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Blacklock, Dyan 1951-

Blacklock, Dyan 1951-

PERSONAL:

Born 1951; married; husband's name David; children: two sons, one daughter.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Omnibus Books, 335 Unley Rd., Malvern, South Australia 5061, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Omnibus Books, Malvern, South Australia, Australia, publisher, 1996—. Formerly worked as an editor, teacher, librarian, shopkeeper, and counselor.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Eve Pownall Award, Australian children's book of the year, information category, Children's Book Council of Australia, 2001, for Olympia: Warrior Athletes of Ancient Greece; Centenary medal for services to Australia through literature, 2003.

WRITINGS:

JUVENILE

Comet Vomit and Other Surprising Stories, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1995.

The Lighthouse, illustrated by Steven Woolman, Era Publications (Flinders Park, South Australia, Australia), 1995.

Call It Love (short stories), Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1996.

Crab Bait (short stories), Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1996.

Pankration: The Ultimate Game, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1997, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1999.

Nudes and Nikes: Champions and Legends of the First Olympics, Allen & Unwin (St. Leonards, New South Wales, Australia), 1997.

I Want Earrings!, illustrated by Craig Smith, Omnibus (Norwood, South Australia, Australia), 1997.

Olympia: Warrior Athletes of Ancient Greece, illustrated by David Kennett, Omnibus Books (Malvern, South Australia, Australia), 2000, Walker and Co. (New York, NY), 2001.

Crash! The Search for the Stinson, Omnibus Books (Malvern, South Australia, Australia), 2000.

The Roman Army: The Legendary Soldiers Who Created an Empire, illustrated by David Kennett, Walker and Co. (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS:

Dyan Blacklock is the author of several collections of short stories for young readers that have been praised for their humor and sensitivity, their realism, and their appeal to both boys and girls, avid and reluctant readers alike. In her first collection, Comet Vomit and Other Surprising Stories, the thirteen stories "cover fantasy, fear, and farce; some present serious moments of discovery of such matters as the brevity of human life, … the capacity to overcome fear, and loyalty to one's home and family," observed Alan Horsfield in Magpies. Horsfield noted that much of the appeal of Comet Vomit comes from Blacklock's use of the natural language of her target audience, her fast-paced plots, and satisfying endings. Similar qualities grace Crab Bait, another collection of tales for middle-grade readers. According to Russ Merrin, a reviewer for Magpies, the stories resonate with "sensitivity, subtlety, humour and poignancy." Individual tales depict the pros and cons of belonging to the popular group at school, family troubles, the comeuppance of a rich girl, or a science-fiction approach to handling a bully. "Dyan Blacklock captures the uncertainty, gullibility and guilelessness of children, while remaining keenly attuned to their thoughts, values, attitudes and mores," Merrin concluded. School Librarian contributor Sarah Reed called Crab Bait "great for tempting less enthusiastic readers."

Pankration: The Ultimate Game, a novel for young adults, shares with Blacklock's earlier works an ability to inspire enthusiasm in young audiences. Set in ancient Greece, the novel centers on Nic, the pampered son of wealthy parents who is sent away from his Athens home when a plague threatens the city. On board a ship, he meets and is befriended by the ship's captain, an Olympic hopeful training for the pankration event, an especially brutal form of boxing. When pirates attack the ship, young Nic is sold into slavery, escapes, and returns to Athens in time for the games, where he meets up with old enemies as well as old friends and encounters a whole new set of challenges and adventures. In School Librarian, critic Jonathan Weir made note of Pankration's "pacy and involving story," and the author's smooth incorporation of Grecian history. Weir further observed that "the characters and their motivations are never anything short of convincing." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Elizabeth Bush commented that though "kid-pleasing adventure-story staples abound" in Blacklock's plot, the author's skill for including historical detail and her avoidance of didacticism raises "the tale beyond simple costume drama." The result is a book that is "about as satisfying as it gets," concluded Bush.

The Roman Army: The Legendary Soldiers Who Created an Empire provides another look at the classical world. This nonfiction work combines illustrations and text to depict the many aspects of military life in ancient Rome. Blacklock explains the overall organization of the Roman army, from its hierarchy and uniforms to strategies of war, fighting techniques, and deployment patterns. She describes the work behind the scenes required to mount a successful army, from training of soldiers to providing supply convoys and building the roads necessary to carry the troops and convoys. She writes, not only of the soldiers and military leaders, but also of the variety of support personnel required to supply the soldiers' needs and even of the treatment of prisoners of war. She describes the Roman military weapons and hardware, such as the catapult and other heavy field equipment. Lest such a technical work overwhelm a young reader, Blacklock uses plentiful illustrations to amplify and demystify the technical content of the book. Both Carolyn Phelan of Booklist and Anne Chapman Callaghan of School Library Journal commented on the riveting drawings and the successful blending of illustration and text, reminiscent of the style of a comic book or graphic novel. Phelan called The Roman Army a "dynamic book," while Callaghan recommended it as a "captivating" introduction to Roman military history.

For older adolescents, Blacklock produced a collection of stories about love and other intensely felt emotions in Call It Love. For a younger audience, the author wrote The Lighthouse, a picture book about death and grief in which an elderly man loses his wife of many years, grieves the loss of the person who was to him a "lighthouse," and eventually learns to enjoy life again. This "soundly-written story" is also a "sentimental reminiscence," according to Annette Meiklejohn in Magpies, but "is saved from becoming maudlin by the author's use of clear and very simple language."

Blacklock told CA: "Since becoming the publisher of Omnibus Books in 1996, my own writing has taken a back seat. I am more concerned with other people's writing, and helping to create new work is very pleasurable. I still write (there are currently three novels on the go in my computer) but I am very tough on myself these days. I see so much work that it often fills me with anxiety. There are very few original ideas out there. I still love to write—I'm just a lot pickier about what I keep and what I throw away."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Australian Book Review, June, 1995, review of Comet Vomit and Other Surprising Stories, p. 61.

Booklist, March 1, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Roman Army: The Legendary Soldiers Who Created an Empire, p. 1189.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1999, Elizabeth Bush, review of Pankration: The Ultimate Game, pp. 344-345.

Children's Book Watch, May, 2004, review of The Roman Army, p. 8.

Kliatt, July, 1997, review of Call It Love, p. 20.

Library Media Connection, August-September, 2004, Sandra Lee, review of The Roman Army, p. 74.

Magpies, July, 1995, Alan Horsfield, review of Comet Vomit and Other Surprising Stories, p. 27; September, 1995, Annette Meiklejohn, review of The Lighthouse, p. 27; March, 1997, Russ Merrin, review of Crab Bait, p. 32; September, 1997, review of Nudes and Nikes: Champions and Legends of the First Olympics, p. 42.

School Librarian, spring, 1998, Sarah Reed, review of Crab Bait, p. 46; summer, 1998, Jonathan Weir, review of Pankration, pp. 76, 78.

School Library Journal, April, 2004, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of The Roman Army, p. 165.

Washington Post Book World, April 25, 2004, Eliabeth Ward, review of The Roman Army, p. 11.

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