Bechard, Margaret 1953-
BECHARD, Margaret 1953-
PERSONAL: Born August 3, 1953, in Chico, CA; daughter of Earl J. (a business executive) and Catherine (a homemaker; maiden name, Hanson) Bechard; married Lee Boekelheide (a design engineer), September 11, 1976; children: Alex, Nicholas, Peter. Education: Attended California State University—Chico, 1971-73; Reed College, B.A. (English literature), 1976.
ADDRESSES: Home and offıce—12180 Southwest Ann Pl., Tigard, OR 97223.
CAREER: Freelance writer.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (regional advisor, Oregon chapter, 1990-92, 1993-94), Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Sunshine Award nomination, 1994, for My Sister, My Science Report; Children's Books of the Year citation, Child Study Children's Book Committee, 1995, for Really No Big Deal; Really No Big Deal was a Junior Library Guild Selection.
My Sister, My Science Report, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.
Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love, Viking (New York, NY), 1992.
Really No Big Deal, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Star Hatchling, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
My Mom Married the Principal, Viking (New York, NY), 1998.
If It Doesn't Kill You, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
Hanging on to Max, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Margaret Bechard's novels, many of which feature characters in their middle school years, are typically lighthearted tales that contain lessons about some of the dilemmas pre-teens may face in life. In her first book, My Sister, My Science Report, for example, Tess learns to understand her older sister better, while also eventually admitting that "brainy geek" Phoenix Guber, with whom she becomes an unwilling science class partner, is not such a bad kid after all. Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love features a young girl whose romanticized ideas of true love are forever changed when she grows to know her Uncle Arthur and to understand his sorrow over his wife's death. Bechard's third novel, Really No Big Deal, is about Jonah Truman coming to grips with his parents' divorce and his mother's new relationship with his school principal.
Bechard combines humorous situations and realistic character development to add depth to her stories. A number of reviewers have noted the author's skill with characterization. A Horn Book reviewer, discussing Really No Big Deal, praised Bechard's "dialogue with an ear for the subtle emotions and insecurities of her characters." Connie Tyrrell Burns, writing in the School Library Journal, called Jonah Truman the most likable character since Betsy Byar's Bingo Brown, asserting that Jonah is "similarly drawn with humor and empathy." Critics of Tory and Me and the Spirit of True Love have also noted Bechard's ability to treat delicate issues with sensitivity. In the case of this story, which deals with death, a Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked that the book would be "a good choice for children who have recently grappled with a first family death." And a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books writer called it "a well-balanced account of a young girl who's beginning to realize that her relatives are real people."
Bechard's Star Hatchling places a new twist on the term "outsider." The main character, Hanna, accidentally lands on a new planet, separated from the rest of her family. She befriends two lizard-like creatures named Shem and Cheko. The book alternates perspectives, giving readers both the "insider" and "outsider" view of the encounter. Despite their many differences, Hanna, Shem, and Cheko become friends.
Jonah Truman returns in Bechard's My Mom Married the Principal. He is older in this book and is interested in girls, learning to cope with his new stepfather, who happens to be the principal of his school, and making friends. Elizabeth Drennan, writing in Booklist, called the book "great summer reading" for kids "looking for something fast, funny, and painless."
With If It Doesn't Kill You, Bechard tackles several tough issues facing teens in an ever-changing society. Ben, a freshman football player, must deal with the realization that his father is gay. The novel offers Ben's conflicted feelings about his father's relationship with a man, his need to fit in with the popular crowd, and his blossoming relationship with the unique girl next door. Kitty Flynn of Horn Book commented, "Bechard does a fine job illuminating the day-to-day struggles that make us all stronger." A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, "Bechard attempts to dispel myths about athletes and gay people", but "her own characterizations tend toward familiar types." The reviewer continued, however, commenting that "teens will relate to Ben's struggles with peer pressure."
Hanging on to Max, chronicles the life of Sam Pettigrew, a seventeen-year-old father taking care of his illegitimate son, Max. Attending an alternative high school for teenage parents, Sam has dreams of attending college and making a better life for himself. However, his father refuses to support Sam unless he gets a job with a local construction company after graduation. Faced with uncertainties about his own future, Sam must make a life-altering decision. Jane Halsall of School Library Journal called Hanging on to Max, "a breath of fresh air." Halsall continued, "Bechard has written a poignant winner of a book peopled with human beings all struggling to make their lives work. And she has created in Sam an unforgettable and realistic protagonist full of heart and guts." Booklist's Francisca Goldsmith noted, "It's unusual to find a boy in the teen single-parent role, but this story is both realistic and perceptive."
"When I was about three or four years old, one of my favorite places in our house was the corner of the living room behind the big, green leather chair," Bechard commented. "I was the youngest of six children. It was quiet behind the big, green chair. No one could see me back there. No one even knew I was there. And I was never bored. Our encyclopedias were on the shelves in that corner. My favorite was the 'B' volume, which had several pages of color plates of birds. I would sit for hours, looking at the pictures, enjoying the feel of the glossy pages. I can remember one of my brothers yelling at me because I had worn the spine off that volume."
"One of the pictures particularly fascinated me. Now, looking back as an adult, I know that it was a picture of a large hawk or eagle, wings outspread, landing in its nest. Then, looking at it as a small child, I saw a picture of a large dog with wings. My father had a friend who was a hunter, and who often talked about his bird dog. I felt an immense satisfaction as I looked at that picture in the encyclopedia. I thought to myself, 'So that's a bird dog.' I hadn't had to ask one of my brothers and sisters or my parents. I had figured out this puzzle all by myself. I have loved books ever since."
"I spent quite a bit of my childhood pretending to be a horse. But I spent even more time reading, immersing myself in the worlds I found in books. I slipped on the wet cobblestones with Black Beauty. I ate warm bread and fresh goat's milk with Heidi. I swam in the sea of tears with Alice. I never forgave Jo for not marrying Laurie. I read every book in our library that had a horse on the cover. (I can still embarrass my children by galloping up and down the hall, tossing my head and whinnying.)"
"I wrote my first novel when I was seven. It was about a rich girl, an only child, who lived in a big house and had lots of horses. I loved making up stories and writing them down. I soon discovered that disappearing into worlds I had made up myself was even better than disappearing into worlds written by someone else. I began to think that being a writer would be a truly wonderful thing. However, I soon realized that most of the adults around me did not think it would be truly wonderful. They worried about how I would eat and where I would live. So, I told all the adults that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, and, secretly, I dreamed of being a writer."
"Fortunately, my test scores in math and science kept me out of medical school. And my marriage to an understanding, long-suffering supporter of the arts has kept me fed and housed. I spent several years trying to write serious, adult novels, being, at twenty-five or twenty-six, a very serious adult myself. My stories always crumbled under my hands, never having a middle, let alone an ending. It was hard, and I was pretty depressed, although I felt good about that, because I knew writers were supposed to be depressed. It wasn't until I had children of my own, and found myself reading between twenty and thirty picture books a day, that I considered writing books for kids. It took me several more years to realize that the voices in my head are mostly the voices of people between the ages of ten and fourteen, people who are learning and discovering and experimenting. People who take themselves seriously, but can still see the essential humor of the situation."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 1990, p. 1795; November 1, 1992, p. 509; March 15, 1994, p. 1347; September 15, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Star Hatchling, p. 158; March 1, 1998, Elizabeth Drennan, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 1132; July, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 1938; June 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 1863; May 1, 2002, Francisca Goldsmith, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 1518.
Book Report, November, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 59.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1990, p. 208; October, 1992, p. 37; January, 1996, review of Star Hatchling, p. 155; April, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 274; May, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 310.
Children's Book Review Service, winter, 1996, review of Star Hatchling, p. 68; June, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 129; June, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 344.
Emergency Librarian, May, 1998, review of Star Hatchling, p. 42.
Horn Book, September, 1990, p. 599; November, 1992, p. 722; July, 1994, p. 449; July, 1999, Kitty Flynn, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 461; May-June, 2002, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 324.
Horn Book Guide, January, 1990, p. 240; spring, 1993, p. 64; spring, 1996, review of Star Hatchling, p. 58; fall, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 325; fall, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 302.
Instructor, January, 1996, review of Star Hatchling, p. 72.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1990, p. 726; November 15, 1992, p. 1438; June 1, 1994, p. 772; February 1, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 192; May 15, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 796; April 15, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 561.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 1996, review of Really No Big Deal, p. 9; March, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 5; July, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 6.
Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1992, p. 55; May 2, 1994, p. 309; July 5, 1999, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 72.
Reading Teacher, December, 1996, review of Star Hatchling, p. 324.
School Librarian, November, 1996, review of Star Hatchling, p. 168.
School Library Journal, May, 1990, p. 102; October, 1992, p. 112; May, 1994, p. 112; August, 1995, John Peters, review of Star Hatchling, p. 139; March, 1998, Carrie A. Guarria, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 208; July, 1999, Alison Follos, review of If It Doesn't Kill You, p. 92; May, 2002, Jane Halsall, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 146.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1998, review of My Mom Married the Principal, p. 384; April, 2002, review of Hanging on to Max, p. 36.
Powells Web site,http://www.powells.com/ (February 25, 2003), review of My Mom Married the Principal.*