Spinka, Penina Keen 1945-

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SPINKA, Penina Keen 1945-


Born February 5, 1945, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Jack (a shoemaker) and Yetta (a salesperson) Keen; married Barry A. Spinka (an underwriter), December 23, 1984; children: Rasha Nechama Aberman, Warshaw, Tzivia Leah Aberman Wasserman. Education: Attended Queens Hospital School of Nursing and Nassau Community College. Politics: "Honesty-Fairness Party (my own)." Religion: "Jewish-Earthist." Hobbies and other interests: Hiking, gardening, sightseeing, reading.


Home—Glendale, AZ. Agent—c/o Dutton Publicity, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014.


Writer. City of Los Angeles Municipal Reference Library, Los Angeles, CA, library clerk; word-processing operator for title insurance reports. Served as a volunteer providing library service to homebound residents.


National Fantasy Fan Federation, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Parents of North American Israelis, Woman's American O. R. T., Hudson Valley Writers' Guild.


White Hare's Horses (young adult), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.

Mother's Blessing (young adult), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.

Picture Maker, Dutton (New York, NY), 2002.

Dream Weaver, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.


Penina Keen Spinka's first books were young-adult historical novels about Native American culture. She became interested in learning more about America's first tribes when she lived in southern California and was introduced to the tribes of the West Coast, particularly the Chumash and the Aztec. She learned that the Chumash had been forced into slavery by Spanish missionaries who invited them to a feast, then sprinkled them with holy water and forced them to submit to the Christian religion. On her Web site, Spinka compares them to the Jews who were similarly oppressed during the Spanish Inquisition. "I began to understand why it was important for the Chumash to keep their culture," she says.

White Hare's Horses is set in 1522, in what would become southern California, and is about a Chumash girl whose village is raided by Aztecs riding horses they have stolen from the Spanish conquistadors. It is also an historical account of how horses were introduced into North America. White Hare's dying grandfather had warned her of "foreign places and strange people who can cross vast distance," and to save her village, she must free the horses, which she does by imitating the call of a colt in distress, and then leading the horses over the Santa Monica Mountains. School Library Journal's Margaret A. Chang believed that "although Spinka clearly respects the Native Americans she describes, she does not create convincing characters, and the dialogue is too often anachronistic." "Especially appreciated is Spinka's ability to project a sense of Indian history yet to come, as well as admiration for this nonviolent people," wrote Rosie Peasley in Voice of Youth Advocates.

Mother's Blessing, a prequel to White Hare's Horses, is also set in southern California and takes place some 500 years before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and missionaries. The protagonist is Child, a Chumash girl who accompanies her mother into exile after her father disowns her at birth because she is not male. They find refuge with a wise older woman in another village. As Child grows, she becomes a confident New Woman, skilled in the use of the bow. In search of her spirit guide, she travels to what is now New Mexico, where she finds her guide and discovers that she is the true wot (leader) of her people. School Library Journal's Patricia Dooley called this part of the story "the novel's strong point."

New Woman is introduced to new wonders, such as clay and metal pots and new forms of agriculture. When she learns that her people are starving, she returns with the corn that has been grown in the east and brings together three villages to show them how to plant the crop that will save them. Peasley noted that "Spinka tactfully handles such natural parts of Indian life as the first menstruation, a young brave's invitation for Child to share his bed, and the ritual of vision-inducing drugs." Kathryn Jennings of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called New Woman "a true heroine—charming, intelligent, and brave." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that this second novel "further establishes the author's skill as a fluent storyteller who is well-versed in North American legend."

When Spinka moved to the Hudson Valley region of upstate New York, she investigated the histories of New York tribes, and her adult novel Picture Maker is set in the Northeast in the fourteenth century. Picture Maker, of the Ganeogaono tribe, draws pictures that foretell the future, a talent that saves her people, but she is captured by the Algonquins and sold as a slave. Her name is now Little One, and at age thirteen, she becomes pregnant when she is raped by the violent Feather Hawk. She kills him and escapes and eventually settles in a Naskapi village in eastern Canada. She is accepted into the tribe but is traded to an Inuit tribe who call her Mikisoq. Her newborn girl is then killed, as is the Inuit custom in times of famine. When a group of Inuit split off into another group, she joins them and meets a Norseman who names her Astrid. Together they cross the Labrador Sea to Greenland, only to encounter further attacks against her husband's way of life and her special gift.

A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "the history is complete and unforgiving but sometimes takes precedence over character." Library Journal's Jane Baird wrote that "Exhaustive research of the peoples of eastern North America, Canada, and Greenland provides the real heart of this novel," while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly said Spinka has "uncovered native traditions and beliefs in primitive North America and brought them to life through the eyes of her courageous young heroine."



American Indian Quarterly, summer, 1992, Clifford E. Trafzer, review of White Hare's Horses, p. 381.

Book Report, November-December, 1992, Holly Wadsworth, review of Mother's Blessing, p. 45.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1991, Zena Sutherland, review of White Hare's Horses, p. 251; July, 1992, Kathryn Jennings, review of Mother's Blessing, p. 306.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1992, review of Mother's Blessing, p. 617; October 1, 2001, review of Picture Maker, p. 1391; November 1, 2002, review of Dream Weaver, p. 1566.

Library Journal, October 1, 2001, Jane Baird, review of Picture Maker, p. 144; December, 2002, Jane Baird, review of Dream Weaver, p. 181.

Publishers Weekly, November 5, 2001, review of Picture Maker, p. 40; January 13, 2003, review of Dream Weaver, p. 42.

School Library Journal, April, 1991, Margaret A. Chang, review of White Hare's Horses, p. 124; May, 1992, Patricia Dooley, review of Mother's Blessing, p. 134.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1991, Rosie Peasley, review of White Hare's Horses, p. 36; August, 1992, Rosie Peasley, review of Mother's Blessing, p. 170.


Penina Keen Spinka Web site,http://www.peninakeenspinka.com (April 27, 2002).*