Clarke, Judith 1943-

views updated

CLARKE, Judith 1943-

PERSONAL: Born August 24, 1943, in Sydney, Australia; daughter of Kenneth Edward (a production supervisor) and Sheila Iris (Grey) Clarke; married Rashmi Desai (an anthropologist), December 27, 1968; children: Yask. Education: University of New South Wales, B.A. (with honors), 1964; Australian National University, M.A. (with honors), 1966.

ADDRESSES: Home—31 Alice St., Mt. Waverley, Melbourne, Victoria 3149, Australia.

CAREER: Writer, teacher, librarian, and lecturer.

AWARDS, HONORS: The Heroic Life of Al Capsella shortlisted for New South Wales Premiers Award, 1989, and named a Booklist Editors' Choice, 1990, and an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults, 1992; Al Capsella and the Watchdogs shortlisted for New South Wales Premiers Award, 1990, and named a Variety Club Talking Book of the Year, 1991, and a New York Public Library Best Book for Young Adults, 1992; Human Rights Award and Children's Book Council award shortlist, 1994, for Friend of My Heart; Children's Book Council Notable Book, 1995, for Big Night Out, 1997, for The Lost Day, and 1996, for Angels Passing By; Victorian Premier's Award and Children's Book Council Honour Book designation, both 1998, both for Night Train; Family Therapy Award, 1996, for Angels Passing By; Children's Book Council Book of the Year award, 2001, for Wolf on the Fold; Patricia Wrightson Prize, 2002, for Starry Nights.


The Boy on the Lake (stories), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1989, revised edition published as The Torment of Mr. Gully: Stories of the Supernatural, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

Teddy B. Zoot, illustrated by Margaret Hewitt, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

Luna Park at Night, Pascoe Publishing (Australia), 1991.

Riff Raff, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.

Friend of My Heart, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1994.

Big Night Out, Shorts (Norwood, South Australia), 1995.

Panic Stations, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1995.

Night Train, Penguin Books (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

The Lost Day, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.

Angels Passing By, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1999.

Mother Tough Wrote the Book, 1st Books Library (Bloomington, IN), 2002.

Wolf on the Fold, Front Street Books (Asheville, NC), 2002.

Starry Nights, Front Street Books (Asheville, NC), 2003.

"al capsella" series

The Heroic Life of Al Capsella, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1988, Holt (New York, NY), 1990.

Al Capsella and the Watchdogs, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1990, revised edition, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.

Al Capsella on Holidays, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1992, published as Al Capsella Takes a Vacation, Holt (New York, NY), 1993.

The Heroic Lives of Al Capsella (complete series), University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Australian children's writer Judith Clarke explores in her works a variety of themes ranging from anxiety, to parent-child relationships, to the supernatural. In The Torment of Mr. Gully: Stories of the Supernatural, the author relates eleven tales that depict characters who endure nightmarish confrontations with the supernatural. No individual escapes unharmed in the stories, and many even succumb to death or to strange disappearances—like the young character who vanishes into a painting. School Library Journal reviewer Holly Sanhuber called the narratives "disquieting" but contended that "hypnotic storytelling … compels readers to turn the pages."

Clarke ventures into parent-child relationships in Al Capsella and the Watchdogs, the second work in her "Al Capsella" series. The story turns on the title character, an Australian teen whose parents are, in his opinion, overprotective and too involved in his social life. One night, for instance, his mother tracks him and his friends to a party and uses a dog she has "borrowed" as an excuse to be walking the streets. The situation turns around, however, when Al's grandparents come to stay with the family, and Al's mother becomes the child whose parents constantly watch her.

Clarke once commented of the "Al Capsella" series that her teen protagonists "have relatively minor problems" that frequently "stem from parent-child misunderstandings. Al, in The Heroic Life of Al Capsella, considers his parents eccentric, unconventional, and a heavy social liability, yet when he visits his orderly grandparents he sees that conventionality, or 'being normal,' can be far more weird than eccentricity. In Al Capsella on Holidays, the boys escape from parental anxieties and the dreaded prospect of dull family holidays to the alluring excitements of a holiday on their own. They find themselves, however, more bored than they would have been at home."

In Clarke's 1990 work Teddy B. Zoot, the author shifts to the theme of anxiety, revolving her story around Sarah, a young student whose distress over her math abilities causes her to leave an important homework assignment at school. She gets assistance from her trusted teddy bear friend, who risks a nighttime journey in the pouring rain to retrieve the worksheet from the school. "The brave and faithful Teddy will appeal to stuffed-animal fans," declared Booklist contributor Kay Weisman, who added that Teddy B. Zoot is "an engaging first chapter book."

Friend of My Heart deals with the relationship between an overweight teen and a grandparent who suffers from dementia, while The Lost Day tackles the problem of a friend who suddenly disappears. The force that moves Clarke's story forward is the way Clarke's characters deal with the disappearance, which the author reveals to the reader through the communications the teens have with parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives.

More somber than The Lost Day is 1998's Night Train, which presents a young protagonist named Luke who suffers from depression. Clarke's book opens after Luke has committed suicide; the story follows the details of Luke's life that led to his death. Luke suffers from a learning disability, which causes him to be labeled as a slow learner when in fact he is very intelligent. He slowly withdraws from everyone around him because he feels so misunderstood. In the end, he is soothed only by the sound of a night train, which he later discovers no one else can hear. This leads him to believe that he is going mad. "His death," wrote Joel Shoemaker for School Library Journal, "provides an end, but no easy answers." Although Booklist contributor Frances Bradburn found the story to be "without hope," she concluded that teenagers will see themselves or their peers and may learn to "treat each other with more care."

Clarke's award-winning Wolf on the Fold is a collection of six interlinking stories set in Australia that follows four generations of the family of its protagonist, Kenny. The story begins in 1935, the year Kenny turns fourteen and the same year that his father dies. The title of the book, which comes from a poem by nineteenth-century British author Alfred, Lord Byron, refers to the overall theme, stated by a Kirkus Reviews critic as "the wolves swooping down on the innocent." Clarke's book was described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as "elegantly encapsulating the emotions of children and youths," as they approach adulthood. Just as Kenny must face his father's death and be thrust into the position of breadwinner for his mother and siblings, his life is threatened by a serial killer. In successive stories a child dies, a war is fought, parents divorce, and severe psychological illness is faced. "Each story," wrote Bradburn in Booklist, "features a critical moment of insight."

In 2003 Clarke published Starry Nights, a thrilling ghost story, wherein young Jess is the first to realize that there is something terribly wrong with the new house her family has moved into. Her mother has become strangely ill; her sister Vida is acting very wild and angry; and her brother is so nervous he refuses to unpack his clothes. Aussie Reviews online contributor Sally Murphy called Starry Nights "a haunting mystery of a family caught in a twilight zone," and a book teen readers would find hard to put down.



Booklist, March 15, 1990, Stephanie Zvirin, "Guffaws, Giggles, and Good Old-Fashioned Roars," p. 1429; January 15, 1991, p. 1052; February 1, 1991,p. 1130; March 15, 1991, p. 1476; August, 1991, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Al Capsella and the Watchdogs, p. 2140; July, 1993, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Al Capsella Takes a Vacation, p. 1957; June 1, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of Night Train, p. 1880; September 1, 2002, Frances Bradburn, review of Wolf on the Fold, p. 112.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1993, p. 718; May 15, 2002, review of Wolf on the Fold, p. 729.

Magpies, March, 1997, p. 37; May, 1998, pp. 36-37.

Publishers Weekly, June 26, 2000, review of Night Train, p. 75; June 10, 2002, review of Wolf on the Fold, p. 61.

School Library Journal, November, 1990, p. 134; January, 1991, p. 70; August, 1991, p. 195; May, 1993, Kathy Piehl, review of Al Capsella Takes a Vacation, p. 124; May, 2000, Joel Shoemaker, review of Night Train, p. 170; September, 2002, Alison Follos, review of Wolf on the Fold, p. 220.

Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1999, p. 329.


Aussie Reviews, (March 3, 2003), Sally Murphy, review of Starry Nights.*

About this article

Clarke, Judith 1943-

Updated About content Print Article