Born in Modesto, CA; married; husband's name Joe.
Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, 1973-75, Kenya, 1975-76, and the Seychelles, 1976-78; traveled to Sudan, Venezuela, Galapagos Islands, and Antarctica, 1978-81; writer, 1981—. Founder of KidsCare (charitable organization), 2001—; cofounder of Women to Women (a magazine in Ethiopia), 1998, and La Parole aux Femmes (a magazine in Mali), 2001; writer-in-residence at Julius E. Sprauve School, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Best Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, 1996, for All the King's Animals: The Return of Endangered Wildlife to Swaziland; Best Books of 1995 selection, Bank Street College of Education, for One Night: A Story from the Desert; Best Books of 2000 selection, Bank Street College of Education, and Africana Honor Book Award, African Studies Association, 2001, both for My Great-Grandmother's Gourd; Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, Best Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, and Best Books selection, Bank Street College of Education, all 2000, and Popular Paperbacks for Teenagers selection, American Library Association, 2002, all for No Condition Is Permanent; Henry Bergh Honor Award, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 2002, for Jubela.
One Night: A Story from the Desert, illustrated by Ian Schoenherr, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1995.
All the King's Animals: The Return of Endangered Wildlife to Swaziland, illustrated with photographs by Kessler, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1995.
Konte Chameleon, Fine, Fine Fine! A West African Folktale, illustrated by Christian Epanya, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1997.
No Condition Is Permanent (novel), Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2000.
My Great-Grandmother's Gourd, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Jubela, illustrated by JoEllen McAllister Stammen, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 2001.
Our Secret, Siri Aang (novel), Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa, illustrated by Leonard Jenkins, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals.
Cristina Kessler, a former Peace Corps volunteer, uses her experiences in Africa to inform her critically acclaimed works, including No Condition Is Permanent and Jubela. "All my book ideas come from real experiences I have seen first hand," Kessler noted on her home page. She added, "I love Africa, and I write to celebrate Africa in general, and the various cultures that are facing the challenge of change today, and to record them permanently."
Kessler joined the Peace Corps in 1973, serving in the Honduras, Kenya, and the Seychelles, and she has also lived in Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Mexico, Niger, Mozambique, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Mali. Her first book, One Night: A Story from the Desert, centers on Muhamad, a Tuareg boy who must overcome his fears while tending his family's goat herd in Niger. Booklist contributor Janice Del Negro complimented the author's "poetic text," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer called book "resonant and stirring." In a nonfiction work, All the King's Animals: The Return of Endangered Wildlife to Swaziland, Kessler describes the efforts of conservationist Ted Reilly. Kessler's text and photographs make the work "a delight for browsers as well as useful for report writers," stated Kay Weisman in Booklist.
Kessler retells a traditional story in Konte Chameleon, Fine, Fine Fine! A West African Folktale. In Booklist, Julie Corsaro praised the work's "gentle humor and vigorous artwork." Set in Sudan, My Great-Grandmother's Gourd explores how the members of a small village combine modern technology and established customs. Booklist critic Gillian Engberg described My Great-Grandmother's Gourd as "a lyrically told story with cultural particulars woven gracefully into the text."
In her young adult novel No Condition Is Permanent, Kessler examines the controversial subject of female circumcision. While living in Sierra Leone with her anthropologist mother, fourteen-year-old Jodie befriends Khadi, a local girl who comes of age and must undergo secret initiation rites. When Jodie learns that Khadi will be circumcised, she tries to rescue her friend, despite strict restrictions against her involvement. Kessler "explores sophisticated issues of cultural contrast," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer, and Engberg similarly noted that "Jodie's strident, flawed attempts at heroic behavior raise crucial questions about cultural perspectives and human rights."
Jubela, based on an incident in Swaziland, concerns an orphaned baby rhino whose mother has been killed by poachers. "Kessler's prose effectively distills the drama of the events for a picture book audience," a Publishers Weekly critic stated. In Our Secret, Siri Aang, twelve-year-old Namelok, a Maasai girl in Kenya who wants to break from tradition and attend school, vows to protect a newborn rhinoceros from poachers. When the rhino's mother is shot, Namelok travels alone through the bush to track the baby. Namelok "is a curious and courageous character, caught between the values of a nomadic culture and a more sedentary modern society," noted Kathleen Isaacs in School Library Journal. A spirited Ethiopian girl enters a male-dominated profession in The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa. "Kessler includes well-chosen details about the beekeeping project," commented School Library Journal reviewer Margaret Bush.
On the Fiction Teachers Web site, Kessler stated: "I hope to create a curiosity about the world with my books. In today's world, connecting kids across continents and oceans seems more important than ever before. By introducing kids from other cultures through my books and slide shows I hope to promote tolerance and acceptance of different lifestyles, religions, or ways of life at an early age. My books can take kids to foreign lands long before they have passports."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1995, Janice Del Negro, review of One Night: A Story from the Desert, p. 1882; October 15, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of All the King's Animals: The Return of Endangered Wildlife to Swaziland, p. 398; October 1, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of Konte Chameleon Fine, Fine, Fine! A West African Folktale, p. 336; December 1, 1999, Gillian Engberg, review of No Condition Is Permanent, p. 696; January 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of My Great-Grandmother's Gourd, p. 970; February 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Jubela, p. 1056; November 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Our Secret, Siri Aang, p. 584; August 1, 2006, Hazel Rochman, review of The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela: A Tale from Africa, p. 88.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2004, review of Our Secret, Siri Aang, p. 964; July 1, 2006, review of The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela, p. 678.
Publishers Weekly, May 1, 1995, review of One Night, p. 58; January 24, 2000, review of No Condition Is Permanent, p. 312; January 15, 2001, review of Jubela, p. 75.
School Library Journal, December, 2000, Tammy K. Baggett, review of My Great-Grandmother's Gourd, p. 112; March, 2001, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of Jubela, p. 213; November, 2004, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Our Secret, Siri Aang, p. 146; August, 2006, Margaret Bush, review of The Best Beekeeper of Lalibela, p. 90.
Authors Den Web site,http://www.authorsden.com/ (July 15, 2008), profile of Cristina Kessler.
Cristina Kessler Home Page,http://www.cristinakessler.com (July 15, 2008).
Fiction Teachers Web site,http://www.fictionteachers.com/ (July 15, 2008), interview with Kessler.
Peace Corps Writers Web site,http://www.peacecorpswriters.org/ (March, 2000), John Coyne, interview with Kessler.