Phyllis Shalant (1949-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1949, in Brooklyn, NY; Education: University of California at Berkeley, 1967-69; Brooklyn College (now Brooklyn College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1971; Manhattan-ville College, M.A., 1997. Politics: Liberal. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, gardening, observing nature, art, music, travel.
Agent—c/o Author Correspondence, Dutton Children's Books, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.
Writer. Professor of children's writing, Manhattan-ville College, NY. Conducts writing workshops for adults and for children as part of school visitations.
Authors Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List, 1997, for Beware of Kissing Lizard Lips; Florida Sunshine State Young Readers Award Master List, 1997, for The Great Eye; "best book" citation from New York Public Library, 2000, and Washington Irving Children's Choice Honor Book, 2002, both for Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi; "best children's book" citation, Bank Street College of Education, 2002, for When Pirates Came to Brooklyn.
The Rock Star, The Rooster, & Me, The Reporter, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1990.
The Transformation of Faith Futterman, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Shalom, Geneva Peace, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Beware of Kissing Lizard Lips, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1995.
The Great Eye, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2000.
When Pirates Came to Brooklyn, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Look What We've Brought You from Vietnam: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories and Other Cultural Activities from Vietnamese Americans, Silver Burdett Press, 1988.
Look What We've Brought You from Korea: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories and Other Cultural Activities from Korean-Americans, Silver Burdett Press, 1994.
Look What We've Brought You from India: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories and Other Cultural Activities from Indian Americans, Silver Burdett Press, 1997.
Look What We've Brought You from the Caribbean: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories, and Other Cultural Activities, Silver Burdett Press, 1998.
Look What We've Brought You from Mexico: Crafts, Games, Recipes, Stories and Other Cultural Activities from Mexican Americans, Silver Burdett Press, 1998.
Contributor of short story, "Pinch-Hitting," to anthology, With All My Heart, With All My Mind, 2000.
Work in Progress
Bartleby of the Big, Bad Bayou, a novel for publication in 2005; a new series, "The Society of Secret Superheroes," for Dutton, a series of books about a group of fourth-grade boys who form a secret club in order to perform superhero feats.
Phyllis Shalant told SATA: "My earliest memories of storytelling begin long before I could read or write. I can clearly remember sitting under the kitchen table in my parents' apartment and using my dolls and stuffed animals to act out the tales I created.
"My stories all come from real life experiences—even Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi, which has a redeared turtle as its main character. When Pirates Came to Brooklyn is an autobiographical novel. Main characters Lee and Polly imagine a wondrous world where shipwrecks occur in the attic, pirates hover over Brooklyn in a cloudship galleon, and it might just be possible for a kid to fly. But in Brooklyn, 1960, the girls' closed minded mothers put religious differences above friend-ship—and the two steadfast and spirited friends must use their minds and hearts to fly above the bigotry."
Shalant has been credited with "understanding the ways preteens think, act, and talk," to quote a Kirkus Reviews critic. Through a series of young adult novels—some humorous, some serious—Shalant has allowed her young protagonists to work through their own problems and to understand their strengths and weaknesses better by seeing them through the eyes of others. Zach, the hero of Beware of Kissing Lizard Lips, has a problem common to sixth-grade boys: he's puny, and some of the girls in his class tower over him. At the same time, to his dismay, Zach finds he is taking new interest in some of the girls in his class, including Nikki Lee, his tae kwon do teacher. Hazel Rochman in Booklist called the novel "a laugh-out-loud story about growing up male."
In The Great Eye, Lucy seeks consolation for her parents' breakup from her close friend Calvin and from her computer, on which she composes thoughtful poetry. When Lucy gets an opportunity to train a puppy for use as a seeing-eye dog, her relationship with the animal helps her to come to terms with her absent father. In Booklist Hazel Rochman praised Shalant for creating a novel that offers an "honest treatment of love that hurts."
Two of Shalant's novels revolve around Jewish characters and themes. In Shalom, Geneva Peace, eighth grader Andi Applebaum learns important lessons about the shallow veneer of sophistication when she befriends Geneva Peace, a girl her age who seems to have so much more maturity and opportunities. Roger Sutton in the Bulletin of the Center for Chilren's Books liked the Hebrew school setting Shalant uses in Shalom, Geneva Peace, concluding that it "brings a frsh and welcome reality to teen fiction." Religion proves a point of contention in When Pirates Came to Brooklyn. Lonely Lee finds happiness and adventure in a new friendship with Polly Burke, whose active imagination conjures Peter Pan and pirates in her Brooklyn attic. Troubles arise when the girls' mothers discover their friendship—Polly's mother tries to convert Lee to Catholicism and Lee's mother forbids Lee to see Polly. "Place and time are exceptionally well defined in this perceptive story," noted Julie Cummins in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called When Pirates Came to Brooklyn a "tender novel" that "… achieves a delicate balance between heart-wrenching events and uplifting scenes."
When Shalant was a little girl she had a pet red-eared turtle who lived in a bowl in her Brooklyn apartment. Bartleby, the hero of Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi, is not so coincidentally a red-eared turtle living in a bowl at the outset of his adventures. When one of Bartleby's young owners throws him into a pond for a swim, the previously pampered pet must learn a whole new way of life, one that includes danger and adventure. Having seen a television show about the Mississippi
River from his bowl, Bartleby sets out in search of it, helped along the way by friends but also accompanied by another ex-pet, Seezer, an alligator who just might get hungry for a turtle. Bartleby's friendly nature and quick wits endear him to readers who will find him "tiny, tough, loyal, and canny," to quote John Peters in Booklist. Judith Everitt in School Library Journal called Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi "a gentle story with an ethical and likable main character dealing with his own uniqueness."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Beware of Kissing Lizard Lips, p. 1674; November 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of The Great Eye, p. 501; May 15, 2000, John Peters, review of Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi, p. 1744; October 15, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of When Pirates Came to Brooklyn, p. 407.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1992, Roger Sutton, review of Shalom, Geneva Peace, p. 23.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1995, review of Beware of Kissing Lizard Lips, p. 786; August 1, 2002, review of When Pirates Came to Brooklyn, p. 1142.
Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1992, review of Shalom, Geneva Peace, p. 104; November 18, 1996, review of The Great Eye, p. 76; August 12, 2002, review of When Pirates Came to Brooklyn, p. 301.
School Library Journal, August, 2000, Judith Everitt, review of Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi, p. 189; October, 2002, Farida S. Dowler, review of When Pirates Came to Brooklyn, p. 170.
Phyllis Shalant Home Page, http://www.phyllisshalant.com/ (October 1, 2003).