Meyer, Carolyn (Mae) 1935-

views updated

MEYER, Carolyn (Mae) 1935-

PERSONAL: Born June 8, 1935, in Lewistown, PA; daughter of H. Victor (in business) and Sara (maiden name, Knepp) Meyer; married Joseph Smrcka, June 4, 1960 (divorced, 1973); married E. A. Mares (an author and educator), May 30, 1987; children: (first marriage) Alan, John, Christopher. Education: Bucknell University, B.A. (cum laude), 1957. Politics: Liberal. Religion: Episcopalian.

ADDRESSES: Home—Albuquerque, NM. Office—202 Edith Blvd. N.E., Albuquerque, NM 87102. Agent—Amy Berkower, Writers House Inc., 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Worked as a secretary, late 1950s; freelance writer, 1963—. Institute of Children's Literature, instructor, 1973-79; Bucknell University, Alpha Lambda Delta Lecturer, 1974, guest lecturer in children's literature, 1976-78. Presenter at workshops in high schools and colleges.

MEMBER: Authors Guild, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Notable Book citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1971, for The Bread Book, 1976, for Amish People, and 1979, for C. C. Poindexter; Children's Book Showcase award, Children's Book Council, 1977, for Amish People; Best Books citation, New York Times, 1977, for Eskimos: Growing Up in a Changing Culture; Best Books for Young Adults citation, ALA, 1979, for C. C. Poindexter, 1980, for The Center: From a Troubled Past to a New Life, 1985, for The Mystery of the Ancient Maya, 1986, for Voices of South Africa and Denny's Tapes, 1992, for Where the Broken Heart Still Beats, 1993, for White Lilacs; YASD Best Books citation, Voice of Youth Advocates, 1988, for Denny's Tapes and Voices of South Africa; Author of the Year Award, Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, 1990; Northwest Librarians Association Readers' Choice Award, 2000, for Mary, Bloody Mary.



Miss Patch's Learn-to-Sew Book, illustrated by Mary Suzuki, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1969.

(Self-illustrated) Stitch by Stitch: Needlework for Beginners, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1970.

The Bread Book: All about Bread and How to MakeIt, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1971.

Yarn: The Things It Makes and How to Make Them, illustrated by Jennifer Perrott, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1972.

Saw, Hammer, and Paint: Woodworking and Finishing for Beginners, illustrated by Toni Martignoni, Morrow (New York, NY), 1973.

Christmas Crafts: Things to Make the 24 Days beforeChristmas, illustrated by Anita Lobel, Harper (New York, NY), 1974.

Milk, Butter, and Cheese: The Story of Dairy Products, illustrated by Giulio Maestro, Morrow (New York, NY), 1974.

The Needlework Book of Bible Stories, illustrated by Janet McCaffery, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975.

People Who Make Things: How American CraftsmenLive and Work, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1975.

Rock Tumbling: From Stones to Gems to Jewelry, photographs by Jerome Wexler, Morrow (New York, NY), 1975.

Amish People: Plain Living in a Complex World, photographs by Michael Ramsey, Gerald Dodds, and the author, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1976.

Coconut: The Tree of Life, illustrated by Lynne Cherry, Morrow (New York, NY), 1976.

Lots and Lots of Candy, illustrated by Laura Jean Allen, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976.

Eskimos: Growing Up in a Changing Culture, photographs by John McDougal, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.

Being Beautiful: The Story of Cosmetics from AncientArt to Modern Science, illustrated by Marika, Morrow (New York, NY), 1977.

Mask Magic, illustrated by Melanie Gaines Arwin, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978.

The Center: From a Troubled Past to a New Life, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.

Rock Band: Big Men in a Great Big Town, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.

(With Charles Gallenkamp) The Mystery of the Ancient Maya, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985, revised edition, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.

Voices of South Africa: Growing Up in a TroubledLand, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1986.

Voices of Northern Ireland: Growing Up in a TroubledLand, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1987.

A Voice from Japan: An Outsider Looks In, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1988.

In a Different Light: Growing Up in a Yup'ik EskimoVillage in Alaska, photographs by John McDonald, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1996.


C. C. Poindexter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1979.

Eulalia's Island, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.

The Summer I Learned about Life, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.

The Luck of Texas McCoy, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.

Elliott & Win, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.

Denny's Tapes, McElderry (New York, NY), 1987.

Wild Rover, McElderry (New York, NY), 1989.

Killing the Kudu, McElderry (New York, NY), 1990.

Japan-How Do Hands Make Peace? Earth InspectorsNo. 10, McGraw (New York, NY), 1990.

Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1992.

White Lilacs, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.

Rio Grande Stories, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.

Drummers of Jericho, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Gideon's People, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1996.

Jubilee Journey, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1997.


Isabel, Jewel of Castilla, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

Anastasia, the Last Grand Duchess, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.

Kristina, Girl King of Sweden, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.


Mary, Bloody Mary, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.

Beware, Princess Elizabeth, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2001.

Doomed Queen Anne, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.


Because of Lissa, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.

The Problem with Sidney, Bantam (New York, NY), 1990.

Gillian's Choice, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.

The Two Faces of Adam, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.


Brown Eyes Blue (novel), Bridge Works (Bridgehampton, NY), 2003.


McCall's (magazine), author of columns "Cheers and Jeers," 1967-68, and "Chiefly for Children," 1968-72, and of multi-part series on crafts and women, and consulting editor for "Right Now" section, 1972. Contributor of articles and book reviews to periodicals, including Family Circle, Redbook, Golf Digest, Los Angeles Times, Accent on Leisure, Town and Country, Publishers Weekly, and Americana.

SIDELIGHTS: The author of approximately fifty books for young readers, Carolyn Meyer has achieved notable success in both nonfiction and fiction. She has written numerous well-received books based on her encounters with Yup'ik Eskimos, members of Amish religious groups, rock-and-roll bands, and the peoples of South Africa, Northern Ireland, and Japan. Additionally, she has also produced a score of young adult novels, including award-winners such as C. C. Poindexter, Denny's Tapes, Where the Broken Heart Still Beats, and White Lilacs. Meyer is also the author of the Bantam "Hotline" series about high schoolers who staff a counseling hotline and confront such strong issues as teen suicide and drug abuse, and she has introduced younger readers to such important historical figures as England's Queen Elizabeth I, Isabel of Castile, and Anne Boleyn. A widely traveled author, Meyer has sometimes taken on projects that challenge her both physically and emotionally. Her approach to writing is pragmatic and disciplined. She told the Albuquerque Journal: "I know how to do these (young reader) books and do them well."

Meyer's career falls into roughly three segments. In her early years as a published author, she wrote many "how-to" craft books for younger readers. She then accepted the challenge of writing about different cultures, from the Pennsylvania Amish to the citizens of South Africa and Northern Ireland. More recently she has penned a number of historical novels, some in diary form and others in first person. Interspersed throughout, she has created fiction from the events of her personal life and from the experiences of her sons and stepdaughter. Inspiration is found in moments of everyday life or from the suggestions of editors, friends, and even strangers. Like many another author for youngsters, Meyer often puts herself in a challenged child's shoes in order to understand the special pressures that child feels during his or her most troubling formative years.

One day while visiting her mother in her old home-town of Lewistown, Pennsylvania, Meyer passed an Amish family—one of many in the general area—riding in their horse-drawn buggy. Members of Amish religious groups typically shun much of the technology that has been invented since the original Amish congregations were founded in Germany and Switzerland centuries ago. Meyer, a German American, realized that she had grown up in their presence without ever trying to get to know them. Her curiosity sparked Amish People: Plain Living in a Complex World. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Edward Hoagland called Meyer's book "an excellent introduction to Amishism." Soon thereafter she encountered a white woman who had married into an Yup'ik Eskimo family in Alaska, and the two worked together to describe the woman's new way of life for the book Eskimos: Growing Up in a Changing Culture. Almost twenty years later, Meyer returned to the fictionalized Yup'ik village of that book to take a look at what changes the years had wrought for the next generation in the book, In a Different Light: Growing Up in a Yup'ik Eskimo Village in Alaska. Booklist reviewer Chris Sherman remarked that in In a Different Light, the author "provides a vivid and thoughtful portrait of a culture in transition."

Meyer's ability to explain different cultures drew the attention of an editor at the Harcourt publishing house, who brought her a challenging project: travel to South Africa—scene of great racial tension between an oppressed black majority and the ruling white minority—and gather material for a book that would show young people what it was like to grow up there. The book became Voices of South Africa: Growing Up in a Troubled Land. Billing herself simply as a children's author, Meyer toured South Africa and spoke to as many different kinds of people as she could, although she found that white people were sometimes defensive, children were sometimes afraid to speak freely in the presence of their teachers, and black people were difficult for any white writer to meet. Despite such obstacles, as Cathi MacRae wrote in Wilson Library Bulletin, "Meyer still manages to offer an engrossing personal account of one American's effort to understand. She smoothly combines travelogue, conversations, and historical background." A writer for Kirkus Reviews called the work a "brilliant study" and declared: "Readers who seek understanding, rather than easy answers, will find it here."

Meyer repeated the formula from Voices of South Africa to create additional books in the same format. A visit to Northern Ireland resulted in Voices of Northern Ireland: Growing Up in a Troubled Land, a record of her journey and of the interviews she conducted with Protestants and Catholics alike. Horn Book's Ethel R. Twichell commented, "Meyer is a shrewd observer and appears to have had the gift of encouraging the young to talk to her." A visit to Japan, however, was much different than the other journeys. Faced with a language and cultural barrier, the author decided to emphasize her own perplexed response to Japanese customs. The resulting book was appropriately entitled A Voice from Japan: An Outsider Looks In. Rosie Peasley, writing in School Library Journal, suggested that Meyer's honest voice would keep readers "turning pages happily" because of "fascinating details about Japanese homes, bedding, food, education, and customs."

Meyer's first published novel, C. C. Poindexter, is somewhat autobiographical. C. C., a fifteen-year-old girl who is six-foot-one and getting taller, tries to find a sense of direction for her life while watching her parents struggle through the aftermath of divorce. The book is almost painfully accurate in its depiction of a teenager who feels alienated from her peers and equally alone at home. This debut novel earned Meyer a "Best Books for Young Adults" citation from the American Library Association and convinced her that her writing could go in nonfiction and fiction directions, both of which she has continued to follow.

One of Meyer's sons helped inspire her second novel. One summer Meyer took her children with her to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. There, as she researched a fairly conventional book about coconuts, her son had a more eye-opening experience when he became friends with a black family that lived permanently on the island. Meyer adapted her son's adventure for Eulalia's Island, in which thirteen-year-old Sam, a morose boy from Pennsylvania, goes along on a family vacation to the Caribbean, meets fourteen-year-old island native Eulalia, and gains a new appreciation of life and himself.

Meanwhile Meyer, who had spent a dozen years living as a homemaker in suburban Connecticut, looked around for a new place to live as part of her new life as a professional writer. She finally settled in New Mexico, and then later, with her second husband, moved to Texas. In the years since Meyer went west, many of her young adult novels—including The Luck of Texas McCoy, Elliott & Win, and Wild Rover—have been set in the region and have been inspired by people she met there. The title character of Texas McCoy is a sixteen-year-old girl who inherits a New Mexico ranch and battles successfully to keep it running. "Meyer writes with storytelling flair," said Trev Jones in School Library Journal, "and young readers will sense immediately the importance of Texas' inheritance to her."

Elliott & Win tells the story of fourteen-year-old Win who hopes to receive some adult guidance in a Big Brother sort of program, but when he is paired with opera-loving Elliott, he is disappointed. Disappointment soon turns to distrust when a buddy tells Win that Elliott is probably homosexual; however, Win eventually comes to appreciate his new friend. David Gale, writing in School Library Journal, called this a "well-crafted story of human concerns."

Another award-winning fiction title from Meyer is the 1987 novel Denny's Tapes, in which the seventeen-year-old boy of the title, the child of a black father and white mother, is caught in the middle of a new marriage. When his mother remarries, Denny finds himself falling in love with his new white stepsister. Thrown out of the house, he drives cross-country in search of his father and his roots. Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman felt that teens would be interested in "the gritty details of Denny's journey," and "moved by the search for a father which is also a struggle for identity."

Never one to shy away from difficult subjects, Meyer deals with physical disability in Killing the Kudu. Eighteen-year-old Alex, a paraplegic, learns to deal with his life, coming to terms with the cousin who caused his disability and finding his first love. Dislocation is the theme of Where the Broken Heart Still Beats, a fictionalized account of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped as a child by Comanches and reunited with her biological family twenty-five years later. But once forcibly rejoined with her white relatives, Cynthia feels lost and longs for her Indian life. The only friend she finds in her new life is her adolescent cousin, Lucy, who narrates the tale. Betsy Hearne, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, dubbed this a "thoughtful and thought-provoking book," while School Library Journal correspondent Ann W. Moore called it a "fascinating look at the Comanche and their captives."

More Texas history is served up in the novels White Lilacs and Jubilee Journey, both of which deal with race relations in a small town. In the first of these companion volumes, the year is 1921 and twelve-yearold Rose Lee watches as her black community is threatened by the whites in the town of Dillon. The white townspeople, wanting to create a park out of a stretch of land where blacks have settled, try to move them to a miserable tract of land outside of town. "Perfectly evoking time and place, Meyer carefully layers detail upon detail," noted Cindy Darling Codell in a School Library Journal review of the novel. Codell concluded: "Thoughtful readers will hope for an encore." In 1997, Meyer continued the story in Jubilee Journey. This time, many years have passed and Rose Lee's granddaughter and great-grandchildren come south to Dillon from their northern home. Emily Rose, one of these great-grandchildren and one who has always felt comfortable in her enlightened Connecticut community, learns some new and painful truths about the history of her family and about the history of race relations in America.

In 1999 Meyer shifted her focus to European royals with Mary, Bloody Mary. This book takes readers back into the sixteenth century, where Meyer provides a "riveting slice of fictional royal history" which "paints a sympathetic portrait of Henry VIII's oldest daughter, before she earns the title Bloody Mary," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. More such historical fiction followed, including Isabel, Jewel of Castilla, the story of the Queen of Spain's early years, Anastasia, the Last Grand Duchess, an account of the daughter of the last emperor of Russia, Beware, Princess Elizabeth, about Bloody Mary's younger sister, and Doomed Queen Anne, the second wife of Henry VIII. In School Library Journal, Cheri Estes called Beware, Princess Elizabeth a "gripping historical drama" of a real historical figure whose "intelligence, drive, and independence will appeal to today's readers." Carolyn Phelan in Booklist praised Doomed Queen Anne as "an involving narrative that offers a believable portrait of a flawed, even unsympathetic, woman."

Meyer has also written a four-volume series for Bantam, "Hotline," about a group of high school kids operating an emergency phone service. Teen suicide is dealt with in the first of these, Because of Lissa, in which the phone service is inaugurated as a response to Lissa's death. "YAs will welcome this book, as it offers a solution with sensitivity and understanding," commented Linda Zoppa in a School Library Journal review. Subsequent volumes continue with the adventures and encounters of this hotline group, dealing with sex, runaways, and alcohol and drug abuse. In order to research these books, Meyer herself volunteered at an emergency hotline for several months.

Meyer began her career trying to write for adults, with little success. After more than thirty years as a children's book author, she finally published her first adult novel, Brown Eyes Blue, in 2003. The book is a multi-generational portrait of a grandmother, mother, and daughter, all of whom conceal secrets from one another despite their close ties. Set in the Pennsylvania countryside, the story begins with grandmother Lavinia's decision to paint graphic male nudes rather than the bucolic Amish scenes for which she has become noted. Facing a turning point of her own, Lavinia's daughter Dorcas returns home and opens a bed-and-breakfast inn. Sasha, Dorcas's daughter, comes onto the scene with her own life-altering decisions already made. Library Journal correspondent Sheila Riley noted of the book: "Most of the characters are fully and interestingly drawn," and Danise Hoover in Booklist commended the piece for its "three very interesting women who take turns narrating." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that the author "makes a charming adult debut with this novel....Meyer weaves the story of three generations of women who, with their distinctive voices, will endear themselves to readers."

Whether writing about distant cultures, gawky adolescents, or teenagers at risk, Meyer "eschews the easy plotline and delves into the uncomfortable realities of our world," according to M. Jean Greenlaw and Elizabeth D. Schafer writing in the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. Green and Schafer concluded that a reader "awaits her new works with a sense of anticipation."



Authors of Books for Young People, 3rd edition, Scarecrow (Metuchen, NJ), 1990.


Albuquerque Journal, June 10, 2001, David Steinberg, "Author Turns Out Reams for Young Readers," p. F8.

Booklist, November 1, 1987, Hazel Rochman, review of Denny's Tapes, pp. 466-467; November 15, 1990, p. 655; October 1, 1994, p. 328; June 1, 1995, p. 1753; March 15, 1996, p. 1282; May 1, 1996, Chris Sherman, review of In a Different Light: Growing Up in a Yup'ik Eskimo Village in Alaska, p. 1496; September 1, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of Jubilee Journey, p. 126; March 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Beware, Princess Elizabeth, p. 1278; September 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Doomed Queen Anne, p. 222; March 15, 2003, Danise Hoover, review of Brown Eyes Blue, p. 1275.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1978, p. 131; November, 1978, p. 48; December, 1979, p. 75; October, 1984, p. 32; May, 1986, p. 174; November, 1986, p. 55; November, 1987, p. 52; November, 1988, p. 80; January, 1991, pp. 125-26; November, 1992, Betsy Hearne, review of Where the Broken Heart Still Beats: The Story of Cynthia Ann Parker, pp. 117-118; September, 1994, p. 19; April, 1995, p. 282; May, 1996, p. 309; September, 1997, p. 19.

Horn Book, August, 1975, p. 391; August, 1976, p. 415; February, 1978, p. 61; December, 1978, p. 646; October, 1982, p. 520; May, 1987, p. 358; January-February, 1988, Ethel R. Twichell, review of Voices of Northern Ireland: Growing Up in a Troubled Land, p. 87; September-October, 1996, Margaret A. Bush, review of In a Different Light,p. 622.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 1986, p. 215; September 1, 1986, review of Voices of South Africa: Growing Up in a Troubled Land, p. 1377; September 1, 1987, p. 1323; October 1, 1992, p. 1258; July 15, 1993, p. 937; June 15, 1994, p. 849; April 15, 1996, p. 604.

Library Journal, April 1, 2003, Sheila Riley, review of Brown Eyes Blue, p. 130.

New York Times Book Review, May 9, 1976, Edward Hoagland, review of Amish People: Plain Living in a Complex World, p. 14; December 18, 1977, p. 23; January 20, 1980, p. 30; July 16, 1995, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, May 30, 1994, p. 57; May 8, 1995, p. 296; September 27, 1999, review of Mary, Bloody Mary, p. 106; May 19, 2003, review of Brown Eyes Blue, p. 54.

School Library Journal, September, 1982, p. 141; February, 1985, Trev Jones, review of The Luck of Texas McCoy, p. 86; March, 1986, David Gale, review of Elliott & Win, p. 178; November, 1988, Rosie Peasley, review of A Voice from Japan: An Outsider Looks In, p. 138; November, 1990, p. 50; January, 1991, Linda Zoppa, review of Because of Lissa, p. 114; July, 1991, p. 88; September, 1992, Ann W. Moore, review of Where the Broken Heart Still Beats, pp. 278-279; October, 1993, Cindy Darling Codell, review of White Lilacs, p. 152; September, 1995, pp. 219, 227; June, 1996, Mollie Bunum, review of In a Different Light, p. 162; January, 1998, p. 114; October, 1999, p. 154; July, 2000, Ann W. Moore, review of Isabel: Jewel of Castilla, p. 108; October, 2000, Susan Shaver, review of Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess,p. 166; May, 2001, Cheri Estes, review of Beware, Princess Elizabeth, p. 156; August, 2002, Mercedes Smith, review of Isabel, p. 559; October, 2002, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Doomed Queen Anne, p. 168.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1991, p. 354; April, 1993, p. 27; June, 1995, p. 96; June, 1996, p. 98; August, 1996, p. 150.

Wilson Library Bulletin, December, 1988, Cathi Mac-Rae, "The Young Adult Perplex," p. 92.


Carolyn Meyer Home Page, (May 6, 2003).

About this article

Meyer, Carolyn (Mae) 1935-

Updated About content Print Article