Lyon, George Ella 1949–
Lyon, George Ella 1949–
PERSONAL: Born April 25, 1949, in Harlan, KY; daughter of Robert Vernon, Jr. (a savings and loan officer) and Gladys (a community worker; maiden name, Fowler) Hoskins; married Stephen Lyon (a musician), June 3, 1972; children: Benjamin, Joseph. Education: Centre College of Kentucky, B.A., 1971; University of Arkansas, M.A., 1972; Indiana University—Bloomington, Ph.D., 1978. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, singing, playing the guitar, long walks, movies, travel, art, cats.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—913 Maywick Dr., Lexington, KY 40504. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Atheneum Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: University of Kentucky, Lexington, former instructor in English and creative writing, beginning 1977, member of executive committee of Women Writers Conference, 1979–84; freelance writer and teacher. Centre College of Kentucky, visiting assistant professor, 1979–80, writer in residence, 1985; Transylvania University, lecturer, 1984–86; Radford University, member of visiting faculty, 1986; University of Kentucky, visiting assistant professor, 1991–92. Coordinator of writers' residency program for Kentucky Arts Council, 1982–84. Member of Nuclear Freeze Group.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association of America, Virginia Woolf Society, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Appalachian Writers Association, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Lamont Hall Award, Andrew Mountain Press, 1983, for Mountain; Golden Kite Award, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1989, for Borrowed Children; Kentucky Bluegrass Award, for Basket; Andrew Mountain Press Award, for Mountain; Book of the Year Award, Appalachian Writers Association, for Catalpa; Best Books of the Year citation, Publishers Weekly, for Who Came Down that Road?; Jesse Stuart Media Award, Kentucky School Media Association, for body of work.
Mountain, Andrew Mountain Press (Hartford, CT), 1983.
Growing Light, Mill Springs Press, 1987.
Catalpa, Wind Publications (Lexington, KY), 1993.
Counting on the Woods, photographs by Ann W. Olson, DK Publishers (New York, NY), 1998.
Father Time and the Day Boxes, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1985.
A Regular Rolling Noah, illustrated by Stephen Gammell, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1986.
One Lucky Girl, illustrated by Irene Trivas, DK Publishers (New York, NY), 2000.
Mother to Tigers, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Sonny's House of Spies, Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2004.
A B Cedar: An Alphabet of Trees, illustrated by Tom Parker, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Together, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Come a Tide, illustrated by Stephen Gammell, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Basket, illustrated by Mary Szilagyi, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Cecil's Story, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
The Outside Inn, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Who Came Down that Road?, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Dreamplace, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Five Live Bongos, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
Mama Is a Miner, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Ada's Pal, illustrated by Marguerite Casparian, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
A Wordful Child, photographs by Ann W. Olson, Richard C. Owen Publishers (Katonah, NY), 1996.
A Day at Damp Camp, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
A Sign, illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.
A Traveling Cat, illustrated by Paul Brett Johnson, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Book, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, DK Ink (New York, NY), 1999.
Weaving the Rainbow, illustrated by Stephanie Anderson, Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2004.
When You Get Little and I Get Big, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2006.
No Dessert Forever!, Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Borrowed Children, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Red Rover, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989, published as The Stranger I Left behind Me, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1997.
Here and Then, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
With a Hammer for My Heart, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Braids (two-act play), first produced in Lexington, KY, at Transylvania University, April, 1985.
A Throne in Goose Rock (young adult novel), Orchard Books/F. Watts (New York, NY), 1987.
Choices: Stories for Adult New Readers, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 1989.
(Editor, with Jim Wayne Miller and Gurney Norman) A Gathering at the Forks: Fifteen Years of the Hindman Settlement School Appalachian Writers Workshop, Vision Books (Wise, VA), 1993.
(Editor, with Bob Henry Baber and Gurney Norman; and author of introduction) Old Wounds, New Words: Poems from the Appalachian Poetry Project, Jesse Stuart Foundation (Ashland, KY), 1994.
Where I'm From: Where Poems Come From, photographs by Robert Hoskins, Absey & Company (Spring, TX), 1999.
Gina.Jamie.Father.Bear. (young adult novel), Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor) A Kentucky Christmas, University Press of Kentucky (Lexington, KY), 2003.
Also author of play Looking Back for Words. Contributor to books, including Virginia Woolf: Centennial Essays, Whitston Press (Troy, NY), 1984; Strings: A Gathering of Family Poems, edited by Paul Janeczko, Bradbury (Scarsdale, NY), 1984; A Gift of Tongues: Critical Challenges in American Poetry, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1987; and Looking for Your Name, edited by Janeczko, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993. Contributor to periodicals, including Indiana Writes, American Voice, Appalachian Journal, and Kentucky Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: You and Me and Home Sweet Home, Trucks Roll!, My Friend, the Starfinder, and Sleepsong, all for Atheneum Books.
SIDELIGHTS: George Ella Lyon is an author who has worked in many genres, including picture books, poetry, juvenile novels, and scholarly articles about American literature and women's issues. Within all of these genres, she frequently focuses on the lives and concerns of the Appalachian people, particularly those in her native state, Kentucky. Lyon grew up near a small coal-mining town amid a large extended family. Her poor vision caused problems for her as a child, but she came to believe it helped develop her ear for storytelling. She began writing early in childhood and kept up with it as she progressed through college, marriage, and motherhood, even though it was not until 1983 that she published her first book, a poetry collection called Mountain. When an editor asked her if she wrote for children, Lyon replied that she did not, but the question sparked an interest in her, and she later wrote many books for children of various age groups.
Lyon's long list of picture books have covered a wide array of subjects. In Mama Is a Miner, for example, she blends poetry and fact to create a book illustrating the life of a female coal miner in Appalachia. The tale is framed by a child's thoughts of her mother. As the child heads off to school, the mother goes to work. Pictures show how the day progresses for each of them as they continue to think about each other. A Publishers Weekly writer found this format "needlessly complicated," but praised the "warmth and originality" in the book. In another picture book, Who Came Down that Road?, Lyon depicts a boy walking with his mother and asking many questions about the road they are on. The poetic narrative travels back through time, showing the road during the Civil War, before European settlement, and even back to the Ice Age. A Publishers Weekly writer called this "an extraordinary picture book."
Besides her picture books, Lyon has created many books for children just learning to read. Mother to Tigers tells the true story of Helen Martini, a woman whose husband worked for the Bronx Zoo during the 1940s. Helen's husband began bringing home baby animals that needed extra care, and Helen eventually founded a nursery at the zoo itself. In time, she became the facility's first female zookeeper. She tells Helen's story in "spare, lyrical prose," according to a Kirkus Reviews writer. Margaret Bush, reviewing the book for the School Library Journal, called it a "simple" but "handsome and intriguing" book.
The author's versatility was again demonstrated in Weaving the Rainbow, a book that combines watercolors and verse to tell a realistic story about a woman who spins and dyes her own yarn, then weaves it to create beautiful tapestries. The process of making yarn and creating with it is illustrated step by step, and "even city slickers will be fascinated by Lyon's lyrical yet concrete descriptions," according to Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson. It is a "beautifully crafted book," in the words of a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Lyon has written numerous books for older children as well. Sonny's House of Spies, set in Alabama in the 1950s, illustrates the turmoil in young Sonny Brad-shaw's life after his parents have a bitter separation. It is years before Sonny figures out that his father is homosexual, and that this was the reason his parents parted ways. Horn Book reviewer Barbara Scotto credited Lyon with accurately capturing the feel of the South in the mid-twentieth century, and added that the "lively novel crackles with wit" even as it explores Sonny's troubles "sensitively." B. Allison Gray, reviewing the book in the School Library Journal, praised the "well-drawn, realistic characters with whom readers with sympathize."
Gina.Jamie.Father.Bear. is a novel aimed at young adult readers. The story revolves around Gina, a freshman in high school. Gina's mother leaves the family, and soon afterwards the girl notices that her father seems to be keeping some sort of early morning appointments. She follows him and discovers that in his confusion over the future he is consulting a psychic. Gina also begins visiting the psychic and undertakes a series of magical experiences that link her to a boy named Jaime. Lyon was praised for her "beautiful, precise, lush, and musical" language in this book by Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg. Horn Book writer Christine M. Heppermann predicted that the story would keep readers "entranced," and it was praised as "thought-provoking" by Beth Wright in the School Library Journal.
Lyon has written novels for adult readers as well, such as With a Hammer for My Heart. Lawanda Ingles, the main character in the novel, hopes to be the first person in her family to attend college, and she works hard selling magazines to try to raise some funds. This leads her to make the acquaintance of Amos Garland, a reclusive old alcoholic who lives in a home fashioned from two school buses. The two form a friendship, which ultimately leads to the unjust imprisonment of Garland. A network of unlikely characters come together in a "rich tale of healing," stated the reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who further recommended With a Hammer for My Heart as a "resonant" novel.
Lyon once told CA: "Writing for me is a spiritual journey. I come to the blank page full of hope that by participating in the process of creation I will have moments of wholeness and understanding. I believe all of us are given different gifts which require that we give up our ego selves in order to receive and pass the gift on. We do this imperfectly, of course, but in the labor we feel God's presence, and in the synthesis of song or poem, dance or painting, we share in the joy of the Maker."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Lyon, George Ella, A Wordful Child, Richard C. Owen Publishers (Katonah, NY), 1996.
Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, June 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Mama Is a Miner, p. 1810; October 1, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of Here and Then, p. 319; October 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Five Live Bongos, p. 437; May 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of A Day at Damp Camp, p. 1512; September 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Wordful Child, p. 121; September 15, 1996, Jean Franklin, review of Ada's Pal, p. 248; February 15, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of A Sign, p. 1041; March 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Counting on the Woods, p. 1130; November 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Traveling Cat, p. 596; May 15, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Book, p. 1693; September 1, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Where I'm From: Where Poems Come From, p. 121; March 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of One Lucky Girl, p. 1250; December 15, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Gina.Jamie.Father.Bear., p. 754; March 1, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Mother to Tigers, p. 1208; February 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Weaving the Rainbow, p. 1063.
Horn Book, March-April, 1993, Ellen Fader, review of Dreamplace, p. 199; March-April, 1995, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Here and Then, p. 193; September-October, 1996, Nancy Vasilakis, review of A Wordful Child, p. 613; November, 1998, Mary M. Burns, review of A Traveling Cat, p. 716; May, 2000, review of One Lucky Girl, p. 297; September-October, 2002, Christine M. Hepper-mann, review of Gina.Jamie.Father.Bear., p. 576; May-June, 2003, Betty Carter, review of Mother to Tigers, p. 369; September-October, 2004, Barbara Scotto, review of Sonny's House of Spies, p. 590.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Mother to Tigers, p. 236; February 1, 2004, review of Weaving the Rainbow, p. 136.
Publishers Weekly, January 12, 1990, Diane Roback, review of Come a Tide, p. 60; March 15, 1991, review of Cecil's Story, p. 58; August 2, 1991, review of The Outside Inn, p. 71; June 29, 1992, review of Who Came Down that Road?, p. 62; January 25, 1993, review of Dreamplace, p. 86; July 11, 1994, review of Mama Is a Miner, p. 78; September 26, 1994, review of Here and Then, p. 71; February 12, 1996, review of A Day at Damp Camp, p. 78; September 1, 1997, review of With a Hammer for My Heart, p. 97; February 2, 1998, review of A Sign, p. 90; February 23, 1998, review of Counting on the Woods, p. 75; July 27, 1998, review of A Traveling Cat, p. 76; March 15, 1999, review of Book, p. 57; March 13, 2000, review of One Lucky Girl, p. 84; September 9, 2002, review of Gina.Jamie.Father.Bear., p. 69; December 23, 2002, review of Mother to Tigers, p. 71; February 16, 2004, review of Weaving the Rainbow, p. 170; July 5, 2004, review of Sonny's House of Spies, p. 56.
School Library Journal, March, 2000, Joy Fleishhacker, review of One Lucky Girl, p. 210; August, 2002, Beth Wright, review of Gina.Jamie.Father.Beart., p. 194; March, 2003, Margaret Bush, review of Mother to Tigers, p. 220; February, 2004, Liza Graybill, review of Weaving the Rainbow, p. 118; August, 2004, B. Allison Gray, review of Sonny's House of Spies, p. 126.
Eastern Kentucky University Web site, http://www.english.eku.edu/ (February 10, 2006), biographical information about George Ella Lyon.
George Ella Lyon's Home Page, http://www.georgeellalyon.com (February 10, 2006).