Martha Freeman (1956-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1956, in Whittier, CA; Education: Stanford University, B.A. (with distinction), 1978.
Agent—Jane Jordan Browne, 410 South Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60605.
Writer. Freelance reporter/editor, Sonora, CA, 1980-95.
Stink Bomb Mom, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1996.
The Year My Parents Ruined My Life, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1997.
The Polyester Grandpa, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1998.
Fourth Grade Weirdo, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.
The Trouble with Cats, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.
The Spy Wore Shades, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Trouble with Babies, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2002.
Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
Several of Freeman's books have been adapted for audiocassette.
Work in Progress
Everybody Loves Mr. Ditzwinkle Except Me, for Holiday House; Everything Happens to Holly.
Stink Bomb Mom and The Year My Parents Ruined My Life are two novels by Pennsylvania-based author Martha Freeman. Stink Bomb Mom concerns the travails of twelve-year-old Rory. Rory has a menagerie of pets including Agnes the dog, an absentee dad, and a New-Age mom who earns a living selling aromatherapy products—or, as Rory's friends call them, "stink bombs." When Agnes bites Rory's best friend, Rory thinks of a clever way to save the day using her mom's stink bombs. In a review for School Library Journal, Carrie A. Guarria noted that Freeman writes about issues most young people can relate to, including "relationships with parents who can be embarrassing, the serious responsibility of pet ownership, friendship, and the consequences of divorce." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Susan S. Verner maintained that "Freeman's brisk pace and agreeably sarcastic dialogue keeps the … plot whizzing satisfactorily along, propelled by human buffoonery and canine angst."
Freeman continues in the same vein with The Year My Parents Ruined My Life. When Kate Sommers's parents move the family from sunny California to cold, rainy Pennsylvania, Kate has to adjust to a new house and new schoolmates in addition to a much different climate. When she decides to escape to her best friend's home back in California, pandemonium ensues. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly praised Freeman's "personable characters, dry sense of humor and understanding of the adolescent mind," while Janice M. Del Negro asserted in a review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Freeman gives Kate a strong voice and some realistic (but not overwhelming) adolescent angst that is bound to keep readers chuckling."
Self-proclaimed oddball Dexter Plum is the protagonist of Freeman's 1999 chapter book Fourth Grade Weirdo. Dexter carries a briefcase to class, consumes only black jelly beans, and loves to fill out math worksheets. When his absent-minded teacher, Mr. Ditzwinkle, misplaces school funds and comes under fire from an angry school board candidate, Dexter and his pals help their teacher save face. According to a critic in Publishers Weekly, "most of the entertainment stems from Dexter's ability to laugh at himself." Christina Dorr, reviewing Fourth Grade Weirdo for School Library Journal, noted that Freeman's "quirky characters who work to right the problems of friends and family will appeal to young readers."
The Trouble with Cats introduces Holly, a third-grader whose life changes dramatically after her mother remarries and moves the family into her new husband's tiny San Francisco apartment. Along with attending a new school and making new friends, Holly must deal with her stepfather's four mischievous cats as they constantly chew up her socks, eat her cookies, and escape from the apartment. The Trouble with Cats "is filled with incidents in which the protagonist makes adjustments common to many youngsters," wrote Denise Brna in School Library Journal. Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan called Freeman successful at "establishing Holly as a sympathetic narrator with some real problems and the gumption to work them out for herself."
In The Trouble with Babies readers become reacquainted with Holly as she and her family move to a new neighborhood. Here Holly becomes friends with Xavier, who lives with his two dads, and Annie, whose baby sister is too gross for Annie's tastes. Hoping to impress Annie, Xavier creates a "deyuckkifying" machine to clean up the baby, but Annie, with Holly's assistance, finally learns to accept her sister. Holly then gets a pleasant surprise: her own mother is pregnant. In School Library Journal Marilyn Ackerman wrote that The Trouble with Babies offers a "good, nonjudgmental portrayal of alternative family lifestyles." While writing that the plotlines involving Xavier are too "silly," Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman added that "the better story line is Holly's adapting to her new situation."
Freeman turned to fantasy in 2001 with The Spy Wore Shades. In the work, Dougie Minners encounters a strange girl while exploring the hills near his home in Calaveras County, California. The girl, named Varloo, explains that she lives in Hek, an underground civilization that sends a spy to the earth's surface every fifty years to learn how society has changed. Dougie and Varloo form an unlikely friendship, and they discover that a new housing development threatens the very existence of Hek. "The concept of a secret civilization existing in hidden caves is appealing," remarked Kay Weisman in Booklist. "While perhaps a bit far-fetched," Susan L. Rogers wrote in School Library Journal, The Spy Wore Shades "is still a good fantasy that's grounded with fascinating true facts."
Freeman combines mystery with humor in Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas? Each holiday season the neighbors on Chickadee Court decorate their homes according to the stanzas in "The Twelve Days of Christmas." When the birds—a partridge, goose, calling bird, and French hen—disappear from the yards, Alex and friend Yasmeen decide to track down the thief. "The amiable story is entertaining and moves at a brisk pace," noted Kitty Flynn in Horn Book. A critic in Kirkus Reviews found the work "breezy and humorous, with chatty dialogue and huge kid appeal," and Susan Patron in School Library Journal wrote that the mystery is "cleverly choreographed and unfolds dynamically."
Freeman once told SATA: "After years of reporting and editing on real life, I turned to fiction, which is preferable because I get to make it all up. My inspiration comes from my childhood, my kids, my friends and the stories people tell me. If you ever meet me, watch out—you may find yourself in the next book."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, December 1, 1998, John Peters, review of The Polyester Grandpa, p. 666; March 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Trouble with Cats, p. 1376; October 1, 2001, Kay Weisman, review of The Spy Wore Shades, p. 318; July, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The Trouble with Babies, p. 1844.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1997, Susan S. Verner, review of Stink Bomb Mom, p. 204; February, 1998, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Year My Parents Ruined My Life, p. 201.
Horn Book, November-December, 2003, Kitty Flynn, review of Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?, p. 744.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of The Trouble with Babies, p. 880; November 1, 2003, Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?, p. 1316.
Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2004, Josh Getlin, "Trouble with Gay Characters," p. A1.
Publishers Weekly, September 15, 1997, review of The Year My Parents Ruined My Life, p. 77; November 30, 1998, review of The Polyester Grandpa, p. 72; January 10, 2000, review of Fourth Grade Weirdo, p. 68; July 9, 2001, review of The Spy Wore Shades, p. 68; September 22, 2003, review of Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?, p. 72.
School Library Journal, December, 1996, Carrie A. Guarria, review of Stink Bomb Mom, p. 122; December, 1998, Marlene Gawron, review of The Polyester Grandpa, p. 122; January, 2000, Christina Dorr, review of Fourth Grade Weirdo, p. 96; July, 2000, Denise Brna, review of The Trouble with Cats, p. 72; August, 2001, Susan L. Rogers, review of The Spy Wore Shades p. 178; July, 2002, Diane Balodis, review of The Spy Wore Shades (audiobook), p. 64; August, 2002, Marilyn Ackerman, review of The Trouble with Babies, p. 155; October, 2003, Susan Patron, review of Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?, p. 63.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1996, p. 268.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (March 16, 2004), "Martha Freeman."*
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