. 87; May, 1986, Connie C. Rockman, review of The Not-Just-Anybody Family, pp. 88-89; December, 1986, Nancy Palmer, review of The Golly Sisters Go West, p. 122; November, 1987, Amy Kellman, review of A Blossom Promise, pp. 103-104; May, 1988, Ellen Fader, review of The Burning Question of Bingo Brown, pp. 95-96; November, 1988, Trev Jones, review of Beans on the Roof, p. 84; July, 1989, Martha Rosen, review of Bingo Brown and the Language of Love, pp. 81-82; January, 1990, review of The Two-Thousand-Pound Goldfish, p. 56; September, 1990, Sharon McElmeel, review of Hooray for the Golly Sisters!, p. 194; June, 1991, Martha Rosen, review of The Seven Treasure Hunts, p. 74; July, 1991, review of Wanted: Mud Blossom, p. 72; April, 1992, review of The Moon and I, p. 112; September, 1994, Ellen Fader, review of The Dark Stairs: A Herculeah Jones Mystery, p. 214; July, 2000, Janet Gillen, review of Me Tarzan, p. 68; April, 2002, Louise L. Sherman, review of Little Horse, p. 101; October, 2002, Caroline Ward, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 158; November, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of The Moon and I, p. 81; June, 2004, MaryAnn Karre, review of Keeper of the Doves, p. 73, Maria B. Salvatore, review of The SOS File, p. 103; September, 2004, Marilyn Taniguchi, review of Little Horse on His Own, p. 154.
Times Literary Supplement, July 18, 1980, Elaine Moss, "Dreams of a Surrogate Mother," p. 806.
Tops in the News, April, 1971, pp. 240-241.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August-October, 1986, review of The Not-Just-Anybody Family, p. 140; December, 1986, review of The Blossoms Meet the Vulture Lady, p. 213; April, 1987, review of The Blossoms and the Green Phantom, p. 29; December, 1987, review of A Blossom Promise, p. 46; August, 1991, review of Wanted … Mud Blossom, p. 168.
Betsy Byars Home Page, http://www.betsybyars.com(July 27, 2005).
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/(March 7, 2002), "Betsy Byars."*
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