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Larson, Kirby 1954-

Larson, Kirby 1954-

PERSONAL:

Born August 17, 1954, in Seattle, WA; daughter of David Neil (a mechanical contractor) and Donna Marie (a bookkeeper) Miltenberger; married Neil Edwin Larson (a certified public accountant), September 6, 1975; children: Tyler Kenton, Quinn Lois. Education: Western Washington State College, B.A., 1976; University of Washington, M.A., 1980. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, quilting, traveling, birding.

ADDRESSES:

Home and office—Kenmore, WA. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Children's book author. Whidbey Island Writers Workshop, Whidbey Island, WA, former member of creative-writing faculty. Northshore Performing Arts Center Foundation, cofounder. Moorlands Elementary PTA, co-president, 1991-94; Northshore School District, member of board of directors, 1994-2001.

MEMBER:

Author's Guild, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, PEN.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Golden Acorn Award, 1994, for PTA Service; Oppenheim Platinum Award, Cybils Award finalist, Seattle Times Best Book designation, Borders Original Voice designation, Montana Book Award, and Book Links Lasting Connections designation, all 2006, Newbery Honor designation, 2007, and several children's choice awards, all for Hattie Big Sky.

WRITINGS:

FICTION; FOR CHILDREN

Second-Grade Pig Pals, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1994.

Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1996.

The Magic Kerchief, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.

Hattie Big Sky (young-adult novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 2006.

(With Mary Nethery) The Tale of Two Bobbies: A True Story of Huricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival, illustrated by Jean Cassels, Walker (New York, NY), 2008.

"SWEET VALLEY KIDS" CHAPTER-BOOK SERIES

Scaredy-Cat Elizabeth, Bantam Doubleday Dell (New York, NY), 1995.

Elizabeth Hatches an Egg, Bantam Doubleday Dell (New York, NY), 1996.

ADAPTATIONS:

Hattie Big Sky was adapted as an audiobook narrated by Kirsten Potter, Listening Library, 2007.

SIDELIGHTS:

Kirby Larson began her writing career penning chapter books while seated at her kitchen table, setting aside her work to serve up her family's meals. Never a prolific writer, she has nonetheless gained critical praise for creating good-humored stories that accurately reflect the problems and concerns of children in the early elementary grades. Larson focused on plot and character development in her chapter books Second-Grade Pig Pals and Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, as well as in her picture book The Magic Kerchief. Her focus on such details paid off when she turned to older readers in her young-adult novel Hattie Big Sky. The sixth book written by Larson over a span of a dozen years, Hattie Blue Sky earned the Washington State author a prestigious Newbery Honor designation from the American Library Association following its 2006 publication.

Larson's first two chapter books, Second-Grade Pig Pals and Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, introduce a second grader named Quinn. In addition to worries about celebrating a holiday devoted to swine in Second-Grade Pig Day, Quinn finds herself with friend problems when her efforts to befriend Manuela, a new student, are foiled by more-aggressive classmate Annie May. The class bully, with his relentless taunting, tries to ruin Quinn's friendship with a boy in Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree. Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing Larson's first book in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, predicted that young readers will enjoy following Quinn's "travails as she agonizes, in true-to-life second-grade fashion, over the pigs and Manuela." Quinn's solution to her dilemma, which involves the girls working together to compose a limerick about pigs, gives the book a "whole-hoggedly satisfying ending," in the opinion of School Library Journal contributor Janet M. Bair. In Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree Quinn and company "act out this typical school story with a generous measure of humor and sensitivity," concluded Pat Mathews in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, and Kay Weisman declared in Booklist that "Larson has an accurate sense of seven-year-olds' preoccupations and a good ear for dialogue" in the title.

Turning to younger children in The Magic Kerchief, Larson tells the story of a crabby old woman named Griselda, whose terse and insulting remarks win her few friends in her small village. When the sharp-tongued woman's kindness toward a traveling stranger wins her a magic scarf, however, Griselda gains the ability to speak in a way that matches her generosity of heart. Featuring pastel-toned illustrations by Rozanne Litzinger, The Magic Kerchief was praised by School Library Journal reviewer Sheilah Kosco for its "simple, humorous prose" In Publishers Weekly a critic wrote that Larson's "buoyant original folktale bristles with lively description," and a Horn Book critic concluded that the "lighthearted" picture book "offers a humorous take on the theme of kindness being its own reward."

Larson honors the life of her own great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, in her teen novel Hattie Blue Sky. Readers meet Hattie Brooks when she is sixteen years old and an orphan living in Arlington, Iowa. When she receives word that she has inherited a homesteading claim from her Uncle Chester, Hattie makes the journey west to Montana and attempts to improve the claim despite the hardships of wartime between 1917 and 1919 and the efforts of a nearby rancher to take over her land. Noting that the young woman's first year is consumed by her need to survive the harsh conditions and also do the fence-mending, planting, and harvesting required to maintain her claim, Booklist reviewer Kathleen Odean wrote that Larson's "richly textured" novel features "figurative language … that draws on the "sounds, smells, and sights of the prairie." In Kliatt, Claire Rosser predicted that Hattie Big Sky would appeal to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House on the Prairie" series, and wrote that the "strength and intelligence, … courage and loyal friendship" of the novel's protagonist "make her a real hero." Dubbing the book "heartwarming yet poignant," School Library Journal reviewer Sharon Morrison praised Larson's ability to paint, for teens, "a masterful picture of the homesteading experience and the people who persevered." A Kirkus Reviews writer called Hattie Big Sky a "fine offering [that] may well inspire readers to find out more about their own family histories."

Larson once commented: "Once upon a time, there was a little girl with a funny name and blue cats-eye glasses. Her family moved around a lot; nearly every fall, she was the new kid in school. Sometimes she was lonely but she never worried about making friends—she had two brothers and a sister to play with and hundreds of companions in the books she read. When she wasn't reading, the girl liked to build cushion forts in the living room or put on plays for her parents. She never broke any bones or world records, except maybe for reading. The girl loved to read so much that sometimes even her teachers complained!

"When the little girl grew up, she did many things—went to college, worked at a radio station; she even made those annoying sales calls people hang up on. Along the way, she met a handsome prince (maybe not a prince, but definitely handsome), got married and had two children, a boy and a girl. Those babies loved being read to! Which was good because, even though she was grown up, the girl still loved to read. She especially loved to read about George and Martha, Frog and Toad, dear little Frances and anything by Betsy Byars. The girl loved these children's books so much that she wanted to write one herself. So she did.

"And it was awful. She wrote another one and it was worse. And no fairy godmother showed up to help her, either. She kept writing. Some of it was still bad. But some of it was getting better! The girl didn't give up and, one day, one of her stories was published.

"You've no doubt guessed that this fairy tale is about me. Everything's absolutely true—except for the part about not having a fairy godmother. Actually, I have many! They are fellow children's book writers who tell me when my story needs work and give me good ideas about how to fix it, as well as illustrators and designers who make the books look lovely and publicists and booksellers who tell the world about them. That is why I so treasure all my fairy godmothers.

"Just because your books are published doesn't necessarily mean you've arrived. The truth is writers have to start over again with each new book they write—at least I do. After my third book, The Magic Kerchief, debuted, I didn't sell anything for five depressing years. One day I was sitting with my grandmother, who'd been overcome by age and Alzheimers. We were folding kitchen towels and she said the oddest thing: ‘The only time Mom was ever afraid was in the winter when the wild horses stampeded.’ I had no idea what the remark referred to, nor if it was even true, but I had to find out.

"Despite hating history, I immersed myself in genealogy files, national archives, newspapers, and old photos to learn more about my great grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks, who had homesteaded by herself in eastern Montana. Eventually her story became the inspiration for what I soon realized was my first novel. I wrote and wrote and wrote—through the bad stuff—until I began to find some good stuff. I kept writing. Three years later, thanks to the encouragement of my family and dear writing friends, I sold Hattie Big Sky to Delacorte Press. Even if Hattie Big Sky hadn't received a 2007 Newbery Honor award, I would feel successful. I am proud of it not because of any awards or reviews, but because it touches other people just like the books I read as a child and budding writer had touched me.

"Now that I'm hard at work on my next picture book, A Tale of Two Bobbies, a true story of the friendship between a dog and cat that survived Hurricane Katrina together, I'm rediscovering the process all over again. That's the best part about being a writer … and the most frustrating too! There's no secret formula, no one way to go about it. Each book is a new adventure.

"Recently I was visiting a school and a young girl asked me, ‘Do you feel lucky to be writing children's books?’ I answered with an enthusiastic, ‘Yes, I do!’ In fact, as long as I can write children's books, I'll live ‘happily ever after.’"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 1, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Second-Grade Pig Pals, p. 497; April 1, 1996, Kay Weisman, review of Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, p. 1366; August, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Magic Kerchief, p. 2148; September 1, 2006, Kathleen Odean review of Hattie Big Sky, p. 126.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1994, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Second-Grade Pig Pals, p. 1334; September, 1996, Pat Mathews, review of Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, p. 19; March, 2007, Elizabeth Bush, review of Hattie Big Sky, p. 299.

Horn Book, September, 2000, review of The Magic Kerchief, p. 551.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006, review of Hattie Big Sky, p. 906.

Kliatt, September, 2006, Claire Rosser, review of Hattie Big Sky, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, September 18, 2000, review of The Magic Kerchief, p. 111.

School Library Journal, November, 1994, Janet M. Bair, review of Second-Grade Pig Pals, p. 84; April, 1996, Cheryl Cufari, review of Cody and Quinn, Sitting in a Tree, p. 113; November, 2006, Sharon Morrison, review of Hattie Blue Sky, p. 140; July, 2007, Charli Osborne, review of Hattie Blue Sky, p. 56.

Seattle Times, January 27, 2007, "A Plucky Legacy," p. C1.

ONLINE

Kirby Larson Home Page,http://www.kirbylarson.com (July 20, 2007).

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