Amato, Mary 1961-
Amato, Mary 1961-
Born January 3, 1961, in Belvidere, IL; married Ivan Amato (a science writer); children: Maxwell, Simon. Education: Indiana University, B.S.; Johns Hopkins University, M.A. Hobbies and other interests: Songwriting, play writing, playing music.
Home—Silver Spring, MD. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer, puppeteer, choreographer, and teacher. Firefly Shadow Theater (puppet company), Silver Spring, MD, cofounder and puppeteer, with Andrea Caspari, 2000—; Charter Theatre, Arlington, VA, artistic associate, 2007—.
Keisler Prize for Poetry, Indiana University; Fellowship for Children's Novel-in-Progress, Heekin Foundation; Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) nonfiction book grant; SCBWI National Magazine Merit Award; Target Arts-in-Education grant; Washington Post grant in the arts; visiting artist grant, Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County, MD; Highest Quality Titles selection, New England Children's Bookselling Advisory Council, 2000, and Grand Canyon Reader Award, 2004, both for The Word Eater; Bank Street Children's Book Committee Best Children's Book of the Year in Humor award, 2007, for Drooling and Dangerous.
The Word Eater, illustrated by Christopher Ryniak, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.
The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, illustrated by Heather Saunders, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2005.
Please Write in This Book, illustrated by Eric Brace, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.
The Chicken of the Family, illustrated by Delphine Durand, G.P. Putnam's (New York, NY), 2008.
Contributor of articles, essays, and poems to periodicals for children and adults, including Muse, Cicada, Washington Post, Parenting, and Mothering.
"RIOT BROTHERS" SERIES: FOR CHILDREN
Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All, illustrated by Ethan Long, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.
Drooling and Dangerous: The Riot Brothers Return!, illustrated by Ethan Long, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.
Stinky and Successful: The Riot Brothers Never Stop, illustrated by Ethan Long, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2007.
Although she had been a nonfiction writer, puppeteer, and choreographer for some time, in 2000 Mary Amato made her debut as a children's book writer with The Word Eater, the first of several books she has written for young readers. With the book, she finally realized a childhood dream. "I always wanted to be a writer, but it took me a long time to believe that I could actually become one," Amato once told CA. "I started writing at the age of seven when my mother handed me a little spiral notebook and told me to keep a journal of our trip to California. I liked the fact that I could record something in my journal and then read it later. My favorite book as a child was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh because Harriet was a terrific journal keeper."
In The Word Eater, Amato portrays a sixth-grade girl named Lerner who discovers Fip, an unusual book worm. Not only does Fip eat words, but when he does, the actual objects denoted by the words disappear permanently. The work caught the attention of reviewers, including Booklist critic Susan Dove Lempke, who, while noticing some unevenness in the narrative, called Amato's "basic idea … creative" and found "some intriguing moments" in the book. Writing in School Library Journal, Doris Gebel commended the author's quirky humor, remarking that the plot of The Word Eater is full of "clever, if far-fetched events."
Next from Amato's pen was Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All. As the tone of the chapter book's title promises, the book introduces two young boys with an impish humor and a love of games and other hijinks. Wilbur and Orville Riot are best friends although they are also two years apart in age and grade. Fifth grader Wilbur alternates with young Orville as instigator in a series of easy-to-read stories that find the Riot brothers trapping a thief, discovering secret treasure, and toppling a king from power, all in good-humored fun. Amato reprises her entertaining duo in Drooling and Dangerous: The Riot Brothers Return!, as the brothers' play includes a stint as secret agents, being unwittingly captured on film, and serving as school principal for a day. Noting that Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life is "sure to entice reluctant readers and leave them laughing," a Kirkus Reviews writer praised Amato's stories as "good-natured fun." "The boys' mix of silliness and creativity will resonate strongly with children," predicted Booklist contributor Roger Leslie, and Ethan Long's "simply drawn cartoon vignettes add to the manic air," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor.
Other books by Amato include The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, Please Write in This Book, and The Chicken of the Family. When her widowed dad starts dating a zookeeper named Ayanna, who lives worlds away in Washington, DC, twelve-year-old Midwesterner Frankie Wallop decides to tap the power of the Internet to derail the budding romance in The Naked Mole-Rat Letters. Please Write in This Book follows a classroom journal that sparks a gender war when it morphs into a place to record insults. Noting that the correspondence between Ayanna and Frankie ultimately helps the girl come to deal with some of the frustrations of early teendom, Cindy Dobrez deemed The Naked Mole-Rat Letters a "humorous look at honesty and privacy" in Booklist, while School Library Journal contributor Terrie Dorio praised Amato's inclusion of "solid relationships and refreshing characterizations." Citing Amato's characteristic ability to spin a story fueled by "funny dialogue," a Kirkus Reviews writer recommended Please Write in This Book for even the most hard-to-woo elementary-grade readers.
Reflecting on her career as a writer, Amato once commented: "I love to read, and I love to write. Not all writers love to write. I wake up every morning and can't wait to sit at my desk and write. I especially love to write books for kids ages seven to twelve. I think that's because I needed books when I was a kid. I turned to books when I was lonely or sad or confused or bored. It is extremely fun to think that kids are reading my books."
Amato believes that "imagination is like a muscle. The more you exercise your imagination, the bigger it is." In her personal creative-muscle work-out, Amato exercises her imagination by both writing and by continuing her work as a choreographer in musical theater. She also works with Charter Theatre, a professinal company in the Washington, DC, area that produces new plays and performs shadow plays with the Firefly Shadow Theater, a professional puppet company she cofounded with friend Andrea Caspari that has performed throughout the United States.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 15, 2000, Susan Dove Lempke, review of The Word Eater, p. 437; July, 2004, Ed Sullivan, review of Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life: The Riot Brothers Tell All, p. 1841; June 1, 2005, Cindy Dobrez, review of The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, p. 1804; May 15, 2006, Roger Leslie, review of Drooling and Dangerous: The Riot Brothers Return!, p. 44; December 15, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of Please Write in This Book, p. 46.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, August, 2005, review of The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, p. 476; March, 2007, Hope Morrison, review of Please Write in This Book, p. 283.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life, p. 265; June 1, 2005, review of The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, p. 631; May 1, 2006, review of Drooling and Dangerous, p. 453; November 15, 2006, review of Please Write in This Book, p. 1171.
Language Arts, September, 2001, review of The Word Eater, p. 79.
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 2000, review of The Word Eater, p. 71; April 26, 2004, review of Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Secret of Life, p. 66.
School Library Journal, October, 2000, Doris Gebel, review of The Word Eater, p. 155; July, 2004, Jean Lowery, review of Snarf Attack, Underfoodle, and the Riot Brothers Tell All, p. 66; August, 2005, Terrie Dorio, review of The Naked Mole-Rat Letters, p. 121; October, 2006, Kristine M. Casper, review of Drooling and Dangerous, p. 102.
Mary Amato Home Page,http://www.maryamato.com (April 15, 2007).
Takoma—Silver Spring Voice Online,http://www.takoma.com/ (September 1, 2002), Audrey Engdahl, "Firefly Shadow Theatre."