Barbara O'Connor (1950-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Born 1950, in Greenville, SC; Education: University of South Carolina, B.A., 1972.
Agent—Barbara Markowitz, P.O. Box 41709, Los Angeles, CA 90041-0709.
Children's book author.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Best books citation, Family Fun magazine, 1997, summer reading showcase citation, Children's Book Council, and popular paperbacks for young adults citation, American Library Association, 2003, all for Beethoven in Paradise; best books citations, School Library Journal, Bank St. College, and Kansas City Public Library, all 1999, Dolly Gray Book Award, 2000, and notable book citation, American Library Association, 2000, all for Me and Rupert Goody; Gold Award, Parents' Choice, best books citations, Bank St. College and Chicago Parent magazine, and best children's books citation, Child magazine, all 2001, Cream of the Crop designation, Maine Regional Library System, and Massachusetts Book Award, both 2002, all for Moonpie and Ivy; Gold Award, Parents' Choice, and best of the best citation, Chicago Public Library, both 2003, both for Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia.
Beethoven in Paradise, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Me and Rupert Goody, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Moonpie and Ivy, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Taking Care of Moses, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Mammolina: A Story about Maria Montessori, illustrated by Sara Campitelli, foreword by Margot Waltuch, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1993.
Barefoot Dancer: The Story of Isadora Duncan, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1994.
The Soldier's Voice: The Story of Ernie Pyle, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.
The World at His Fingertips: A Story about Louis Braille, illustrated by Rochelle Draper, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.
Katherine Dunham: Pioneer of Black Dance, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.
Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Genius, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
Work in Progress
How to Steal a Dog.
Books by middle-grades author Barbara O'Connor fall into two categories: novels that are frequently set in small towns in the author's native South, and biographies of famous figures such as dancers Isadora Duncan and Katherine Dunham, journalist Ernie Pyle, and painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci. "I enjoy writing biographies because I like reading about people's lives and I like to research (I really do!)—and I like turning facts about a life into a story about a life," O'Connor wrote on her Web site. "I love writing novels because I can let my imagination run wild," she also added.
Critics have noted that O'Connor's enjoyment of and commitment to doing research is evident in her biographies. Reviewing her book Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Genius for School Library Journal, Kristen Oravec praised O'Connor's "outstanding writing" and noted that the author's "thorough research is evident in both the text and the several appendices." Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan praised another biography by O'Connor, Katherine Dunham: Pioneer of Black Dance, as "solid," while School Library Journal contributor Janet Woodward deemed the same volume "accessible" to its intended readership.
O'Connor's first novel, Beethoven in Paradise, is set in the Paradise Trailer Park in South Carolina, where twelve-year-old Martin Pittman lives with his emotionally abusive father. Martin's father thinks that the boy is a "sissy britches" because Martin prefers music to more macho activities like baseball. "All my life I ain't never had nothing but disappointments," Martin's father tells his son, "and you're just the icing on the cake." However, Martin's chain-smoking grandmother Hazeline, his lonely neighbor, Wylene, and the new girl at school, Sybil, support the boy's desire to be a musician. Wylene helps him to get a violin, which, in what Booklist critic Hazel Rochman called a "dramatic resolution," Martin's father smashes. Martin, however, refuses to be cowed, and with the help of his friends he gets a second, less-breakable instrument: a saxophone. Critics noted the particularly Southern feel of the book; "the power of this novel is in the hard-scrabble portrait of the people and the place," Rochman declared, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that O'Connor "has an instinctive feel for the local speech and its rhythms."
Me and Rupert Goody also features a protagonist who does not quite fit in with her relatives. Jennalee Helton's immediate family is large and disorganized, so much so that there are not enough beds to go around. The girl prefers to spend her time with a neighbor, Uncle Beau—no actual relation—who lets her help out in his general store and pays her in candy bars. When a mentally challenged young African-American man named Rupert Goody arrives in town and claims to be Uncle Beau's long-lost son, Jennalee is afraid the newcomer will replace her in Uncle Beau's heart. Meanwhile, the townsfolk also have a hard time accepting Rupert, since Uncle Beau is white, and eventually a growing tide of racism provokes Jennalee into defending the young man. "How this stubborn but winning protagonist travels from complete resentment to acceptance of her rival for Uncle Beau's affections is a journey readers won't want to miss," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor. Calling Me and Rupert Goody a "gutsy, heartwarming novel," Shelley Townsend-Hudson wrote in Booklist that O'Connor's novel "ultimately shows the capacity for love in the human heart."
Pearl, the protagonist of Moonpie and Ivy, is also searching for a surrogate parent to replace her own chaotic family. Pearl's mother, Ruby, dumps the girl with her Aunt Ivy in rural Georgia, because she claims to need time off from being a mother. Pearl and Ivy struggle with their relationship, both knowing that Ruby will eventually come to reclaim her daughter. At first Pearl rebuffs Aunt Ivy's friendly overtures, not wanting to get attached; when she finally overcomes her fear, it is her aunt who pulls back. Ivy's unwillingness to take Pearl completely into her heart is made even harder on the girl when another child, the abandoned Moon, is about to be taken in by Aunt Ivy and her new husband.
Reviewing Moonpie and Ivy, critics again praised O'Connor's evocation of the South. "O'Connor's gritty descriptions of the characters and scenery," wrote a Horn Book contributor, "vividly evoke the environment as Pearl experiences it," while Katie O'Dell noted in School Library Journal that "the rural Georgia setting is fully realized through gentle and descriptive prose." "There is no happy ending and no message," Hazel Rochman added in her Booklist review, "just the heartrending drama of Pearl's struggle to change and her search for home."
"Readers dealing with acceptance issues will find solace in" Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, maintained School Library Journal contributor Jean Gaffney. Burdette "Bird" Weaver, the protagonist of O'Connor's novel, is a sixth-grader with two dreams in life: to experience "just one short day of fame and glory" in the small town where she is generally ignored, and to go to Disney World. A school spelling bee offers Bird both, if she can win. The spelling bee is a team event, and Bird, encouraged by her neighbor Miss Delphine, decides to partner with another social outcast, a new boy in town named Harlem Tate. Harlem is an incredible speller, but he inexplicably runs off of the stage in the middle of the contest. Again following Miss Delphine's encouragement, Bird decides not to dismiss her new friend and tries to get him to tell her what happened. She eventually learns that Harlem has poor eyesight and could not read the writing on the chalkboard at the event. Bird's role as narrator was praised by several critics; her "original voice has charm, grit, and spunkiness," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while the girl's "conversations with empathetic Miss Delphine" were viewed by a Publishers Weekly critic as effective in revealing "Bird's humor and [the] big heart beneath her rough edges."
O'Connor told Something about the Author: "I love young people and I love writing, so it was only natural that I combined the two. I set my fiction in the South because I consider the South my 'heart's home.' I grew up there, so I know the details that make a story rich in character and setting.
"I often find myself drawn to the troubled child, the outcast child, the spunky misfit. Those are the kids who find their way into my stories.
"I don't write to teach a lesson. I write to take kids to new places, to introduce them to new characters, to show them the potential of the human heart—and sometimes to take them to a familiar and safe place.
"My advice to aspiring writers?
"2. Never be afraid to write something that's not very good. You can always make it better.
"3. Make friends with a librarian."
Biographical and Critical Sources
O'Connor, Barbara, Beethoven in Paradise, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 1997.
O'Connor, Barbara, Moonpie and Ivy, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2001.
O'Connor, Barbara, Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, Frances Foster Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Book, July, 2001, Kathleen Odean, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 81.
Booklist, April 1, 1993, Kay Weisman, review of Mammolina: A Story about Maria Montessori, p. 1426; July, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Barefoot Dancer: The Story of Isadora Duncan, p. 1941; September 1, 1996, Denia Hester, review of The Soldier's Voice: The Story of Ernie Pyle, p. 123; April 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Beethoven in Paradise, p. 1430; November 1, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Me and Rupert Goody, p. 530; May 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Katherine Dunham: Pioneer of Black Dance, p. 1740; May 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 1682; July, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, p. 1887; August, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Taking Care of Moses, p. 1936.
Book Report, November-December, 1997, Esther Sinofsky, review of Beethoven in Paradise, p. 40.
Horn Book, September, 1999, review of Me and Rupert Goody, p. 615; May, 2001, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 333; July-August, 2003, Kitty Flynn, review of Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, p. 465.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, p. 681.
Kliatt, May, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 22.
Language Arts, November, 2002, Junko Yokota and Mingshui Cai, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 150.
Publishers Weekly, March 3, 1997, review of Beethoven in Paradise, p. 76; September 27, 1999, review of Beethoven in Paradise, p. 107; December 13, 1999, review of Me and Rupert Goody, p. 84; January 22, 2001, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 325; May 12, 2003, review of Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, p. 67.
School Library Journal, April, 1993, Christine A. Moesch, review of Mammolina, p. 137; August, 1996, L. R. Little, review of The Soldier's Voice, p. 158; April, 1997, Lauralyn Persson, review of Beethoven in Paradise, p. 140; October, 1997, Jane Claes, review of The World at His Fingertips: A Story about Louis Braille, p. 121; October, 1999, Renee Steinberg, review of Me and Rupert Goody, p. 156; July, 2000, Janet Woodward, review of Katherine Dunham, p. 120; May, 2001, Katie O'Dell, review of Moonpie and Ivy, p. 157; November, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Leonardo da Vinci: Renaissance Genius, p. 190; June, 2003, Jean Gaffney, review of Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, p. 148.
Barbara O'Connor Home Page, http://www.barboconnor.com (June 1, 2004).
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