Mead, Alice 1952-

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MEAD, Alice 1952-

PERSONAL: Born January 11, 1952, in Portchester, NY; daughter of Richard and Jeanne Weber; children: Jeffrey O'Hara, Michael O'Hara. Education: Bryn Mawr College, B.A., 1973; Southern Connecticut State University, M.Ed., 1975; University of Southern Maine, B.A. (art education), 1985. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Flute, gardening, painting, photography, clay.

ADDRESSES: Home—Cape Elizabeth, ME. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 19 Union Square W, New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Has worked as an art teacher in Connecticut and Maine, 1974-92, and as a preschool teacher in Maine, 1980-83. Board member for Project Co-Step for developmentally delayed preschoolers; active in efforts to aid children in Kosovo, Serbia.

MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, New England Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Kosova Action Network, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance.

WRITINGS:

Crossing the Starlight Bridge, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1994.

Walking the Edge, A. Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1995.

Junebug, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1995.

Journey to Kosovo, Loose Cannon Press (Cumberland Center, ME), 1995.

(Editor, with Arnold Neptune) Giants of the Dawnland: Ancient Wabanaki Tales, Loose Cannon Press (Cumberland Center, ME), 1996.

Adem's Cross, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.

Junebug and the Reverend, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1997.

Soldier Mom, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1999.

Billy and Emma, illustrated by Christy Hale, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.

Girl of Kosovo, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.

Junebug in Trouble, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2002.

Year of No Rain, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2003.

Madame Squidley and Beanie, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Isabella's Above-Ground Pool and Lindi Meholli: Origin Unknown, both for Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY).

SIDELIGHTS: Alice Mead's novels for young adults and middle graders often feature young people coping with dire circumstances, who—with ingenuity, determination, and the aid of helpful adults—make positive, if small, changes in their own lives and the lives of those around them. Mead does not shrink from difficult subjects. She has written about the war in Kosovo, famine and civil war in the Sudan, and the perils of reaching manhood in an inner-city housing project. Mead once told CA: "I have always been interested in writing about children who—for some reason—live on the edge of the mainstream society. I feel that authors and artists should travel to these edges, to widen the circle of inclusion through empathy and art."

What Mead's heroes and heroines share is a resiliency of spirit and an ability to find humanity in themselves and others. Junebug, an African-American boy growing up in New Haven, Connecticut, stands up to bullies when they threaten smaller children and nurtures a dream of owning his own boat. Zana Dugolli in Girl of Kosovo saves the lives of her Serbian neighbors during an ethnic-inspired riot. Adem's Cross features a young teen who comes to understand the meaninglessness of war after being attacked and disfigured. As Susan Dove Lempke observed in Booklist, Mead "offers children a glimpse into realistically difficult lives faced with courage, optimism, and conviction."

Mead was born in Portchester, New York, in 1952. On her Web site, she maintains that she began to entertain flights of imagination during a two-year stay in an industrial city in the north of England. The major part of her childhood was spent in America, where she developed an interest in the countries behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. One summer, when she was twenty, she worked at a camp for inner-city children. Observing their delight in the art supplies she provided helped her to decide to be a teacher. "For many years I was an art teacher working with low-income children," Mead once explained. "In America, wealth abounds yet a large proportion of American children are poor. Everyone tells poor kids to have hopes, to dream—but how do you go about it? We have a society that sees children in very negative ways. I like to celebrate the intensity and steadfastness of kids, their creativity and fresh energy."

When an illness made it impossible for Mead to teach anymore, she stayed home and began writing. Her books reflect her experience with youngsters here and abroad, as well as her beliefs in peaceful cooperation and nonviolence. An early inspiration to write about her adopted state of Maine led to the creation of her first novel, Crossing the Starlight Bridge.

Rayanne, the central character in Crossing the Starlight Bridge, is a member of the Penobscot tribe of Native Americans. She and her parents have always lived on their island reservation, but now her father, who is unable to find work there, decides to leave. "Mead deftly establishes a child's point of view with simple and unpretentious language," observed Deborah Stevenson in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noting that Rayanne's misery over her father's absence is deepened when she realizes that she and her mother must leave the island, and her pet rabbit, behind. References to traditional Penobscot lore arise in the character of the grandmother, with whom Rayanne and her mother go to live, "a strong, contemporary, optimistic woman whose warmth and encouragement are restorative," Susan Scheps asserted in School Library Journal. A Kirkus Reviews critic called Crossing the Starlight Bridge "a believable and compelling portrayal of a Native-American family coexisting with white society while retaining its own traditions."

Like Rayanne, Scott, the main character in Walking the Edge, looks to something positive outside of himself to give him strength to endure the poverty and unhappiness of his life. Set in Maine and based on real events, Walking the Edge describes Scott's involvement in a science project that aims to restock the local bay with clams. The title of the book refers to Scott's penchant for perching on a high cliff overlooking the harbor, even though the footing there is precarious. School Library Journal contributor Connie Tyrrell Burns, commenting favorably on Mead's realistic depiction of the turbulent emotions of her adolescent hero, concluded that Scott's "amazement at the delicate and relentless process of life will be shared by readers."

Reeve McClain, known as Junebug, reluctantly approaches his tenth birthday in Mead's novel Junebug, knowing that he will then be recruited to join one of the gangs that terrorize his housing project. Junebug develops an idea he hopes will help him realize his dream of learning to sail and captaining his own boat. He collects and cleans fifty glass bottles and seals in each a piece of paper describing his dream, then sets the bottles free on a boat trip around the harbor in New Haven, Connecticut. "The novel is a hopeful one," Maeve Visser Knoth commented in Horn Book, "in spite of the vivid portrait of the housing project's grim realities." Elizabeth Bush, on the other hand, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, called Junebug's happy ending "soothing but decidedly too easy," though her conclusion echoed that of a critic in Kirkus Reviews, who wrote that "readers will be rooting for Junebug and his dreams all the way." Mead once commented to CA: "I grew up near the water and have always loved boats. I wanted to be either a sea captain or a lighthouse keeper and live on an island. Writing a book is a lot like putting a message in a bottle and tossing it overboard—you never know who will read it! Or where!"

Junebug proved such a popular character that Mead has built a series around him. In Junebug and the Reverend, he moves away from the projects and begins sailing lessons, but still struggles with bullies and with his new duties as an assistant to an elderly emphysema patient. Junebug in Trouble finds the hero trying to maintain his friendship with a buddy from the projects while also developing a mature, realistic view of his incarcerated father. In a Horn Book review of Junebug and the Reverend, Maeve Visser Knoth felt that the themes addressed by Junebug "speak to the life of a young boy faced with many changes." A Kirkus Reviews critic called Junebug in Trouble "a realistic and touching" tale, concluding that the novel offers "a hopeful, yet hard look at youth growing up in the inner city." In her Booklist review of the same novel, Susan Dove Lempke called the novel's hero "a touching character with sensitivity and a loving heart." School Library Journal contributor B. Allison Gray concluded that Junebug in Trouble "will ring true to many young readers and expose others to the challenges faced by children today."

Mead has set two stories in the war-torn state of Kosovo: Adem's Cross and Girl of Kosovo. Both novels take a candid approach to describing the lives of children in a war zone—something the author observed first-hand during visits to the former Yugoslavia. In Adem's Cross, Kosovo has been taken over by Serbian soldiers bent on "cleansing" the population of Albanians, descendants of the land's ancient conquerors. Twelve-year-old Adem and his family have been waiting for the Serb troops to leave their hometown for four years when Adem's older sister takes the bold stance of participating in a peaceful demonstration against the invaders. She is subsequently killed by Serb soldiers, and Adem, enraged at his family's passivity, rebels by going out alone one night. He is caught by three soldiers who break his hand and carve a Serbian symbol, a Cyrillic cross, into his chest with a knife. He decides to leave Kosovo and is aided in his flight by a Serb and a gypsy, both of whom teach him lessons in practical politics. "Mead preps readers with a quick, efficient sketch of Yugoslavia's recent history before jumping into this disturbing society," observed Marilyn Payne Phillips in School Library Journal. Critics noted that Mead does not take sides in the real-life deadly conflict. Instead, she "writes powerfully and eloquently about Adem's attempt to understand why people mistreat each other," Susan Dove Lempke remarked in Booklist.

Mead herself once told CA: "For the past [several] years, I have been traveling to Eastern Europe. When I was little, I was told that these countries lay behind the Iron Curtain, a place Americans didn't go. Since the collapse of communism, I have traveled there . . . to document the conditions of children's lives. My novel, Adem's Cross, is about the cleansing of Albanian children in southern Serbia. I have brought nine teenagers to the United States to study in high schools in Maine. In addition, a group of schools got together and sent a truckload of toys to Kosovo, Serbia."

Girl of Kosovo presents the civil war in Kosovo from the point of view of Zana Dugolli, an Albanian girl who also suffers at the hands of the Kurds. Zana witnesses the murders of her father and brothers and is herself injured in the same attack. As she recuperates slowly, she struggles to remember her father's advice: "Don't let them fill your heart with hate." It is this advice that ultimately guides Zana as she returns to her village and her friendship with a Serbian girl her age. In Booklist, Hazel Rochman described Girl of Kosovo as a "moving novel," adding: "The power in the story is the personal drama." Describing the story as "powerful and hard-hitting," a Publishers Weekly critic remarked that Mead's book "places a human face on the Kosovo crisis."

Continuing to deal with the theme of war, but from a different perspective, Mead's novel Soldier Mom deals with a problem inherent when countries go to war: how families continue with their daily lives as their soldier relatives are sent abroad to fight. Eleven-yearold Jasmyn Williams finds her life turned upside down when her mother, an Army Reservist, is called to active duty in the Persian Gulf War. Suddenly Jasmyn faces an onslaught of adult responsibilities—cooking, cleaning, caring for her baby half-brother—while all she wants to do is play basketball for her school team. Jasmyn's mother's boyfriend, Jake, proves inept as a substitute parent, leaving Jasmyn frustrated and overwhelmed. A Horn Book reviewer found Jasmyn to be "a realistically prickly heroine" and the book "an entirely convincing and involving picture." A Publishers Weekly critic praised Mead's "sharply focused" writing, noting that the "emotions of the heroine are consistently authentic." In Reading Today, Lynne T. Burke concluded that Soldier Mom "provides insight and confidence that families can survive."

Year of No Rain visits another brutal civil war, this time in the Sudan. In a region laid waste by drought, Stephen Kajok becomes the sole survivor of his family after his father goes away to fight, his two brothers die of disease, and his mother and his sister are kidnapped by rebels. In order to avoid the violence, Stephen and his friend Wol strike out on their own to find a refugee camp. School Library Journal contributor Sue Giffard maintained that Mead "gives voice to a vulnerable, often forgotten group of people," while a Kirkus Reviews critic called Year of No Rain "an artfully told story" in which "Mead puts civil war in human terms through the eyes of one young boy."

Mead lives in a house that overlooks Casco Bay off the coast of Maine. On her Web site the author said, "When I'm stuck writing a story, I can go sit on the rocks and watch the water for a while, something I have enjoyed doing throughout my life."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Adem's Cross, pp. 579, 581; September 1, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Junebug and the Reverend, p. 120; September 1, 1999, Chris Sherman, review of Soldier Mom, p. 127; March 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Girl of Kosovo, p. 1401; April 15, 2002, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Junebug in Trouble, p. 1402; August, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Year of No Rain, p. 1983.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of Crossing the Starlight Bridge, p. 329; December, 1995, Elizabeth Bush, review of Junebug, pp. 133-134; December, 1999, Deborah Stevenson, review of Soldier Mom, p. 142.

Horn Book, March, 1996, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Junebug, p. 198; September-October, 1998, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Junebug and the Reverend, p. 612; September, 1999, review of Soldier Mom, p. 614; May-June, 2002, Roger Sutton, review of Junebug in Trouble, p. 334.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1994, review of Crossing the Starlight Bridge, p. 634; September 1, 1995, review of Junebug, p. 1284; February 1, 2002, review of Junebug in Trouble, p. 184; May 1, 2003, review of Year of No Rain, p. 680.

New York Times Book Review, January 14, 1996, pp. 23, 66.

Publishers Weekly, December 6, 1999, review of Soldier Mom, p. 77; March 19, 2001, review of Girl of Kosovo, p. 100; May 19, 2003, review of Year of No Rain, p. 74.

Reading Today, February-March, 2002, Lynne T. Burke, review of Soldier Mom, p. 32.

School Library Journal, June, 1994, Susan Scheps, review of Crossing the Starlight Bridge, pp. 132-133; December, 1995, Connie Burns Tyrrell, review of Walking the Edge, p. 106; November, 1996, Marilyn Payne Phillips, review of Adem's Cross, p. 109; May, 2000, Susan Hepler, review of Billy and Emma, p. 150; March, 2001, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Girl of Kosovo, p. 254; March, 2002, B. Allison Gray, review of Junebug in Trouble, p. 235; May, 2003, Sue Giffard, review of Year of No Rain, p. 157.

ONLINE

Alice Mead Home Page,http://www.alicemead.com/ (July 2, 2003).