12 minute read

Jan Andrews (1942–) Biography

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

Born 1942, in Shoreham-by-the-Sea, Sussex, England; immigrated to Canada, 1963; became Canadian citizen, 1971; divorced; Education: University of Reading, B.A. (with honors), 1963; University of Saskatchewan, M.A. (English), 1969; attended Carson Grove Language Centre, 1975. Hobbies and other interests: Canoeing, kayaking, cross-country skiing, gardening, rock climbing.


Writer, storyteller, and editor. CFQC-Radio, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, copywriter, 1963; Murray Memorial Library, Saskatoon, library clerk, 1965; Office of the Secretary of State, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, grants officer in citizenship branch, 1972, program officer with native citizens program, 1973, literary projects officer, then writing and publications officer and acting head of academic and cultural resources in Multicultural Directorate, 1976, 1978, 1984; freelance writer, editor, story-Jan Andrewsteller, educator, and organizer and presenter of children's literature workshops, beginning 1977. Counterpoint School (parent-run cooperative), Ottawa, coordinator, 1981, 1984–85; developer of oral history program "Out of Everywhere," Expo '86, 1985–86; Andrews-Cayley Enterprises, Ottawa, founder and partner, beginning 1987. Writer and coordinator for recording A Band of Storytellers, Ottawa, 1985; National Library of Canada, researcher for exhibitions "The Chance to Give," 1986–87, and "The Secret Self," 1988. Programmer for National Gallery of Canada and for Cultures Canada Festival, Ottawa, 1988; MASC (arts education organization), Ottawa, co-founder, 1990; Stories from the Ages, artistic director, 1995—writer-inresidence, Ottawa Public Library, 2000–01; Ottawa Storytellers at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage, artistic director, 2000—visiting fellow to Jane Franklin Hall, Hobart, Tasmania, 2005. Reader, workshop presenter, and performer at schools and at storytelling festivals across Canada.


Writers' Union of Canada, Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada (founding member; national coordinator, 1996, 1997).

Honors Awards

Canada Council grants, 1983, 1987, 1991; Bologna International Children's Book Fair entry, 1985, Best Books for Young Adults designation, School Library Journal, Notable Books selection, American Library Association (ALA), Ruth Schwartz Award shortlist, Canada Council Children's Literature Prize, and Ontario Arts Council honor, all 1986, and Washington State Children's Choice Picture Book Award, 1989, all for Very Last First Time; Ontario Arts Council writers-in-schools grants, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1996; Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton grant, 1991; Governor General's Literary Award shortlist, and Ruth Schwartz Children's Literature Award, both 1990, both for The Auction; Governor General's Literary Award shortlist, 1996, for Keri; Alice Kane Storytelling Award, 2002.



Fresh Fish … and Chips, illustrated by Linda Donnelly, Canadian Women's Educational Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1973.

Ella, an Elephant/ Ella, un elephant, illustrated by Pat Bonn, Tundra Books (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1976.

Very Last First Time, illustrated by Ian Wallace, Groundwood Books (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 1985, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986, published as Eva's Ice Adventure, Methuen (London, England), 1986.

Pumpkin Time, illustrated by Kim LaFave, Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

The Auction, illustrated by Karen Reczuch, Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

Pa's Harvest: A True Story Told by Ephrem Carrier, illustrated by Cybéle Young, Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

Out of the Everywhere: Tales for a New World, illustrated by Simon Ng, Douglas & McIntyre (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

The Twelve Days of Summer, illustrated by Susan Rennick Jolliffe, Orca Book (Custer, WA), 2005.


(Editor) The Dancing Sun: Stories and Poems Celebrating Canadian Children, illustrated by Renée Mansfield, Press Porcepic (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), 1981.

Coming of Age (dramatic montage), produced at National Library of Canada, 1985.

Keri (young-adult novel), Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Winter of Peril: The Newfoundland Diary of Sophie Loveridge ("Dear Canada" series), Scholastic Canada (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including Canadian Children's Annual, Cricket, Ahoy, and language arts publications in Canada and the United States. Contributor, The Canadian Family Tree, Don Mills, 1979.


A British-born author and storyteller who now makes her home in rural eastern Canada, Jan Andrews draws much of her inspiration from the natural world around her. "Most of my writing seems to be very firmly rooted Sharing their universal relevance with young readers, Andrews retells traditional stories from India, Russia, Greece, Finland, and China in her anthology Out of the Everywhere: Tales for a New World. (Illustration by Simon Ng.)in some place or another," Andrews once explained to SATA. "I often wonder whether, if I had not come to North America, I would ever have started writing at all. There is something about the way of the land—its vastness and strength, the space of it—that speaks to me very deeply." The way of the land is an element that runs throughout such picture books as The Auction, Very Last First Time, and The Twelve Days of Summer, as well as in her 1996 young-adult novel Keri and in her "Dear Canada" series installment Winter of Peril: The Newfoundland Diary of Sophie Loveridge. In addition, she addresses the desire of Canadian children for stories that build on regional traditions with the ten-story anthology Out of the Everywhere: Tales for a New World, which melds folk stories from around the world with "the climate and physical features of Canada," according to School Library Journal contributor Wendy Lukehart. Dubbing Andrews' theme of featuring immigrant protagonists a "masterstroke," Horn Book reviewer Nell D. Beram also praised the collection, writing that these immigrant-told tales are "swift and taut" in the telling and "occasionally wink playfully at the reader."

Born in Shoreham-by-Sea, England, in 1942, Andrews earned her bachelor's degree in Great Britain before marrying and moving to Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1963. At first awed by the vast prairies that dominate the landscape of central Canada, she became inspired by the stories she created for her own children to begin writing and researching. Andrews' first children's book, Fresh Fish … and Chips, was published in 1973, followed by the bilingual Ella, an Elephant/Ella, un elephant. Beginning in the mid-1970s, she began working independently as a writer and has also taught and organized workshops focusing on children's literature. Her career as a storyteller with a particular focus on traditional folk material and epic began in 1986.

Andrews' 1985 picture book Very Last First Time—published in England as Eva's Ice Adventure—focuses on Eva Padlyat, a young Inuit girl, as she makes her first solo trip under the ice that covers Canada's Ungava Bay during the winter months, there to collect mussels that scatter across the ocean floor during low tide. As taught by her family, she lowers herself through a hole cut through the thick ice into the bone-chilling darkness below, a method of food-gathering that, while a tradition of the Inuit of the region, is also dangerous. The mussel-gatherer must carry a candle at all times in order to see beneath the thick crust of ice; he or she also has to be cautious enough to be prepared to quickly exit back through the hole to the ice's surface before the frigid waters return.

Lucy Young Clem, in her review for School Library Journal, called Very First Last Time "well developed, with just the right amount of suspense" and "an intriguing view of a little-known way of life." Clem's praise was echoed by other reviewers, including Mary Ellen Binder. "Children find it easy to identify with Eva's changing emotions as she moves from excited anticipation, through happiness and satisfaction as she completes her task, the terror of being alone in the darkness under the ice, and finally to the relief of finding herself back with her mother again," noted Binder in her review for Canadian Children's Literature. New York Times Book Review contributor Selma G. Lanes lauded Andrews' work as "the very model of what a factual picture book can be." As Lanes added: "How lean the prose, like that of a fable, and how artfully its well-chosen words hold the reader in thrall."

The Auction concerns a young boy's apprehension upon discovering that his grandfather is selling the family's farm. Gran has died and the farm is too much for one A young Eskimo girl learns the skills involved in the dangerous traditions of fishing below the ice at low tide in the picture book Very Last First Time. (Illustration by Ian Wallace.)person to keep up. Coming to terms with the loss of the beloved property, Todd spends the night before the auction with Gramps, indulging in happy memories, goodbye tears, and a few of the remaining homemade pickles Gran had put up the year before. By the end of the evening the pair has filled the auction site with scarecrows, a playful activity that transforms a sad occasion into a new memory that both will be able to recall with happiness. While Quill & Quire contributor Christtine Fondse noted that the "slow pace" of The Auction might discourage some young solo readers, she added that most "will enjoy sharing its nostalgic look at the past with a discerning adult."

Another boy growing up during a family's hard times is the focus of Pa's Harvest: A True Story Told by Ephrem Carrier. In this story, based on the recollections of coauthor Ephrem Carrier, a boy describes growing up in a farm family during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when money was tight but food was fortunately plentiful. In School Library Journal Lee Bock praised the book as "a metaphor of the sustaining love" that helps close-knit families survive "in good times and bad," while also noting that Cybéle Young's illustrations enhance "the nostalgic tone of the story and its simple truth."

Andrews addresses an older readership with Keri, a "spare, powerful story of a single weekend in the life of an adolescent Newfoundland girl," according to Horn Book critic Sarah Ellis. The daughter of a fisherman who has been forced to take a job away from his boats after the region's fish supply is depleted due to generations of overfishing, Keri fears the impending loss of her family's stability. The thirteen year old's worries are quickly compounded by the death of her beloved Gran. Keri's growing insecurity, anger, and resentment find a focus in her mother, and soon the girl has alienated herself from everyone in her family except her younger brother, Grae. Ultimately, a beached whale discovered during a morning walk draws Keri out of her self and prompts her to heroism in her efforts to save the animal from death. Andrews draws her young-adult novel to a conclusion in a somewhat un-conventional manner, but despite a tragic ending the protagonist is redeemed by story's end.

"Keri is not about saving a whale," noted Ellis. "It is about an encounter with grandeur, an encounter from which one cannot emerge unchanged." Julie Bergwerff agreed in Books in Canada, adding praise for the author's spare style and the novel's realistic outcome, an outcome reflected by nature. "There is a true sense of "wordscaping" in all of Jan Andrews's books," explained Bergwerff, "words and language reflect and grow out of the landscape in her work…. Keri's landscape is harsh, spare, and tough, and the novel's prose echoes this ruggedness."

"I write for young people because I can't seem to help it," Andrews once told SATA. Although admitting to a "passionate interest in adult life," stories about young In Pa's Harvest a young boy raised on a potato farm during the Great Depression learns how to deal with both survival and setbacks through the example of his hard-working father. (Illustration by Cybéle Young.)people and nature continue to dominate her imagination. As a co-founder of Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada, Andrews also performs before audiences. "I find that, as a storyteller, it is the old traditional folk and fairy tales that interest me the most," she explained. "They seem to carry the age-old wisdoms within them and yet speak very directly to us as we struggle with our problems today. Both storytelling and writing have brought travel to distant locations and that has meant new friends. Storytellers particuarly like to gather Perhaps that's part of the reason I organized twenty tellers and fifteen listeners to get together and tell Homer's Odyssey from beginning to end at my home one summer weekend. The telling took fourteen hours, but nobody wanted to miss a word.

"The Odyssey was followed by The Iliad and the great Indian epic The Mahabharata in other years. My organizational work has become another lifetime constant. I am the artistic director for two storytelling series and I find choosing material and tellers wonderfully stimulating. I am less enthusiastic about fundraising and promotion, but see the necessity for those as well. I am also director of Storytellers of Canada's StorySave project for recording the voices of elders from the Canadian storytelling community for audio Web site and on CDs. Some of the results of this work can be found at WWW.StorySave.com.

"I cannot imagine not telling stories, not writing, not giving workshops and organizing events to help others who want to do the same," Andrews once admitted to SATA. But she also makes an effort to balance her intellectual pursuits with those of a more athletic nature. "I … know … that I need physical as well as mental activity. Apart from anything else, moving my body helps to move the writing along whenever it gets stuck. Perhaps that's why I've recently added rock climbing to my hobbies. I love the challenge of it. In 2005 I spent three months in Tasmania. I was working on a novel but I made sure I got in lots of bushwalking.

"Do I like being a storyteller and a writer? I love it, but not every day. All jobs have their frustrations and mine is no exception. Each book is a voyage of discovery; each has its times of struggle. Maybe that's why I like it. Maybe it's the hardest thing I know how to do."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, edited by Sally Holmes Holtze, H.W. Wilson (New York, NY), 1989.


Booklist, June 15, 1986, p. 1537.

Books in Canada, October, 1997, Julie Bergwerff, review of Keri.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1991, p. 135.

Canadian Children's Literature, number 45, 1987, Mary Ellen Binder, review of Very Last First Time, pp. 82-86; number 64, 1991, p. 92; winter, 1997, pp. 74-76.

Canadian Review of Materials, May, 1986, review of Very Last First Time, p. 134; January, 1991, p. 25; March, 1991, Kay Kerman, review of The Auction.

Children's Literature in Education, September, 1993, pp. 226-227.

Growing Point, July, 1986, p. 4657.

Horn Book, September-October, 1996, Sarah Ellis, review of Keri, pp. 662-663; September, 2001, Nell D. Beram, review of Out of the Everywhere: Tales for a New World, p. 599.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1986, p. 137.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1991, p. 542.

New York Times Book Review, June 15, 1986, Selma G. Lanes, review of Very Last First Time, p. 38.

Quill & Quire, December, 1985, p. 24; November, 1990, p. 12; December, 1990, Christtine Fondse, review of The Auction, p. 18; May, 1996, p. 33.

School Library Journal, May, 1986, Lucy Young Clem, review of Very Last First Time, p. 67; May, 1991, p. 74; February, 2001, Lee Bock, review of Pa's Harvest: A True Story Told by Ephrem Carrier, p. 109; September, 2001, Wendy Lukehart, review of Out of the Everywhere, p. 237; June, 2004, Rosalyn Pierini, review of The Twelve Days of Summer, p. 102.


Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers Web site, http://www.canscaip.org/ (January 2, 2006), "Jan Andrews."

Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada Web site, http://www.sc-cc.com/ (March 26, 2006), "Jan Andrews."

Storytellers School of Toronto Web site, http://www.storytellingtoronto.org/ (March 26, 2006), "Jan Andrews."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) Biography