Shirley Climo (1928–) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1928, in Cleveland, OH; Education: Attended DePauw University, 1946–49. Politics: "Variable." Religion: Protestant.
WGAR-Radio, Cleveland, OH, scriptwriter for weekly juvenile series. "Fairytale Theatre," 1949–53; freelance writer, 1976–. President, Los Altos Morning Forum, 1971–73.
Authors Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
(Reteller) Piskies, Spriggans, and Other Magical Beings: Tales from the Droll-Teller (juvenile), illustrated by Joyce Audy dos Santos, Crowell (New York, NY), 1981.
The Cobweb Christmas (picture book), illustrated by Joe Lasker, Crowell (New York, NY), 1982, published with illustrations by Jane Manning as Cobweb Christmas, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Gopher, Tanker, and the Admiral (juvenile), illustrated by Eileen McKeating, Crowell (New York, NY), 1984.
Someone Saw a Spider (juvenile) illustrated by Dirk Zimmer, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
A Month of Seven Days (juvenile historical novel), Crowell (New York, NY), 1987.
King of the Birds (picture book), illustrated by Ruth Heller, Harper (New York, NY), 1988.
The Egyptian Cinderella (picture book), illustrated by Ruth Heller, Crowell (New York, NY), 1989.
T. J.'s Ghost (juvenile), Crowell (New York, NY), 1989.
City! New York (juvenile history), photographs by George Ancona, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
City! San Francisco (juvenile history), photographs by George Ancona, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
City! Washington, D.C. (juvenile history), photographs by George Ancona, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.
The Match between the Winds (picture book), illustrated by Roni Shepherd, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.
The Korean Cinderella (picture book), illustrated by Ruth Heller, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
Stolen Thunder (picture book), illustrated by Alexander Koshkin, Clarion (New York, NY), 1994.
The Little Red Ant and the Big Crumb (picture book), illustrated by Francisco X. Mora, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.
Atalanta's Race (picture book), illustrated by Alexander Koshkin, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.
The Irish Cinderlad (picture book), illustrated by Loretta Krupinski, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
(Collector and reteller) A Treasury of Princesses: Princess Tales from around the World, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996, published as A Pride of Princesses: Princess Tales from around the World, illustrated by Angelo Tillery, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
(Collector and reteller) A Treasury of Mermaids: Mermaid Tales from around the World, illustrated by Jean and Mou-sien Tseng, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997, published as A Serenade of Mermaids: Mermaid Tales from around the World, illustrated by Lisa Falkenstern, HarperTrophy (New York, NY), 1999.
(Reteller) Magic and Mischief: Tales from Cornwall, illustrated by Anthony Bacon Venti, Clarion (New York, NY), 1999.
The Persian Cinderella (picture book), illustrated by Robert Florczak, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Monkey Business (picture book), illustrated by Erik Brooks, Holt (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to books, including Sylvia K. Burack, editor, Writing and Selling Fillers, Light Verse, and Short Humor, Writer, Inc. (Boston, MA), 1982; contributor to magazines, including Family Weekly, Writer, Cricket, Ranger Rick, and Seventeen, and to newspapers.
Shirley Climo's works are often inspired by traditional folk tales and legends; she has compiled collections of folk tales, retold traditional stories as picture books, and woven mythology into her own original stories. In her first children's story book, Piskies, Spriggans, and Other Magical Beings: Tales from the Droll-Teller, Climo selects and adapts nine Cornish folk tales filled with magical creatures, surrounding the stories with informative introductions and humorous codas that explain the dialect used and the superstitions presented. In a review for the New York Times Book Review, Selma G. Lanes commented on Climo's "lean, no-nonsense prose, which will give her credibility with today's possibly skeptical children." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the collection "a folklore aficionado's paradise."
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For her next project, Climo retells a 300-year-old German legend that explains the tradition of hanging tinsel on Christmas trees. The Cobweb Christmas tells the story of Cristkindel, who takes pity on the cold spiders which have been ejected from a newly cleaned house on Christmas Eve by bringing them inside with him. The spiders cover the Christmas tree in cobwebs which Cristkindel turns to silver and gold. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called The Cobweb Christmas a "pleasant but rather sedate modern example of a 'why' story." Cobweb Christmas was published with new illustrations in 2001.
King of the Birds is another picture book in the "why" genre of children's books. In this work, Climo retells the ancient legend that places the homely wren as king of the birds due to his clever decision to hop aboard an eagle and thereby fly higher and longer than any other bird in the animal kingdom. A Publishers Weekly critic remarked, "Climo has created a lively, elegant version of an ancient legend." Richard Peck, reviewing King of the Birds in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, concluded that the combination of Climo's text and illustrator Ruth Heller's pictures is nearly ideal: "When the birds take wing across a double-page spread, the soul soars." With The Match between the Winds, Climo produces another picture book based on legend that has been praised for its evocative setting and the charm of the author's rendering.
In The Egyptian Cinderella Climo blended ancient Egyptian folklore and fact in the picture-book story of a young Greek slave girl who marries an Egyptian pharaoh with the help of a pair of magic slippers. While some reviewers perceived an element of racism in the tale's depiction of the fair-haired protagonist's triumph over the darker servant girls, most found the story an exotic take on the traditional and much-loved Cinderella tale. Martha Rosen, reviewing this work for School Library Journal, called The Egyptian Cinderella "a stunning combination of fluent prose and exquisitely wrought illustrations. Climo has woven this ancient tale … with clarity and eloquence." Climo has penned several other variations of the "Cinderella" story, including The Korean Cinderella, The Irish Cinderlad, and The Persian Cinderella. Of the last title, a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented, "Historical details in both the verse and illustrations readily transport readers to 15th-century Persia."
For Someone Saw a Spider: Spider Facts and Folktales, Climo retells legends and facts about these creatures, including a bibliography of further sources for the enterprising young reader. Although some reviewers found the book's value to be as a source for storytelling, a Kirkus Reviews critic remarked that Climo's "fact-filled and fun" volume "is to be praised for her sparkling retellings." Using Someone Saw a Spider as a model,
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Climo authored Monkey Business: Stories from around the World. This title includes fourteen tales about monkeys in three regions of the world: Africa and Madagascar, the Americas, and Asia. "While staying true to the originals, she adds engaging details and dialogue," wrote Suzanne Myers Harold of Climo's retellings in School Library Journal. Like the bibliography in Someone Saw a Spider, Monkey Business contains "an extensive, annotated bibliography," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. The stories in the book are complimented by "facts, sayings, and carefully researched illustrations," noted Eliza Ridgeway, reviewing Monkey Business for the Los Altos Town Crier.
With Atalanta's Race, Climo teams up with Alexander Koshkin, the illustrator she worked with in Stolen Thunder, her retelling of a Norse myth. Atalanta's Race introduces young readers to the Greek tale of Atalanta, an athlete raised by bears who refuses to marry a man unless he can beat her in a race. With some help from the goddess Aphrodite, Atalanta meets her true love. Along with her retelling of the myth, Climo includes an afterword "that links the heroine to the modern Olympics," as a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted.
Climo collects stories of princesses and mermaids in her collections A Treasury of Princesses and A Treasury of Mermaids (more recently published in paperback as A Pride of Princesses and A Serenade of Mermaids, respectively). In a review of A Treasury of Mermaids, Booklist critic Karen Morgan praised Climo's "lyrical use of language."
With her collection Magic and Mischief Climo returns to the stories of Cornwall. Like her book Piskies, Spriggans, and Other Magical Beings, Magic and Mischief contains tales of Cornish fairies and creatures, and uses Cornish words and phrases to give readers a sense of setting. "Climo's retellings are fresh and creative," noted Shelle Rosenfeld in her Booklist review.
Beyond her picture books, Climo has also authored a number of novels for middle-grade readers. The first of these novels, Gopher, Tanker, and the Admiral, pairs a young boy nicknamed Gopher with the cranky retired admiral who is his neighbor. Together, the unlikely duo solve the mystery behind the rash of burglaries on their block. A School Library Journal reviewer praised the humorous elements in Climo's short novel, and in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books a contributor remarked: "There's appeal in the bridging of a generation gap."
T.J.'s Ghost is Climo's second mystery for middle-grade readers. Set on the California coast, this story focuses on a young girl who expects a dull time when she stays with her aunt and uncle while her parents vacation in Hawaii. Instead she meets a ghost and helps the spectre find the ring that keeps it linked to the material world. Critics praised the evocative setting of Climo's novel more than its plot, but Margaret Mary Ptacek, reviewing T. J.'s Ghost in the Voice of Youth Advocates concluded: "This isn't a great adventure but a pleasant tale."
A Month of Seven Days is an historical novel for middle-grade readers that is set during the American Civil War. The novel's heroine, twelve-year-old Zoe, and Zoe's mother, are terrified when their home is commandeered by Yankee troops just as Zoe's father is expected home on leave from the Confederate army. Zoe attempts to protect her father by scaring away the superstitious Yankee captain, and in the process learns that even the enemy is human. In Publishers Weekly a contributor stated that Zoe's emerging self-confidence, her teasing of the Northern soldiers, and her perception that her enemies are not monsters but human beings "are just a few of the tantalizing issues that are brought to light but never satisfactorily resolved." Taking a more favorable view, a Kirkus Reviews writer remarked that "Zoe is believable; her anger and bewilderment are well portrayed, as is the experience of being part of an occupied country."
In a departure from fiction, Climo has also published three travel guides for young tourists that are illustrated with photographs by George Ancona. Comprising City! New York, City! San Francisco, and City! Washington, D.C., this series has been commended for its entertainment value as well as for containing suggestions for activities and sights to see in each of the cities featured. Elizabeth S. Watson, reviewing the volume on San Francisco for Horn Book, commented that Climo has "produce[d] a superbly clear picture of the city."
"To be a children's book writer always seemed the most wonderful aspiration in the world to me … and the most natural," Climo once told SATA. "My earliest memory is of being rocked in a creaky wicker carriage while my mother, a children's author, recited her stories. Long before I could read, I'd begun telling my own tales to myself and to anyone else willing to listen." When asked by Los Altos Town Crier interviewer Ridgeway what she finds difficult about the writing life, Climo answered: "having to be a self-starter." Discussing her career as a children's book author in a Writer article, she also noted: "When I talk to fifth-and six-grade students about writing, most of them want to write for adults, even before they've grown up themselves. When I speak to adult groups, most of them want to write for children. I encourage all of them. For while fewer picture books get into print now than a decade or so ago, today's books are better than ever. Editors are still willing to stop, look, and listen to a good picture book."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Atalanta's Race, p. 1494; November 15, 1997, Karen Morgan, review of A Treasury of Mermaids, p. 554; July, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Persian Cinderella, p. 1948; August, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Magic and Mischief, p. 2048.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1982, review of The Cobweb Christmas, p. 23; September, 1984, review of Gopher, Tanker, and the Admiral; March, 1986; October, 1987; February, 1988; October, 1999, review of Magic and Mischief, p. 49.
Horn Book, May-June, 1990, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of City! San Francisco, p. 346; January-February, 1991, p. 94; July-August, 2005, Margaret A. Bush, review of Monkey Business, p. 481.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1985, review of Someone Saw a Spider: Spider Facts and Folktales, p. 1266; November 15, 1987, review of A Month of Seven Days, p. 1625; March 15, 1989, pp. 460-461; May 15, 2005, review of Monkey Business, p. 585.
Los Altos Town Crier, October 19, 2005, Eliza Ridgeway, "Local Author Shirley Climo Visits Linden Tree."
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 27, 1988, Richard Peck, review of King of the Birds.
New York Times Book Review, July 5, 1981, Selma G. Lanes, review of Piskies, Spriggans, and Other Magical Beings: Tales from the Droll-Teller; December 11, 1987, review of A Month of Seven Days, p. 66; January 15, 1988, review of King of the Birds, p. 94; November 12, 1989, p. 50.
Publishers Weekly, March 20, 1981, review of Piskies, Spriggans, and Other Magical Beings: Tales from the Droll-Teller; August 6, 1982, p. 70; September 29, 1989, p. 67; May 10, 1991, p. 256; April 10, 1995, review of Atalanta's Race, p. 62; May 10, 1999, review of A Pride of Princesses, p. 69; June 7, 1999, review of The Persian Cinderella, p. 82; August 23, 1999, review of Magic and Mischief, p. 61; July 3, 2000, review of Atalanta's Race, p. 73; August 27, 2001, review of The Persian Cinderella, p. 87.
School Library Journal, February, 1981; May, 1984, p. 101; December, 1985, review of Gopher, Tanker, and the Admiral, p. 87; December, 1987, p. 84; August, 1988, p. 79; October, 1989, Martha Rosen, review of The Egyptian Cinderella; November, 1989, p. 105; March, 1991; December, 1991; April, 1995, Patricia Lothrop Green, review of Atalanta's Race, p. 140; June, 1999, Tina Hudak, review of A Serenaid of Mermaids and A Pride of Princesses, p. 112; August, 1999, Connie C. Rockman, review of Magic and Mischief, p. 167; March, 2004, Andrew Medlar, review of Atalanta's Race, p. 68; June, 2005, Suzanne Myers Harold, review of Monkey Business, p. 133.
Teacher Librarian, December, 1999, review of The Persian Cinderella, p. 50.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1989, Margaret Mary Ptacek, review of T.J.'s Ghost, p. 156.
Writer, July, 1983, Shirley Climo, "Creating a Picture Book," pp. 18-20, 44.
Humboldt Children's Author Festival Web site, http://www.authorfest.org/ (November 30, 2005), "Shirley Climo."