Jacquelyn Mitchard (1953–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1953, in Chicago, IL; Education: Rockford College, B.A., 1973.
Agent—Jane Gelfman, Gelfman, Schneider Literary Agents Inc., 250 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10107.
Novelist and journalist. High school teacher of English, 1974–76; Pioneer Press, Chicago, IL, managing editor and reporter, 1976–79; Capital Times, Madison, WI, reporter, 1979–84; Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI, metro reporter and columnist, 1984–88; speechwriter for Donna Shalala (then chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, later U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services), 1989–90; freelance journalist, 1990–96.
Maggie Award for public service magazine journalism, 1993, 1994; Parenting Network Public Awareness Award, 1997; Milwaukee Press Club Headliner Award, 1997, for exceptional service to the community; Ragdale Foundation fellow for three years; Anne Powers Award for Fiction, Council of Wisconsin Writers, 1997; Audie Award, 1998; Orange Prize for Fiction, 1999.
Jane Addams: Pioneer in Social Reform and Activist for World Peace (nonfiction), Gareth Stevens Children's Books (Milwaukee, WI), 1991.
(With Barbara Behm) Jane Addams: Peace Activist (nonfiction), Gareth Stevens Children's Books (Milwaukee, WI), 1992.
Baby Bat's Lullaby (for children), illustrated by Julia Noonan, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Starring Prima!: The Mouse of the Ballet Jolie, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Rosalie, My Rosalie: The Tail of a Duckling, illustrated by John Bendall-Brunello, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Mother Less Child: The Love Story of a Family (memoir), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1985.
The Deep End of the Ocean (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship (nonfiction), Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
The Most Wanted (novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
A Theory of Relativity (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Twelve Times Blessed (novel) HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Christmas, Present (novel) HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
The Breakdown Lane (novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Cage of Stars (novel), Warner (New York, NY), 2006.
Also author, with Amy Paulsen, of screenplays The Serpent's Egg and Typhoid Mary. Work anthologized in The Adoption Reader, Seal Press, 1995; The Ghost at Heart's Edge, North Atlantic Books, 1999; and A Love like No Other, Riverhead Books, 2005. Author of syndicated column "The Rest of Us," Tribune Media Services. Contributing editor, Parenting magazine.
The Deep End of the Ocean was adapted for a film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Treat Williams, and Whoopi Goldberg, Columbia Pictures, 1999. A Theory of Relativity was adapted for film. Works adapted as audiobooks include The Deep End of the Ocean, Books on Tape, 1996; The Most Wanted, Books on Tape, 1998; and A Theory of Relativity, read by Mitchard, Books on Tape, 2001.
Work in Progress
Three children's books.
A former newspaper reporter and columnist, Jacquelyn Mitchard was heralded as a first-rate storyteller when she sold her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, and she has gone on to expand her audience with several children's books. The Deep End of the Ocean, focuses on a Midwestern family, the Cappadoras, that collapses in on itself after three-year-old Ben Cappadora is kidnapped from a hotel lobby in Chicago. The novel, the very first book to be selected for popular talk-show host Oprah Winfrey's book club, was a change of pace for Mitchard, who had formerly worked as a newspaper columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel while raising her family, then four children. Commenting on Mitchard's work in Book Reporter, Judith Handschuh declared: "Mitchard has a rare gift—she understands the connections between spouses, siblings and friends and she is able to transmute that understanding into … exquisitely developed characters and heartbreaking stories."
In 1993, after her husband died of cancer, Mitchard drew on her competence as a journalist to write "everything for anybody to pay the bills," as she related to Jeff Giles in Newsweek. "I wrote warning labels: 'Don't point the paint-sprayer at your face while operating.' I put up with a lot of horrible rejection, but I wouldn't give in." Her persistence paid off in a big way, and the success of her novel The Deep End of the Ocean provided financial security for Mitchard and her children. Ranked a number-one New York Times bestseller, the novel was also the basis for a feature motion picture starring Michele Pfeiffer, Treat Williams, and Whoopi Goldberg.
The plot of The Deep End of the Ocean unfurls over nine years. In the novel, readers meet teenager Vincent Cappadora, who at age seven had been put in charge of little brother Ben in the crowded hotel lobby just before the younger boy was kidnaped. Mitchard's focus on her teen characters reflects the approach she has taken in many of her novels. The heart-squeezing anxiety of the storyline is enhanced by intriguing characters, including Ben's brother Vincent and Ben's parents Beth and Pat. Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times Book Review, described the book as "not so much a thriller as a gut wrencher," and Jeff Giles noted in Newsweek: "Don't bother predicting the end: there's a plot twist that'll spin you around no matter which way you're looking."
In Mitchard's next novel, the coming-of-age story The Most Wanted, fourteen-year-old Arley's pen-pal relationship with twenty-three-year-old imprisoned thief Dillon ultimately leads to their marriage and her pregnancy. As Library Journal contributor Michele Leber commented, "It's clear from the start that bad things will happen in this book. And it's just as clear that Mitchard … is no one-book wonder." Holly Hildebrand wrote in the Houston Chronicle that while the novel is "a glorified romance," Mitchard is "good at creating a Texas atmosphere" and "appealing" characters. In the London Times, Christina Koning observed: "Mitchard is a gifted writer who is not afraid to take risks." Lauding her characters as "well-drawn" and "entirely believable" and declaring that her portrayal of small-town life in Texas "has a similar authenticity," Koning nonetheless noted "a tendency to sentimentalise people and situations, and a happy-ever-after sunniness of outlook which seems ill-suited to the grim situation portrayed."
A Theory of Relativity is a tangled tale of familial relationships. At the center of the story is young Keefer, who is left orphaned at one year old when her parents, Georgia and Ray Nye, are killed in an automobile accident. Relatives on each side of the family vie for custody: Georgia's brother, Gordon McKenna, on one side and Ray's cousin Delia Cady, on the other. Wrangling over the child's custody carries on for years, complicated by the fact that Keefer's maternal uncle Gordon, like her mother, was adopted, and the law allows only blood relatives to file for an expedited adoption. Reviewing the novel for Book Reporter, Daryl Chen deemed it "a gripping story," but also pointed to "uncut prose, snarly legal scenes, and weepy flashbacks." In a similar vein, a contributor for Kirkus Reviews noted, "It takes much too long to get to the admittedly touching surprise end, narrated by nine-year-old Keefer." However, a Publishers Weekly critic felt that Mitchard "excels in rendering domestic scenes and family relationships while providing a suspenseful story that tugs at the heartstrings," while Library Journal contributor Michele Leber considered the title "another slam dunk." Another adult novel, Twelve Times Blessed, explores the life of a middle-aged woman who, like Mitchard, was widowed young and married a younger man, while Christmas, Present is about saying goodbye to a wife and mother who, very suddenly, is told she has twenty-four hours to live.
Though much of Mitchard's popularity revolves around her adult novels, she is also the author of several titles for younger readers. She has written two nonfiction books, Jane Addams: Pioneer in Social Reform and Activist for World Peace and Jane Addams: Peace Activist that introduce readers to the important historical figure. Following these, she went from nonfiction to picture books with Baby Bat's Lullaby. On her home page, Mitchard explained how she decided to write the story. "Baby Bat's Lullaby is the first children's book I wrote, and, like most things in my life, was a complete surprise to me!" she explained. "My children asked me if I could free-rap. Why, I said, OF COURSE I can free-rap! I can make up a rhyme about anything you name…. I began to speak a rhyme about a small new prince of the dark, a dancer in the sky park…. A couple of days later, boom! I was a children's author."
Baby Bat's Lullaby is a rhyming tale about the relationship between Baby Bat and his mother, who tries to convince him that he should sleep during the day and stay awake at night, like other bats. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that the story offers "a refreshing perspective on bats, revealing their more bewitching qualities." School Library Journal reviewer Susan Weitz commented that "Mitchard infuses poetic freshness and a delicately compelling tone into the familiar format of a bedtime story." As a Publishers Weekly critic concluded, "the mutual delight and affection of mother and baby comes through clearly."
While Baby Bat's Lullaby is a story of the relationship between mother and child, Rosalie, My Rosalie: The Tail of a Duckling is about the relationship between a young girl and her pet. Nine-year-old girl Henry longs for a pet, but her parents continually refuse her requests, until one day her father brings home a baby duckling. The two bond immediately, and soon girl and duckling are inseperable. But inevitably, the duckling grows into a duck, Henry has to decide whether she can truly take care of an adult duck. Published in chapter book format, Rosalie, My Rosalie is "an endearing tale, just right for newly independent readers" according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Noting the somewhat off-beat style, a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed Mitchard's tale "a pleasant, but odd duck." Christine McGinty of School Library Journal, considered the "warmhearted beginning chapter book" to be "an affectionate story."
While Mitchard "is widely acclaimed for her literary achievements," wrote a contributor to Book Reporter, until the release of her first children's novel "few people have been aware that she is also a trusted one—a human who has been welcomed into mouse society." Mitchard reveals that secret with Starring Prima!: The Mouse of the Ballet Jolie. The tale follows young Prima, a mouse born to dance, and Kristen, the ten-year-old human daughter of a famous ballerina who can make Prima's dreams come true. The two develop a close friendship, and though Prima eventually decides to stay in Paris while Kristen returns to New York City, their friendship never wavers. "Sometimes amusing, sometimes touching, this charming fantasy … is just right for young balletomanes," recommended Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan. However, some critics enjoyed the story, but found flaws in the narrative. As a Kirkus Reviews contributor commented, "Various characters … help make this a rollicking adventure, but numerous asides … are often distracting." A Publishers Weekly contributor likewise offered tempered praise, noting that "Mitchard conveys the bond between Prima and her human pal," but that the narrative contains "inane word play, coy exposition, and protracted dialogue" that distract from the heart of the story.
When asked how often she uses the voice of young narrators, whether in her adult novels or in her children's books, Mitchard explained to a Book Reporter interviewer, "The child's voice is bewitching to me. They may not see clearly, but they speak the unadulterated truth as they see it." Mitchard once told SATA: "Writing is how I make my living, but I would never do anything for money I would not do for free. The privilege of being able to tell a story, which is one of the most powerful forms of expression in this or any time, in this or any culture, is a rare stroke of kind fate."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Atlanta Constitution, July 6, 2001, Teresa K. Weaver, interview with Mitchard and review of A Theory of Relativity, p. B1.
Atlantic Monthly, July-August, 2001, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 164.
Book, May, 2001, "Jacqueline Mitchard's Custodial Duties," p. 10; July, 2001, Kera Bolonik, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 42, and Beth Kephart, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 72.
Booklist, March 15, 1985, p. 1019; April 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, p. 1324; October 15, 1997, Donna Seaman, review of The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship, p. 380; April 15, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of The Most Wanted, p. 1356; April 1, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 1429; July, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Starring Prima!: The Mouse of the Ballet Jolie, p. 1844; September 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Baby Bat's Lullaby, p. 253; February 15, 2005, Carol Haggas, review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 1036; August, 2005, Joyce Saricks, audiobook review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 2046.
Capital Times (Madison, WI), June 22, 2001, Heather Lee Schroeder, "Mitchard Blooms in Shangri-La," author interview.
Chatelaine, September, 2001, Bonnie Schiedel, "Blood Pressure," review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 20.
Choice, October 1991, p. 245.
Christian Science Monitor, September 9, 1996, Merle Rubin, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, p. 14; July 23, 1998, "Oprah Propels Some First Novelists to the Stars," p. B4, and Kim Campbell, "Oprah's First Author Finds Round Two Tough," review of The Most Wanted, p. B5.
Entertainment Weekly, March 21, 1997, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, pp. 65-66; April 8, 2005, review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 70.
Houston Chronicle, June 14, 1998, Holly Hildebrand, review of The Most Wanted, p. 17.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1985, p. 81; March 15, 1996, p. 400; April 15, 2001, review of A Theory of Relativity, pp. 529-530; February 15, 2003, audiobook review of Twelve Times Blessed, p. 261; May 1, 2004, review of Starring Prima! p. 445; August 15, 2004, review of Baby Bat's Lullaby, p. 810; February 1, 2005, review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 142; March 1, 2005, review of Rosalie, My Rosalie: The Tale of a Duckling, p. 292.
Library Journal, March 15, 1985, p. 67; April 15, 1996, Jan Blodgett, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, p. 123; May 15, 1998, Michele Leber, review of The Most Wanted, p. 116; September 1, 1998, Theresa Connors, review of The Most Wanted, p. 237; May 1, 2001, Michele Leber, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 127; March 1, 2003, Jan Blodgett, review of Twelve Times Blessed, p. 120; February 15, 2005, Andrea Tarr, review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 119.
Newsweek, June 3, 1996, Jeff Giles, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, pp. 72-74.
New York Times, June 21, 2001, Janet Maslin, "Who'll Win Her Little Heart? Duck Puppets or Barbie?," review of A Theory of Relativity, p. E7.
New York Times Book Review, August 18, 1996, Gail Collins, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, p. 22; August 30, 1998, Linda Barrett Osborne, review of The Most Wanted, p. 17.
People, July 15, 1996, Louisa Ermelino, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, p. 37; December, 1997, Paula Chin, review of The Rest of Us, pp. 45-46; May 23, 2005, review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1985, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Mother Less Child: The Love Story of a Family, p. 353; April 1, 1996, Sybil S. Steinberg, review of The Deep End of the Ocean, p. 54; September 22, 1997, review of The Rest of Us, p. 57; April 23, 2001, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 45; October 1, 2001, audiobook review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 23; February 24, 2003, review of Twelve Times Blessed, p. 50; October 27, 2003, review of Christmas, Present, p. 43; June 7, 2004, review of Starring Prima! p. 51; October 25, 2004, review of Baby Bat's Lullaby, p. 47; January 31, 2005, review of The Breakdown Lane, p. 47; May 9, 2005, review of Rosalie, My Rosalie, p. 71.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 17, 1998, Georgia Jones-Davis, "Desire in All Its Forms," review of The Most Wanted, p. 3.
School Library Journal, February, 1999, Catherine Charvat, review of The Most Wanted, pp. 142-143; September, 2004, Linda Zeilstra Sawyer, review of Starring Prima!, p. 175; October, 2004, Susan Weitz, review of Baby Bat's Lullaby, p. 124; June, 2005, Christine McGinty, review of Rosalie, My Rosalie, p. 122.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 24, 2001, Gail Pennington, "Master of Emotion, Mitchard Fizzles in the End," review of A Theory of Relativity, p. F8.
Time, June 15, 1998, Elizabeth Gleick, review of The Most Wanted, p. 81.
Times (London, England), January 23, 1999, Christina Koning, "Heart of Texas," review of The Most Wanted, p. 22.
US, June 4, 2001, Nan Goldberg, review of A Theory of Relativity, p. 66.
Writer, September, 2005, "Jacqueline Mitchard: Novelist's Views," p. 66.
Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (March 15, 1999), Judith Handschuh, interview with Mitchard and review of The Most Wanted; (November 1, 2001) review of The Deep End of the Ocean, and Daryl Chen, review of A Theory of Relativity, and interview.
Jacqueline Mitchard Home Page, http:/jackiemitchard.com (February 21, 2006).
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