Hite, Sid 1954–
Hite, Sid 1954–
PERSONAL: Born April 12, 1954, in Richmond, VA. Education: Attended community college for one year.
ADDRESSES: Home—Sag Harbor, NY.
CAREER: Novelist. Has also worked in various odd jobs.
AWARDS, HONORS: New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age selection, Smithsonian Institution Notable Book for Children selection, and White Award nominee, all 2000, all for Stick and Whittle; Smithsonian Institution Notable Book for Children selection, 2001, for A Hole in the World.
Dither Farm, Holt (New York, NY), 1992.
It's Nothing to a Mountain, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
Answer My Prayer, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
An Even Break, Holt (New York, NY), 1995.
Those Darn Dithers, Holt (New York, NY), 1996.
The Distance of Hope, Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
Cecil in Space, Holt (New York, NY), 1999.
Stick and Whittle, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.
A Hole in the World, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
The Journal of Rufus Rowe: A Witness to the Battle of Fredricksburg ("My Name Is America" series), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
The King of Slippery Falls, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
(Author of introduction) Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Sid Hite is the author of a number of young-adult novels, including Cecil in Space and The King of Slippery Falls. Imbuing his novels with the quiet pace of small-town life, Hite often layers everyday occurrences with fantasy elements and relates his stories in a style that critics have characterized as quiet and laid back. "To read a Sid Hite novel is to travel to a timeless place where miracles lie around every corner," maintained a Publishers Weekly contributor. While some miracles are fantastic in origin, others are more spiritual, as in A Hole in the World and An Even Break, which each affirm basic human goodness while dealing with the molding of basic values and a young teen's coming of age.
Born in 1954, Hite was raised in the same atmosphere that permeates his fiction. "I grew up outside of the small, country town of Bowling Green, Virginia," he once commented. "A stoplight went up at the main intersection when I was sixteen. Most of my childhood was spent outdoors—either playing baseball, basketball, and football, or exploring the vast stretches of woods that still exist in Caroline County." The author admits that his education took a backseat to his outdoor activities. "School was okay, but it would be stretching the truth to say I was a precocious student," he stated on the Henry Holt Web site. "However, I did learn how to read in school, and for that I'm eternally grateful."
His interest in literature piqued, Hite settled on a career as a novelist. Feeling the need to broaden his horizons, though, he decided that travel would be his greatest teacher. While his friends set off for college, Hite set off to journey around the globe. "Instead of pursuing a formal education, I traveled extensively after leaving high school, managing to step foot in twenty countries by the time I was twenty-one," he once remarked. Although it took several years and a series of jobs before Hite's aspiration became a reality, he published his first novel, Dither Farm, in 1992.
Dither Farm, along with its sequel, Those Darn Dithers, introduces readers to an unusual family living in Willow County, Virginia. Henry and Clementine Dither have four children—Holly, Emmet, Matilda, and Archibald—all of whom are energetic, curious, and able to get into trouble at least once during the course of Hite's story. In Dither Farm, for example, a visit from a distant aunt results in mayhem when the carpet she brings with her is found to be magical—and sought after by a gang of ne'er-do-wells.
Critical reaction to Dither Farm was mixed. "Hite has a charming way with language and a feeling for rural life that makes this a pleasure to read," commented Paula Rohrlick in a review for Kliatt, while in Publishers Weekly a contributor found the author's fiction debut to be full of "subplots and digressions" that "will deter all but the most patient reader." Those Darn Dithers won over many more critics, however, with its story of a summer filled with Wild West shows, secret inventions, and a ghostly presence. Noting that Hite manages to juggle "main plots and characters … with aplomb," School Library Journal contributor Marilyn Payne Phillips praised the author as "a master at wordplay."
Romance enters the mix in Hite's It's Nothing to a Mountain. Taking place in 1969, the novel finds fourteen-year-old Lisette and her younger brother, Riley, orphaned when their parents are killed in a car accident. Moving to their grandparents' home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the children begin to learn the ways of the country with the help of Thorpe, a runaway teen who lives in a nearby cave and who saves Riley's life. As Thorpe becomes more of a presence in Lisette and Riley's lives, he also learns to trust his new friends and becomes infatuated with Lisette into the bargain. Noting the presence of Hite's characteristic otherworldly atmosphere, a Publishers Weekly contributor praised It's Nothing to a Mountain for its "boldly defined characters" and action-filled plot, "including a death-defying underground journey."
Teen romance is also at the core of Cecil in Space, which, despite its sci-fi title, is grounded squarely in a small town that seventeen-year-old narrator Cecil assures readers is anything but adventure-filled and exciting. Cecil is found to be well read in everything from Freud to astronomy, leaving a Publishers Weekly critic with the observation that Cecil in Space "wouldn't be a Hite novel if there wasn't a little philosophical musing." However, in Bricksburg, Virginia, baseballs are the only things that ever leave the ground, and Cecil admits to being as captivated by the local baseball teams as anyone in town, until he begins to notice girls. Cecil relates the day-to-day events of a summer "trapped" in Bricksburg "in a funny, irreverent manner that moves the story along well and keeps the reader smiling," explained Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Sue Krumbein. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised "Hite's keen sense of the absurd" as contributing to Cecil's "witty observations and … morose pronouncements about life on Earth."
Hite draws readers into the past in Stick and Whittle, which finds two men named Melvin on the plains of northern Texas in the years just after the U.S. Civil War. Melvin "Stick" Fitchett fought in the war on the side of the Confederacy and hopes to rebuild his life as a cattleman, while Melvin "Whittle" Smyte is a teen determined to make something of his life after realizing that through his carelessness he may have caused Chicago's great fire. When the two pair up and go in search of Stick's sweetheart, who has been abducted by bandits, their journey is hampered by everything from tornados to unfriendly Indians. Noting that both unbelievable coincidences and "stock characters … are here in abundance," a Horn Book critic nevertheless claimed that the author's "tongue-in-cheek telling defines the adventure as a diversionary romp." "Hite's offbeat Western is sure to draw new fans as they relish the book's dry humor, colorful language, and passel of surprises," maintained a Publishers Weekly reviewer, while in School Library Journal Vicki Reutter praised the book as a "lighthearted Western" that is "peppered with challenging vocabulary."
A teenager discovers unexpected strengths in A Hole in the World, Hite's 2001 coming-of-age novel. After he is caught lying to protect a friend, Paul Shackleford is sent by his parents to work on a farm owned by some distant relatives. Determined to make the best of what he sees as a bad situation, Paul quickly adapts to rural living, becoming a valued member of the farm's workforce. He later discovers that the farmhands still mourn the death of Hennley Gray, a beloved coworker, and as Paul learns more about the man, he embraces the ideals that Hennley embodied. "Hite has created a simple story that reflects on truth and the basic goodness of people," observed School Library Journal contributor Sylvia V. Meisner. Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper called A Hole in the World "a quiet story," and a critic in Publishers Weekly remarked that "this introspective novel retains the author's characteristic warmth, philosophical flavor and touch of rural romance."
Hite turns his attention to historical fiction with The Journal of Rufus Rowe: A Witness to the Battle of Fredricksburg, which focuses on the U.S. Civil War clash that left 18,000 soldiers dead. The work was inspired by a special interest; as Hite noted on the Scholastic Web site: "I grew up in a small town located about halfway between Fredericksburg and Richmond, Virginia. I would have needed to pass my entire childhood with wax in my ears to avoid hearing stories about the Civil War. Thus, when I was asked to write a book for the 'My Name Is America' series, I did not have to look hard for my subject. Rufus's story takes place in some of the very same places that I spent my youth in and around Bowling Green, Virginia." Hite added that he found the The Journal of Rufus Rowe, wonderfully simple to research. "The great thing about writing Civil War books is the vast amount of available research material," he told Scholastic interviewers Richard F. Abrahamson and Eleanore S. Tyson. "It was easy to find all the facts I needed. For me, growing up in the area … was a great help, as I knew the lay of the land and always felt certain about what was where. I also felt I knew how Rufus thought and spoke."
In Hite's story, sixteen-year-old Rufus Rowe, a runaway who arrives in Fredericksburg looking for work, befriends a group of Confederate soldiers and earns money doing errands for them. Rufus finds shelter at Brompton, a large estate which becomes the headquarters for the Confederate army when the Union army sets up camp across the Rappahannock River. "Too young to fight, Rufus is an able reporter," observing the panicked residents of the town, the battlefield mistakes, and the damage inflicted on the soldiers, noted a contributor in Kirkus Reviews. According to Kimberly Monaghan, writing in School Library Journal, Rufus's "observations of crude medical procedures, the slaughtering of men, and corpse robbing are recorded with frank simplicity."
Hite's The King of Slippery Falls is "a solid, humorously enjoyable blend of fact and fish story," wrote School Library Journal contributor Hillias J. Martin. In the 2004 novel, sixteen-year-old Lewis Hinton, who was adopted at birth, wants nothing more than to catch the giant trout that inhabits the river near his town of Slippery Falls, Idaho. The teenager's life grows more complicated, however, when he receives an unexpected letter from his birth mother that suggests he is related to King Louis XV. "Hite has a lot of quirky fun with this offbeat story," Michael Cart stated in Booklist.
Hite's decision to pursue a literary life was the right one for him. As the author noted on the Henry Holt Web site, "Dither Farm opened the door for me to write another book, which I did. That one did okay and the door stayed open. And so on … until here I am. As long as that door remains ajar, I intend to keep writing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Dither Farm, p. 1676; May 15, 1994, Deborah Abbott, review of It's Nothing to a Mountain, p. 1674; May 1, 1995, Ilene Cooper, review of Answer My Prayer, p. 1567; November 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of An Even Break, p. 473; December 15, 1996, Randy Meyer, review of Those Darn Dithers, p. 721; March 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of The Distance of Hope, p. 1236; April 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Cecil in Space, p. 1523; November 1, 2000, Debbie Carton, review of Stick and Whittle, p. 539; November 15, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of A Hole in the World, p. 565; April 15, 2004, Michael Cart, review of The King of Slippery Falls, p. 1437.
Book Report, January, 2001, Mercedes Smith, review of Stick and Whittle, p. 57; November-December, 2001, Sandra B. Connell, review of A Hole in the World, p. 62.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1995, Roger Sutton, review of Answer My Prayer, p. 16.
Childhood Education, summer, 2002, Elizabeth D. Dore, review of A Hole in the World, p. 238.
Horn Book, September-October, 1995, Ann A. Flowers, review of Answer My Prayer, p. 609; January, 2001, review of Stick and Whittle, p. 92.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1995, review of An Even Break, p. 1493; April 15, 1998, review of The Distance of Hope, p. 581; February 15, 1999, review of Cecil in Space, p. 300; September 1, 2001, review of A Hole in the World, p. 1291; October 15, 2003, review of The Journal of Rufus Rowe: A Witness to the Battle of Fredricksburg, p. 1271; April 1, 2004, review of The King of Slippery Falls, p. 331.
Kliatt, May, 1996, Paula Rohrlick, review of Dither Farm, p. 16; September, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of The Journal of Rufus Rowe, p. 8.
New York Times Book Review, July 30, 1995, review of Answer My Prayer, p. 17; November 24, 1996, review of Those Darn Dithers, p. 20; January 21, 2001, review of Stick and Whittle, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, May 18, 1992, review of Dither Farm, p. 71; April 25, 1994, review of It's Nothing to a Mountain, p. 80; May 8, 1995, review of Answer My Prayer, p. 296; October 8, 1995, review of An Even Break, p. 86; November 26, 1996, review of Those Darn Dithers, p. 76; May 10, 1999, review of Cecil in Space, p. 69; August 21, 2000, review of Stick and Whittle, p. 74; November 12, 2001, review of A Hole in the World, p. 60.
School Library Journal, May, 1992, Cindy Darling Codell, review of Dither Farm, p. 133; June, 1995, Alice Casey, review of It's Nothing to a Mountain, p. 148; December, 1995, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of An Even Break, p. 104; December, 1996, Marilyn Payne Phillips, review of Those Darn Dithers, p. 122; May, 1998, Patricia A. Dollisch, review of The Distance of Hope, p. 142; May, 1999, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Cecil in Space, p. 125; September, 2000, Vicki Reutter, review of Stick and Whittle, p. 231; October, 2001, Sylvia V. Meisner, review of A Hole in the World, p. 162; November, 2003, Kimberly Monaghan, review of The Journal of Rufus Rowe, p. 140; May, 2004, Hillias J. Martin, review of The King of Slippery Falls, p. 150.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1994, Ruth Cline, review of It's Nothing to a Mountain, p. 146; February, 1996, Jacqueline Rose, review of An Even Break, p. 372; June, 1999, Sue Krumbein, review of Cecil in Space, p. 113; October, 2001, review of A Hole in the World, p. 278; August, 2004, Pam Carlson, review of The King of Slippery Falls, p. 216.
Henry Holt Children's Books Web site, http://www.henryholtchildrensbooks.com/ (May 30, 2006), "Sid Hite."
Scholastic Web site, http://www.scholastic.com/ (May 30, 2006), Richard F. Abrahamson and Eleanore S. Tyson, "An Interview with Sid Hite."