Joan W(insor) Blos (1928-)
Joan W. Blos is best known for her novel A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl's Journal, 1830-32, which in 1980 won the American Library Association's Newbery Medal for the year's most distinguished contribution to American children's literature. Set in the early nineteenth century, A Gathering of Days is presented as a young girl's chronicle of her life on a New England farm. The story covers a pivotal year in the life of Catherine Cabot Hill; though much of the book records daily events, over the course of the year, Catherine must adapt to her father's remarriage and must face the death of her best friend. The book took Blos twelve years to complete. Fascinated by her family's summer home in New England, the author researched its past owners and based her novel on her findings. Kirkus Reviews called the book "carefully researched and convincingly delivered." A reviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that the "careful tuning of psychological nuances to historic elements . . . gives the story its powerful immediacy. A Gathering of Days not only gives the reader a close look at the early 1800s, it offers . . . a deeply moving human experience." Noting that the novel's heroine "meets both the cruel, long and dark winter days and the all-too-short sunny summer days with sturdy endurance and quiet joy," Lavinia Russ commented further in the Washington Post Book World that "Blos offers a valuable supplement to students of early American history."
Blos's novel Brothers of the Heart: A Story of the Old Northwest, 1837-1838 was praised by Tim Wynne-Jones in the Toronto Globe and Mail as "more powerful and more stirring that its award-winning predecessor." Commenting to SATA about the book, Blos once stated that Brothers of the Heart "began with an interest in a region and an exploration of its past: what was it like back then? This time I tell the story of a boy, Shem, the fiddler's crippled son, and the story's several settings include a newly established town, the commercial center of Detroit, and the Michigan wilderness. Among its varied characters, an elderly Ottawan woman is outstanding and her presence contributes another culture's strengths to the ongoing thread of the story." Shem spends six months in the wilderness with the Ottawan woman, learning how to survive; when he returns to his family, he has learned how better to deal with his disabilities. A writer for the St. James Guide to Children's Writers commented that Blos's "language, with its rhythms and lilt of earlier times, is remarkably spare, not replete with full-blown descriptions, yet giving the reader a strong sense of place and characterization. Blos has accomplished the fine feat of balancing history with universal human experience, uniting the book's past with the reader's present." The novel was adapted as a play in 1999.
Blos has also written picture books for younger readers, among them Hello, Shoes! and Bedtime! In Hello, Shoes! a boy and his grandfather search for the boy's shoes amid the clutter in his room. Once they are found, the boy buckles them himself for the first time ever, and then he and his grandparent head off for a fun time at the park. "This sweet slip of a story should strike a chord with very small children, who will understand the seriousness of the boy's quest and appreciate the grandfather's respect for it," noted a writer for Publishers Weekly. Hazel Rochman of Booklist commented that the "Words and pictures are just right for toddlers and grandparents to share." Bedtime! is a "charming, quiet" story about unwilling children being sent to bed, reported Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist. Childish reluctance about going to bed is perfectly captured, as is an experienced adult's manner of coping with it. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented on the "spare, soothing tones" of Blos's narrative voice, which is "spiced with a sly sense of humor."
As well as writing picture books, Blos also adapted a short autobiography by Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight, Moon, into picture book format. Blos provided an afterword describing Brown's life to accompany the adapted text. Mary M. Burns of Horn Book Magazine praised, "This book is the perfect introduction not only to Margaret Wise Brown but also to the art of autobiography." Carolyn Phelan in a Booklist review commented that in their adaptation, "Blos and Allen [the illustrator] have created a lyrical picture book."
Blos once told SATA: "Truth is something that interests mealot. . . . When you write a story, you find that you have to deal with three kinds of truthfulness. There is the psychological truthfulness of your characters, the social truthfulness of their situation, and the literary truthfulness of the manner of telling. The story is what results."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Literature Review, Volume 18, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
ALAN Review, fall, 1998, Joanne Brown, "Historical Fiction or Fictionalized History?"
American Libraries, June-July, 2004, "Local Memories for Sale," p. 28.
Booklist, September 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Brooklyn Doesn't Rhyme, p. 135; December 15, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Days Before Now: An Autobiographical Note, p. 755; March 15, 1995, Barbara Baskin, review of Brooklyn Doesn't Rhyme, p. 1343; February 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Nellie Bly's Monkey, p. 1024; May 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Bedtime!, p. 1629; October 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Hello, Shoes!, p. 450.
Detroit Free Press, February 1, 1981.
Detroit News, January 26, 1980, February 3, 1980.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), February 8, 1986.
Horn Book, August, 1980; July-August, 1994, Jo Carr, review of A Gathering of Days (audio recording), p. 438; September-October, 1994, review of Brooklyn Doesn't Rhyme, pp. 585-586; March-April, 1995, Mary M. Burns, review of The Days Before Now, pp. 212-213.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1980.
Publishers Weekly, July 19, 1991, review of The Heroine of the Titanic: A Tale Both True and Otherwise of the Life of Molly Brown, p. 56; November 7, 1994, review of The Days Before Now, p. 78; May 1, 1995, review of The Hungry Little Boy, p. 56; January 15, 1996, review of Nellie Bly's Monkey, p. 462; May 11, 1998, review of Bedtime!, p. 66; May 31, 1999, review of Hello, Shoes!, p. 91.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 27, 1980.
School Library Journal, March, 1995, p. 196; June, 1995, p. 77; April, 1996, Starr LaTronica, review of Nellie Bly's Monkey, p. 99; July, 1998, Rosalyn Pierini, review of Bedtime!, p. 64. July, 1999, Susan M. Moore, review of Hello, Shoes!, p. 61.
Washington Post Book World, March 9, 1980.
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalJoan W(insor) Blos (1928-) - Personal, Sidelights - Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Autobiography Feature