Sonia Levitin Critical Essays

Introduction

Sonia Levitin 1934–

German-born American novelist for young adults and younger children, short story writer, picture book author, autobiographer, and journalist.

Levitin's historical and humorous books for young people use factual structures and thoughtful undertones as their basis. Several of her stories deal with survivors who succeed despite stress or hardship due to their openness and strength. Levitin's hopefulness and humor permeate her works, and balance the seriousness that underlies her subjects.

Born in Berlin, Levitin came to the United States at the age of four. Journey to America, her first book, is a fictionalized account of her experience. Levitin portrays the horrors of war and Nazi Germany as she sensitively depicts the joys and pains of growing up. The book was critically well-received and Levitin was praised for writing without sentimentality or self-pity. It was awarded the National Jewish Book Award for juvenile literature in 1971.

The teenage protagonists of Levitin's two historical novels both withstand the trials of being pioneers in unexplored America. In Roanoke: A Novel of the Lost Colony, Levitin combines skeletal facts about the colony with exciting fiction to logically explain its disappearance, and she was praised both for the success of her characterizations and the depth of her research. By depicting William's appreciation for Indian culture as a method of escaping the fate of the other colonists, Levitin provides an illustration for her readers of the value of being open to other cultures. The No-Return Trail deals with the adventures of the first woman trail-blazer, Nancy Kelsey, who survived a cross-country journey from Missouri to California. Basing her story on the Bidewell-Barleson Expedition of 1841, Levitin was able to draw on the memoirs of its participants, aided by the documents in the Moraga, California, Historical Society, which she founded. The novel was given the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1978.

Levitin's witty stories about contemporary teenagers, Jason and the Money Tree and The Mark of Conte, make subtle points about wealth, freedom, and the problems students have with school administrations. These popular titles have been praised for their cleverness and sprightly dialogue, and for Levitin's accurate observations, gained from her experiences as a teacher. However, The Mark of Conte was criticized for silliness and for Levitin's excessive exaggeration of its characters. Beyond Another Door, a satirical look at a teenager who discovers she has ESP, received similar comments, but all of Levitin's works have been commended for their well-written depictions of young adults both past and present encountering situations that lead them closer to maturity. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed., and Something about the Author, Vol. 4.)