Swain, Gwenyth 1961–
Swain, Gwenyth 1961–
PERSONAL: Born June 29, 1961, in Columbus, IN; daughter of G. Henry, Jr. (a home builder) and Margaret (a homemaker) Swain; married; husband's name Vinnie; children: two. Education: Grinnell College, B.A., 1983; attended Indiana University, 1983–84; Mills College, M.A., 1986. Religion: Society of Friends (Quaker).
CAREER: Writer and children's book author. Fine Print (magazine), San Francisco, CA, circulation manager, 1987–88; Hungry Mind bookstore, St. Paul, MN, clerk, 1989–90; Carolrhoda Books, Minneapolis, MN, editor, 1990–2000; Historic Fort Snelling, St. Paul, MN, costumed historic site guide, 2006.
MEMBER: Children's Literature Network, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
AWARDS, HONORS: Minnesota Book Award for children's nonfiction, for Bookworks: Making Books by Hand and again for Wanda Gág: Storybook Artist; Bank Street College Best Children's Books of the Year Awards, for Johnny Appleseed, President of the Underground Railroad: A Story about Levi Coffin, and I Wonder as I Wander; National Council for Social Studies-Children's Book Council Notable Children's Trade Book, 2004, for Chig and the Second Spread; Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant; Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant.
Indiana, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1992.
Pennsylvania, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 1994.
(With Minnesota Center for Book Arts) Bookworks: Making Books by Hand, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1995.
The Road to Seneca Falls: A Story about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, illustrated by Mary O'Keefe Young, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1996.
Civil Rights Pioneer: A Story about Mary Church Terrell, illustrated by Ellen Beier, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Johnny Appleseed, illustrated by Janice Lee Porter, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2001.
Freedom Seeker: A Story about William Penn, illustrated by Lisa Harvey, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
Tigers, illustrated by John F. McGee, NorthWord Press (Minnetonka, MN), 2002.
I Wonder as I Wander, illustrated by Ron Himler, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.
Chig and the Second Spread, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Little Crow = Taoyateduta: Leader of the Dakota, Borealis Books (St. Paul, MN), 2004.
Dred and Harriet Scott: A Family's Struggle for Freedom, Borealis Books (St. Paul, MN), 2004.
Sojourner Truth, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2005.
Theodore Roosevelt, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 2005.
Wanda Gág: Storybook Artist, Borealis Books (St. Paul, MN), 2005.
A Hunger for Learning: A Story about Booker T. Washington, illustrated by Larry Johnson, Mill-brook Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.
Riding to Washington (picture book), Sleeping Bear Press (Chelsea, MI), 2007.
Contributor to Big Cats!, illustrated by John F. McGee, Creative Publishing, 2002.
"SMALL WORLD" SERIES
Carrying, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Smiling, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Celebrating, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Eating, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1999.
Bedtime!, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
Wash Up!, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.
Get Dressed!, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.
Tidy Up!, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Gwenyth Swain once told CA: "I write fiction and nonfiction, mostly on historical topics. I'm fascinated with the stories behind important events and people in the past. And I'm drawn to family stories, which have provided much material for my fiction writing." Swain covers one such historical person in The Road to Seneca Falls: A Story about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, her biography of the famous nineteenth-century suffragette. Incorporating information from Stanton's own diaries and letters, Swain creates a portrait of a leader in the fledgling women's rights movement, "resulting in a book that is enjoyable as well as informative," noted School Library Journal reviewer Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst. The author covers different aspects of Stanton's life, beginning with her insistence upon receiving a quality education as good as any man's. While Swain ends her account of Stanton's life just before the convention at Seneca Falls, she includes an afterword that tells readers about the remaining years of the suffragette's struggle to gain more rights for women in the United States. Calling the book "insightful," Booklist contributor Denia Hester believed The Road to Seneca Falls "does much to help readers understand the humble beginnings of the women's rights movement."
Other nonfiction books by Swain include a number of entries in the "Small World" series, showing young readers how people from different cultures perform the same things. For instance, in Carrying, children can see how individuals manage difficult loads, while Smiling presents a wide range of multicultural kids engaged in the expression of happiness. Accompanied by short, rhyming texts, the books feature photographs from around the world, an element often praised by reviewers. Reviewing Smiling for Kirkus Reviews, a contributor found that "the scope of photographs allow children to stretch their imagination." Remarking on the same work, Booklist critic Lauren Peterson predicted that the photography "will likely provoke discussion about the various cultures involved."
Swain provides a look at the founder of Pennsylvania in Freedom Seeker: A Story about William Penn. This account follows Penn from his youth in London to his conversion to the Quaker faith and his voyage across the ocean to find a new home dedicated to religious tolerance and freedom. Donna Cardon, writing in the School Library Journal, noted that the author "describes emotions that are believable." In Johnny Appleseed, the author gives a simple, straightforward biography for young children of the famous folk hero whose real name was John Chapman. School Library Journal contributor Barbara Buckley commented that the "short declarative sentences … [relate] the facts rather than the myths."
Swain has also written several books about historical figures involved in slavery and civil rights. Dred and Harriet Scott: a Family's Struggle for Freedom recounts the lives of two slaves whose battle for freedom led them all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The book begins with Dred Scott's youth as a slave in Virginia and his travels around the country with his physician owner. It then recounts his marriage to Harriet and their decision to fight for freedom in court, a freedom they did not win. Carol Fazioili, writing in the School Library Journal, called the book "a well-researched and engaging account." Swain recounts the story of a young Quaker man who began helping runaway slaves when he was just a teenager in her book President of the Underground Railroad: A Story about Levi Coffin. Coffin would go on fighting for abolitionist causes and was the founder of the Western Freedmen's Aid Commission in Indiana. In a review for the School Library Journal, Kate Kohlbeck wrote that "the brutality and horrors of slavery are not watered down." Another of Swain's books about slavery is Civil Rights Pioneer: A Story about Mary Church Terrell.
In Little Crow = Taoyateduta: Leader of the Dakota, Swain recounts the life Dakota Indian chief who counseled against fighting while trying to save his tribe's way of life despite the onslaught of white intruders. Nevertheless, the tribe did enter into battle and Little Crow fought along with his people until he died. Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, writing in the American Indian Quarterly, noted that the author "paints a sympathetic and well-researched portrait of a man living during the tumultuous period." Wilson went on to write: "The strength of this work is that it maintains the complexity of Taoyateduta's life and times while also remaining accessible to young readers." In a review in the Booklist, Roger Leslie wrote that "this history book creates an emotional impact through vivid details and clearly wrought relationships."
Swain's first picture book, I Wonder as I Wander, tells a tale about Annie Morgan, who goes around the country with her itinerant preacher father while mourning for her deceased mother. The young girl ultimately composes a song that embodies her religious questions about life and death. "This book is a treasure," wrote Kathleen Whalin in the School Library Journal. "In the spirit of the hymn itself, it soars-high and true." Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper noted that Swain "captures hard times … personal and global … in a way children can understand."
In her first chapter book Chig and the Second Spread, Swain tells the story of Minerva Kalpin, an eight-year-old nicknamed Chig because she is so tiny. The story is set in Indiana during the Depression; Chig is worried about attending the local one-room schoolhouse. But her teacher and a new friend instill her with enough confidence that she sets out to help her small town find food for people to eat. Writing in Booklist, Carolyn Phelan noted the book's "warm, homespun feel and the occasional tall-tale quality." A Kirkus Reveiws contributor found the book to be "endearing—and not one bit cloying."
Swain is also author of Bookworks: Making Books by Hand, which includes a description of the history of printing and bookmaking. Kent Anderson and Ken Marantz in School Arts called the book "simple but comprehensive guide" suitable for young students in grade school.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Indian Quarterly, summer-fall, 2005, Waziyatawin Angela Wilson, review of Little Crow = Taoyateduta: Leader of the Dakota, p. 735.
Booklist, July, 1995, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Bookworks: Making Books by Hand, p. 1877; February 15, 1997, Denia Hester, review of The Road to Seneca Falls: A Story about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, p. 1022; June 1, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Smiling, p. 1835; January 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Civil Rights Pioneer: A Story about Mary Church Terrell, p. 918; November 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Chig and the Second Spread, p. 611; December 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of I Wonder as I Wander, p. 685; July, 2004, Roger Leslie, review of Little Crow = Taoyateduta, p. 1832.
Children's Bookwatch, October, 2005, review of Soujourner Truth.
Horn Book Guide, spring, 1997, review of The Road to Seneca Falls, p. 161; fall, 1999, reviews of Carrying, Celebrating, Eating, and Smiling, p. 241; fall, 2001, review of Johnny Appleseed, p. 186.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1999, review of Smiling, p. 539; November 1, 2003, review of Chig and the Second Spread, p. 1314.
Library Journal, March, 2002, Barbara Buckley, review of Johnny Appleseed, p. 222.
Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of "Small World" series, p. 61; September 22, 2003, review of I Wonder as I Wander, p. 68; December 15, 2003, review of Chig and the Second Spread, p. 73.
School Arts, November, 1995, Kent Anderson, review of Bookworks, p. 45; April, 1997, Kent Anderson and Ken Marantz, review of Bookworks, p. 62.
School Library Journal, August, 1994, p. 163; March, 1997, Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, review of The Road to Seneca Falls, pp. 181-182; July, 2001, Kate Kohlbeck, review of President of the Underground Railroad: A Story about Levi Coffin, p. 100; March, 2002, Barbara Buckley, review of Johnny Appleseed, p. 222; June, 2003, Donna Car-don, review of Freedom Seeker: A Story about William Penn, p. 173; January, 2004, Rita Soltan, review of Chig and the Second Spread, p. 136; February, 2004, Kathleen Whalen, review of I Wonder as I Wander, p. 124; July, 2004, G. Alyssa Parkinson, review of Little Crow = Taoyateduta, p. 128; July, 2004, Carol Fazioli, review of Dred and Harriet Scott: A Family's Struggle for Freedom, p. 128; April, 2005, review of Dred and Harriet Scott, p. S39.
Gwenyth Swain Home Page, http://www.gwenythswain.com (October 27, 2006).