Jackson, Alison 1953–
Jackson, Alison 1953–
PERSONAL: Born August 22, 1953, in Alhambra, CA; daughter of Samuel (a physician) and Lorayne (a musician; maiden name, Swarthout) Coombs; married Stephen Jackson (a computer analyst), September 10, 1983; children: Kyle, Quinn. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: University of California, Irvine, B.A., 1975; San Jose State University, M.L.S., 1977. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, snow skiing, water skiing.
ADDRESSES: Home—6213 Wynfield Ct., Orlando, FL 32819. Office—Seminole County Public Library, 245 Hunt Club Blvd., North Longwood, FL 32779.
CAREER: Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach, CA, children's librarian, 1977–80; Newport Beach Public Library, Newport Beach, CA, children's librarian, 1980–87; Fullerton Public Library, Fullerton, CA, children's librarian, 1987–97; Seminole County Public Library, Longwood, FL, children's librarian, 1997–.
MEMBER: American Library Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, California Library Association, Southern California Council on Literature for Children and Young People, Florida Library Association.
My Brother the Star, illustrated by Diane Dawson Hearn, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
Crane's Rebound, illustrated by Diane Dawson Hearn, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
If the Shoe Fits, illustrated by Karla Firehammer, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.
The Ballad of Valentine, illustrated by Tricia Tusa, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.
Rainmaker, Boyds Mills (Honesdale, PA), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Alison Jackson once told CA: "I grew up in South Pasadena, California. I was always interested in writing as a child, and I served on the staff of both my school newspaper and yearbook while attending South Pasadena High School.
"I only began writing seriously after entering college in 1971. I enrolled in the creative writing program at the University of California, Irvine, where I took a number of writing courses and learned many of the basic techniques necessary in writing fiction. At that time I had written a few short stories, but I had never attempted a novel-length work. And I certainly wouldn't have dared to send anything in for publication. I didn't think I had enough talent!
"In fact, it was not until 1988 (seventeen years later) that I summoned up enough courage to submit a manuscript to a major publisher. At that time I had been working as a professional children's librarian for over ten years and was married with a tiny baby of my own at home. I decided that I had read enough good children's books in the past ten years to try writing one myself. And by that time there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to write for children—not adults.
"The problem was … I needed something to write about. As luck would have it, a workshop was being conducted in our library. The class was titled 'How to Get Your Child into Television Commercials,' and I thought this would be a wonderful subject to write about. Why not?, I decided. I'll write about a kid on TV.
"So I did. I invented the character of Cameron Crane, a six-year-old terror who stars in television commercials. Then I came up with the idea of an older brother, Leslie, who feels overshadowed by his brother and ignored by his parents—until he himself is given a chance to star on a county-wide basketball team. The result was My Brother the Star, which was published by Dutton Children's Books."
School Library Journal contributor Trish Ebbatson called My Brother the Star a "nicely written first novel…. Leslie is a likable and believable central character." Also voicing approval of Jackson's first novel, a Kirkus Reviews critic observed that "the author writes with unforced fluidity." "This is light fare," commented Denise Wilms in Booklist, "but it moves easily." Wilms recommended My Brother the Star as "one for the popular reading shelf."
Talking about her next endeavor, Jackson continued: "I enjoyed writing about these two characters [Leslie and Cameron] so much that I created a sequel, Crane's Rebound, which came out the following year. Crane's Rebound recounts Leslie's adventures at a summer sports camp. Unfortunately, competition on the basketball court is not all Les is forced to contend with. He also has an obnoxious roommate, who happens to be a bully—and the best player on the team. In Crane's Rebound, I also feature a character who was introduced in my first novel. Her name is Bobby Lorimer. She is a feisty basketball-playing tomboy who develops a huge crush on Leslie while continuing to be one of his main adversaries on the court." Booklist critic Kay Weisman called Jackson's portrayal of Leslie's insecurities "right on target." She also noted Jackson's "comic touch that will appeal to sports fans and problem-novel enthusiasts alike."
Jackson commented: "The feisty character, Bobby Lorimer, proved to be so popular that I decided to write a third novel, just about her. Titled Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, this third book in the series deals with Bobby's instant unpopularity when she chooses to try out for the boys' basketball team at her junior high school. Not only does her tryout anger the boys at her school, but when Bobby is unjustly denied a spot on the team, the girls take up a crusade in her honor, nearly creating a civil war at Jefferson Junior High." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that female readers will "enjoy Bobby's breezy voice, admire her gumption, and share her confusion over the awkwardness of boy-girl relationships." School Library Journal contributor Renee Steinberg also appreciated the "likeable, well-drawn heroine" of Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy. "Jackson's smooth prose style and believable characters make this an enjoyable read," wrote Steinberg.
Reflecting on her goals as an author, Jackson said: "I have always enjoyed writing books for children. I especially feel that there is a need for good, funny stories that can be enjoyed by boys in the middle (third through fifth) grades. In the future, I intend to write more books about Leslie, Cameron, and Bobby. But I would also like to branch out and create new characters with other interests."
Jackson branched out with the title character of her picture book, I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie. The elderly lady seems to have one interest—eating everything. In this humorous take off on the traditional folk song, "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," a woman, who has been invited to share a family's Thanksgiving feast, proceeds to devour not only a pie, but an entire feast, down to the roasting pan. The result is "an amusingly successful variation" on the original, commented Gahan Wilson in the New York Times Book Review. Several reviewers complimented Jackson on her inventive, holiday-appropriate conclusion, in which the family finally trusses up the old lady with ropes and throws her out the door, where she floats away among the other enormous balloons in the Thanksgiving Day parade. Told in whimsical rhymes that mimic the original, the story prompted Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic Elizabeth Bush to predict: "Sing it once, and kids'll beg for seconds."
Responding to those cries for more from her youngest fans, Jackson said: "After seeing the immense popular-ity of I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, I plan to continue writing picture books in addition to chapter books. Takeoffs on familiar songs and stories are of particular interest to me."
Jackson later added: "My next two books were indeed takeoffs on familiar songs and rhymes. If the Show Fits tells the story of the old woman in the shoe, moving a multicultural cast of children into other recognizable nursery rhymes. In another humorous takeoff, The Ballad of Valentine replaces the heroine of 'Clementine' with a dreamy girl named Valentine, whose unnamed admirer tries to send her various love notes, only to have all of his letters go astray.
"After moving to Florida in 1997, I wanted to write a book about the state and its unique history. This effort resulted in a novel for upper-grade children, Rainmaker. The story tells of a Depression-era farmer and his family during one of the state's most devastating droughts. In an act of desperation, he sends for the rainmaker, an elderly woman from Mississippi, who arrives bringing hopes and doubts in equal measure." A School Library Journal contributor noted that "All the story lines converge at the end to reinforce the theme: accepting change as a part of life, even when one doesn't like it."
In commenting on her writing style, Jackson said "When writing a novel or picture book, I first create an outline, plus personal sketches of each character. I then proceed to 'fill in the outline' as I write the first draft. Subsequent drafts embellish the text and flesh out the characters. Lastly, I read the text aloud to see if it flows, and most especially to test out the dialogue."
Jackson's writings are the product of various influences, as she once commented to CA: "A number of sources have influenced my writing. One University of California, Irvine professor in particular, by the name of Oakley Hall, gave me much encouragement and advice. He taught me some of the finer points of plotting and characterization, and he continually emphasized the use of realistic detail.
"My children continue to be a source of humorous material for me. They have a logic and sense of perspective that is always fresh and entirely unique. In fact, as they grow older, I can already see a number of potential books in the works.
"I also pay close attention to the students who come into the library every day, either to do homework or just to chat with each other. I find that children will talk about almost anything, if I simply stay in the background. And I have already used quite a few of their inspirational conversations in my books.
"I think this is the real reason why I want to continue writing for children. They are so uninhibited and funny that I find them irresistible, not only as subjects in my work, but as members of my potential audience. So I feel safe in saying that as long as kids keep on reading … I will continue writing books for them."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 1990, Denise Wilms, review of My Brother the Star, p. 917; September 15, 1991, Kay Weisman, review of Crane's Rebound, pp. 151-152; November 1, 1993, pp. 521-523; September 1, 1997, p. 139; October 1, 2001, Kathy Broderick, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 325; March 15, 2005, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Rainmaker, p. 1292.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, p. 87; November 15, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 602.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1989, review of My Brother the Star, p. 1328; November 1, 1993, review of Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, p. 1392; March 15, 2005, review of Rainmaker, p. 353.
New York Times Book Review, November 16, 1997, Gahan Wilson, review of I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, p. 56.
Publishers Weekly, August 27, 2001, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 83; December 2, 2002, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 52.
School Library Journal, January, 1990, Trish Ebbatson, review of My Brother the Star, p. 104; January, 1994, Renee Steinberg, review of Blowing Bubbles with the Enemy, p. 114; November, 1997, p. 84; December, 2001, Piper L. Nyman, review of If the Shoe Fits, p. 104; December, 2002, Shawn Brommer, review of The Ballad of Valentine, p. 98; April, 2005, Diana Pierce, review of Rainmaker, p. 134.
Alison Jackson Web site, http://www.alison-jackson.com (November 12, 2005).