Jane O'Connor (1947-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1947, in New York, NY; Education: Smith College, B.A., 1969.
Agent—c/o Author Correspondence, Penguin USA, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Hastings House Publishers, New York, NY, editorial staff member, beginning 1971; Scholastic, Inc., New York, NY, editor, 1977-83; Random House, New York, NY, 1983-89, became editor-in-chief of children's books; Penguin Putnam, Books for Young Readers, New York, NY, president of mass market division, 1989-99; Penguin USA Books for Young Readers, editor-at-large, 1999—.
New York Academy of Sciences Honor book, 1981, for Magic in the Movies: The Story of Special Effects, with Katy Hall; Golden Sower Award, Nebraska Library Association, 1982, for Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby; Children's Choice designation, International Reading Association, 1989, for The Ghost in Tent Nineteen; "nonfiction book for 2002" citation, Booklist, and Orbis Honor Book, both 2002, both for The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China.
Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby, illustrated by Margot Apple, Hastings House (New York, NY), 1979.
Just Good Friends, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1983.
(With Joyce Milton) The Dandee Diamond Mystery, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1983.
(With Joyce Milton) The Amazing Bubble Gum Caper, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1984.
(With husband, Jim O'Connor) The Magic Top Mystery, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1984.
Lulu and the Witch Baby, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.
(Reteller) The Teeny Tiny Woman, illustrated by R. W. Alley, Random House (New York, NY), 1986, reprinted, 2003.
Lulu Goes to Witch School, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1987.
Sir Small and the Dragonfly, illustrated by John O'Brien, Random House (New York, NY), 1988, reprinted, 2003.
(With husband, Jim O'Connor) The Ghost in Tent Nineteen, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.
Molly the Brave and Me, illustrated by Sheila Hamanaka, Random House (New York, NY), 1990, reprinted, 2003.
(With husband, Jim O'Connor) Slime Time, illustrated by Pat Porter, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
(With son, Robert O'Connor) Super Cluck, illustrated by Megan Lloyd, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Eek! Stories to Make You Shriek, illustrated by G. Brian Karas, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1992.
Nina, Nina Ballerina, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1993.
Splat!, illustrated by Marilyn Mets, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1994.
Kate Skates, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1995.
The Bad-Luck Penny, illustrated by Horatio Elena, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1996.
Dragon Breath, illustrated by Jeff Spackman, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1997.
Benny's Big Bubble, illustrated by Tomie De Paola, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
Nina, Nina, Star Ballerina, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1997.
Nina, Nina and the Copycat Ballerina, illustrated by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2000.
Snail City, illustrated by Rick Brown, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2001.
Dear Tooth Fairy, illustrated by Joy Allen, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2002.
The Perfect Puppy for Me! (picture book), illustrated by Jessie Hartland, Viking (New York, NY), 2003.
Sir Small and the Sea Monster, illustrated by John O'Brien, Random House (New York, NY), in press.
"HERE COME THE BROWNIES" SERIES; ILLUSTRATED BY LAURIE STRUCK LONG
Corrie's Secret Pal, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1993.
Sarah's Incredible Idea, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1993.
Make up Your Mind, Marsha!, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1993.
Amy's (Not So) Great Camp-out, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1993.
Think, Corrie, Think!, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1994.
Lauren and the New Baby, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Katy Hall) Magic in the Movies: The Story of Special Effects, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1980.
The Care Bears' Party Cookbook, illustrated by Pat Sustendal, Random House (New York, NY), 1985.
The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China, Viking (New York, NY), 2002.
Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors, illustrated by Jessie Hartland, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2002.
Mary Cassatt: Family Pictures, illustrated by Jennifer Kalis, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 2003.
If the Walls Could Talk: Family Life at the White House, illustrated by Gary Hoving, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
Work in Progress
Picture books for HarperCollins, Viking, and Putnam; an adult novel.
In addition to her work as editor at large for Penguin Books for Young Readers, Jane O'Connor has written a number of works of fiction of her own for children. Specializing in beginning readers with imaginative plots—reflected in such titles as Lulu and the Witch Baby, The Ghost in Tent Nineteen, Nina, Nina, Star Ballerina, Slime Time, and Snail City—O'Connor encourages students in the early grades to build their reading confidence and learn that reading is fun. In addition to her novels, which include several installments in the "Here Come the Brownies" about a fictitious Girl Scout troop, O'Connor has co-authored the award-winning nonfiction work Magic in the Movies: The Story of Special Effects, has contributed books about Henri Matisse and Mary Cassatt to the "Smart about Art" series, and has written an award-winning book about the first emperor of China—The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China.
Born in New York City in 1947, O'Connor attended Smith College in southern Massachusetts, graduating in 1969. In 1971 she got her first job in publishing, working in the editorial department of Hastings House Publishers. From 1977 to 1983, O'Connor was an editor at Scholastic, Inc.; then she moved to Random House, where she became editor-in-chief of children's books. In 1989 she moved to Grosset & Dunlap (now a division of Penguin USA). Married in 1973, O'Connor wrote her debut novel, Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby, in 1979. The book's success with readers was an encouragement, and O'Connor has since turned writing children's books into a second occupation, one she sometimes engages in with the help of either her husband, Jim O'Connor, or her older son, Robert. Her younger son, Teddy, wrote his own book, A New Brain for Igor, published by Random House in 2001.
Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby, is one of a group of middle grade novels O'Connor authored early in her writing career. Taking place during a torturous two months at Pinecrest overnight summer camp, the novel introduces Merle and Abby, who have been longtime best friends. When Merle's parents opt to send their teen daughter to camp rather than on a far-more-exciting family vacation, Abby works out a way whereby her parents can send her too. Unfortunately, Merle breaks her leg during a dancing class just before the start of camp and winds up confined at home, leaving Abby to suffer camp on her own. Fortunately, the trials of camp life—difficulties with cabin mates and less-than-sympathetic camp counselors, participating in sports at which one is hopelessly bad, catching poison ivy, and the like—become easy to endure with the help of new best friend Roberta. Abby solves the dilemma of reconciling Merle and Roberta as co-best friends by the end of the novel. A Publishers Weekly critic praised O'Connor's "fluent, sunny style" of writing, while School Library Journal contributor Liza Graybill Bliss added that the author's tone "is funny" and "relaxed." "Readers feel the pain of each setback and the pride of each accomplishment," added Bliss, as the heroine moves "toward self-confidence."
In addition to consistent praise from reviewers, Yours Till Niagara Falls won the Nebraska Golden Sower award in 1982, encouraging O'Connor to continue her writing. Her Just Good Friends, published in 1983, finds thirteen-year-old Joss frustrated over her blossoming figure, which is proving to be more than either she or her platonic friend Fletcher can handle. Besides dealing with Fletcher's unwanted, immature sexual advances, Joss must also come to terms with her suspicion that her college lecturer father is having an extramarital affair with an attractive college coed, while her mother, who has returned to school to complete her degree after raising her children, seems increasingly preoccupied and withdrawn. There is a bright spot for Joss, however, when the boy she has a crush on shows signs that he returns her feelings, in a novel that Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Zena Sutherland commented "has good flow and pace" and characters who are "vividly real." The lesson that "we cannot always predict people's qualities and roles is imparted by the author with a subtle capability," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor Catherine VanSonnenberg. In her appraisal of Just Good Friends for Growing Point, Margery Fisher wrote that "there are moments of disarming humour and of warm sympathy in this account of a family whose members are all trying to reconcile their own needs with their responsibilities for one another."
Lulu, a spunky young witch, is one of many characters that O'Connor has invented to people her beginning readers. In Lulu and the Witch Baby, as well as the follow-up Lulu Goes to Witch School, the fed-up young witch gets tired of her baby sister, who she hates "more than eating lizard liver" because the tiny witchling gets far more attention and never seems to get scolded for all the trouble she causes. To solve her problem, Lulu mixes up bat's blood, fly legs, swamp water, and cat hair into a spell designed to make her sister disappear. When it works she is glad for a while, but then compassion sets in. Worried that the little witch will feel alone and scared being invisible, Lulu undoes her spell, and her small sister returns to view. Unknown to Lulu— but known to the reader—it was actually the girl's mother who caused the baby to disappear by taking baby sister away for a bath, not Lulu's spell that caused the little witch to disappear in the first place. "Kids will identify immediately with the authenticity of Lulu's feelings," noted a reviewer for School Library Journal. In Lulu Goes to Witch School, Lulu's spell-making abilities come under the scrutiny of the warty-nosed Miss Slime. Calling O'Connor's story "an absurd and fun idea," a Publishers Weekly critic praised it for being "funny and full of the 'gross' details kids love," while in Booklist, reviewer Ilene Cooper commented that Lulu Goes to Witch School "packs plenty of child appeal with its everyday situations, witchy ambience," and easy-to-grasp vocabulary.
O'Connor has contributed to several beginning reader series for a variety of publishers. Her contributions to the "All Aboard Reading" series include Nina, Nina Ballerina and Kate Skates, both of which feature young, likeable protagonists. In Nina, which School Library Journal contributor Sharron McElmeel called a "gentle, appealing title for emerging readers," a hard-working young dance student worries that her mother will not be able to spot her in the crowd of similarly costumed dancing butterflies at an upcoming dance recital, until she is reassured by both her mother and her instructor. When Kate's younger sister Jen inherits Kate's old double-bladed ice skates after she receives new ones as a birthday gift in Kate Skates, Jen seems to be a natural. She quickly learns to get around on the ice without falling, and falling becomes Kate's job, as she clumsily tries to get used to her new, larger single-blade skates. Eventually, with practice, Kate learns to maneuver in her new skates. When bullies knock her sister down the following week, she is able to help in a story that "gives a little nod to what it means to be a good big sister," according to Stephanie Zvirin in her Booklist review.
Other books written by O'Connor with beginning readers in mind include several volumes in the "Eek! Stories to Make You Shriek" series, including The Bad-Luck Penny and Dragon Breath. Her two installments in the "Step into Reading" series were also well received by critics. The Teeny Tiny Woman, an adaptation of a folktale that O'Connor first published in 1986, contains repetitive text that is "perfect for a beginning reader," according to School Library Review contributor Nancy Palmer. In Sir Small and the Dragonfly, published in 1988, O'Connor creates a tale of brave miniature knights who ride ants, loyal peasants no taller than toothpicks, and a beautiful but diminutive maiden abducted by a dragonfly from her home in the town of Pee Wee. Gale W. Sherman noted in School Library Journal that O'Connor's tale is "simple but clearly crafted," and praised the author for a "delightful story" of the rescue of a damsel in distress. Phillis Wilson agreed in her Booklist appraisal, dubbing Sir Small and the Dragonfly "a hit" containing "an engagingly humorous story line" with a vocabulary that practicing readers will not find too daunting. O'Connor wrote a sequel called Sir Small and the Sea Monster.
Several of O'Connor's books have been written as family projects, often with her husband, Jim O'Connor. But in addition, O'Connor's older son, Robert, has also worked with his mother. While a sixth grader, Robert O'Connor collaborated with his mom on Super Cluck, the story of a chicken from outer space. Adopted by kind-hearted Mrs. Cluck, given the name Chuck, and raised as one of her own, the alien chicken is soon attracting attention due to his size, strength, and his ability to fly long distances. While such differences set him apart and cause the other chicks to poke fun at him, Chuck eventually saves the day and gains everyone's admiration after he rescues the barnyard from an egg-hungry rat and saves a number of young chicks. Noting that Super Cluck could serve as a "role model" for would-be writers, a School Library Journal contributor felt that the story would have special appeal to children in the early elementary grades who are "attracted to 'Super Hero' characters."
Young readers can learn more about famous artists through O'Connor's contributions to the "Smart about Art" series, Matisse: Drawing with Scissors and Mary Cassatt: Family Pictures. Both books take an innovative approach to the artists in question, by presenting the books as projects being produced by students. In Mary Cassatt, Claire becomes interested in the painter from seeing her work on a postcard, then the Internet, and then during a family trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Woven into Claire's discovery are tidbits of information on Cassatt's life and painting techniques. Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors begins with an "assignment" from a schoolteacher and continues as Keesia Johnson fulfills that assignment by learning about the latter stages of Matisse's artistic career. In School Library Journal, Augusta R. Malvagno called Henri Matisse "a creative way to instill an appreciation of art in children."
O'Connor continues to reap warm remarks for her early readers. Snail City subtly introduces the concept of individuality by exploring the adventures of Gail, a snail who gets teased for being speedy. Only after Gail's quick actions save a baby snail do her more sedate playmates understand her special talents. In the picture book The Perfect Puppy for Me!, a young narrator does his homework in anticipation of getting his very first puppy. He meets many different breeds of dogs and learns the differences in their appearance and personality. In the end his choice is a hybrid, a "Labra-doodle," a mix between a Labrador and a poodle. "This book wins Best in Show," enthused a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who added that A Perfect Puppy for Me! is "a wonderful starting point for kids who want a dog."
For older readers O'Connor has written The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China. The nonfiction account introduces readers to the discovery and excavation of a 1,000-year-old army of life-sized terracotta figures, commissioned by an emperor of China to accompany his tomb. "This book provides an intriguing glimpse at one of China's greatest treasures and at one of its most famous emperors," wrote Barbara Scotto in School Library Journal. In Booklist, Ilene Cooper called the title "an enticing example of nonfiction; it leads children into unfamiliar, exciting places."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 1, 1987, Ilene Cooper, review of Lulu Goes to Witch School, p. 326; March 1, 1989, Phillis Wilson, review of Sir Small and the Dragonfly, p. 1199; January 1-15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Kate Skates, p. 850; April 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The Emperor's Silent Army: Terracotta Warriors of Ancient China, p. 1398; May 15, 2003, Julie Cummins, review of The Perfect Puppy for Me!, p. 1672.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1983, Zean Sutherland, review of Just Good Friends, p. 133.
Growing Point, December, 1984, Margery Fisher, review of Just Good Friends, p. 4313.
Publishers Weekly, February 22, 1980, review of Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby, p. 109; September 25, 1987, review of Lulu Goes to Witch School, p. 107; April 21, 2003, review of The Perfect Puppy for Me!, p. 61.
School Library Journal, December, 1979, Liza Graybill Bliss, review of Yours Till Niagara Falls, Abby, p. 103; January, 1984, Catherine VanSonnenberg, review of Just Good Friends, p. 88; December, 1986, review of Lulu and the Witch Baby, p. 124; December, 1988, Nancy Palmer, review of The Teeny Tiny Woman, pp. 122-123; February, 1989, Gale W. Sherman, review of Sir Small and the Dragonfly, pp. 74-75; April, 1991, review of Super Cluck, pp. 100-101; August, 1993, Sharron McElmeel, review of Nina, Nina Ballerina, pp. 148-149; August, 2001, Maura Bresnahan, review of Snail City, p. 156; April, 2002, Barbara Scotto, review of The Emperor's Silent Army, p. 179; July, 2002, Augusta R. Malvagno, review of Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors, p. 110; July, 2003, Toniann Scime, review of Mary Cassatt: Family Pictures, p. 115.
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