Wortis, Avi 1937-(Avi)
WORTIS, Avi 1937-(Avi)
PERSONAL: Given name is pronounced "Ah-vee"; born December 23, 1937, in New York, NY; son of Joseph (a psychiatrist) and Helen (a social worker; maiden name Zunser) Wortis; married Joan Gabriner (a weaver) November 1, 1963 (divorced); married Coppelia Kahn (an English professor; divorced); married Linda C. Wright (a businesswoman); children: Shaun Wortis, Kevin Wortis; Gabriel Kahn (stepson; all from second marriage); Hayden, Catherine, Robert, Jack Spina. Education: Attended Antioch University; University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.A., 1959, M.A., 1962; Columbia University, M.S.L.S., 1964.
ADDRESSES: Home—Denver, CO. Agent—Gail Hochman, Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents, Inc., 1501 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Writer, 1960—. New York Public Library, New York, NY, librarian in Performing Arts Research Center, 1962-70; Lambeth Public Library, London, England, exchange program librarian, 1968; Trenton State College, Trenton, NJ, assistant professor and humanities librarian, 1970-86. Visiting writer in schools across the United States.
MEMBER: PEN, Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Newbery Honor Award and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 1991, for The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle,1992, for Nothing but the Truth, and 1996, for Poppy; Mystery Writers of America Special Award; Scott O'Dell Award for historical fiction; Judy Lopez Memorial Award; Golden Kite Award; American Library Association (ALA) citations; Best Book of the Year (British Book Council), Best Books (School Library Journal), and International Reading Association citations.
Things That Sometimes Happen (picture book), illustrated by Jodi Robbin, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1970.
Snail Tale: The Adventures of a Rather Small Snail (picture book), illustrated by Tom Kindron, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1972.
No More Magic, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1975.
Captain Grey, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1977.
Night Journeys, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1979.
Encounter at Easton (sequel to Night Journeys), Pantheon (New York, NY), 1980.
The Man from the Sky, Morrow Junior Books (New York, NY), 1980.
History of Helpless Harry: To Which Is Added a Variety of Amusing and Entertaining Adventures, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1980.
A Place Called Ugly, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1981.
Who Stole the Wizard of Oz?, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.
Sometimes I Think I Hear My Name, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1982.
Shadrach's Crossing, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1983.
The Fighting Ground, Lippincott (New York, NY), 1984.
S.O.R. Losers, Bradbury (Scarsdale, NY), 1984.
Devil's Race, Lippincott (New York, NY), 1984.
Bright Shadow, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1985.
Wolf Rider: A Tale of Terror, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1986.
Romeo and Juliet Together (and Alive!) at Last (sequel to S. O. R. Losers) Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1987.
Something Upstairs: A Tale of Ghosts, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1988.
The Man Who Was Poe, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1989.
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Windcatcher, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1991.
Nothing but the Truth, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Blue Heron, Bradbury (New York, NY), 1992.
Emily Upham's Revenge; A Massachusetts Adventure, Morrow Junior Books (New York, NY), 1992.
Punch with Judy, Bradbury, 1993.
City of Light, City of Dark: A Comic Book Novel, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1993.
The Barn, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Bird, the Frog, and the Light: A Fable, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Tom, Babette, & Simon: Three Tales of Transformation, Macmillan Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1995.
Poppy, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Beyond the Western Sea: The Escape from Home, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Beyond the Western Sea: Lord Kirkle's Money, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1996.
What Do Fish Have to Do with Anything?: And Other Stories, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Poppy and Rye, Avon (New York, NY), 1998.
Perloo the Bold, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1998.
Ragweed, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.
(Editor) Second Sight: Stories for a New Millennium, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Abigail Takes the Wheel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Midnight Magic, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.
Ereth's Birthday, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
The Christmas Rat, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
Prairie School, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Secret School, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.
Don't You Know There's a War On?, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
The Good Dog, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2002.
Silent Movie, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Also author of The Shortest Day, Orchard Books; author of numerous plays. Contributor to books, including Performing Arts Resources, 1974, edited by Ted Perry, Drama Book Publishers, 1975. Contributor to periodicals, including New York Public Library Bulletin, Top of the News, Children's Literature in Education, Horn Book, and Writer. Book reviewer for Library Journal, School Library Journal, and Previews, 1965-73.
Translations of Wortis's books have been published in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Spain, and Japan.
ADAPTATIONS: A recording of The Fighting Ground was produced by Listening Library, and many other books have been recorded on audio cassette. Emily Upham's Revenge, Shadrach's Crossing, Something Upstairs, The Fighting Ground, and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, were produced on the radio programs Read to Me, Maine Public Radio, and Books Aloud, WWON-Rhode Island; Something Upstairs was adapted as a play performed by Louisville (KY) Children's Theater, 1997; Nothing but the Truth was adapted as a play by Ronn Smith. Something Upstairs, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Night Journeys, Sometimes I Think I Hear My Name, and City of Light, City of Dark have all been optioned for film.
SIDELIGHTS: Critics, teachers, parents, and young readers recognize Avi Wortis, known only by his first name, for a body of work highlighted by colorful characters and intricate plots. Encompassing a wide variety of genres, Avi's books typically offer complex, thought-provoking, and sometimes disturbingly realistic reflections on American history and culture. A longtime champion of literary issues involving young readers, the author said in Twentieth-Century Children's Writers: "I try to write about complex issues—young people in an adult world—full of irony and contradiction, in a narrative style that relies heavily on suspense with a texture rich in emotion and imagery. I take a great deal of satisfaction in using popular forms—the adventure, the mystery, the thriller—so as to hold my reader with the sheer pleasure of a good story....In short, I want my readers to feel, to think, sometimes to laugh. But most of all I want them to enjoy a good read."
Avi once noted that his first career step was reading. He learned more from reading—from comic books and science magazines to histories, plays, and novels—than he learned in school. Though his teachers were skeptical, Avi was determined to write for a career. Eventually, he enrolled in some playwriting classes at the University of Wisconsin.
"That's where I really started to write seriously," he once commented. "The first playwriting instructor that I had would say, 'this is the way you do it.' You didn't have much choice in it, you had to do it in a very specific way. He even had charts for you to fill out. And I think I learned how to organize a story according to this man's precepts. It didn't even matter what [his system] was except that I absorbed it."
After obtaining two master's degrees and working at a variety of jobs, Avi began a twenty-five year career as a librarian, working in the theater collection of the New York Public Library. Avi's determination to be a writer never flagged; in fact, the author had written nearly 800 pages of his "great American novel" before turning to children's literature. This change in focus came about largely because Avi found that he had such fun telling stories to his two sons. "My oldest would tell me what the story should be about—he would invent stuff, a story about a glass of water and so forth. It became a game, and here I had a writing background so I was telling some fairly sophisticated stories," Avi remarked.
Avi's first children's book, Things That Sometimes Happen, appeared in 1970. Since then, Avi has produced a number of works whose structure defies genre classification. He is perhaps best known for experimenting with the historical novel format. Several of his early books, including Captain Grey, Night Journeys, and Encounter at Easton, place fictional characters against the backdrop of actual historical events. Avi told Booklist's Ilene Cooper that the research required for historical fiction is rigorous, although he admitted to having an edge: "I was, however, a research librarian for 25 years, so I always have a leg up on finding out things." Avi's work has been recognized for the thoroughness of the historical recreation.
The Fighting Ground, the tale of a young boy caught up in the horror of the Revolutionary War, received the Scott O'Dell Award for children's historical fiction. His Newbery Award-winning The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, in which a young girl encounters a mutinous crew on a journey across the Atlantic, also draws on a carefully rendered nineteenth-century backdrop. In other books, such as Something Upstairs and The Man Who Was Poe, Avi combines elements from history, traditional ghost stories, mythology, and science fiction to effectively mix fantasy and reality.
The author is by no means tied to the historical novel. His contemporary tales about young people, such as S.O.R. Losers, A Place Called Ugly, and Nothing but the Truth (also a Newbery Honor book), have proven as popular with readers as his historically-based stories. Avi's fantasy fiction, such as his Poppy series featuring a mouse heroine, has also been successful.
Avi travels around the United States, talking in schools about his work. He has noticed that his readers are increasingly hungry for well-told stories to which they can relate. With this in mind, Avi strives to keep his books both timely and lively. "More than anything else," he said in a Horn Book interview. "children's literature is about the place and role of the child in society....If we—in the world of children's literature—can help the young stand straight for a moment longer than they have done in the past, help them maintain their ideals and values, those with which you and I identify ourselves, help them demand—and win—justice, we've added something good to the world."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Behind the Covers: Interviews with Authors and Illustrators of Books for Children and Young Adults, Libraries Unlimited, 1985, pp. 33-41.
Bloom, Susan P., and Cathryn M. Mercier, Presenting Avi, Twayne (New York City), 1997.
Markham, Lois, Avi, Learning Works (Santa Barbara, CA), 1996.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. Martin's, 1989, pp. 45-46.
Booklist, April 15, 1994, Julie Corsaro, review of The Bird, the Frog, and the Light, p. 1538; March 15, 1995, Barbara Baskin, review of The Fighting Ground, p. 1343; February 1, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Beyond the Western Sea: The Escape from Home, p. 930, and review of Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams, p. 949; November 15, 1997, Michael Cart, review of What Do Fish Have to Do with Anything?, p. 557; October 1, 1998, review of City of Light, City of Dark, p. 317; January 1, 1999, Michael Cart, "Carte Blanche" (article and interview with Avi), p. 846; March 1, 1999, Sally Estes, review of The Barn, p. 1212; April 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Abigail Takes the Wheel, p. 1421; "Spotlight on Historical Fiction" (interview with Avi), p. 1609; June 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Don't You Know There's a War On?, p. 1876; October 15, 2001, Lolly Gepson, review of Ragweed, p. 428. May 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Crispin: The Cross of Lead, p. 1604.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1984, p. 180; October, 1989, p. 27.
Girls' Life, Kim Childress, review of Midnight Magic, p. 40.
Horn Book, August, 1979, p. 410; April, 1980, pp. 169-70; October, 1980, pp. 517-18; April, 1981, p. 136; June, 1981, pp. 297-98; August, 1983, p. 439; June, 1984, p. 325; January-February, 1985, p. 49; September-October, 1987, pp. 569-576; January-February, 1992, p. 24-27; January-February, 1995, review of Smugglers' Island, p. 80; May-June, 1997, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams, pp. 313-314; November-December, 1997, Marilyn Bousquin, review of What Do Fish Have to Do with Anything?, p. 676; July-August, 1998, Ann A. Flowers, review of Poppy and Rye, pp. 482-483; March, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Abigail Takes the Wheel, p. 206; May, 2000, Kitty Flynn, review of Ereth's Birthday, p. 306; November, 2000, Roger Sutton, review of The Christmas Rat, p. 751; November-December, 2001, Betty Carter, review of The Secret School, p. 741; January-February, 2002, Peter D. Sieruta, review of The Good Dog, p. 75.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2001, review of The Good Dog, p. 1418.
New York Times Book Review, September 11, 1977; March 1, 1981, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, January 30, 1981, p. 75; November 16, 1984, p. 65; December 26, 1986, p. 61; August 28, 1987, p. 81; September 14, 1990, p. 128; September 6, 1991, p. 105; January 17, 1994, review of The Bird, the Frog, and the Light, p. 432; June 15, 1998, review of Poppy and Rye, p. 60; October 4, 1999, review of Perloo the Bold, p. 78; May 8, 2000, review of Ereth's Birthday, p. 222; October 29, 2001, review of Midnight Magic, p. 67; November 5, 2001, review of The Good Dog, p. 68; June 3, 2002, review of Crispin: The Cross of Lead, p. 88.
School Library Journal, March, 1978, p. 124; May, 1980, p. 64; November, 1980, p. 68; September, 1984, p. 125; October, 1984, p. 164; December, 1986, pp. 111-12; January, 1987, p. 21; April, 2000, Louise L. Sherman, review of Perloo the Bold, p. 78; May, 2000, Eva Mittnick, review of Ereth's Birthday, p. 166; May, 2001, Carol Schene, review of Prairie School, p. 108; June, 2001, Marie Orlando, review of Don't You Know There's a War On?, p. 142; September, 2001, B. Allison Gray, review of The Secret School, p. 223.
Storyworks, September, 2002, Melody Zhang, review of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, p. 6.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 1981, pp. 23-24; August, 1982, p. 27; December, 1984, pp. 261-62; February, 1985, p. 321; February, 1989, p. 293.
McDougal Littell Web site,http://www.mcdougallittell.com/ (March 3, 2003), biography of Avi Wortis.*