Lee Kingman Essay - Critical Essays

Kingman, Lee


Lee Kingman 1919–

American novelist for young adults and younger children, picture book creator, playwright, and editor.

Kingman writes a wide variety of titles for all age ranges. She places her works in both historical and contemporary periods, and sets them in places both exotic and familiar to her readers. Her books for young adults deal most often with the search for identity with which all adolescents are involved. Kingman explores not only the reactions of young adults to those events that change their lives, but also describes the effect they have on other family members. Her books have been praised for their accuracy by both young people and their parents.

Kingman's earliest works deal with the touching, humorous adventures of a Finnish-American family off the New England seacoast, and often include strong elements of mystery. In her Saturday Gang series she showed a talent for depicting the actions and feelings of boys in their early teens. With The Year of the Raccoon she broadened her scope to include the world of the young adult male and his parents. It is often considered her finest work, along with the myth-like adventure stories set in Iceland such as The Secret Journey of the Silver Reindeer. Kingman's successful depiction of young adults is, however, not limited to male characters. Georgina and the Dragon is a humorous story with feminist overtones, and The Peter Pan Bag shows the effects of the generation gap on a young woman and her family.

Although not a moralistic writer, Kingman stresses conservative values in her books. For instance, after Wendy in The Peter Pan Bag experiences the never-never-land of the Boston hippie community, she accepts herself as she is and returns home. Although Kingman has been accused of contrivance, her books are often praised for their realistic dialogue and characterization. She is especially noted for her attention to detail, gained perhaps through her early experience as a playwright for younger children, and for her ability to consider larger issues in her works while still telling an exciting story. (See also Something about the Author, Vol. 1.)

Alice M. Jordan

[The Rocky Summer is a] well-told regional story…. The family is a united one, its members are drawn with skill and reality in a story which shows a Finnish-American social group in a New England setting. Lee Kingman writes with knowledge and understanding.

Alice M. Jordan, "Early Fall Booklist: 'The Rocky Summer'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyrighted, 1948, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XXIV, No. 5, September, 1948, p. 372.


[The Rocky Summer] deals with the Finnish families who immigrated to Cape Ann, in the early 1900's, to work in the quarries. There is enough plot to keep things moving, but the charm of the book lies in its account of the day-to-day life of an individual but highly believable family, and in the atmosphere which is developed with care and no adulterating artiness.

Jane Cobb and Helen Dore Boylston, "Every Child to His Taste," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1948, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 182, No. 5, November, 1948, pp. 16-20.∗

Ellen Lewis Buell

The best [Christmas stories], of course, are those which can be shared by the whole family, read aloud in the evening. Such a story is "The Best Christmas"…. When news came just before Christmas to the Seppalas that big brother Matti's stone barge was missing out of Boston gloom descended upon that big affectionate Finnish-American family…. How 10-year-old Erkki did his whole-hearted if unskilled best to make the presents which Matti might have given, how it turned out to be the very best Christmas ever is told in a tender story which captures the real essence of giving.

Ellen Lewis Buell, "New Titles on the Younger Reader's Bookshelf: 'The Best Christmas'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1949 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 4, 1949, p. 42.∗

[The Quarry Adventure is a] frolicsome family story, with a touch of mystery-adventure for spice; involves a lively Finnish-American family and a lonely little girl who learns how to have fun and a sense of responsibility…. A joyous, appealing story….

"Eight to Eleven: 'The Quarry Adventure'," in Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop Service, Vol. XIX, No. 21, November 1, 1951, p. 635.

Once you meet Lauri Sorinen and his family [in "The Quarry Adventure"], you care not that they happen to be Finnish working people, living on Cape Ann, about 1920. Like the poor little rich girl, Garnet, you are just plain fond of them….

Boys and girls will like Lauri and Garnet…. We have had plenty of happy though poor families in children's fiction, and too many horrid little rich girls who are always reformed by meeting them. But the way [Lee Kingman] makes clear the details of living on very little money will be interesting to children. And these lovable Finnish parents would appeal to anyone. It looks a bit like a "junior mystery," but it is much more than that. Aside from its fun, its human relations are tops, and the funny bits of the Finnish language may help youngsters think more kindly of all who speak differently from themselves. Or, so we can hope.

"American Families, Then and Now," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), Vol. 28, No. 13, November 11, 1951, p. 10.∗

Isabelle Lawrence

The mystery [in "Kathy and the Mysterious Statue"] is a mild one. The real interest centers around Kathy's struggles to become an artist herself, to help her father tactfully, and to overcome the children's attitude of "You can run things but you can't run us." There's also a fine heady flavor of the seacoast.

Isabelle Lawrence, "Experiment in Maine," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1953 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 11, 1953, p. 30.

I. Elizabeth Stafford

[Kathy and the Mysterious Statue contains authentic] Maine flavor, fun, and mystery. Adventures are real and the characters well drawn. Should be an appealing story for junior high girls.

I. Elizabeth Stafford, "Recommended Children's Books: 'Kathy and the Mysterious Statue'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, December 1, 1953; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1953 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 78, No. 21, December 1, 1953, p. 2111.

There is an awful lot of humorous and exact commentary on twelve and thirteen year old life in this sequel to Quarry Adventure (1951)…....

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Jennie D. Lindquist

The mystery of the disappearance of the band instruments which had meant so much to the music-loving Finns makes the main thread of the story [of The Village Band Mystery] and both boys and girls will thoroughly enjoy it. But it is not the mystery which gives the book importance; it is the author's ability to picture lonely Garnet and her aunt; every member of the big, happy Sironsen family so full of the zest for living; the fun each season brings to children in a New England town by the sea; and the ways in which Finnish customs color the life in this community. I think it is Miss Kingman's best book so far.

Jennie D. Lindquist, "Early Fall Booklist: 'The Village Band...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Peggy Sullivan

Overwriting and belabored hints of mystery override the mild pleasure of this story [House of the Blue Horse] of a teen-age only child whose life is strikingly changed when a big, happy family become her neighbors and she discovers new interest in the village boy, formerly regarded as an oddball. Even the juicy ketchup oozes cheerily out of hamburgers, and the multiple plots are settled just as cheerily and with as little thought. Not recommended. (pp. 62-3)

Peggy Sullivan, "Junior Books Appraised: 'House of the Blue Horse'," in Junior Libraries, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the January, 1961 issue of Junior Libraries, published by...

(The entire section is 118 words.)

Ruth Hill Viguers

The strict European attitude of Val's parents toward the behavior of young people [in House of the Blue Horse] is contrasted with the relaxed use-your-own-judgment-and-commonsense attitude of the large Hull family. While the story often seems contrived to show that the development of good judgment is necessary before young people can be given freedom to make their own decisions, it manages to be interesting. The setting of the fascinating old house with a mystery, many lively, natural young people, and Val's passion for horses should give the story wide appeal.

Ruth Hill Viguers, "Late Winter Booklist: 'House of the Blue Horse'," in The Horn Book Magazine...

(The entire section is 118 words.)

Ruth Hill Viguers

[The Saturday Gang is] packed with excitement. The book is also packed with humor and very real boys—one of [Lee Kingman's] best.

Ruth Hill Viguers, "Stories for the Middle Years: 'The Saturday Gang'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1961, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XXXVII, No. 5, October, 1961, p. 440.

Thru its sheer fun and never ending excitement ["The Saturday Gang"] will have 8 to 12 year old boys gobbling up every word while turning green with envy over the wonderful boys' world in the prim town of Winnisquam, Mass….

Lee Kingman invades the kingdom of 11 year old boys and spins a...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

Priscilla L. Moulton

[Private Eyes: Adventures with the Saturday Gang is a] second book about the "bunch of boys" whose headquarters are an old chicken coop…. Intrigue and suspense are skillfully blended with good humor, unusually natural characters, and conversations showing real understanding of the twelve-year-old male and of the New England personality. After all the sustained and satisfying excitement, the reader may suffer momentary disappointment when the end of the book brings the end of the Gang. But it's a wise author who knows the appropriate time to make the motion "'that we keep the Saturday Gang alive in our memories.'"

Priscilla L. Moulton, "Early Spring Booklist: 'Private...

(The entire section is 130 words.)

Marian Sorenson

["Private Eyes"] is a fast-paced, tightly knit, well-written mystery for 8-12's. It concerns the Saturday Gang, Lee Kingman's group of believable boys…. All the characters come through as real people, and it is a pleasure to read a book for this age-group written with taste and intelligence.

Marian Sorenson, "'Private Eyes'," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1964 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), May 7, 1964, p. 4B.

(The entire section is 76 words.)

Ruth Hill Viguers

[The Year of the Raccoon] is not just "another raccoon story." It is the story of a boy whose single-minded devotion to his pet made him exceptionally vulnerable but also brought him a great deal of joy and the eventual realization of his own worth. [Lee Kingman] has already shown her knowledge of boys and of their infinite variety. In this story her understanding of them goes deeper than ever before. She shows also that she knows what it is to be a well-meaning but often baffled parent. To these awarenesses she has added a first-hand knowledge and appreciation of raccoons as pets that can grow from appealing babies to catastrophic adults. The many-faceted story has humor, excellent characterization, and...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

Patrice M. Daltry

What makes The Year of The Raccoon … outstanding is Lee Kingman's ability to involve her readers so that they view characters and situations from inside the story…. There is no sudden resolution of difficulties from without, the solution is within the problem. Or—with apologies to McLuhan—in this case, the problem is the solution.

Patrice M. Daltry, "Fresh Look at Stock Situations," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1967 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), May 4, 1967, p. B8.

(The entire section is 87 words.)

Polly Goodwin

This beautifully told story of a boy's heroism [The Secret Journey of the Silver Reindeer] is set in a past time when the Lapps, a hardy nomadic people, still migrated with their herds of reindeer through the Arctic north….

How Aslak, at risk of his life, outwits his uncle and proves his manhood by guiding his family and herd in safety from their winter village to the summer camp, is a thrilling story, threaded with magic and mystery. And Aslak, steadfast of purpose, loyal to his family, courageous and independent, is a memorable hero.

Polly Goodwin, "Ages 8-12: Past Times and Fantasy," in Book World—Chicago Tribune, Part II (© 1968 Postrib...

(The entire section is 422 words.)

Elizabeth Minot Graves

Mrs. Kingman has attempted a most difficult feat [in The Peter Pan Bag]—to recreate the hippie world of a commune as seen through the eyes of a 17-year-old girl—but she has succeeded unusually well, and teenagers will be extremely grateful for this book which deals objectively, without undue preaching, with drugs, the whys of runaways, and the need for independence and identity.

Elizabeth Minot Graves, "A Selected List of Children's Books," in Commonweal (copyright © 1970 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. XCII, No. 10, May 22, 1970, p. 250.∗


(The entire section is 184 words.)

Ethel L. Heins

A capable, mature writer, bravely facing generation and sociological gaps, looks with sensitivity and understanding at some of young people's most agonizing concerns [in The Peter Pan Bag]…. The writing is literate and alive with the kind of details that lend strength to the characterizations and vividness to the background. (pp. 394-95)

Ethel L. Heins, "Stories for Older Boys and Girls: 'The Peter Pan Bag'," in The Horn Book Magazine (copyright © 1970 by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XLVI, No. 4, August, 1970, pp. 394-95.

Evidently meant to be light and frothy, [the confrontation in Georgina and the Dragon]...

(The entire section is 246 words.)

Eleanor Dienstag

"Georgina and the Dragon" is a delightful fantasy that proves humor and style can survive liberation literature….

[Lee Kingman is] a skillful narrator with an appealing wit—a combination you don't come across too often in books for 7- to 10-year-olds.

Eleanor Dienstag, "Women's Lib for Boys and Girls," in The New York Times Book Review, Part II (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 7, 1972, p. 3.

(The entire section is 69 words.)

Beryl Reid

In a vivid re-creation of Icelandic life during the eleventh century, a turbulent story is unfolded [in Escape from the Evil Prophecy]. Relationships are revealed that are as cruel as the land with its burning sands, icy glaciers, and jagged peaks, and as treacherous as the patches of uncertain ground that could swallow a horse and rider in seconds. Mingled with the harsh realities of Icelandic life are dreams and prophecies of terrifying portent. But new values are beginning to show their effect; for the old, troll-ridden religion of Odin and Thor, challenged by the introduction of Christianity, is in slow retreat. A masterful story of adventure and suspense. (pp. 465-66)


(The entire section is 139 words.)

John F. Butkiss

Set in medieval Iceland, [Escape from the Evil Prophecy] is an intriguing story involving the adoption of Christianity and the rejection of the old Icelandic religion…. Murder, treachery, patricide, and daring escapes and rescues, along with excellent descriptions of the land, people, customs, and traditions of ancient Iceland, make this a first-rate adventure tale for young readers.

John F. Butkiss, "Book Review: 'Escape from the Evil Prophecy'," in School Library Journal, an appendix to Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1973 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1973), Vol. 20,...

(The entire section is 99 words.)

Gretchen Bazzdlo

The dialogue [in Break a Leg, Betsy Maybe] is realistic; the characters are well-drawn. Lee Kingman … deals with the real problems facing teenagers today with understanding, yet without condescension. Although this reviewer found the love interest to have just a bit too much bathos, she still thoroughly enjoyed Betsy Maybe, and would recommend it.

Gretchen Bazzdlo, "'Break a Leg, Betsy Maybe'," in Young Adult Cooperative Book Review Group of Massachusetts, Vol. 13, No. 2, December, 1976, p. 49.

(The entire section is 74 words.)

Ethel L. Heins

The narrative [in Break a Leg, Betsy Maybe] is partly presented in the form of a play, with stage directions and descriptions of sets and dramatis personae—an unusual device which unifies the book. Even more interestingly, the action and the moods of the plays performed by the teenagers—especially the haunting pathos of Our Town—are worked into the very fabric of the book. The author has an accurate ear for the natural expression of contemporary young people, the writing is full of zip and sparkle, and the images are often vivid: "Her voice won attention by pitching itself right through the general hubbub like the skewer through the shish kebob."

Ethel L....

(The entire section is 140 words.)

Zena Sutherland

Betsy tells her story with a bit of adolescent gushiness and intensity as she goes through a year of falling in love with Nick (firmly attached to the class belle) and with the school drama club [in Break a Leg, Betsy Maybe]. The text mixes script-style dialogues and narration with staccato effect, and Betsy occasionally sounds too young for her age (seventeen) but her preoccupation with Nick, her growing interest in acting, and her integration into a second family and a new school group are convincing and are balanced by a genuine interest in other people and their problems.

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People: 'Break a Leg, Betsy Maybe'," in...

(The entire section is 133 words.)

Karen Ritter

Throughout [Head Over Wheels], the close-knit likable Tredinnicks meet each crisis as it comes with love and courage and occasional flashes of humor as well as insight. The family members are all individuals, but Terry's physical pain and small but hard-won victories always seem a bit remote, making this novel interesting and worthwhile but not outstanding.

Karen Ritter, "The Book Review: 'Head over Wheels'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1978 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1978), Vol. 25, No. 2, October, 1978, p. 156.

(The entire section is 91 words.)

Mary M. Burns

Although the conflict [in Head Over Wheels] is centered around Terry's nine-month struggle to achieve some measure of control over his once rugged, athletic body, the narrative also explores the accident's effect on the people close to him—family, girl friends, classmates. Because [Lee Kingman] shifts from an objective perspective to an intimate family viewpoint, the story seems less cohesive than Robin Brancato's Winning…. She may have sacrificed unity of tone for breadth of coverage in order that the narrative provide as much insight into Terry's family as it does into Terry himself. Thus, the novel might be viewed almost as a documentary in which the financial, social, physical, and psychological...

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Zena Sutherland

[In Head Over Wheels seventeen-year-old] identical twins Kerry and Terry are in an automobile accident; Kerry is not hurt, but Terry suffers multiple injuries, including a damaged spinal cord. He will not walk again…. Kingman does an excellent job of showing the grief and stress within a family when one of its members is suffering a traumatic disaster. Medical details are smoothly incorporated, the characterization and relationships are perceptively drawn, the writing serious but not melodramatic. (pp. 120-21)

Zena Sutherland, "New Titles for Children and Young People; 'Head over Wheels'," in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (© 1979 by the University...

(The entire section is 111 words.)