Smalls-Hector, Irene 1950- (Irene Smalls)
SMALLS-HECTOR, Irene 1950- (Irene Smalls)
Born February 11, 1950, in Harlem, NY; daughter of Charles Smith and Mary Smalls; married Derek C. Hector, May 13, 1989; children: Jonathan, Kevin Logan, Dawn. Education: Cornell University, B.A., 1971; New York University, M.B.A., 1974. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, shopping, traveling.
Home—Boston, MA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Little, Brown, 34 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108. E-mail—[email protected].
Children's book author and storyteller. Smalls-Dawn Associates (marketing consultants), affiliate, 1978-80; voice-over actress, beginning 1988. Presenter at workshops and school assemblies.
Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Cornell Black Alumni Association.
Miss Black New York State, 1967-68; Global Cultural Awareness Award, International Reading Association, 1996; Children's Book Author of the Year, Chicago Black History Association, 1999.
Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, illustrated by Tyrone Geter, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991, published under name Irene Smalls, 2003.
Jonathan and His Mommy, illustrated by Michael Hays, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
Dawn's Friends, illustrated by Tyrone Geter, D. C. Heath (Lexington, MA), 1993.
AS IRENE SMALLS
Dawn and the Round To-It, illustrated by Tyrone Geter, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1994.
The Alphabet Witch, illustrated by Kevin McGovern, Longmeadow Press (Stamford, CT), 1994.
Father's Day Blues: What Do You Do about Father's Day When All You Have Are Mothers?, Long-meadow Press (Stanford, CT), 1995.
Ebony Sea, illustrated by Jon Enyé Lockard, Long-meadow Press (Stanford, CT), 1995.
Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade: The Johnkankus, illustrated by Melodye Rosales, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern, illustrated by Keinyo White, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.
Louise's Gift; or, What Did She Give Me That For?, illustrated by Colin Bootman, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1996.
Beginning School, illustrated by Toni Goffe, Silver Burdett Press (Parsippany, NJ), 1996.
Because You're Lucky, illustrated by Michael Hays, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving, illustrated by Melodye Benson Rosales, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1998.
Kevin and His Dad, illustrated by Michael Hays, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.
I Can't Take a Bath!, illustrated by Aaron Boyd, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2003.
Don't Say Ain't, illustrated by Colin Bootman, Charlesbridge Publishing (Watertown, MA), 2003.
My Nana and Me, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2004.
Irene Smalls-Hector keeps to the time-honored traditions of the African-American storyteller, allowing the events of her life and ideas gained through dreams to inspire her simple yet universal tales. In addition to molding her stories into picture-book texts, Smalls-Hector also enjoys spending time talking to children and telling her stories aloud. As she once told CA: "My approach to writing children's books is that I write about what I know, what I see, and what I feel. I write very simple stories.…I try to write musically, because it was the sounds of … words that moved me as a child. My stories almost always have songs or children's rhymes in them."
Born in New York in 1950, Smalls-Hector shares with readers her memories of a childhood spent in Harlem during the mid-1950s in Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel. An enclave of Southern-born blacks and not yet affected by drugs and drug-related violence, Harlem reflected a Southern culture and attitude, both of which are brought to life in Smalls-Hector's depiction of a typical Saturday for seven-year-old Irene. After visiting neighbors, planting a window-box garden, climbing some rocks, and spotting a nickel, Irene finds herself sharing a bakery-store raisin bun with best friends Lulabelle and Lulamae. Smalls-Hector's "nostalgic text" and "richly textured language" bring to life a time and place that today's urban children can only dream about, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Of her 1992 picture book Jonathan and His Mommy, Smalls-Hector once explained: "It's the story of my son Jonathan and I, and the walks we used to take when he was ages four-and-a-half to five. This book is for every adult who has ever loved a child and for every child who knows or remembers quiet talks, long walks, and smiles." Praising Smalls-Hector's depiction of an "imaginative mother" who energetically dances along the sidewalk with her laughing son astride her back as "an inspiration to us all," Betsy Hearne added in her Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review that Jonathan and His Mommy may focus on a black family, but "the scenario is the envy of every child."
The parent-child bond is celebrated in several other books by Smalls-Hector, among them Kevin and His Dad and Father's Day Blues: What Do You Do about Father's Day When All You Have Are Mothers? Published in 1999, Kevin and His Dad celebrates the special relationship between a boy and his father on a day when Mom has been called away from home. Cleaning the house is usually a chore, but done with Dad it becomes fun to young Kevin, especially when it is followed by a quick game of baseball. Folding laundry, dusting, and washing windows? No problem, because any time spent alone with Dad is fun. Reviewing the book, critics observed that Smalls-Hector brings every moment to life with her simple, rhythmic, repetitious text. While creating a gentle story line, Smalls-Hector also manages to interject "a bit of lighthearted silliness" which, according to School Library Journal contributor Marian Drabkin, "transforms ordinary chores into something special."
Kevin's special day is something Cheryl, the protagonist of Father's Day Blues, cannot relate to. The young girl has difficulty imagining spending an entire day with her dad, and a school assignment to write an essay titled "My Dad" causes the young girl to question her lack of a father. Fortunately, the women in her life—including her teacher—are understanding and help Cheryl realize that her father's absence is not her fault. Father's Day Blues is a story that a Publishers Weekly reviewer claimed reinforces "the importance of familial love whatever its source." Reviewing the book for Booklist, Hazel Rochman had special praise for the author's success in creating "strongly individualized" characters and a picture-book text that provides young readers—many of whom may share Cheryl's concerns—an "honest, sensitive treatment" of a situation that is not uncommon.
While the day-to-day events of life with her three children sparked several of her early works, Smalls-Hector has also written about African-American history. In the mid-1990s, she embarked on an ambitious project: to create twelve books, one for each month of the calendar year, with each book focusing on a unique aspect of a child's life during the days of slavery. Among these books are Ebony Sea, A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving, and Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade: The Johnkankus, the last which focuses on a Christmas tradition that dates back several centuries to Africa. Ebony Sea also has its roots in fact. It is based on an actual incident that took place along the South Carolina coastline during the first half of the nineteenth century. A young boy wins the right to be the musical center of attention in A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving, a book offering a look at how some slaves celebrated the ending of the growing season. Reviewing A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving for School Library Journal, Beth Tegart noted that the 1998 picture book "helps to fill out the life stories of slaves and presents an interesting glimpse of a harvest celebration" as it occurred before the U.S. Civil War. Hazel Rochman heaped praise on Smalls-Hector's Halloween installment, Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern, about a foul creature that roams the countryside in search of children on All-Hallows Eve. Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern "is told with rhythm and shivery immediacy," noted Rochman, going on to praise Smalls-Hector for her "poetic, colloquial voice."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Visions, December, 1991, review of Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, p. 36; December-January, 1997, Yolanda Robinson Coles, review of Because You're Lucky, p. 33.
Booklist, October 1, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Jonathan and His Mommy, p. 338; July, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Father's Day Blues: What Do You Do about Father's Day When All You Have Are Mothers?, p. 1884; September 15, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern, p. 137; September 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Because You're Lucky, p. 135; February 15, 1999, Ilene Cooper, review of Kevin and His Dad, p. 1076; February 13, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Don't Say Ain't, p. 1090.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of Jonathan and His Mommy, p. 157; November, 1997, Pat Matthews, review of Because You're Lucky, p. 102.
Horn Book, July-August, 1991, Lois F. Anderson, review of Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, p. 452; November-December, 1992, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Jonathan and His Mommy, p. 719.
Publishers Weekly, April 12, 1991, review of Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, p. 57; November 9, 1992, review of Jonathan and His Mommy, p. 83; June 19, 1995, review of Father's Day Blues, p. 59; September 30, 1996, Jenny Reen and the Jack Muh Lantern, p. 85; December 9, 2002, review of Don't Say Ain't, p. 84.
Reading Teacher, November, 1997, review of Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade, p. 256.
School Library Journal, December, 1991, Ruth Semrau, review of Irene and the Big, Fine Nickel, p. 102; November, 1992, Marie Orlando, review of Jonathan and His Mommy, p. 78; July, 1996, Carol Jones Collins, review of Ebony Sea, p. 86; July, 1996, Karen James, review of Louise's Gift, p. 73; August, 1996, Virginia Opocensky, review of Beginning School, p. 130; October, 1996, Mane Marino, review of Irene Jennie and the Christmas Masquerade, p. 85; October, 1997, Dawn Amsberry, review of Because You're So Lucky, p. 111; October, 1998, Beth Tegart, review of A Strawbeater's Thanksgiving, p. 113; May, 1999, Marian Drabkin, review of Kevin and His Dad, p. 97; March, 2003, Alicia Eames, review of Don't Say Ain't, p. 207.
National School Network,http://nsn.bbn.com/community/ (June 30, 2003), "Chat with Irene Smalls."*