Karr, Kathleen 1946-
Karr, Kathleen 1946-
Born April 21, 1946, in Allentown, PA; daughter of Stephen (a mechanical engineer) and Elizabeth (a homemaker) Csere; married Lawrence F. Karr (a physicist and computer consultant), July 13, 1968; children: Suzanne, Daniel. Education: Catholic University of America, B.A., 1968; Providence College, M.A., 1971; also attended Corcoran School of Art, 1972, 2000-01.
Home—Washington, DC. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 99 White Plains Rd., Tarrytown, NY 10591. E-mail—[email protected] atlantic.net.
Barrington High School, Barrington, RI, English and speech teacher, 1968-69; Rhode Island Historical Society Film Archives, curator, 1970-71; American Film Institute, Washington, DC, archives assistant, 1971-72, member of catalog staff, 1972; Washington Circle Theater Corporation, Washington, DC, general manager, 1973-78; Circle/Showcase Theaters, Washington, DC, advertising director, 1979-83, director of public relations, 1984-88; Circle Management Company/Circle Releasing, Washington, DC, member of public relations staff, 1988-93. Assistant professor at George Washington University, summer, 1979, 1980-81. Lecturer or instructor in film and communications at various institutions, including Providence College, 1969-70, University of Rhode Island, 1971, University of Maryland, 1972, Catholic University of America, 1973-77, New Line Presentations Lecture Bureau, 1974-76, American Film Institute, 1979-80, and Trinity College, 1985-86, 1995; lecturer at film and writing conferences, 1973-89.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Children's Literature (member of advisory board, 1994—), Washington Romance Writers (member of board of directors, 1985-86; president, 1986-87), Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC (member of board of directors, 1998-2002; president, 2000-01).
Golden Medallion Award for best inspirational novel, Romance Writers of America, 1986, for From This Day Forward; "100 Books for Reading and Sharing" citation, New York Public Library, 1990, for It Ain't Always Easy; Parents' Choice Story Book citation, 1992, for Oh, Those Harper Girls!; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, c. 1994, for The Cave; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council (NCSS/CBC), 1999, Notable Children's Book in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English, 1999, and Prix de Bernard Verselo (Brussels, Belgium), 2000-01, Best Book of the Year distinction, Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, all for The Great Turkey Walk; Best Book for Young Adults selection, American Library Association (ALA), 2000, for Man of the Family; Golden Kite Award from Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies from NCSS/CBC, Books for the Teen Age selection from New York Public Library, and Best Book for Young Adults selection from ALA, all 2001, all for The Boxer; Agatha Award, 2003, for The Seventh Knot.
FICTION; FOR CHILDREN
It Ain't Always Easy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1990.
Oh, Those Harper Girls!; or, Young and Dangerous, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1992.
Gideon and the Mummy Professor, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1993.
The Cave, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1994.
In the Kaiser's Clutch, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1995.
Spy in the Sky, illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerski, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
The Great Turkey Walk, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
The Lighthouse Mermaid, illustrated by Karen Lee Schmidt, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.
Man of the Family, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY) 1999.
Skullduggery, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
The Boxer, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
It Happened in the White House: Extraordinary Tales from America's Most Famous Home, illustrated by Paul Meisel, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000.
Playing with Fire, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
Bone Dry, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
The Seventh Knot, Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), 2003.
Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2003.
Exiled: Memoirs of a Camel, Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), 2004.
Worlds Apart, Marshall Cavendish (Tarrytown, NY), 2005.
Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2005.
"PETTICOAT PARTY" SERIES; FICTION; FOR CHILDREN
Go West, Young Women!, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Phoebe's Folly, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1996.
Oregon, Sweet Oregon, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
Gold-Rush Phoebe, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1998.
ROMANCE NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
Light of My Heart, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1984.
From This Day Forward, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1985.
Chessie's King, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1986.
Destiny's Dreamers Book I: Gone West, Barbour (Uhrichsville, OH), 1993.
Destiny's Dreamers Book II: The Promised Land, Barbour (Uhrichsville, OH), 1993.
(And director) The Elegant Mr. Brown and I (short film), 1969.
(Editor) The American Film Heritage: Views from the American Film Institute Collection, Acropolis Press (Washington, DC), 1972.
Mayor Tom Bradley (short film), 1973.
Profile: Tom Bradley (short film), 1974.
No Smoking, Spitting, or Molesting (short film), 1976.
Contributor to books, including Cartoon: A Celebration of American Comic Art, 1975, and Magill's Survey of Cinema, annual editions. Contributor to periodicals, including Film Society Review, Film News, Journal of Popular Film, Providence Journal, Washington Post, and Rhode Island History. Contributing editor, Media and Methods, 1970-72; editor, ASFE News, March, 1976. Karr's works have been translated into French, Danish, Catalan, Korean, and Italian.
The Great Turkey Walk was recorded as an audiobook, Recorded Books, 1999; Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free was recorded as an audiobook, Full Cast Audio, 2005.
Kathleen Karr's historical novels for young teens are noted for their humorous and suspenseful plots and boldly drawn characters. Besides their settings, which range from the streets of New York City to the "Wild West" of the late 1800s, Karr's works also feature compelling portrayals of young people confronting adult-sized challenges, their efforts to deal with these challenges rendered in an upbeat prose that many critics have found engaging. Among Karr's books are the historical novels The Cave, In the Kaiser's Clutch, and Playing with Fire, as well as the "Petticoat Party" series about women moving westward along the Oregon Trail during 1846.
Born in 1946 in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Karr began writing fiction "on a dare from my husband," as she once stated. "Tired of hearing me complain about not being able to find a ‘good read,’ he suggested I write a book myself." In 1984 she sold her third attempt, the romance novel Light of My Heart, and, as Karr described it, "entered the world of women's fiction." It was her two children who convinced her to switch genres, however. "They asked me to write a book for them." Karr agreed, penning It Ain't Always Easy, which, in 1990, would become her first published children's novel. Along the way, she discovered a new vocation as an author of children's historical novels.
It Ain't Always Easy follows two New York City orphans—eleven-year-old Jack and eight-year-old Mandy—who leave the city in the hope of finding a family to take care of them. Despite the odds, they stay together and, after many adventures, manage to find a home and family. While acknowledging the entertaining aspect of the children's adventures, some critics found the events and dialogue unrealistic; Gail Richmond pointed out in the School Library Journal that Jack's character is "too good to be true, and loses some credibility as a result." Describing the book as "powerful," a Publishers Weekly writer concluded that "the spirit and perseverance of the protagonists are uplifting." Other critics cited authentic period details and well-rounded characterizations in praising It Ain't Always Easy. Horn Book writer Elizabeth S. Watson observed, contrary to Richmond's observation, even "lesser characters are three-dimensional," making for "an extremely appealing" story.
Karr uses the setting of the nineteenth-century American West to a more comic effect in Oh, Those Harper Girls!; or, Young and Dangerous. In this novel, the six daughters of a hapless rancher try a number of foolhardy and illegal schemes to save their West Texas homestead from bankruptcy and eventually land on the New York stage, reenacting their famous escapades. Centered on the youngest daughter, Lily, the brains behind the girls' schemes, the story also comments on the restricted roles available to women in the nineteenth century. Booklist contributor Mary Romano Marks commented favorably on this aspect of Karr's work, adding: "The girls’ hilarious escapades and good-natured sibling rivalry make the novel an enjoyable read." "Characterization is quite strong," Rita Soltan remarked in a School Library Journal review, dubbing Oh, Those Harper Girls! "fast paced and satisfying." A contributor to Kirkus Reviews called the novel "a happy, rip-roaring adventure, capped by a whirlwind of marriages, family reunions, and wishes fulfilled."
The world of the American West is also the focus of the "Petticoat Party" series, which features a group of pioneers on their way west in 1846. In Go West, Young Women! twelve-year-old Phoebe Brown finds herself part of a wagon train led by women after the men in their party are killed or seriously disabled during a buffalo stampede. Despite numerous hardships, the determined women lead the wagon train nearly 1,400 miles by the novel's end. Elizabeth Mellett found Go West, Young Women! to be a "light, entertaining tale of adventure on the trail to Oregon," in her School Library Journal assessment of the series, while in Kirkus Reviews, a critic praised the novel as a "good adventure tale … and a real consciousness-raiser to boot." In the second novel of the series, Phoebe's Folly, Phoebe learns how to pull her weight on the journey by becoming knowledgeable about firearms. Her perky, positive attitude prompted Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson to call her a "likeable, spunky heroine who will attract a loyal following." Oregon, Sweet Oregon finds Phoebe reaching her destination, only to discover disappointment when she is expected to retire to an appropriately subservient "woman's place" in the growing society. The lure of riches prompts her to continue her travels. In Gold-Rush Phoebe, Karr's protagonist joins with fellow teen Robbie Robson to make the trek to California, where they encounter further adventures and develop a romantic relationship. Calling Phoebe's saga in Oregon, Sweet Oregon "more entertainment than history," Booklist contributor Peterson praised the series as "a nice alternative to lengthier and more challenging historical fiction" about America's westward expansion.
Karr returns to New York City in her 2000 novel, Skullduggery. In 1839, quacks and unsound medical practices abound. For twelve-year-old Matthew, orphaned after a cholera epidemic, getting a job with a doctor seems like a way of helping others avoid his family's terrible fate. However, Dr. Cornwall is no ordinary doctor: he is a phrenologist who determines people's personalities by feeling the lumps and bumps on their heads. Cornwall's efforts to develop his "science" requires skulls, and Matthew finds that his job description includes sneaking into cemeteries and digging up graves. This grave robbing eventually takes the pair to Europe in search of the skulls of great men, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and the French philosopher Voltaire. Praising the novel's plot as "fast-paced," School Library Journal contributor Steven Engelfried added that the discussion of phrenology and the creepiness of grave robbing combine to make Skullduggery attractive to "curious readers not ordinarily drawn to historical fiction." A Kirkus Reviews critic described the novel as "rich in period color and good old-fashioned derring do."
Moving half a century closer to the present, Karr sets her novel The Boxer in 1885. Fifteen-year-old Johnny Woods boxes at a local saloon to supplement the small wage he earns for working grueling hours at a New York City sweatshop to support his fatherless family. Unfortunately, boxing is illegal in New York, and Johnny is arrested and sent to prison for six months. There he is aided by a fellow inmate, a former pro boxer named Michael O'Shaunnessey, who teaches Johnny not only the finer points of boxing, but also how to turn his life around and, after his release from prison, climb to the top of the professional prizefighting circuit. Praising Karr's "clarity of purpose" in writing The Boxer, Booklist critic Carolyn Phelan cited the novel as unique due to its "focus on a lower-class character during peace time." In Horn Book, a contributor commended the inclusion of actual people of the period and described the novel's tenacious, determined protagonist as "a highly sympathetic, ultimately admirable character ;h3 . In or out of the ring, this kid is a fighter." School Library Journal reviewer Edward Sullivan praised The Boxer as a "wonderful blend of fascinating history and compelling drama," adding that Karr succeeds admirably in "creating a vivid sense of time and place." The novel's "one-two-punch pacing and warmhearted resolutions will keep the pages turning," promised a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Karr draws readers into the dustbowl era with The Cave, which is set in drought-stricken South Dakota during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The lack of rain poses many difficulties for pre-teen Christine, for it has threatened the livelihood of her family's farm and aggravates her younger brother Michael's asthma. Her father is considering moving the family to California when Christine unearths a cave in the foothills near the farm, complete with crystals, stalactites, and water. Although she wants to stay on the farm, Christine tries to keep her discovery from her father, afraid that in rescuing the farm he will destroy the cave's beauty. With numerous period details, "Karr excels in recreating time and place," Cindy Darling Codell noted in School Library Journal. In addition, the critic wrote, the ecological conflict enhances the "sweet, well-crafted story of a family forced to be tough by the extremities of nature." Comparing the book to the children's classic Caddie Woodlawn, Booklist critic Mary Harris Veeder observed that "Karr creates an active and believable girl in the throes of both physical and emotional change" and praised the author's child's-eye view of the era. A Kirkus Reviews writer concluded: "Fine period detail and masterful writing grace Karr's story of quiet courage during hard times."
Bone Dry is a sequel to Skullduggery. Happily apprenticed to some of France's best illusionists and showmen, Matthew is none too pleased to be summoned again to help Dr. Asa B. Cornwell in his search for skulls to advance his phrenology practice. Soon, Matthew and Dr. Cornwall find themselves on the hunt for the skull of a famed leader of the ancient world, Alexander the Great. Danger threatens when the duo's camel caravan is attacked and they are taken prisoner by a group of Tuareg slave-dealers. Nearly killed in a sandstorm, Matthew and Dr. Cornwall are taken to a desert stronghold. Seizing an opportunity, Matthew applies his new skills of illusion to free himself, Dr. Cornwall, and an Asanti captive who has caught his eye. "This is historical fiction that goes down very easily," commented Bruce Anne Shook in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "readers with a willingness to surrender their disbelief will enjoy this offering for the swashbuckling, occasionally bloody, and frequently hilarious adventure it is."
The Seventh Knot is an "offbeat turn-of-the-last-century novel that dances on the edge of the fantastical," commented GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist. Fifteen-year-old Wick, a precocious teen with a taste for gambling and cigars, and his twelve-year-old brother, Miles, an up-and-coming scientific genius, find themselves on a forced European tour with their uncle Eustace. The boys find their uncle's interest in the artwork of Albrecht Dürer to be boring, but their attention quickly picks up when Eustace's inscrutable valet, Jose Gregorio, is kidnapped. While searching for Jose, the boys become involved with a menacing secret society called the Dürerbund, a group that honors the artist and harbors a desire for European conquest. Finally locating Jose, the boys and the valet hurtle through a series of harrowing adventures in their quest the stop the Dürerbund from proceeding with its plans. The book's "well-crafted plot and nonstop action will catch readers’ attention from the first chapter," noted School Library Journal critic Beth L. Meister, and will bring them to the book's "satisfying conclusion."
Libby Dodge, the protagonist of Gilbert & Sullivan Set Me Free, is serving a stretch in a women's prison. To pass the time during the drudgery of chores in the prison laundry, Libby and her surrogate mother/guardian Ma McCreary sing enthusiastically. When the prison chaplain overhears them one day, Libby and Ma become the linchpins in the chaplain's plan to involve the prison inmates in a production of The Pirates of Penzance, helping everyone achieve greater pride and self-awareness through participation in a musical play. The book is based on an actual incident that occurred in a women's prison in 1914, and as the story unfolds and the prisoners mount their performance, readers are informed about the conditions in women's prisons in the early twentieth century, about early advocacy for women's rights, and about the looming specter of World War I and how it affected the country.
Exiled: Memoirs of a Camel tells the story of Ali, an Egyptian camel drafted and trained for the U.S. Army's experimental Camel Corps, which was designed to help the military function and travel in harsh desert terrain. Told from Ali's point of view, the camel narrates his own story and describes how his life changed when he is taken from his mother in Egypt, sold to Christians, and pressed into service with the Camel Corps. Ali makes the acquaintance of other camels from his homeland, including Seid, Omar, and Fatimah. At first, the camels participate in an experiment involving desert artillery, but when that fails, they form a caravan across the western U.S. deserts, where they help in constructing a road. As the camels work and live in an unfamiliar country, Ali, Omar, and Seid compete to see who will become Fatimah's mate. Karr includes considerable information on camels, including their skill at spitting, and gives readers a glimpse of the natural history of the beasts. The book "combines a relatively exotic setting with children's love of animals for a successful exploration of a promising but failed experiment" in American military history, commented Coop Renner in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the story "may engage readers who can see past Ali's mannered speech and identify with his yearning to be free."
Early American colonial life was difficult, but in Worlds Apart teenager Christopher West finds his troubles eased by his friendship with Asha-po, a Sewee Indian neighbor. Christopher teaches Asha-po English, and Asha-po reciprocates by teaching Christopher how to hunt and fish. With the Sewee's help, the colony survives their first harsh winter in the new world. It seems that the colonists and the Indians can peacefully coexist, fending off Spanish attackers and their hostile Westo Indian neighbors. When other settlers arrive and the colonists begin expanding inland, clearing forests and creating farmland, they stress the local food supply. The Sewee also abhor the colonists’ use of captured Westo as slave labor. Relations between the colonists and the Sewee take a severe downward turn, and Christopher and Asha-po find their friendship strained to the breaking point. Determined to mend their friendship, Christopher goes in search of Asha-po, only to find the entire Sewee population setting out to sea in canoes, determined to find Europe but instead heading straight into a deadly hurricane. "This thoughtful novel offers extensive information as well as a gripping story of friendship and adventure," commented Renee Steinberg in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel a "poignant chapter in our country's early history," while a Children's Bookwatch reviewer declared it a "thoroughly entertaining and enthusiastically recommended adventure novel" for young readers.
Karr once told CA: "After a number of years working in the ‘real’ worlds of motion pictures and education, I find it a pleasure to be able to create my own worlds in fiction. To watch a character come alive—become real flesh and blood and take the reins of a story in hand—is an exhilarating experience. It's also hard work.
"As for my penchant for historical settings, well, I've discovered that I feel quite comfortable in the nineteenth century. It's a challenge to try to recreate a specific time and place, with its specific language patterns. Short of inventing a time machine, this is my way of reentering the past and attempting to show my readers that while events may change, the nature of human beings is fairly constant. Courage and common decency against difficult odds have always existed."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, April 15, 1992, Mary Romano Marks, review of Oh, Those Harper Girls!; or, Young and Dangerous, p. 1523; September 15, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of The Cave, p. 92; December 1, 1996, Lauren Peterson, review of Phoebe's Folly, p. 654; June 1, 1998, Chris Sherman, review of The Great Turkey Walk, p. 1748, and Ilene Cooper, review of The Lighthouse Mermaid, p. 1767; July, 1998, Lauren Peterson, review of Oregon, Sweet Oregon, p. 1881; September 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Man of the Family, p. 257; April 1, 2000, John Peters, review of Skullduggery, p. 1477; September 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Boxer, p. 116; April 1, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of Playing with Fire, p. 1483; September 15, 2002, John Peters, review of Bone Dry, p. 235; July, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Seventh Knot, p. 1881; May 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Exiled: Memoirs of a Camel, p. 1559; May 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, p. 1591.
Children's Bookwatch, September, 2005, review of Worlds Apart.
Horn Book, March, 1991, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of It Ain't Always Easy, pp. 199-200; May-June, 1992, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Oh, Those Harper Girls!, p. 341; September-October, 1993, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Gideon and the Mummy Professor, p. 599; November, 1999, Mary M. Burns, review of Man of the Family, p. 742; May, 2000, review of Skullduggery, p. 315; September, 2000, review of The Boxer, p. 573.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, September, 2001, Rosie Kerin, review of The Boxer, p. 84.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1992, review of Oh, Those Harper Girls!, p. 539; May 15, 1993, p. 663; July 15, 1994, review of The Cave, p. 987; October 1, 1995, review of In the Kaiser's Clutch, p. 1430; December 1, 1995, review of Go West, Young Women!, p. 1703; March 15, 1997, review of Spy in the Sky, pp. 463-464; December 15, 1999, review of Skullduggery, pp. 1958-1959; July 1, 2002, review of Bone Dry, p. 957; March 15, 2005, review of Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, p. 354; April 15, 2005, review of Worlds Apart, p. 476.
Kliatt, September, 1995, Barbara Shepp, review of Oh, Those Harper Girls!, pp. 10-11; September, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Boxer, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, September 28, 1990, review of It Ain't Always Easy, p. 103; March 23, 1992, review of Oh, Those Harper Girls!, p. 73; May 24, 1993, review of Gideon and the Mummy Professor, p. 89; September 12, 1994, review of The Cave, p. 92; February 12, 1996, review of Go West, Young Women!, p. 78; April 20, 1998, review of The Great Turkey Walk, p. 67; October 4, 1999, review of Man of the Family, p. 76; February 7, 2000, review of Skullduggery, p. 86; October 30, 2000, review of The Boxer, p. 76; January 22, 2001, review of Playing with Fire, p. 325; April 19, 2004, review of Exiled, p. 61.
School Library Journal, December, 1990, Gail Richmond, review of It Ain't Always Easy, p. 104; May, 1992, Rita Soltan, review of Oh, Those Harper Girls!, p. 133; June, 1993, Beth Tegart, review of Gideon and the Mummy Professor, p. 107; September, 1994, Cindy Darling Codell, review of The Cave, p. 218; January, 1996, Kelly Dillery, review of In the Kaiser's Clutch, p. 128; May, 1996, Elizabeth Mellett, review of Go West, Young Women!, p. 114; August, 1997, Linda L. Plevak, review of Spy in the Sky, p. 136; March, 1998, Coop Renner, review of The Great Turkey Walk, p. 214; August, 1998, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of The Lighthouse Mermaid, p. 141; January, 1999, Shawn Brommer, review of Gold Rush Phoebe, p. 128; March, 2000, Steven Engelfried, review of Skullduggery, p. 239; November, 2000, Edward Sullivan, review of The Boxer, p. 157; May, 2001, Patricia B. McGee, review of Playing with Fire, p. 154; August, 2002, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Bone Dry, p. 190; August, 2003, Beth L. Meister, review of The Seventh Knot, p. 161; May, 2004, Coop Renner, review of Exiled, p. 150; May, 2005, Wendy Lukehart, review of Mama Went to Jail for the Vote, p. 86, and Renee Steinberg, review of Worlds Apart, p. 130.
Adams Literary Web site,http://www.adamsliterary.com/ (May 29, 2006), biography of Kathleen Karr.
Kathleen Karr Home Page,http://www.childrensbookguild.org/kathleenkarr.html (May 29, 2006).