Jan Mark (1943-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
(Janet Marjorie Mark)
Born 1943, in Welwyn, Hertfordshire, England; Education: Canterbury College of Art, N.D.D., 1965. Politics: Labour.
Agent—David Higham Associates, 5/8 Lower John St., Golden Square, London W1F 9HA, England.
Southfields School, Gravesend, Kent, England, teacher of art and English, 1965–71; full-time writer, 1975–. Oxford Polytechnic, Arts Council writer fellow, 1982–84; University of Reading, Berkshire, England, lecturer in creative writing, 1999–2000.
Penguin/London Guardian Award, 1975, British Library Association Carnegie Medal, 1976, and American Library Association Notable Book designation, all for Thunder and Lightnings; notable children's trade book in the field of social studies designation, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1978, for The Ennead; Carnegie Medal runner-up, 1981, for Nothing to Be Afraid Of; Young Observer/Rank Teenage Fiction Prize (co-winner), 1982, for Aquarius; Carnegie Medal, 1983, for Handles; Angel Literary Award for fiction, 1983, for Feet, and 1987, for Zeno Was Here; British nominee for International Hans Christian Andersen Medal, 1984; Guardian Award for Children's Fiction runner-up, 1986, for Trouble Half-Way; Mother Goose Award, 1990, for Strat and Chatto, illustrated by David Hughes.
NOVELS; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS
Thunder and Lightnings, illustrated by Jim Russell, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1976, Crowell (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Puffin (London, England), 2000.
Under the Autumn Garden, illustrated by Colin Twinn, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1977, illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown, Crowell (New York, NY), 1979.
The Ennead, Crowell (New York, NY), 1978, reprinted, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2002.
Divide and Rule, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1979, Crowell (New York, NY), 1980.
The Short Voyage of the Albert Ross, illustrated by Gavin Rowe, Granada (London, England), 1980.
The Dead Letter Box, illustrated by Mary Rayner, Hamilton (London, England), 1982.
Aquarius, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1982, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Handles, illustrated by David Parkins, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1983, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
At the Sign of the Dog and Rocket, Longman (Harlow, England), 1985.
Trouble Half-Way, illustrated by David Parkins, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1985, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
Dream House, illustrated by Jon Riley, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1987.
The Twig Thing, illustrated by Sally Holmes, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1988.
Man in Motion, illustrated by Jeff Cummins, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1989.
Finders, Losers, Orchard (London, England), 1990.
The Hillingdon Fox, Turton & Chambers (Victoria Park, Western Australia, Australia), 1991.
The Snow Maze, illustrated by Jan Omerod, Walker (London, England), 1992.
All the Kings and Queens, Heinemann (Oxford, England), 1993.
Taking the Cat's Way Home, illustrated by Paul Howard, Walker (London, England), 1994.
They Do Things Differently There, Bodley Head (London, England), 1994.
Harriet's Turn, illustrated by Jane Cope, Longman (Harlow, England), 1994.
A Worm's Eye View, illustrated by Bethan Matthews, Piccadilly (London, England), 1994.
A Fine Summer Knight, illustrated by Bob Harvey, Viking (London, England), 1995.
Under the Red Elephant, illustrated by Jeffrey Reid, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
My Frog and I, illustrated by Lesley Harker, Mammoth (London, England), 1997.
The Sighting, Viking (London, England), 1997.
The Coconut Quins, illustrated by Anna C. Leplar, Viking (London, England), 1997.
Worry Guts, illustrated by J. Reid, Longman (Harlow, England), 1998.
The Eclipse of the Century, Scholastic (London, England), 1999.
Heathrow Nights, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2000.
The Lady with Iron Bones, Walker (London, England), 2000.
Long Lost, illustrated by David Roberts, Macmillan Children's (London, England), 2002.
Something in the Air, Doubleday (London, England), 2003.
Eyes Wide Open, A. & C. Black (London, England), 2003.
Stratford Boys, Hodder (London, England), 2003.
Useful Idiots, David Fickling (London, England), 2004.
Riding Tycho, Macmillan Children's (London, England), 2005.
The Electric Telepath, Random House (London, England), 2005.
Turbulence, Hodder (London, England), 2005.
STORY COLLECTIONS; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS, EXCEPT WHERE INDICATED
Nothing to Be Afraid Of (includes "William's Version"), illustrated by David Parkins, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1980, Harper (New York, NY), 1981.
Hairs in the Palm of the Hand (contains "Time and the Hour" [also see below] and "Chutzpah"), illustrated by Jan Ormerod, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1981, published as Bold as Brass, Hutchinson (London, England), 1984.
Feet and Other Stories (includes "Posts and Telecommunications," "Enough Is Too Much Already" [also see below], and "A Little Misunderstanding"), illustrated by Bert Kitchen, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1983.
Frankie's Hat (includes "It Wasn't Me"), illustrated by Quentin Blake, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1986.
Enough Is Too Much Already, and Other Stories, Bodley Head (London, England), 1988.
(Editor) School Stories, Kingfisher (London, England), 1989.
A Can of Worms, Bodley Head (London, England), 1990.
Too Old to Rock and Roll: Short Stories, illustrated by Nicki Elson, retold by Diane Mowat, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1990.
In Black and White (ghost stories), Viking (London, England), 1991.
(Editor) The Puffin Book of Song and Dance, Viking (London, England), 1992.
(Editor) Oxford Book of Children's Stories, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1993, published as The Oxford Book of Children's Stories, 2001.
Do You Read Me?: Eight Stories, Heinemann (Oxford, England), 1994.
God's Story, illustrated by David Parkins, Walker (London, England), 1997, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 1998.
Sort It Out! Stories with Different Issues, Longman (Harlow, England), 2000.
A Jet Black Sunrise: Poems of War and Conflict, Hodder (London, England), 2003.
Contributor of stories to anthologies and periodicals.
The Long Distance Poet, illustrated by Steve Smallman, Dinosaur (Cambridge, England), 1982.
Fur, illustrated by Charlotte Voake, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
Out of the Oven, illustrated by Antony Maitland, Kestrel (Harmondsworth, England), 1986.
Fun, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Gollancz (London, England), 1987.
Strat and Chatto, illustrated by David Hughes, Walker (London, England), 1989.
This Bowl of Earth, illustrated by Gay Shephard, Walker (London, England), 1993.
Fun with Mrs. Thumb, illustrated by Nicola Bayley, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 1993.
Carrot Tops and Cotton Tails, illustrated by Tony Ross, Andersen (London, England), 1993, published as Silly Tails, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.
Haddock, illustrated by Fiona Moodie, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
The One That Got Away, illustrated by Jan Lewis, Ginn (Aylesbury, England), 1994.
The Tale of Tobias, illustrated by Rachel Merriman, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
The Midas Touch, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 1999.
Mr. Dickens Hits Town, illustrated by Regolo Ricci, Tundra Books (Plattsburgh, NY), 1999.
Lady Long-Legs, illustrations by Paul Howard, Walker (London, England), 1999.
Rats, illustrated by Una Fricker, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001.
King Herla's Ride, illustrated by Jac Jones, Scholastic (London, England), 2001.
Shipwrecks, illustrated by Roger Stewart, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2001.
Aeroplanes, illustrated by Alex Pang, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 2003.
Two Stories (contains "Childermas" and "Mr. and Mrs. Johnson"), illustrated by Clive King, Inky Parrot Press (Oxford, England), 1984.
Zeno Was Here, J. Cape (London, England), 1987, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1988.
Izzy (television screenplay), 1983, adapted as a three-act play, Longman (New York, NY), 1985.
Interference (television screenplay), 1986, adapted as a three-act play, Longman (New York, NY), 1987.
(With Stephen Cockett) Captain Courage and the Rose Street Gang (two-act play), Collins (London, England), 1987.
Time and the Hour (two plays), Longman (New York, NY), 1990.
Great Frog and Mighty Moose (travel nonfiction), Walker (London, England), 1992.
Author of television plays and radio dramas; contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including London Guardian, Times Educational Supplement, and Carousel; contributor of essays to The Cambridge Guide to Children's Books.
The Dead Letter Box was adapted as an audiocassette, Puffin/Cover to Cover, 1987; Frankie's Hat, Hairs in the Palm of the Hand, and Nothing to Be Afraid Of were adapted as audiocassettes, Chivers Press, 1987, 1988, and 1989, respectively; Handles was adapted for television, 1989; Stratford Boys was adapted as an audiobook, 2004.
Work in Progress
Wunderkammer, a young-adult novel for Walker Books.
A two-time winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal as well as one of Great Britain's most notable children's authors, Jan Mark "owns what must surely be one of the most extraordinary imaginations in children's literature," according to Nick Tucker writing in Carousel. Mark has written a variety of works, including picture books, plays, stories, and novels, all of which appeal to an audience ranging from young children to adults. Although most of her work attracts young readers, Mark once explained to SATA: "I do not write specifically for children, any more than I write for adults. I tend rather to write about children." With this approach, Mark has created some unusually sophisticated books for young readers, including Thunder and Lightnings, Handles, Trouble Half-Way, and the science-fiction title Useful Idiots, among other novels; such popular and humorous short-story collections as Nothing to Be Afraid Of, Frankie's Hat, Feet and Other Stories, and Hairs in the Palm of the Hand; and beginning readers such as The Snow Maze and Taking the Cat's Way Home. Mark is "one of those writers who (like Shakespeare) can turn her hand to anything. Domestic drama, science fiction, ghost stories, millennial angst, picture books, teenage chit-chat, you name it and Mark will have written it," commented Adèle Geras in a review of Stratford Boys in the London Guardian. In another Guardian article, Geras maintained, "If anyone made a list of [England's] best writers for children, Jan Mark's name would be very near the top."
Critics praise Mark's unique characters, sharp wit, and clear prose, noting that she comments insightfully on the behavior, problems, and joys of young people. Unlike many children's authors, she often provides a bleak and uncompromising view of the world. "Mark stretches the range of children's books," New York Times Book Review contributor Jane Langton declared. "She provides for young people the combination of fine prose and strong realism generally reserved for adults." This bleak view of the world is especially apparent in Mark's science-fiction novels for older readers, The Ennead, Divide and Rule, Aquarius, and The Eclipse of the Century. More lighthearted fare is served up in picture books, such as Fun, Silly Tails, Fun with Mrs. Thumb, The Tale of Tobias, and The Midas Touch, all which feature the author's droll humor.
Born in Welwyn, England, Mark spent a great deal of time reading as a child. As a young girl she also wrote stories, poems, and plays, hoping to become a pub-
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lished author before she even finished high school. Although this goal was not realized, Mark continued to write; in college, she composed fragments of a novel. After graduating from college, however, her job teaching art and English kept her busy, leaving her little of the spare time or energy that writing required.
Mark was married with two children when a newspaper advertisement inspired her to finally pursue a career in writing. The London Guardian was sponsoring a writing contest in which an award would be given for the best children's novel by an unpublished author. Mark wrote Thunder and Lightnings for the competition and won. In addition to winning the Guardian contest, the novel received a Carnegie medal and set Mark's literary career on a firm footing. She commented to SATA: "I did not begin writing seriously until I was in my thirties and am in retrospect glad of it, since I had by then developed a voice of my own." With every new book she takes on "the challenge to produce always something at least as good as the first book. I dare not fall below that standard."
Thunder and Lightnings examines an unlikely friendship between two young boys—Andrew, a bright though naive middle-class youngster, and Victor, a working-class boy who is uninterested in school but who knows much about the ways of the world. Winifred Whitehead observed in The Use of English that "behind the apparent simplicity, [and] the everydayness of the story's events … lies a penetrating analysis of the two boys and their lives." Graham Hammond, writing in Children's Literature in Education, described Thunder and Lightnings as "a series of contrasts: between appearance and reality, official estimation and real worth, formal schooling and out-of-school learning, artificial projects and genuine interests, fear and love."
Thunder and Lightnings also addresses life's injustices. For instance, when Andrew tells his mother about an incident in which Victor was punished unfairly, his mother responds, "Nothing's fair. There's no such thing as fairness. It's a word made up to keep children quiet. When you discover it's a fraud, then you're starting to grow up." Though Mark's message in this novel may seem disheartening, it is softened, reviewers noted, by humor and gentle irony. Hammond observed that, "for all her serious intent, [Mark] has a light touch, a flair for word play, and a warm sense of fun." Robbie March-Penney noted in Children's Literature in Education that Mark's first novel "sparkles with humour—sometimes gentle and sometimes irreverent, frequently at the expense of adults." Other reviewers pointed out the finely nuanced relationship between Victor and Andrew. Valerie Alderson, writing in Children's Book Review, praised Mark's "unerring eye" in her "vivid account of the relationship between two boys who find a common enthusiasm for aeroplanes," concluding that it is the author's understanding of the two boys and how they "are enriched by their friendship which makes the book such compulsive reading."
With Thunder and Lightnings, as with more recent novels such as Under the Autumn Garden, The Dead Letter Box, Handles, Trouble Half-Way, The Snow Maze, Taking the Cat's Way Home, and The Eclipse of the Century, Mark has been noted for her attention to detail, well-rounded characters, and realistic dialogue. Her novels for younger readers frequently lack plot development, focusing instead on characters and relationships in school or home settings, and Mark often gives a bittersweet look at childhood and adolescence. Times Educational Supplement contributor Neil Philip remarked: "What is so refreshing about her writing both about and for children … is the accuracy with which she reflects the real concerns of childhood; an accuracy born of careful observation."
With Under the Autumn Garden Mark puts ten-year-old Matthew in the spotlight, telling the tale "through his eyes with vivid economy and a wry assurance," according to Jonathan Croall in the Times Educational Supplement. Set in a Norfolk village, the story tells of Matthew's efforts to finish a school history project. His efforts at digging up some of the medieval history of the town are in part thwarted by the motherless family of five who suddenly move in next door. "The novel's apparent simplicity and everydayness belies a richness of characterization, and a superb feel for the shape of a story," Croall concluded. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Zena Sutherland called Under the Autumn Garden "rich in characterization, sensitive to relationships among children, lightened by the humor of the dialogue and colored by local idiom."
With Handles Mark won her second Carnegie Medal, telling the story of thirteen-year-old Erica who, on vacation in rural Norfolk, misses the city and dreams of becoming a motorcycle mechanic. "This tale of a holiday that offers Erica pleasure and pain, growth and self-knowledge, is described with verbal wit, with affectionate perception, with pictorial precision and an unerring dramatic instinct," according to Growing Point contributor Fisher, adding: "It is a jewel of a book." As John Rowe Townsend commented in the Times Educational Supplement, "It's a graceful, witty book, a pleasure to read, and not as slight in theme as in action."
Trucking is at the heart of another Mark novel, Trouble Half-Way, a "British book with universal appeal," according to Sylvia S. Marantz in School Library Journal. Marantz went on to call the book an "enjoyable story with touches of humor that contains much wisdom about human nature," while a Kirkus Reviews reviewer commented: "Anyone who enjoys the English countryside will enjoy this gentle story of a girl traveling through it on a journey of self-discovery."
Aimed at much older readers, The Eclipse of the Century "is like a cross between a Rider Haggard adventure story and a [Franz] Kafka parable," according to Tucker in Carousel. Kit Spring, writing for the London Observer, commented that Mark's "Sci-fi, thriller, adventure story" hybrid is "gripping." Twenty-year-old Keith has a near-death experience and as a result is summoned to a remote country in central Asia where he meets a mysterious tribe of people who are waiting for a sign to take them back to their origins. Soon others come to the lost city, and, as Dianna Wynne Jones explained in a review for the London Sunday Telegraph, "the novel quietly flips from dream to nightmare." In the same review Jones praised The Eclipse of the Century as "full of … astute observations, hilarious humor, sly references to other literatures, a strong sense of historical sense, and an even stronger sense of present-day forces. These make a triumphantly compulsive mixture." Characteristic of Mark's fiction for more sophisticated readers, The Eclipse of the Century takes a dark and uncompromising view of the world. "It is a grim message, full of truth," wrote Jones, "but it makes gripping reading, too, because it is so magnificently done."
Mark's work has been consistently praised for its conciseness; she writes in the easy-reader format and still deliver depth. Reviewing The Snow Maze in Junior Bookshelf, Marcus Crouch noted that while the book's text is "brief and undemanding," the book "holds within its small compass some big ideas." "It takes only sixty pages, largely pictures, for changes to take place, characters to develop, attitudes to change, all with no sense of contrivance," the critic added. Combining multiracial relationships with a touch of fantasy, The Snow Maze is a "rewarding read for young beginners," concluded Zahnleiter.
Mark also turns trouble at school into a "very readable, clever and sensitive book" as Gill Roberts described Taking the Cat's Way Home in his review for Books for Keeps. Crouch, appraising the same easy reader for Junior Bookshelf, commented that the book's author is among those writers "who bring to the slightest of their books the same creativity and technical excellence as to their long and 'important' novels."
A trio of these "important" novels were produced between 1978 and 1984. Though Marks's portrayal of life as difficult and unjust is characteristic of many of her books, it is especially evident in The Ennead, Divide and Rule, and Aquarius, three novels written specifically for a relatively mature young-adult audience. These books stand apart from Mark's works for younger readers; requiring a more sophisticated audience, the novels maintain a bleaker tone, exploring such issues as manipulative relationships, the power of religion, and the fate of those who are unwilling to conform to the rules of society. Instead of being set in contemporary England like most of Mark's writings, these works are set in fictitious societies and have sometimes been labeled science fiction. The main characters in these books are, as Mark once explained to SATA, "likely to be … amoral or downright corrupt." Her protagonists are not victims; they are, rather, "authors of their own down-falls…. The forces of evil currently fashionable are not supernatural, but human ignorance and complacency."
Discussing her works for older children with Philip, Marks commenting that "the idea of manipulation is what I'm working on…. Not only why we do it, but why do we allow it? How much capital do you think you can make out of allowing yourselves to be used?" Mark also noted in Books for Keeps that "I'm setting up situations and inviting the reader to explore the situation along with the writer. They're for a sophisticated reader and they're deliberately written to discourage an unsophisticated reader…. I like to make the reader work hard."
Although some critics faulted Mark for the despairing message she presents in The Ennead, Divide and Rule, and Aquarius, Crouch asserted in the Junior Bookshelf that "it is some indication of the power of her writing that … Mark leaves us exhilarated rather than depressed." In Painted Desert, Green Shade, David Rees observed: "Sometimes the reader may feel that her novels go to an extreme beyond which it is not possible to venture in books for children and teenagers. This doesn't matter: the harsh truths of her vision of the world are infinitely preferable to the cozy pap that is sometimes served up for the young." Julia Eccleshare, writing for the Guardian, wrote that The Ennead "provides a provocative mirror of our own society."
In 2004 Mark stretched her already broad coverage of genres to create a novel of a future world, where the British Isles have been forced underwater by global warming and all of Europe, shrunken with flooding, has become a single nation. Useful Idiots is the story of Merrick Korda, an archaeology graduate in this future world, who happens upon a human skull that has been unearthed during a storm. Whether the skull belongs to the aboriginal people still living on the tiny islands that were once the United Kingdom or to the corporation that owns the land on which the remains were found is only one problem. Korda suspects that something more sinister may be related to the discovery, and he begins to uncover secrets that put his life in danger. Although Useful Idiots was marketed as a teen novel, many reviewers felt adult readers might be more interested in the subject material and the writing. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that the book features "a richly imagined future" with "plenty of social and human commentary" but added that "it ultimately misses its mark." Jennifer Mattson, writing in Booklist, commented that while the novel might not have widespread appeal among young-adult readers, "Mark skillfully prognosticates sweeping political and cultural changes wrought by technological advances and global warming." Diane Samuels, writing in the Guardian, maintained that there is "much to chew on" in the novel, noting that the book is "brimming with ideas" and that the future pictured is "engagingly realistic." A Publishers Weekly contributor considered Useful Idiots a "cerebral, complex political tale" and concluded:"Intelligent and original, Mark's novel explores edgy themes of what defines cultures."
Mark's novel Riding Tycho is set on a world like Earth, but not quite. Demetria, an eleven-year-old resident of High Island, and her family are asked to take on Ianto Morgan, a Political. Politicals are prisoners who are not dangerous enough to be exiled from High Island and sent to Low Island, a place from which no one escapes. While Ianto might not be dangerous, many of his ideas are, and they run contrary to thoughts Demetria has always assumed to be true about her life. "What is remarkable about this story is the way Mark achieves her effects," wrote Adèle Geras in her Guardian review. She continued, "You are never told. You are shown, and in the most economical way possible." Though dealing with themes that would normally fit into the sciencefiction genre, Geras commented that the book does not read like science fiction, and concluded that Riding Tycho "is a book that shouldn't be missed."
Mark's power of observation is also evident in her short fiction. Her story collections, which include Nothing to Be Afraid Of, Hairs in the Palm of the Hand, and Feet, are considered to be among the best examples of her work. In a Horn Book article, Mark described the dif-ferences between writing stories and novels: "I much prefer writing short stories. I have to explain this to schoolchildren. They think I like writing short stories because short stories are quickly done and therefore easy…. In fact, writing short stories is harder than writing novels. You can't get away with anything in a short story…. It is said that in a novel every chapter must count; in a short story every sentence must count." Also writing in Horn Book, Aidan Chambers noted that Nothing to Be Afraid Of "indicated just how appropriate the [short story] form is for [Mark's] talents. The collection is funny, uncomfortably accurate in its dialogue and in the persuasiveness of its narrative situations, and written throughout with the combination of an unflinchingly sharp eye for human foible and a detached sympathy for the underdog … that makes fiction … more potent than real life for the observing reader."
Reviewing the collection Hairs in the Palm of the Hand, Philip wrote in the Times Educational Supplement that "Mark is living proof that the best writing for children can also be the most popular." Philip felt that there is nothing in these stories "to bore, to confuse or patronize the young…. They are hilariously funny, meticulously observed, shaped with mature skill in economical, precise prose." A more recent anthology, God's Story, draws on the Midrash Rabbah and tells tales from the Old Testament, including the story of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, and Moses. "Mark's telling of these old stories is fresh, sometimes funny," noted Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper, "and she manages to give them an air of immediacy that brings them right into the life of modern-day readers." Patricia Pearl Dole, writing in School Library Journal, felt that even though the material is not new, "Mark has filled it with new vigor, insight, and even fun."
Mark is best known in the United States for her picture books for preschoolers. In Fun, Silly Tails, Fun with Mrs. Thumb, The Tale of Tobias, and The Midas Touch, she displays her penchant for detail and humor to the delight of both parents and kids. With Fun, she pokes some of the aforementioned at hyper parents who want their kids to have "fun" with a vengeance. As Sally R. Dow noted in School Library Journal, "This is a consciousness raising book for parents … but one which may hit the mark with many children." Talking vegetables and pacifistic bunnies inform Silly Tails, an "off-beat treasure," according to a writer for Kirkus Reviews. Of that same title, a Publishers Weekly reviwer noted, "Humor with a British accent distinguishes Mark's latest yarn, which drolly explains rabbits' predatory approach to carrots."
Mark tells a rhyming story from a cat's point of view in Fun with Mrs. Thumb, a "little gem," according to Linda Wicher in School Library Journal. Booklist contributor Annie Ayres called it "a treasure in miniature." The Old Testament Apocrypha and Greek myth respectively provide inspiration for The Tale of Tobias and The Midas Touch. In the former, old Tobit is stricken with blindness and sends his son Tobias along with his dog and a companion to collect a family debt. The companion is the angel Raphael in disguise who helps Tobias battle a demon and marry the lovely Sarah as well as providing a cure to Tobit's blindness. Kathy Piehl, writing by School Library Journal, called the picture book "an intriguing interpretation of a little-known but exciting tale."
Mr. Dickens Hits Town introduces young readers to the work of nineteenth-century British novelist Charles Dickens, although the writer himself is portrayed in a less than flattering light. Mark uses an historical visit by Dickens to Montreal, Canada, as the basis for her story. Young Dorothy Perry is incredibly excited that her family is going to host Mr. Dickens, but the Perrys become increasingly less enamored of the author as he begins to take over not only a show being produced by a local theater group, but the Perry household as well. A cross between a picture book and a chapter book, Mr. Dickens Hits Town is "a short novel for Dickens fans and history buffs," according to Carol Ann Wilson in School Library Journal. In a review for Horn Book, Martha V. Parravano commented that "Mark constructs a captivating fiction…. Her language is often laughout-loud delicious."
What Mark does for Charles Dickens in Mr. Dickens Hits Town she does for William Shakespeare in Stratford Boys, a juvenile novel. Imagine Shakespeare as a teenager who, with his friends, make an effort to put on a play for a winter holiday. Because their script is not that good and has parts missing, Will's friend Adrian urges the future Bard to fill in the blanks. The play the boys hope to stage is, technically, illegal, and their thespian efforts manage to get them into one misadventure after another. Adèle Geras, writing for the London Guardian, commented that, "For anyone who does know their Shakespeare, echoes from the plays are scattered everywhere. Anyone who doesn't couldn't wish for a better way to get acquainted with young Will. This is a hugely enjoyable and dazzlingly clever novel."
Whether writing picture books for the very young, novels and easy readers for beginning readers, or more mature tales for the YA audience, Mark "punctuates her stories with plot twists and pungent comments on wide-ranging matters," according to Kathy Piehl writing in Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers. "Her high levels of invention and productivity assure her a place of continuing importance in contemporary fiction for young adults."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, edited by Martha E. Ward, Scarecrow Press (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 11, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Mark, Jan, Thunder and Lightnings, Crowell (New York, NY), 1979.
Painted Desert, Green Shade: Essays on Contemporary Writers of Fiction for Children and Young Adults, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1984, pp. 62-74.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Twentieth-Century Young-Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1989, pp. 420-422.
Booklist, January 1, 1994, Annie Ayers, review of Fun with Mrs. Thumb, p. 833; October 1, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of God's Story, p. 321; September 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, "The Curious Incident of the Genrebending YA Novel," p. 107.
Books for Keeps, November, 1983, Colin Mills, review of The Dead Letter Box, p. 12; March 1984, "Authorgraph No. 25: Jan Mark," pp. 12-13; July, 1995, Gill Roberts, review of Taking the Cat's Way Home, pp. 10-11.
Books in Canada, winter, 2000, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town, p. 34.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1978; October, 1979, Zena Sutherland, review of Under the Autumn Garden, p. 32; June, 1980; April, 1982; July-August, 1984; May, 1985; April, 1986; December, 1996, p. 142; October, 2004, Janice Del Negro, review of Useful Idiots, p. 89.
Canadian Children's Literature, winter, 2001, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town, pp. 65-67.
Canadian Review of Materials, March 17, 2000, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town..
Carousel, summer, 1999, Nick Tucker, review of The Eclipse of the Century, p. 27.
Children's Book Review, October, 1976, Valerie Alderson, review of Thunder and Lightnings, p. 39.
Children's Literature in Education, spring, 1979, Robbie March-Penney, "I Don't Want to Learn Things, I'd Rather Just Find Out: Jan Mark's Thunder and Lightnings," pp. 18-24; summer, 1982, Graham Hammond, review of Thunder and Lightnings, pp. 58-59; winter, 1983.
Growing Point, July, 1982; September, 1982, Margery Fisher, review of The Dead Letter Box, p. 3944; January, 1984, Margery Fisher, review of Handles, pp. 4186-4187; May, 1988, p. 4982; July, 1990, p. 5365.
Guardian (Manchester, England), January 18, 2003, Julia Eccleshare, review of The Ennead; September 13, 2003, Adèle Geras, "Just William"; May 29, 2004, Diane Samuels, "Back from the Future"; May 21, 2005, Adèle Geras, "Worlds Apart."
Horn Book, October, 1978; September-October, 1984, Aidan Chambers, "Letters from England: A Mark of Distinction," pp. 665-670; July-August, 1986; March-April, 1987; January-February, 1988, Jan Mark, "The Short Story," pp. 42-45; January-February, 1997, p. 77; January-February, 1998, pp. 92-93; January, 2000, Martha V. Parravano, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town, p. 79.
Junior Bookshelf, February, 1979, Marcus Crouch, review of The Ennead, pp. 56-57; February, 1993, Marcus Crouch, review of The Snow Maze, p. 22; December, 1994, Marcus Crouch, review of Taking the Cat's Way Home, p. 217.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1986, review of Trouble Half-Way, p. 210; May 1, 1993, p. 601; October 15, 1993, review of Silly Tails, p. 1332; July 15, 2004, review of Useful Idiots, p. 690.
Kliatt, May, 2003, Edna M. Boardman, review of Heathrow Nights, p. 47.
Magpies, July, 1993, Joan Zahnleiter, review of The Snow Maze, p. 28; March, 2001, review of The Lady with Iron Bones, p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, July 28, 1985, Jane Langton, review of Handles, p. 25; July 17, 1988.
Observer (London, England), November 12, 2000, Kit Spring, review of The Eclipse of the Century.
Publishers Weekly, April 15, 1988; April 5, 1993, review of Silly Tails, p. 78; November 15, 1993, p. 81; September 20, 2004, review of Useful Idiots, p. 64.
Quill and Quire, December, 1999, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town, p. 36.
Resource Links, December, 1999, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town, p. 14.
School Librarian, September, 1982, Margery Meek, review of The Dead Letter Box, p. 236; spring, 2000, review of The Midas Touch, p. 19; summer, 2001, re-view of The Lady with Iron Bones, p. 90; winter, 2001, review of King Herla's Ride, p. 201; autumn, 2003, review of Something in the Air, p. 158; winter, 2003, review of Stratford Boys, p. 212; spring, 2004, Jan Cooper, "Planimal Magic," p. 24; autumn, 2004, Robert Dunbar, review of Useful Idiots, p. 165.
School Library Journal, May, 1986, Sylvia S. Marantz, review of Trouble Half-Way, p. 95; January, 1989, Sally R. Dow, review of Fun, p. 65; September, 1993, p. 216; March, 1994, Linda Wicher, review of Fun with Mrs. Thumb, pp. 204-205; October, 1996, Kathy Piehl, review of The Tale of Tobias, p. 115; January, 1998, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of God's Story, p. 127; March, 2000, Carol Ann Wilson, review of Mr. Dickens Hits Town, p. 240; January, 2003, review of Heathrow Nights, p. 78; November, 2004, Anna M. Nelson, review of Useful Idiots, p. 150.
Times Educational Supplement, February 3, 1978, Jonathan Croall, "Coping with Adults," p. 36; August 7, 1981, Neil Philip, "Don't Pander, Don't Patronize," p. 17; June 3, 1983, Neil Philip, "Read Mark, Learn," p. 37; January 13, 1984, John Rowe Townsend, "Nick-names," p. 38; October 23, 1992, p. 12; November 4, 1994, p. 16; December 5, 1997, p. 17; January 9, 1998, p. 17.
Use of English, spring, 1982, Winifred Whitehead, "Jan Mark," pp. 32-39.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2004, review of Useful Idiots, p. 408.
Washington Post Book World, October 24, 2004, Elizabeth Ward, review of Useful Idiots, p. 11.