Reynolds, Marilynn 1940-
REYNOLDS, Marilynn 1940-
PERSONAL: Born June 1, 1940, in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada; married Norman Reynolds (an executive), May 5, 1962; children: Natalie, Maureen. Education: University of Alberta, B.A., 1961; Grant MacEwan College, Diploma in Fine Art, 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Music, art.
ADDRESSES: Home—13516 81st Ave. NW, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T5R 3N5.
CAREER: Writer. Edmonton Journal, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, reporter, 1961-64, book reviewer, 1968-72; Western Living Magazine, Edmonton, writer and Edmonton editor, 1980s.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers, Writers Guild of Alberta, Children's Literature Roundtable, Young Alberta Book Society, Writers Guild of Alberta.
AWARDS, HONORS: Canadian Children's Book Centre Choice, 1993, and Henry Kreisel Award shortlist, both for Belle's Journey; Canadian Children's Book Centre Choice, and Pick of the Lists, American Booksellers Association, both 1997, both for The New Land; Canadian Children's Book Centre Choice, and Pick of the Lists, American Booksellers Association, nominee, Children's Book of the Year, Canadian Library Association, and honorable mention, ALCUIN Award for book design, all 1999, all for The Prairie Fire; Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Award for illustration, Canadian Children's Book Centre choice, and Storytelling World Award, 2001, all for The Magnificent Piano Recital; Canadian Children's Book Centre choice, 2001, for A Present for Mrs. Kazinski; The Name of the Child was listed in Resource Links "Year's Best, 2002."
Belle's Journey, illustrated by Stephen McCallum, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1993.
A Dog for a Friend, illustrated by Stephen McCallum, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1994.
The New Land: A First Year on the Prairie, illustrated by Stephen McCallum, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1997.
The Prairie Fire, illustrated by Don Kilby, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 1999.
The Magnificent Piano Recital, illustrated by Laura Fernandez and Rick Jacobson, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2001.
A Present for Mrs. Kazinski, illustrated by Lynn Smith-Ary, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2001.
The Name of the Child, illustrated by Don Kilby, Orca Book Publishers (Custer, WA), 2002.
Belle's Journey has been translated into German and Japanese; A Present for Mrs. Kazinski has been translated into Korean; Reynolds's work has been included in anthologies including I Remember When and Personal Histories, by David Booth.
SIDELIGHTS: "Marilynn Reynolds has a gift for translating her memories into stories set in an earlier era of Canadian history," wrote Valerie Nielsen in Canadian Materials. The Canadian author pens picture books often set on the prairies of her native country in the early decades of the twentieth century, capturing sights and sounds of a bygone age through the stories her mother and grandmother once told her. Reynolds tells of a perilous journey home in Belle's Journey, of pioneer life in The New Land, and a near tragedy in The Prairie Fire. Moving away from the country, she presents the power of music in The Magnificent Piano Recital and the bond of intergenerational love in A Present for Mrs. Kazinski, while in The Name of the Child a young boy learns to overcome his fears to save a baby. Reynolds's award-winning titles are aimed at young readers from four to eight years old; three of her titles have been illustrated by Stephen McCallum, noted for his "cinematic approach to illustrations which are gentle and warm," according to Karen Jollimore in Resource Links.
Born in Sudbury, Ontario, in 1940, Reynolds demonstrated an early love for and talent in writing, winning the IODE Provincial Creative Writing Scholarship to the Banff School of Fine Arts while still a high school student. She earned her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Alberta, and went on to write for adults for many years, as a reporter on the Edmonton Journal, then as a book reviewer, and finally as editor of Western Living magazine. It was only in 1993 that she finally turned her hand to writing picture books.
Reynolds once told CA that her first children's book, Belle's Journey, is based on the experiences of her mother and grandmother. Reynolds began to write about these experiences in a book she presented to her mother for her seventy-second birthday. "There were five children's stories in the book, all loosely based on tales my grandmother and mother had told me about their lives on the Canadian prairies during the 1920s. One of the stories in my book was about a little girl and her old school pony who are lost in a blizzard. That story has been published separately as the picture book Belle's Journey."
Reynolds further explained: "Although Belle's Journey is a work of fiction it has its origins in two near-tragedies. The first occurred when my grandmother and mother were traveling the eight miles home from the nearest town in a wagon pulled by my mother's school pony. A terrible blizzard blew in and they were lost for hours. When the wagon suddenly stopped my grandmother realized that the wind had stopped blowing and the horse had seen something she recognized—the windmill in their own farmyard. The horse managed to bring them home and when my grandfather went out into the fields the next morning he saw the tracks of the wagon wheels in a giant circle in the snow. The horse had been pulling them around and around in one spot for hours!"
Yet that was only half of what found its way into the pages of Belle's Journey. "The second story that inspired Belle's Journeywas told by my mother, who said that during the 1920s she was riding the same pony home from a concert at the school and the weather was so cold that she had frostbite in her legs. The horse was in very bad shape, covered with frost, with her eyes frozen wide open." When Reynolds decided to use such tales as the inspiration for a book, she needed to telescope events somewhat. "When I came to write my story I combined both real-life events," she commented to CA. "Because there is so much prejudice against older people in our society I decided to make the horse a very old one who manages to use her strength, courage, and experience to save the child's life. Belle's Journey is dedicated to my mother, the little girl who rode her pony eight miles to a piano lesson and eight miles home."
Gernot Wieland, writing in Canadian Literature, called Belle's Journey an "archetypal Canadian" story, the "journey from an inhospitable wilderness to the coziness and warmth of a home." Similarly, a reviewer for Resource Links called the book a "tale of prairie perseverance." Young Molly takes piano lessons eight miles away from her home, and the old workhorse, Belle, takes her there and back. Too old to pull a plough any longer, the horse may be sold by Molly's father and replaced with a younger pony that Molly can enter in the fair, but until that time Belle is consigned the lazy occupation of serving as taxi for the young piano player. Then one winter day child and horse are caught in a blizzard on their way back from the piano teacher's. Belle plods on through the snow, Molly shivering on the horse's back. Finally the two arrive back home, and there is no more talk of selling the loyal old horse.
Wieland commented on the two journeys in the book: one Molly's safe return from the teacher's, and the other Belle's "journey into the hearts of Molly and Father." Wieland also found a metaphor in the horse's "stubborn defiance against the fierceness of the winter storm," which transforms itself into a "symbol of those early prairie settlers who struggled against the onslaught of the elements to eke out a living in a dangerous and threatening environment." A reviewer for the Alberta Report found the picture book to be "highly evocative of prairie life," while Carole Carpenter, writing in Canadian Children's Literature, felt the story demonstrates the "steadfast devotion of animal to the child entrusted to its care," and praised Reynolds's "easy but profoundly moving telling." Carpenter concluded, "Many children surely will claim this story, embracing it as their own because it speaks to them in a manner they know and recognize as traditional through its evident humanity."
Belle's Journey won Reynold the debut author a clutch of awards and let her know she was on the right track with her picture book inspiration. Her second book, A Dog for a Friend, was one of the stories in the book Reynolds wrote for her mother on her seventy-second birthday. It, too, was inspired by family stories about life in the west during the 1920s. "My mother told me how much she longed for a dog when she was small, and how her father finally went to town and brought one home in the pocket of his jacket," Reynolds told CA. "And my grandmother often regaled me with her story about bringing a runt pig into the house to save its life—and having the wealthy young Englishman who employed her take the runt into his own bed to stop it from crying."
Reynolds once again combines stories from her grandmother's and mother's youth into one resonant tale. "I loved these stories when I was small, and in my book, I used the real-life events to create a story about a little girl who wants a dog but who ends up adopting a pig instead. In my book, the kind-hearted mother takes the pig to bed!" In A Dog for a Friend, Jesse is a lonely little girl living on the Canadian prairie during the 1920s. She longs for a dog, but her luck instead brings her a pig, and the runt of the litter at that. Reluctant at first to consider the pig an actual pet, she soon is won over by Harold the pig, and when a real puppy finally comes her way, the animal seems "anti-climactic," according to Annette Goldsmith in Books in Canada. Goldsmith also commended Reynolds for her "modest but thoroughly engaging picture-books about country life."
Reynolds stuck with prairie tales for her third title, New Land: A First Year on the Prairie, a chronicle of one family's journey from Europe to farmstead in Canada in the early years of the twentieth century. Reynolds, who spent many summers with her grandparents in Saskatchewan, once again resurrects memories of stories she was told as a child to paint this "complete and vivid picture of the early life and experiences of the pioneers," as Karen Jollimore noted in Resource Links. The book deals with the first year on the prairie of an immigrant family, and the difficulties they face. After traveling by sea, rail, and wagon, they arrive at their land and have to dig a well, construct a sod house and barn, and then make it through the bitterly cold first winter. Spring brings planting and prairie flowers; they put in wheat, a kitchen garden, and apple trees.
Shirley Wilton, reviewing the title in School Library Journal, commended this "quiet story" for being "simple and direct." Gwyneth Evans, found universal themes in the tale. Writing in Quill and Quire, she commented on how the story seems "deliberately general rather than specific in references, suggesting the experience of tens of thousands of families." Evans further noted that The New Land is an "attractive book that conveys a simple and practical account." However, partly because of its lack of specificity, Evans ultimately found it to be a "useful book, but not one to grip the heart." On the other hand, Jollimore praised Reynolds's book for portraying "the pioneer experience in such a way that the reader feels like a part of the family," and Booklist's Carolyn Phelan felt the book "will be useful for school units on immigration to the American and Canadian prairies."
Another prairie tale is presented in The Prairie Fire, in which young Percy shows his usefulness when a fire breaks out near the family homestead. Percy is too young to help his father plough, and instead is relegated to taking care of the workhorse, Maude. But when he sees a black cloud on the horizon, he recognizes it as a prairie fire, and warns his parents. Then he must overcome his own fear to help save the farm. "Marilynn Reynolds has a gift for bringing stories of earlier times on the prairies to life," wrote Nielsen in a Canadian Materials review of The Prairie Fire. Nielsen further observed that The Prairie Fire is "both a fascinating picture book for primary grade children and a valuable information resource for older readers who are studying the prairies." More praise came from a contributor for Kirkus Reviews who called it an "exciting story . . . realistically told," and from Elizabeth Bush in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, who remarked that Reynolds's narrative "is direct and tense, and she effectively conveys to young listeners that an act of the greatest bravery may be a simple, clearheaded response in the face of necessity." Quill and Quire's Evans also lauded the effort, noting that Reynolds "is able to draw the reader into the drama of everyday life, and her story is well matched by the sensitive and detailed realism of [Don] Kilby's coloured pencil illustrations."
Reynolds moves away from prairie settings for The Magnificent Piano Recital, a tale of "the power of music and the admiration that gifted musicians inspire," according to Lauren Peterson in Booklist. Recently arrived in town, Arabella is new in her school and does not hit it off with her teacher, Mrs. Bat. Her mother is a piano teacher, and Arabella practices hard all winter; then in the spring Arabella's mother holds a recital at which the young girl shines. Suddenly she gains popularity and even Mrs. Bat likes her. Peterson found the picture book to be a "thought-provoking story that children may want to talk about," but Jane Marino, writing in School Library Journal, found the work to be "ultimately unsuccessful." Marino complained of "stiff prose" and "cardboard characters," yet a reviewer for Quill and Quire found the book "a gentle story filled with feminine touches." The same reviewer also commended the "pleasingly rhythmic prose," and the "carefully balanced" characters and scenes.
In A Present for Mrs. Kazinski Reynolds deals with contemporary matters in an intergenerational tale about a young boy and an octogenarian. Frank and his mom live on the first floor and Mrs. Kazinski on the top in the same building. Frank loves the old woman and wants to do something special for her eightieth birthday. Consulting other residents of the building, he finally strikes on the idea of giving her his kitten, even though he has grown to love the stray animal. The old woman is touched by the gift, but also sees that the young boy has grown close to the animal, so she asks him to help her take care of the pet. Kate McLean, reviewing the title in School Library Journal, felt it would "find an appreciative audience at many libraries." A contributor for Kirkus Reviews also found much to like in the picture book, calling it a "charming evocation of a classic sentiment."
Reynolds returns to historical, country settings with her 2002 title, The Name of the Child. Lloyd is shipped out of the city in 1918, one step ahead of the deadly Spanish Flu epidemic, to stay with his aunt and uncle and their newborn baby. But after a fitful night at the farm, kept awake by coyotes, he discovers that both his aunt and uncle have come down with the flu, and he must take care of the baby, somehow getting it to distant neighbors who have a milk cow to feed it. Such a trip forces easily-frightened Lloyd to drive a wagon down a muddy and deserted road on a rainy night, overcoming some of his own worst fears in the process. "Reynolds writes well," commented Booklist's Carolyn Phelan, "creating a convincing historical context as well as a vivid story." More praise came from Joanne de Groot in Resource Links who felt that this "charming story works on a number of different levels." And though a critic for Kirkus Reviews found the illustrations too "static and gloomy," the same writer commended the "gripping" story, "set in a period and place not often seen in American picture books."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Alberta Report, December 23, 1996, review of Belle's Journey, pp. 38-39.
Booklist, October 15, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of The New Land, pp. 415-416; January 1, 2000, John Peters, review of The Prairie Fire, p. 937; March 1, 2001, Lauren Peterson, review of The Magnificent Piano Recital, p. 1288; October 15, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of A Present for Mrs. Kazinski, pp. 401-402; January 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Name of the Child, p. 900.
Books in Canada, September, 1998, Annette Goldsmith, review of A Dog for a Friend, p. 34.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1999, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Prairie Fire, p. 104.
Canadian Children's Literature, fall, 1996, Carole Carpenter, review of Belle's Journey, pp. 132-136.
Canadian Literature, spring, 1996, Gernot Wieland, review of Belle's Journey, pp. 195-196.
Canadian Materials, December 10, 1999, Valerie Nielsen, review of The Prairie Fire; February 16, 2001, Valerie Nielsen, review of The Magnificent Piano Recital.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1999, review of The Prairie Fire, p. 1747; October 1, 2002, review of The Name of the Child, p. 1478.
Maclean's, November 22, 1999, "Pages of Wonder," p. 98.
Quill and Quire, Gwyneth Evans, April, 1997, review of The New Land, p. 36; May, 1999, Gwyneth Evans, review of The Prairie Fire, p. 36; October, 2000, review of The Magnificent Piano Recital, pp. 44-45
Reading Teacher, December, 1998, review of The New Land, p. 387.
Resource Links, June, 1997, Karen Jollimore, review of The New Land, p. 208; August, 1997, review of Belle's Journey, p. 253; December, 2002, Joanne de Groot, review of Name of the Child, pp. 13-14.
School Library Journal, July, 1997, Shirley Wilton, review of The New Land, pp. 73-74; January, 2000, Susan Knell, review of The Prairie Fire, p. 110l; April, 2001, Jane Marino, review of The Magnificent Piano Recital, p. 121; October, 2001, Kate McLean, review of A Present for Mrs. Kazinski, p. 130.
Teacher Librarian, April, 2000, review of The Prairie Fire, p. 20.
CANSCAIP,http://www.canscaip.org/ (March 8, 2003), "Members: Marilynn Reynolds."
Children's Literature,http://www.childrenslit.com/ (March 8, 2003), "Meet Authors and Illustrators: Marilynn Reynolds."
YABS,http://www.yabs.ab.ca/ (March 8, 2003), "Marilynn Reynolds."