Suzanne Jurmain (1945–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
(Suzanne Tripp Jurmain)
Born 1945, in New York, NY; Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.A. (with honors), 1966.
Agent—Dorothy Markinko, McIntosh &Otis, Inc., 353 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10016.
Actress, beginning in 1949; TV Guide, Los Angeles, CA, assistant editor, 1966; Legal Directories Publishing Co., Los Angeles, editor, 1967; University of California Museum of Cultural History, Los Angeles, editor and public relations coordinator, 1968–77; freelance writer and editor, 1978–.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Phi Beta Kappa.
Golden Kite Honor Book for Nonfiction designation, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 2005, and Orbis Pictus Honor Book designation, National Council of Teachers of English, 2006, both for The Forbidden Schoolhouse.
From Trunk to Tail: Elephants Legendary and Real, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978.
Once upon a Horse: A History of Horses and How They Shaped Our History, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1989.
Freedom's Sons: The True Story of the Amistad Mutiny, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1998.
(As Suzanne Tripp Jurmain) George Did It, illustrated by Larry Day, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1998.
The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
Suzanne Jurmain is the author of several nonfiction works, some focusing on animals and their relationship to humans throughout time and others examining significant episodes in U.S. history. While many of her books, such as Once upon a Horse: A History of Horses and How They Shaped Our History and The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, present a detailed overview of their subjects, in George Did It she focuses on a single episode: George Washington's trip from his home at Mount Vernon to the temporary capital of the fledgling nation in New York to grudgingly take up the role of president of the United States. In Publishers Weekly a reviewer praised Jurmain's "snappy tone," while a contributor to Kirkus Reviews described the book as an "amusing historical anecdote."
From Trunk to Tail: Elephants Legendary and Real explores symbolic references to elephants in folklore, as well as their real-life roles as domestic servants, circus performers, and prey. In Once upon a Horse, which a Los Angeles Times reviewer called "the best horse book to come down the pike in some time," Jurmain examines the relationship between horses and humans from prehistoric times through the 1980s.
Once upon a Horse surveys the use of the animal in transportation and sports, and the ways in which horses have aided (or been exploited by) hunters, warriors, miners, farmers, and mail-carriers. The stories and illustrations—including photographs of ancient coins and cave paintings—reflect the representation of horses in literature, archaeology, and art. Reviewers appreciated the format and illustrations, although some found fault with the writing style and factual information. While Charlene Strickland, commenting on Once upon a Horse in School Library Journal, found the text somewhat "awkward," and lacking in "sufficient lore to satisfy curious equestrians," a Kirkus Reviews contributor praised the book's content as "illuminating far beyond its factual level." In Booklist contributor Denise Wilms called Once upon a Horse "a handsome history."
Other historical works include Freedom's Sons: The True Story of the Amistad Mutiny and The Forbidden Schoolhouse. Praised for its "meticulous research and … storyteller's knack for pace and well-placed detail" by Booklist reviewer Randy Meyer, Freedom's Song follows the saga of the slave ship Amistad, which became embroiled in extensive litigation in 1839, when the ship's Cuban crew mitinied and its human cargo of West Africans were taken in by New England families and communities. The history of the first African-American girl's school in the United States, which was founded by Quaker educator Prudence Crandall in eastern Connecticut in 1883, is taken up by Jurmain in The Forbidden Schoolhouse, a "fast-paced read" that draws on original sources and places Crandall's boarding school within the broader history of school integration, according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. In Booklist Ilene Cooper deemed the book "compelling" and "highly readable," while praising Jurmain's text as including "a sense of drama that propels readers forward." In Horn Book Robin Smith maintained that readers will be inspired by Crandall's "dedication, strength, and moral compass," while Kelly Czarnecki wrote in School Library Journal that, with its illustrations, appendix, and wealth of facts, The Forbidden Schoolhouse "offers a fresh look" at the educational opportunities for blacks and women during the early nineteenth century.
Jurmain once told SATA: "When I was little, my parents' apartment had more books than furniture—so it's not surprising that books are practically the first things I remember. My mother read me nursery rhymes, fairy tales, 'Oz' books, and A.A. Milne. My father told me stories. And what stories they were! Some came straight from his own imagination; some, from mythology; but many of the best were about real-life heroes, heroines, and villains. As we rode across New York on the subway, he told me about the amazing adventures of Cleopatra, Columbus, Richard Lionheart, Pocahontas—and by kindergarten I'd already learned that facts could be as exciting as fiction.
"At age four I saw my mother play Maria in a Broadway production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night—and from that moment on, I wanted to be an actress. After making my debut on my father's television show, Mr. I. Magination, I wanted to perform as much as possible. My parents, however, felt school was more important than acting experience, and during my childhood I was only allowed to make occasional television appearances. As a teenager, however, I appeared in several television soap operas and studies acting at New York City's High School of Performing Arts until my parents moved to Los Angeles at the end of my junior year. Still determined to become an actress, I entered the University of California, Los Angeles, as a theatre arts major—and then everything changed.
"In college I met my husband, switched my major to English, lost interest in acting, and discovered that I liked writing and telling stories. I began to think that one day I would enjoy writing for young people, but I wasn't sure whether I wanted to write fiction or nonfiction.
"Today, when I visit classrooms, children—who have grown up thinking that facts are about as appealing as fried grasshoppers in library paste—often ask why on Earth I write nonfiction. The answer is very simple: I enjoy it. I love to do research. I love to tell stories. And I hope that—like my father—I'll be able to show others that facts can be just as fascinating as fiction."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 15, 1989, Denise Wilms, review of Once upon a Horse: A History of Horses and How They Shaped Our History, p. 832; February 15, 1998, Randy Meyer, review of Freedom's Sons: The True Story of the Amistad Mutiny, p. 1003; October 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The Forbidden Schoolhouse: The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students, p. 52.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1998, review of Freedom's Sons, p. 325.
Horn Book, November-December, 2005, Robin Smith, review of The Forbidden Schoolhouse, p. 736.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1989, review of Once upon a Horse; November 15, 2005, review of George Did It, p. 1234; August 1, 2005, review of The Forbidden Schoolhouse, p. 851.
Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1989, review of Once upon a Horse.
Publishers Weekly, November 14, 2005, review of George Did It, p. 68.
School Library Journal, September, 1979, pp. 140-141; January, 1990, Charlene Strickland, review of Once upon a Horse, p. 113; April, 1998, Carrie Schadle, review of Freedom's Sons, p. 147; November, 2005, Kelly Czarnecki, review of The Forbidden Schoolhouse, p. 164.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1990, p. 50; August, 1999, review of Freedom's Sons, p. 163.
Washington Post Book World, March 11, 1979, p. F5; November 5, 1989, p. 20.