Natalie Kinsey-Warnock (1956–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1956, in Newport, VT; Education: Johnson State College, B.A. (art and athletic training), 1978. Religion: Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Running, cross-country skiing, windsurfing, roller-blading, kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, bird watching, painting, playing bagpipes and fiddle, rescuing abused animals, traveling with family in Scotland.
Agent—Gina Maccoby Agency, P.O. Box 60, Chappaqua, NY 10514.
Writer. University of Vermont Extension Service, Newport, energy auditor, 1980–85; Craftsbury Sports Center, Craftsbury, VT, elderhostel director and cross-country ski instructor, 1987–91. Albany Library trustee, 1988–90; leader of East Craftsbury Recreation Program, 1983–2000; elder of East Craftsbury Presbyterian Church, 1989–. Member, Catamount Pipe Band, 1999–
American Library Association Notable Book citation, 1989, New York Library's 100 Best Books citation, 1989, and Joan Fassler Memorial Book Award, Association for Children's Health, 1991, all for The Canada Geese Quilt; American Booksellers Pick-of-the-List citation, 1991, for The Night the Bells Rang; The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar and The Night the Bells Rang selected as Children's Books of the Year by Bank Street College; Children's Choice Award, International Reading Association/Children's Book Council, 1993, for The Bear That Heard Crying; Smithsonian Notable Books for Children Award, 1996, for The Fiddler of the Northern Lights, and 1997, for The Summer of Stanley; Award for Children's Books, New England Booksellers Association; Vermont Humanities Council Vermont Reads selection, 2006, for As Long as There Are Mountains.
The Canada Geese Quilt, illustrated by Leslie W. Bowman, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The Night the Bells Rang, illustrated by Leslie W. Bowman, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Sweet Memories Still, illustrated by Laurie Harden, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1997.
As Long as There Are Mountains, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1997.
In the Language of Loons, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1998.
If Wishes Were Horses, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
What Emma Remembers, illustrated by Kathleen Kolb, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 2001.
A Farm of Her Own, illustrated by Kathleen Kolb, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
Lumber Camp Library, illustrated by James Bernardin, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
A Doctor like Papa, illustrated by James Bernardin, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Gifts from the Sea, illustrated by Judy Pedersen, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar, illustrated by Ted Rand, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Wilderness Cat, illustrated by Mark Graham, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1992.
When Spring Comes, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
The Bear That Heard Crying, illustrated by Ted Rand, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1993.
On a Starry Night, illustrated by David McPhail, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Fiddler of the Northern Lights, illustrated by Leslie W. Bowman, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Summer of Stanley, illustrated by Donald Gates, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1997.
From Dawn till Dusk, illustrated by Mary Azarian, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
A Christmas like Helen's, illustrated by Mary Azarian, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Nora's Ark, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
The Canada Geese Quilt was adapted for audio cassette, Recorded Books, 1998.
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock was born, raised, and still lives in Vermont, a fact that is reflected in almost all of her picture books and juvenile novels. Kinsey-Warnock tells warm stories of rural families and country home truths, coming-of-age tales, and epiphanies that involve the natural world and the close and loving sphere of families and best friends. In novels such as The Canada Geese Quilt, The Night the Bells Rang, Sweet Memories Still, and the heavily autobiographical As Long as There Are Mountains, the Vermont writer places stories in history and near-history, recreating the flavor of bygone times and scenes. Her picture books, such as The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar, Wilderness Cat, When Spring Comes, The Bear That Heard Crying, and The Summer of Stanley, often feature animals in realistic ways, another favorite Kinsey-Warnock motif.
"My Scottish ancestors settled here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont almost two hundred years ago," Kinsey-Warnock once told SATA. "It is this land that they settled—where I grew up and still live—that means so much to me and provides the setting for almost all of my stories. I feel a part of this hill country and I'm grateful to the legacy these ancestors passed down. I grew up on a dairy farm, along with a sister and three
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brothers. This fostered a strong connection to the land, a sense of nurturing and caring for the earth. My father was a baseball and track star before he became a farmer and passed on both his love of sports and of history to us, while my mother, a former teacher, instilled in us her insatiable appetite for books and words. It is because of her that my brother Leland and I are writers."
Kinsey-Warnock married while still in college and then went on to graduate from Johnson State College with a B.A. in both art and athletic training, twin passions. She held various jobs, including a position as a cross-country ski instructor, until the time she penned her first children's book and decided that she had finally found her career. "My first children's book, The Canada Geese Quilt, grew out of my love and admiration for my grandmother and a special quilt we made together. My grandmother began quilting when she was in her sixties, and over the next fifteen years she made 250 quilts. I designed about twenty of the quilts, most of them of birds, wild flowers, and starry skies, including one of Canada geese which inspired the book. My grandmother died in February, 1991, at age eighty-nine."
The Canada Geese Quilt tells the story of ten-year-old Ariel, who loves the Vermont farm where she lives with her parents and grandmother. Ariel is fearful that her life will change for the worse when a new baby is born and her grandmother then suffers a stroke and seems unable to recover. Finally, Ariel combines her grandmother's skill at quilt-making and her artistic abilities to make a very special quilt, crafting a gift for the new baby that also makes her grandmother want to join the living once again. As a Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "In one gorgeous, slim volume, Kinsey-Warnock tells a story of a particular time, from spring to fall, in a 10-year-old's life…. Kinsey-Warnock's language is simple and direct as it conveys both the loving relationship between the old woman and the girl, and the girl's love of the land." An American Library Association Notable Book, The Canada Geese Quilt set Kinsey-Warnock's career off on the right foot.
"Many of my books come from family stories," Kinsey-Warnock once told SATA. "My sister Helen is the family genealogist, and I have often joined her in reading town histories and walking old cemeteries. Most of my stories take place before I was born; I enjoy putting my characters into time periods I'm interested in. I guess I feel that in some small way I get to live in that time period, at least while I'm writing the story."
With The Night the Bells Rang, Kinsey-Warnock pushes the clocks back to 1918, and a nation that still views World War I as a European war. For young Mason, who lives on a farm in rural Vermont, the war is closer to home in the shape of an older bully, Aden Cutler. Mason wishes for Aden's death, and gets his wish when Aden enlists and goes to war, never to return. Thereafter, Mason must deal with his guilt feelings over this incident, as well as come to terms with his younger
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brother. Horn Book critic Ellen Fader, in her review of The Night the Bells Rang, called attention to details of farm life, such as maple sugaring and birthing a foal, which "realistically evoke life in another time and place." Fader concluded, "This quiet, affecting coming-of-age story, marked by its fluid, graceful prose, is a natural for reading aloud in classrooms."
Kinsey-Warnock returns to an intergenerational theme with a grandmother who figures prominently in Sweet Memories Still. In this chapter book, Shelby is initially put off by having to spend time with her ailing grandmother, but gradually understands that the older woman has much to teach her. Her grandmother's gift to her on her birthday, an old box camera, does little to cement Shelby's love for the woman, but ultimately the camera becomes a metaphor for the stories of her childhood that Grandmother shares with Shelby. Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan felt that while its author tries to take on too much for a chapter book, the story is "written with skill and sensitivity" and "the narrative is more vivid than many longer novels written for children." A Publishers Weekly critic noted that Kinsey-Warnock "continues to show a gentle touch in peeling back the small layers of life to reveal simple epiphanies."
"As Long as There Are Mountains is my longest and most autobiographical book," Kinsey-Warnock explained. "It centers on twelve-year-old Iris Anderson and her family on their northern Vermont farm in 1956. Her father wants to pass on the farm to Iris's brother, who wants to be a writer instead. Then her father loses his leg, and the farm must be sold unless her brother can be persuaded to give up his dream and come home." Reviewing the novel in Booklist, Hazel Rochman concluded: "Most moving is Iris' quiet, lyrical, first-person narrative, which expresses her closeness to the land and her sense of freedom in taking care of a farm." Writing in School Library Journal, Carol Schene remarked that the novel "is a powerful and beautifully written story of love and determination set during the 1950s." As Schene went on to note, Kinsey-Warnock "masterfully captures the gamut of Iris's feelings from passion for the land and compassion for a classmate whose family is homeless." A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented that "the profound pleasure of living on a farm … pervades this story of a Vermont farm family."
The summer of 1969 is the setting for 1998's In the Language of Loons, the story of young Arlis, who spends the months with his grandparents in Vermont and learns some home truths about responsibility that he takes back home with him in the fall. Arlis's grandfather teaches the boy about nature and also encourages his participation in cross-country running. "This is a touching and poignant story of a boy starting on his journey to manhood," reflected Arwen Marshall in a School Library Journal review. "The emotions and relationships are the true driving force of this story, and they are timeless."
Kinsey-Warnock's chapter book If Wishes Were Horses is set in an earlier period of American history: the Great
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Depression of the 1930s. Lily's greatest desire is to have a horse, but due to her sister Emily's illness, all of the family's money goes into keeping Emily well. As Emily's condition worsens, however, Lily has to decide whether to put her own desires or her family first. Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, considered the writing in the novel to be uneven, noting that readers find "beautifully articulated scenes alternating with melodrama." While School Library Journal reviewer Corrine Camarata noted that the plot lacks "subtlety," "the first-person narrative flows gracefully between the present and the recent past." Camarata also complimented the growth Lily experiences in the book, ultimately becoming more caring toward others. Family is also the focus of A Farm of Her Own. Emma, a ten-year-old girl, spends a summer with her aunt and uncle on their farm, which she grows to love. Although her aunt and uncle cannot keep the farm and eventually have to sell it, when Emma grows up she is able to buy the property back for her family. Lee Bock, writing for School Library Journal, found the novel's text "is poetic, rhythmically listing joyous details" of life on the farm and the people in Emma's life. Booklist reviewer Denise Wilms considered the tale a "sweet, sturdy story."
Lumber Camp Library, A Doctor like Papa, and Gifts from the Sea all feature girls growing up to make choices that turn them from children into responsible young women. In Lumber Camp Library, set in the early 1900s, Ruby longs to be a teacher, but when her father, a lumberjack, is killed in an accident, Ruby has to stay home and help take care of the family. At the lumber camp, however, she discovers she can be true to her calling by teaching the lumberjacks to learn how to read. "This spare and moving chapter book will hold readers from the first page," assured Kristen Oravec in her School Library Journal review.
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In A Doctor like Papa, set in 1918, Margaret wants to become a doctor, even though she is told that being a doctor is not a woman's job. In spite of this, she accompanies her father, a doctor, and acts as his assistant. When she finds a child alone after his family has all died from the flu, it takes all of her skills to keep the child from dying, too. "Young readers will be engrossed," promised a Kirkus Reviews contributor. JoAnn Jonas, in School Library Journal, commented: "Good suspense and believable characters are the hallmarks of this short but well-written story." Based on a true story, Gifts from the Sea is also set in the early 1900s. It tells the story of Quila, whose family keeps a lighthouse on an island. When Quila's mother dies, she and her father have difficulty coming to terms with their loss, until a new baby washes up on their island, bound between two mattresses, and helps the grieving process. But when a woman claiming to be the child's aunt shows up, Quila tries something desperate to keep her family together. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that readers will identify with "Quila's sturdy independence and resilience," and commented on the author's "emphasis on warmth and family."
"My interests are varied—athletics, nature, art and writing—but all of them are rooted to this area where I live," Kinsey-Warnock once told SATA. "Sports are an integral part of my life: I run five to ten miles each morning, cross-country ski, mountain bike, roller blade, swim, play tennis, and I played field hockey all across the country for thirteen years. I love the outdoors, and study and sketch birds and wild flowers, which are most often the subjects of my watercolor paintings…. My husband, Tom,… shares my love of the land, sports and animals; we have three horses, seven dogs and seven cats. I always wished I could open a shelter for animals—and I guess I have!"
Many of Kinsey-Warnock's picture books for children display this love for animals. The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar recounts the severe winter of 1903 during which a young girl lives on a small island with her father, who works for the Coast Guard. They share the island with ten wild horses, and the young girl feeds these horses when the cold becomes such that the animals cannot find feed. "Kinsey-Warnock's appealing, poetic text is a stirring account of the struggle between people and the forces of nature," declared a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.
A heroic cat follows the family that left it from Vermont to Canada in Wilderness Cat, a true family story set in the late 1700s. "A fine book for cat lovers," wrote Horn Book contributor Ann A. Flowers. In When Spring Comes a little girl and her dog gaze out the window at early spring in Vermont, imagining the many activities of the season: maple sugaring, planting, witnessing the return of the Canada geese. This picture book is a "convincing portrait of a close-knit farm family living decades ago," Booklist contributor Deborah Abbott wrote.
"The Bear That Heard Crying, is a collaboration between my sister and me and is the true story of our great-great-great-great-aunt Sarah Whitcher," Kinsey-Warnock once explained to SATA. "In 1783, when she was three years old, she was lost in the woods for four days and was found and protected by a bear." The 1993 tale was dubbed "an unusually appealing slice of Americana" by a Kirkus Reviews critic. "Plainly told, this sturdy tale exudes comfort," concluded a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Another animal figures in The Summer of Stanley: a troublesome goat that comes to the rescue.
Overcoming a child's fear of the dark and a love of fanciful stories form the storylines of On a Starry Night and The Fiddler of the Northern Lights respectively. Of the former title, Shirley Wilton wrote in School Library Journal that the book is "a gentle story that celebrates a family's enveloping warmth." Quebec is the setting for The Fiddler of the Northern Lights, in which a grandfather's stories of the mythical fiddler entertain eight-year-old Henry. Kinsey-Warnock's tale of the Aurora Borealis "delivers the anticipated magic," according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Kinsey-Warnock and Mary Azarian team up for a pair of picture books about Vermont country life: From Dawn till Dusk and A Christmas like Helen's. In From Dawn till Dusk a group of siblings talk about the tasks they undertake from season to season, such as sugaring, finding new kittens, or helping neighbors get their tractors unstuck from the mud. Kinsey-Warnock and Azarian "remain on this side of nostalgia by grounding the story in … specific details," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor. "It should be eye-opening to readers for whom life on the farm is quite different" from their own lives, commented Margaret Bush in School Library Journal. Commenting on the narrative pattern showing both the chores the children complete and the rewards for getting them done, Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper noted that "the author's memories are not idealized," but are grounded in real life. A Christmas like Helen's focuses on Christmas traditions of a young girl growing up in Vermont in the days before cars and electricity reached the area. "The language is lovely," praised Ilene Cooper for Booklist, the critic concluding that the book is "warm and welcoming." A Kirkus Reviews contributor cited the author for her "poetic, understated text."
Nora's Ark relates another Vermont tale; set in 1927, the picture book tells how Wren and her family take in many of their neighbors and local livestock during the flood of 1927. Before the flood, Wren's grandmother felt that the new house on the hill was a luxury she did not need—but it proved to be the only house to stay clear of the water, Wren's grandmother came to appreciate her home. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the tale "a well-told adventure," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Kinsey-Warnock "blends history, drama, and good old-fashioned storytelling in a picture book that makes these true events relevant to young readers." In School Library Journal, Kathy Piehl wrote that Nora's Ark "offers reassurance that lives can be rebuilt with the support of family and friends."
While Kinsey-Warnock takes inspiration from her native Vermont and from the world of nature surrounding her, she blends these elements with small and touching stories that reflect individual human truths. She once concluded for SATA: "I've had such strong role models in my life—especially strong, enduring women have influenced me: women like my grandmother, Helen Urie Rowell, my great-aunt Ada Urie (who was featured in a book titled Enduring Women by Diane Koos Gentry), and down to my mother. I want my books to portray strong female characters, and I hope they honor these women."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, August, 1992, p. 2018; March 1, 1993, Deborah Abbott, review of When Spring Comes, p. 1236; August, 1993, p. 2070; November 15, 1996, p. 594; February 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Sweet Memories Still, p. 1023; August, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of As Long as There Are Mountains, p. 1901; November 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of If Wishes Were Horses, p. 642; July, 2001, Denise Wilms, review of A Farm of Her Own, p. 2019; April 1, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of A Doctor like Papa, p. 1328; April 15, 2002, Kay Weisman, review of Lumber Camp Library, p. 1401; November 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of From Dawn till Dusk, p. 602; June 1, 2003, Kathleen Odean, review of Gifts from the Sea, p. 1777; October 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of A Christmas like Helen's, p. 405.
Horn Book, January-February, 1992, Ellen Fader, review of The Night the Bells Rang, pp. 71-72; March-April, 1993, Ann A. Flowers, review of Wilderness Cat, p. 197; July-August, 1994, p. 441; November-December, 1998, p. 766; July-August, 2005, Robin Smith, review of Nora's Ark, p. 452.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1993, review of The Bear That Heard Crying, p. 1003; November 15, 1996, pp. 1670-1671; May 1, 1997, p. 723; June 1, 1997, review of As Long as There Are Mountains, p. 875; December 1, 1997, pp. 1776-1777; April 15, 2002, reviews of Lumber Camp Library and A Doctor like Papa, p. 572; September 1, 2002, review of From Dawn till Dusk, p. 1312; June 1, 2003, review of Gifts from the Sea, p. 806; November 1, 2004, review of A Christmas like Helen's, p. 1051; June 15, 2005, review of Nora's Ark, p. 684.
Publishers Weekly, July 28, 1989, review of The Canada Geese Quilt, p. 222; October 26, 1990, review of The Wild Horses of Sweetbriar, p. 67; October 12, 1992, p. 78; February 1, 1993, p. 95; September 6, 1993, review of The Bear That Heard Crying, p. 95; February 21, 1994, p. 252; November 11, 1996, review of The Fiddler of the Northern Lights, p. 74; December 30, 1996, review of Sweet Memories Still, p. 67; April 21, 1997, p. 71; September 2, 2002, review of From Dawn till Dusk, p. 76; May 12, 2003, review of Gifts from the Sea, p. 68; September 27, 2004, review of A Christmas like Helen's, p. 61; August 29, 2005, review of Nora's Ark, p. 55.
School Library Journal, February, 1992, p. 86; October, 1992, p. 90; April, 1993, p. 98; May, 1994, Shirley Wilton, review of On a Starry Night, p. 96; November, 1996, p. 87; June, 1997, p. 94; August, 1997, Carol Schene, review of As Long as There Are Mountains, p. 157; November, 1998, Stephanie Bange, review of The Canada Geese Quilt, p. 69; March, 1998, Arwen Marshall, review of In the Language of Loons, p. 214; December, 2000, Corrine Camarata, review of If Wishes Were Horses, p. 146; June, 2001, Lee Bock, review of A Farm of Her Own, p. 122; May, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Lumber Camp Library, p. 118; July, 2002, JoAnn Jonas, review of A Doctor like Papa, p. 94; October, 2002, Margaret Bush, review of From Dawn till Dusk, p. 115; June, 2003, review of Gifts from the Sea, p. 144; September, 2005, Kathy Piehl, review of Nora's Ark, p. 175.
Natalie Kinsey-Warnock Home Page, http://www.kinsey-warnock.com (January 22, 2006).