Cooper, Ilene 1948-
COOPER, Ilene 1948-
PERSONAL: Born March 10, 1948, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Morris (a salesman) and Lillian Cooper (a homemaker; maiden name, Friedman). Education: University of Missouri, B.A.; Rosary College (River Forest, IL), M.L.S. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: Writer and editor. Winnetka Public Library, Winnetka, IL, children's librarian, 1976-80; Booklist, Chicago, IL, children's book editor, 1985—. Consultant to ABC Afterschool Specials, ABC-TV, 1976-82.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
AWARDS, HONORS: Children's Choice award, International Reading Association, for Choosing Sides; Best Books designation, Chicago Tribune, 1995, for Buddy Love—Now on Video, and 1997, for The Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Winning of Miss Lynn Ryan, illustrated by Susan Magurn, Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Buddy Love—Now on Video, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
I'll See You in My Dreams, Viking Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.
"ROAD TO READING" SERIES
Absolutely Lucy, illustrated by Amanda Harvey, Golden Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Lucy on the Loose, illustrated by Amanda Harvey, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2000.
The Annoying Team, Golden Books (New York, NY), 2002.
"KIDS FROM KENNEDY MIDDLE SCHOOL" SERIES
Queen of the Sixth Grade, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
Choosing Sides, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
Mean Streak, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
The New, Improved Gretchen Hubbard, Morrow (New York, NY), 1992.
"FRANCES IN THE FOURTH GRADE" SERIES
Frances Takes a Chance, Bullseye Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Frances Dances, Bullseye Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Frances Four-Eyes, Bullseye Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Frances and Friends, illustrated by Vilma Ortiz, Bullseye Books (New York, NY), 1991.
"HOLLYWOOD WARS" SERIES
Lights, Camera, Attitude, Puffin (New York, NY), 1993.
My Co-Star, My Enemy, Puffin (New York, NY), 1993.
Seeing Red, Puffin (New York, NY), 1993.
Trouble in Paradise, Puffin (New York, NY), 1993.
"HOLIDAY FIVE" SERIES
Trick or Trouble, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
The Worst Noel, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.
Stupid Cupid, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Star Spangled Summer, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
No-Thanks Thanksgiving, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.
Susan B. Anthony (biography), F. Watts (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor, with Denise Wilms) Guide to Non-Sexist Children's Books, Volume II: 1976-1985, Academy Chicago (Chicago, IL), 1987.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, illustrated by John Thompson, Morrow (New York, NY), 1997.
Jewish Holidays All Year Round, illustrated by Elivia Savadier, Abrams (New York, NY), 2002.
Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
Has also written for television series, including American Playhouse and The Jeffersons; author of teleplay Under the Biltmore Clock, 1983.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Jake's Best Thumb, a picture book about a boy who cannot stop sucking his thumb.
SIDELIGHTS: Ilene Cooper has blended a career as a distinguished critic of children's books for the magazine Booklist, with that of a popular writer for teen and pre-teen audiences. The author of the humorous novel Buddy Love—Now on Video as well as the "Kids from Kennedy Middle School" and "Hollywood Wars" series, Cooper has also researched and written several works of nonfiction that follow her interest in women's history and her own religious roots, as well as a critically acclaimed biography of the early years of John F. Kennedy.
Born in Chicago, Illinois, and a graduate of the University of Missouri, Cooper was a children's librarian before beginning a career as a critic/author. Her first work, Susan B. Anthony, appeared in 1984 and profiled the life of that nineteenth-century pioneer of the women's suffrage movement and her unstinting efforts to win the vote for women. This book led to the writing of Cooper's first novel for young readers, The Winning of Miss Lynn Ryan. Revolving around a class of fifth-grade students' efforts to curry favor with a pretty and poised new teacher who demands perfection, Cooper's 1987 work illustrates how a teacher can "help her students see what is best in themselves or . . . stifle their better instincts," according to Horn Book contributor Nancy Vasilakis. Readers gain a sense of the schoolchildren's struggle through the perspectives of characters such as Carrie, whose messy work will never pass Miss Ryan's muster, and ultra-brainy but equally unpopular "Luke the Puke."
Cooper's most popular novel series—"Kids from Kennedy Middle School," first introduced to teen readers in 1988—delves into the inner politics of the "incrowd." In Queen of the Sixth Grade, Veronica Volner, the self-proclaimed reigning queen of the "Awesome Kennedy Girls" (or AKG), commands that another girl, Robin, be cast out of the group when it becomes apparent that a boy Veronica likes favors Robin instead. Meanwhile, Robin manages to find activities to keep her busy until Veronica in turn is undone and the AKGs are no longer. "Sixth-grade meanness has rarely been better portrayed," commented Roger Sutton in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly likewise praised the "snappy" dialog and "good" pacing, but felt that "the unique compassion and understanding" present in Cooper's first novel were "sorely missed here." However, critic Nancy Vasilakis, writing in Horn Book, declared that Cooper "probes with excellent understanding a specific problem of interpersonal relationships facing many schoolchildren."
The devilry continues in Mean Streak, as testy Veronica attempts to hide her discombobulated homelife by causing problems for her romantic rivals, especially for Gretchen Hubbard, an overweight girl in the sixth grade. Now that she has alienated her best friends, Veronica has no one to turn to when it appears that her divorced father is going to remarry. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Sutton remarked that while Veronica is an unsavory character, she is an engaging one that "captures our interest and sympathy, and . . . leaves us with some hope that she is capable of change."
In Choosing Sides, the focus shifts to Jonathan Rossi, another sixth grader who is not only a good student but also a fine basketball player. Jon's father wants his younger son to devote his free time to developing his game, just as Jon's older brother has with football, but Jon begins to find other directions and interests. His friends at middle school are interested in music and books, and he begins to find the demands of his father and of team sports too much for him. When a class assignment takes on real-life meaning for Jon, he learns that he has to stand up for himself. Reviewing the novel in School Library Journal, Katharine Bruner commented that it was "heartening to find a protagonist who does not have to be antisports in order to enjoy music and literature." Bruner also felt that Cooper's "view is keenly focused and convincing," and that the plot goes forward "at a sprightly pace."
The series continues with The New, Improved Gretchen Hubbard, which features the formerly overweight Gretchen, dubbed "Hippo Hubbard." But after a Christmas-time crash diet and a makeover including a new haircut and clothes, Gretchen returns to school a changed girl. With the attentions of a fifteen-year-old actor thrown her way, Gretchen positively blossoms. The actor, Tim, who is working on a movie filmed locally, finally asks her out, and Gretchen, on a dare from friends, accepts. Soon, however, she finds herself over her head not only in her social life, but with her parents' impending divorce as well as school work. "This latest series entry realistically explores the changes that come from weight loss," observed Jana R. Fine in a School Library Journal review of this fourth and final series title. Fine also commended the "convincing" characters and "well-structured story line" in Cooper's novel.
Cooper's next production for young readers was her four-volume "Frances in the Fourth Grade" series. Frances is a bright and plucky fourth grader, introduced in the lead-off title, Frances Takes a Chance. Here, she gets a new haircut as well as a new best friend. Frances's self-image continues to improve as her friendship with Polly Brock solidifies and as she begins to learn how to be her own person. The everyday adventures of Frances continue in Frances Dances, in which the young girl begins ballet and decides to test her self-confidence by dancing in the school pageant. Frances Four Eyes and Frances and Friends completes the quartet of novels. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the first two novels in the series "upbeat," and further noted that Cooper presents a "winning balance between Frances's home life and fourth grade year."
Cooper's "Hollywood Wars" series deals with the social pressures of teen life. In My Co-Star, My Enemy, fifteen-year-old Alison Blake suddenly finds herself with a role in a television show. Unfortunately, Alison's good luck results in the animosity of fellow cast-member Jamie, also fifteen, whose six-year acting career seems to be near an end. In addition to providing a look at how a television show is filmed, the series follows the changes that rising popularity makes in Alison's formerly quiet life. A contributor for Publishers Weekly felt that the "series gets off to a good start with this solid commercial offering." In the second offering in the series, Lights, Camera, Attitude, Alison prepares for her new television series, Sticks and Stones, but at the same time has to deal with not only a jealous boyfriend but also a manipulative friend. Jamie, meanwhile, has her own problems with a new diet and her father, who is as forceful and overbearing as ever. In Seeing Red, Alison must deal with her stage fright or else Jamie is sure to steal the limelight from her. In the final installment, Trouble in Paradise, an overly zealous fan could prove a danger to Alison.
Another fan-pleasing series from Cooper is "Holiday Five," which follows the lives of five friends who meet one summer at Camp Wildwood and agree to meet together throughout the year on certain holidays. Cooper plots story lines around these holidays, dealing with realistic crises in the lives of these pre-teens. In the premier volume, Trick or Trouble, Lia is visited by her camp friends and tells them of her recent troubles. When she returned from camp, she discovered that her next-door neighbor and good friend Scott grew up over the summer. Kids at school were soon talking about the two being more than friends, making the girls at her school jealous and eventually ending her long-time friendship with Scott. Lia's friends help her put the matter in perspective and teach her about friendship in this "entertaining" novel, as a critic for Publishers Weekly described the book. The same reviewer commended Cooper for her "keen understanding of upper-middle-class adolescent concerns." Similarly, a critic from Kirkus Reviews applauded the author's "skillful and sensitive treatment of pubescent angst."
The action continues in The Worst Noel in which Kathy, one of the five from Camp Wildwood, does not want to spend Christmas with her father and new family, and opts instead to stay with friend Erin from summer camp. Stupid Cupid finds Maddy, another of the camp kids, having to deal with her widowed mother and her own size. She finally decides to lose some weight when a new boy at school seems interested in her. Maddy also plans to solve the problem of her mother by setting her up with Lia's uncle. However, when the new boy at school is attracted to Lia, Maddy sees that she has lost weight for all the wrong reasons and understands that in the future she needs to do things for herself and not others. Christina Dorr, writing in School Library Journal, praised the "breezy, fast-paced style and high-interest plot [that] will keep readers anticipating the next installment in the series." In Star Spangled Summer, it seems that the girls' long-awaited return to Camp Wildwood may be ruined when three of them may not be able to attend. Erin's family is having financial problems, while Jill is thinking of going to an iceskating camp instead, and Kathy may travel to Europe with her family. More lessons about individual responsibility and friendship are learned in this "typical coming-of-age story for today's youth," according to Carrie A. Guarria in School Library Journal. Guarria concluded that this installment was a "good read" and one that "imparts the importance of friendship, family, and honesty."
The "Holiday Five" series concludes with No-Thanks Thanksgiving. Here, Kathy looks forward to her birthday which she plans to spend in New York over Thanksgiving, taking in a show on Broadway and enjoying the traditional parade with her friends. Yet petty arguments between these friends suddenly threaten to ruin her fun.
Cooper has also turned her attention to chapter books in her "Road to Reading" series. In Absolutely Lucy, young Bobby is so timid and shy that he has problems making friends. Then he gets a beagle puppy for his eighth birthday and things begin to change in his life. He names the dog Lucy after a baby-sitter, and the pet helps Bobby meet new friends, including a young girl at a dog-training school, another boy who is as shy as Bobby, and also an older neighbor. Maura Bresnahan, writing in School Library Journal, found this story "entertaining and well plotted," and also felt that "Bobby is an endearing character." Lucy on the Loose is "a fresh, funny follow-up" to the first book in the series, according to Stephanie Zvirin in Booklist. In this tale, the rambunctious beagle gets lost when it is chasing a cat, and Bobby overcomes his shyness to ask strangers if they have seen his dog. A third installment in the series, The Annoying Team, deals with the theme of bullying, in a story of Tim, who has had enough of name calling from Big Jon Ferguson. To counter this bully, Tim initiates The Annoying Team, whose mission is to play pranks on the bullies for a change. Zvirin, writing in Booklist, noted that Cooper's chapter book would "keep . . . readers well entertained."
Cooper is also known for stand-alone novels. Published in 1995, Buddy Love—Now on Video features a thirteen-year-old protagonist who is desperate to find that one thing that will inspire him; so far, only girls and television have really caught his attention. Ultimately, Buddy finds a way to combine his two main interests after his father buys a video recorder and lets his son use it. Seeing his world through the viewfinder while mastering his filmmaking skills, Buddy eventually begins to view his life differently and find new appreciation for his family. "Cooper's sure touch paints the emotions of early adolescence accurately," noted Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Faye H. Gottschall, who also praised the author's ability to imbue the story with humor. Critic Roger Sutton appreciated Cooper's use of comedy as well and called the author's sense of "middle-school reality . . . upbeat but sheared of didacticism" in his review in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.
Older teens take center stage in Cooper's 1997 suspense novel, I'll See You in My Dreams. Years after suffering a spell of nightmares that occurred just before her father's tragic death in a car accident, sixteen-year-old Karen Genovese's dreams of a cute new boy at school begin to turn dark. Sensing that something bad is about to befall her new classmate, Mark Kennedy, and Mark's younger brother Brian, Karen sets about trying to avert another tragedy. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer claimed that "readers anticipating eerie renditions of psychic experiences may be disappointed" in the direction of the novel, a Kirkus Reviews contributor considered I'll See You in My Dreams a fun book for teen readers that has "a spooky atmosphere and a few surprising plot twists."
Cooper's The Dead Sea Scrolls, published in 1997, was only her second work of nonfiction in fifteen years. The book explores the history behind the collection of religious documents discovered by a shepherd in 1947 in a cave on the shore of the Dead Sea. Cooper recounts the efforts of scientists, translators, and scholars to authenticate and understand what many consider to be the most significant archaeological find of the twentieth century. The volume, which commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the scrolls' discovery, contains a great deal of research that ranges from studying the techniques of archaeologists and computer scientists to learning the history of Judeo-Christianity and the Middle East. This wealth of factual information is presented in order to allow young readers to understand the many facets of a tale that encompasses two thousand years of human history.
In The Dead Sea Scrolls, "This fascinating story takes on new life," stated Book Links reviewer Judy O'Malley. "Despite the unavoidable jumping back and forth in time . . . [the text is] clear and accessible," noted Jennifer M. Brabander in her critique of the volume for Horn Book. The critic added that Cooper's work "dynamically proves that biblical history is anything but dead." Cooper commented on the writing of The Dead Sea Scrolls in a Book Links essay: "A special moment for me was my trip to Israel, when I finally got to the Dead Sea caves and Qumran, where excavations are still in progress. No matter how many books and articles I read, nothing could match actually climbing those limestone cliffs myself. There is a Hebrew word, beshert, that roughly translates as fate or something that is meant to be. The discovery of the scrolls in those desolate caves makes the word beshert come alive for me." Patricia Lothrop-Green, writing in School Library Journal, likewise felt that Cooper's book "honors . . . [the] vitality" of the scrolls, and that the author's "vivid descriptions . . . keep interest high."
More nonfiction from Cooper includes Jewish Holidays All Year Round and Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy. With Jewish Holidays, Cooper provides "an excellent introduction to the special days on the Jewish calendar," according to Ron Kaplan of BookPage. The book, wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, "strikes a tone both child-friendly and respectful." Cooper examines various holidays throughout the year, explains the significance of the rituals and traditions surrounding them, and provides activities for the whole family in celebrating them. Activities include making noisemakers for Purim and working out recipes for other holidays, such as potato pancakes for Hanukkah or a fruit dish for Sukkot, the celebration that inspired Thanksgiving. Cooper visited the Jewish Museum in New York in preparation for the work and was amazed at what she discovered. "I thought I knew something about Jewish holidays," Cooper told Booklist's Zvirin in an interview. "But these special days are so rich. There is always more to learn." Martha Link, reviewing the same title in School Library Journal, concluded that it was "an informative and enjoyable survey."
With Jack, Cooper again turns her hand to biography, focusing on the childhood of John F. Kennedy, including his competition with his older brother, his trouble in school, and illnesses that plagued him early on. A critic for Kirkus Reviews found this to be "dependable nonfiction writing," while a contributor for Publishers Weekly called it "an engaging overview." The same critic further noted that the use of "primary resources and photographs help capture the high pressured and privileged Kennedy lifestyle." Horn Book's Christine M. Heppermann praised Cooper's "revealing portrait" which works without "idealizing or sensationalizing." Heppermann went on to dub the work a "meticulously documented depiction." "I . . . wanted to write about what it was like to be a child in this remarkable, yet highly pressurized, family," Cooper told Zvirin in another Booklist interview. School Library Journal's Carol Fazioli praised the "personal tone" and "lively style" of Cooper's biography of the future president.
"Kids always ask me where I get my ideas," Cooper once told CA. "Most of them come from my own childhood and teenage years. Although many things have changed since I was young, the hopes and fears and feelings seem to remain the same."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book Links, May, 1997, Judy O'Malley, review of The Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 16, and Ilene Cooper, "The Dead Sea Scrolls," pp. 16-20.
Booklist, May 15, 1991, p. 1798; August, 1992, p. 2010; May 1, 1993, p. 1580; March 1, 1997, p. 1157; March 15, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Absolutely Lucy, p. 1376; October 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Lucy on the Loose, pp. 339, 350; May 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of I'll See You in My Dreams, p. 1610; June 1, 2002, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Annoying Team, pp. 1719, 1721; October 1, 2002, Stephanie Zvirin, "Ilene Cooper's Jewish Holidays All Year Round," p. 345; January 1, 2003, Stephanie Zvirin, "Ilene Cooper's Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy," p. 868.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1987, pp. 25-26; November, 1988, Roger Sutton, review of Queen of the Sixth Grade, p. 68; September, 1990, pp. 4-5; April, 1991, Roger Sutton, review of Mean Streak, p. 188; November, 1992, p. 70; December, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of Buddy Love—Now on Video, pp. 123-124; September, 1997, pp. 8-9.
Horn Book, January, 1988, Nancy Vasilakis, review of The Winning of Miss Lynn Ryan, p. 62; January, 1989, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Queen of the Sixth Grade, p. 68; September-October, 1997, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of The Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 590-591; March-April, 2003, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Jack, pp. 222-223.
Horn Book Guide, spring, 1998, Christine Heppermann, review of I'll See You in My Dreams, p. 85; fall, 2001, Anita L. Burkam, review of Lucy on the Loose, p. 289.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1991, p. 669; June 15, 1991, p. 787; August 15, 1994, review of Trick or Trouble, p. 1142; June 1, 1997, review of I'll See You in My Dreams, p. 870; December 15, 2002, review of Jack, p. 1847.
Publishers Weekly, October 14, 1988, review of Queen of the Sixth Grade, p. 77; June 14, 1991, review of Frances Takes a Chance and Frances Dances, p. 47; May 10, 1993, review of My Co-Star, My Enemy, p. 72; July 4, 1994, review of Trick or Trouble, p. 64; October 16, 1995, review of Buddy Love—Now on Video, p. 62; June 2, 1997, review of I'll See You in My Dreams, p. 72; September 30, 2002, review of Jewish Holidays All Year Round, pp. 68-69; December 16, 2002, review of Jack, p. 69.
School Library Journal, August, 1984, p. 82; May, 1990, Katharine Bruner, review of Choosing Sides, p. 103; October, 1992, Jana R. Fine, review of The New, Improved Gretchen Hubbard, p. 114; August, 1994, Bonnie L. Raasch, review of Trick or Trouble, p. 154; February, 1995, Christina Door, review of Stupid Cupid, p. 96; May, 1996, Carrie A. Guarria, review of Star Spangled Summer, p. 110; June, 1997, Patricia Lothrop-Green, review of The Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 133; March, 2001, Maura Bresnahan, review of Absolutely Lucy, p. 205; February, 2003, Carol Fazioli, review of Jack, p. 156; March, 2003, Martha Link, review of Jewish Holidays All Rear Round, p. 216.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1996, Faye H. Gottschall, review of Buddy Love—Now on Video, p. 24.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (December, 2002), Ron Kaplan, review of Jewish Holidays All Year Round.
Ilene Cooper Home Page,http://www.ilenecooper.com/ (March 6, 2003).*