(M.) Irene Livingston (1932-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1932, in Minto, New Brunswick, Canada; Education: Attended Teachers' College, Fredericton, Canada.
Taught school for seven years; worked as recreational day care worker with the elderly; writer. Designer and illustrator of greeting cards.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Canadian Children's Book Centre, Canadian Poetry Association, Burnaby Writers' Society.
Leacock Prize for Poetry, 2001; Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Book Award, 2003, for Finklehopper Frog; Dan Sullivan Prize.
Finklehopper Frog, illustrated by Brian Lies, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 2003.
Contributor of poetry to adult magazines and children's magazines, including Turtle, Humpty Dumpty, and My Friend.
Work in Progress
A novel, Naked in a Glass-Blue Lake; more rhyming picture books for children; poetry manuscripts and short stories.
Canadian writer Irene Livingston told SATA: "First a little about where I came from and how I got here to beautiful Vancouver. I was born in Minto, a coal-mining town in New Brunswick, Canada, where my dad was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse, including grades one to eight. Before I was two we moved to the seaport city of Saint John and lived, for a few years, beside the railroad tracks and I got used to the trains chugging by at night. I could look out my bedroom window and see people eating in the dining cars.
"When time came for my first day of school I was tremendously excited (no kindergarten in those days). With a mother run off her feet cooking for our big family, washing clothes on a washboard and keeping things going on Dad's wages, nobody got a lot of personal attention.
"I remember the boy sitting across from me on that first day. He had white adhesive tape on his knee. I loved school; it was like a big party to me, easy because I'd already learned to read quite a lot at home. There were sixty-six children in that first grade class.
"After I graduated, I attended Teachers' College in Fredericton, then taught school for seven years (two before marriage, five after). Married at twenty-one, I lived in Toronto for twelve years, during which time I became the mother of two beautiful daughters. My third beautiful daughter was born in Hamilton, Ontario, six months before we arrived in Vancouver. Today all three are artists and writers.
"I didn't begin writing children's poems until 1995. For a few years previous to that time I'd worked with the elderly in a seniors' day care center. My favorite job there was conducting lively exercises, done usually in chairs to bouncy taped music. Sometimes we got up and did the Chicken Dance. I was always able to coax them over to join us, promising that they could go back to their sideline chairs if they didn't like it. They always stayed.
"Up until then I had written only funny verses for family affairs and stories and poems for my kids at school or the day care center. Now I sent my little gems out to children's magazines and nothing happened for a year, just me piling up rejections in a shoebox. So I decided to forget about my 'writing career.' One year later came a letter from Children's Playmate, telling me they'd accepted my poem, 'Myrtle the Turtle.' Well, I was all fired up about writing for kids again and sent out more. One editor in particular, Donna Borst, loved my stuff and published my poems and rhyming stories in every issue of the six teaching magazines for which she edited. My work has also appeared in Turtle, Humpty Dumpty's Magazine, My Friend and other well-known children's publications. In 1998 I began writing adult poetry and prose and have been published widely in magazines, mostly literary, some mainstream. I nearly died of shock when I won the five thousand dollar Lea-cock Prize for Poetry in 2001. To add to that joy, I placed second in the Limerick section for another five hundred dollars.
"I also design humorous rhyming greeting cards for adults and sell them mostly to local stores. I paint each one individually since color photocopying is expensive. They're funny but never a put-down. Who needs insults on their birthday?
"I live in a bachelor apartment with a fabulous view of the mountains and at night, a sea of city lights. Every day I'm climbing the hills of the city on my bike, doing my errands and just taking in the fresh air and the beauty of the streets in my area with their tall birch and chestnut trees that often meet overhead like leafy canopies.
"I was amazed that Finklehopper Frog was my first story to be published. I have so many of them. I love writing rhyme but have had several publishers say they didn't want rhyming stories. When I'm writing a kid story, I become my kid-self, which I think everyone still has somewhere down inside.
"I was always fascinated by frogs. When I was little my father took us on walks to a pond that he named The Smiling Pool, after the one in the Burgess Bedtime Stories. (These stories were in the newspaper beside the daily 'funnies' and one or other of my parents would read them aloud to us.) At our own 'smiling pool,' there were lovely green frogs with yellow throats. I loved their sound at night too.
"When I was in first or second grade, there was a story in the reader about The Proud Cold Green and Gold Frog. He would puff himself up bigger and bigger to show off in front of all the smaller frogs. One day he puffed and puffed so hard he exploded. The story ended with, 'Oh said the little frog as he hopped away/I thought that would happen one fine day.' I must really have liked those lines because I've remembered them all these years. I wonder if I could find the story anywhere, if it still exists.
"Another poem that inspired me was 'The Walloping Window Blind' by Charles E. Carryl. I loved the rhythm of it. Another poet who has great rhythm is adult writer Robert Service who wrote 'The Cremation of Sam McGee.'"
In Finklehopper Frog, Finklehopper decides to take up jogging. After buying himself a snazzy workout suit, he joins the throng of animals out for morning exercise. Some of the other animals laugh and make fun of him, but Ruby Rabbit—who also hops—becomes his friend and encourages him to be himself. "Livingston's
rhythms echo Finklehopper's bounce and blithe spirit," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Diane Foote in Booklist noted that the "fresh art and animal cast will appeal to children learning about self-esteem."
In her remarks to SATA, Livingston concluded: "In my own children's stories, I like to sneak in a little message or two about kindness and keeping healthy, doing your best, etc., but I want to write happy stories with fun and adventure."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Diane Foote, review of Finklehopper Frog, p. 1403.
Publishers Weekly, April 7, 2003, review of Finklehopper Frog, p. 65.
School Library Journal, October, 2003, Mary Elam, review of Finklehopper Frog, p. 129.
Eereeka, http://www.geocities.com/eereeka/Irene.html/ (December 16, 2003), biographical information on Livingston.
We Writers, http://www.wewriters.com/ (December 16, 2003), "Irene Livingston."
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