Glenn, Mel 1943-
GLENN, Mel 1943-
PERSONAL: Born May 10, 1943, in Zurich, Switzerland (U.S. citizen born abroad, moved to U.S. in 1945, raised in Brooklyn, NY); son of Jacob B. (a physician) and Elizabeth (Hampel) Glenn; married Elyse Friedman (a teacher), September 20, 1970; children: Jonathan, Andrew. Education: New York University, A.B., 1964; Yeshiva University, M.S., 1967. Religion: Jewish.
CAREER: U.S. Peace Corps, Washington, DC, volunteer English teacher in Sierra Leone, 1964-66; English teacher at a public junior high school, New York, NY, 1967-70; Abraham Lincoln High School, New York, NY, English teacher, 1970-2001; currently author and public speaker at schools, libraries, and community groups.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Books for Young Adults citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1982, and Golden Kite Honor Book plaque, Society of Children's Book Writers, both for Class Dismissed! High School Poems; Best Books citation, School Library Journal, 1986, and Christopher Award, 1987, both for Class Dismissed II: More High School Poems; Best Books for Young Adults citation, ALA, 1992, for My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler: High School Poems; Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults citation, ALA, 1997, for Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems; Best Books for Young Adults citation, ALA, 2001, for Split Image.
Class Dismissed! High School Poems, illustrated with photographs by Michael J. Bernstein, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1982.
Class Dismissed II: More High School Poems, illustrated with photographs by Michael J. Bernstein, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1986.
Back to Class, illustrated with photographs by Michael J. Bernstein, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1989.
My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler: High School Poems, illustrated with photographs by Michael J. Bernstein, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1991.
Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems, Lodestar (New York, NY), 1996.
The Taking of Room 114: A Hostage Drama in Poems, Lodestar (New York, NY), 1997.
Jump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems, Lodestar/Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Foreign Exchange: A Mystery in Poems, Morrow Junior (New York, NY), 1999.
Split Image: A Story in Poems, Harper Collins (New York, NY), 2000.
One Order to Go, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1984.
Play-by-Play, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1986.
Squeeze Play: A Baseball Story, Clarion (Boston, MA), 1989.
WORK IN PROGRESS: "A new book."
SIDELIGHTS: Teacher and writer Mel Glenn is noted especially for books that address the day-to-day concerns of teenagers in a unique manner—through poetry. Written in free verse, using uncomplicated language that makes them accessible to many students who would otherwise steer clear of the genre, Glenn's poems "echo the voices of young adults who are struggling in two separate worlds: the world of adults and the world of children," noted Teri S. Lesesne in Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers. Glenn's verse, Lesesne added, "capture[s] the essence of the adolescent: the emotions which sometimes seem to run out of control, the changing relationships with parents and other adults as the adolescent struggles for independence."
Writing books for young adults was a natural extension of Glenn's interest in teaching. The inspiration for his first book, the poetry collection Class Dismissed! High School Poems, was Spoon River Anthology, a collection of original verse by poet Edgar Lee Masters. The motivation behind sitting down and actually writing the book was a challenge Glenn gave himself one New Year's Eve. "Another teacher had shown me his unpublished manuscript, and I said to myself that if he could write a book, so could I." Glenn set up a schedule for himself and completed the manuscript in only six months. "The source for the book came easily: I have always prided myself on the fact that I am a good listener, and surrounding me were hundreds of stories—some sad, some happy, some tragic—but all terribly real and poignant. Though styles and fashions may change, there are certain common denominators in being a teenager that connect all generations—the feelings of being alone, different, in love, in conflict with parents. No matter how old we grow there will always be a part of us that will be sixteen years old."
Each of the poems in Class Dismissed!, as well as such sequels as 1986's Class Dismissed II and 1989's Back to Class, is written in the first person using free verse. Each is titled using the name of the fictional author, a teen from Glenn's fictional "class." Each poem is a brief look into the mind of a teen as he or she tries to grapple with a problem that is of momentary uppermost concern. In "Hildy Ross," for example, a young girl writes about her need to cover up the true cause of a bruise on her cheek: she is being beaten by an abusive father. Other adolescent concerns revolve around finding a summer job; the hard work of being an unwed teen parent; frustrations with preoccupied, out-of-touch parents; deciding which colleges to apply to; and even how to finagle the keys to the family car for a date.
While Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Tony Manna questioned whether or not Glenn's verse contains "the kind of universals that we expect good poetry to illuminate" and pondered "whether many of the revelations are in fact poetry rather than the rendering of personal feelings," Candy Bertelson noted in School Library Journal that Glenn's works "deal with engaging, very 'real' kids, who are easy to identify with," and should "reach many young people who don't ordinarily read poetry."
Glenn has always taken his subject matter from his direct experiences with young people growing up in Brooklyn. His second book, the young adult novel One Order to Go, takes place in a candy store that the author recalled from his own youth: "the old kind where you can get a real malted and an egg cream." The story concerns seventeen-year-old Richie Linder, who hates school and wants to drop out and lead the exciting life of a news correspondent. His strict father will hear nothing of Richie's plans; instead, he fills his son's free time by making him work the counter at his luncheonette. A friendship with Lana finally gives Richie the courage to confront his domineering father with his own aspirations and make plans for an independent future. "I am sure that a large part of [One Order to Go] is autobiographical," Glenn once confided to CA, "but, in the larger sense, what writing isn't? You bring to your characters a sense of your own personal values and memories."
In Play-by-Play, Glenn wrote a story for younger readers. Fourth-grader Jeremy is constantly bested by his own best friend, Lloyd, a natural athlete who uses his talent to assume an air of superiority over those around him, Jeremy included. Through Jeremy's narration the reader watches as a new sport—soccer—and some new teammates—the fourth-grade girls—make both boys more tolerant of others. The two friends are reunited as sixth graders in Squeeze Play: A Baseball Story, in which a new coach seems more like a drill sergeant in his management of a school-wide baseball team. "Again, the material was all around me," Glenn once told CA of his inspiration. "My son, Jonathan, was actively involved in a local soccer league, and between practices and games on cold Saturday mornings I learned about this 'foreign' sport. As a writer, I tried to pay close attention to the language, characteristics, and social mores of nine-year-olds."
In his 1991 poetry collection, My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler, Glenn presents the day-to-day triumphs and tragedies that make up the life of a high school guidance counselor. Who Killed Mr. Chippendale? A Mystery in Poems is a unique whodunit, as students, teachers, and others involved express through free-verse poetry their reactions to the tragic death of a high school English teacher in a random shooting. Several suspects emerge—a fellow teacher who was a former girlfriend, a high schooler who claims she was the murdered man's lover, and an emotionally unstable student whose negative attitude towards Mr. Chippendale and other circumstantial evidence call his alibi strongly into question. "Not only do the poems clue readers into the characters' personalities and sensibilities," said Sharon Korbeck in a School Library Journal review, "but they also provide a telling commentary on the attitudes toward violence reflected in our society at large." Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer Sally Kotarsky had a somewhat different reaction, however. "The problem with this book is that it tries to be too many things at once," she wrote. "The murder mystery is lost in the large number of poems dealing with immigration views."
The issue of violence in the school system is continued with Glenn's 1997 release, The Taking of Room 114: A Hostage Drama in Poems. This time the perpetrator is an emotionally disturbed history teacher, who holds his class at gunpoint on the last day of school. The story unfolds through notes passed under the door, and via the thoughts of the young hostages. More than one reviewer felt the book portrayed a stereotypical student mix: "tramps, nerds, immigrants, underachievers, womanizers, jocks—they're all accounted for," stated Elizabeth Bush in her review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. Booklist reviewer Debbie Carton was another who thought the author dealt in stereotypes, but also called the collection's format and topic "fresh and unusual." Marjorie Lewis of School Library Journal likewise pointed to the too-familiar "types" such as the pressured Asian scholar, the gay youth who fears AIDS, the edgy Jewish graduate, and the intrusive reporters. But Lewis also cited the author's "proven ear for the cadence of speech."
In his next story-anthology in verse, Glenn turned his eye to a big-city high school's basketball team. InJump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems, the members of the Tower High School Tigers are enjoying a championship season; however, fate takes a turn when the team bus slides off an icy road. "The author expertly creates dramatic tension with early hints of the tragedy to come," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. The poems describe the lives of such characters as Garrett James, whose talent can take him all the way to the pros—if he can manage to graduate high school under the pressure of coaches, the media, and fans. With its delineation of dreams and heartbreak, Jump Ball is "a richly emotional book that brings readers face-to-face with issues in their own lives," concluded Booklist contributor Randy Meyer. Indeed, these young athletes "are not merely characters in a book," said Ted Hipple in Writers for Young Adults, "they are teens one might meet in any school in town. This ability to create multidimensional characters who seem to live and breathe off the page is another defining characteristic of Mel Glenn's poetry."
Foreign Exchange: A Mystery in Poems is a free-verse examination of race and class prejudice. When a group of urban teens spends the weekend in an upscale community, tensions run high. And when a murder is discovered, the finger of blame points—all too quickly—at Kwame, an inner-city student who stirs the suspicions of the less-diverse people of Hudson Landing. Similarly, stereotypes and the price of pressure is the theme of Glenn's 2000 collection, Split Image: A Story in Poems. The central character here is teenager Laura Li, an immigrant from China who attends Tower High School (from Jump Ball). Held up as the "ideal" teen, Laura is secretly unhappy. Torn by the demands of her family and her studies, the girl takes refuge in her school-library job by day, and in bars by night. The varied voices from Laura's life—her teachers, classmates, and family—provide insight into her troubled existence. But at the end of the book, Laura has committed suicide. "Written with raw immediacy," commented GraceAnne DeCandido of Booklist, "this [book] will touch teens deep down."
"I write to remember," Glenn was quoted in the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. "I write to open up the lines of communication, to explain my past to myself and others. On a certain level we are all emotionally fourteen. Good writing can put is in touch with who we were and who we are."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 84-95.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 248-49.
Writers for Young Adults, edited by Ted Hipple, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000, pp. 67-74.
ALAN Review, winter, 1997.
Booklist, June 15, 1982, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Class Dismissed! High School Poems, p. 1361; October 1, 1984, Stephanie Zvirin, review of One Order to Go, p. 211; May 15, 1986, Carolyn Phelan, review of Play-by-Play, p. 1395; December 1, 1986, p. 567; December 1, 1988, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Back to Class, p. 634; May 15, 1989, Carolyn Phelan, review of Squeeze Play: A Baseball Story, pp. 1648-1649; September 15, 1991, Chris Sherman, review of My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler: High School Poems, p. 134; June 1, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems, p. 1688; March 1, 1997, Debbie Carton, review of The Taking of Room 114: A Hostage Drama in Poems, p. 1154; October 15, 1997, Randy Meyer, review of Jump Ball: A Basketball Season in Poems, p. 394; September 1, 1998, Sally Estes, review of Jump Ball, p. 119; October 1, 1998, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, p. 317; April 15, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Foreign Exchange: A Mystery in Poems, p. 1521; April 1, 2000, GraceAnne DeCandido, review of Split Image: A Story in Poems, p. 1447; August, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Split Image, p. 2133; April 15, 2001, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, p. 1549.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1982, Zena Sutherland, review of Class Dismissed!, p. 9; April, 1986, Zena Sutherland, review of Play-by-Play, p. 148; February, 1987, Roger Sutton, review of Class Dismissed II: More High School Poems, p. 107; July-August, 1989, Zena Sutherland, review of Squeeze Play, p. 275; July-August, 1996, Deborah Stevenson, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, pp. 372-373; March, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Taking of Room 114, pp. 247-248.
English Journal, February, 1989, Elizabeth Belden and Judith Beckman, review of Back to Class, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1986, review of Class Dismissed II, p. 1522; October 15, 1988, p. 1527; February 15, 1989, review of Squeeze Play, p. 292; August 1, 1991, review of My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler, p. 1010; April 1, 1996, review of Play-by-Play, p. 545; May 1, 1996, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, pp. 688-689; February 1, 1997, review of The Taking of Room 114, pp. 222-223; August 15, 1997, review of Jump Ball, p. 1305.
Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, July, 2002, Paula Rohrllick, review of Split Image, pp. 18-19.
Library Journal, December, 1984, Deborah Locke, review of One Order to Go, p. 89.
Publishers Weekly, May 30, 1986, review of Play-by-Play, p. 67; July 8, 1996, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, p. 85.
School Library Journal, October, 1982, p. 160; December, 1984, p. 89; August, 1986, Robert Unsworth, review of Play-by-Play, p. 92; December, 1986, review of Class Dismissed II, p. 567; January, 1989, Kathleen Whalin, review of Back to Class, p. 98; May, 1989, Todd Morning, review of Squeeze Play, p. 104; September, 1991, Barbara Chatton, review of My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler, p. 288; July, 1996, Sharon Korbeck, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, p. 98; April, 1997, Marjorie Lewis, review of The Taking of Room 114, p. 137; November, 1997, Sharon Korbeck, review of Jump Ball, p. 128; April 26, 1999, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?; June, 1999, Herman Sutter, review of Foreign Exchange, p. 145l; June, 2000, Sharon Koreck, review of Split Image, p. 165.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1982, James Campbell, review of Class Dismissed!, p. 44; February, 1987, Luvada Kuhn, review of Class Dismissed II, p. 297; February, 1989, Tony Manna, review of Back to Class, pp. 300-301; February, 1992, Diane Tuccillo, review of My Friend's Got This Problem, Mr. Candler, p. 394; December, 1996, Sally Kotarsky, review of Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?, p. 287.
Mel Glenn Home Page,http://www.melglenn.com/ (November 1, 2003), author biography.