Leah Komaiko (1954-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1954, in Chicago, IL; Education: University of Utah, B.A.
Agent—Edite Kroll, 12 Grayhurst Park, Portland, ME 04102.
Writer. Involved in cause-related marketing projects for corporations and children. Has appeared on Public Broadcasting Service program Reading Rainbow. Volunteer for Older Corps.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Children's choice awards for several books, including Annie Bananie.
I Like the Music, illustrated by Barbara Westman, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1987.
Annie Bananie, illustrated by Laura Cornell, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1987.
Earl's Too Cool for Me, illustrated by Laura Cornell, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1988, reprinted, Laura Geringer Books (New York, NY), 2003.
My Perfect Neighborhood, illustrated by Barbara Westman, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1990.
Where Can Daniel Be?, illustrated by Denys Cazet, Orchard (New York, NY), 1992.
(Self-illustrated) A Million Moms and Mine, L. Claiborne, 1992.
Leonora O'Grady, illustrated by Laura Cornell, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Aunt Elaine Does the Dance from Spain, illustrated by Petra Mathers, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.
Shoe Shine Shirley, illustrated by Franz Spohn, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.
Broadway Banjo Bill, illustrated by Franz Spohn, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.
Great-Aunt Ida and Her Great Dane, Doc, illustrated by S. D. Schindler, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1994.
Just My Dad and Me, illustrated by Jeffrey Greene, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Fritzi Fox Flew in from Florida, illustrated by Thatcher Hurd, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
On Sallie Perry's Farm, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Malibu Carmie (novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2005.
"ANNIE BANANIE" SERIES; EASY READERS
Annie Bananie Moves to Barry Avenue, illustrated by Abby Carter, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.
Annie Bananie: Best Friends to the End, illustrated by Abby Carter, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Annie Bananie and the People's Court, illustrated by Abby Carter, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Annie Bananie and the Pain Sisters, illustrated by Abby Carter, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1998.
Am I Old Yet?: The Story of Two Women, Generations Apart, Growing up and Growing Young in a Timeless Friendship, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Annie Bananie: Best Friends to the End was adapted as an audiobook, 1998.
Picture-book author Leah Komaiko was raised in a musical environment, and her love of music can be heard weaving its way through the lighthearted verses she writes for young children. "I begin my poems by hearing a rhythm," Komaiko explained in an interview for Publishers Weekly. "There's no story unless there's rhythm. Then I do the words." In addition to including a musical element in her work, the author of such books as Great-Aunt Ida and Her Great Dane, Doc, Aunt Elaine Does the Dance from Spain, Malibu Carmie, and Annie Bananie: Best Friends to the End characteristically celebrates positive relationships between young children and older adults—grandparents and other elderly people who both entertain and inspire their younger friends. "Komaiko's perky verse … keeps the story skipping along at a pace precluding any boredom in the audience," noted a Kirkus Reviews writer in an assessment of Great-Aunt Ida and Her Great Dane, Doc, which pairs the outgoing Ida with her impatient young nephew and shows that age can sometimes outpace youth.
Komaiko attended the University of Utah before becoming a children's-book author. One of her first stories for young people, 1987's I Like the Music, is about a small girl who is entranced by the rhythmic hustle and bustle of the activity she hears from her upstairs apartment window in a city neighborhood. Not only does she like to listen, but she likes to make "city music" too, like the "rapa-tapa-tapa on the hot concrete." Grandmother, on the other hand, dislikes the racket she hears echoing up from the street. Instead, she loves the majestic sounds of classical music and is disappointed that her young companion is less than enthusiastic about their trips together to Symphony Hall. Finally, the local orchestra plans an open-air performance in a nearby park, which allows grandmother and granddaughter to find something they can enjoy together. I Like the Music took "a long time," Komaiko admitted to Publishers Weekly. "The day I got the words "shabops-it/On the topsit' (a line that refers to a junk man playing on garbage can lids), I thought I'd died and gone to heaven."
The young star of Annie Bananie was introduced to Komaiko's young readers in 1996. Glum after her best friend Annie moves away from the neighborhood, the book's five-year-old narrator remembers all the fun the pair used to have: "Made me brush my teeth with mud,/Sign my name in cockroach blood" were some of the dares the two girls had bonded their close friendship with. New friends will come her way, the newcomer realizes, although Annie will always remain special. Anna Biagioni Hart called Annie Bananie "a daffy, energetic, and heartfelt celebration of friendship" in a review for School Library Journal, while Booklist reviewer Ellen Mandel recommended the book as "therapeutic for youngsters separated from good friends."
The character of Annie Bananie reappears in several books written for older children. In Annie Bananie Moves to Barry Avenue the energetic Annie and her rottweiler, Boris, enliven the summer vacation of Libby, who has come to Barry Avenue to stay with her terribly unexciting Grandmother Gert. Several more girls from the neighborhood soon join the pair, and soon they have formed a local dog-owner's club. Libby, elected the club's president, has no dog and must fulfill her membership requirement by getting her pet-hating grandmother to warm up to Boris enough to kiss him on his doggy lips. The girls' friendship continues through the start of the new school year in 1997's Annie Bananie—Best Friends to the End. Allowed to leave school and have lunch at a friend's home, Annie and Libby opt instead for a hamburger at a nearby fast-food restaurant because Libby is embarrassed about her Grandmother Gert. However, their deception is discovered when, back in class, Annie becomes sick and throws up on her friend. While noting that Annie Bananie—Best Friends to the End contains a "fast-paced but choppy" narrative, School Library Journal reviewer Pamela K. Bomboy recommended it as "an easy read … for newly independent readers."
While several picture books by Komaiko—including Leonora O'Grady and the lighthearted Great Aunt Ida and Her Great Dane, Doc—feature elderly protagonists as their main characters, others present youthful protagonists doing kid stuff under the watchful eye of loving parents or other caretakers. In Earl's Too Cool for Me, Komaiko pairs what a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed "a finger-snapping rhythm" with a main character that is, to the book's young, bespectacled narrator, simply the hippest kid in the neighborhood. On Sally Perry's Farm focuses on a young girl who gains self-confidence as she works alongside friends at an urban-neighborhood farm and features a story that a Publishers Weekly critic termed "effervescent." A foxy visitor from sunny Florida weaves a warm-weather fantasy in Komaiko's humorous Fritzi Fox Flew in from Florida, while in Just My Dad and Me a small girl in a close, bustling family fantasizes about spending time alone with her busy but loving father.
The fantasy world of many American teens is the focus of Malibu Carmie. Thirteen-year-old budding-but-slightly overweight author Carmie Hoffman looks forward to a mundane summer in Southern California with her overwhelmed and depressed single mother, Elaine. While pouring her fantasies of an exciting life into a series of scripts, Carmie learns that all is not as it seems; a trip to Malibu Beach with her mother reveals that as a teen Elaine led an colorful life as a surfer girl. When Elaine's hidden life begins to rival the fantasy life she has played out, Carmie gains a renewed respect for her mom and also begins to objectively assess her own life. While noting that the surfer talk might confuse some reader, a Kirkus Reviews contributor added that Komaiko's first-person narration "is as flighty as Carmie's character, and should appeal" to many pre-teens. "Wittingly or unwittingly, Komaiko captures the narcissism" of her narrator, noted Myrna Marler in a review of the novel for Kliatt, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer predicted that teen "readers will likely identify with the heroine's emotions."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Komaiko, Leah, Annie Bananie, illustrated by Laura Cornell, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1987.
Komaiko, Leah, I Like the Music, illustrated by Barbara Westman, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1987.
Booklist, June 1, 1987, Ellen Mandel, review of Annie Bananie, p. 1523; January 1, 1994, pp. 832-833; November 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Annie Bananie and the Pain Sisters, p. 493; August, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Am I Old Yet? The Story of Two Women, Generations Apart, Growing up and Growing Young in a Timeless Friendship, p. 1998.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1987, p. 33; May, 1992, p. 241.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1987, p. 1577; June 1, 1992, p. 720; October 1, 1992, p. 1257; January 1, 1994, review of Great-Aunt Ida and Her Great Dane, Doc, p. 65; February 15, 1995, p. 227; April 15, 2005, review of Malibu Carmie, p. 476.
Kliatt, May, 2005, Myrna Marler, review of Malibu Carmie, p. 14.
Library Journal, August, 1999, Lisa S. Wise, review of Am I Old Yet?, p. 121.
Publishers Weekly, December 25, 1987, Diane Roback and Kimberly Olson Fakih, "Flying Starts," p. 41; September 9, 1988, review of Earl's Too Cool for Me, p. 133; October 26, 1992, p. 70; January 9, 1995, p. 63; May 29, 1995, p. 83; June 10, 1996, review of On Sally Perry's Farm, p. 99; June 21, 1999, review of Am I Old Yet?, p. 43; May 16, 2005, review of Malibu Carmie, p. 63.
School Library Journal, March, 1988, p. 168; November, 1988, p. 90; April, 1993, p. 98; February, 1997, p. 82; August, 1987, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of Annie Bananie, p. 70; May, 1997, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Annie Bananie: Best Friends to the End, p. 102; April, 1998, Christie J. Flynn, review of Annie Bananie and the People's Court, p. 102; January, 1999, Ann Cook, review of Annie Bananie and the Pain Sisters, p. 97.
Teaching and Learning Literature, January-February, 1998, p. 91.
Random House of Canada Web site, http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (September 17, 2005).
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