Marissa Moss (1959-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1959; Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A. (art history); attended California College of Arts and Crafts.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Tricycle Press, P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley, CA 94707.
Author and illustrator.
Authors Guild, PEN West, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Screenwriters Guild.
Parent Council Outstanding Award for informational book, 2000, for My Notebook (with Help from Amelia); Parent's Guide to Children's Media Award, 2001, and Children's Choice Award, 2002, both for Oh Boy, Amelia!
SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS
Who Was It?, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1989.
Regina's Big Mistake, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1990.
Want to Play?, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1990.
After-School Monster, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1991.
Knick Knack Paddywack, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1992.
But Not Kate, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1992.
In America, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
Mel's Diner, BridgeWater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
The Ugly Menorah, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1996.
Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome ("Ancient World Journal" series), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Max's Logbook, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Max's Mystical Notebook, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
"AMELIA'S NOTEBOOK" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
Amelia's Notebook, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1995.
Amelia Writes Again, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1996.
My Notebook (with Help from Amelia), Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997.
Amelia Hits the Road, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997.
Amelia Takes Command, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
Dr. Amelia's Boredom Survival Guide, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI) 1999.
The All-New Amelia, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 1999.
Luv Amelia, Luv Nadia, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 1999.
Amelia's Family Ties, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.
Amelia's Easy-as-Pie Drawing Guide, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.
Amelia Works It Out, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2000.
Madame Amelia Tells All: (Except Fortunes and Predictions), Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.
Oh Boy, Amelia!, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2001.
Amelia Lends a Hand, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2002.
Amelia's Best Year Ever: Favorite Amelia Stories from American Girl Magazine, Pleasant Company (Middleton, WI), 2003.
Amelia's Sixth-Grade Notebook, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Amelia's Most Unforgettable Embarrassing Moments, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2005.
Amelia's Book of Notes and Note Passing, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2006.
True Heart, illustrated by Chris F. Payne, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.
Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl ("Young American Voices" series), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1998.
Emma's Journal: The Story of a Colonial Girl ("Young American Voices" series), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.
Hannah's Journal: The Story of an Immigrant Girl ("Young American Voices" series), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.
Rose's Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression ("Young American Voices" series), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel, illustrated by C. F. Payne, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Mighty Jackie: The Strike-out Queen, illustrated by C. F. Payne, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Catherine Gray, One, Two, Three, and Four—No More?, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1988.
Dr. Hickey, adapter, Mother Goose and More: Classic Rhymes with Added Lines, Additions Press (Oakland, CA), 1990.
Bruce Coville, The Lapsnatcher, BridgeWater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1997.
David M. Schwartz, G Is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
Author and illustrator Marissa Moss has produced several popular picture books, as well as a series of beginning readers featuring a young writer named Amelia. Beginning with Amelia's Notebook, Moss follows her eponymous heroine through a series of daily adventures in the fourth grade: the young protagonist changes schools, makes new friends, and copes with an annoying older sister. Moss has captured the imagination of primary graders with the adventures of her spunky character, and has tempted them with the opportunity to "read the secrets a peer records in her journal," according to Publishers Weekly writer Sally Lodge. Hand-lettered and bound in a manner that resembles a black-and-white school composition book, Amelia's Notebook and its companion volumes, including Amelia Hits the Road and Amelia's Most Unforgettable Embarrassing Moments, are "chock-full of personal asides and tiny spot drawings" and contain a story-line that "rings true with third-grade authenticity," according to School Library Journal contributor Carolyn Noah.
Born in 1959, Moss earned a degree in art history from the University of California at Berkeley. She once told Something about the Author ( SATA ): "I could say I never thought I'd be a writer, only an illustrator and writing was forced upon me by a lack of other writers' stories to illustrate. Or I could say I always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought it was really possible. As a voracious reader, it seemed too much of a grown-up thing to do, and I'd never be mature enough to do it. Or I could say I've been writing and illustrating children's books since I was nine. It just took me longer than most to get published. All these stories are true, each in their own way."
Moss began her career as a picture-book illustrator working with author Catherine Gray, as well as creating art to pair with her own simple texts. One of her first published efforts as both writer and illustrator, Who Was It?, depicts young Isabelle's quandary after she breaks the cookie jar while attempting to sneak a between-meals snack. Praising Moss's watercolor illustrations, Booklist reviewer Denise Wilms also noted that the book's "moral about telling the truth is delivered with wry, quiet humor." In Regina's Big Mistake, a young artist's frustration with her own lack of ability compared to that of the rest of her classmates is counteracted by a sensitive art teacher, as Regina is shown how to "draw around" a lumpy sun, transforming it into a moon. Readers "will enjoy the solace of having another child struggling to achieve, and succeeding," maintained Zena Sutherland in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. School Library Journal contributor Ruth Semrau noted that "Moss's crayon cartoons are exactly what is needed to depict the artistic endeavors of very young children."
In After-School Monster Luisa returns home from school one day to find a sharp-toothed creature waiting in her kitchen. Although scared, she stands up to the monster, turning the tables on the creature and evicting him from her house before her mom gets home. While noting that the theme could frighten very small children contemplating being left alone, a Junior Bookshelf contributor praised Moss's "striking" full-page illustrations, which feature "an imaginative use of changing sizes." And in an equally imaginative picture book offering, Moss updates the traditional nursery rhyme "Knick Knack Paddywack" with what Sheilamae O'Hara of Booklist described as "rollicking, irreverent verse" and "colorful, action-filled" pictures. The author-illustrator's "use of language will tickle all but the tongue tied," added Jody McCoy in an appraisal of Knick Knack Paddywack for School Library Journal.
"The character of Amelia came to me when I opened a black and white mottled composition book and started to write and draw the way I remembered I wrote and drew when I was nine," Moss once recalled to about the beginnings of her popular "Amelia's Notebook" series. "By that age I was already a pretty good artist, winner of drugstore coloring contests and determined to grow up to be another Leonardo da Vinci." The age of nine was also significant for Moss because that was when she became confident enough to send her first illustrated children's book to a publisher. "I don't remember the title, but the story involved an owl's tea party and was in rhymed couplets—bad rhyme I'm sure, as I never got a response from the publisher whose name I mercifully don't recall." Lacking encouragement, Moss left writing for several years, although she continued to tell stories.
The power of storytelling is one of the key themes Moss endeavors to express through her young protagonist, Amelia. "When you write or tell about something," she explained, "you have a kind of control over it, you shape the events, you sort them through, you emphasize some aspects, omit others.… Besides the flights of pure fancy, the imaginative leaps that storytelling allows, it was this sense of control, of finding order and meaning that mattered most to me as a child."
In the "Amelia" books, the spunky young chronicler dives into activities in a new school after leaving her old friends behind during a family move. "Amelia is droll and funny and not too sophisticated for her years," noted Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin, who added that the diarist has a more emotional side too, missing her old friends and full of childhood aspirations about her future. In Amelia Writes Again, the heroine has turned ten and has begun a new notebook. In doodles, sketches, and snippets of thoughts, she comments on such things as a fire at school and her inability to pay attention during math class. Everything Moss includes in Amelia's notebooks is true, "or," as Moss will tell the groups of students she visits, "is based on the truth. Names have all been changed, because my older sister is mad enough at me already, and some details are altered to make for a better story. So, yes, there really was a fire in my school, but the idea of putting treasures in the newly poured pavement didn't occur to me at the time." Moss wishes it had; instead, she was able to let Amelia do so in Amelia Writes Again.
Moss enjoys writing in Amelia's voice because it allows her a flexibility that conventional picture book writing does not. "I can go back and forth between different kinds of writing—the pure invention of storytelling, the thoughtful searching of describing people and events, and the explorations Amelia takes when she writes about noses or numbers, things she notices and writes down to figure out what it is that she's noticing. In the same way that I can go from describing a new teacher to making a story about clouds, Amelia allows me to move freely between words and pictures. I can draw as Amelia draws or I can use tromp l'oeil for the objects she tapes into her notebook. I can play with the art as much as I play with the text. The notebook format allows me to leap from words to images and this free flowing back and forth is how I work best. It reflects the way I think—sometimes visually, sometimes verbally—with the pictures not there just to illustrate the text, but to replace it, telling their own story. Often the art allows me a kind of graphic shorthand, a way of conveying what I mean that is much more immediate than words. Kids often ask me which comes first, the words or the pictures. With Amelia, it can be either, and I love that fluidity."
In addition to Amelia's notebooks, Moss has created a series focusing on young writers from different historical periods. "Like Amelia's notebooks, the pages … seem like real notebook pages," Moss explained to SATA, "with drawings and inserted objects on every page," although Moss's protagonist will be from a past era. The first book in the series, Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl, allows readers to accompany a family to California in 1850 along the Oregon Trail. Unlike the "Amelia" books, which are drawn from the author's own memories, Moss spent many hours doing research, reading histories, exploring library archives, and pouring over the actual letters and diaries of people who traversed the United States by covered wagon. "It was, for the most part, riveting reading and I was impressed with what an enormous undertaking, what a leap of faith it was for pioneers to come" to the West coast, Moss noted. "It was a dangerous trip. Indians, river crossings, storms, and especially sickness were all feared. But I was struck by the difference between how men and women viewed the journey and how children saw it. To kids, it was a great adventure, troublesome at times, tedious and terrifying at others, but ultimately exciting. These children showed tremendous courage and strength of character, and I tried to capture some of that, as well as the exhilaration of travelling into the unknown, in Rachel's journal."
Moss has completed several other works in the "Young American Voices" series published by Minnesota's Pleasant Company, among them Emma's Journal: The Story of a Colonial Girl, Hannah's Journal: The Story of an Immigrant Girl, and Rose's Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression. Hannah's Journal concerns a ten-year-old Lithuanian girl who immigrates to the United States in 1901. Reviewing the work in School Library Journal, Jane Marino remarked that "Moss does give her readers a real sense of the time in which the protagonist lived." Rose's Journal is set on a Kansas farm in 1935. School Library Journal contributor Roxanne Burg stated that "there is quite a bit of historical information packed into this short book."
As the writer delves even further into the past, a twelve-year-old slave becomes her subject in the self-illustrated Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome, the first book in Harcourt's "Ancient World Journal" series. Moss blends fact and fiction in her account of Galen's life, as the boy lives and works in the home of Emperor Augustus. According to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, Moss provides "a clear, intriguing portrait of ancient Roman life," and Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido wrote, "This delightful book is rich in detail."
Moss looks at U.S. aviator Harriet Quimby in Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel. Quimby, the first woman to become a licensed pilot, flew from England to France on April 16, 1912. Her historic solo flight was overshadowed by another event that occurred the same day: the sinking of the luxury ocean liner Titanic. Quimby's "contemplation of the glory that might have been … is sensitively portrayed," wrote School Library Journal reviewer Ann Chapman Callaghan.
Mighty Jackie: The Strike-out Queen tells the true story of Jackie Mitchell, a seventeen year old who pitched for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor-league baseball team. Moss describes how Mitchell received coaching and encouragement at a young age from both her father and Dazzy Vance, a major-league pitcher. In 1931, the Lookouts played an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, who were then led by superstars Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and Mitchell made baseball history by striking out the legendary duo. "Moss relays the details … with the blow-by-blow breathless of a sportscaster and the confidence of a seasoned storyteller," wrote a critic in Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal contributor Grace Oliff observed that "The narrative captures the tension and excitement, and has the air of an experience remembered."
In addition to taking on other teen biographies and other writing projects, Moss continues to expand her "Amelia's Notebook" series. In Amelia Works It Out the adventurous heroine tries to start her own business so she can buy a pair of expensive glow-in-the-dark shoes, while in Oh Boy, Amelia! she takes a life-skills class and discovers that she is handy with tools. Critics have praised Moss's books for leading younger readers into the art of journal writing, a result about which their author couldn't be happier. "The many letters I get from kids show that, inspired by Amelia, they, too, are discovering the magic of writing," she told SATA. "When readers respond to Amelia by starting their own journals, I feel I've gotten the highest compliment possible—I've made writing cool."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1989, Denise Wilms, review of Who Was It?, p. 555; March 1, 1992, p. 1287; July, 1992, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of Knick Knack Paddywack, p. 1941; October 1, 1994, p. 333; April 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Amelia's Notebook, p. 1391; June 1, 1997, p. 1716; November 15, 1997, p. 561; November 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of The All-New Amelia and Luv Amelia, Luv Nadia, p. 530; February 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Amelia's Family Ties, p. 1113; September 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Amelia Works It Out, p. 115; October 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Hannah's Journal: The Story of an Immigrant Girl, p. 340; July, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel, p. 2009; August, 2001, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Madame Amelia Tells All, p. 2121; January 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Oh Boy, Amelia!, p. 859; March 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Brave Harriet, p. 1146; April 1, 2002, Stephanie Zvirin, "Top Ten Biographies for Youth," p. 1340; December 15, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome, p. 760; October 15, 2003, Todd Morning, review of Max's Logbook, p. 412; January 1, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Mighty Jackie: The Strike-out Queen, p. 868.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1990, Zena Sutherland, review of Regina's Big Mistake, p. 40; November, 1996, p. 108.
Junior Bookshelf, review of After-School Monster, April, 1993, p. 62.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1989, p. 1248; August 15, 1990, p. 1171; July 1, 1991, p. 865; July 1, 1996, p. 972; September 15, 2002, review of Galen, p. 1396; January 15, 2004, review of Mighty Jackie, p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1991, p. 57; September 30, 1996, p. 87; June 16, 1997, p. 61; July 28, 1997, p. 77; August 31, 1998, Sally Lodge, "Journaling Back through Time with Marissa Moss," p. 20; April 9, 2001, review of Amelia's Moving Pictures (video review), p. 29; July 16, 2001, review of Brave Harriet, p. 180; March 18, 2002, pp. 105-106; October 21, 2002, review of Galen, p. 76; July 14, 2003, review of Max's Logbook, p. 76; January 19, 2004, review of Mighty Jackie, p. 76.
Reading Today, April, 2001, Lynne T. Burke, review of "Amelia" series, p. 32; August, 2001, Lynne T. Burke, review of Amelia Works It Out, p. 30.
School Library Journal, January, 1991, Ruth Semrau, review of Regina's Big Mistake, p. 79; June, 1992, Jody McCoy, review of Knick Knack Paddywack, p. 100; December, 1994, p. 79; July, 1995, Carolyn Noah, review of Amelia's Notebook, p. 79; July, 1997, p. 60; November, 1997, p. 95; October, 1999, Lisa Gangemi Krapp, review of The All-New Amelia, p. 121; December, 1999, Susan Hepler, review of Emma's Journal: The Story of a Colonial Girl, p. 108; June, 2000, Holly Belli, Amelia's Family Ties, p. 122; September, 2000, Wendy S. Carroll, review of Amelia Works It Out, p. 206; November, 2000, Jane Marino, review of Hannah's Journal, p. 129; July, 2001, Leslie S. Hilverding, review of Madame Amelia Tells All, p. 86; September, 2001, Ann Chapman Callaghan, review of Brave Harriet, p. 220; October, 2001, Debbie Stewart, review of Oh Boy, Amelia!, p. 126; December, 2001, Roxanne Burg, review of Rose's Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression, p. 108; October, 2002, Lynda S. Poling, review of Galen, pp. 168-169; October, 2003, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of Max's Logbook, p. 132; February, 2004, Grace Oliff, review of Mighty Jackie, pp. 134-135; May, 2005, Jennifer Ralston, review of Amelia Takes Command, p. 50.
Harcourt Books Web site, http://www.harcourtbooks.com/ (June 1, 2004), interview with Moss.*