Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Home—Bristol, TN. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. 93.
Writer, 1993—. Worked as a research chemist, 1990-93.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
NSTA/CBC Outstanding Trade Book for Children, for "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science" series; Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year, for Weaver's Daughter; Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth list, 2003, and The Amelia Bloomer Project Feminist Books for Youth list, 2004, both for For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy.
Ruthie's Gift, illustrated by Dave Kramer, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1998.
One-of-a-Kind Mallie, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Weaver's Daughter, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Halfway to the Sky, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2002.
For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2003.
The President's Daughter, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2004.
FOR CHILDREN; PICTURE BOOKS
Pop!: A Book about Bubbles, illustrated by Margaret Miller, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Energy Makes Things Happen, illustrated by Paul Meisel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Favorite Things, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith, Dial (New York, NY), 2003.
Forces Make Things Move, illustrated by Paul Meisel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.
Ghost writer of numerous middle-grade novels in a riding series for Bantam; contributor to horse magazines.
The author of five well-received novels for juvenile readers, as well as several picture books, Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has demonstrated a remarkable breadth of theme and subject matter, portraying protagonists from a lonely girl in rural Indiana in the early years of the twentieth century to a brave French teen who fights for her country in the World War II Resistance movement. With her first three titles, Ruthie's Gift, One-of-a-Kind Mallie, and Weaver's Daughter, Bradley has created tales for middle-grade readers, and with her novels Halfway to the Sky and For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy she writes for slightly older readers. All Bradley's books, however, are noted for their wealth of detail and warm human portrayals.
Dreams of Medicine and Books
Born in 1967 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Bradley grew up in a reading family. "I have always loved to read, and my parents always read, too," Bradley noted on Book Nuts Reading Club. Favorite books for Bradley as a youngster included the "Little House on the Prairie" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "I also loved any horse book I could find," Bradley added. In addition to the books she read, Bradley was also influenced by the stories her grandmother told her of growing up in the small Indiana town of Cedarville, the only daughter amid a family populated by six boys.
Bradley began writing while in college, contributing articles on horses to various magazines. However, writing as a profession took second place to her dreams of a medical career. While at Smith College, she majored in chemistry. "I love chemistry," Bradley told Elizabeth Devereaux in a Publishers Weekly interview. "It strikes me a lot like writing. You get a certain number of things you can control and a certain number you can't, and you combine them." In addition to her chemistry studies and horse articles, however, Bradley was also experimenting with stories for children, reworking some of the tales her grandmother had related to her of life in Indiana in the first decades of the twentieth century. As a sophomore, Bradley took a course on children's literature at Smith under the Newbery Medalist Patrician MacLachlan. When MacLachlan saw some of Bradley's writings, she was impressed and arranged for the student to attend a writing conference in a group led by Jane Yolen. This further encouraged Bradley, and she began to send out manuscripts to publishers before graduating from college. Though none of these sold, a number of editors made helpful suggestions to the young writer.
Writing was still, however, not her ultimate goal. Upon graduation from Smith, she married and both she and her husband enrolled in medical school.
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Quickly, though, Bradley discovered that medicine was not for her. She took work as a research chemist for several years and continued to write in her spare time. Entering a middle-grade writing contest, she failed to win top honors, but her manuscript was passed on to an editor at Bantam who was looking for someone to ghost write a series of novels on horses. Leaving chemistry behind, Bradley began turning out four such novels a year. "'I don't consider them mine,'" Bradley told Devereaux. "'They're not my characters and not my setting. . . . But it taught me discipline.'" Soon she was working on what would become her own debut novel.
Explores American History
Bradley's first novel, Ruthie's Gift, had its origins as a picture book that focused on one incident involving Ruthie and her family, fictional re-creations of her grandmother and her siblings. However, after editors looked at the material and suggested a longer approach, Bradley turned the work into a novel-length tale of an eight-year-old tomboy who learns hard lessons about life one year. Bradley's book is set in a small farming town in Indiana, not unlike the one her grandmother grew up in. Ruthie is the only third-grader in her local school and the only girl in a family of six boys. Growing up in such a household, she has learned to be independent and strong; the other girls at school don't take to her because of this, accusing her of being unladylike. Even when she makes friends, she usually ends up alienating them with bad behavior. But in one memorable year, Ruthie learns not only to be strong but also to be selfless, making best friends with the twins Hallie and Mallie, suffering a bout of pneumonia that almost kills her, and losing her beloved brother Joe, a soldier in World War I.
Bradley's first outing as a novelist brought a plethora of positive reviews. A critic for Publishers Weekly, writing in a starred review, noted that "brisk pacing, affectionate humor and an unforgettable heroine distinguish this first novel." The same contributor further commented that Bradley's "funny . . . poignant and accessible" writing contribute to an "excellent novel." Similar praise came from Booklist's Hazel Rochman, who called the book a "real tearjerker," and not because "it wallows in sentiment but because it is honest about jealousy, disappointment, and mess in family life." Rochman also commended Bradley's characters, which are "drawn with affectionate realism." For Devereaux, Ruthie's Gift was a "robust middle-grade novel," and Marilyn Payne Philips, writing in School Library Journal, said the novel "is just the ticket for readers crossing the bridge to chapter books."
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Bradley reprises the world of Cedarville, Indiana, in the 1999 One-of-a-Kind Mallie, in which the twins from Ruthie's Gift take center stage. Set once again during the First World War, this title explores the idea of being unique as a human. Mallie dislikes being a twin, forever compared to or mistaken for her sister, Hallie. Finally, she determines that she needs to show everyone how different she is from her sister. She goes to a Gypsy encampment, there to trade her look-alike dress for a red blouse, something that will set her apart from her sister. She also picks cherries to earn money for piano lessons from Mr. Jenkins's new mail-order bride. But through it all, Mallie also learns to love her sister, Hallie, more and to accept her as a separate person, too. Bradley manages to sprinkle her tale with historical detail such as Red Cross knitting circles, rationed food, victory gardens, and the world of horse-drawn carts and home-baked bread.
Many reviewers compared this sequel to Bradley's first novel, Ruthie's Gift. Rochman, writing in Booklist, thought Bradley's second novel was "not as good as the first." However, she did find "satisfying" the ending in which the young girls recognize that they "like each other and have a lot in common, but that they are also very different." A contributor for Publishers Weekly also noted that this second tale "lacks the dramatic tension and depth" of the first, though "the characterizations are just as sharp and engaging." However, for Susan Hepler, writing in School Library Journal, the sequel "stands well on its own with a good plot and strong characterization." Hepler called the novel a "well-written, deliberately paced story." And reviewing the same book in the Christian Science Monitor, Enicia Fisher thought it was a "poignant and charming novel," and that Bradley "brings to life a likably real heroine and a town that would seem commonplace but, as we learn, is actually one of a kind."
From the Eighteenth Century to Science Concepts
Bradley transports readers further back in time with her Weaver's Daughter, a tale set in 1791 in what was then known as the Southwest Territory, now Tennessee. Bradley also fashions another winning protagonist in Lizzy Baker, who loves her pioneer life with her farmer father out in the fields, her weaver mother behind the family loom, and she and her sisters filling their days with hard work and simple family pleasures. Lizzy has dreams of becoming a weaver just like her mother, but illness plagues her. Every autumn she becomes sick, and as she has now reached her tenth birthday these spells of sickness have become worse. As winter approaches, she usually gets better, but she worries that such bouts will take their toll. No doctor or midwife is able to cure her (she would now be diagnosed with asthma and allergies), but she hopes for the best and decides to focus her attention on the present rather than the unknowable future. Her mind is also kept off melancholy thoughts this particular winter with the arrival of visitors from Charleston: Miss Sarah Beaumont and her young, good-looking stepson, both of whom have very different views about the world from Lizzy and her family. Lizzy has a chance for survival when the Beaumonts offer to take her back with them to Charleston when they leave, where the sea air may help her. But that poses for Lizzy a new problem: she must lose her family to save herself. A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Bradley "conveys a comforting message through Lizzy's bittersweet experiences." Booklist's Rochman found an "aching sadness to this historical novel," as well as characters "drawn with some complexity." Rochman further commented that Bradley "is careful neither to sentimentalize nor exploit the illness." Writing in School Library Journal, Miriam Lang Budin also found much to like in this "surprisingly rich book." For Budin, Bradley's tale was "compelling" and her characters "are rounded enough to display conflicted sentiments."
Writing for even younger readers, Bradley has contributed several titles to the "Let's Read-and-Find-Out Science" series, including Pop!: A Book about Bubbles, Energy Makes Things Happen, and Forces Make Things Move. These picture books have won awards and critical praise. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews, for example, writing about Pop!, concluded that "young readers (and their parents) will have a good time learning new science thanks to this playful offering." Pamela K. Bomboy, reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, thought that the book was an example of "science learning at its best." Similarly, in a critical analysis of Energy Makes Things Happen, a writer for Kirkus Reviews noted that it takes a "rare talent" to explain scientific concepts in a way that is at once "interesting and understandable." For this reviewer, "Bradley successfully leaps over that bar in this lively exploration." With Favorite Things, Bradley serves up a non-science picture book in a "creative bedtime tale," as another critic for Kirkus Reviews characterized the book.
Books for Older Readers
Bradley deals with issues for older readers in other novels. Her 2002 Halfway to the Sky follows twelve-year-old Dani on a journey of self-discovery as she sets out on her own to hike the more than two thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail. Sadness has spurred this journey: her thirteen-year-old brother, Springer, died just months before from muscular dystrophy. Since then her family has fallen apart; her parents divorced and her father remarried and already has a new child on the way. Dani finds only sadness at home and knows she must do something monumental to turn her own life around. She runs away and begins her travels on the Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine. Her choice is in part symbolic, for her parents met while hiking there and named their two children after mountain peaks along the trail. Dani's mother figures out where her daughter has gone and finds her after a day on her own. But Dani talks her mother into accompanying her for a few days at first, then for over two months as mother and daughter deal with strong emotions and harsh life truths. As the miles accrue, Dani begins to mend her relationship with her mother and also to learn how Springer's life and death were so central to the family. Ellen Fader, writing in School Library Journal, thought that this was a "fairly standard coming-of-age novel with the added benefit of Dani's mother also growing and healing during their time together on the trail." A critic for Kirkus Reviews had higher praise for the novel, however, calling it an "emotionally taut story," and concluding that "teenagers will readily relate to the angst and anger and be intrigued by the details about the Trail itself."
Bradley moves the action from the United States to Europe for her 2003 novel, For Freedom, based on a true story. Through a series of interviews with fellow Tennesseean Suzanne David Hall, Bradley pieced together the story of a young French woman during the Nazi occupation of France and of her thrilling and sometimes chilling experiences as a member of the French Resistance. Married to an American G.I. in 1945, Suzanne David Hall moved to Tennessee, where she raised her family. Bradley, in telling this real-life story, employs a fictional format. In 1940, when the Germans begin bombing Suzanne's native Cherbourg, she is a schoolgirl and devoted to music. A pregnant neighbor is killed in front of her by one of the bombs. Suddenly this war that has seemed so distant to her is now very real for the thirteen-year-old. When the Germans march in, the Davids are kicked out of their house so that it can be used as barracks. Given the chance to help, Suzanne jumps at it and joins the Resistance as a courier. A voice student, Suzanne has good cover to be moving about and delivering her messages, for she legitimately has lessons to go to, recitals, and costume fittings. Such messages are hidden in her hair at first, and then in a hollowed out tooth. Capture means death for the young girl at the hands of the Germans, and she is ultimately caught, betrayed by a hairdresser, only to be saved at the last moment by the landing of the Allies in Normandy.
Critics reacted strongly to this offering. School Library Journal's Kimberly Monahgan found it a "suspenseful novel . . . [that] moves swiftly into action." Monaghan also felt that it would "appeal to readers who enjoy history and espionage." Similarly, Booklist's Roger Leslie felt the book was a "taut, engrossing World War II novel [that] instantly immerses readers." Leslie further noted that the novel "resonates with authenticity, excitement, and heart." For Claire Rosser, reviewing the same title in Kliatt, Bradley's novel was a "powerful story." Rosser added: "We are filled with admiration for Suzanne's strength and commitment." In the same vein, a critic for Kirkus Reviews applauded the book as an "exciting
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account of a girl's coming of age in a scary time." And a contributor for Publishers Weekly added to the praise, calling it a "gripping, high-stakes adventure," and a "compelling look at the covert battle for freedom."
Bradley continues to write in a historical mode with a novel about the experiences of President Theodore Roosevelt's ten-year-old daughter, Ethel, in the White House. The President's Daughter follows in a line of other works from Bradley, featuring a young, female protagonist meeting life head on in a dramatic situation. In a matter of a few years, Bradley has built an impressive array of works and become a presence in juvenile literature. The excitement she described to Devereaux at her first publication has clearly not diminished with subsequent ones: "When I first saw children with my book with their names written inside, it made me almost weep, I was so pleased. I never realized having a book come out would be this much fun."
If you enjoy the works of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
If you enjoy the works of Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, you might want to check out the following books:
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Ruthie's Gift, p. 809; August, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of One-of-a-Kind Mallie, p. 2005; August, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Weaver's Daughter p. 2138; August, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Pop!: A Book about Bubbles, p. 2124; February 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Energy Makes Things Happen, p. 996; April 1, 2003, Roger Leslie, review of For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy, p. 1396; May 15, 2003, "Top 10 Historical Fiction for Youth," p. 1667; March 1, 2004, "Feminist Books for Youth: The Amelia Bloomer Project, 2004," p. 1205.
Christian Science Monitor, September 2, 1999, Enicia Fisher, review of One-of-a-Kind Mallie, p. 20.
Horn Book, July-August, 2003, Roger Sutton, review of For Freedom, pp. 450-451.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of Pop!, p. 1117; January 15, 2002, review of Halfway to the Sky, pp. 100-101; November 15, 2002, review of Energy Makes Things Happen, p. 1688; May 1, 2003, review of For Freedom, p. 674; June 1, 2003, review of Favorite Things, p. 800.
Kliatt, May, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of For Freedom, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, December 22, 1997, review of Ruthie's Gift, p. 59; June 29, 1998, Elizabeth Devereaux, "Kimberly Brubaker Bradley," p. 30; August 2, 1999, review of One-of-a-Kind Mallie, p. 85; October 11, 1999, review of Ruthie's Gift, p. 78; October 23, 2000, review of Weaver's Daughter, p. 75; March 18, 2002, review of Weaver's Daughter, p. 106; May 19, 2003, review of Favorite Things, p. 73; June 2, 2003, review of For Freedom, p. 51.
School Library Journal, February, 1998, Marilyn Payne Phillips, review of Ruthie's Gift, pp. 78-79; September, 1999, Susan Hepler, review of One-of-a-Kind Mallie, p. 176; October, 2000, Miriam Lang Budin, review of Weaver's Daughter p. 155; October, 2001, Emily Herman, review of Weaver's Daughter, p. 93; October, 2001, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Pop!, p. 136; April, 2002, Ellen Fader, review of Halfway to the Sky, p. 142; June, 2003, Kimberly Monaghan, review of For Freedom, p. 136; August, 2003, Marianne Saccardi, review of Favorite Things, pp. 122-123; October, 2003, review of Energy Makes Things Happen, p. S26.
Book Nuts Reading Club,http://www.booknutsreadingclub.com/ (February 22, 2004), Kimberly Brubaker Bradley bio.
KidsRandom Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (February 21, 2004).*