Moss, Marissa 1959-
MOSS, Marissa 1959-
PERSONAL: Born September 29, 1959; daughter of Robert (a engineer) and Harriet Moss; married Harvey Stahl (a professor; died, 2002); children: Simon, Elias, Asa. Education: University of California—Berkeley, B.A.; attended California College of Arts and Crafts.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scholastic Inc., 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012.
CAREER: Author and illustrator.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, PEN West, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Screenwriters Guild.
self-illustrated picture books
Who Was It?, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1989.
Regina's Big Mistake, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1990.
Want to Play?, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1990.
After-School Monster, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1991.
Knick Knack Paddywack, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1992.
But Not Kate, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1992.
In America, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
Mel's Diner, BridgeWater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
The Ugly Menorah, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1996.
"amelia's notebook" series; self-illustrated
Amelia's Notebook, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1995.
Amelia Writes Again, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1996.
My Notebook with Help from Amelia, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997.
Amelia Hits the Road, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1997.
Amelia Takes Command, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
Dr. Amelia's Boredom Survival Guide: First Aid for Rainy Days, Boring Errands, Waiting Rooms, Whatever!, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 1999.
Luv Amelia, Luv Nadia, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 1999.
The All-New Amelia, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 1999.
Amelia Works It Out, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2000.
Amelia's Family Ties, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2000.
Amelia's Easy-as-Pie Drawing Guide, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2000.
Madame Amelia Tells All, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2001.
Amelia Lends a Hand, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2001.
Oh Boy, Amelia!, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2001.
Amelia's School Survival Guide, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2002.
Amelia's Best Year Ever: Favorite Amelia Stories from American Girl Magazine, Pleasant Co. (Middleton, WI), 2003.
other children's books
True Heart, illustrated by Chris F. Payne, Silver Whistle (New York, NY), 1998.
(And illustrator) Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.
(And illustrator) Emma's Journal: The Story of a Colonial Girl, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1999.
(And illustrator) Hannah's Journal: The Story of an Immigrant Girl, Silver Whistle (New York, NY), 2000.
(And illustrator) Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel, Silver Whistle (New York, NY), 2001.
(And illustrator) Rose's Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression, Silver Whistle (New York, NY), 2001.
(And illustrator) Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome: An Ancient World Journal, Silver Whistle (New York, NY), 2002.
Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen, illustrated by C. F. Payne, Silver Whistle (New York, NY), 2002.
(And illustrator) Max's Logbook, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2003.
(And illustrator) Max's Mystical Logbook, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Catherine Gray, One, Two, Three, and Four—No More?, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1988.
Dr. Hickey, adapter, Mother Goose and More: Classic Rhymes with Added Lines, Additions Press (Oak-land, CA), 1990.
Bruce Coville, The Lapsnatcher, BridgeWater Books (Mahwah, NJ), 1997.
David Schwartz, G Is for Googol, Tricycle Press (Berkeley, CA), 1998.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Writing and illustrating Amelia's Sixth-Grade Notebook, publication by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (New York, NY) expected in 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Author and illustrator Marissa Moss has produced several popular picture books, as well as a series of beginning readers featuring a young writer named Amelia. Beginning with Amelia's Notebook, Moss follows her eponymous heroine through her daily adventures in the fourth grade, as the young protagonist changes schools, makes new friends, and copes with an annoying older sister. Moss has captured the imagination of primary graders with the adventures of her spunky character, and has tempted them with the opportunity to "read the secrets a peer records in her journal," according to Publishers Weekly writer Sally Lodge. Hand-lettered and bound in a manner that resembles a black-and-white school composition book, Amelia's Notebook and its companion volumes Amelia Writes Again and Amelia Hits the Road are "chock-full of personal asides and tiny spot drawings" and contain a "narrative [that] rings true with third-grade authenticity," according to School Library Journal contributor Carolyn Noah.
Moss earned a degree in art history from the University of California at Berkeley. She related, "I could say I never thought I'd be a writer, only an illustrator and writing was forced upon me by a lack of other writers' stories to illustrate. Or I could say I always wanted to be a writer, but I never thought it was really possible. As a voracious reader, it seemed too much of a grown up thing to do, and I'd never be mature enough to do it. Or I could say I've been writing and illustrating childrens' books since I was nine. It just took me longer than most to get published. All these stories are true, each in their own way."
Moss began her career as a picture-book illustrator, working with author Catherine Gray as well as composing her own simple texts. One of her first published efforts as both writer and illustrator, Who Was It?, depicts young Isabelle's quandary after she breaks the cookie jar while attempting to sneak a between-meals snack. Praising Moss's watercolor illustrations, Booklist reviewer Denise Wilms also noted that the book's "moral about telling the truth is delivered with wry, quiet humor." In Regina's Big Mistake, a young artist's frustration with her own inability compared to the rest of her classmates is counteracted by a sensitive art teacher, as Regina is shown how to "draw around" a lumpy sun, transforming it into a moon. Readers "will enjoy the solace of having another child struggling to achieve, and succeeding," maintained Zena Sutherland of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. School Library Journal contributor Ruth Semrau noted that "Moss's crayon cartoons are exactly what is needed to depict the artistic endeavors of very young children."
In After-School Monster, Luisa returns home from school one day to find a sharp-toothed creature waiting in her kitchen. Although scared, she stands up to the monster, turning the tables on the creature and evicting him from the house before Mom gets home. While noting that the theme could frighten very small children contemplating being left alone, a Junior Book-shelf contributor praised Moss's "striking" full-page illustrations, which feature "an imaginative use of changing sizes." And in an equally imaginative picture-book offering, Moss updates the traditional nursery rhyme "Knick Knack Paddywack" with what Sheilamae O'Hara of Booklist described as "rollicking, irreverent verse" and "colorful, action-filled" pictures. The author-illustrator's "use of language will tickle all but the tongue tied," added Jody McCoy in an appraisal of Knick Knack Paddywack for School Library Journal.
"The character of Amelia came to me when I opened a black and white mottled composition book and started to write and draw the way I remembered I wrote and drew when I was nine," Moss said in commenting on the beginnings of her popular "Amelia's Notebook" series. "By that age I was already a pretty good artist, winner of drugstore coloring contests and determined to grow up to be another Leonardo da Vinci." The age of nine was also significant for Moss because that was when she had grown confident enough to send her first illustrated children's book to a publisher. "I don't remember the title, but the story involved an owl's tea party and was in rhymed couplets—bad rhyme I'm sure, as I never got a response from the publisher whose name I mercifully don't recall." Lacking encouragement, Moss left writing for several years, although she continued to tell stories.
The power of storytelling is one of the key themes Moss endeavors to express through her young protagonist, Amelia. "When you write or tell about something," she explained, "you have a kind of control over it, you shape the events, you sort them through, you emphasize some aspects, omit others…. Be sides the flights of pure fancy, the imaginative leaps that storytelling allows, it was this sense of control, of finding order and meaning that mattered most to me as a child."
In the Amelia books, the spunky young chronicler dives into activities in a new school after leaving her old friends behind during a family move. "Amelia is droll and funny and not too sophisticated for her years," noted Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin, who added that the diarist has a more emotional side too, missing her old friends and full of childhood aspirations about her future. In Amelia Writes Again, the heroine has turned ten and has begun a new notebook. In doodles, sketches, and snippets of thoughts Amelia comments on such things as a fire at school and her inability to pay attention during math class. Everything Moss includes in Amelia's notebooks is true, "or," as Moss tells the groups of students she visits, "is based on the truth. Names have all been changed, because my older sister is mad enough at me already, and some details are altered to make for a better story. So, yes, there really was a fire in my school, but the idea of putting treasures in the newly poured pavement didn't occur to me at the time." Moss wishes it had; instead, she was able to let Amelia do so in Amelia Writes Again.
Moss enjoys writing in Amelia's voice because it allows her a flexibility that conventional picture-book writing does not. "I can go back and forth between different kinds of writing—the pure invention of storytelling, the thoughtful searching of describing people and events, and the explorations Amelia takes when she writes about noses or numbers, things she notices and writes down to figure out what it is that she's noticing. In the same way that I can go from describing a new teacher to making a story about clouds, Amelia allows me to move freely between words and pictures. I can draw as Amelia draws or I can use trompe l'oeil for the objects she tapes into her notebook. I can play with the art as much as I play with the text. The notebook format allows me to leap from words to images and this free-flowing back and forth is how I work best. It reflects the way I think—sometimes visually, sometimes verbally—with the pictures not there just to illustrate the text, but to replace it, telling their own story. Often the art allows me a kind of graphic shorthand, a way of conveying what I mean that is much more immediate than words. Kids often ask me which comes first, the words or the pictures. With Amelia, it can be either, and I love that fluidity.
"Amelia is headed in a new direction under her new publisher, American Girl. Besides various Amelia products (including, of course, a journaling kit), there are plans for an Amelia CD-ROM (an electronic journal naturally) and an Amelia video, which will expand Amelia's world—and journal—into animation."
In addition to Amelia's notebooks, Moss has begun a new series, this time focusing on young writers from different historical periods. "Like Amelia's notebooks, the pages will seem like real notebook pages," Moss explained, "with drawings and inserted objects on every page, only the main character will be someone from the past." The first book in the series, Rachel's Journal: The Story of a Pioneer Girl, introduces readers to a girl accompanying her family to California in 1850 along the Oregon Trail. Unlike the Amelia books, which were drawn from the author's own memories, Moss had to spend many hours doing research, reading histories, exploring library archives, and pouring over the actual letters and diaries of people who traversed the United States by covered wagon. "It was, for the most part, rivetting reading and I was impressed with what an enormous undertaking, what a leap of faith it was for pioneers to come here," Moss noted. "It was a dangerous trip. Indians, river crossings, storms, and especially sickness were all feared. But I was struck by the difference between how men and women viewed the journey and how children saw it. To kids, it was a great adventure, troublesome at times, tedious and terrifying at others, but ultimately exciting. These children showed tremendous courage and strength of character, and I tried to capture some of that, as well as the exhilaration of travelling into the unknown, in Rachel's journal."
Critics have praised Moss's books for leading younger readers into the art of journal writing. And Moss couldn't be happier. "The many letters I get from kids show that, inspired by Amelia, they, too, are discovering the magic of writing," she commented. "When readers respond to Amelia by starting their own journals, I feel I've gotten the highest compliment possible—I've made writing cool."
Moss recently added: "Max's Logbook is my latest foray into the world of journal, this time a boy's log-book of his inventions and experiments, with his life written in between."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1989, Denise Wilms, review of Who Was It?, p. 555; March 1, 1992, p. 1287; July, 1992, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of Knick Knack Paddywack, p. 1941; October 1, 1994, p. 333; April 1, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Amelia's Notebook, p. 1391; June 1, 1997, p. 1716; November 15, 1997, p. 561; August, 2001, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Madame Amelia Tells All, p. 2121; January 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Oh Boy, Amelia!, p. 859; March 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Brave Harriet: The First Woman to Fly the English Channel, p. 1146; December 15, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Galen: My Life in Imperial Rome: An Ancient World Journal, p. 760; October 15, 2003, Todd Morning, review of Max's Logbook, p. 412; January 1, 2004, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Mighty Jackie: The Strike-Out Queen, p. 868.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1990, Zena Sutherland, review of Regina's Big Mistake, p. 40; November, 1996, p. 108.
Junior Bookshelf, April, 1993, review of After-School Monster, p. 62.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1989, p. 1248; August 15, 1990, p. 1171; July 1, 1991, p. 865; July 1, 1996, p. 972; September 15, 2002, review of Galen, p. 1396; January 15, 2004, review of Mighty Jackie, p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, June 14, 1991, p. 57; September 30, 1996, Sally Lodge, review of Amelia's Notebook, p. 87; June 16, 1997, p. 61; July 28, 1997, p. 77; August 31, 1998, p. 20; October 21, 2002, review of Galen, p. 76; July 14, 2003, review of Max's Logbook, p. 76; January 19, 2004, review of Mighty Jackie, p. 76.
Reading Today, August, 2001, Lynne T. Burke, review of Amelia Works It Out, p. 30.
School Library Journal, January, 1991, Ruth Semrau, review of Regina's Big Mistake, p. 79; May, 1992, Jody McCoy, review of Knick Knack Paddywack, p. 92; June, 1992, p. 100; December, 1994, p. 79; July, 1995, Carolyn Noah, review of Amelia's Notebook, p. 79; July, 1997, p. 60; November, 1997, p. 95; September, 2001, Ann Chapman Callaghan, review of Brave Harriet, p. 220; October, 2001, Debbie Stewart, review of Oh Boy, Amelia!, p. 126; December, 2001, Roxanne Burg, review of Rose's Journal: The Story of a Girl in the Great Depression, p. 108; October, 2002, Lynda S. Poling, review of Galen, p. 168; October, 2003, Elaine Lesh Morgan, review of Max's Logbook, p. 132; February, 2004, Grace Oliff, review of Mighty Jackie, p. 134.