Rogasky, Barbara 1933-
ROGASKY, Barbara 1933-
PERSONAL: Born April 9, 1933, in Wilmington, DE; daughter of Charles (a grocer) and Ida (a homemaker; maiden name, Rubin) Rogasky; Education: Attended the University of Delaware, 1950-55. Politics: "Vacillating Liberal-Left." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: "All-around 'handyperson;' music, especially classical but not only; cars; and a perpetual and pursued curiosity about most things."
ADDRESSES: Office—P.O. Box 34, Thetford, VT 05074. E-mail—[email protected].
CAREER: Author and writer. In-house editor, at various levels, for several adult trade publishers; freelance editorial consultant for various publishers, agents, and individuals.
AWARDS, HONORS: Notable Book selection, American Library Association (ALA), 1982, for Rapunzel; Best Book for Young Adults selection, ALA, Best Nonfiction for Young Adults selection, Publishers Weekly, Best Books of the Year selection, School Library Journal, Best Books selection, Young Adult Library Services Association (ALA), Young Adult's Choice, International Reading Association, Most Outstanding Book in Secondary Social Studies, Society of School Librarians International, Best Books for the Teenage, New York Public Library, and Present Tense/Joel A. Cavour Award, American Jewish Committee, all 1988, and Children's Book of the Year selection, Bank Street College, Seventy-one Top Books of the Century selection, Instructor magazine, and "Top 100 Countdown: Best of the Best Books for Young Adults over Twenty-five Years," School Library Journal, all for Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust; Land of Enchantment Award, New Mexico Library Association, and Sequoia Award, Oklahoma Library Association, both for The Water of Life: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm; Notable Book selection, ALA, and Best Books of the Year selection, School Library Journal, 1994, both for Winter Poems; National Jewish Book Award, 1996, for The Golem: A Version; the German edition of Smoke and Ashes was presented to the youth of Germany in a special ceremony by President Johannes Rau, Berlin, Germany, 2001; Sydney Taylor Honor Book, Association of Jewish Libraries, 2002, and Best Books for the Teenage, New York Public Library, 2003, both for Smoke and Ashes (revised edition).
(Reteller) Rapunzel, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1982.
(Reteller) The Water of Life: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1986.
Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1988, revised and expanded version, 2002.
(Photographer) Myra Cohn Livingston, Light and Shadow, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1992.
(Compiler) Winter Poems, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
The Golem: A Version, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1996.
(Compiler) Leaf by Leaf: Autumn Poems, photographs by Marc Tauss, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Gilgul, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2004.
(Compiler) Spring Poems, Holiday House (New York, NY), forthcoming.
Dybbuk!: A Version, illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher, Holiday House (New York, NY), forthcoming.
Contributor of articles to books, including From Sea to Shining Sea, compiled by Amy L. Cohn, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993, and Young Reader's Companion to American History, edited by John A. Garraty, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1994. Smoke and Ashes was translated into German as Der Holocaust: Ein Buch für junge Leser, Rowohlt (Berlin, Germany), 1999, and into Dutch and Japanese, 1992.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Research into the history of American immigration for a young-adult book; ongoing search for Eastern-European, Yiddish-flavored tales, myths, and stories to retell.
SIDELIGHTS: Whether in such traditional stories as Rapunzel or Water of Life: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, or in collections of verse arranged on seasonal themes, or her acclaimed history of the Holocaust, Barbara Rogasky brings her flair for storytelling to the fore, claim reviewers. Recalling her early career, Rogasky told CA: "I like telling stories, thoroughly enjoy children and teenagers: a combination that led me into this profession. For several years before that, I lived in New York City and worked on staff as an editor in adult trade houses—before I fled to New England. Those years and my freelance work as editor, rewriter, etc., gave me basic helpful tools and insights into the mechanics of writing itself." Although she "always wrote," as she explained to Theresa Gawlas Medoff in an interview for the University of Delaware Messenger, she did not think of herself as a writer. "I thought of myself as an editor, as a literate human being, as someone who had a way with words, but not as a writer. I certainly never thought of myself as someone who would write for children."
After working for nearly twenty-five years in the publishing field with such prestigious firms as Macmillan and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Rogasky felt she needed to escape New York City. So she moved to rural New England in 1978 and began a career in freelance editing and ghostwriting. Yet it still took a push from someone else to get Rogasky started in writing for children. That someone was Trina Schart Hyman, a Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator, who suggested that she and Rogasky collaborate. "Trina got me started," Rogasky confided to Medoff. "It was very hard to get into publishing then [in the mid-1980s]. It's even harder now. I would never have thought to write Rapunzel if Trina hadn't suggested it." With Hyman's clout came Rogasky's entrée into the world of children's books and what eventually turned out to be a four-book collaboration. Rogasky's first two books retell traditional tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Though Rapunzel is the well-known story of a maiden who uses her extremely long hair to escape captivity in a tower, The Water of Life is more obscure, recounting the quest of three princes for magical water to heal their dying father. About the former, Horn Book's Ethel L. Heins noted that Rogasky "slightly prettified the familiar tale and doctored it as if to assure respectability," while a reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books dubbed the retelling "adequate" though "undistinguished." That Rogasky honed her skill for the second tale, The Water of Life, was evident to several critics, including one for Kirkus Reviews, who called it "a graceful, compassionate translation," and another for Publishers Weekly, who described it as an "elegant text."
The daughter of Eastern-European Jews, Rogasky has preserved her Jewish heritage in several works. TheGolem: A Version, which won the National Jewish Book Award, recounts the traditional and mystical tale of a clay giant fashioned by a rabbi to protect the Jews of Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), who in the sixteenth century were being persecuted by anti-Semites. Told "with a colloquial warmth and a Yiddish idiom" to quote Booklist's Hazel Rochman, this version of the Golem tale has been expanded to thirteen chapters in order to tell the complete story of the monster from creation to destruction. Although a Publishers Weekly reviewer found the combination of horror (prejudice and violence) and humor (misunderstandings and faux pas of the Golem) difficult to accept, others praised the realistic portrayal of life for the Jews in this tumultuous century. Through this tale, Rogasky "lays bare the irrationality and danger of prejudice," a Kirkus Reviews contributor remarked. Similarly, two other offerings enlighten readers about other Jewish beliefs as Gilgul portrays the conviction that a person may be reincarnated in response to whatever sins that person has committed and uses the seven deadly sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth as subject matter, while the forthcoming Dybbuk!: A Version features a Jewish tale about preordained love and spirit possession. "My parents were very typical Eastern-European immigrant Jews," Rogasky confided to Medoff. "Though I resisted my Jewishness for many, many years, I came to appreciate what they were and the heritage and culture they reflected."
Although she says that it was not written because of her Jewish heritage, the young-adult title Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust made Rogasky even more aware of her Eastern-European Jewish heritage. "Knowing the details of the Holocaust taught me how absolute evil can exist in the world, and similar evil continues to exist," she explained to CA. She also discovered that fifty members of her family had died in Russia during the Holocaust. In Smoke and Ashes, first published in 1988 and expanded and reissued in 2002, Rogasky uses eye-witness accounts, photographs, statistics, and commentary to tell the story of how the Nazis tried to kill the entire Jewish population of Europe. For the later edition, dubbed "readable and evenhanded" by Amy Lilien-Harper of School Library Journal, Rogasky added sections about Nazi persecutions of homosexuals, the rescuers of Jews, and a discussion of genocide in other countries. According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, this "clearly written, comprehensive, sensitive, and nuanced" story of the Holocaust is a "monumentally important history." The first edition of this "stark, powerful and comprehensive" work, to quote Medoff, was translated into several languages, including German, and in 1999, the author attended a ceremony in Berlin that coincided with the launching of the German edition, which earned good reviews in the German media. Because Rogasky believes that young adults need to know about this dark time in history, she often gives presentations on the Holocaust at schools, colleges, and to the general public.
In addition to folktales and Jewish-themed works, Rogasky has compiled several collections of poetry because, as she told CA, "I love poetry. The compilations are a joy to do—a wonderful excuse to read all the poetry I can find. And almost any topic lends itself to compilation." Among such topics are the seasonallythemed Winter Poems, Leaf by Leaf: Autumn Poems, and Spring Poems, each of which contains a selection of poems from a variety of time periods, traditions, and cultures that celebrate that time of year. While some are complete poems, others are snippets from longer works. The anthologies caught the attention of critics. Numbered among their enthusiasts are School Library Journal reviewer Shawn Brommer, who called Leaf by Leaf a "rich, eclectic collection," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who praised the "marvelous sense of composition to this attractive volume." A Publishers Weekly critic wondered, however, if the gloomy tone and difficult language might be more appropriate for adult readers. Also in picture-book format is the "elegant" anthology Winter Poems, to quote a Publishers Weekly writer, who likened this exceptional volume to "sun glinting on snow, . . . dazzling." Writing in the Washington Post Book World, poet David Barber noted that Rogasky had chosen the twenty-five winter poems with "care and scruple," creating "a mix [that] is well-rounded yet gracefully unassuming" and "all very wintry and agreeably bracing."
After publishing her first children's book at age fifty, Rogasky has found a rewarding second career. Reflecting on the writing process, she told CA: "Writing and research are hard work. Accuracy is crucial. But it is work that helps give some sense to being alive, and I enjoy it immensely. Maybe the only thing I enjoy more is my preposterous mutt of a dog, so silly-looking children point and laugh and adults smile." "His name," she says, "and why not, is George."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, May 15, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Light and Shadow, p. 1679; September 15, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Winter Poems, pp. 134-135; October 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of The Golem: A Version, p. 335; July, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Leaf by Leaf: Autumn Poems, p. 2002; October 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Smoke and Ashes: The Story of the Holocaust (revised edition), p. 400.
Book Report, January-February, 1997, Mary Hofmann, review of The Golem, p. 50.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1982, review of Rapunzel, pp. 206-207; September, 1996, Betsy Hearne, review of The Golem, pp. 27-28.
Five Owls, summer, 1988, Susan Stan, review of Smoke and Ashes, p. 6.
Horn Book, February, 1983, Ethel L. Heins, review of Rapunzel, pp. 38-39; March, 1987, Mary M. Burns, review of The Water of Life: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, pp. 229-230; September, 1988, Margaret A. Bush, review of Smoke and Ashes, p. 647; January, 1989, Hazel Rochman, "Booktalking: Going Global," review of Smoke and Ashes, pp. 30-35.
Journal of Reading, May, 1989, Susan Murphy and Robert Small, review of Smoke and Ashes, pp. 750-754.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1986, review of The Water of Life, p. 1449; September 15, 1996, review of The Golem, p. 1407; August 1, 2001, review of Leaf by Leaf, p. 1131; August 15, 2002, review of Smoke and Ashes (revised edition) p. 1234.
Publishers Weekly, July 16, 1982, review of Rapunzel, p. 78; August 22, 1986, review of The Water of Life, p. 97; May 13, 1988, review of Smoke and Ashes, p. 276; April 26, 1991, review of Smoke and Ashes, p. 60; October 31, 1994, review of Winter Poems, p. 63; October 21, 1996, review of The Golem, pp. 84-85; November 15, 1999, review of Winter Poems, p. 69; January 10, 2000, review of Winter Poems, p. 70; September 3, 2001, review of Leaf by Leaf, p. 88.
School Library Journal, November, 1986, Connie C. Rockman, review of The Water of Life, p. 83; June, 1988, Jack Forman, review of Smoke and Ashes, p. 128; April, 1992, Barbara Chatton, review of Light and Shadow, p. 139; October, 1994, Sally R. Dow, review of Winter Poems, p. 114; October, 1996, Susan Scheps, review of The Golem, p. 126; September, 2001, Shawn Brommer, review of Leaf by Leaf, p. 252; October, 2002, Amy Lilien-Harper, review of Smoke and Ashes (revised edition), pp. 192-193.
Washington Post Book World, December 4, 1994, David Barber, "The Lure of the Rhyme," review of Winter Poems, p. 19.
University of Delaware Messenger,http://www.udel.edu/PR/Messenger/ (Volume 9, number 2, 2000), Theresa Gawlas Medoff, "Children's Author Finds Niche Preserving Jewish Heritage."