Barbara Corcoran 1911–
(Has also written under the names Paige Dixon and Gail Hamilton) American young adult novelist, nonfiction writer, short story writer, playwright, and journalist.
Whether mystery, historical novel, or contemporary story, all of Corcoran's works of fiction for young people share the same theme: the coming-of-age of their adolescent protagonists. Each teenage character confronts a complex situation or issue which tests his or her beliefs or stamina, and from which he or she learns, grows, and matures. Often the learning experience comes through an adventure, or, as in The Long Journey, a physical ordeal.
Corcoran has been praised for the freshness and relevance of her plots, which are often drawn from current events, and for her perceptive, unusual characterizations of searching young adults. Many of her female protagonists are handicapped in some way, either physically or emotionally: for instance, Margaret, in A Dance to Still Music, learns to live with her deafness. Sometimes their development has been impeded by parents who have deserted the family, or been institutionalized, or have impressed misanthropic views of society on their children. Corcoran's male characters confront similar tests of attitude, often connected with the raising of personal and social consciousness. Perhaps Corcoran's best-developed male protagonist is Jordan Phillips in May I Cross Your Golden River? who is faced with the inevitability of his own death. As Jordan passes through disbelief to anger and final acceptance, Corcoran presents his story sympathetically and realistically.
Corcoran's nonfiction has been commended for its accuracy and informativeness, and for its strong concern with the issue of animal welfare. Corcoran often interweaves straight reportage with fiction in her young adult novels. However, she has sometimes been charged with handling her animals and their situations in these works with more finesse than her people. It has also been said that she overuses stereotypes and caricatures, especially for her adult characters, that her plots too often veer towards melodrama, and that her endings are unrealistic. Critics also wonder if the topicality of Corcoran's works will limit their future readership. There is general agreement, however, that Corcoran's varied works for young people have set a high standard, and that the positive values she expresses are reassuring to her adolescent readers, helping them to face their fears and accept themselves while they enjoy her perceptive, interesting stories. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 3.)
Sam [is] a magnificently drawn portrait of a 15-year-old girl with a boy's name, a strange background, and a lot to learn about life. Everything about Barbara Corcoran's first book is unusual, from its highly individual group of characters and their island setting in Montana to the complex situations they must resolve.
Educated at home by her anti-social rancher-miner father, Sam finds herself the product of a totally different world when she finally enters school as a junior…. Life suddenly becomes a series of important choices and decisions: a reexamination of her parents' strange values, for one thing, and searching answers to questions of Who is right? and What is most important? The result is a mature, wise, and well-developed story, as individual and appealing as Sam herself.
Marilyn Gardner, "The Facts about Teen-Age Fiction," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1967 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), November 2, 1967, p. B11.∗
Nancy Young Orr
The half-year of [Sam's life as described in Sam] is a time of testing her father's distrust of people against her first independent contacts with the world…. Sam's uncertain eagerness to face life and to understand other people in spite of their weaknesses give the story some strength, but [Barbara Corcoran] almost stacks the deck in favor of the father's misanthropic philosophy. There are a number of improbable events in which secondary characters emerge as exaggerated, stereotyped examples of human frailty. Sam develops the courage to face new people and experiences, but for no logical reason—the book does not provide the necessary balance of feeling for any joy in life or goodness in people; Sam's changing views of her father—from initial hero-worship to near-pity at the end—are not realistically portrayed nor does the plot prepare readers for the emotional about-face.
Nancy Young Orr, "Junior High Up: 'Sam'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1967 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./ A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1967), Vol. 14, No. 3, November, 1967, p. 74.
[A Row of Tigers] could be called The Misfits: an eleven-year-old discontent and a twenty-seven-year-old hunchback moving through several short episodes that don't quite join to make a plot…. After [Gene Locke] and Jackie share a close escape from some drunken braves, a traumatic birthday party for Jackie's mother (someone suggests she might remarry), a sheep-herding jaunt and a final run-away-from-home over an allegedly stolen book, Gene Locke decides to buy half a ranch and stay in Montana. (Surprisingly.) The row of tigers is the jackpot hit by Jackie (triumphant final note) in her pet slot machine at the dump—from beginning to end a tale self-consciously piling up the out-of-the-ordinary plaything, hobby, friend. No one seems to really grow, nothing seems to really change, little really happens. A disappointing successor to Sam.
"Younger Fiction: 'A Row of Tigers'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1969 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXVII, No. 5, March 1, 1969, p. 236.
[A Row of Tigers is a] story written out of love for the open sheep country of Montana and with an understanding of individuals who do not adjust to the norm…. With its clear view of life in an area which young TV viewers will recognize as the Wild West, including Blackfeet Indians and a sheriff, the story says much about human values.
Virginia Haviland, "Summer Booklist: 'A Row of Tigers'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1969 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLV, No. 4, August, 1969, p. 410.
Ethel L. Heins
The themes [in Sasha, My Friend] are not new to children's books: a girl's painful adjustment to wilderness living and a fierce attachment to an unconventional pet. But the author, who lives in Montana by preference, writes with conviction as she tells an absorbing story set against the austere beauty of her adopted state. (pp. 540-41)
Ethel L. Heins, "Early Fall Booklist: 'Sasha, My Friend'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1969 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLV, No. 5, October, 1969, pp. 540-41.
Laurie's eyes are wide open for a lot of reasons [in The Long Journey]: ever since her parents died when she was three she's had only correspondence courses, National Geographic, boxes of old books, and Grandfather's protective cynicism to teach her about the world. What she knows is the land, well enough to subsist on it…. What she doesn't know about is bathtubs, telephones, revolving doors, cream sauces, fluffy living … and the other 'civilized' appurtenances she encounters when contingencies—like a howling storm and a bullet wound—bring her suspectingly into contact with other ways and awaken some dormant propensities…. Laurie's not an ambiguity: she's just ambivalent—uncertainly steeling herself against what she's been warned against, but experiencing new directions with a guarded interest and rightful pride. Every bit as firm a character as Sam (1967), she marshalls resources to cope with things she hasn't any categories for…. This is no formula melodrama despite pat predictables and the happy compromise that promises the best for Laurie of both worlds: part of its charm is the confluence of opposites that aren't really, and again like Sam it grips and gives on more than one dimension. (pp. 687-88)
"Older Fiction: 'The Long Journey'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1970 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XXXVIII, No. 13, July 1, 1970, pp. 687-88.
Sheryl B. Andrews
Laurie sets off [in The Long Journey] …, determined to avoid contact with any person in authority. Eventually, though, she discovers the truth in something that Emily Kimball, a retired schoolteacher who shelters her during a heavy hail storm, tells her about people: "'Time and again they'll let you down, but by and large you have to trust them.'" The strength of the book lies in the presentation of this central philosophy, as the author simply and clearly portrays the characters—both good and bad—that Laurie meets on her long journey to Butte and to her new self. The story is weakened, however, by the melodramatic treatment of the villain, "Old Hell-and-Damnation Hastings," who suggests the mad itinerant...
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Intolerable incompatibility with a too-busy, autocratic father and a self-centered stepmother sends Kimberly, fourteen, and Nathaniel, sixteen, off on an escape to Uncle Seth and his cabin in the Canadian northwoods. Their rare and generous brother-sister relationship adds warmth to [A Star to the North]…. The human factors and travel details—there is a brilliantly described shooting of the rapids when Kimberly's sprained ankle makes portage impossible—raise the book above many such accounts of adventure. At the end of the story, parental relationships are not improved, but are faced squarely, while a maturing point of view enriches the character study.
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The story [of A Star to the North] can be viewed as three parts: home, journey, and destination. The second part, the longest and also the best, features only the brother and sister team, later joined by a dog. It is written out of [Barbara Corcoran's and Bradford Angier's] true experience in the outdoors and not the work of an armchair traveller's imagination. The train ride, the canoe trip, the close encounter with a mother bear, the rescue of the dog, the battle with a moose are all incidents which provide lots of suspense and excitement.
Alongside the adventure there is love, love between brother and sister. It is poetically told through their companionship and togetherness in the wild....
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[Everyone] knows what traps and trails await youthful innocence in the sinful city. Nearly as prominent in folk tradition is the urban easterner-gone-west.
Newest addition to the westward procession is 14-year-old Marianne Temple [in "This Is a Recording"]….
Marianne's months in Montana are packed with enough action to satisfy any TV fan. They center on a conflict between [her grandmother's hired hand] Oliver and a bigoted under-sheriff …, and include a barn-burning, false arrest and a dramatic hunting accident.
Counterpoint to these events is Marianne's slowly unfolding realization that her parents are planning a divorce. The spectrum of her reactions nicely...
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[This Is a Recording is a] superior, fast-moving novel with a Montana setting…. Told in the first person as a tape-recorded diary, this is not just another city-girl-matures-in-the-country-and-begins-to-love-nature story. The tone is generally whimsical, characterizations are vivid, there's plenty of action, and Marianne's wry, humorous and insightful observations spark interest throughout.
Cherie Zarookian, "Book Reviews: 'This Is a Recording'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the December, 1971 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1971), Vol. 18,...
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All of the soul searching in this disappointing teen-age novel [The Lifestyle of Robie Tuckerman] probes very little beyond the superficial…. The characters are not fully developed or realized, and the story lacks the depth and conviction of Corcoran's coauthored A Star to the North….
Peggy Sullivan, "Junior High Up: 'The Lifestyle of Robie Tuckerman'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the April, 1972 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1972), Vol. 18, No. 8, April, 1972, p. 114.
Judith runs away from...
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Barbara Corcoran's latest [Don't Slam the Door When You Go] is certainly not her best—it's a preachy story of three teen-age girls who run away to Montana…. One interesting, gratifyingly realistic twist is that the boy Judith yens for doesn't fall for her beautiful soul but instead succumbs to Flower's more obvious charms. It's also refreshing to encounter a fictional 10-year-old who curses like real 10-year-old boys. And, Corcoran does her usual good job of describing the Montana landscape. Still, the story is laden with obtrusive messages—it's good to live your own life while remaining tolerant of other life styles; it's bad to be materialistic and to take drugs, etc.—and most of the characters are...
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Jean C. Thomson
[All the Summer Voices] is a weak tale about a boy who learns to respect his father despite his failings…. David and his father are reconciled when Dad helps save a neighbor's life and rescues David from drowning. This contrived solution shows David that he's a loving father and a brave man. David gets the point (and readers won't miss it either): don't judge the complex world of adults too harshly. David doesn't talk to people his own age; instead he deals with adult problems and listens to adult pronouncements. Action is submerged in the history of the time or town or needlessly interrupted to produce a story that's not as interesting as its locale.
Jean C. Thomson,...
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The real Horribilis in the world of Ursus Horribilis is man, and The Man in ["The Young Grizzly"] is loaded with mean intentions, double negatives, ain't-punctured bad grammar: "you don't know nothing," "where's them Grizzlies?" The Man's son is always jostling his shooting arm just as he's about to bring down a bear. And when boy meets bear, boy launches into the sort of soliloquy calculated to warm the cockles of the average grizzly: "I don't mean you no harm, bear. I don't like killing things … I like you, bear- … Why don't you just skedaddle out of here now … If you kill me bear, you got to do it face to face." Another kind of man, wears a green ranger uniform and speaks Good English…. Beyond...
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Not all desperate teen-age runaways have the good fortune to run straight into the arms of exactly the right person to help them. Barbara Corcoran's heroines generally do. With a lesser author, this could be simply slick plotting, but with Barbara Corcoran the very fortuitousness is, I think, part of the message at the core of her writing. "Trust life," she says. "Go into the world. There'll be good people out there as well as bad. There'll be help." She handles her theme like a prism, holding it up to catch the light at different angles, turning it this way and that so that each book is a fresh experience and a variation of the pattern.
In ["A Dance to Still Music"] the heroine is closed off from...
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The story [of Promises to Keep] is concerned with [Lon's] response not only to the family he is meeting for the first time, but also—because of his Vietnamese heritage—to expressions of prejudice and bigotry on various levels. Although the theme is a serious one and the message comes through strongly, the story moves rapidly and at times with considerable lightness…. The picture of the insular community is well-drawn, and changing social attitudes are handled realistically.
Beryl Reid, "Stories for the Older Readers: 'Promises to Keep'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1975 by the Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. LI, No. 1, February, 1975, p. 55....
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Childhood, especially the growing-up years, is sometimes characterized by loneliness and uncertainty, a groping toward being, becoming. The themes of alienation and self-discovery appear with frequency in contemporary fiction. In A Dance to Still Music these themes are paramount and handled by Barbara Corcoran with finesse…. The purpose of A Dance to Still Music is not ordinary entertainment, certainly not light amusement. This is a haunting story, one with suspenseful plot, undergirded with bold, fast-paced mental actions to which much of the physical is only incidental. The characters are vivid, real, sometimes Steinbeckian…. In the hands of a less gifted writer Margaret's story could have been...
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[The Clown is a fast-paced adventure story which has] a strong plot, an unusual setting, sympathetic characters strongly drawn, suspense, love interest and a vigorous writing style. The orphaned daughter of an American diplomat, Liza is in Moscow with a tiresome aunt and uncle who need her help…. Liza uses her uncle's passport and clothes to smuggle out of the country a Russian clown who is in danger for political reasons…. The details of the planning and execution of the escape are intriguing and convincing, and the end of the story is satisfying but not pat. A doughty and believable heroine, a cracking good book.
Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young...
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In Paige Dixon's "May I Cross Your Golden River?" 18-year-old Jordan Phillips discovers and faces the fact that he has a wasting disease of the muscles that will surely kill him in a few months or years…. There are few surprises in the development of the story. A conventional plot diagram would have to show it all downhill, though Jordan's progress through denial, fear, resentment and self-pity to some sort of acceptance is still worthy of respect even if predictable. Nevertheless, his affliction has something in common with the case of "movie-star's-disease" that so picturesquely carried off Ali McGraw in "Love Story"—which is to say that it is bloodless, physically almost painless, unequivocally hopeless, and...
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A recipe for an entertaining junior novel might well read: take one adolescent heroine, add a light touch of romance, combine well with an exotic character, locale or situation, and season with a current problem.
While any formula has its limitations, it also affords gratifications. Such a novel is Titania's Lodestone. At fifteen, Priscilla Parkins has never known a permanent home. Her thoroughly individual parents, Paul and Titania, have chosen a lifestyle that involves travel in Europe and frequently identifies them as hippies. Priscilla's more conventional values create conflict within her family…. The novel is highly recommended for its sympathetic characterization of the parents and its...
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The story of a young, resourceful girl's friendship with a Russian clown, and his defection with her aid, provides a fast-moving and low-key novel [The Clown]. The plot is suspenseful without being over-dramatized; the characterizations are excellent as the reader is drawn into the lives of Lisa and her clown…. Through the few days of tension and secret planning, the plot and characters are developed fully. The detailed life of an experienced traveler and her relationship to a state performer add to the modern reality of this book.
Cynthia Brown, "Fiction: 'The Clown'," in Young Adult Cooperative Book Review Group of Massachusetts, Vol. 12, No. 3, February, 1976,...
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E. Coston Frederick
May I Cross Your Golden River? was a disappointing book to me. In fact, at several points I became angry at how the author treated the story and characters….
Some of the dialog among and between the family members was exceedingly well-done, especially with the youngest brother, Skip. However, too many of the situations and relationships were hackneyed to the point of frustration. Within the first few pages the reader knows that Jordan's girl friend is not the "right girl" for him, and that the girl next door is much nicer.
In an attempt to achieve relevance with young people, the author made the usual mistake of trying to affect a contemporary speech pattern. The result was...
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The head injury she had had as a small child had left Elinor [central character of Axe-Time, Sword-Time] with no less intelligence, but with a malfunction that kept her from reading or spelling well. Mother insists that Elinor should stay in school for an extra year so that she can get into college. It isn't what Elinor wants, but it's hard to break away…. Elinor's problems are not those of all readers, but most adolescents face similar situations: adjusting to, and accepting, one's own limitations; establishing independence from parents; and learning, as Elinor does, to accept people with other—even disparate—interests and backgrounds. The writing is subdued but not sedate, the characters and...
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[Cabin in the Sky] has more than a trace of show-biz pathos, but the characters are sound, the writing polished, and the picture of the theater world of the 1950's, with careers ruined by witch-hunting blacklisters, is remarkably evocative.
Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'Cabin in the Sky'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1977 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), Vol. 30, No. 6, February, 1977, p. 88.
[The Faraway Island] begins with fourteen-year-old Lynn bumbling about in an agony of shyness, and Corcoran's sympathy not only with her but, by extension,...
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[The Faraway Island is a] standard story of overcoming self-consciousness and making adjustments, but the theme is neatly interwoven and characterization is insightful.
Veronica Howley, "The Book Review: 'The Faraway Island'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1977 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1977), Vol. 23, No. 9, May, 1977, p. 60.
Hamilton's twelve-year-old narrator/heroine [in Love Comes to Eunice K. O'Herlihy], a familiarly feisty type who always refers to herself by her full name, falls hard and fast for Makepeace...
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Readers get a good, close look at [the behavior of goats in Summer of the White Goat], with a focus on one nanny in particular. Dixon is obviously concerned about the species, and her novel surpasses [Jean Craighead] George's Going to the Sun …, which also deals with Rocky Mountain goats. Still, the plot is forced to fit around the facts. As believable as Gordon's immaturity, fears, and excellence in science may be, neither he nor the plight of the animals is enough to create a memorable story.
Susan Sprague, "The Book Review: 'Summer of the White Goat'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the November, 1977 issue of School Library Journal,...
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Violet H. Harada
[Make No Sound's] chief weaknesses lie in two areas: a lack of character credibility, and a distortion of the deeply-felt roots of Hawaiian mythology. Melody's swift changes of feeling toward her family and her belief that she is Pele's sister are unconvincing. Also, the other characters appear one-dimensional. Although the legends themselves are summarized with some accuracy, having those around Melody denouncing the tales as unscientific ignores the complex interweaving of mythological beliefs and reality in modern Hawaii.
Violet H. Harada, "'Make No Sound'," in Children's Book Review Service (copyright © 1978 Children's Book Review Service Inc.), Vol. 6, No. 6,...
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The responsibilities of a child of divorced parents to herself and her family is the theme of [Hey, That's My Soul You're Stomping On]…. Although the theme is apt and some of the characters well-drawn, the plot is dull and there are a multitude of adolescent novels that cover the same ground. Its best feature is the sympathetic and non-stereotypic images of older people that it presents.
Sheila Salmon, "'Hey, That's My Soul You're Stomping On'," in Children's Book Review Service (copyright © 1978 Children's Book Review Service Inc.), Vol. 6, No. 12, Spring, 1978, p. 116.
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Barbara Corcoran's Axe-Time/Sword-Time … distances its characters in time and heaps up trouble for them, but takes … care with period detail. The story runs from September, 1941, to February, 1942, and heaps up local color to authenticate its time and place…. [Historical] verifications are supported by little-changed domestic details, as the characters eat meals, discuss real colleges, ski, skate, give and go to parties; we even learn the medical history of the heroine Elinor Golden. Against this background, Elinor struggles with her perceptual handicap and the misunderstanding others have of it, while her parents' marriage shatters, her mother nags her to live up to unreal expectations, her brother and...
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Mary M. Burns
Pained by the growing incompatibility between her parents, sixteen-year-old Rachel Douglas elects to pay an extended visit to her maternal grandparents until her mother and father reach a decision about their futures [in Hey, That's My Soul You're Stomping On]…. [Through] the quiet wisdom of her grandparents and her observations of the other elderly vacationers at the comfortable but unfashionable Palm Springs resort motel, she acquires a tolerance for human failings and the understanding that concern for one's parents, however burdensome it may sometimes be, is not lightly dismissed…. Written in a taut, brittle style, the story conveys the effects of divorce upon a family, while simultaneously suggesting...
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Deserted by his superstitious Indian guides when he threatens to kill a marauding wolverine, a hunter faces starvation and freezing to death in the Alaskan wilderness [in The Loner: A Story of the Wolverine]. The story of how he survives until the conscience-stricken guide brings in a plane to get him is smoothly interwoven with the wolverine's voracious struggle for food…. Both the man's plight and the animal's right to live are well portrayed, with enough tension and background information to appeal to both natural history and adventure story readers.
Barbara Elleman, "Children's Books: 'The Loner: A Story of the Wolverine'," in Booklist (reprinted by...
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EUGENE S. RAVE and BERYL C. GILLESPIE
The Loner is a typical example of a book with a Native American as a minor character supplying a mystical aura to a conventional adventure tale. A tenderfoot hunter is obsessed with killing a marauding wolverine—an effort that will humble the man eventually as he sees how ill-advised and how futile it is to challenge nature in a fit of temper. But in handling this conservationist theme, the author felt it necessary to invent elaborate Native American superstitions and to depict a stereotyped Native American.
The Indian guide is portrayed as contemptible, callously abandoning the white hunter to a likely death. The guide is also full of silly superstitions, and his English is the common...
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Ann A. Flowers
[Me and You and a Dog Named Blue] has many ambiguities and dimensions; the reader never fully understands CoCo's puzzling character or motivation (nor does Maggie), there is no definite resolution of the problem of Maggie's future, and some characters appear without apparent reason. But it is this very uncertainty that gives the book the feeling of a piece of real, ongoing life.
Ann A. Flowers, "Stories for Intermediate Readers: 'Me and You and a Dog Named Blue'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright; © 1979 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. LV, No. 3, June, 1979, p. 300.
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Skipper Phillips, still mourning his brother's recent death, decides to find the father he has never met in [Skipper, a] tale of black-eyed peas, magnolia blossoms, and "I do declares."… This sequel to May I Cross Your Golden River? … is an unrelieved disaster. There are no characters, only caricatures; the plot is neither interesting nor credible; and the setting is suffocating with honeysuckle.
Karen Harris, "The Book Review: 'Skipper'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1979 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1979), Vol. 26, No. 2, October, 1979, p. 158....
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[Skipper] doesn't have the poignancy or the cohesion of [May I Cross Your River?] but it is just as well written, and it presents a fascinating picture of the complexity and richness of relationships in an extended family.
Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'Skipper'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1980 by the University of Chicago; all rights reserved), Vol. 33, No. 6, February, 1980, p. 107.
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Denise M. Wilms
Kitty LeBlanc's flight from her abusive, alcoholic father is set in motion when she thinks she's killed a drunk pal of his who made advances; her journey to refuge at Aunt Lee's offers a ready-made framework to put together a story of personal growth [in Walk My Way]…. The story's offbeat journey situation and Kitty's hesitant groping for control gain clarity from the author's effortless style. The prose flows easily and satisfies with simple lines that nonetheless aptly characterize events. (pp. 1289-90)
Denise M. Wilms, "Children's Books: 'Walk My Way'," in Booklist (reprinted by permission of the American Library Association; copyright 1980 by the American...
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