Karwoski, Gail 1949–

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Karwoski, Gail 1949–

(Gail Langer Karwoski)

PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "car-woh-ski"; born March 16, 1949, in Boston, MA; daughter of Farley (a hardware store owner) and Esther (a homemaker) Langer; adopted mother, Charlotte Langer (a homemaker); married Chester John Karwoski (a university professor), 1970; children: Leslie, Geneva. Education: University of Massachusetts—Amherst, B.A., 1970; University of Minnesota—Minneapolis, M.A., 1972; earned teaching certificates from University of Georgia—Athens.

ADDRESSES: Home—1040 Sweet Gum Way, Watkinsville, GA 30677. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Teacher in Athens and Watkinsville, GA, 1974–98; writer, 1998–. Also worked as a newspaper reporter and as an editor for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia.

MEMBER: Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (and regional branch, the Southern Breeze), Four at Five Writers (founding member), Athens Rock and Gem Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: Individual Artist Grant, Georgia Council for the Arts, 1994–95; Georgia Author of the Year for Children's Literature, Georgia Writers Inc., 1996; winner, Tellable Story, 1997 Storytelling World Awards, for "Mammy Kate Uses Her Head", and honor, for "War Woman!"; American Booksellers Association Children's Pick of the Lists, 1999, for Seaman: The Dog Who Went Exploring with Lewis and Clark; Bank Street College Best Children's Books of the Year, 2001, for Surviving Jamestown; Maxwell Medal for Best Children's Book, Dog Writers Association of America, and Sydney Taylor Award, Association of Jewish Libraries Notable Books for Older Readers, both 2004, Pensnsylvania School Librarians Association Young Adult Top Forty, 2004, all for Quake!; Georgia Children's Young Adult Author of the Year, Georgia Writers Association, 2004, Junior Library Guild literary selection, 2004, 2005 featured title, National Book Festival Pavilion of States, 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Books for Young Readers, 2005, all for Miracle; Most Outstanding Author of the Year, a Mom's Choice Award, Just for Moms Foundation, 2005, for Water Beds; Sleeping in the Ocean.



(With Loretta Johnson Hammer) The Tree that Owns Itself and Other Adventure Tales from Georgia's Past, illustrated by James Watling, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1996.

Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark, illustrated by James Watling, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 1999.

Surviving Jamestown: The Adventures of Young Sam Collier, illustrated by Paul Casale, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 2001.

Quake!: Disaster in San Francisco, 1906, illustrated by Robert Papp, Peachtree (Atlanta, GA), 2003.

Miracle: The True Story of the Wreck of the Sea Venture (nonfiction), illustrated by John MacDonald, Darby Creek (Plain City, OH), 2004.


(With Mary Hepburn and Ann Blum) City Government in Georgia, Institute of Government, University of Georgia (Athens, GA), 1980.

Water Beds; Sleeping in the Ocean (picture book), illustrated by Connie McLennan, Sylvan Dell (Mt. Pleasant, SC), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals including Athens and Cobblestone.

SIDELIGHTS: Young adult book author Gail Karwoski once commented to CA: "When I was a youngster, my absolute favorite pastime was playing with paper dolls. I had a shoe box full of them, and when I came upon a cartoon figure or magazine photo that appealed to me, I clipped it out and added it to my paper doll collection. Usually, I played by myself, because I didn't have sisters and my only brother was much older than me. I made up relationships and problems for my paper dolls, dressed them, and moved them around in houses and cars and yards that were actually scatter rugs and bedspreads. I liked to imagine what each character would say and do. As a writer, I'm still playing with paper dolls!

"I was born in Jamaica Plain, which is part of Boston, Massachusetts. My family lived above my father's hardware store until I was eight. Then we moved to the suburb of Brookline. When I was very young, my dad told me bedtime stories that he made up, about the imaginary mice who lived in the store's warehouse and outwitted local alley cats. My whole family worked in the store during busy seasons. Neither of my parents went to college. My dad moved to the United States from Poland with his family when he was seven years old. His formal education ended before high school.

"I'm eight years younger than my brother, Bob. As a child, I was short and small for my age, so I was my parents' darling. I adored my mother and tried hard to be a good little girl to please her. I played quietly, read a lot, and created stories. My mother died of cancer when I was around ten; her death was the most painful thing that ever happened to me. After her death, I saw myself as different from other children, and part of me became an outsider. Although I had friends at school, I interacted with only part of myself—the other part of me kept a distance and watched warily for signs of danger. I learned to be a clown so I could conceal my worries and hurts.

"I went to college at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and majored in English because I loved reading and talking about books. I got my teaching certificate so I would have a way to earn money and stay close to books. I met my husband, Chester, in college, and we applied to graduate schools together. I got my master's degree at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, while he got his Ph.D. After I finished graduate school, I worked as a reporter for a small community newspaper. In 1974, we moved to Georgia, where Chester became a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens. I taught high school English and drama until Leslie, our first daughter, was born. When Leslie was a toddler, I became an editor for the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Then I returned to teaching, this time as the gifted education teacher in middle schools, until Chester got a six-month research appointment in Geneva, Switzerland. After our second daughter, Geneva, was born, I returned to the classroom. We spent one year in San Francisco, again for Chester's research, then I began teaching the gifted classes for grades three to five.

"I wrote my first published book with a teaching colleague, Lori Hammer. The Tree that Owns Itself and Other Adventure Tales from Georgia's Past is a collection of twelve historical fiction stories. We tried to arrange them so every child in the state would feel close to Georgia's history—no matter where you are in the state, you're within an hour or two drive of a good story!

"When I received a contract for my second book, Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark, I resigned from my teaching position to become a full-time writer. I worked so hard to finish this historical novel that my paws ached! But it was worth the effort. Writing is the most satisfying work I've ever done.

"Now I return to classrooms as an author-in-schools. I tell students that writing, like teaching, is all about communicating—sharing information, insights, and feelings with people. Except, as a writer, my classroom is for students all over the world. Actually, writing is my rebirth, and it brings me back to the quiet activities of my childhood. It's a grownup version of playing with paper dolls. I move interesting characters around in places that I've imagined. I create relationships between my characters, give them problems to solve, and let them talk to each other. Like the good little girl I was, I'm still eager to please. But writing is more satisfying than playing with paper dolls because it's a game that I can share with thousands of readers. It's my way of enriching and improving the world where children grow up."

Though Karwoski once commented that she and her coauthor, Loretta Johnson Hammer, chose to emphasize the geographical range of the stories they selected for The Tree that Owns Itself and Other Adventure Tales from Georgia's Past, it was the historical range of the stories that impressed Jacqueline Elsner, a reviewer for the School Library Journal. Elsner noted that in a mere twelve stories, the authors manage to touch upon pivotal moments in three centuries of Georgia's, and the nation's, history, including the Revolutionary War and the era of pirates in the eighteenth century, the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, the Trail of Tears, and the gold rushes of the nineteenth century, and World War II and the Olympics in the twentieth. The authors effectively blend historical and fictional characters in each story, and "energetic pacing and keen plot development pull readers in," Elsner added. Each story concludes with additional information about the facts behind the tale. "This title reaches far beyond regional interest," wrote Elsner.

Karwoski returned to the historical record for her next book, Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark. Karwoski's story focuses on Seaman, a real dog of Newfoundland breed who accompanied the famous explorers on their historic trek across the continent, and who is mentioned in the explorers' journals numerous times. Karwoski's focus on Seaman helps bring out the human side of the larger-than-life participants in this historic adventure, noted School Library Journal contributor Dona J. Helmer. Karwoski "is guilty of trying to soften the historical realities," this critic added, however, referring to her treatment of the young Indian guide, Sacagawea, and of the slave among Clark's servants. Nevertheless, Helmer concluded, once the story of Seaman is begun, readers "will be caught up in the drama and action and even reluctant readers will find it just too good to put down." Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan dubbed Seaman "an effective, fictional introduction to the Lewis and Clark expedition."

The early American colonies provide the setting for Karwoski's next work, Surviving Jamestown: The Adventures of Young Sam Collier. Serving as a page to Captain John Smith, twelve-year-old Sam Collier relates his story as he and his fellow English settlers leave Europe, hoping to establish a colony in the New World. In her story, the author relates the terrible the conditions the colonists endured as they carved a settlement out of the wilderness. Though the other colonists dislike the low-born Smith, the Captain remains the head of the group until he is burned badly in a fire and must return to England. Smith offers Sam the choice of staying in America or accompanying him on the voyage home. Realizing that though the life is harsh, the young colonist decides the opportunities are better for him in the new country. "The story flows well," according to School Library Journal contributor Patti Gonzales, who found the book "a good fictional introduction to Jamestown."

In Miracle: The True Story of the Wreck of the Sea Venture Karwoski tells the true story of the Sea Venture, which encountered a hurricane on the high seas and got separated from a small fleet on the way to the Jamestown Colony in America in 1609. The ship ends up in the Bermuda islands, where the passengers wonder at the paradise that supports them for the next ten months. Eventually, they move on to bring much needed supplies to Jamestown. The book includes maps, wood engravings, and other illustrations. Writing in Booklist, John Peters noted that "this tale of shipwreck, discovery, and radical reversals of fortune will leave young readers marveling." Rita Soltan, writing in the School Library Journal, called the book "an engaging account" and also noted, "Karwoski offers a wealth of historical information through a well-researched narrative detailing highlights of the key players."

Karwoski returns to fictional history with Quake!: Disaster in San Francisco, 1906. Jacob Kaufman is thirteen years old when the infamous San Francisco earthquake hits. Separated from his family, he saves the life of a Chinese boy and the two go off on an adventure of survival as they search for their respective families. In the process Jacob learns about the mistreatment of and hatred for Chinese immigrants, which is much like the anti-Semitism he himself has experienced. Noting that the author provides "many vivid details of life after the earthquake," Booklist contributor Carolyn Phelan went on to comment that readers will be drawn by "the developing stories of the sympathetic characters." In a review in the School Library Journal, Coop Renner wrote that the novel "combines disaster and family longing for a sturdily constructed and affecting look at the past."



Booklist, August, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Seaman: The Dog Who Explored the West with Lewis and Clark, p. 2058; May 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Quake!: Disaster in San Francisco, 1906, p. 1631; November 15, 2004, John Peters, review of Miracle: The True Story of the Wreck of the Sea Venture, p. 576.

School Library Journal, July, 1996, Jacqueline Elsner, review of The Tree that Owns Itself, p. 85; October, 1999, Dona J. Helmer, review of Seaman, p. 152; August 8, 2001, Patti Gonzales, review of Surviving Jamestown: The Adventures of Young Sam Collier; June, 2004, Coop Renner, review of Quake!, p. 144; January, 2005, Rita Soltan, review of Miracle, p. 149.

Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2001, Pam Carlson, review of Surviving Jamestown.


Gail Karwoski Home Page, http://www.gailkarwoski.com (November 1, 2005).