5 minute read

Nan Gregory (1944-)


Professional storyteller Nan Gregory has performed in such diverse places as nursing homes, libraries, theaters, schools, museums, and parks. Her storytelling has taken her across Canada and the United States, to Japan, and to New Zealand. Although she was born in Boston, Massachusetts, Gregory grew up in British Columbia. She earned her bachelor's degree in theater from the University of British Columbia and became a professional storyteller in 1984. Gregory calls Vancouver Island home, and when she is not writing or storytelling, she enjoys taking long kayak trips along British Columbia's coast with her husband in the summer.

After working as a professional storyteller for ten years, Gregory was inspired in 1995 to try her hand at writing. The result was How Smudge Came, which won numerous awards. How Smudge Came is the story of Cindy, a developmentally disabled young woman, who finds a puppy and decides to keep him. She names the dog Smudge and takes him with her to work, where she is a cleaner at a hospice. The other workers, as well as the patients, love having the dog around. However, at the group home for adults where Cindy lives, she tries to hide Smudge, fearing that they will not let her keep him. Eventually, the supervisors do find the dog and take it to the animal shelter, assuming that Cindy is not capable of taking care of it. Cindy is heartbroken and tries to reclaim the dog at the shelter, only to be told to return the following week. When she goes back, the dog has already been claimed. The story ends happily when Cindy finds out that Smudge has been taken in by the hospice staff members, who allow Cindy to keep the dog there.

Calling the book "a beautifully constructed story," Horn Book reviewer and noted children's author Sarah Ellis observed the similarities between the dehumanizing restrictions the group home placed on Cindy and the prison-like atmosphere of the animal shelter where Smudge was taken. However, Ellis noted, Gregory provides a third place, that of the hospice, "where all the nonessential rules and regulations fall away." It is only in this environment, according to Ellis, that Cindy can finally "hear her own voice, the capable voice that tells her what she knows. . . . Friendship, respect, kindness. In the presence of an animal, we discover what is essential about ourselves." Writing in Booklist, reviewer Hazel Rochman claimed that How Smudge Came is unique in that the author shares the story from the perspective of a mentally challenged person rather than from a friend or relative, commenting that the book "is remarkable in telling it as Cindy sees it." Rochman went on to comment favorably on the book's "wonderful ending, both surprising and convincing."

Five years later, Gregory published her next book, Wild Girl and Gran. Initially unsure about her grandmother coming to stay with her family, Wild Girl takes to Gran, a colorful creature herself, and the two spend hours together enjoying games in the outdoors. However, Gran's Down-syndrome adult Cindy narrates this unusual book about her life in a group home, her job, and her deep affection for the stray pup she takes in. (From How Smudge Came, written by Nan Gregory and illustrated by Ron Lightburn.) health begins to deteriorate, much to Wild Girl's distress as she feels helpless to stop it. Eventually, Gran must check into a hospital, where she eventually dies during the winter. Saddened by her loss, Wild Girl accompanies her mother on a walk in the spring to spread the dead woman's ashes among the wild flowers. Together, Wild Girl and her mother share stories about Gran, and slowly the youngster realizes how much Gran meant to her mother as well. Resource Links critic Heather Farmer commented on Gregory's use of "poetic language, contrasts, and repetition to create a story of exhilaration and uncomfortable reality and to illustrate the healing and empowering qualities of both nature and imagination." Farmer later went on to highly recommend the book for readers looking "for a gentle, expressive story about death." A Quill and Quire reviewer wrote, "The essence of Wild Girl's and Gran's special bond is encapsulated in the image of Gran sitting at the base of a tree knitting while Wild Girl, astride a stout branch, takes flight into the wild, wide world of the imagination."

Amber has just finished her morning session in kindergarten and is waiting for her father to pick her up in Amber Waiting. He is often late arriving, so Amber imagines flying him to the moon and telling him that she'll "be right back." Her father arrives an hour late and "smiles his famous smile" in an attempt to make her feel better. But Amber needs to let her father know how lonely and scared she was. Booklist's Carolyn Phelan called Amber Waiting "a subtle, sensitive picture book," and remarked that when the father is able to understand his daughter's pain, "Their exchange is beautifully related in both words and pictures, and children will find its emotional truth enormously satisfying." Writing in Publishers Weekly, a critic suggested that the "words and [Kady MacDonald Denton's] pictures do an equally fine job delivering this winning message in ways that both children and parents will understand—easily."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Gregory, Nan, Amber Waiting, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, Red Deer Press (Red Deer, Alberta, Canada), 2002.


Booklist, March 15, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of How Smudge Came, p. 1262; May 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Amber Waiting, p. 1659.

Horn Book, September-October, 1996, Sarah Ellis, review of How Smudge Came, p. 632.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2003, review of Amber Waiting, p. 467.

Publishers Weekly, April 7, 2003, review of Amber Waiting, p. 64.

Quill & Quire, February, 1996, review of How Smudge Came, p. 41; December, 2000, review of Wild Girl and Gran, p. 29.

Resource Links, April, 1996, review of How Smudge Came, pp. 157-158; August, 1997, Nan Gregory, "From Passion to Story," pp. 256-259; April, 2001, Heather Farmer, review of Wild Girl and Gran, p. 3; April, 2003, Antonia Gisler, review of Amber Waiting, p. 2.

School Library Journal, August, 2001, Susan Hepler, review of Wild Girl and Gran, p. 147; July, 2003, Grace Oliff, review of Amber Waiting, p. 96.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Bob Graham (1942-) Biography - Awards to Francis Hendy Biography - Born to SewNan Gregory (1944-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Adaptations