Tolan, Stephanie S. 1942-
TOLAN, Stephanie S. 1942-
PERSONAL: Born October 25, 1942, in Canton, OH; daughter of Joseph Edward and Mary (Schroy) Stein; married Robert W. Tolan (a theater director and producer), December 19, 1964; children: R. J.; step-children: Patrick, Andrew, Robert, Jr. Education: Purdue University, B.A., 1964, M.A., 1967.
CAREER: Purdue University, Fort Wayne, IN, instructor in continuing education, 1966-70; State University of New York—Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, faculty member in speech and theater, 1972; Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, adjunct faculty member in English, 1973-75, coordinator of continuing education, 1974-75; writer, 1975—. Lecturer at Indiana University, 1966-70; participant, Artists-in-Education, Pennsylvania, 1974, Ohio, 1975, and North Carolina, 1984; faculty member, Institute of Children's Literature, 1988-93; senior fellow, Institute for Educational Advancement; consultant to parents and educators on the needs of highly gifted children and prodigies. Member of literature panel, Ohio Arts Council, 1978-80. Actress, performing with Curtain Call Co., 1970-71.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Children's Book Guild of Washington, D.C.
AWARDS, HONORS: Individual artist fellowships, Ohio Arts Council, 1978, 1981, and 1997; Post-Corbett Awards finalist, 1981; Ohioana Book Award for juvenile fiction, 1981, for The Liberation of Tansy Warner; Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Fellowship, 1981; Media Award for Best Book of 1983, American Psychological Association, for Guiding the Gifted Child; Best Book of 1988, School Library Journal, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nominee, and Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, all for A Good Courage; Sequoyah Children's Book Award nomination, and Georgia Children's Book Award nomination, both for Grandpa—and Me; Virginia Young Readers Best Choices winner, 1992-1993, Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award nominee, 1992-1993, Nevada Young Readers Award, 1993-1994, and Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, all for Plague Year; Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award nominee, for The Great Skinner Getaway; South Carolina Children's Book Award nominee, for The Great Skinner Homestead; Mark Twain Award nominee, Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award nominee, 1992-1993, California Young Reader's Award nominee, and South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee, 1996-1997, all for Who's There?; Best Books for Young Adults, YALSA, 1994, Sequoyah Children's Book Award nominee, Land of Enchantment Children's Book Award nominee, and Editor's Choice selection, Booklist, all for Save Halloween!; Ohio Arts Council Summer Writing Residency, Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA, 1998; Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominee, and Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, both for Welcome to the Ark; Dorothy Canfield Fisher nominee, Best Books on Religion, American Library Association (ALA), and Sequoyah Young Adult Book Award nominee, all for Ordinary Miracles; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, for Flight of the Raven; Best Book of 2002, School Library Journal, Notable Children's Books selection, Smithsonian magazine, 2002, Volunteer State Book Award nominee, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, Books for the Teenage selection, New York Public Library, and Newbery Honor Book, ALA, 2003, all for Surviving the Applewhites.
NOVELS FOR YOUNG READERS
Grandpa—and Me, Scribner (New York, NY), 1978.
The Last of Eden, Warne (New York, NY), 1980.
The Liberation of Tansy Warner, Scribner (New York, NY), 1980.
No Safe Harbors, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.
The Great Skinner Strike, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1983.
A Time to Fly Free, Scribner (New York, NY), 1983.
Pride of the Peacock, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
The Great Skinner Enterprise, Four Winds, (New York), NY, 1986.
The Great Skinner Getaway, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1987.
A Good Courage, Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
The Great Skinner Homestead, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
Plague Year, Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
Marcy Hooper and the Greatest Treasure in the World, Morrow (New York, NY), 1991.
Sophie and the Sidewalk Man, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
The Witch of Maple Park, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Save Halloween!, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.
Who's There?, Morrow (New York, NY), 1994.
Welcome to the Ark, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
The Face in the Mirror, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.
Ordinary Miracles, Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.
Flight of the Raven, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Surviving the Applewhites, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Bartholomew's Blessing, illustrated by Margie Moore, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
The Ledge (one-act), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1968.
Not I, Said the Little Red Hen (one-act), first produced in New York, NY, 1971.
(With Katherine Paterson) Bridge to Terabithia (based on Paterson's novel; first produced in Louisville, KY, 1990), music by Steven Liebman, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1992.
(With Katherine Paterson) The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks: A Musical Play, music by Steven Liebman, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Katherine Paterson) The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck: A Musical Play Based on the Story by Beatrix Potter, music by Steven Liebman, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 2002.
(With James T. Webb and Elizabeth Meckstroth) Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers, Ohio Psychology Publishing (Columbus, OH), 1982.
Contributor of poems to more than a dozen literary magazines, including Roanoke Review, Descant, and Green River Review.
ADAPTATIONS: The Great Skinner Strike was adapted as Mom's on Strike, a 1988 ABC-TV After-School Special.
SIDELIGHTS: The author of over twenty novels for children and young adults as well as several musical plays, Stephanie S. Tolan often writes of children who are, in some way or another, special if not exceptional. These include the outsiders, misfits, and misunderstood; there are also kids who are extraordinarily intelligent and intuitive, who are plagued by scandal, who find refuge in imaginary kingdoms, or who discover dangerous family secrets. Tolan's adolescent and teen protagonists have to learn to deal with the world as well as with their own special situations: surviving a personal fear of nuclear war, getting through the final years of boarding school, dealing with the life of a twin and with fundamentalism, contending with the violence of the larger world. Tolan is concerned about the rights of young people in a society that she feels cares less and less about children and their needs. Poverty, education, housing, the environment, violence, and abuse are some of the social issues that concern her, and she has dealt with some of these concerns in her books. She also raises these issues when she speaks to parents, educators, librarians, and other audiences.
According to Tolan's Web site, her earliest memories involve books, "those that were read to her and those she read to herself often late at night with a flashlight under the covers." Born in Ohio and raised in Wisconsin, she early on discovered the magic and joy to be found between the covers of a book. In the fourth grade, she wrote her first story, discovering for herself the magic of such creation, and from that time on she knew she would be a writer. By the time she was eleven, Tolan had already received her first rejection slips, but continued to write throughout her junior and senior high school years.
Majoring in creative writing at Purdue University, she went on to complete a master's degree in English. Married in 1964, she became an instant mother of three stepsons and then her own son; writing took second place to the concerns of family for a time, though she continued in fits and spurts even as she began instructing in English at the university level. Poetry and adult plays became Tolan's focus for a time; with her husband's career as a director in professional theater, the family was on the move frequently. When Tolan worked in a Poets-in-the-Schools program in Pennsylvania, she suddenly rediscovered her early connection to the magic of books. Her students were eager readers. "They brought back to me that special reading joy that most adults—even readers among us—have lost," Tolan noted on her Web site, "and I wanted to try my hand at writing for those kids, so like myself at their age and yet so different."
Tolan began writing about significant social problems with her first published work, Grandpa—and Me, which discusses the issue of dealing with aging family members. The central character, Kerry, grows to understand how age is affecting her grandfather's behavior and also comes to a new understanding of her place within her family. In Plague Year, Tolan writes about prejudice, ignorance, and hysteria, creating a compelling but frightening story about a maverick high school student whose appearance and personal background inspire hostility from the community.
In Pride of the Peacock, Tolan tells the story of Whitney and her fear of nuclear disaster. Whitney becomes preoccupied with the way the value and beauty of the Earth are threatened by people. She meets a sculptor, Theodora Bourke, who is trying to escape the violent atmosphere of New York, where her husband lost his life. They meet at an abandoned estate where the neglected garden has become overgrown with weeds. Together they clean out the garden and their friendship helps both Whitney and Theodora to cope in a troubled world. According to an English Journal reviewer, teens should relate to Whitney and her strong emotions, "her fear in grappling with unsolvable real-life problems, and her inability to own the solutions acceptable to her parents and peers."
Tolan deals with a number of social problems even in her "Skinner" series of books, which are lighter in tone and have much more humor than her other works. One of her Skinner stories, The Great Skinner Strike, deals with Eleanor Skinner's involvement in a nationally-publicized strike, while The Great Skinner Enterprise centers around running a home business. These books focus on issues about making a living that many middle-class people face in times of changing technology. Even The Great Skinner Getaway touches on the disillusionments of traveling, exploring, camping, and small-town American life. But despite their serious undertones, the "Skinner" series aims to fulfill Tolan's interest in writing stories that will bring joy and adventure to reading for children.
Marcy Hooper and the Greatest Treasure in the World, a chapter book for young readers, is a fairy tale story with nymphs and dragons, but it also shows how a little girl can gain courage and become self-reliant. Marcy is having trouble at school and runs off toward the hills near her house to forget spelling tests, twowheeled bikes, and tripping on jump ropes. She feels like a failure. By the end of her adventure, during which she finds a treasure and encounters a dragon who would swallow her up if given the chance, Marcy finds the treasure of her own courage. Jana R. Fine, reviewing the book in School Library Journal, noted that Tolan's story "will attract those searching for mild adventure."
As with Marcy Hooper and the Greatest Treasure in the World, The Witch of Maple Park is "a semi-scary story with a happy ending," as Kathryn Jennings described it in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. The story is told by Casey, but the central character is her friend Mackenzie, who is a psychic. Mackenzie is afraid that Barnaby, the little boy she is babysitting, is in danger of being kidnapped by a "witch" who seems to be following them. All ends well when the "witch" turns out to be an herbalist who helps Mackenzie's mother in her failing catering business. School Library Journal contributor Lisa Dennis called the book "a light, engaging read, jammed full of incidents and mild excitement, well blended into a pleasing whole." A Kirkus Reviews critic also wrote that "quick pacing makes this a prime candidate for readers, including reluctant ones, who enjoy a frothy mystery." And Carolyn Phelan concluded in Booklist that "this entertaining book is a cut above most middle-grade fare."
In Sophie and the Sidewalk Man, Tolan tells the story of an eight-year-old girl who is saving her allowance and collecting cans to buy Weldon, a stuffed hedgehog she sees in the window of a toy store. On one of her visits to see Weldon before she has enough money to buy him, Sophie encounters a ragged, dirty man sitting on the sidewalk holding a sign that asks for help because he is hungry. Buying Weldon is important to Sophie because her mother suffers from allergies and, consequently, pets are not allowed in the house. To help get the forty dollars she needs to buy Weldon, Sophie begins to skip lunch to add her lunch money to her savings. As Sophie experiences hunger, she becomes sympathetic to the "sidewalk man." Her sympathy for the man grows even stronger one day when she sees him giving half a sandwich to a stray cat. After having a discussion with her mother about giving handouts to the homeless, Sophie makes her difficult choice and helps the man.
Tolan has received praise from several reviewers for Sophie and the Sidewalk Man. One Kirkus Reviews critic called the story "a thoughtful, intelligent, and appealing book, with respect for its young readers and for the problem it explores." In Horn Book Guide, Elizabeth S. Watson commented that Sophie's progress toward growing up is admirable, and "no adult moralizing clouds the simple solution." Susannah Price, writing in School Library Journal, similarly found the story "a meaningful novel that is infused with the spirit of Christmas.... This story will really hit home, right where kids' feelings are." As Booklist contributor Deborah Abbott stated, "Tolan draws her characters carefully, making them believable and likable," and added that the story's theme is "a welcome change of pace."
Similarly, as in her books about the Skinner family, Tolan has also explored another family, the Filkins, in two novels, Save Halloween! and Ordinary Miracles. In the former, eleven-year-old Johnna is deeply involved in her school Halloween pageant, though her Evangelical Christian family and preacher-father consider it the devil's holiday. Johnna must soon choose between the two in this story with "no easy answers" and "no stock characters," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Maeve Visser Knoth, writing in Horn Book Guide, also praised Johnna as a "welldeveloped character," and further lauded the author for her thoughtful balance of "serious issues." Set about a year before this action, Ordinary Miracles focuses on two other members of the family: Mark and his twin brother, Matthew. Raised to become Evangelical preachers like other men in the family, Mark begins to find such a life claustrophobic. He begins pulling away from his brother and religion, befriended by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist whose genetic engineering work is anathema to Mark's family. "Tolan does not flinch from setting up a truly difficult dilemma for her character," wrote Susan Dove Lempke in a Booklist review. Lempke concluded, "Such well-written fiction exploring Christian themes is rare, and many libraries will want to snap this up." Writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Elizabeth Bush noted that Tolan maintains a "deep respect of scientific and religious viewpoints and concludes that there are shadowy mysteries and miracles that, at least so far, elude our best attempts to illuminate them."
Chills are served up in Who's There?, a novel about fourteen-year-old Drew and her mute younger brother, both recently orphaned, who come to live with their deceased father's relatives. Here, they discover that the house is haunted by the ghosts of a potent family secret. Dubbed an "entertaining ghost story" by Booklist's Stephanie Zvirin, the book produces "sufficiently creepy" ghostly encounters and characters "drawn with care," as Zvirin further commented. Reviewing the novel in Book Report, Charlotte Decker wrote, "Tolan is a skilled writer who manages to create a sense of terror in a story with a logical plot that flows smoothly to its suspenseful climax." Decker concluded, "Ideal for readers searching for a 'scary story.'"
"Sibling rivalry gets a pretty nasty portrayal" in the ghost tale The Face in the Mirror, according to Sally Margolis, writing in School Library Journal. Jared, the young son of two divorced and very much self-absorbed actors, has been living with his grandfather. But when this man becomes ill, Jared is sent to Michigan to live with the father he never met, a director who has started a Shakespearean company in a historical theater. Once there, Jared suddenly has to deal with his spoiled but very talented half-brother. Both are playing the children of Richard III, locked in the tower, but off-stage rivalries spill over on stage. A seemingly playful ghost befriends Jared, but soon the youth finds himself in over his head when this ghost of the nineteenth-century actor Garrick Marsden plots to involve him in the killing of his half-brother. Though a contributor for Publishers Weekly thought this "ghost yarn offers little in the way of thrills and chills," Kathleen Armstrong, writing in Book Report, felt that "lovers of mysteries will enjoy this suspenseful story, a good choice for reluctant readers." Reviewing the same novel, Booklist's Chris Sherman commented, "Tolan artfully weaves Shakespeare's Richard III, sibling rivalry, revenge, and a haunted theater with a vindictive ghost into a suspenseful story." Sherman further predicted that her incorporation of the Shakespeare play into the action of The Face in the Mirror might inspire readers to look into the original play.
Tolan's experiences with her own son and working with other gifted children have inspired several of her novels, including the 1996 Welcome to the Ark and its 2001 sequel, Flight of the Raven. Four child prodigies transfer from a center for research to an experimental group home, and thereby must learn a different way to connect with their new environment and the rest of the world. All the children's special gifts have to do with communication, from Elijah, who is empathic; to Taryn, the poet and healer; Doug, the musician and mathematician; and Miranda, master of many languages at fifteen. Together the four develop a telepathic link with themselves and other children around the world. But when the hospital director secretly sabotages this communication project, the children are disbanded and sent their individual ways. "Tolan blends elements of science fiction with nonstop suspense in a provocative, disturbingly real story set in a near future when violence is pandemic," wrote Booklist's Sherman. Also reviewing Welcome to the Ark, Jacqueline Rose noted in Voice of Youth Advocates that the novel "will be best appreciated by sophisticated readers who understand its subtleties," and Kliatt's Claire M. Dignan praised "Tolan's sense of urgency, combined with her beautiful imagery and use of metaphor [which] make this an enjoyable page-turner." The sequel, Flight of the Raven, focuses on Elijah after the breakup of the home, or the Ark as it is referred to. The story also deals with twelve-year-old Amber and her father, the leader of a militia group that has just committed one devastating terrorist attack and is planning another. Elijah's empathic power is put to the test against this idealistic but misguided man who now plans to use biological weapons. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews felt this was "a slow-moving sequel" with "too much talk and not enough action." Hazel Rochman, however, writing in Booklist, felt that the "fear, the tenderness, and the evil seem very close to home," and Katie O'Dell, writing in School Library Journal, concluded that the novel will make "for a confrontational and thought-provoking read deserving much discussion."
A family of artistic geniuses is portrayed in Surviving the Applewhites, a "screwball comedy," according to Booklist's Ilene Cooper, that takes a standard story about how a tough young kid is turned around by a new family and "pushes [it] to a whole new place." Juvenile delinquent Jake is given a final opportunity in his life, placed in the Creative Academy at the Apple-white farm, called Wit's End, along with the home-schooled siblings of that family who seem to set their own curriculum. Only the young daughter of the clan, E. D., is organized and decidedly non-artistic. The father is a theater director, the mother a mystery writer, and an uncle and aunt respectively carve wood and write poetry. Resistant at first to the new rural and creative environment, and "the outrageously eccentric Applewhite clan," as Faith Brautigam described the family in School Library Journal, Jake is ultimately turned around, even taking part in Mr. Applewhite's production of The Sound of Music. "Humor abounds in the ever-building chaos," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who concluded, "In the end, it's the antics of the cast of characters that keep this show on the road." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews praised the madcap comedy, noting that the mixture of first-and third-person narration "result[s] in well-built characterizations held together in a structure that smoothly organizes the chaos that busy artistic geniuses create."
Tolan, who lives on a lake near Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and pets, is also a lecturer. In both her books and her speaking engagements, she is an outspoken proponent of children's rights and the development of positive self-awareness. "Most of the world is busy trying to tell children that they aren't good enough, aren't enough like other children, aren't really worthy of being loved," the author wrote on her Web site. "What every kid needs to know is that she is just exactly the person she is meant to be, and that—no matter what—she is absolutely and unconditionally worthy of love. If I could help even one boy or girl to begin to really believe that, I'd feel as if I'd done what I was meant to do."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cullinan, Bernice E., and Diane G. Person, editors, Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001, p. 779.
Helbig, Alethea K., and Agnes Regan Perkins, editors, Dictionary of American Children's Fiction, 1985-1989, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1993.
Hipple, Ted, editor, Writers for Young Adults, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000, pp. 315-324.
Booklist, March 1, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Sophie and the Sidewalk Man, p. 1281; September 1, 1992, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Witch of Maple Park, p. 125; September 1, 1994, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Who's There?, p. 45; October 15, 1996, Chris Sherman, review of Welcome to the Ark, p. 414; September 1, 1998, Chris Sherman, review of The Face in the Mirror, p. 111; October 1, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Ordinary Miracles, p. 370; October 15, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Flight of the Raven, p. 396; November 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Surviving the Applewhites, p. 494.
Book Report,September-October, 1994, Charlotte Decker, review of Who's There?, p. 47; March-April, 1999, Kathleen Armstrong, review of The Face in the Mirror, p. 64.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1992, Kathryn Jennings, review of The Witch of Maple Park, p. 125; October, 1993, pp. 59-60; December, 1994, Deborah Stevenson, review of Who's There?, p. 146; October, 1999, Elizabeth Bush, review of Ordinary Miracles, p. 72.
English Journal, October, 1987, review of Pride of the Peacock, p. 97.
Horn Book Guide, fall, 1992, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Sophie and the Sidewalk Man, p. 259; spring, 1994, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Save Halloween!, p. 83.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 1992, review of Sophie and the Sidewalk Man, p. 400; September 15, 1992, review of The Witch of Maple Park, p. 1194; September 15, 1998, review of The Face in the Mirror, p. 1391; October 1, 2001, review of Flight of the Raven, p. 1435; July 15, 2002, review of Surviving the Applewhites, p. 1046.
Kliatt, January, 1999, Claire M. Dignan, review of Welcome to the Ark, p. 20.
New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1978.
Publishers Weekly, September 20, 1993, review of Save Halloween!, p. 31; November 16, 1998, review of The Face in the Mirror, p. 76; August 5, 2002, review of Surviving the Applewhites, p. 73.
School Library Journal, January, 1992, Jana R. Fine, review of Marcy Hooper and the Greatest Treasure in the World, p. 99; May, 1992, Susannah Price, review of Sophie and the Sidewalk Man, p. 116; October, 1992, Lisa Dennis, review of The Witch of Maple Park, p. 122; October, 1993, p. 133; October, 1994, p. 150; October, 1996, p. 150; November, 1998, Sally Margolis, review of The Face in the Mirror, pp. 130-131; October, 1999, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of Ordinary Miracles, p. 160; October, 2001, Katie O'Dell, review of Flight of the Raven, pp. 173-174; September, 2002, Faith Brautigam, review of Suriving the Applewhites, pp. 235-236.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1997, Jacqueline Rose, review of Welcome to the Ark, p. 34.
Washington Post Book World, June 10, 1990.
Stephanie S. Tolan Home Page,http://www.stephanietolan.com/ (March 17, 2003).