Baskin, Nora Raleigh 1961-

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Baskin, Nora Raleigh 1961-

PERSONAL:

Born May 18, 1961, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Henry P. (an artist and professor) and Arlene Raleigh; married Steven M. Baskin (a clinical psychologist), October 11, 1986; children: Sam Raleigh, Ben Raleigh. Education: State University of New York—Purchase, B.A. (with honors), 1983. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Running, swimming.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Weston, CT. Agent—Nancy Galtt, 273 Charlton Ave., South Orange, NJ 07079. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected]

CAREER:

Writer; former preschool teacher; teacher of creative writing and Jewish history.

MEMBER:

Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Connecticut Press Club.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Top-Ten Novel for Youth designation, Booklist, 2001, for What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows; Connecticut Book Award finalist, 2006, for Basketball (or Something like It); Best Children's Book of the Year designation, Connecticut Press Club, 2007, for In the Company of Crazies; Jewish Book Council Network selection, 2008, for The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah.

WRITINGS:

What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

Almost Home, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2003.

Basketball (or Something like It), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

In the Company of Crazies, illustrated by father, Henry P. Raleigh, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2006.

The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2008.

About Love, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2008.

Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including The Year They Forgot My Birthday, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2005. Contributor of essays to Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Writer, Illustrators House, NERA, and Aim magazine.

SIDELIGHTS:

Nora Raleigh Baskin bases many of her books for middle-grade readers on events recalled from her own life or witnessed as a parent of two children. Enjoying a rural childhood spent in upstate New York, Baskin dealt with several family moves and reconfigurations, and also discovered a love of storytelling. Her first novel, What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, was written when Baskin was married and raising her own children. It, like Almost Home, is semi-autobiographical and focuses on a girl dealing with the death of a mother and trying to find her place in the world. Baskin's two sons inspired Basketball (or Something like It), while in About Love she turns to older teens in her story of a sixteen-year-old girl searching her childhood for the key to her future.

In What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows Baskin introduces Gabby Weiss, a girl who believes that she needs someone to teach her what every girl who has a mother knows. Gabby's own mother died when she was three, and now she is facing adolescence. Fortunately, Gabby feels comfortable with her father's girlfriend, Cleo, and at first Cleo ably fills the role of mother by taking Gabby shopping and celebrating the arrival of Gabby's first period. However, when the dating relationship ends, Gabby feels abandoned, and in an effort to bring back memories of her actual mother she returns to the apartment where her family lived when the woman was alive. Baskin manages to combine a coming-of-age story with a family mystery in which the facts surrounding Gabby's mother's death—which have never before been discussed—are finally revealed. "What's especially moving here is that everything is true to Gabby's viewpoint," asserted Hazel Rochman in a Booklist review of What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows. A Publishers Weekly critic praised Baskin's fiction debut as a "bittersweet, emotionally complex first novel," featuring well-rounded and likable characters. Renee Steinberg, writing in School Library Journal, similarly praised the work as an "engrossing coming-of-age story peopled with characters about whom it is easy to care."

In Almost Home preteen Leah Baer deals with the rootlessness that comes from being shuttled between divorced parents who keep relocating. Now that her dad has remarried a woman named Gail, she has settled down as part of his new family. Life far away from her mom and younger sister is difficult, however, and the girl cannot understand why letters to her mother go unanswered. Fortunately, a growing friendship with a fellow outsider named Will helps Leah take some courageous steps toward independence. Mixing familial relationships with a coming-of-age story, Almost Home is "heart-wrenching, bittersweet, and genuine to the very end," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while in Booklist Anne O'Malley deemed the characters "very appealing" and the plot compelling. In addition to noting the similar themes shared by What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows and Almost Home, a Publishers Weekly writer praised Leah's "convincing" narration, concluding that "Baskin's delicate exposition of emotionally fraught terrain will likely evoke strong responses from her preadolescent audience."

Another preteen, Jeremy, moves from the city to the affluent suburb of North Ridge in Basketball (or Something like It). While the sixth grader had hoped to find a sanctuary on the basketball court as part of a traveling basketball team, he finds that the atmosphere surrounding the sport is also different in his new town. Along with team members—and alternating narrators—Hank and Nathan, as well as athlete and basketball fan Anabel, Jeremy learns a great deal about sportsmanship and the meaning of true friendship amid a season fraught with parental squabbling, fired coaches, and lackluster expectations. Basketball (or Something like It) allows Baskin to present readers with "a hard, honest look at society's obsession with sports and its effect on young athletes," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the critic adding that her subtle and non-overpowering critique "will leave a lasting impression on readers." In Booklist Todd Morning predicted that the novel would be a "surefire hit" due to its sports focus and the fact that Baskin tells her story "in an original way."

Featuring illustrations by Baskin's father, Henry P. Raleigh, In the Company of Crazies takes on a more serious theme as thirteen-year-old Mia Singer attempts to deal with the death of a friend and classmate. A former A-student, Mia becomes depressed and spirals out of control, skipping school, withdrawing from friends, and prompting her concerned parents to send her to a rural boarding school. At Mountain Laurel School for Alternative Education, Mia initially believes that she is as mentally handicapped as the school's other students. However, she ultimately makes an important discovery regarding responsibility and personal choice. "Readers will remember the distinctly drawn, vibrantly colored characters making cameo appearances throughout the story," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic in a review of In the Company of Crazies. While finding the novel's conclusion somewhat "too neatly tied together," Connie Tyrrell Burns wrote in School Library Journal that In the Company of Crazies is strengthened by Baskin's ability to present "a candid, sensitive, and keenly observant narrator."

Baskin draws on her Jewish heritage in writing The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah. After her beloved Jewish grandmother, Nana, passes away and wills her a Star of David pendant necklace, twelve-year-old Caroline is inspired to explore the woman's past. With the help of her Jewish friend Rachel, the preteen examines the Jewish culture, history, and faith, ultimately embracing Judaism although she had been raised in a non-religious home. While readers familiar with Judaism will find "much to relate to and recognize" in Baskin's tale, The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah presents general readers with a "an inside perspective on the feeling of belonging to a minority group," according to School Library Journal contributor Heidi Estrin. Calling the novel a "quick read," Kay Weisman concluded her School Library Journal review by writing that The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah "will be a hit with preteens contemplating their own identities."

Baskin started writing in earnest when she was in the fifth grade, beginning with poetry. As she once commented: "All I remember about my first poem was that it had something to do with reincarnation. It was short but startlingly profound (so I thought). But what I remember most was my teacher's reaction. She loved it. My life was changed. I had discovered the power of words.

"By sixth grade I was writing short stories and keeping journals. I read constantly and my early writing was always influenced by what I was reading. At one point I became interested in Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. I wrote a short story, in first person, about a blind and deaf girl struggling to express her thoughts. By high school I had attempted my first short novel, weaving my life into the events of World War II. I was a Jewish girl escaping Nazi Germany after my mother's death and searching for my missing father.

"Writing was my way of articulating all the emotions and all the drama I found myself exploring during those years. Even my senior thesis in college was a jumble of feelings and experimental writing based on my life experiences. It was, of course, extremely terrible.

"I think I was trying to make sense of all the confusion and unanswered questions. And I believed I could find some kind of truth if I put it down on paper. I was young, and I believed in words—as my father would say. Now, I'm not so young (not as young) but I still believe in words.

"However, it did take me a long time to realize that truth is only the way you remember it. It is all in the interpretation. I realized that my truth was mine to manipulate. And I began to write real fiction. I was finally able to care more about the story than the fact. I wrote What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows with this in mind. Take what you need and what you want and let go of everything else. And the amazing thing was when I did just that, I was free. I was free from the burden of my own history. I was free as a writer to create. To write."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, p. 1878; May 1, 2003, Anne O'Malley, review of Almost Home, p. 1591; February 1, 2005, Todd Morning, review of Basketball (or Something like It), p. 954; March 15, 2008, Kay Weisman, review of The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah, p. 51.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 2003, review of Almost Home, p. 351; March, 2006, Elizabeth Bush, review of Basketball (or Something like It), p. 281; October, 2006, Loretta Gaffney, review of In the Company of Crazies, p. 55.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Almost Home, p. 674; January 1, 2005, review of Basketball (or Something like It), p. 48; July 1, 2006, review of In the Company of Crazies, p. 673.

Kliatt, March, 2003, Tricia Finch, review of What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, p. 19; July, 2006, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of In the Company of Crazies, p. 7; February 15, 2008, review of The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah.

Publishers Weekly, April 2, 2001, review of What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, p. 65; April 21, 2003, review of Almost Home, p. 63; February 7, 2005, review of Basketball (or Something like It), p. 60; September 11, 2006, review of In the Company of Crazies, p. 56.

School Library Journal, April, 2001, Renee Steinberg, review of What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows, p. 138; July, 2003, Faith Brautigam, review of Almost Home, p. 123; February, 2005, Julie Webb, review of Basketball (or Something like It), p. 132; August, 2006, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of In the Company of Crazies, p. 114; April, 2008, Heidi Estrin, review of The Truth about My Bat Mitzvah, p. 139.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2003, review of Almost Home, p. 123; June, 2005, Walter Hogan, review of Basketball (or Something like It), p. 124.

ONLINE

Nora Raleigh Baskin Home Page,http://www.norabaskin.com (May 15, 2008).

Walker Books Web site,http://www.walkerbooks.co.uk/ (May 18, 2008), "Nora Raleigh Baskin."

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