Tompert, Ann 1918-
TOMPERT, Ann 1918-
PERSONAL: Born January 11, 1918, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Joseph (a farmer) and Florence (Pollitt) Bakeman; married Robert S. Tompert (a social service employee; deceased), March 31, 1951. Education: Siena Heights College, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1938; Wayne State University, graduate study, 1941-46. Politics: "Independent with Republican leanings." Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Reading and mentoring new writers, collecting paperweights and milkglass, gardening, caning chairs, refinishing furniture, sewing, needlework, dining with friends, "intense discussions about life, religion, politics, and literature."
CAREER: Teacher in elementary and junior and senior high schools in St. Clair Shores, East Detroit, Grosse Pointe, Marine City, and other cities in Michigan, 1938-59; writer, 1959—.
MEMBER: Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, River District Hospital Auxiliary (life member; St. Clair, MI), Friends of the Port Huron Library, Port Huron Museum.
AWARDS, HONORS: Notable children's book citations, American Library Association and School Library Journal, 1976, Friend of American Writers citation, 1977, honors citation, Chicago Children's Reading Round Table, 1979, and "Best of the Best: 1966-1978," School Library Journal, 1979, all for Little Fox Goes to the End of the World; Irma Simonton Black award honor book, 1980, for Charlotte and Charles; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, Children's Book Council, 1988, for The Silver Whistle, 1990, for Grandfather Tang's Story: A Tale Told with Tangrams; "Pick of the List," American Booksellers Association (ABA), 1991, for Savina, the Gypsy Dancer, and 1993, for Just a Little Bit; Children's Reading Roundtable Service Award, 1994; Memorial Fund Award, Michigan branch of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, 1994, for outstanding work in children's literature; The Jade Horse, the Cricket and the Peach Stone was named Bank Street College Book of the Year, 1996; Saint Patrick was selected by Booklist as one of the top ten religious books for children, 1998; honorary degree from Siena Heights University, 2003.
What Makes My Cat Purr?, Whitman Publishing (Racine, WI), 1965.
The Big Whistle, Whitman Publishing (Racine, WI), 1968.
When Rooster Crowed, Whitman Publishing (Racine, WI), 1968.
Maybe a Horse Will Come, illustrated by Frank Aloise, Follett (Chicago, IL), 1968.
A Horse for Charlie, Whitman Publishing (Racine, WI), 1969.
The Crow, the Kite, and the Golden Umbrella, illustrated by Franklin Luke, Abelard-Schulman (New York, NY), 1971.
Fun for Ozzie, illustrated by Elizabeth Rice, Steck (Austin, TX), 1971.
Hyacinth, the Reluctant Duck, illustrated by John Paul Richards, Steck (Austin, TX), 1972.
It May Come in Handy Someday, illustrated by Bruce Cayard, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1975.
Little Fox Goes to the End of the World, illustrated by John Wallner, Crown (New York, NY), 1976.
Little Otter Remembers and Other Stories, illustrated by John Wallner, Crown (New York, NY), 1977.
The Clever Princess, illustrated by Patricia Riley, Lollipop Power, 1977.
Badger on His Own, illustrated by Diane de Groat, Crown (New York, NY), 1978.
Three Foolish Tales, illustrated by Diane Dawson, Crown (New York, NY), 1979.
Charlotte and Charles, illustrated by John Wallner, Crown (New York, NY), 1979.
Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1983.
The Greatest Showman on Earth: A Biography of P. T.Barnum, Dillon (Minneapolis, MN), 1987.
Will You Come Back for Me?, illustrated by Robin Kramer, Whitman Publishing (Racine, WI), 1988.
The Silver Whistle, illustrated by Beth Park, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
Sue Patch and the Crazy Clocks, illustrated by Rosekrans Hoffman, Dial (New York, NY), 1989.
The Tzar's Bird, illustrated by Robert Rayevsky, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
Grandfather Tang's Story: A Tale Told with Tangrams, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, Crown (New York, NY), 1990.
Savina, the Gypsy Dancer, illustrated by Dennis Nolan, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.
Just a Little Bit, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake: A Tale Adapted fromJapanese Folklore, illustrated by Demi, Crown (New York, NY), 1993.
A Carol for Christmas, illustrated by Laura Kelly, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
The Jade Horse, the Cricket and the Peach Stone, illustrated by Winson Trang, Boyds Mills Press (New York, NY), 1996.
How Rabbit Lost His Tail, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1997.
Saint Patrick, illustrated by Michael Garland, Boyds Mills Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Hungry Black Bag, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
Saint Nicholas, illustrated by Michael Garland, Boyds Mills Press (New York, NY), 2000.
The Pied Piper of Peru, illustrated by Kestutis Kasparavicius, Boyds Mills Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Joan of Arc: Heroine of France, illustrated by Michael Garland, Boyds Mills Press (New York, NY), 2003.
The Errant Knight, illustrated by Doug Keith, Illumination Arts, 2003.
Harry's Hats, Children's Press (Danbury, CT), 2003.
Saint Valentine, illustrated by Kestutis Kasparavicius, Boyds Mills Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to children's magazines, including Jack and Jill, Wee Wisdom, and Friend. Contributor to The Real Books of First Stories, edited by Dorothy Haas, and Sea Treasures, edited by Ira E. Aaron. Author of column "Salmagundi," Once upon a Time; author of column "Addenda," Newsletter of the Michigan branch of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Little Fox Goes to the End of the World and Little Otter Remembers and Other Stories have been translated into Japanese. Just a Little Bit has been translated into French, German, and Japanese, Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow into French, and Little Fox Goes to the End of the World and Sue Patch and the Crazy Clocks into Spanish.
SIDELIGHTS: Ann Tompert is the author of more than three dozen children's picture books, stories for the beginning reader, and folktales, including the award-winning Little Fox Goes to the End of the World and Charlotte and Charles. Although almost fifty years of age when her first book was published, Tompert had dreamed of being a writer from age twelve, modeling herself on Jo from Little Women. The necessities of life, however, intervened.
When Tompert was twelve, her mother died, and her father, a small farmer on the outskirts of Detroit, was left to care for Tompert and her two sisters. "I am just now realizing what a profound influence my father has had on me," she once told CA. "He did not let the fact that his formal education was limited to attendance at a typical rural school of the time hinder him in any way. He . . . would tackle any job because he did not fear failure. There was a stubbornness about him that helped him get things done in spite of what must have seemed insurmountable obstacles." As a child, Tompert helped her father sell vegetables at the roadside stand in front of their farm, and her sisters and she went with him whenever they were not in school. "An especially fond memory is of playing in the fields while my father mowed hay for the horses," Tompert recalled. Unaware of the fact that they were what might be today called "underprivileged," Tompert and her sisters invented their own fun rather than relying on toys. It was an upbringing that gave her a strong creative core and an optimistic approach to life.
Tompert left home for college at sixteen, majoring in English and still dreaming of becoming a writer. Practical concerns dictated that she work toward becoming a teacher, however, as it was "one of the few professions opened to women at that time," Tompert noted in CA. She continued to write during college, and upon graduation began her teaching career in a two-room schoolhouse. In 1940 she won an honorable mention and five dollars for a play she submitted to a writing contest. "That small success kept the spark of my desire alive during the next twenty years while I taught school in various parts of Michigan." In 1951 Tompert married and began working toward her master's in English part time. Finally, in 1959, she decided to devote herself to her dream of writing. "I was teaching first grade at the time," Tompert told CA, "and after reading hundreds of books to my pupils, I was convinced that I could write stories that were just as good, if not better." So for the next three years she wrote and submitted stories and "built up one of the world's finest collections of rejection slips." Finally however, the stubbornness inherited from her father paid off. Her first story was accepted by Jack and Jill, and her writing career was underway.
Initially, Tompert wrote picture books for Whitman Publishing, a division of Western Publishing. "Many people do not consider this type of book worth mentioning," Tompert told CA, "although I do not understand why. Writing a manuscript for this type of book requires as much time, effort and talent as do manuscripts for hard-cover books." Many of these early books feature animal protagonists, a device she has continued to use throughout her career. Fun for Ozzie, one of her first publications, tells the tale of a playful otter who tries hobbies enjoyed by other animals until he finally hits on the right one for him. Tompert's 1971 The Crow, the Kite, and the Golden Umbrella was inspired by a newspaper account of how the people in a Malaysian town were trying to cure themselves of a plague of crows. In Tompert's story, the town of Kota Kobis offers a golden umbrella to whoever can rid the town of the crows. Young Muda, who has a pet crow, constructs a kite with which to lure the other crows away. How Muda attempts to win the prize while at the same time keeping his own pet crow forms the crux of the story.
Tompert's own farm background provided some of the inspiration for her next title, It May Come in Handy Someday, in which an old man collects all sorts of paraphernalia that he thinks may come in handy on his farm. The old man neglects his garden while he scavenges, and the farm risks becoming engulfed in the junk until a passerby offers to tell the townspeople to come and take what they want. Zena Sutherland in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books remarked that "the collected items get sillier as the pile grows and overflows."
With her next title, Little Fox Goes to the End of the World, Tompert began to hit her stride. Inspired by her own childhood dream to follow a rainbow to the pot of gold, she originally wrote a story featuring a little boy's journey. An editor, however, suggested that she use an animal protagonist and Tompert thought of a fox, an animal she felt was sadly misunderstood by humans. The little fox in question is a bushy-tailed kit who wears jeans and sandals and who tells her mother what she would do if she set off to the end of the world. She relates all the adventures she would have, which involve bears with honey, banana-wielding monkeys, and mountain snows. Virginia Haviland commented in Horn Book that "it's all a whimsical and childlike game of pretend," while Cynthia Percak Infantino in School Library Journal concluded that "story hour audiences will relish Little Fox's escapades."
Tompert's ideas come from a variety of sources: the newspapers, personal experience, and her years of teaching young children. "For me," she once told CA, "ideas are everywhere, just waiting to be picked up. . . . The idea for a story is just the beginning, of course. It is somewhat like the first piece of a jigsaw puzzle. The rest of the pieces must be found and fitted into the right places before the picture is completed. Sometimes, the process goes quickly, but more often, it is a long series of trials and errors. When the story is finished, I know it has been worth the effort. And I know, too, that I can hardly wait to start on a new puzzle." For her next "puzzle," Tompert teamed up again with John Wallner and employed an otter as the main character, as she had done with the earlier Fun for Ozzie. In Little Otter Remembers and Other Stories, the animal protagonist selects a gift for Mother Otter, searches for a lost pine cone, and goes to a sliding party with relatives. "The tone here is pleasantly warm," noted a reviewer for Booklist, and a contributor in Publishers Weekly, commenting on the success of the previous joint effort of Tompert and Wallner, remarked that "they now have another able contender for honors."
A cuddly animal also figures in Badger on His Own, in which Badger, tired of his father hounding him about turning cartwheels, sets up house in a new burrow. Befriended by Owl, Badger soon wonders if the bossy bird is any better than his parents. A Booklist reviewer concluded that the book's adult message "goes straight to the heart of most youngsters," while a critic in Publishers Weekly called it "a droll, original story." Three Foolish Tales, employing a story-within-the-story format, features Skunk, Raccoon, and Fox who vie for a purple umbrella, the prize for whomever can tell the most foolish tale. In the end it is Fox who makes the other two look foolish. A contributor in School Library Journal noted that the book had "a refreshing degree of wit," but a Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Tompert often "expresses a grownup's hindsight," and that the book seemed geared more "to adults than to children."
With Charlotte and Charles, Tompert features human protagonists, though in this case they are two giants living on a lonely island. Normal-sized people come to settle the island, and at first Charlotte is happy about this, though Charles has his doubts. Such doubts are confirmed when the humans, out of a blind fear of difference, force the giants to flee to another island. "This is a highly readable story, almost an allegory of race relations and bigotry," noted Ruth K. MacDonald in School Library Journal. A nonsense tale is at the heart of Tompert's next title, Nothing Sticks Like a Shadow, in which Rabbit, egged on by Woodchuck, tries futilely to outrun his shadow. Judith Gloyer, reviewing the book in School Library Journal, noted that it was "a well-rounded tale that hangs together from start to finish," and Barbara Ellerman in Booklist concluded that "librarians looking for lively Groundhog Day stories, will latch on to this with pleasure."
Tompert took a break from children's picture books with 1987's The Greatest Showman on Earth: A Biography of P. T. Barnum, written for a juvenile audience. Relatively longer in format than the author's previous works and illustrated with photographs, this biography covers the career of the showman who created the three-ring circus, among other achievements. Barnum was also something of a hoaxer and a minor fraud, who, as Tompert shows in her biography, also helped to create modern advertising. Todd Morning, in School Library Journal, called the book an "effective biography," though noting that the author's tendency to skip back and forth in time might confuse some young readers. "Tompert has assembled the facts of [Barnum's] life competently," a reviewer in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books concluded.
Three books from 1988 deal with human protagonists and with themes ranging from the meaning of Christmas to the difficulties of adjusting to day care. In The Silver Whistle, set in Mexico, Miguel saves all year to buy a silver whistle to set on the altar as a gift to the Christ Child, but his savings go instead to save a burro being beaten by its master. In the end, it is the crude clay whistle that Miguel has fashioned that is the best altar gift of all. Will You Come Back for Me? examines four-year-old Suki's fear at being left for the first time at a day-care center. In the end the girl's fears are eased when her mother cuts out a red heart and gives Suki half of it: "When I leave you at Mrs. Clara's on Monday, I'll leave a part of my heart, too," the mother tells Suki. Both a multicultural story as well as a problem book, it is a tale "certain to calm the fears of little ones in the same situation as Suki," noted Ilene Cooper in Booklist. Tompert's Sue Patch and the Crazy Clocks tells the story of Sue who can fix anything until she is challenged by the king to set all the clocks in his huge palace to the same time. While she is first daunted by the challenge, in the end, logic prevails. "An entertaining story with whimsical logic to tickle minds and funny bones," stated a contributor in Kirkus Reviews.
A quartet of stories from the 1990s told in folktale and legend format are set from China to Russia to Japan.Grandfather Tang's Story: A Tale Told with Tangrams is about shape-changing fox fairies who compete against each other until they are finally reminded of their friendship by the danger a hunter presents. Employing the Chinese tangram, an ancient seven-piece puzzle that can be put together to tell a story, Tompert's book also relates the loving bond between an old man and his granddaughter and "will be valued by storytellers and listeners alike," according to Carolyn Noah in School Library Journal. The Tzar's Bird tells the story of a Russian king who is afraid of going to the edge of the world, a fear only increased by the threats of the witch Baba Yaga, the well-known figure from folklore. Ultimately the tzar, Prince Yaroslav, learns to overcome his fear of the unknown in this "lively story," as Denise Anton Wright characterized the book in School Library Journal. "Striking just the right balance between traditional folktales and modern morality tales, the text is filled with rich imagery," Wright noted. Another legend-like tale is Savina, the Gypsy Dancer, in which a gypsy girl captivates people with her marvelous dancing and ultimately arouses the jealousy and hatred of King Walid, who is fearful that such dancing might threaten his own power. In Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake: A Tale Adapted from Japanese Folklore, Tompert adapted a Japanese folktale about a poor old couple who, wishing to have good luck in the New Year, are forced to trade the wife's wedding kimono for rice cakes that insure such luck. Once at the market, however, the old man, out of the goodness of his heart, makes trades that leave him worse off than before. "Kindness and generosity are the virtues celebrated in this pleasant adaptation," commented Nancy Vasilakis in a Horn Book review.
Tompert returns to animal protagonists with Just a Little Bit, the story of Mouse and Elephant who decide to go on a seesaw together. Mouse ends up needing the help of many other animals before they are able to go up and down, reinforcing the idea that help, even in small packages, can be of benefit in the aggregate. Mary M. Burns in Horn Book called the work "a charming tale of collaborative effort," and Harriett Fargnoli in School Library Journal noted that "repetitive phrasing, the parade of animal types, and the variety of the verb actions make this a beginning language pleaser." A mouse also figures in Tompert's A Carol for Christmas, set in Austria in 1818. This retelling of the origins of "Silent Night" is narrated by Jeremy, one of seventeen mouse children, who is present at the creation of the famous Christmas carol—he has slipped into the Pastor's pocket in search of cheese just as the man decides to take a walk in the night air in search of inspiration. Deborah Abbott in Booklist thought that "the story's crisp descriptive details add a sense of holiday magic" and concluded that the book was "a solid addition for Christmas collections."
Tompert tells the stories of two famous saints in her books Saint Patrick and Saint Nicholas. In Saint Patrick, she recounts the life story of Ireland's patron saint, a man who survived slavery and kidnaping to become a missionary to his own people. "Tompert concentrates on facts rather than legend," noted Ilene Cooper in Booklist, adding that Saint Patrick is an "appealing look at the life of Ireland's patron saint." The critic for Publishers Weekly found Tompert's biography to be "a highly accessible look at one of history's best-known spiritual leaders."
In Saint Nicholas, Tompert presents the real-life story of the Catholic bishop whose career inspired the legend of Santa Claus. An orphan, Nicholas became a priest and then the bishop in the coastal town of Patara in present-day Turkey. Renowned for the miracles he worked in the lives of his people, he was eventually made the patron saint of children. Centuries later, his good deeds and his connection to doing good works for children led to his transformation into the Santa Claus of today. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that "Tompert employs a swift-moving chronology to emphasize Nicholas's purity, selflessness and faith." Gillian Engberg in Booklist described the text as "engaging and simple" and concluded that "children interested in the lives of saints will find a good introduction here."
In her many books, Tompert has managed to impart messages about kindness and cooperation, the evils of jealousy, and the power of friendship in a light manner. "I am very committed to the idea of fostering positive values in my books for children," she once explained. "We as a nation are so dedicated to preserving our physical environment and our quality of life (making ourselves safe from harm—auto safety, cancer research, pure food laws, etc.); yet, when it comes to dealing with our minds, anything and everything is permissible. I find this very disturbing, to say the least." In a letter to the editor of Horn Book, Tompert posited a question that sums up her efforts as a children's writer: "It seems to me that the media keep us well informed about 'how things are,'" she wrote. "Should not we writers consider presenting our readers with the possibilities of how things can be or perhaps should be?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 1978, p. 1013; April 15, 1978, p. 1358; April 1, 1984, p. 1122; November 1, 1988, p. 488; October 15, 1994, Deborah Abbott, review of A Carol for Christmas, p. 440; February 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Saint Patrick, p. 916; October 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Saint Patrick, p. 343; May 15, 1999, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Hungry Black Bag, p. 1704; October 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Saint Nicholas, p. 360; March 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of Joan of Arc: Heroine of France, p. 1208.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1969, p. 32; March, 1976, pp. 119-120; January, 1978, p. 87; April, 1980, p. 161; April, 1988, p. 171; May, 1991, p. 229.
Horn Book, September, 1976, pp. 616-617; July, 1989, p. 64; September-October, 1989, p. 548; January, 1990, p. 226; fall, 1991, p. 260; September-October, 1993, pp. 592-593; February, 1994, p. 79; spring, 1994, pp. 57, 111; spring, 1995, p. 59.
Humpty Dumpty's Magazine, March, 1995, review of Just a Little Bit, p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1975, p. 125; August 1, 1976, p. 843; March 1, 1978, p. 241; February 15, 1980, p. 213; March 1, 1984, p. 111; September 1, 1988, p. 1329; October 15, 1989, p. 1538; April 15, 1990, p. 586; August 1, 1990, p. 1092; September 1, 1993, p. 1153; November 15, 1994, p. 1549; March 1, 2002, review of The Pied Piper of Peru, p. 347; March 1, 2003, review of Joan of Arc, p. 399.
New York Times Book Review, November 14, 1976, p. 39; July 1, 1990, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly, November 14, 1977, p. 66; February 27, 1978, p. 158; February 5, 1979, p. 95; September 19, 1994, review of A Carol for Christmas, p. 31; September 23, 1996, review of The Jade Horse, the Cricket, and the Peach Stone, p. 76; March 24, 1997, review of How Rabbit Lost His Tail, p. 82; January 26, 1998, review of Saint Patrick, p. 86; May 3, 1999, review of The HungryBlack Bag, p. 75; September 25, 2000, review of Saint Nicholas, p. 113; February 10, 2003, review of Joan of Arc, p. 187.
School Library Journal, December, 1976, pp. 51-52; May, 1979, p. 80; January, 1980, p. 62; May, 1984, p. 75; March, 1988, p. 210; April, 1988, p. 171; May, 1990, p. 92; November, 1990, p. 99; December, 1993, p. 95; October, 1994, Jane Marino, review of A Carol for Christmas, p. 44; December, 1996, Margaret A. Chang, review of The Jade Horse, the Cricket, and the Peach Stone, p. 107; May, 1997, Judith Constantinides, review of How Rabbit Lost His Tail, p. 115; March, 1998, review of Saint Patrick, p. 207; May, 1999, review of The Hungry Black Bag, p. 99; October, 2000, review of Saint Nicholas, p. 63; March, 2003, Ann Welton, review of Joan of Arc, p. 225.
Boyds Mills Press Web Site,http://www.boydsmillspress.com/ (December 16, 2002).