Zoa (Morin) Sherburne BARBARA H. BASKIN and KAREN H. HARRIS - Essay

BARBARA H. BASKIN and KAREN H. HARRIS

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The news that her mother is coming home after years in a psychiatric hospital is upsetting to Kathleen Frazier [in Stranger in the House]. She, her younger brother Wimpy, her father, and their housekeeper have developed a comfortable living pattern that has excluded Mrs. Frazier. The housekeeper promises to stay if she is needed, but Kathleen remains uneasy, remembering the trauma of her mother's previous visits. Hoping to keep her free from stress, all but Wimpy treat her as an invalid. By excluding the mother from involvement in daily problems, they inadvertently but effectively exclude her from family membership…. [One day an] incident vividly dramatizes to the family that overprotection is basically a rejecting behavior and manifestly deleterious to growth. Kathleen realizes that she had been selfish and punitive in the deliberate exclusion of her mother from participation in or knowledge of her school and social life. Kathleen begins to share confidences with her mother, who reciprocates. The improved relationship augurs well for Mrs. Frazier's ultimate adjustment.

The hurtful aspect of local gossip is well presented, and difficulties attendant upon return to normal living after extended institutionalization are simply but effectively portrayed. Although both problems and solutions are unbelievably uncomplicated, the story is effective in introducing some ramifications of such situations and developing empathy for them. (p. 294)

[Why Have the Birds Stopped Singing?] presents an accurate if incomplete picture of the symptoms, ramifications, and means of control of epilepsy. The acceptance and accommodations made to the disorder by [Katie's] contemporary family and friends provide a commendable model. The author's denial that the condition is inheritable while using it as a device to link different generations of family members is self-contradictory. Pacing is good, and the setting and characterizations are standard for this genre. (p. 295)

Barbara H. Baskin and Karen H. Harris, "An Annotated Guide to Juvenile Fiction Portraying the Handicapped, 1940–1975: 'Stranger in the House' and 'Why Have the Birds Stopped Singing?'," in their Notes from a Different Drummer: A Guide to Juvenile Fiction Portraying the Handicapped, R. R. Bowker Company, 1977, pp. 294-95.