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Barbara M. Joosse (1949-) Biography

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

(Barbara Monnot Joosse)


Born 1949, in Grafton, WI; Education: Attended University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 1966; University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.A., 1970; Attended University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1977–80. Hobbies and other interests: International travel, dogs, cooking, reading.


Agent—Scott Treimel, STNY, 434 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10003.


Writer. Associated with Stephan & Brady, Madison, WI, 1970–71; Waldbillig & Besteman, Madison, copywriter, 1971–74.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Council for Wisconsin Writers.

Honors Awards

Picture Book Award, Council of Wisconsin Writers, 1983, for The Thinking Place, and 1985, for Fourth of July; Fourth of July exhibited at Bologna International Children's Book Fair, 1985; Golden Kite Award for Picture-Illustration, 1991, for Mama, Do You Love Me?; Best Book designation, Association of Booksellers for Children, Parents' magazine Best Book designation, and Child magazine Best Book designation, all 1997, all for I Love You the Purplest; Austrian honor book, for Wild Willie and King Kyle, Detectives; Greater Kansas City Association of School Librarians Favorite Book designation, for Ghost Trap; Parents' Best Book designation, 2001, for Ghost Wings; CCBC Choice designation, 2001, for Houseful of Christmas; Council of Wisconsin Writers Best Book designation, 2004, for Hot City; Golden Kite Honor for Best Picture-Book Text, and New York Times Top Ten Best Illustrated Picture Book citation, both 2004, both for Stars in the Darkness.



The Thinking Place, illustrated by Kay Chorao, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.

Spiders in the Fruit Cellar, illustrated by Kay Chorao, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.

Fourth of July, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Jam Day, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Harper (New York, NY), 1987.

Anna, the One and Only, illustrated by Gretchen Will Mayo, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1988.

Better with Two, illustrated by Catherine Stock, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.

Dinah's Mad, Bad Wishes, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Harper (New York, NY), 1989.

Pieces of the Picture, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1989.

Mama, Do You Love Me?, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, Chronicle Books (New York, NY), 1991.

The Pitiful Life of Simon Schultz, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

Nobody's Cat, illustrated by Marcia Sewall, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.

Anna and the Cat Lady, illustrated by Gretchen Will Mayo, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.

Snow Day!, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

The Morning Chair, illustrated by Marcia Sewall, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

I Love You the Purplest, illustrated by Mary Whyte, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996.

Nugget and Darling, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Lewis and Papa: Adventure on the Santa Fe Trail, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.

Ghost Wings, illustrated by Giselle Potter, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.

A Houseful of Christmas, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Stars in the Darkness, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2002.

Hot City, illustrated by Gregory Christie, Philomel (New York, NY), 2004.

Papa Do You Love Me?, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2004.

Bad Dog School, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas, Clarion (New York, NY), 2004.

Nikolai, the Only Bear, illustrated by Renata Liwska, Philomel (New York, NY), 2005.

Wind Wild Dog, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Holt (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of fiction to Cricket, of adult humor to Milwaukee, and of essays to National Public Radio. Contributor to Porcupine Literary Arts magazine and Booklinks.


Wild Willie and King Kyle, Detectives, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, Clarion (New York, NY), 1993.

The Losers Fight Back, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, Clarion (New York, NY), 1994.

Ghost Trap, illustrated by Sue Truesdell, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Alien Brain Fryout, illustrate by Sue Truesdell, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

Dead Guys Talk, illustrated by Abby Carter, Clarion (New York, NY), 2006.


The everyday incidents of childhood—a mixture of the trials and tribulations from her own childhood experience and those of her own three children—pepper the pages of Barbara M. Joosse's children's books. "I like to write about real children," the Wisconsin-based author wrote in Milwaukee magazine. "Children do so many heroic things every day. When a child does something that's very difficult for her to do, she is a hero. I like to dramatize that 'every day heroism' in my stories." Among Joosse's books are fiction and nonfiction, including the picture books Mama, Do You Love Me?, Ghost Wings, and Bad Dog School as well as the "Wild Willie Mystery" series for middle-grade readers.

Joosse's childhood in Grafton, Wisconsin, was stable and secure; she lived in the same house until high school and when the family did move it was to a house only two blocks away. "My parents were always there. Forever, without question," she related in Milwaukee. Joosse's early ambition to pursue a career as a creative writer was sidetracked by her experiences in college, where she received conflicting opinions on her work from college professors; she became an advertising copywriter instead, readily leaving that job behind after the birth of her first child.

Jumping into motherhood, Joosse soon realized that she needed other activities to add more balance to her life. "The days were incredibly long," she recalled in Milwaukee. "I didn't allow myself to watch soap operas, but 'Star Trek' became the light at the end of my daily tunnel. I rocked and rocked and rocked. Maaike cried, I clenched my teeth. I loved her dearly, but I couldn't adjust to the lack of adult contact, ideas and lunches out." These emotions and the changes in Joosse's life were so strong that the only medium she could express them in was poetry. Realizing that this poetry would mean something only to her, Joosse soon decided to channel her thoughts and energy into a place where they could be shared: children's writing.

"I decided to be a children's writer with all the naivete of a child deciding to be an astronaut or a cowboy," Joosse continued in Milwaukee. "I was blissfully unaware of how few writers succeed in this field. I've been told, probably by the amorphous 'they,' that children's literature is the most difficult field to break into." Because of the difficulty of the field, Joosse formed a plan to accomplish her goal of becoming a writer for children; she enrolled in a creative-writing class at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, hired a babysitter to come two mornings a week, researched publishers, and got started early each day. During the course of the next year she wrote ten stories and sent them out to publishers, rewriting each one and re-sending it once it had been rejected four times. Several editors held onto her submissions and considered them; finally an editor at Knopf helped Joosse publish her first book.

The Thinking Place is where young Elisabeth is sent after putting candy corn in the household dishwasher. At the beginning of her punishment Elisabeth is sorry to be standing in the corner, but not sorry for what she did. Her mind begins to wander, filling with fantasies of her friend Melissa coming by with tea and cookies, a Gila monster who is after her for his dinner, and a witch who almost gets her to write on the wall with lipstick. Stopping herself just in time, Elisabeth apologizes to her mother before going to bed to fight off some imaginary sharks. "Elisabeth's attitudes and fantasies are accurately rebellious and scary," Nancy Palmer wrote in School Library Journal, while a Publishers Weekly commentator asserted that The Thinking Place "deserves a warm welcome" due to the fact that Joosse "writes with quiet humor."

The Thinking Place introduces the themes that are characteristic of much of Joosse's work: everyday incidents in the lives of very realistic children, "children you know," as she described her characters in Milwaukee. "They dramatize the fears and battles, the wisdom and triumphs that mark growing up as surely as the penciled 'growth lines' on the kitchen wall. I try to write with humor, while maintaining dignity, because, to a child, these events are very serious matters." In fact, because her own childhood was notable for its lack of trauma—a family move, divorce, or other tragedy—she was "free to concentrate on the meaty issues of growing up: braving the spiders in the fruit cellar, competing with a neighbor whose white tennis shoes stayed white, coping with the disappointment of hard-earned 'jumping shoes' that didn't work," as she recalled in Milwaukee.

Joosse takes seemingly mundane events in the lives of likeable children and weaves them into entertaining stories. Young Elisabeth in Spiders in the Fruit Cellar must face her fears of spiders while helping her mother with "grown-up "tasks. Finally braving the fruit cellar to fetch some peaches, Elizabeth drops the jar in her rush to escape the dreaded spiders, which prompts a confession from her mother of similar fears when she was little. The book is filled with "delicately delineated vignettes of Elisabeth," Reva S. Kern declared in her School Library Journal review, adding that Joosse sustains "just enough apprehension for young readers who will share in her struggle for courage."

In Joosse's Fourth of July, five-year-old Ross want more independence. Told by his parents that he has to wait until he is six before he can have sparklers and cross the street alone, Ross sets out to prove just how responsible he is by marching in the local Fourth of July parade. "Joosse perfectly portrays the feelings of a small child who is longing to be bigger, and children will find in Ross a kindred spirit," asserted Lucy Young Clem in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented of Fourth of July that "children will love it."

Finding ways to cool off on a hot summer day is a dilemma faced by many children, especially children who grow up in the city. In Hot City African-American siblings Mimi and Joe finally find refuge from the shadeless streets and sidewalks by discovering the local library, where they enter the world of imagination through books. A Kirkus Reviews contributor praised the book as "an unusual urban portrait [that] celebrates libraries," while in Booklist Hazel Rochman cited Joosse's effective text, in which "the simple words are physical and immediate." "Summer head radiates from this evocative work," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, and in School Library Journal Linda L. Walkins cited Joosse's "eloquently told story" as a "tribute to the … joys of readings."

Other picture books include Bad Dog School which finds a young pup named Zippy living up to his name. Harris loves playing with his hyperactive puppy, but when Zippy's hijinks become destructive, Harris's parents enlist the dog in obedience training. Praising Joosse's "irresistible pooch," School Library Journal Gloria Koster added: "There can never be too many dog books, and this … is the pick of the litter." For older readers, the "Wild Willie Mystery" series, which includes The Losers Fight Back and Alien Brain Fryout, follows the adventures of Willie, Lucy, and Kyle, enhanced by what Booklist contributor Shelley Townsend-Hudson called the "playful" and "exaggerated" cartoon illustrations by Sue Truesdell.

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Among Joosse's most popular picture books is Mama, Do You Love Me? Set in the culture of the Inuits of Northern Alaska, this award-winning story revolves around the question posed in the title, as well as several other questions a young girl asks to test the limits of her mother's love. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described Mama, Do You Love Me? as a "striking volume, which uses a timeless culture to convey a timeless message," while Horn Book reviewer Carolyn K. Jenks dubbed it "a beautiful combination of a rich culture and a universal theme."

Foreign culture also provides the setting for The Morning Chair and Nikolai, the Only Bear. Moving with his family from Holland to New York City, young Bram in The Morning Chair finds his new surroundings harsh, loud, and overwhelming; the streets are filled with hurrying people speaking a language Bram does not understand. The arrival of the family's furniture, including Bram's morning chair, adds some familiarity to their new home; he can now spend quiet time with his mother in their chair while they share morning tea and Dutch cookies. School Library Journal contributor Martha Rosen noted that in The Morning Chair, "the complexity of the emigration experience is conveyed to young readers in all the simplicity of the warm text." Kathleen Krull pointed out in the New York Times Book Review that "immigrant stories have a certain pattern to them, but Ms. Joosse has chosen a generous way of telling this one that should give it a long life."

Nikolai, the Only Bear is based on the experiences of a friend of Joosse's who welcomed an adopted grandson
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brought to the United States from Russia. In Joosse's picture book Nikolai is the lone bear in a Russian orphanage. He has been overlooked by prospective parents because he growls instead of talking and does not always play by the rules. Finally an American couple who speak Bearspeak and can relate to the bear in a comfortable way decide to make Nikolai a part of their family. Noting that the story is "economically told" and "deeply felt," a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised Nikolai, the Only Bear as "a sensitive adoption story loosely based on fact." Noting that the story is useful in helping young children recognize cross-cultural differences, School Library Journal reviewer Maryann H. Owen praised the book as "well-written" and "attractively laid out," while the "touches of humor" woven into Joosse's text "keep this adoption tale from becoming cloying."

While many of Joosse's books are lighthearted fare, books such as Stars in the Darkness and Ghost Wings deal with subjects of more emotional depth, and also introduce readers to different cultures. A girl and her Mexican grandmother share a magical moment among the flutter of hundreds of migrating monarch butterfly wings just prior to the elderly woman's death in Ghost Wings, "a charming and heartwarming story of love and acceptance," according to Patti Gonzales in School Library Journal. In Publishers Weekly a reviewer described the book as a "moving tale of death and remembrance," and also commended the "sublimely quirky illustrations" by Giselle Potter.

A "powerful and unusual picture book" featuring a story that is "both sad and sweet," according to School Library Journal contributor Anna DeWind Walls, Stars in the Darkness describes the fear and worry of an African-American boy and his mother. At night, the two listen to the sounds of their unsafe urban neighborhood while worrying about the boy's older brother who, away from home, has become involved with a local gang. Rather than live with fear, the pair ultimately find a way to join neighbors together and promote neighborhood safety. Noting that Joosse's storyline is "scary, but ultimately reassuring," GraceAnne A. DeCandido added in a Booklist review that the family's quandary is portrayed "with tenderness but without sentimentality."

Joosse told SATA's young readers: "Thirty years ago, my first child, Maaike, was born. My heart grew very big because I loved her so much. Later, my heart got bigger because Anneke and then Robby were born.

"More and more, I love to travel. Wherever I go, I see people who are a little bit different from me, but also the same. More and more, I feel mother-bearish about the children in far-away places. It feels to me as though these children are part of my family. And now, my heart has grown very wide.

"And really, these children are part of my big family, just as they're part of yours. We people are more alike than we are different. We're all mamas and papas and brothers and sisters. I like to write books that make you feel that way, too.

"I think, when children are born, that they are given a fancy present. That present is importance. Each of you is important. You are unique and beloved and cherished. That is your birthright. Every child in every place in every family has the same fancy present, no more or less for any of us.

"I'm a nosy person, as most writers are. I like to discover people, places, secrets, and information. These discoveries are woven into the fiction I write. I think most of you are curious, too, so I like to write fiction that tells a good story, with little bits of new information for you, and then put a glossary at the end of the book. My hope is that the fiction will live in your heart while your mind races ahead to find out more information about the Maasai or sled dogs or chickens or the arctic. This is one of my clever tricks to give a book a life, long after you read it.

"Picture books are amazing! Because they're often read so many times, they become a part of your bones. Because they're read just before bed, at the fuzzy time between sleep and awake, they live in your soul. Because they're read, often, within the reader's hug (the snug place in the arms of someone you love, with a book serving as the seal of the hug), picture books give you a shared experience. I'm very aware, as I write, that I want to use the power of a picture book to help you understand yourself and your world, to give you hope that you can make the world better and confidence that you're just the one to do it.

"I often write outside of my own experience, drawing word pictures of places or people or activities other than my own. In order to do this, I need to visit those places (whether it is a geographic location or a new activity), record the voices of people who live the story I tell, research and call on a team of expert readers to check for accuracy.

"I live in a little stone house, on a river. The house is very old, with noisy wooden floors and thick limestone walls. Limestone is made from all the dirt and feathers and bones and grass that settle to the bottom of the river, and get pressed by time into stone. It feels important to me as a writer that I live beside the river and INSIDE the river. It reminds me that, like a river, life keeps changing; it goes somewhere; it holds the memory of all the things it has ever touched.

"My first job, as a writer, is to make the reading fun. I want you to close the cover of my book and be happy that you read it. But I want a little more. I want you to keep thinking about it. I want you to dream about the people and places in the books I write, so my story, like the little bits that float in the river, settle to the bottom and become a part of who you are."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, May 1, 1993, p. 1590; June 1, 1995, p. 1786; October 15, 1996, p. 436; June 1, 1998, John Peters, review of Lewis and Papa: Adventures on the Santa Fe Trail, p. 1780; May 1, 2000, review of Ghost Trap, p. 1606; September 15, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Alien Brain Fryout, p. 241; April 15, 2001, Lauren Peterson, review of Ghost Wings, p. 1565; October 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of A Houseful of Christmas, p. 326; May 15, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Stars in the Darkness, p. 1601; July, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Hot City, p. 1847.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1987, p. 11; February, 1989, pp. 149-50; June, 1989, p. 253; December, 1991, pp. 94-95; February, 1992, p. 158; July, 2001, review of Ghost Wings, p. 411; September, 2002, review of Stars in the Darkness, p. 22; June, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of Hot City, p. 424; October, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of Bad Dog School, p. 82; January, 2005, Timnah Card, review of Nikolai, the Only Bear, p. 213.

Horn Book, September-October, 1989, p. 612; November-December, 1991, Carolyn K. Jenks, review of Mama, Do You Love Me? p. 729; May-June, 1995, pp. 325-326; January-February, 2005, Susan P. Bloom, review of Nikolai, the Only Bear, p. 79.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1988, pp. 1675-1676; April 1, 1989, p. 548; December 15, 1991, p. 1592; April 1, 1993, p. 458; October 15, 1994, p. 1408; July 1, 1995, p. 947l September 15, 2001, review of A Houseful of Christmas, p. 1359; May 1, 2002, review of Stars in the Darkness, p. 658; May 15, 2004, review of Hot City, p. 493; July 15, 2004, review of Bad Dog School, p. 688; March 1, 2005, review of Nikolai, the Only Bear, p. 288.

Milwaukee, May, 1984, Barbara M. Joosse, "How Do You Print So Small?"

New York Times Book Review, October 8, 1995, Kathleen Krull, review of The Morning Chair, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, March 19, 1982, review of The Thinking Place, p. 70; March 22, 1985, review of Fourth of July, p. 59; June 12, 1987, p. 83; March 24, 1989, review of Dinah's Mad, Bad Wishes, pp. 68-69; August 9, 1991, review of Mama, Do You Love Me? p. 56; September 16, 1996, p. 82; February 24, 1997, p. 91; January 22, 2001, review of Nugget and Darling, p. 326; April 2, 2001, review of Ghost Wings, p. 64; September 24, 2001, review of A Houseful of Christmas, p. 52; April 22, 2002, review of Stars in the Darkness, p. 69; July 12, 2004, review of Hot City, p. 63.

School Library Journal, April, 1982, Nancy Palmer, review of The Thinking Place, p. 59; August, 1983, Reva S. Kern, review of Spiders in the Fruit Cellar, pp. 52-53; August, 1985, Lucy Young Clem, review of Fourth of July, p. 55; April 1997, Jean-Marie Kliphius, review of Nugget and Darling, p. 112; December, 1988, p. 104; April, 1989, p. 102; July, 1989, p. 67; November, 1991, p. 98; March, 1992, p. 238; June, 1993, p. 83; November, 1994, pp. 82-83; June, 1995, Martha Rosen, review of The Morning Chair, pp. 88-89; September, 1995, pp. 179-180; October, 1998, Heide Piehler, review of Lewis and Papa, p. 102; September, 2000, Linda L. Plevak, review of Alien Brain Fryout, p. 200; May, 2001, Patti Gonzales, review of Ghost Wings, p. 125; October, 2001, review of A Houseful of Christmas, p. 66; August, 2002, Anna DeWind Walls, review of Stars in the Darkness, p. 159; July, 2004, Linda L. Walkins, review of Hot City, p. 78; September, 2004, Gloria Koster, review of Bad Dog School, p. 169; April, 2005, Maryann H. Owen, review of Nikolai, the Only Bear, p. 99.

Washington Post Book World, July 4, 2004, Elizabeth Ward, review of Hot City, p. 11.


Barbara M. Joosse Home Page, http://www.barbarajoosse.com (September 17, 2005).

Additional topics

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