Jonsberg, Barry 1951-
Jonsberg, Barry 1951-
Born 1951, in Liverpool, England; married; wife's name Anita; stepchildren. Education: Liverpool University, B.A., M.A.
Home—Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia.
Writer; lecturer at English colleges until 1999; high-school teacher in Australia.
Adelaide Festival Award for Best YA Book, 2006, for It's Not All about You, Calma!
The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, Allen & Unwin (Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia), 2004, published as The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
It's Not All about You, Calma! (sequel to The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull,) Allen & Unwin (Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia), 2005, published as Am I Right or Am I Right?, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Dreamrider, Allen & Unwin (Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia), 2005.
An English-born Australian teacher and children's book author, Barry Jonsberg began writing while in school pursuing his master's degree as a preparation to teaching on the college level. Although that work, a paper titled Defoe and Casuistry: A Consideration of Morality in the Writings of Defoe, was not exactly a riveting read—Jonsberg himself referred to it as "mind-numbingly dull" in his Allen & Unwin online biography—after moving to Australia with his family in 1999, he began work on a fictional novel titled Nativity. Although Nativity sparked the interest of Allen & Unwin editors, it was not considered publishable. In the meantime, however, a character from this first work had inspired Jonsberg to begin a second novel, this time for young adults. In 2004, Jonsberg's first published work, The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, appeared, and the book has also been released in the United States under the title The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne.
The story focuses on the relationship between Calma Harrison, a good student and budding writer, and her friend, the disillusioned, troubled Kiffo. After Kiffo causes their high-school English teacher to quit because of his behavior, the replacement, Miss Payne, proves to be a less-easy target for the angry young man. Determined to discover the chinks in Miss Payne's armor, Calma and Kiffo stake out "the Pitbull's" home, hoping to discover the reason for their teacher's strange late- night comings and goings. Although they suspect that Miss Payne is somehow involved with dealing drugs, as their investigation continues a tragedy ensues that causes Calma to rethink her actions as well as her relationships. A Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed the novel "a great read," while Myrna Marler noted in Kliatt that the "book is not for the fainthearted." In Publishers Weekly a reviewer praised Calma as being a "smart, sassy narrator," and deemed The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne a "memorable first novel."
Jonsberg's sequel is It's Not All about You, Calma!, published in the United States as Am I Right or Am I Right? Calma is now friendless with the exception of the mellow Vanessa, who is able to put up with her arrogance and sarcasm. Calma's absent father has returned, and her mother is working two jobs trying to make ends meet. When Calma meets cute soccer fan Jason at Crazy Cheep, the local quick stop, she applies for a job there. The plot revolves around Calma's tendency to make assumptions about others and their situations which are not necessarily true.
Horn Book reviewer Jennifer M. Brabander described this novel as "less dark than its predecessor but just as comedic." January contributor Sue Bursztynski wrote that Jonsberg "is able to capture the feel of teen woes and still see the funny side. In other words, he's able to make the same point as the most angst-filled novel, but with less angst."
The protagonist of Dreamrider is Michael Terny, an overweight boy who is attending his seventh school. The kindness of some of the people in his life, including his stepmother, a classmate, a teacher, and an administrator, does not make up for the bullying by students who torment him, and Michael takes refuge in lucid dreams. The story takes a turn when the dreams turn violent. A Kirkus Reviews contributor concluded: "Undeniably compelling but darkly disturbing and ultimately deeply perplexing."
Jonsberg once told CA: "As an English teacher for many, many years I became slightly irritated by teaching books that young people had difficulty relating to ‘I could do better than this’ was a common thought, though, like many of my colleagues, I wasn't prepared to risk proving whether this was an accurate assessment of my abilities or simple arrogance. I have always been interested in writing—it has been a fundamental part of my professional and personal life. Writing my own novels was, simply, a logical extension of this interest that I couldn't delay any longer. I am so glad I started. Now, I can't seem to stop! I attempt to be very professional and disciplined when I am writing, but of course I fail most of the time. I have my own writing space and I am very protective of that. I write from about eight in the morning to around three in the afternoon and attempt to ignore that horrible feeling that what I am writing is essentially worthless. I write with headphones on and have convinced myself that I cannot change my music cd until a novel is completed. This ensures that I am heartily sick of a cd within a couple of months and stamp on it repeatedly when the book is finally finished.
"The most surprising thing I have learned as a writer is just how much hard work it is. I had always considered myself as gifted in English—I taught at a high level in the UK—but I was not expecting my writing to undergo so much re-writing and editing and copyediting. Now, I like this part of the process very much; it is so important to make sure that the book is the best it can be before it hits the bookshelves. Bit late after that!
"Dreamrider is far and away my best book. I am very proud of it. The first two novels were light-hearted and slightly ‘crazy’ in style and content—they received much critical praise and obviously I am very fond of them. But Dreamrider is, I believe, a tightly-constructed and well-written novel—everything works in it. It tends to polarise opinions—readers love it or hate it—and maybe this is a sign of an important book. Time will tell."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2007, Frances Bradburn, review of Am I Right or Am I Right?, p. 82.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July 1, 2007, Hope Morrison, review of Am I Right or Am I Right?, p. 472.
Horn Book, March-April, 2007, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of Am I Right or Am I Right?, p. 194.
January, November, 2005, Sue Bursztynski, review of It's Not All about You, Calma!
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2005, review of The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne, p. 684; December 15, 2007, review of Dreamrider.
Kliatt, May, 2005, Myrna Marler, review of The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne, p. 14; January, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of Am I Right or Am I Right?, p. 14.
Magpies, September, 2005, Jo Goodman, review of It's Not All about You, Calma!, p. 42.
Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005, review of The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne, p. 94.
School Librarian, summer, 2005, Lynda Waterhouse, review of The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull, p. 102.
School Library Journal, July, 2005, Miranda Doyle, review of The Crimes and Punishments of Miss Payne, p. 104; February, 2007, Johanna Lewis, review of Am I Right or Am I Right?, p. 118.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June 2007, Lisa A. Hazlett, review of Am I Right or Am I Right?, p. 144.
Allen & Unwin Web site, http://www.allenandunwin.com/ (January 9, 2008), interview.
Australian Review Web site, http://www.aussiereviews.com/ (January 9, 2008), Sally Murphy, review of Dreamrider.
Inside a Dog,http://www.insideadog.com.au/ (January 9, 2008), interview.
MotherReader,http://www.motherreader.com/ (August 15, 2007), review of Am I Right or Am I Right?