Ruth Wallace-Brodeur (1941–) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
(Ruth Wallace Brodeur)
Born 1941, in Springfield, MA; Education: University of Massachusetts, B.S., 1962. Hobbies and other interests: Bicycling, Nordic skiing, gardening, quilting, painting.
Writer, 1975–. Pineland Hospital and Training Center, Pownal, ME, member of psychology staff, 1962–63.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, American Civil Liberties Union, Southern Poverty Law Center, Green Mountain Club, Unitarian Universalist Association, Nature Conservancy, Vermont Land Trust.
Publishers Weekly and Booklist Best-of-the-Year selections, and Intermediate Young Hoosier Book Award nomination, 2006, all for Blue Eyes Better; several Dorothy Canfield Fisher awards list titles.
The Kenton Year (middle-grade novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.
One April Vacation (young-adult novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1981.
Callie's Way (middle-grade novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Steps in Time (middle-grade novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
Stories from the Big Chair, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1989.
Home by Five (picture book), illustrated by Mark Graham, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
The Godmother Tree (middle-grade novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Goodbye, Mitch (picture book), illustrated by Kathryn Mitter, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1995.
Blue Eyes Better (middle-grade novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Heron Cove (middle-grade novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 2005.
Also contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Cricket, Highlights for Children, Boys' Life, Pennywhistle Press, Child Life, Backpacker, Family Journal, Vermont Life, Christian Science Monitor, and Vermont Woman.
Vermont-based writer Ruth Wallace-Brodeur likes to piece quilts from scraps of fabric. In her books for middle-grade readers, such as Callie's Way, Blue Eyes Better, and Heron Cove, she focuses on pre-teens dealing with family complications, fitting personalities and sometimes conflicting emotions together like the pieces of one of her quilts.
In Callie's Way Wallace-Brodeur introduces a pre-teen who feels like the odd one out in her family. Callie has dark eyes, while everyone else in her family has blue eyes; unlike her mother and sister she has no musical or artistic talent; and while her father is a minister, Callie is beginning to question the faith she was raised in. Her emotional alienation prevents her from sharing her feelings or her problems involving her middle-school friends and her relationship with boys with her family. When Callie begins a relationship with Megal, a stroke victim living in a nursing home who cannot talk, she begins to express and assert herself, and she eventually makes some tough decisions about her life and her faith. Wallace-Brodeur's "well-told story gets high marks for believability," Ilene Cooper wrote in a Booklist review of Callie's Way. "Flaws notwithstanding, readers will identify with Callie's feelings of not belonging and her skirmishes with family and teachers," Kathleen Brachmann noted in School Library Journal.
Like Callie's Way, the young-adult novel Steps in Time also involves a relationship between a teen and an elderly woman. In this case, however, the relationship is familial and distant. When sixteen-year old Evangeline (nicknamed Evan) is sent to spend the summer at her grandmother's house on an island off the Maine coast, she is unhappy. Her grandfather has just died, and because Evan was his favorite grandchild, she worries that her presence will upset Gram. As the summer progresses, Evan explores the island, learns how to dive, goes lobstering, and develops a friendship with a handsome young man. She also helps her widowed Gram learn to enjoy life as an independent woman, building a close bond with her older relative in the process. "With the simple beauty of a conch shell held up to the ear, the story is evocative and satisfying," Karen Jameyson wrote in Horn Book, while a Kirkus Reviews critic described Steps in Time as a "complex, thoughtful novel, with the well-drawn characters we've come to expect from Ruth Wallace-Brodeur."
Described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as "a trenchant tale about belonging, hurt and healing," Heron Cove focuses on twelve-year-old Sage, who lives with her free-spirited mother. When Mom decides to attend a six-week summer herbal workshop in Vermont, two elderly great aunts volunteer to take Sage in for the duration. Traveling to Heron Cove, Maine, the girl soon feels at home with Bea and Addie, and begins to love her great aunts' seaside home as well as the sense of family and community she has been missing. She also learns why she has never been told about her dead father, and begins to sort out her tangled family history. Wallace-Brodeur's "sweet, old-fashioned story has an appealing main character and a mostly smooth writing style," according to Lauralyn Persson in a School Library Journal review, the critic adding that "Sage's wistful yearning for stability rings true." According to Persson, the author "clearly—and affectingly—knows how to make stories matter," while in Kirkus Reviews a critic praised Heron Cove for its portrayal of "village life, realistic emotions, imperfect parents and … the need to belong."
In addition to her young-adult titles, Wallace-Brodeur has also written several books for younger readers. Goodbye Mitch, which focuses on a young boy whose pet cat dies from a tumor, was described by Booklist contributor Leone McDermott as "a useful point of departure" for parents helping "a child cope with a dying pet." Written for the Vermont Migrant Education Program and designed to reflect the experiences of migrant children from ages eight to twelve, The Godmother Tree tells the story of a young girl whose family relocates when Laura Cate's father finds a new job on a farm. At the beginning of the summer, the Cate family travels to the other side of the county and takes up residence in a house for the first time in Laura's life. Although the Cate children are far from their friends and have many chores to do, Laura and her brother Luther adjust to their new life. Laura also develops a relationship with her grandmother, enjoys the country, and visits a favorite tree, which she names the "godmother tree." Laura's fourteen-year-old brother, Ryan is not as happy as his siblings, however; meanwhile, someone—or something—is clipping the buttons from the family's clothes, misplacing belongings, and making mischief in the garden. Carolyn Phelan remarked in Booklist that The Godmother Tree is "quietly satisfying," and as "mesmerizing as a summer day." School Library Journal contributor Phyllis G. Sidorsky described the character of Laura as "an admirable heroine, sensitive yet sensible."
Also for younger readers, Stories from the Big Chair was described by a Kirkus Reviews critic as a "nicely crafted collection of brief, easily read chapters." As the book begins, Molly tells her mother that she is tired of her little sister, Susan. When Mama proposes that Molly tell stories about herself each day for one week, Molly sits in the family's big chair with one of her parents and tells a story. The first story is about how Molly lost a tooth, the second about taking a bear to school. Gradually, the stories involve Susan and Molly eventually realizes the love and affection she really has for her small sister. Denise Wilms commented in Booklist that Wallace-Brodeur's "portrayals of sisterly dynamics are on the mark."
The picture book Home by Five features a curious, thoughtful young protagonist. Rosie ice-skates until the rink closes at 4:30. Promising her parents that she would be home by 5:00, Rosie starts her four-block walk home, but she is distracted first by a friend, then by doughnuts in a window, by snowflakes, and by a friendly cat. When she arrives home half an hour late, Rosie's parents are worried but understanding, and they help the girl find a way to stay on time. Rachel Fox asserted in a School Library Journal review that Home by Five "is a warm story of a young girl with good intentions," and a Kirkus Reviews critic described it as "perceptive and simply told." Stephanie Zvirin observed in Booklist that Wallace-Brodeur's "narrative … captures time through the eyes of a child … genuinely," while a Publishers Weekly critic wrote that in Home by Five Wallace-Brodeur "skillfully portrays a deep, dreamy, and creative child."
In Blue Eyes Better the death of a sixteen year old in a drunk-driving accident leaves the victim's ten-year-old sister full of guilt and sadness. Tessa Drummond feels responsible because she knew her brother Scott was not telling the truth about where he was going on the night of his death, but she did not tell her parents. Now, the girl's depressed mother leaves the family to stay with a sister on Cape Cod, leaving Tessa to realize that she will never be able to fill the void left by her favored older brother. Fortunately, an elderly neighbor becomes the girl's emotional support and takes on a grandmotherly role, while Tessa's music teacher Ms. Dunn also becomes a confidante. When Ms. Dunn suddenly leaves her job, Tessa must come to terms with her own anger and feelings of abandonment. Praising Blue Eyes Better as a "touching first-person problem novel," a Kirkus Reviews writer noted that the author's "skill and perception" transforms "a rather conventional pat ending into a moving moment," while in Publishers Weekly a critic cited the book as "a fine choice for any middle-grader coping with grief or a grieving parent, and an exquisite example of spare, honest prose." Noting that Wallace-Brodeur's story is optimistic despite its somber theme, Adele Greenlee praised it in School Library Journal as "a convincing portrait of a girl and her family rebuilding their lives after tragedy." In Booklist Hazel Rochman dubbed the book a "small, beautiful novel rooted in hard fact" in which the author creates "images [that] are simple poetry."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 1, 1984, Ilene Cooper, review of Callie's Way, p. 252; April 15, 1986, p. 1204; October 15, 1989, Denise Wilms, review of Stories from the Big Chair, p. 465; July, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Godmother Tree; September 1, 1992, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Home by Five; June 1, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of Goodbye, Mitch, p. 1789; November 4, 2002, review of Blue Eyes Better, p. 40.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 2002, review of Blue Eyes Better, p. 260.
Horn Book, September, 1986, Karen Jameyson, review of Steps in Time, pp. 601-602.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1986, review of Steps in Time, p. 720; August 1, 1989, review of Stories from the Big Chair, p. 1170; September 1, 1992, review of Home by Five; December 15, 2001, review of Blue Eyes Better, p. 1763; May 1, 2005, review of Heron Cove, p. 548.
Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1992, review of Home by Five; December 24, 2001, review of Blue Eyes Better, p. 65; May 9, 2005, review of Heron Cove, p. 71.
School Library Journal, January, 1985, Kathleen Brachmann, review of Callie's Way, p. 88; November, 1989, p. 96; May, 1992, Phyllis Sidorsky, review of The Godmother Tree; September, 1992, Rachel Fox, review of Home by Five; August, 1995, Margaret Chatham, review of Good-bye, Mitch, p. 130; January, 2002, Adele Greenlee, review of Blue Eyes Better, p. 140; August, 2005, Lauralyn Persson, review of Heron Cove, p. 137.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1985, p. 52.
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