Van Leeuwen, Jean 1937-
VAN LEEUWEN, Jean 1937-
PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "Van Loo-en"; born December 26, 1937, in Glen Ridge, NJ; daughter of Cornelius (a clergyman) and Dorothy (a teacher; maiden name, Charlton) Van Leeuwen; married Bruce David Gavril (a digital computer systems designer), July 7, 1968; children: David Andrew, Elizabeth Eva. Education: Syracuse University, B.A., 1959. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, reading, antiques, music.
ADDRESSES: Home—7 Colony Row, Chappaqua, NY 10514.
CAREER: Began career working for TV Guide; Random House, Inc., New York, NY, began as assistant editor, became associate editor of juvenile books, 1963-68; Viking Press, Inc., New York, NY, associate editor of juvenile books, 1968-70; Dial Press, New York, NY, senior editor of juvenile books, 1971-73; currently full-time writer.
AWARDS, HONORS: New Jersey Institute of Technology award, 1972, for I Was a 98-Pound Duckling; Art Books for Children award, 1974, for adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Emperor's New Clothes; New Jersey Institute of Technology award, 1975 and 1976, for Too Hot for Ice Cream; Ethical Culture School award, 1975, William Allen White award, 1978, and South Carolina Children's Book award, 1979, all for The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper; Seems Like This Road Goes On Forever was named one of the best books of 1979, American Library Association (ALA), Young Adult Services Division; Massachusetts Honor Book Award, 1981, for The Great Cheese Conspiracy; Pick of the Lists selection, American Booksellers Association, and Parents' Choice Remarkable Books for Literature selection, both for The Great Rescue Operation; International Reading Association Teachers' Choice selection, Pick of the Lists selection, American Booksellers Association, and Best in Kids' Entertainment selection, Parents' magazine, all for Going West.
More Tales of Oliver Pig, Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver, Tales of Amanda Pig, and More Tales of Amanda Pig all won the Booklist Children's Editors' Choice award; More Tales of Oliver Pig, Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver, and More Tales of Amanda Pig were noted on the American Booksellers Association Pick of the Lists; Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver, Benjy and the Power of Zingies, and Benjy in Business were all listed as Child Study Association Children's Books of the Year; Oliver, Amanda, and Grandmother Pig and Going West were listed in New York Public Library: 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing; Oliver, Amanda, and Grandmother Pig and Tales of Amanda Pig received the Library of Congress Books of the Year award; More Tales of Oliver Pig, Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver, and Tales of Amanda Pig have all been named ALA Notable Books.
(Editor) A Time of Growing, Random House (New York, NY), 1967.
Timothy's Flower, illustrated by Moneta Barnett, Random House (New York, NY), 1967.
One Day in Summer, illustrated by Richard Fish, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
The Great Cheese Conspiracy, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
(Adaptor) Hans Christian Andersen, The Emperor'sNew Clothes, illustrated by Jack Delano and Irene Delano, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
I Was a 98-Pound Duckling, Dial (New York, NY), 1972.
Too Hot for Ice Cream, illustrated by Martha Alexander, Dial (New York, NY), 1974.
The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, Dial (New York, NY), 1975.
Seems Like This Road Goes On Forever, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.
The Great Rescue Operation, illustrated by Margot Apple, Dial (New York, NY), 1982.
Benjy and the Power of Zingies, illustrated by Margot Apple, Dial (New York, NY), 1982.
Benjy in Business, illustrated by Margot Apple, Dial (New York, NY), 1983.
Benjy the Football Hero, illustrated by Gail Owens, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life, Dial (New York, NY), 1989.
Going West, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.
The Great Summer Camp Catastrophe, illustrated by Diane deGroat, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
Emma Bean, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard, Dial (New York, NY), 1993.
Two Girls in Sister Dresses, illustrated by Linda Benson, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
Bound for Oregon, Dial (New York, NY), 1994.
Across the Wide Dark Sea, illustrated by Thomas B. Allen, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
Blue Sky, Butterfly, Dial (New York, NY), 1996.
A Fourth of July on the Plains, illustrated by Henri Sorensen, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Touch the Sky Summer, illustrated by Dan Andreasen, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Nothing Here but Trees, illustrated by Phil Boatwright, Dial (New York, NY), 1998.
Growing Ideas (biography), photographs by David Gavril, Richard C. Owen (Katonah, NY), 1998.
The Tickle Stories, illustrated by Mary Whyte, Dial (New York, NY), 1998.
The Strange Adventures of Blue Dog, illustrated by Marco Ventura, Dial (New York, NY), 1999.
Sorry, illustrated by Brad Sneed, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2001.
"Wait for Me!" Said Maggie McGee, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Lucy Was There . . . , Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Amazing Air Balloon, illustrated by Marco Ventura, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Great Googlestein Museum Mystery, illustrated by R. W. Alley, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2003.
When the White Man Came to Our Shores, illustrated by James Bernardin, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2004.
"OLIVER AND AMANDA PIG" SERIES
Tales of Oliver Pig, illustrated by Arnold Lobel, Dial (New York, NY), 1979.
More Tales of Oliver Pig, illustrated by Arnold Lobel, Dial (New York, NY), 1981.
Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1982.
Tales of Amanda Pig, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1983.
More Tales of Amanda Pig, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1985.
Oliver, Amanda, and Grandmother Pig, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1987.
Oliver and Amanda's Christmas, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1989.
Oliver Pig at School, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1990.
Amanda Pig on Her Own, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1991.
Oliver and Amanda's Halloween, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1992.
Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Dial (New York, NY), 1995.
Amanda Pig, School Girl, Dial (New York, NY), 1997.
Amanda Pig and Her Best Friend Lollipop, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Penguin Putnam (New York, NY), 1998.
Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster, illustrated by Ann Schweninger, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Hannah of Fairfield, illustrated by Donna Diamond, Dial (New York, NY), 1999.
Hannah's Helping Hands, illustrated by Donna Diamond, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Hannah's Winter of Hope, illustrated by Donna Diamond, Phyllis Fogelman Books (New York, NY), 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: Jean Van Leeuwen is the award-winning author of over fifty books for young readers. Equally adept and entertaining in picture books as she is in chapter books and novels for middle graders and young adults, Van Leeuwen has charmed young readers for over three decades. Her stories about the jovial pig siblings, Oliver and Amanda, number in the double digits and have drawn praise from fans and critics alike. Other books that have survived over time include The Great Cheese Conspiracy, featuring a trio of meddlesome mice, and its several sequels. But Van Leeuwen does not entertain only with animal protagonists. Characters in the "Benjy" stories, and in I Was a 98-Pound Duckling, Too Hot for Ice Cream, Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life, and Blue Sky, Butterfly are only too real and deal with contemporary issues in both humorous and heart-wrenching ways. This prolific and versatile writer has also mined a historical vein in her fiction, with books such as Going West and Bound for Oregon, both set during pioneering days in America. And with the "Pioneer Daughters" series of novels, Van Leeuwen takes audiences back to the Revolutionary War in a trio of novels that explores life in the eighteenth-century through the adventures of young Hannah.
Van Leeuwen had a long and close relationship with the printed word before she became a writer, and loved to read as a child. She was working as a children's book editor when she rediscovered her childhood ambition to write and in 1967 joyfully saw the publication of her first book, Timothy's Flower. Timothy's Flower was warmly received by critics. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books credited the "simple, unpretentious style" of the prose for the book's successful rendering of how a flower improves the life of a poor boy. Van Leeuwen's early works also include A Time of Growing, an anthology of fictional reminiscences of adolescence by established authors, which she edited, and the picture book One Day in Summer, described by a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic as a "quiet" story with possibly limited appeal due to the "static quality" of the plot.
During this time Van Leeuwen married Bruce Gavril, a computer systems designer who became her technical consultant. Her husband was also the inspiration for the character Raymond in The Great Cheese Conspiracy and its sequels. Van Leeuwen describes Raymond as the one "with brains": "a thinker, problem solver, and saver of seemingly useless objects—just like Bruce." The Great Cheese Conspiracy features three mice—Raymond, Marvin, the brave but foolhardy leader of the gang, and Fats, whose laziness and passion for food often land him and his friends in trouble—in a story about the trio's efforts to rob a cheese store. Van Leeuwen's mouse books have typically received praise from critics. For example, one Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer, writing about The Great Rescue Operation, noted that Marvin, Raymond, and Fats "are distinct—if exaggerated—personalities, the style is colorful and breezy, the plot—deliberately unrestrained—is nicely structured and paced."
In the first sequel to The Great Cheese Conspiracy, The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper, the three mice move into a dollhouse in Macy's department store, where they are befriended by Mr. Dunderhoff, who annually plays Santa Claus. When Mr. Dunderhoff is abducted by the store's greedy competitor, the mice use all their ingenuity to rescue him. A critic described the result as "zestful and surprising" in Publishers Weekly; a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer commented that the "story has a happy blend of humor in dialogue, Christmas setting, local color, and silly situations." The trio are put to the test again in The Great Rescue Operation, in which Marvin and Raymond wake up one day to find that Fats has disappeared along with the doll carriage in which he likes to nap. The friends' attempts to rescue Fats from what they fear is a horrible fate at the hands of a scientist lead to "slapstick humor and nonstop action," according to Caroline S. Parr in the School Library Journal. Doris Orgel similarly described the story in her New York Times Book Review article as a "funny, lively and appealing book." The three mice again leave Macy's in The Great Summer Camp Catastrophe, in which they are inadvertently packed off with a box of cookies to summer camp in Vermont. "What will grab readers," observed Jacqueline Rose in the School Library Journal, "is the action-packed plot, with its series of near disasters." And in The Great Googlestein Museum Mystery, the trio of mice once again depart their home at Macy's department store and spend a fine time at the Guggenheim Museum.
In the early years of her marriage to Gavril, Van Leeuwen published her first young adult novel, IWasa98-Pound Duckling, a comical account of a girl's thirteenth summer, when she and her best friend are consumed with thoughts of boys and dates and following the beauty regimen outlined in a teen magazine. Although several reviewers noted the lack of originality in the story's plot, a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor remarked: "Kathy tells her story . . . with such wry humor and candor that it gives a fresh vitality to a familiar pattern." In a Publishers Weekly review, a contributor declared: "This is a witty and charming book."
In the early 1970s Van Leeuwen left publishing to care for her two small children but was determined to continue to write. Her first effort, Too Hot for Ice Cream, dubbed by a Publishers Weekly critic as "a curiously charming book," tells the story of the everyday adventures of two sisters who spend a hot day in a city park when their father cannot take them to the beach. A more far-reaching consequence of Van Leeuwen's decision to stay home to raise her children is the series of first-reader books filled with stories about Oliver and Amanda Pig, based on her experiences with her own children.
Tales of Oliver Pig and the subsequent books in this series, fifteen strong and growing, have been warmly received for their gentle humor and loving portrayal of the everyday trials and joys of living with small children. Mary Gordon described the relationship between Amanda and Oliver Pig, which is at the center of each of the books in this series, in the New York Times Book Review: "The younger Pigs are occasionally perfectly dreadful to each other. But remember, they are siblings, and one of the great values of these books is their ability to dramatize the ridiculous and trivial and sickeningly frequent fights that siblings engage in every day of their lives, and yet suggest the siblings' essential fondness for each other, their dependency, their mutual good will."
More Tales of Oliver Pig, the first sequel to Van Leeuwen's successful Tales of Oliver Pig, features stories about Oliver's first efforts at gardening, how he adjusts to being cared for by his grandmother, and his attempts to stall at bed-time. A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic singled out the "gentle humor in the simple, fluent writing style" for praise in its review of this work. In response to her daughter's request, Van Leeuwen's next work in this series shifted the focus away from Oliver toward his younger sister, Amanda. The stories in Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver highlight Amanda's frustrations at being unable to do some of the things her big brother can do and her parents' sympathetic responses. "Never cloying, the humor is genuine, the incidents right on the younger-sibling mark," remarked a School Library Journal reviewer.
Critics noted that Amanda is more than an envious younger sister in Tales of Amanda Pig, the next work in this series. The stories in this volume find her refusing to eat a fried egg, scaring the clock-monster in the front hall with the help of her father, and switching roles with her sleepy mother at bed-time. Though a reviewer in School Library Journal found "the domestic drama . . . a bit dull this time out," a contributor to Kirkus Reviews praised "the same irreproachable, unforced child psychology, and if anything more sly by-play" in this installment. Amanda "maintains her pluck, imagination and vulnerability," according to a School Library Journal critic, in More Tales of Amanda Pig, in which she plays house with her brother, becomes jealous of visiting cousins, and gives her father her favorite toy for his birthday. Horn Book reviewer Karen Jameyson found the story to be as "comfortable as an easy chair, as warm and filling as a cup of cocoa."
In Oliver, Amanda, and Grandmother Pig, the Pig family enjoys a week-long visit by Grandmother Pig, who cannot do everything younger adults can do but can tell stories and give good hugs. This was followed by Oliver and Amanda's Christmas, in which the two young pigs learn to keep Christmas secrets, bake cookies, and select the perfect Christmas tree. Reviewers compared this work favorably with earlier books in the series; Betsy Hearne, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, declared it to be "as comfortable as tradition."
Oliver and Amanda are starting to grow up in the next two works in this series. In Oliver Pig at School, Oliver experiences his first day of kindergarten, befriending a scary classmate and making and eating a necklace in art class. Martha V. Parravano praised "the author's understanding of childhood experiences" in her review in Horn Book. In Amanda Pig on Her Own, Amanda learns to enjoy the adventures she can have when her big brother is away at school. Reviewing the work in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Ruth Ann Smith particularly enjoyed Van Leeuwen's ability to "combine gentle humor with ingenuous dialogue."
Van Leeuwen has continued her easy-reader series with seasonal tales such as Oliver and Amanda's Halloween and Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow. In the former title, the little pigs make a jack-o'-lantern and help prepare doughnuts as they get ready for Halloween. Brother and sister have to learn to compromise over the pumpkin's expression in "this warmhearted installment," as a critic described the book in Publishers Weekly. In Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, the porcine siblings go out to play after a snow storm and Amanda proves herself adept at snow games. "The warm interactions among family members continue to make these gentle stories a delight for early readers," wrote Hanna B. Zeiger in a Horn Book review. Booklist's Carolyn Phelan also noted the "gentle humor" in this tale. Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing the same title in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted that though the series had, at the time, been going strong for sixteen years, the "family adventures are as fresh and funny as ever." Lempke concluded that "young readers will wish they could bundle up and join Oliver and Amanda outside." And Gale W. Sherman minced no words in her School Library Journal review: "An outstanding selection for beginning-to-read collections."
Oliver got his first day in school and so does Amanda in Amanda Pig, Schoolgirl, and it is every bit as fantastic as she always hoped it would be. Amanda even meets a new friend whom she dubs Lollipop. Horn Book's Parravano praised this title for its "thorough understanding of the emotions and situations of childhood," while School Library Journal's Virginia Opocensky felt that fans of the series "will applaud this addition to the tales of Oliver and Amanda." Friendship is celebrated in two further titles in the series, Amanda Pig and Her Best Friend Lollipop and Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever. In the former title, Amanda continues her progress out into a wider world than family. She and her new friend have good times together at each other's houses and also have their first sleepover. "Amanda is as engaging a character as ever," noted Horn Book's Parravano, and Booklist's Carolyn Phelan noted that this "pleasant entry" in the series is written with "simplicity and affection." Oliver makes friends with the new boy in school in Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever, playing kickball and collecting bugs. Albert is not an easy friend at first, bookish and ignorant of the rules of the easiest games, but Oliver finds he is willing to learn and takes him under his wing. Leslie S. Hilverding, reviewing the title in School Library Journal, felt that the tale provides a "sweet and simple beginning chapter book about friendship." Shelle Rosenfeld, writing in Booklist, also noted the theme of friendship, writing that this tale "illustrates the importance of appreciating and respecting differences." Rosenfeld concluded that Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever is an "entertaining story."
Van Leeuwen has also written several chapter books for slightly older readers, featuring Benjy, a third-grade boy critics have described as a lovable academic and athletic underachiever. A reviewer commented in Horn Book, "Like Henry Huggins, Ellen Tebbits, and Ramona, Benjy is an engaging personality—one not quickly forgotten." In Benjy and the Power of Zingies, Benjy decides his only chance against the school bully who picks on him is to build up his body by eating Zingies breakfast cereal. A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic praised the book's "lighthearted" and "often funny" treatment of life in the third grade. This was followed by Benjy in Business, in which Benjy attempts to earn enough money to buy a special baseball mitt he hopes will improve his game. "Benjy displays a sturdy tenacity that makes his extended effort credible and enjoyable," commented Carolyn Noah in the School Library Journal. Ilene Cooper remarked in Booklist that some of the action in the third work in this series, Benjy the Football Hero, may be lost on readers not familiar with the rules of the game at the book's center, but the critic added "this has the same good humor and engaging characters of the other Benjy books." About the series as a whole, Robert E. Unsworth remarked in School Library Journal that "Van Leeuwen has a fine ability to see the humor in the tribulations of nine year olds and she writes about them with understanding."
Although she is best known for her picture books and simple stories for first readers, Van Leeuwen has said that she has always enjoyed writing for older children and adolescents. One of her first attempts for this age group, Seems Like This Road Goes On Forever, draws on the author's understanding of the kinds of expectations and pressures put on children of members of the clergy. Mary Alice, the daughter of an overly strict minister, retraces with the help of a psychologist the steps that brought her to a hospital bed with a broken leg, unable to communicate or think clearly about her recent past. Although a reviewer in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books found this a "slow-paced" if "convincing account of an emotional breakdown," a New York Times Book Review contributor concluded that it "is finely written, though cheerless—which it must be, I suppose, in order to be told properly." In a more lighthearted vein, Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life is a novel for upper-elementary-school grades inspired by Van Leeuwen's daughter, Elizabeth. "As a sixth grader," the author wrote in an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), "she was acutely embarrassed by everything about her family: our rusty old car, her father who actually insisted on talking to her friends, and especially me." A critic in Kirkus Reviews called the resulting portrait of life in the sixth grade "a genuinely funny look at a roller-coaster year."
Writing for middle graders, Van Leeuwen tells the story of an eleven-year-old trying to cope with her parents' separation in her 1996 novel, Blue Sky, Butterfly. Young Twig feels isolated from both her mom and her older brother after her father leaves, and they all try and cope with the changed circumstances in their lives. Finally, through the intervention of a grandmother and the healing influences of a garden, she is able to deal with her life. Reviewing the novel in Horn Book Guide, Patricia Riley called attention to Van Leeuwen's "well-drawn, interesting characters," and Booklist's Susan Dove Lempke noted that Van Leeuwen "evokes the desolate period immediately following parental breakup" with "aching sharpness."
Returning to the picture book format, Van Leeuwen continues to provide warm, wholesome stories for young readers, dealing with family relations and friendship, among other themes. Touch the Sky Summer is narrated by Luke and tells of a special vacation taken with his family by the lake. "Children who have visited lakeside cabins will enjoy the vicarious experience, related in a natural-sounding text," wrote Phelan in a Booklist review. School Library Journal's Opocensky also praised this story of a "happy family and an idyllic setting," calling it a "warm, wonderful read." A grandfather puts his three grandchildren to bed with tall tales from his childhood on the farm in The Tickle Stories, a book "perfect for bedtime stalling," commented Linda Perkins in a Booklist review. In The Strange Adventures of Blue Dog, a small wooden toy dog comes to life for a time and lives some very dog-like adventures.
Family relations are the subject of two further picture book titles from 2001. In Sorry, two brothers who cannot apologize to each other over a bowl of oatmeal manage to turn this into a feud that lasts generations. Finally, through the intercession of two great-grandchildren, the chasm between families is bridged with the word "sorry" when these children are on the verge of fighting over an apple. "Familiar themes of feuding families and the power of a simple apology dominate this story," wrote Susan L. Rogers in a School Library Journal review. Rogers went on to note that this "folkloric comic satire with overtones of universal truths should appeal to a wide range of readers and listeners." Further positive remarks came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who commented that "regret permeates this unforgiving story of a needless feud, rendered in poignant detail." And combining these two sentiments, Booklist's Rosenfeld concluded, "Humorous yet poignant, the story shows how a single word can make all the difference."
Family dynamics of a less serious sort are at the center of "Wait for Me!" Said Maggie McGee, in which the youngest of eight children is left out of the games of her older siblings. Too young to ride a tricycle or even get to the cookie jar, Maggie longs for the day when she can go to school. Once she does, she manages to help her older brother remember his lines in the school play and as a result becomes one of the gang. "Maggie McGee is a spunky, appealing role model for the youngest among us," remarked Rosalyn Pierini in a School Library Journal review. And Booklist's Gillian Engberg had more laudatory words for the book, noting that with "gentle, poignant humor, Van Leeuwen tells a charming, straightforward story most younger siblings can relate to."
Van Leeuwen credits her advancing age with her increased interest in the past. In her SAAS essay she states: "In my writing . . . I find that I am starting to look backward. I have always been fascinated by history, not the history of big events and dates that I was taught in school, but of people and how they lived. I have written recently about my own childhood. I have ideas of writing about my family history, and perhaps, if I can find the right way to do it, about our country's history." Van Leeuwen's reminiscence of her childhood, Two Girls in Sister Dresses, evokes the author's feelings about her younger sister. The book was highly praised for its realistic yet sensitive portrayal of the relationship between sisters. Phelan noted in her review in Booklist that Two Girls in Sister Dresses is written with Van Leeuwen's "accustomed simplicity and finesse." Also memorable for its nostalgic atmosphere is Emma Bean, which details the life of a homemade stuffed rabbit, a gift to Molly at birth from her grandmother. Critics noted similarities between Emma Bean and the children's classic, The Velveteen Rabbit, but Annie Ayres argued in her Booklist review that Van Leeuwen's "warmly sentimental book" is for those children not yet ready for the "more sophisticated and emotionally weighty themes" of the latter title.
Van Leeuwen has also produced historical books for young readers: Going West, a fictional journal of seven-year-old Hannah as she and her family travel west by wagon in the days of the pioneers, and Bound for Oregon, based on the real-life journey of Mary Ellen Todd and her family on the Oregon trail in the 1850s. Although more serious than many of the works for which she is best known, these books have been praised for the author's signature emphasis on a warm and supportive family atmosphere. A Publishers Weekly critic called Going West a "haunting evocation of times past," and further remarked, "Into a gentle text brimming with family warmth and love, Van Leeuwen . . . packs a wealth of emotional moments." In Bound for Oregon, Van Leeuwen presents another pioneer tale, narrated by nine-year-old Mary Ellen. A description primarily of life on the trail, the "concrete details . . . will draw readers," noted Booklist's Phelan, who also felt that the book was a "fine introduction" to such a life. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly thought that the "contrast between the tenderness of Mary Ellen's perceptions and the hardships of the frontier is deeply moving," while Horn Book's Ellen Fader praised the "especially vivid and well-rounded" characters and dubbed the book "inspiring reading."
More novel-length historical fiction is served up in the trilogy of books about Hannah Perley and her family during the Revolutionary War in Fairfield, Connecticut. In the initial volume, Hannah of Fairfield, the nineyear-old protagonist faces the approach of war, and Hannah's older brother Ben is eager to join General Washington's army. But the focus in this first novel is more on the domestic side of life than on the battlefield, and Hannah rails against having to do "girl's" work all the time when she would rather be working with the animals. Booklist's Hazel Rochman felt that this "simply written docu-novel will give middle-grade readers a strong sense of what it was like to be a young girl then." Similarly, a critic for Kirkus Reviews wrote that Hannah's story "will entertain and inspire anyone who is interested in the past." In Hannah's Helping Hands, the young girl and her family try to keep a sense of normalcy as the war goes on all around them. Details of farming life are interspersed in the narrative as are bits of war history, supplied by brother Ben. Hannah is instrumental in saving her family's farm animals when the British attack, though their home and many others are burned to the ground. "Van Leeuwen has provided a refreshing approach to the period that is accessible to reluctant readers," noted Cheryl Cufari in a School Library Journal review of this second novel in the series. And with Hannah's Winter of Hope, the family is living in the father's clock shop until their home can be rebuilt. The long cold winter of 1799-80 comes to life in this novel, with Ben captured by the English. However, toward the end of the winter he is finally released and returns home. "Van Leeuwen is brilliant at showing the effects of war through the prism of one family's life," wrote Connie Fletcher in a Booklist review of the final novel in the trilogy.
History for a younger audience also finds its way into Van Leeuwen's picture books. Across the Wide Dark Sea tells of life on the Mayflower as it makes its way across the Atlantic to the New World. Storms and suffering make the nine-week trip harrowing, and upon arrival there is a harsh winter and Indians to contend with. Booklist's Phelan praised Van Leeuwen for "telling a particular story that reflects the broader immigrant experience." A Fourth of July on the Plains is another of Van Leeuwen's historical tales based on real accounts, this one from a diary account of a celebration on the Oregon Trail in 1852. Jesse is too young to go hunting with the men and the women do not need his help sewing a flag for the Fourth of July, so he and other young boys scrape together whistles and bells and make a parade for the adults as a surprise. Rochman, writing in Booklist, observed that this story "combines a child's voice and viewpoint with handsome paintings that capture the pioneer experience." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly voiced similar opinions, noting that Van Leeuwen's tale provides "a likeably informal child's view of pioneer life, as well as an enthusiastic appreciation for the rituals, both solemn and boisterous, of the Fourth." Nothing Here but Trees once again gives insight to the pioneer experience through the eyes of a young narrator. The setting is Ohio in the early nineteenth century and a boy and his brother help Pa clear the land, build fences, plant corn, and harvest their crop. "This is close to Laura Ingalls Wilder country," commented Booklist's Rochman, and a contributor for Kirkus Reviews called the picture book "engaging, entertaining, unsentimental."
That same three-word description could be used to describe much of Van Leeuwen's work for young readers. Reviewers have consistently praised the warm yet realistic celebrations of family life found in her books, emphasizing her gentle humor and insightful portrayal of common childhood experiences. For example, in a review of Oliver, Amanda, and Grandmother Pig, Karen Jameyson concluded in Horn Book: "With perceptiveness and gentle humor Jean Van Leeuwen shapes even the most mundane subjects into pleasing, warm tales." Such warm tales are Van Leeuwen's staple product; they are what readers have come to expect when they pick up one of her numerous titles.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 8, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Booklist, September 1, 1985, Ilene Cooper, review of Benjy the Football Hero, p. 72; July, 1993, Annie Ayres, review of Emma Bean, p. 1977; May 1, 1992, p. 1603; April 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Two Girls in Sister Dresses, p. 1453; October 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Bound for Oregon, p. 329; September 15, 1995, Carolyn Phelan, review of Across the Wide Sea, p. 161; January 1, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, p. 850; June 1, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Blue Sky, Butterfly, p. 1724; May 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of A Fourth of July on the Plains, p. 1582; June 1, 1997, Carolyn Phelan, review of Touch the Sky Summer, p. 1723; May 1, 1998, Linda Perkins, review of The Tickle Stories, p. 1524; July, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Amanda Pig and Her Best Friend Lollipop, p. 1892; September 1, 1998, Hazel Rochman, review of Nothing Here but Trees, p. 129; March 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Hannah of Fairfield, p. 1215; August, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Hannah's Winter of Hope, p. 2142; December 1, 2000, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever, p. 727; May 15, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of "Wait for Me!" Said Maggie McGee, p. 1761; June 1, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Sorry, p. 1896.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, February, 1968, p. 103; June, 1968, review of Timothy's Flower, p. 166; July, 1969, review of One Day in Summer, p. 184; September, 1973, review of IWas a 98-Pound Duckling, p. 19; February, 1975, p. 100; November, 1975, review of The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper; October, 1979, review of Seems Like This Road Goes On Forever; July, 1981, review of More Tales of Oliver Pig, p. 221; July-August, 1982; review of The Great Rescue Operation; March, 1983, review of Benjy and the Power of Zingies; January, 1986, p. 98; May, 1989, pp. 238-239; October, 1989, Betsy Hearne, review of Oliver and Amanda's Christmas, p. 47; September, 1990, p. 18; March, 1991, Ruth Ann Smith, review of Amanda Pig on Her Own, pp. 180-181; November, 1994, p. 107; December, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, p. 143.
Horn Book, February, 1975; December, 1979, p. 660; August, 1981, p. 419; June, 1982, p. 294; December, 1982, pp. 646-647; April, 1983, review of Benjy and the Power of Zingies, pp. 168-169; December, 1983, p. 713; February, 1984, pp. 48-49; March-April, 1986, Karen Jameyson, review of More Tales of Amanda Pig, pp. 199-200; September, 1987, Karen Jameyson, review of Oliver,Amanda, and Grandmother Pig, pp. 606-607; November, 1989, p. 754; September-October, 1990, Martha V. Parravano, review of Oliver Pig at School, p. 599; March-April, 1992, p. 199; July-August, 1994, pp. 447-448; March-April, 1995, Ellen Fader, review of Bound for Oregon, p. 197; September-October, 1995, Hanna B. Zeiger, review of Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, p. 628; May-June, 1997, Martha V. Parravano, review of Amanda Pig, Schoolgirl, p. 329; July-August, 1998, Martha V. Parravano, review of Amanda Pig and Her Best Friend Lollipop, pp. 499-500; September-October, 2000, p. 584.
Horn Book Guide, spring, 1995, p. 85; fall, 1996, Patricia Riley, review of Blue Sky, Butterfly, p. 298; fall, 1996, p. 283; fall, 1998, p. 309; spring, 1999, p. 60; fall, 1999, p. 270.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1967, p. 1202; April 15, 1969, p. 436; October 1, 1972, p. 1155; September 1, 1982, p. 997; December 1, 1982, p. 1293; September 1, 1983, review of Tales of Amanda Pig; May 15, 1989, review of Dear Mom, You're Ruining My Life, p. 772; June 1, 1992, p. 724; August 1, 1993, p. 1008; April 15, 1996, pp. 608-609; April 15, 1998, p. 588; September 1, 1998, review of Nothing Here but Trees, p. 1294; January 1, 1999, review of Hannah of Fairfield, p. 73; May 1, 1999, p. 729.
New York Times Book Review, November 5, 1967; November 30, 1975, p. 26; June 24, 1979; November 11, 1979, review of Seems Like This Road Goes On Forever; May 3, 1981; April 25, 1982, Doris Orgel, "Mice in Macy's"; November 13, 1983; May 19, 1985; November 10, 1985, Mary Gordon, "Pig Tales"; January 10, 1988, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, December 4, 1967, p. 44; September 25, 1972, review of I Was a 98-Pound Duckling; October 7, 1974, review of Too Hot for Ice Cream, p. 63; September 8, 1975, review of The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper; August 14, 1987, p. 107; December 13, 1991, review of Going West, p. 55; September 2, 1992, review of Oliver and Amanda's Halloween, p. 59; August 2, 1993, p. 79; April 25, 1994, p. 78; September 5, 1994, review of Bound for Oregon, p. 112; May 19, 1997, review of A Fourth of July on the Plains, pp. 75-76; June 7, 1999, p. 82; July 27, 1999, p. 93; May 21, 2001, review of Sorry, p. 107.
School Library Journal, October, 1975, p. 78; May, 1979, p. 76; December, 1979, p. 93; May, 1981, p. 80; August, 1982, Caroline S. Parr, review of The Great Rescue Operation, p. 123; December, 1982, review of Amanda Pig and Her Big Brother Oliver, p. 75; January, 1983, p. 80; December, 1983, Carolyn Noah, review of Benjy in Business, p. 70; December, 1983, review of Tales of Amanda Pig, p. 80; May, 1985, Robert E. Unsworth, review of Benjy the Football Hero, p. 111; December, 1985, review of More Tales of Amanda Pig, p. 110; March, 1988, p. 177; June, 1989, pp. 109-110; October, 1989, p. 45; May, 1991, p. 85; March, 1992, p. 225; April, 1992, Jacqueline Rose, review of The Great Summer Camp Catastrophe, p. 126; June, 1994; October, 1994, p. 128; September, 1995, pp. 187-188; December, 1995, Gale W. Sherman, review of Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow, p. 92; June, 1996, p. 126; May, 1997, p. 116; July, 1997, Virginia Opocensky, review of Touch the Sky Summer and Amanda Pig, School Girl, p. 77; July, 1998, p. 84; November, 1998, p. 99; May, 1999, pp. 99-100; July, 1999, p. 82; November, 1999, Cheryl Cufari, review of Hannah's Helping Hands, pp. 131-132; July, 2000, p. 89; November, 2000, Leslie S. Hilverding, review of Oliver and Albert, Friends Forever, p. 136; May, 2001, Susan L. Rogers, review of Sorry, p. 138; July, 2001, Rosalyn Pierini, review of "Wait for Me!" Said Maggie McGee, p. 90.
Time, December 3, 1979, p. 100.
Times Educational Supplement, June 8, 1984.
Wilson Library Bulletin, April, 1995, p. 112.
Meet Jean Van Leeuwen,http://www.eduplace.com/ (February 24, 2002).
Official Jean Van Leeuwen Web site,http://www.jeanvanleeuwen.com/ (May 6, 2003).
"Van Leeuwen, Jean 1937-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/van-leeuwen-jean-1937
"Van Leeuwen, Jean 1937-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Retrieved April 23, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/van-leeuwen-jean-1937
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