Hoffman, Mary

views updated

Mary Hoffman


Born April 20, 1945, in Eastleigh, Hampshire, England; daughter of Origen Herman (a railway telecommunications inspector) and Ivegh (a homemaker; maiden name, Lassiter) Hoffman; married Stephen James Barber (a social worker), December 22, 1972; children: Sarah Rhiannon, Rebecca Imogen, Jessica Rowena. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Newham College, Cambridge University, B.A., 1967; University College (London, England), postgraduate diploma in linguistics, 1970. Politics: "Disillusioned Labour voter/pro animal rights." Religion: Anglo-Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, cooking, cats, doing the Times crossword, old roses.


Home—Greystones, 37 Lawton Ave., Carterton, Oxfordshire OX18 3JY, England. Agent—Pat White, Rogers, Coleridge & White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11, England.


Journalist and author. Open University, Milton Keynes, England, lecturer in continuing education, 1975-80; reading consultant for British Broadcasting Corporation school television series Look and Read, 1977-95; Campaigner for libraries. Founder and editor of Armadillo, a review publication for children's literature, 1999—.


International Board on Books for Young People (Hans Christian Andersen Medal panelist, 1981, 1987; member of Children's Writers and Illustrators Committee), Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, Library Association (honorary fellow), Scattered Authors Society, Oxfordshire Children's Book Group.

Awards, Honors

Smarties Book Prize shortlist, British Book Trust, 1987, for Nancy No-Size, and 1993, for Henry's Baby; Kurt Maschler Award shortlist, British Book Trust, 1995, for Song of the Earth; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, 2003, for Stravaganza: City of Masks.



White Magic (novel), Rex Collings (London, England), 1975.

(With Chris Callery) Buttercup Buskers' Rainy Day, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, Heinemann (London, England), 1982.

The Return of the Antelope (based on the television series by Willis Hall), illustrated by Faith Jacques, Heinemann (London, England), 1985.

Beware, Princess!, illustrated by Chris Riddell, Heinemann (London, England), 1986.

The Second-Hand Ghost, illustrated by Eileen Browne, MMB/Deutsch (London, England), 1986.

King of the Castle, illustrated by Alan Marks, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1986.

A Fine Picnic, illustrated by Leon Baxter, Macdonald (London, England), Silver Burdett (Chicago, IL), 1986.

Animal Hide and Seek, illustrated by Leon Baxter, Macdonald (London, England), 1986, Silver Burdett (Chicago, IL), 1987.

The Perfect Pet, illustrated by Leon Baxter, Macdonald (London, England), Silver Burdett (Chicago, IL), 1986.

Clothes for Sale, illustrated by Leon Baxter, Macdonald (London, England), Silver Burdett (Chicago, IL), 1986.

Nancy No-Size, illustrated by Jennifer Northway, Methuen (Oxford, England), 1987.

Specially Sarah, illustrated by Joanna Carey, Methuen (London, England), 1987.

Dracula's Daughter, illustrated by Chris Riddell, Heinemann (London, England), Barron's (Hauppauge, NY), 1988.

My Grandma Has Black Hair, illustrated by Joanna Burroughes, Dial (New York, NY), 1988.

Catwalk, illustrated by J. Burroughes, Methuen (London, England), 1989.

All about Lucy, illustrated by J. Carey, Methuen (London, England), 1989.

Min's First Jump, illustrated by John Rogan, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1989.

Mermaid and Chips, illustrated by Bernice McMullen, Heinemann (London, England), 1989.

Dog Powder, illustrated by Paul Warren, Heinemann (London, England), 1989.

Just Jack, illustrated by J. Carey, Methuen (London, England), 1990.

(Editor) Ip, Dip, Sky Blue, Collins (London, England), 1990.

Leon's Lucky Lunchbreak, illustrated by Polly Noakes, Dent (London, England), 1991.

The Babies' Hotel, Dent (London, England), 1991.

Amazing Grace, Frances Lincoln (London, England), illustrated by Caroline Binch, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.

Max in the Jungle, illustrated by John Rogan, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1991.

The Ghost Menagerie, illustrated by Laura L. Seeley, Orchard Books (London, England), 1992, republished as The Four-Legged Ghosts, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.

Henry's Baby, illustrated by Susan Winter, Dorling Kindersley (London, England, and New York, NY), 1993.

Cyril MC, Penguin (London, England), Viking (New York, NY), 1993.

Bump in the Night, Collins (London, England), 1993.

Grace and Family, illustrated by Caroline Binch, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 1995, published as Boundless Grace, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.

Song of the Earth, illustrated by Jane Ray, Orion (London, England), 1995, published as Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.

Trace in Space, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1995.

A Vanishing Tail, Orchard Books (London, England), 1996.

Quantum Squeak, Orchard Books (London, England), 1996.

Special Powers, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1997.

A First Bible Story Book, illustrated by Julie Downing, Dorling Kindersley (London, England, and New York, NY), 1997.

An Angel Just Like Me, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, Frances Lincoln (London, England), Dial (New York, NY), 1997.

(Editor) Stacks of Stories, Hodder (London, England), 1997.

Comet, Orchard Books (London, England), 1997.

A Twist in the Tail: Animal Stories from around the World, illustrated by Jan Ormerod, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.

Clever Katya: A Fairy Tale from Old Russia, illustrated by Marie Cameron, Barefoot Books (Brooklyn, NY), 1998.

Virtual Friend, illustrated by Shaun McLaren, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1998.

Sun, Moon and Stars, illustrated by Jane Ray, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.

Three Wise Women, illustrated by Lynne Russell, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 1999.

(Reteller) A First Myths Storybook: Myths and Legends for the Very Young from around the World, DK Publishing (London, England), 1999, published as A First Book of Myths: Myths and Legends for the Very Young from around the World, illustrated by Roger Langton and Kevin Kimber, DK Publishing (New York, NY), 1999.

Starring Grace, illustrated by Caroline Binch, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Parables: Stories Jesus Told, illustrated by Jackie Morris, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2000.

The Barefoot Book of Brother and Sister Tales, illustrated by Emma Shaw-Smith, Barefoot Books (Bristol, England, and New York, NY), 2000.

Women of Camelot: Queens and Enchantresses at the Court of King Arthur, illustrated by Christian Balit, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 2000.

The Macmillan Treasury of Nursery Stories, illustrated by Anna Currey, Macmillan (London, England), 2000, published as Puss in Boots and Other Stories, Macmillan (London, England), 2001.

Virtual Friend Again, illustrated by Shaun McLaren, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.

Miracles: Wonders Jesus Worked, illustrated by Jackie Morris, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2001.

A First Book of Fairy Tales, illustrated by Julie Downing, DK Publishing (London, England, and New York, NY), 2001.

The Gingerbread Man and Other Stories, illustrated by Anna Currey, Macmillan (London, England), 2001.

How to Be a Cat, illustrated by Pam Martins, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2001.

Stravaganza: City of Masks (novel), Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2002.

The Colour of Home, illustrated by Karin Littlewood, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2002, published as The Color of Home, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2002.

A First Book of Jewish Bible Stories, illustrated by Julie Downing, DK Publishing (New York, NY), 2002.

Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories, illustrated by Anna Currey, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.

Sleeping Beauty and Other Stories, illustrated by Anna Currey, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.

Animals of the Bible, illustrated by Jackie Morris, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2002, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, illustrated by M. P. Robertson, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2003.

Encore, Grace!, illustrated by June Allen, Frances Lincoln (London, England), Phyllis Fogelman (New York, NY), 2003.

Stravaganza II: City of Stars, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with daughter Rhiannon Lassiter) Lines in the Sand: New Writing on War and Peace, Disinformation Company (New York, NY), 2003.

Several of Hoffman's books have been translated into Spanish.


Whales and Sharks, Brimax (London, England), 1986.

(With Trevor Weston) Dangerous Animals, Brimax (London, England), 1986.

Amazing Mammals Kit, Dorling Kindersley (London, England), 1993.


Tiger, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1983, Raintree (New York, NY), 1984, revised edition, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1988.

Monkey, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1983, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985, revised edition, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1988.

Elephant, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1983, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985, revised edition, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1988.

Panda, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1983, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985, revised edition, Belitha/Windward (London, England), 1988.

Lion, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985.

Zebra, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985.

Hippopotamus, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985.

Gorilla, Raintree (New York, NY), 1985.

Wild Cat, Raintree (New York, NY), 1986.

Giraffe, Raintree (New York, NY), 1986.

Snake, Raintree (New York, NY), 1986.

Bear, Raintree (New York, NY), 1986.

Wild Dog, Raintree (New York, NY), 1987.

Seal, Raintree (New York, NY), 1987.

Antelope, Raintree (New York, NY), 1987.

Bird of Prey, Raintree (New York, NY), 1987.


Reading, Writing, and Relevance, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1976.

(Under name Mary Lassiter) Our Names, Our Selves, Heinemann (London, England), 1983.

Contributor to Times Educational Supplement. Reviewer for School Librarian, Guardian, Telegraph, and other periodicals. Author of monthly column in Mother (magazine), 1984-87.


Amazing Grace and Boundless Grace were both adapted for the theater, performed by the Minneapolis Theatre Company, in 1995 and 1998 respectively; several of Hoffman's titles have been adapted for audiocassette.


A British author of over eighty books for young readers, Mary Hoffman produces works for elementary-grade readers as well as older readers that take a new slant on interpersonal relationships. Confronting such issues as sexism, racism, and discrimination against the elderly by portraying nontraditional characters leading fulfilling lives and coping with prejudice and discrimination in a positive manner, Hoffman is credited with adding a level of sophistication to books for preschool children and beginning readers alike. The bubbly and enthusiastic protagonist of her best-selling Amazing Grace provides an example that encourages young children to think beyond stereotypical roles and boundaries in both Hoffman's native Great Britainand the United States, where the book has been equally popular. Other popular books from Hoffman include sequels to Amazing Grace, as well as chapter books such as Beware, Princess!, Dracula's Daughter, The Four-Legged Ghosts, A Vanishing Tail, Quantum Squeak, and picture books, such as Nancy No-Size, Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Sun, Moon and Stars. Hoffman's works from the Bible and mythology have also attracted young readers, and with her 2002 juvenile novel, Stravaganza: City of Masks, the first book of a trilogy of novels, the prolific author charted a new course for her writing.

Raised in London during the 1950s, Hoffman has vivid memories of her own childhood, during which she claims she did not give much thought to "all those serious grown-up things" that would later appear in her work. In an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), she characterized her youth as "the years which made me the person I am now. Whenever I write, I am in touch with the five year old or seven year old or nine year old who is still inside me." Gaining an aptitude for writing and languages and a love of English literature during her school years, Hoffman found herself unsure of her future occupation after graduating from Cambridge University. Working as a tutor and teacher of English, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon, she soon settled in to write a full-length novel about a young boy and girl living in Italy who discover a unicorn and thereafter have to take care of it. After a year and a half of hard work, during which time Hoffman also accepted work as a book reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement, this first novel, White Magic, was completed; it was published in 1975.

With one published novel under her belt, Hoffman was determined to pursue a career as a writer. In 1980, after working for five years as a lecturer at the Open University, she left her job to become a freelance author of children's literature. As Hoffman characterized that time in her life in SAAS, "the books and articles came thick and fast"—over thirty-five works of fiction or nonfiction bearing her name were published during the 1980s. Among them was the sixteen-volume "Animals in the Wild" series. Each book in the series discusses a particular kind of animal, ranging from antelopes to zebras, and provides an introduction to the animal's habitat, behavior, and the effects of man's interference on the species. "These are sharply conservationist," their author once admitted of the series to SATA, "and I do care very much about the way humans treat animals. (This is not the same as not caring about the way humans treat humans, by the way.) I am a vegetarian myself and have been for [several decades] and I regard fur coats as an ultimate obscenity."

Hoffman's interest in nature has also found an outlet in other works, such as 1995's Earth, Fire, Water,Air, as well as in her fiction. Earth, Fire, Water, Air, published in England as Song of the Earth, is a collection of verse, mythology, and ecology reflecting the attitude of primitive cultures and organized around each of the four elements in turn. The work drew praise from Booklist contributor Susan Dove Lempke, who noted in a review of Earth, Fire, Water, Air that "few books for children attempt the richness of ideas and pictures found here." Remarking that Hoffman's research for Song of the Earth is thorough and her words are "few and well chosen," a Junior Bookshelf contributor hailed the volume as a "rewarding book for parents and children to explore together." A companion piece to this book is Hoffman's 1998 Sun, Moon and Stars, which provides a wealth of stories about the constellations, a book that a contributor for Publishers Weekly called a "sparkling collection of myths and legends from around the world." The same reviewer praised Hoffman's "colloquial tone [that] whisks readers through." Booklist's Ilene Cooper was also impressed with the book, calling it "a particularly handsome piece of bookmaking that will spark imaginations."

In the mid-1970s, during the height of the feminist movement, Hoffman joined a women's group that examined children's books for racism, sexism, ageism, and socioeconomic prejudice. As a result, she became very conscious of creating balanced stories yet realized the importance of remaining "funny, lively, and linguistically inventive." As the author herself once noted, "propaganda is boring." "In my own books, I try for strong and memorable heroines," Hoffman explained, citing her 1986 books Beware, Princess! and Dracula's Daughter as examples. This trend continues in the 1988 picture book My Grandma Has Black Hair, wherein the author creates a whimsical character that is unlike any grandmother known to most of the story-hour crowd in their books, but very recognizable in real life. The young narrator admits that her independent, free-spirited grandma is "a little nutty," but prefers her to the stereotypical white-haired, apron-and-slipper-clad, cookie-baking little old lady of most fiction. The granddaughter ultimately recognizes that adoring her family and telling wonderful stories is all that is really important in order to be a wonderful granny. "Children who have nonstereotypical grandmothers should especially relate to this story," noted Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper.

Many of Hoffman's books for young people are geared toward the preschool crowd, while others provide a fun challenge for beginning readers. A nontraditional approach to family relationships is contained within the illustrated pages of Henry's Baby. At first worried that having a baby brother will make him uncool with the group of boys that he wants to join, young Henry Moon finds out that his diaper-clad sibling is actually a novelty. "This picture book demonstrates that having a gentle, nurturing side can be masculine," noted Five Owls contributor Stephen Fraser, praising the volume for addressing the problems of young boys. In the picture book Nancy No-Size, the problems of being the middle child are addressed, in this case within a biracial family where siblings' differences extend beyond personalities to skin color as well.

Among Hoffman's books for slightly older readers, perhaps her most popular story is Amazing Grace. Called a "superb picture book to challenge stereo-types" by School Librarian contributor Chris Stephenson, Amazing Grace features a feisty young black protagonist with a love of acting and stories. Grace is determined to land the role of Peter in her elementary school's production of Peter Pan, even though Peter was a boy—and white at that—as Grace's classmates remind her. Reviewer Betsy Hearne lauded the picture book in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, describing the book's main character as "a girl whose love of stories empowers her to overcome race and gender prejudice to do what she dreams." Hearne also noted that Hoffman's Amazing Grace "demonstrates the potency of imagination by being potently imaginative." Writing in Horn Book, Mary M. Burns called the story "a dynamic introduction to one of the most engaging protagonists in contemporary picture books." And Booklist's Hazel Rochman was also favorably impressed by the book, calling it a "wonderful upbeat story . . . grounded in reality."

Producing that title was a turning point for Hoffman, who based the main character in Amazing Grace on her own childhood. "I had already written about forty books by the time Amazing Grace was published in 1991," Hoffman noted on her Web site. "But it is fair to say that it was Grace who changed my life. I roughed out the story sitting in a health club in London, wearing a towel. I was far away from the doorbell's ring or the phone." Hoffman went on to note how Grace was really her as a little girl, playing the leading parts in the plays she created with her sister. The book proved especially popular in the United States, where it was adapted for a theater production in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1995. Spin-off products also include a doll based on Grace. In 1995, Hoffman and Amazing Grace's illustrator, Caroline Binch, journeyed to Gambia in West Africa to produce a sequel to the story, Grace and Family, published in the United States as Boundless Grace. This trip became necessary when the family who had originally modeled for the first book moved back to Africa from London. Preferring to draw from photographs of real people, Binch decided to visit the original family in Africa. In the event, the trip provided a new angle for the story as well as the illustrations. "Grace's father had been a missing figure from the first book," Hoffman commented on her Web site. "Since we were setting the new story in Africa, it made sense to put him there and therefore to imagine that the parents had split."

Boundless Grace thus depicts Grace at eight and having to deal with the divorce of her parents and an absent father, who is back in Africa with a new family. Grace decides that she would like to visit him there. In the company of her grandmother, and filled with anxiety about the visit, she flies to Gambia to see him, his new wife, and her two stepsiblings. Expecting an evil stepmother, she is happily surprised by the warmth this second family feels for her, and she is also pleasantly surprised to find that her father—now quite successful—has missed her all along. She learns the lesson that "families are what you make them," as a reviewer for Publishers Weekly quoted from the story. The same contributor also noted that Hoffman "has once again imbued her story with an abundance of familial understanding." Booklist's Rochman was less impressed by the sequel and its "fairy tale" trappings, however, noting that it "doesn't ring true." Yet for Burns, writing in Horn Book, this sequel "like Grace, transcends social, cultural, and geographic boundaries." The critic for Publishers Weekly also felt that in spite of the "more predictable plot line, this [sequel] is as assured and as uplifting as its predecessor."

Grace takes center stage again in the 2000 Starring Grace, a chapter book in which the young charmer is on summer vacation and leads a group of friends in various amateur theatrics that somehow manage to lead to real situations. Playing circus, the group later visits a real circus, a mysterious neighbor is discovered when they are playing ghostbusters, and a bit of playing doctor allows them to deal with a real emergency when it arises. In the final chapter, they eventually land parts in an actual theater production. Booklist's Rochman remarked that this tale took Grace "back to the excitement of dressing up and being part of a show." A contributor for Horn Book thought that the young girl was "as appealingly

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

irrepressible as ever," but that "the book as a whole lacks urgency and individuality." Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, writing in School Library Journal, had less reserved praise for the title, however, noting that the "text reads easily and is filled with humor." Menaldi-Scanlan also thought the book would appeal to readers of the previous titles and be a "fast-paced choice for reluctant readers."

Reviewers have compared Hoffman's 2002 picture book The Colour of Home, published in the United States as The Color of Home, to the stories about Grace. In this case, the protagonist is a young immigrant Somalian boy, Hassan, who is at his first day of school in America and feeling homesick. Everything about his new life, including learning about culture and language, is a struggle. Yet when art supplies are handed out to the class, Hassan finally finds a way to communicate his feelings, painting two pictures of his life in Somalia and his hopes for a happy future. In a review of The Color of Home, Booklist's Rochman noted that the creator of "the popular picture book Amazing Grace tells another moving story here." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews compared Hassan to "another victorious child in Amazing Grace." Reviewing the title in School Library Journal, Ajoke' T. I. Kokodoko called the book a "sensitively told story [that] also demonstrates the value of art therapy."

Other books by Hoffman that are designed for beginning readers include several stories involving the otherworldly. The Second-Hand Ghost, published in 1986, introduces readers to Lisa, a girl who suddenly finds herself the owner of a small, troubled ghost who has been stitched up inside the pocket of an old jacket. The miniature spirit's search for a way to end his supernatural state and find eternal rest becomes the focus of this humorous tale. In the off-beat Dog Powder, a boy named Colin, unable to have a dog of his own due to his landlord's restrictions, is sold a bottle of Dawn-to-Dusk Dog Powder that causes pooches to appear with each shake of the magical dust. Problems arise when too many ephemeral hounds start causing chaos for Colin in this story that a Junior Bookshelf reviewer characterized as "charming, skillfully crafted," and "heartwarming." Sprites, spirits, and pets are all combined in Hoffman's The Four-Legged Ghosts, in which young Alex Brodie receives a white mouse for his birthday and discovers that the small rodent has the ability to summon forth ghostly pets from years past. "Likable characters, lively action, and a fresh take" on traditional themes characterize the easy-reader, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor. A contributor for Publishers Weekly also commended the book, calling it a "rollicking fantasy about furry phantoms," and a "spirited supernatural tale." Sequels to The Four-Legged Ghosts include A Vanishing Tail and Quantum Squeak.

Hoffman takes a look at Christmas traditions in two titles, An Angel Just Like Me and The Three Wise Women. In the former title, Tyler, a young black boy, tries to find a black angel for the family Christmas tree. However, he soon discovers how impossible such a mission is, until his friend Carl finally carves him one. Janice M. DelNegro, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, found this to be "a palatable message story with a strong emotional core." DelNegro also thought that young Tyler "is appealingly tenacious" in his quest. Hoffman's Three Wise Women is a retelling of the usual Yuletide tale of the three wise men who follow the star of Bethlehem to find the newly born Jesus. In Hoffman's rendition, the three women carry gifts of freshly baked bread, a kiss, and a story. A contributor for Publishers Weekly noted that "a touch of girl power imbues . . . [this] magical tale."

Hoffman has also retold folktales, legends, fairy tales, myths, fables, and stories from the Bible in numerous collections. In Clever Katya: A Fairy Tale from Old Russia, she retells a Russian folktale about a wise little girl who solves the Czar's riddles. Denise Anton Wright, reviewing the book in School Library Journal, thought it was "a satisfying and accessible retelling." Booklist's Susan Dove Lempke praised the character of Katya as a "refreshing contrast to the helpless woman in Rumpelstiltskin." More folktales are gathered in A Twist in the Tail: Animal Stories from around the World, "an attractive, if not unique, collection of ten folktales starring tricksters of land, sea, and sky," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. The tales, taken from Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas, are "pure pleasure and much needed," according to Horn Book's Burns. Booklist's Stephanie Zvirin also found the title to be a "spirited collection of animal tales."

Fourteen myths and legends from a variety of sources are retold in A First Myths Storybook: Myths and Legends for the Very Young from around the World, a book that "will appeal to young children," according to Pamela McCuen in a Horn Book Guide review of the American edition, A First Book of Myths. Liz Dubber, writing in School Librarian, likewise called A First Myths Storybook "a very welcome addition." A more eclectic approach is taken in The Barefoot Book of Brother and Sister Tales, a compilations of stories from around the world celebrating the sibling bond. From the German story of "Hansel and Gretel" to the Armenian tale "The Red Cow," these stories deal with cruel stepmothers, witches, and queens in "clear, captivating language, each the perfect length for a bedtime read," according to Gillian Engberg in a Booklist review. The Arthurian legend gets a different spin in Hoffman's Women of Camelot: Queens and Enchantresses at the Court of King Arthur, a collection of nine tales dealing with various females from the land of the Round Table, including Guinevere and Morgan le Fay. Anne St. John, writing in Horn Book Guide, praised the "strong voices" of the female protagonists, which add "a believable human dimension" to the traditional stories.

The Bible provides more inspiration for retellings from Hoffman. Among these collections are A First Bible Story Book, Miracles: Wonders Jesus Worked, Parables: Stories Jesus Told, and Animals of the Bible. The last three of these were done in collaboration with illustrator Jackie Morris and earned critical acclaim. In a starred review of Parables, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that Hoffman "steps beyond mere retellings," and further described Parables as an "intimate, thought-provoking picture book." Patricia Pearl Dole, writing in School Library Journal, found the same book "excellent, accurate, [and] thoughtful." Another contributor for Publishers Weekly, in a starred review of Miracles, called this companion volume "a thoughtful, accessible overview," and "a book sure to be welcomed by children and those helping them to interpret scripture." Stories from the serpent in the Garden of Eden to Noah and his ark are gathered in Animals of the Bible, "an ideal introduction to the Bible for the very young," according to Susan Oliver in School Library Journal.

Hoffman returns to the longer novel form in her 2002 Stravaganza: City of Masks, a story of "political intrigue . . . against the glittering backdrop of an alternate Venice," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. A time-slip novel, the tale involves fifteen-year-old Lucien, who is undergoing chemotherapy in present-day London. Falling asleep with a strange book in hand, the boy wakes up in an enchanted sixteenth-century city, Bellezza, a Venice-like place in the land of Talia where he meets Arianna, a beautiful young girl dressed as a boy. He can only return to London by finding that book again. Caught up in the political intrigues of the time, Lucien, or Luciano as he is called in Bellezza, becomes an adept of "stravagation," or traveling between worlds. The first book of an intended trilogy, City of Masks "will likely intrigue more sophisticated readers," thought a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who also had praise for the "Renaissance backdrop [that] sets an elegant mood for the time-travel toggling." Karin Snelson, reviewing the novel in Booklist, lauded Hoffman for creating an "utterly fascinating,. . . rich, rip-roaring adventure," predicting that the novel "will no doubt whet readers' appetites for Italian history and culture."

If you enjoy the works of Mary Hoffman

If you enjoy the works of Mary Hoffman, you might want to check out the following books:

Kate DiCamilla, The Tiger Rising, 2001.

Cornelia Funke, Inkheart, 2003.

Tomie D. Paola, Oliver Button Is a Sissy, 1979.

On Hoffman's frequent visits to classrooms around her native England to talk to her young fans, children are always curious about her life as a writer. "Why I am a writer is because it's the only thing I am good enough at to do professionally," Hoffman once explained. "I am very lucky to do for a job the thing that I enjoy most. I love everything to do with writing—from buying the paper to proofreading. . . . You know the way that some people are stage-struck? So much so that they'll even make tea or find props? Well, I'm the same about books—page-struck, perhaps? I can never quite believe that this is what I am, this is really what I do and I am not making it up. It still surprises me every time I look at my bookcases that house my titles."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Hoffman, Mary, essay in Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 24, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 127-143.

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, 5th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.


Booklist, June 1, 1988, Ilene Cooper, review of My Grandma Has Black Hair, p. 1676; September 1, 1993, p. 60; April 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Boundless Grace, p. 1506; January 1-15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Earth, Fire, Water, Air, p. 829; October 1, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Clever Katya: A Fairy Tale from Old Russia, p. 332; November 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Sun, Moon and Stars, p. 486; November 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of A Twist in the Tail: Animal Stories from around the World, p. 583; February 15, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Starring Grace, p. 1112; October 1, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Parables: Stories Jesus Told, p. 356; November 15, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of The Barefoot Book of Brother and Sister Tales, p. 641; July, 2001, Anna Rich, review of Starring Grace (audiobook), p. 2028; October 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Parables, p. 333, and Miracles: Wonders Jesus Worked, p. 337; October 15, 2002, Karin Snelson, review of Stravaganza: City of Masks, p. 407, Hazel Rochman, review of The Color of Home, p. 410; January 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Animals of the Bible, pp. 897-898.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1988, p. 137; July, 1988, p. 231; September, 1992, Betsy Hearne, review of Amazing Grace, pp. 3-4; January, 1996, p. 162; March, 1998, Janice M. DelNegro, review of An Angel Just Like Me, pp. 245-246.

Children's Digest, March, 2000, review of A First Book of Myths: Myths and Legends for the Very Young from around the World, p. 22.

Five Owls, May-June, 1994, Stephen Fraser, review of Henry's Baby, p. 106.

Growing Point, January, 1987, p. 4739; November, 1989, p. 5245.

Horn Book, July-August, 1995, Mary M. Burns, review of Boundless Grace, p. 450; November-December, 1998, Mary M. Burns, review of A Twist in the Tail, p. 746; March-April, 2000, review of Starring Grace, p. 196.

Horn Book Guide, fall, 1999, Pamela McCuen, review of A First Book of Myths, p. 324; fall, 2001, Anne St. John, review of Women of Camelot: Queens and Enchantresses at the Court of King Arthur, p. 322.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1983, p. 164; October, 1986, p. 186; December, 1989, review of Dog Powder, p. 278; October, 1991, p. 204; December, 1991, p. 243; April, 1996, review of Song of the Earth, pp. 73-74.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1993, review of The Four-Legged Ghost, p. 1002; October 15, 1999, review of Three Wise Women, p. 1654; August 15, 2002, review of The Color of Home, pp. 1225-1226; September 15, 2002, review of Stravaganza, p. 1392; February 15, 2003, review of Animals of the Bible, p. 307.

Magpies, March, 1996, p. 33.

Publishers Weekly, September 11, 1987, p. 92; August 2, 1991, p. 72; July 12, 1993, review of The Four-Legged Ghosts, p. 80; May 8, 1995, review of Boundless Grace, p. 294; December 18, 1995, p. 54; September 14, 1998, review of A Twist in the Tail, p. 67; November 16, 1998, review of Sun, Moon and Stars, p. 73; September 27, 1999, review of Three Wise Women, p. 61; May 15, 2000, "A Grace Note," p. 119; July 24, 2000, review of Parables, p. 91; October 9, 2000, review of The Barefoot Book of Brother and Sister Tales, p. 90; July 30, 2001, review of Miracles, p. 82; December 10, 2001, review of Starring Grace, p. 73; September 30, 2002, review of Stravaganza, p. 72; March 31, 2003, review of Animals of the Bible, p. 63.

School Librarian, November, 1991, Chris Stephenson, review of Amazing Grace, p. 140; February, 1996, p. 20; autumn, 1999, Liz Dubber, review of A First Myths Storybook: Myths and Legends for the Very Young from around the World, p. 136.

School Library Journal, March, 1985, p. 152; December, 1986, p. 123; March, 1987, pp. 145-146; October, 1988, p. 122; December, 1997, p. 93; October, 1998, Denise Anton Wright, review of Clever Katya, pp. 124-125; February, 1999, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of A First Bible Story Book, p. 97; September, 1999, Gunny Gustin, review of A First Book of Myths, p. 213; October, 1999, Tracy Taylor, review of Three Wise Women, p. 68; July, 2000, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of Starring Grace, p. 80; November, 2000, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Parables, p. 142; January, 2001, Grace Oliff, review of The Barefoot Book of Brother and Sister Tales, p. 118; October, 2001, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Miracles, p. 142; September, 2002, Ajoke' T. I. Kokodoko, review of The Color of Home, p. 194; November, 2002, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of Stravaganza, p. 168; April, 2003, Susan Oliver, review of Animals of the Bible, p. 150.

Teacher Librarian, June, 2000, Jessica Higgs, review of A First Book of Myths, p. 54.


Official Mary Hoffman Web Site,http://www.woldash.demon.co.uk/ (March 11, 2003).

Stravaganza,http://www.stravaganza.co.uk/ (May 30, 2003).*

About this article

Hoffman, Mary

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article