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Betsy Byars began her writing career rather late in life. -In all of my school years, . . . not one single teacher ever said to me, 'Perhaps you should consider becoming a writer, '- Byars recalls. -Anyway, I didn't want to be a writer. Writing seemed boring. You sat in a room all day by yourself and typed. If I was going to be a writer at all, I was going to be a foreign correspondent like Claudette Colbert in Arise My Love. I would wear smashing hats, wisecrack with the guys, and have a byline known round the world. My father wanted me to be a mathematician.- So Byars set out to become mathematician, but when she couldn't grasp calculus in college, she turned to English. Even then, writing was not on her immediate horizon.First, she married and started a family. The writing career didn't emerge until she was 28, a mother of two children, and living in a small place she called the barracks apartment, in Urbana, Illinois. She and her husband, Ed, had moved there in 1956 so he could attend graduate school at the University of Illinois. She was bored, had no friends, and so turned to writing to fill her time. Byars started writing articles for The Saturday Evening Post, Look, and other magazines. As her family grew and her children started to read, she began to write books for young people and, fortunately for her readers, discovered that there was more to being a writer than sitting in front of a typewriter.-Making up stories and characters is so interesting that I'm never bored. Each book has been a different writing experience. It takes me about a year to write a book, but I spend another year thinking about it, polishing it, and making improvements. I always put something of myself intomy books -- something that happened to me. Once a wanderer came by my house and showed me how to brush my teeth with a cherry twig; that went in The House of Wingscopyright (c) 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.
Byars (Summer of the Swans) organizes this jewel-like novel into 26 brief chapters, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet, and often resting upon a single image. Amen ("Amie") McBee, born in 1891 and the fifth daughter of a fragile mother and a father who ardently wishes for a son, searches for her place in the family and discovers a talent of her own. Even before Amie, who narrates, pens her first poem at age six, she shows signs of a poet's sensibility. She admires her sister Augusta, who "knew more words than anyone in the world," and eloquently sums up her bitter aunt: "She seemed to see life as a narrow and dangerous cliff, with charmed objects and correct action all there was to keep you from falling over the edge." Amie grows fascinated with the enigmatic Mr. Tominski, who tends the doves behind the nearby chapel. A seemingly harmless game of hide-and-seek that Amie plays with her devious twin sisters (Arabella and Annabella, dubbed "the Bellas"), in which the person being "it" pretends to be the feared Mr. Tominski, prompts their father to explain the man's importance to him. In tightly constructed scenes such as this, the author slowly and fluidly unspools the small revelations that aid in Amie's understanding of the world around her. With the arrival of Amie's grandmother (to assist with Amie's mother's pregnancy), the girl begins to blossom: Grandmama calls Amie a "wordsmith" and dispels her fears about Mr. Tominski, unveiling him as a "dove magician." The woman also gives each granddaughter a camera, and the subjects of their photographs reveal much about who they are. Amie, after photographing the lamb on the gravestone of her sister, Anita, who died at 10 days old, discovers Mr. Tominski behind her and photographs him, in what turns out to be a prophetic encounter. Byars effortlessly links subtle images into a cycle of life a death comes closely on the heels of the birth of Amie's brother, Adam; an early chapter in which three-year-old Amie names the parts of their dog reverberates at the novel's close, when two-year-old Adam recites the parts of the gravestone lamb. The snippets of Amie's and her family's lives add up to an exquisitely complete picture. Ages 8-12. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
"Byars has a gift for writing dialgue, and here she uses a spare, almost poetic style to craft an accessible story that grapples with life-altering issues."
Gr 3-7-Betsy Byars' family saga of one summer in the life of a family at the turn of the century is a simple story, but it contains a powerful message (Viking, 2002). The book's theme revolves around words, their beauty and their power to change lives. The tale is told by Amen, the youngest of six daughters in the McBee family, all of whose names begin with the letter A, as does their father's name. Their mother is a detached, reclusive woman named Lily, separated from the family by her delicacy and her name. The girls spend much time together, and are parented by their very much unloved Aunt Pauline. Amen, or Amie as she is called, is a "wordsmith" according to her grandmother, since she uses words and poems to understand and celebrate the world around her. She is introduced to the recluse, Mr. Tominski, who lives in their chapel, by her identical twin sisters who are known collectively as the Bellas. The twins delight in scaring Amie with their games, and they paint Mr. Tominski as a child-eating monster. Amie is intrigued by the man and his gentle way with the doves he has tamed. When a cruel remark by the Bellas causes Mr. Tominski to react with terror, Amie commemorates his life and his place in their family with a poem. The book's 26 short chapters each begin with a letter of the alphabet, and are filled with wonderful symbolism and symmetry. Cassandra Campbell reads Amen's words as dexterously as if they are poems, and her inflections reflect the assorted personalities of the McBee family. The result is a wonderful portrait of family life at the end of the 19th century, as well as a thought-provoking tale about judging people and the sometimes elusive quality of truth.-MaryAnn Karre, Horace Mann Elementary School, Binghamton, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.