PERSONAL: Education: Attended Middlebury College and Oxford University.
CAREER: Writer, educator, workshop presenter, and public speaker. Conducts creative writing workshops for teachers and students. Dean of New York Public Library's Seminars for High School English Teachers. Worked as a prop man in the film business. Founder of Chapbooks.com, a publishing Web site.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Book of 2004 recognition, Publishers Weekly, Books for Better Life award, 2005, and Christopher Award, 2005, all for I Am a Pencil; Independent Project fellow, Open Society; recipient of grants from the Spencer Foundation, Overbrook Foundation, Johnson Family Foundation, Teachers and Writers Collaborative, NBC, and Teaching Tolerance.
The Araboolies of Liberty Street, Potter (New York, NY), 1989, new edition, illustrated by Barry Root, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor, with Donald Letcher Goddard) Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation, Abrams (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Katya Arnold) Katya's Book of Mushrooms, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
The Krazees, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 1997.
Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, illustrated by Sue Riddle, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2000.
I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories, Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, illustrated by Carll Cneut, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Book Review, Threepenny Review, Teacher Magazine, Voices from the Middle, Parenting, Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, and Teachers and Writers Collaborative Magazine. Contributor of short story to Noise Outlaws …, edited by Ted Thompson, McSweeney's, 2005.
ADAPTATIONS: The Araboolies of Liberty Street was adapted into an opera and a musical; Paramount Pictures and Nick Movies are adapting The Krazees into a movie starring Robin Williams.
SIDELIGHTS: Sam Swope is a writer and reviewer of children's books. In his The Araboolies of Liberty Street, General Pinch and his wife maintain order and quiet on Liberty Street, and the General threatens to call in the army on anyone who deviates from the norm. The Araboolies move in, a big family whose members do not speak English and can change their skin color at will. They paint their house in bright zigzags, camp out in their yard, and draw the neighborhood children into their games and colorful lifestyle. When the General orders the army to remove the "different" house, a young girl named Joy enlists the other children to decorate all the houses except the General's with bright paint and balloons. Since the General's house is now unlike the others, the army singles it out for removal. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt the satire about fascism "is wordy and repetitive…. But the messages of freedom, individualism and tolerance are strong." Writing in Booklist, critic Deborah Abbott found The Araboolies of Liberty Street "thought-provoking at any age."
Katya's Book of Mushrooms was coauthored with Katya Arnold, who grew up in Russia where mushrooming is popular. "Perhaps this explains the convivial tone, unusual in a science book," surmised Diana Lutz in Horn Book. The book is written for the younger reader and is intended, according to Arnold, as an introduction that "will help families discover the special excitement of hunting and naming mushrooms." The book uses folk names together with scientific names and illustrations ranging from paintings and cartoons to artwork resembling woodcuts. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Katya's Book of Mushrooms "fungal fervor at its most contagious."
A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews felt that Swope's 1997 book The Krazees "borrows more than the plot from Dr. Seuss…. But, heavy with nonsense words, the derivative text makes a properly silly read-aloud." "Children of all ages will recognize the Krazees, nutty creatures that infest a too-quiet house and attack only on rainy days," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who called the book "a gleeful fantasy for wet-weather shut-ins." The Krazees are checkered, striped, and polka-dotted creatures who appear to a girl named Iggie. They do their mischief in her cupboards, television, and refrigerator, disappearing when the sun reappears. School Library Journal reviewer Heide Piehler also compared Swope's style to that of Dr. Seuss but concluded that it was not "as smooth or successful." Nonetheless, Piehler did feel that "the nonsensical rhyming text, filled with alliteration and word play, is sure to elicit giggles."
Gotta Go! Gotta Go! follows the long-distance migration of a "creepy-crawly bug" (actually the caterpillar of a Monarch butterfly) whose natural instincts trigger a journey to Mexico to propagate the species. The caterpillar meets several new friends on her trek, including an ant and a grasshopper, and undergoes her butterfly metamorphosis while en route. Once she reaches the hibernation grove in Mexico, she sleeps until spring, then she awakens to mate and head north again to lay her eggs. Then, the circle of life is completed and begins anew. "This jaunty, just-about-butterfly-sized book, loosely based on the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly, soars as a prose-poem picture book," commented a reviewer in Horn Book.
In his nonfiction work I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories, Swope recounts his three-year stint teaching writing to a group of school-children in Queens, New York. Originally, Swope was asked by the Teachers and Writers Collaborative to present a ten-day writing workshop to the children when they were third graders. He approached the project with great enthusiasm, even though the children were awkward and reluctant learners at first. Early on, after making an immediate connection with the kids, he decided that he would work with the children for an extended period. He secured a small office space and set out for a long-term educational experience. As he interacted with each child, most of them immigrants from impoverished backgrounds, his interest in their welfare and his emotional attachment became stronger. In year one, they completed their first assignment, the Box Project, in which each child wrote a story, constructed a book, and made a box to contain it. In the second year, they undertook the Island Project, in which they wrote about their own imaginary island. In the third and final year, the children worked on the Tree Project, which included poems about trees, letters written to favorite trees, and drawings of trees made from life. The materials were turned into a book, "which each child takes home and saves for the day when some, Swope is sure, will actually become writers," observed Booklist contributor Deborah Donovan. Even when the children approached unfamiliar and frightening emotional terrain in their writings, Swope was there to encourage them and help them look closely at their world. The book "draws readers into the true-life stories of these children," noted Library Journal contributor Terry Christner. "Swope skillfully sketches the subtle dramas besetting a classroom of children in tough situations," observed a reviewer in NEA Today.
Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants finds Jack, the legendary giant-killer who climbed the magic beanstalk, facing off against a group of giants who represent the seven deadly sins. Found on a doorstep when he was an infant, this Jack is a naughty lad who becomes an outcast. When a minister tells Jack he is so bad that he will attract the wrath of seven deadly giants rumored to live nearby, bringing on the ruination of the village, Jack leaves to wander the countryside. After sharing an apple with a stranger he meets, the little man gives Jack a magic bean that will grant him one wish. His wish for his mother instead conjures up a friendly and helpful cow, which Jack rides like a horse as he searches out the giants. Traveling on cow-back, Jack encounters and outwits each giant, including the want-to-be poet Sloth; the Terrible Glutton, who consumes himself; and the Wild Tickler, who represents lust. "Some of the riffs on sin are cleverer than others, and adults will likely appreciate them most," observed a Publishers Weekly writer. "Swope's concise, graceful language is well matched by Cneut's wild illustrations," stated Abby Nolan in Booklist, who went on to call the book's conclusion "satisfying and sweet."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Swope, Sam and Katya Arnold, Katya's Book of Mushrooms, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
Booklist, November 1, 1989, Deborah Abbott, review of The Araboolies of Liberty Street, p. 560; April 1, 1997, Chris Sherman, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 1326; June 1, 1997, review of The Araboolies of Liberty Street, p. 1675; November 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of The Krazees, p. 567; May 15, 2004, Abby Nolan, review of Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, p. 1622; August, 2004, Deborah Donovan, review of I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories, p. 1882.
Horn Book, May-June, 1997, Diana Lutz, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 336; May, 2000, review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, p. 300.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1997, review of The Krazees, p. 1313.
Library Journal, September 15, 2004, Terry Christner, review of I Am a Pencil, p. 67.
NEA Today, November, 2004, review of I Am a Pencil, p. 14.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1989, Carol Muske, review of The Araboolies of Liberty Street, p. 38.
Parents' Choice, October, 1996, review of The Araboolies of Liberty Street, p. 21.
Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1989, review of The Araboolies of Liberty Street, p. 457; April 17, 1995, review of Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation, p. 49; March 3, 1997, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 75; June 23, 1997, review of The Krazees, p. 90; May 17, 2004, review of Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, p. 50.
School Library Journal, December, 1989, Shirley Wilton, review of The Araboolies of Liberty Street, p. 90; April, 1997, Ruth S. Vose, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 143; December, 1997, Heide Piehler, review of The Krazees, p. 101; May, 2000, Patricia Manning, review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, p. 156.
Sam Swope Home Page, http://www.samswope.org (January 8, 2006).