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Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert (1951-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1951, in Paris, TX; maiden name,

Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert

Dangerfield) Battle; Education: Paris Junior College, A. S. (elementary education), 1972; East Texas State University, B.S. (elementary education), 1974; Texas A & M University, M.Ed. (reading specialist certification), 1976; also attended Texarkana Community College, 1990, and Institute of Indiana State University, study toward Ph.D. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist. Hobbies and other interests: Writing, sewing, speaking, drawing.


office—c/o Room 214, Christian Ministries Center, Indiana Wesleyan University, 4201 South Washington St., Marion, IN 46953.


Educator and author. Texarkana Independent School District, Texarkana, TX, elementary classroom teacher, 1974-87, reading specialist, 1981-87, reading/writing coordinator, 1987-91; Harcourt Brace School Publishers, Southwest regional consultant, 1991—. Indiana-Wesleyan University, Marion, assistant professor of education, 1999—. Consultant and lecturer for writing workshops; dean-assistant principal, DeSoto Schools. Member, Black Chamber of Commerce, Girl Scouts, St. Paul Baptist Church Prayer Group.


International Reading Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Parent-Teacher Association (lifetime member), TSTA (president), National Education Association, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ATLAS, Classroom Teachers Association, Texas State Reading Association, Texas Publishers Association, Iota Sorority.

Honors Awards

Named Teacher of the Year, 1979; local teacher grant, 1982; John Hindman fellowship, International Paper Mill Foundation, 1986-87; Open Community grant, 1990; Parent Choice Silver Medal; Indiana State University research grant.


The Barber's Cutting Edge, illustrated by Raymond Holbert, Children's Book Press, 1994.

Off to School, illustrated by Gershom Griffith, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1995.

The Music in Derrick's Heart, illustrated by Colin Bootman, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

The Shaking Bag, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2000.

Not Yet, Uncle Skeet, Wright Group (New York, NY), 2002.

The Flying Red Tails, Wright Group (New York, NY), 2002.

Papa's Mark, illustrated by Colin Bootman, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Author of other books for children, including "D-Man and Beans Adventure" series, Wright Group (New York, NY), 2003. Contributor to Reading Education in Texas, 1989.


Beginning her career as a teacher in her native state of Texas, Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert has also worked as an assistant school principal and a reading specialist. With this vast experience, it is no surprise that she has also found a second career as a children's book author. In books that include Off to School, The Shaking Bag, and Papa's Mark, Battle-Lavert portrays young lives steeped in African-American culture and history. Off to School, for example, finds sharecropper's daughter Wezielee so obsessing about the possibility of attending school that she over-seasons and overcooks the meals she prepares for her father and his crew at harvest time. In reviewing the book, Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke praised the author's depiction of "a warm family atmosphere" and a "likeable African American main character" in young Wezielee. Similarly, in The Music in Derrick's Heart, Battle-Lavert tells what Booklist reviewer Shelle Rosenfeld dubbed a "charming, uplifting" tale about a boy learning to play the harmonica with help from a favorite uncle. The author's "easy-flowing, rhythmic prose" reflects the story's focus on "the extraordinary power of music as universal language," Rosenfeld added.

"Every family has a recorder," Battle-Lavert once told Something about the Author. "I happen to be the one for my family. Hearing my Mama tell about her life has strengthened me. Her stories have given me the self-esteem, pride, and love that tells me who I am and sustains me as I strive to be the best I can be." Born in 1951, Battle-Lavert eventually gained her teacher's certification, and began her long career as an educator in 1974. Two decades later she embarked on her second career as a children's book author with The Barber's Cutting Edge, published in 1994.

Elderly Annie Mae, who lives alone in a ramshackle house with her dog Effie Lucille, is the focus of The Shaking Bag. Annie Mae is generous to the birds that roost in her yard. When a traveling stranger named Raven asks for shelter, Annie Mae offers him the very last of her food, as well as a seat on her only chair. The mysterious traveler then takes up Annie's now-empty bird-seed bag that, when shaken by Annie Mae, causes food, wood for the fire, and even a table and chairs to appear. Noting the tale's "rhythmic language" and folk-story feel, School Library Journal reviewer Donna L. Scanlon praised The Shaking Bag as a "brilliant, beautifully written original tale," and also commended Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson's "exuberant" and richly toned paintings. A Horn Book contributor dubbed Battle-Lavert's tale a "well-honed narrative" in which "generosity is abundantly rewarded."

A boy helps his father learn to write his full name in preparation for casting his vote in the first election following the U.S. Civil war in Battle-Lavert's Papa's Mark. (Illustration by Colin Bootman.)

A freed slave's first chance to vote following the U.S. Civil War is the subject of Battle-Lavert's 2003 picture book Papa's Mark. Supplementing her story with the history surrounding the challenges facing former slaves in earning the right to vote following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in the late 1800s, the author tells the story of Simm's father, who with the help of his young son is able to sign his full name rather than resort to using an "X" when casting his first ballot in the upcoming county election. In School Library Journal Catherine Threadgill praised Papa's Mark as "a powerful story with a lot to offer to young readers," while in Kirkus Reviews a contributor noted that the simple text clearly shows the "pride, compassion, and love between father and son." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, citing the effective oil paintings by Colin Bootman that illustrate the tale, noted that a "judicious use of light and shadow underscores the message of hope" in Battle-Lavert's "affecting tale."

Noting that writing is not an easy job, Battle-Lavert once commented: "The more I read, the better my writing becomes. I enter my first draft into the computer, then go back and rework the words I wrote days, weeks, even months before. The stories become better, and better, and better." "I want students to know that reading opens up the world to them," she added. "It's a journey that will last them a lifetime."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Black Issues Book Review, May-July, 2004, Suzanne Rust, "Learning as We Climb: Stories about the Civil Rights Movement for Young Readers," p. 58.

Booklist, October 15, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Off to School, p. 410; February 15, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Music in Derrick's Heart, p. 1104; April 1, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Shaking Bag, p. 1466; November 1, 2003, GraceAnne A DeCandido, review of Papa's Mark, p. 500.

Horn Book, July, 2000, review of The Shaking Bag, p. 432.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2004, review of Papa's Mark, p. 128.

Publishers Weekly, November 14, 1994, review of The Barber's Cutting Edge, p. 68; January 24, 2000, review of The Music in Derrick's Heart, p. 31; February 9, 2004, review of Papa's Mark, p. 80.

School Library Journal, March, 2000, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of The Music in Derrick's Heart, p. 178; April, 2000, Donna L. Scanlon, review of The Shaking Bag, p. 90; February, 2004, Catherine Thread-gill, review of Papa's Mark, p. 102.

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