Hickman, Janet

views updated

Janet Hickman


Born July 8, 1940, in Kilbourne, OH; daughter of Bernard Franklin (a plumber) and Pauline (Williams) Gephart; married John D. Hickman (a teacher), January 14, 1961; children: John H., Holly. Education: Ohio State University, B.Sc., 1960, M.A. Ed., 1964, Ph.D., 1979. Religion: Protestant.


Home—356 Gudrun Rd., Columbus, OH 43202. E-mail—[email protected].


Junior high school teacher in public schools, Whitehall, OH, 1961-64; Ohio State University, Columbus, part-time instructor in children's literature, 1968-73, lecturer, 1979-2005. Member, United States Board on Books for Young People.


International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, Ohio Historical Society.

Awards, Honors

Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book Award, 1995, Ohioana Book Award, 1995, and named a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English, 1995, all for Jericho; Society of Midland Authors Award, 1999, for Susannah.



The Valley of the Shadow, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1974.

The Stones, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1976.

Zoar Blue, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1978.

The Thunder-Pup, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1981.

Jericho, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1994.

Susannah, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1998.

Ravine, Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2002.


(Editor, with Bernice E. Cullinan) Children's Literature in the Classroom: Weaving "Charlotte's Web," Christopher-Gordon Publishers (Needham Heights, MA), 1989, revised edition (with Cullinan and Susan Hepler) published as Children's Literature in the Classroom: Extending "Charlotte's Web," 1994.

(With Charlotte S. Huck and Susan Hepler) Children's Literature in the Elementary School, 5th edition, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers (Fort Worth, TX), 1993.

Contributor to professional journals, including Theory into Practice, Research in the Teaching of English, Language Arts, and Ohio Reading Teacher, and to Ingenue and Teen magazine.


Janet Hickman has written a number of novels for middle-grade readers that focus on American history. The stresses that occur during wartime are the subject of several of Hickman's books, among them The Stones, Zoar Blue, and Ravine, while intergenerational family conflicts are found in Jericho and Susannah. She has earned several prestigious writing prizes for her work, including the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book Award and an award from the Society of Midland Authors.

Born in 1940, Hickman was raised in Ohio, where she continues to live. "When I was little I liked to read and tell myself stories," she once stated, "but I never thought seriously about writing for children. Then when I became a teacher one of the first assignments in my eighth graders' history book was to write a short story based on the information in the chapter they had just read. They complained so much that I promised I would do the assignment too, just to prove it wasn't so bad." The story Hickman penned that evening was not only popular with her students, it also became her first published fiction when it was sold to a magazine. "Nothing since has been that easy," Hickman was quick to add.

Begins a Writing Career

Hickman, who has taught at Ohio State University since 1968, published her first book for young readers, The Valley of the Shadow, in 1974. Two years later she released The Stones, which takes place in the Midwest during World War II. In the novel, eleven-year-old Garrett McKay channels his concern over his father, who is missing in action at the front, into participation in a local gang. The gang's harassment of an elderly man with a German-sounding name results in tragedy, as fire and then concern over Garrett's missing little sister quickly make the boy realize what is truly important. The Stones was praised by School Library Journal contributor Jean Lambert Ross as "tightly plotted." Ross further praising Hickman for creating vivid characters and a realistic setting. While noting that the book's ending is predictable, a contributor to Kirkus Reviews also had positive comments about The Stones, writing that the characters "fit naturally into the sticky, dust-choked midwestern scene where summer boredom is a more present villain than the World War itself."

Zoar Blue takes readers back to the 1860s and the U.S. Civil War, as Hickman spins a story about the effects of war on a small Midwestern town whose residents are members of the Society of the Separatists of Zoar. While the European-born elders are pacifists—many immigrants remember with horror their own experiences in recent wars fought throughout Europe—idealistic young men like seventeen-year-old John Keffer decide to join the Union Army, only to meet with tragedy at the Battle of Gettysburg. John's girlfriend, the orphaned fourteen-year-old Barbara, also decides to leave. Her travels outside of Zoar in search of her uncle combine with her own experience of the war while working as a nurse in an army hospital to make her appreciate the security she has left behind. School Library Journal critic Sara Miller praised Zoar Blue for its depiction of an "isolated, ingrown community" of refugees, and called Hickman's story "compassionate and detailed, moving [readers] slowly but firmly into a full view of that life."

Tells a Multigenerational Story

In Hickman's 1994 novel, Jericho, the youngest and oldest members of a group of women spanning four generations tell their stories. One summer, Angela and her family extend their vacation in order to care for GrandMin, Angela's great-grandmother. Angela is upset to be stuck in a small town with no shopping mall, confined with her brother and caring for the elderly woman, who cannot even remember who she is. Interspersed with Angela's accounts of self-pity are flashbacks to Min's younger days when she had to care for her widowed father, making Jericho an effective examination of the cyclical patterns characteristic of many traditional families. Marc Silver, reviewing the novel for U.S. News and World Report, found that Jericho "probes the issue of identity—who is this helpless old woman, and what does she have in common with Angela?" Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis dubbed the book a "haunting coming-of-age novel set in both the present and the past," while Chris Sherman in Booklist found Jericho to be a "quiet but emotionally charged story." Hickman received praise from a Publishers Weekly contributor for possessing a "sharp eye for detail, a profound understanding of the aging process and a deep love for humanity." Jericho won the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book Award in 1995.

A Shaker community circa 1810 is the setting for Hickman's 1998 novel, Susannah, which finds its fourteen-year-old protagonist an unhappy new participant in a strict religious lifestyle. Susannah is still suffering from the death of her mother, a death her father copes with by moving the family to a Shaker religious community in Lebanon, Ohio. Devoted to a life of worship and self-restraint, her new Shakers neighbors prove difficult for the grieving young teen to understand or accept. Forced to live apart from her father in a building that houses all the community's children, Susannah finds that she is not alone in her discontent; a younger girl named Mary, who is caught in a custody dispute between a Shaker member and a "World" member, touches Susannah's heart so much that when Susannah's father gives her permission to leave the community, the older girl will not go without Mary. Susannah's story of personal teenage disaffection takes place against a larger story of intolerance, as the local residents living nearby take up arms against the peaceful Shakers. "Susannah proves herself a sympathetic heroine, observant, critical, active, and emotional by turns," according to Carolyn Phelan in her review of Susannah for Booklist. Joan Nist, writing in the ALAN Review, found that "Hickman maintains the dramatic suspense while describing the rigid strictures of an early Quaker society." Calling Susannah "suspenseful and insightful," a Publishers Weekly contributor added that the "down-to-earth, accessible prose captures the flavor of 19th-century English." Horn Book reviewer Maeve Visser Knoth also commended the book, noting, "With sympathetic characters, an unusual setting, and an emotionally satisfying ending, Susannah is a worthy successor to Hickman's acclaimed novel Jericho." Susannah won a Society of Midland Authors Award in 1999.

Turns to Fantasy

In 2002 Hickman published a novel quite different from her earlier works of historical fiction. In Ravine, she tells the fantasy story of two boys who live in alternate worlds. Jeremy lives in the real world of Earth, while Ulf lives in a magical land replete with kings, queens, and wizards. Jeremy's dog, Duchess, is the link between the two boys. When Jeremy and Duchess explore the ravine near Jeremy's house in disregard for the warnings of the boy's mother, the dog unintentionally passes through a portal into Ulf's world, and there saves Ulf from a beating. During subsequent visits to the ravine, Jeremy is surprised by a strange boy who wears odd, old-fashioned clothing, but even more surprising is the warrior in full battle dress. Upon meeting Ulf, he learns that the unfortunate boy works as a lowly wizard's assistant and that his world is overrun by violence and warfare. Jeremy and Duchess, as well as Jeremy's brother, his best friend, Quinn, and Quinn's sister all find themselves accidently trapped in Ulf's world and must struggle to find a way home. Roger Sutton, writing in Horn Book, explained that "Ulf's and Jeremy's stories alternate (smoothly and suspensefully)," while Phelan wrote in Booklist that "Hickman develops both characters as interesting individuals with compelling tales to tell." Susan L. Rogers, reviewing Ravine for School Library Journal, maintained that "readers will empathize with the youthful protagonists of both time periods and find themselves caught up in the adventure."

Being the author of historical fiction "requires as much groundwork as it does writing," Hickman once explained. "But I have discovered that I, who once barely tolerated history courses, truly enjoy this research—the reading, the puzzling, the discovery of odd facts that fit." Hickman's family wholeheartedly supports her quests for information: "My family shares the search for authentic backgrounds; they always serve as willing taste-testers for period recipes, and they seem to welcome the excuse for vacation when I need to see for myself what a particular mountain or battlefield looks like." In the Hickman household, most family vacations were actually research trips in disguise, a fact that the author views as "a bonus" of her job as the creator of historical fiction for young readers.

If you enjoy the works of Janet Hickman

you may also want to check out the following books:

Margaret I. Rostkowski, After the Dancing Days, 1986.

Jean Thesman, The Rain Catchers, 1991.

Nina Bawden, Off the Road, 1998.

In an interview posted at the Ohio Authors and Illustrators for Young People Web site, Hickman gives this advice to students who want to write: "Read, read, read. Be curious about things. Welcome new experiences. Try not to be impatient if your writing doesn't come out the way you want it the first time."

Biographical and Critical Sources


ALAN Review, winter, 1999, Joan Nist, review of Susannah.

Booklist, December 15, 1976, Denise M. Wilms, review of The Stones, p. 608; November 1, 1978, Denise M. Wilms, review of Zoar Blue, p. 479; September 1, 1994, Chris Sherman, review of Jericho, p. 41; October 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Susannah, p. 422; July, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Ravine, p. 1846.

Horn Book, February, 1982, Ethel R. Twitchell, review of The Thunder-Pup, p. 43; November-December, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Jericho, p. 731; January, 1999, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Susannah, p. 62; May-June, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of Ravine, p. 331.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1976, review of The Stones, p. 794; September 15, 1978, review of Zoar Blue, p. 1021; December 15, 1981, review of The Thunder-Pup, p. 1519.

Publishers Weekly, August 8, 1994, review of Jericho, p. 436; October 26, 1998, review of Susannah, p. 67; January 1, 2001, review of Susannah, p. 94.

School Library Journal, October, 1976, Jean Lambert Ross, review of The Stones, p. 107; October, 1978, Sara Miller, review of Zoar Blue, p. 155; November, 1981, Karen Stang Handley, review of The Thunder-Pup, p. 92; September, 1994, review of Jericho, p. 436; October, 1998, Carolyn Noah, review of Susannah, p. 136; October, 2002, Susan L. Rogers, review of Ravine, p. 164.

U.S. News and World Report, December 5, 1994, Marc Silver, review of Jericho, p. 97.


Ohio Authors and Illustrators for Young People,http://green.upper-arlington.k12.oh.us/ohioauthors/ (December 16, 2004), interview with Hickman.

Ohio Reading Road Trip,http://www.ohioreadingroadtrip.org/ (December 16, 2004), "Janet Hickman."

About this article

Hickman, Janet

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article