Virginia L. Kroll (1948–) Biography
Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
(Melrose Cooper, Louisa Fox, Virginia Louisa Kroll)
Born 1948, in Buffalo, NY; Education: Attended State University of New York at Buffalo and Canisius College. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, crafts, friends, pets.
Fifth grade teacher in Buffalo, NY area, 1968–69, 1980–81; Hamburg Memorial Youth Center, Hamburg, NY, recreation assistant, 1978–80. Medaille College, Buffalo, college instructor for Writing for Children course, 1993; Institute of Children's Literature, instructor, 1999–.
American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, 1991, for Wood-Hoopoe Willie; Children's Choice Award, 2004.
Helen the Fish, illustrated by Teri Weidner, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1992.
My Sister, Then and Now, illustrated by Mary Worcester, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 1992.
Masai and I, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Four Winds Press/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
Naomi Knows It's Springtime, illustrated by Jill Kastner, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1993.
Wood-Hoopoe Willie, illustrated by Katherine Roundtree, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1993.
Africa Brothers and Sisters, illustrated by Vanessa French, Four Winds Press/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
A Carp for Kimiko, illustrated by Katherine Roundtree, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1993.
When Will We Be Sisters?, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
I Wanted to Know All about God, illustrated by Debra Reid-Jenkins, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1994.
Beginnings: How Families Come to Be, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1994.
Pink Paper Swans, illustrated by Nancy Clouse, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1994.
Sweet Magnolia, illustrated by Laura Jakes, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1994.
Jaha and Jamil Went down the Hill: An African Mother Goose, illustrated by Katherine Roundtree, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1994.
The Seasons and Someone, illustrated by Tatsuro Kiuchi, Harcourt Brace (New York, NY), 1994.
New Friends, True Friends, Stuck-like-Glue Friends, illustrated by Rose Rosely, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1994.
Fireflies, Peach Pies, and Lullabies, illustrated by Nancy Cote, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
Hats off to Hair!, illustrated by Kay Life, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 1995.
Shelter Folks, illustrated by Jan Naimo Jones, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995.
(Under pseudonym Louisa Fox) Every Monday in the Mailbox, illustrated by Jan Naimo Jones, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1995.
Can You Dance, Dalila?, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.
Christmas Cow, Players Press (Studio City, CA), 1996.
Butterfly Boy, illustrated by Gerardo Suzá n, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.
Hands!, illustrated by Cathryn Falwell, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.
The Making of Angels, illustrated by Victoria Lisi, Spindle Press (Denver, CO), 1997.
With Love, to Earth's Endangered Peoples, illustrated by Roberta Collier-Morales, Dawn (Nevada City, CA), 1998.
Motherlove, illustrated by Lucia Washburn, Dawn (Nevada City, CA), 1998.
Faraway Drums, illustrated by Floyd Cooper, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 1998.
When God Made the Tree, illustrated by Roberta Collier-Morales, Dawn (Nevada City, CA), 1999.
Cat!, illustrated by K. Dyble Thompson, Dawn (Nevada City, CA), 1999.
She Is Born: A Celebration of Daughters, Beyond Words (Hillsboro, OH), 2000.
Flurry's Frozen Tundra, illustrated by Michael S. Maydak, Bear & Co. (Gettysburg, PA), 2001.
Bluffy's Mighty Mountain, illustrated by Michael S. Maydak, Bear & Co. (Gettysburg, PA), 2001.
Kingston's Flowering Forest, illustrated by Michael S. Maydak, Bear & Co. (Gettysburg, PA), 2001.
Girl, You're Amazing, illustrated by Mélisande Potter, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2001.
Especially Heroes, illustrated by Tim Ladwig, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.
Busy, Busy Mouse, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Boy, You're Amazing!, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa, Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2004.
Brianna Breathes Easy: A Story about Asthma, illustrated by Jayoung Cho, Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2005.
Marta and the Manger Straw: A Christmas Tradition from Poland, Zonderkidz (Grand Rapids, MI), 2005.
Forgiving a Friend, illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2005.
Equal, Shmequal, illustrated by Philomena O'Neill, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2005.
Jason Takes Responsibility, illustrated by Nancy Cote, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2005.
Honest Ashley, illustrated by Nancy Cote, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2006.
Really Rabbits, illustrated by Philomena O'Neill, Charlesbridge (Watertown, MA), 2006.
On the Way to Kindergarten, illustrated by Elisabeth Schlossberg, Putnam (New York, NY), 2006.
Ryan Respects, illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2006.
Contributor of more than seventeen hundred articles to periodicals.
UNDER PSEUDONYM MELROSE COOPER
I Got a Family, illustrated by Dale Gottlieb, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1993.
Life Riddles (chapter book), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
I Got Community, illustrated by Dale Gottlieb, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
Life Magic (chapter book), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
Pets!, illustrated by Yumi Heo, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Gettin' through Thursday, illustrated by Nneka Bennett, Lee & Low (New York, NY), 1998.
Virginia L. Kroll, the author of dozens of picture books for young readers as well as hundreds of magazine pieces, has established herself as a versatile and prolific writer since beginning her career in 1992. So plentiful is Kroll's imagination and output that she writes under two pseudonyms as a way of diffusing concern over her immense productivity. Her subject matter ranges from domestic tales of sisters, to multiracial and multicultural topics, to the environment and religion. Unafraid to take chances in her work, Kroll writes from the point of view of young African Americans in Masai and I, Woodhoopoe Willie, Pink Paper Swans, and Faraway Drums and from the point of view of a blind girl in Naomi Knows It's Springtime, a Japanese girl in A Carp for Kimiko, and an Hispanic youth in Butterfly Boy. Writing under the pseudonym Melrose Cooper, Kroll has also penned inspirational stories of family life and overcoming the effects of illness.
As Kroll once told SATA, "All I ever wanted to be is an author. And now that I am one, all I ever want to be is an author. In between the desire and the realized dream, I became a mother. Good thing. My six children and one grandchild give me stories every day. So do the children I visit in schools. There is a story in everyone I meet, everything I encounter, because they induce wonder."
Kroll has written several books dealing with the African-American experience. "Masai and I began as a discussion with my former fifth graders about each other's heritage," Kroll explained. In the book, a young African-American girl learns about the Masai culture in school. Each day she goes home and compares herself to the East African child she is studying. She wonders where a Masai girl would sleep, what she would do in her free time, and what she would wear and eat. Readers learn that while the everyday lives of Americans are different than the everyday lives of the Masai, children are still children, no matter where they live. In a School Library Journal review, Martha Topol called Masai and I "an interesting, richly blended book that connects two different worlds … pointing out similarities and differences."
Woodhoopoe Willie again deals with African heritage, this time looking at the music of that continent. Willie, a young African-American boy who simply cannot sit still, shows a great but undeveloped talent for playing the drums. His continual percussive music-making brings to mind the drums of Africa that his grandfather heard on a trip to his ancestral homeland. Willie finally gets a chance to play these handmade native instruments during a Kwanzaa festival. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that "Kroll's melodic tale conveys the warmth among Willie's loving family as well as the musical legacy of several African peoples," while a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the author's story presents an "effective interweaving of wholesome family dynamics and African heritage in the context of observance of Kwanzaa."
Kroll might be considered an inspiration for many writers since most of her early books were accepted from the so-called "slush pile" of unsolicited manuscripts. Despite the positive response from editors, Kroll has had several negative responses which bothered her. One has been a prejudice some editors have against a white author writing about other cultures. Kroll feels it is foolish to believe a white person is not capable of writing "black material," another's term, not hers. She does not want to write about a suburban middle-class white woman's world. So she writes whatever she has a desire to write.
Featuring a plot characteristic of the author, in Africa Brothers and Sisters an only child complains to his fa-
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ther about not having any brothers or sisters, and his dad responds that he has hundreds of them in Africa. The father and son go on to talk about all these "relatives," providing readers with a basic primer of African cultures. Writing in Booklist review, Quraysh Ali noted that it is "refreshing" to have the often absent black father very present in this title, adding: "This book might unlock the door for many children in search of African heritage and identity, African American or not." Though noticing that some of "the information about the tribes is sometimes sketchy and obtrusive," Roger Sutton, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, found the work to be "a cozy slice-of-life."
Further books dealing with African Americans and presenting a multicultural message are Pink Paper Swans and Faraway Drums. In the former title, Janetta, a young black girl, is fascinated by the origami her neighbor, Mrs. Tsujimoto, crafts to sell in shops. When the neighbor gets arthritis and her livelihood is endangered, Janetta becomes the fingers that create new origami.
Sutton wrote in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that though the text is somewhat long, "kids will enjoy the conversations of these coworkers, an ebullient girl and a gentle elderly woman, as well as the fanciful products of their cooperative occupation." A Publishers Weekly reviewer also praised the story, describing it as "gentle and affecting." In Faraway Drums, Kroll writes about Jamila Jefferson and her younger sister, Zakiya, as they stay home alone for the first time. Noises abound in their urban landscape, frightening the girls, until Jamila remembers a game played by her great-grandmother. She turns the scary sounds of the city and apartment house into those of the friendly drums and handmade musical instruments of Africa. Dawn Amsberry noted in School Library Journal that "images of Africa are subtly woven into the realistic backdrop of the girls' apartment," and recommended the title to parents "in search of picture books about moving to a new home."
More multicultural fare is served up in A Carp for Kimiko and Butterfly Boy. Kimiko wants a carp kite to fly on Children's Day, just like her brother's, but Japanese tradition says that only boys can fly these colorful kites. Kimiko's parents are understanding, however, and the day after the festival Kimiko awakes to find a real carp swimming in the fish tank in her room. Janice Del Negro commented in Booklist that Kroll's story "succeeds" in "relaying its information with a minimum of didacticism and more than a little charm." Susan Middleton, writing in School Library Journal, called the book a "straightforward story that focuses on a Japanese holiday," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed it "a gentle story distinguished by unusual warmth and subtlety."
Butterfly Boy looks at an extremely sympathetic and caring Hispanic boy. Emilio takes care of his wheelchair-bound grandfather and reads to the elderly man about butterflies, even though others in the family feel Grandfather can no longer understand. Del Negro observed in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Kroll's text is touching but crisp as she skillfully balances on the line between sweet and saccharine." Lisa S. Murphy, writing in School Library Journal, called the book a "tender story about a loving Hispanic family," concluding that the "close relationship between grandfather and grandson shines through brightly."
A potpourri of families is presented in Beginnings: How Families Come to Be, with various tales of how six children began their life on Earth. There is a single parent, a Korean family, and an adopted child from South America. "Each vignette features a conversation between children and parents that has a realistic feel," noted Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper. According to Cooper, "the multicultural families represented here show that love has no borders." Kroll has also delved into inspirational tales from a Christian standpoint. I Wanted to Know All about God emphasizes "nature and human relationships," according to Julie Corsaro in Booklist. A multiracial cast plays together on snowy hills and at the beach, finding the answers to their questions about God in nature. A contributor to Publishers Weekly complained that the book is "somewhat treacly," but suggested that it "may appeal to those looking for short, inspirational bedtime reading."
After discovering that some reviewers felt she was writing too many books too fast, Kroll began writing under a pseudonym, choosing one that neither reveals her sex nor hints at her race. The first time she submitted a manuscript under the new name, it was immediately accepted. Publishing as Melrose Cooper, Kroll has written several groups of companion books, including I Got a Family and I Got Community, as well as Life Riddles and Life Magic. The latter two books, novels for middle grade readers, feature members of the same family, focusing on different characters in each title. In Life Riddles, twelve-year-old Janelle wants to be a writer, but family poverty and an absent father prove obstacles to such a goal. In Voice of Youth Advocates, Civia Tuteur called the book a "light, easy to read up-beat novel full of hope, support, and encouragement." Janelle's younger sister, Crystal, takes stage center in Life Magic, dealing with the death of her beloved Uncle Joe from AIDS.
Lighter in tone is the rhyming text of the picture book Pets!, in which a young child searches for a pet at the circus. A critic in Publishers Weekly dubbed the work a "whimsical paean to pets." A writer for Kirkus Reviews called the author's text "joyful" and noted that "there is even a bit of a mystery here: What animal will the top-shaped boy take home from the show?"
Under her own name, Kroll is also the author of two books praising the best qualities of each gender. Girl, You're Amazing! celebrates the qualities and potential of modern girls, while Boy, You're Amazing! gives the same upbeat treatment to boys. While the books are designed for young readers, a Publishers Weekly critic noted in a review of Girl, You're Amazing! that "this whimsical appreciation might address elementary-schoolers, big sisters, and mothers alike." Carolyn Janssen, in School Library Journal, found the book to be "a joyous celebration of today's female" filled with "affirmation and encouragement," while Booklist contributor Linda Perkins commented on the book's "snappy, upbeat rhymes." Of Boy, You're Amazing!, School Library Journal reviewer Shelley B. Sutherland noted that "Kroll celebrates the talents, accomplishments, and potential of boys," all in "joyful rhymes." Booklist contributor Terry Glover called the work a "confidence-boosting bounty of a book," while a Kirkus Reviews contributor recommended the title as "a great gift for any young boy."
In writing Ordinary Heroes, Kroll drew on several of her own personal experiences. The tale is set in the 1960s, and is the story of a young girl who comes face to face with violent racism against a neighbor; as her father confronts their neighbor's tormentors, the young girl realizes that being a hero is about staying true to and acting on your ideals. "Especially Heroes was an account of incidents that occurred in my life," Kroll explained in an interview on the Eerdmans Books Web site. "I guess I'd have to say that it is easier in many ways to tell a 'true' story than a purely fictional one because most of the material is already there, so you need only to add a bit here, subtract there, and change small details. True-to-life stories, for me, virtually write themselves." Karen Land, in School Library Journal, wrote of Especially Heroes: "This is an excellent story for these troubled times, to help children understand the importance of standing up for one's beliefs, ideals, and freedom."
A less-serious title, Busy, Busy Mouse, compares the life of a young rodent to the life of a preschool girl; the young girl wakes in the morning, just when the mouse is going to bed. When the little girl goes to bed, the mouse's "day" finally begins! "Kroll describes only the human action," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, who felt that much of the story is told in the illustrations. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that the book has "a pleasant comforting mood with just the right mild, mischievous spirit." Be Astengo, in School Library Journal, praised the style of writing, noting that "Kroll's staccato rhyming phrases keep the action moving along."
Brianna Breathes Easy: A Story about Asthma is a book about a common childhood illness. In the story, young Brianna, the lead in the Thanksgiving play at school, develops asthma. She is taken to the hospital during her first attack, and the doctor explains how she can avoid "triggering" an asthma attack. "Newcomers to the condition will feel less alone," wrote Jennifer Mattson in Booklist, noting that asthma is the leading chronic illness in American children. Susan Weitz noted that the illness is explained "in an engagingly upbeat and not overly technical manner."
Equal Schmequal introduces the concept of equality through animal characters. The story features Mouse and several animal friends, who try to divide into equal teams for a game of tug-of-war, first by numbers, then by size, but they find it hard to create truly equal teams. Once they think they finally have the solution, one team becomes distracted and the other easily wins, leading the characters to realize that teams are not equal unless they put in equal effort. "Kroll gives the four definitions of equal from the viewpoints of math, art, the law, and team sports," noted Elaine Lesh Morgan in School Library Journal, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the book to be "a cute look at what can be a difficult concept." Kroll also uses animal characters to introduce the difficulty of going to school for the first time in On the Way to Kindergarten, and features a pair of extremely intelligent rabbits who learn to do household chores in Really Rabbits.
With Forgiving a Friend and Jason Takes Responsibility, Kroll deals with experiences common to many young readers. Jacob and Seth get into a fight because Jacob accidentally breaks one of Seth's toys in Forgiving a Friend. When Seth has a similar accident, he realizes that he needs to forgive his friend. "The 'do unto others' aspect of the story comes across loud and clear," noted Ilene Cooper in Booklist. In Jason Takes Responsibility, Jason accidentally loses an invitation to his grandmother's birthday party; in order for the party to go well, it is up to him to make sure that, despite the loss, everyone arrives. Sandra Welzenbach wrote of both titles that "young readers will relate to the simple plots." Honest Ashley and Ryan Respects introduce similar themes and tough decisions young people might experience.
Many people have told Kroll how wonderful it is that she has a gift she can get paid for. "This is true, but talent needs work," the writer explained. "A gift can sit there and look beautiful, but it is worth nothing at all until it is unwrapped and used properly." In her interview on the Eerdmans Books Web site, Kroll gave the following advice for young writers: "Read all you can and try to write something every day. Believe in your-self, and look at your writing as a craft. The old adage, 'Practice makes perfect,' applies. The more you write, the better you'll become. That's no secret; it's just a fact."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 15, 1993, Quraysh Ali, review of Africa Brothers and Sisters, p. 1068; December 1, 1993, Janice Del Negro, review of A Carp for Kimiko, pp. 698-699; February 15, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of I Wanted to Know All about God, p. 1086; March 15, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of Beginnings: How Families Come to Be, p. 1374; April 1, 2001, Linda Perkins, review of Girl, You're Amazing!, p. 1479; April 15, 2004, Terry Glover, review of Boy, You're Amazing!, p. 1446; March 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Brianna Breathes Easy: A Story about Asthma, p. 1204; October 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Forgiving a Friend, p. 63.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1993, Roger Sutton, review of Africa Brothers and Sisters, p. 255; October, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of Pink Paper Swans, pp. 52-53; September, 1997, Janice Del Negro, review of Butterfly Boy, p. 16.
Childhood Education, fall, 2003, Deborah Bitler, review of Especially Heroes, p. 39.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1993, review of Woodhoopoe Willie, p. 149; August 1, 1993, review of A Carp for Kimiko, p. 1004; February 15, 1998, review of Pets!, p. 265; May 15, 2003, review of Busy, Busy Mouse, p. 752; February 15, 2004, review of Boy, You're Amazing!, p. 181.
Publishers Weekly, February 15, 1993, review of Woodhoopoe Willie, p. 236; January 3, 1994, review of I Wanted to Know All about God, p. 81; June 13, 1994, review of Pink Paper Swans, p. 63; January 19, 1998, review of Pets!, p. 377; February 12, 2001, review of Girl, You're Amazing!, p. 212; May 5, 2003, review of Busy, Busy Mouse, p. 219; July 1, 2005, review of Equal Shmequal, p. 737.
School Library Journal, October, 1992, Martha Topol, review of Masai and I, p. 91; March, 1994, Susan Middleton, review of A Carp for Kimiko, p. 202; June, 1997, Lisa S. Murphy, review of Butterfly Boy, pp. 95-96; May, 1998, Dawn Amsberry, review of Faraway Drums, p. 119; April, 2001, Carolyn Janssen, review of Girl, You're Amazing!, p. 114; April, 2003, Karen Land, review of Especially Heroes, p. 130; August, 2003, Be Astengo, review of Busy, Busy Mouse, p. 135; May, 2004, Shelley B. Sutherland, review of Boy, You're Amazing!, p. 116; July, 2005, Susan Weitz, review of Brianna Breathes Easy, p. 76; September, 2005, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of Equal Shmequal, p. 176; January, 2006, Sandra Welzenbach, review of Forgiving a Friend and Jason Takes Responsibility, p. 104.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1994, Civia Tuteur, review of Life Riddles, p. 144.
Eerdmans Books Web site, http://www.eerdmans.com/ (February 19, 2006), interview with Kroll.
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