Barber, Antonia 1932–

views updated

Barber, Antonia 1932–

[A pseudonym]

(Barbara Barber)

PERSONAL: Born Barbara Barber, December 10, 1932, in London, England; daughter of Derek (a box-office manager) and Julie (a landscape gardener; maiden name, Jeal) Wilson; married Kenneth Charles Barber (a structural engineering consultant), August 6, 1956 (died December, 1981); children: Jonathan Charles, Nicholas James, Gemma Thi-Phi-Yen. Education: University College, London, B.A. (with honors), 1955. Hobbies and other interests: Walking, reading, theatre, gardening.

ADDRESSES: Home—Horne's Place Oast, Appledore, Kent TN26 2BS, England. Agent—David Higham Associates, 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Square, London W1R, 4HA, England.

CAREER: Writer, beginning 1966.

MEMBER: British Society of Authors, Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, Greenpeace.

AWARDS, HONORS: Carnegie Award runner-up, for The Ghosts, and shortlist, for The Ring in the Rough Stuff; Nestle Smarties Book Prize Children's Choice, Kate Greenaway Medal Commendation, and British Book Award for Illustrated Book of the Year, all for The Mousehole Cat.


The Affair of the Rockerbye Baby, J. Cape (London, England), 1966, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1970.

The Ghosts, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1969, published as The Amazing Mr. Blunden, Penguin (Harmondsworth, England), 1972.

The Ring in the Rough Stuff, J. Cape (London, England), 1983.

The Enchanter's Daughter, illustrated by Errol le Cain, J. Cape (London, England), 1987.

Satchelmouse and the Dinosaurs, Walker Books (London, England), 1987.

Satchelmouse and the Doll's House, Walker Books (London, England), 1987.

The Mousehole Cat, illustrated by Nicola Bayley, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.

Gemma the Broody Hen, illustrated by Karin Littlewood, ABC (London, England), 1992, published as Gemma and the Baby Chick, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

(Adaptor) Tales from Grimm, illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 1992.

Catkin, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994.

The Monkey and the Panda, illustrated by Meilo So, Macmillan Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1995.

Shoes of Satin, Ribbons of Silk: Tales from the Ballet, illustrated by Diz Wallis, Kingfisher (New York, NY), 1995, published as Tales from the Ballet, 1999.

(Reteller) Snow White and Rose Red, MacDonald Young (London, England), 1997.

Apollo and Daphne: Masterpieces of Greek Mythology, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1998, published as Apollo and Daphne: Masterpieces of Mythology, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 1998.

Noah and the Ark, Corgi (London, England), 1998.

Hidden Tales from Eastern Europe, illustrated by Paul Hess, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2002.

The Frog Bride, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Pamela Oldfield, editor, Hurdy Gurdie, Blackie & Son, 1984; and Jean Richardson, editor, Cold Feet, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1985.

Barber's books have been translated into Gaelic.


Friends and Rivals, Puffin (London, England), 1998.

Into the Spotlight, Puffin (London, England), 1998.

Lessons for Lucy, Puffin (London, England), 1998.

Out of Step, Puffin (London, England), 1998.

Making the Grade, Puffin (London, England), 1999.

Time to Dance, Puffin (London, England), 1999.

Lucy's Next Step, Puffin (London, England), 1999.

Best Foot Forward, Puffin (London, England), 1999.

Model Dancers, Puffin (London, England), 2000.

In a Spin, Puffin (London, England), 2000.

In the Wings, Puffin (London, England), 2000.

Dance to the Rescue, Puffin (London, England), 2000.

The Big Book of Dancing Shoes, Volume 1, Puffin (London, England), 2000.

The Big Book of Dancing Shoes, Volume 2, Puffin (London, England), 2001.

ADAPTATIONS: The Ghosts was adapted for film as The Amazing Mr Blunden, 1971, and later adapted for television by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC-TV); The Ring in the Rough Stuff was adapted for television by BBC-TV; The Mousehole Cat was adapted as an animated film, a concert production, music by Ian Hughes, 1995, and as a musical stage play.

SIDELIGHTS: British writer Antonia Barber has gained widespread praise for her fanciful stories for young children as well as for her retellings of traditional folklore and mythology. Beginning her writing career in the mid-1960s, Barber has produced the award-winning novel The Ghosts, and the popular picture books The Mousehole Cat and Gemma and the Baby Chick, as well as story collections that include Tales from the Ballet and Hidden Tales from Eastern Europe. Noting that the seven stories in Hidden Tales from Eastern Europe combine traditional story elements "in unusual combinations," a Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that, "with economy and restraint," Barber "renders even miraculous moments simply, allowing the luster of these stories to shine forth."

Barber's second published book, the novel The Ghosts, combines suspense and the supernatural. A young brother and sister, James and Lucy Allen, are confronted by the ghosts of two children killed a hundred years earlier in a fire. The apparitions seek aid, and the Allen children are required to travel back in time in order to change the course of history. A Horn Book reviewer called The Ghosts "a good English time fantasy, filled with surprising twists and ingeniously resolved mysteries." Popular with readers, the novel was later released as the feature film The Amazing Mr Blunden.

Despite the success of her first two books—particularly The Ghosts, which was honored by the Carnegie Award committee—Barber credits her experiences as a mother with enhancing her work as a children's writer. As she once commented: "I am an example of a contemporary phenomenon: the professional woman writer who takes a few years out for the fascinating experience of raising young children. After two successful children's books, both widely published and translated, I gave up writing for a while to bring up two adopted sons, intending to return to work when they reached school age. The chance to add a baby daughter, a Vietnamese war orphan, to our family delayed me again; but [after] she … joined the boys in school, I … returned to writing full time. The marvelous years in between have been of inestimable value to me as a writer. Having seen childhood … from the outside as well as the inside, and knowing what it is to be a parent as well as to have parents, I have a much deeper understanding of human character and relationships."

The Mousehole Cat is one of many books Barber has written since taking a break to raise her family. Taking place in the Cornish fishing village of Mousehole—pronounced "Mowzel"—the story follows the efforts of Mowzer, a wise old cat, to protect her human companion, fisherman Tom, when a vicious storm forces the villagers to stay indoors and food becomes scarce. Mowzer's caterwauling and soothing purr appeases the Great Storm Cat and allows Tom to cast his nets and bring food to the town. Praising the book for its "captivating" story, a Publishers Weekly contributor added that Barber's text is "by turns funny, dramatic and touching" and her story's resolution "comforting." Also cited for its artwork by Nicola Bayley, The Mousehole Cat earned the British Book Award for Best Illustrated Book, among other honors. It has been adapted as an animated film as well as a concert production and a stage musical.

A caretaker cat also plays a starring role in Barber's Catkin, which, like The Mousehole Cat, contains an element of fantasy. In this tale a fortune-teller seeing danger in young Carrie's future gives the girl a clever cat to watch over her. The fortune-teller's vision proves accurate, however, when Catkin is distracted by some passing butterflies and Carrie is abducted into the underworld by the Little People. In tracing Catkin's journey to free her charge, Barber spins a tale that "rings with the … nostalgia of the best fairy stories and the primacy of myth," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

After Barber's husband passed away in 1991, the author "joined the growing band of single parents," as she once explained. "Single parents do not have much time for writing, so I … turned for a while to shorter books for younger children." Drawing on her love of the ballet, Barber produced twelve volumes in the "Dancing Shoes" series, a group of books inspired by her 1995 story collection Tales from the Ballet. Tales from the Ballet retells the story of nine popular ballets in what Booklist reviewer April Judge described as "crisp, dramatic, and action-packed prose." Enchanters, princes and princesses, nutcrackers, nightingales, and firebirds, together with comments about the actual ballet, all find their way into the book, which features engaging pastel illustrations by Diz Wallis.

Commenting on the inspiration for her fiction, Barber once said: "The question children ask me most often in their letters is: 'What made you write the book The Ghosts?' My answer is: J.W. Dunne's book An Experiment with Time, which I read when I was seventeen; T S. Eliot's poem 'Four Quartets,' which I read when I was seventeen; a story about a real apparition, told to me by an elderly man when I was twenty-six; and an old house I visited for a furniture auction when I was thirty-two, which made all the other memories come together to make a story. The moral is: You never know what may be useful if you are a writer."



Booklist, November 15, 1995, April Judge, review of Shoes of Satin, Ribbons of Silk: Tales from the Ballet, p. 594; October 15, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Apollo and Daphne: Masterpieces of Greek Mythology, p. 409.

Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1990, review of The Mousehole Cat, p. 65; January 18, 1993, review of Gemma and the Baby Chick, p. 468; November 21, 1994, review of Catkin, p. 76; March 15, 2004, review of Hidden Tales from Eastern Europe, p. 75.

Teacher Librarian, June, 2000, Jessica Higgs, review of Apollo and Daphne, p. 53.

Times Literary Supplement, June 26, 1969.


David Higham Associates Web site, (June 20, 2005), "Antonia Barber."

About this article

Barber, Antonia 1932–

Updated About content Print Article