Auch, Mary Jane
Auch, Mary Jane
Born in Mineola, NY; married Herm Auch (a graphic artist and cartoonist), 1967; children: Ian, Kat (daughter). Education: Skidmore College, B.A. (art); Columbia University, degree (occupational therapy).
Author and illustrator. Worked as an occupational therapist at a children's hospital, and as a designer, graphic artist, and illustrator for Pennywhistle Press.
Bill Martin, Jr., Picture Book Award, Kansas Reading Association, 2005, for Souperchicken.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED PICTURE BOOKS
The Easter Egg Farm, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1992.
Bird Dogs Can't Fly, Holiday House (New York, NY),1993.
Peeping Beauty, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1993.
Monster Brother, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1994.
Hen Lake, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1995.
Eggs Mark the Spot, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1996.
Bantam of the Opera, Holiday House (New York, NY),1997.
Noah's Aardvark, Golden Books (New York, NY), 1999.
The Nutquacker, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.
(With husband, Herm Auch) Poultrygeist, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Herm Auch) The Princess and the Pizza, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Herm Auch) Souperchicken, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Herm Auch) Chickerella, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2005.
(With Herm Auch) Beauty and the Beaks, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2007.
The Witching of Ben Wagner, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1987.
Cry Uncle!, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1987.
Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, Holiday House (New York,NY), 1988.
Pick of the Litter, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1988.
Glass Slippers Give You Blisters, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1989.
Angel and Me and the Bayside Brothers, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.
Kidnapping Kevin Kowalski, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1990.
A Sudden Change of Family, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1990.
Seven Long Years until College, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1991.
Out of Step, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1992.
The Latchkey Dog, illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
Journey to Nowhere, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
I Was a Third-Grade Science Project, illustrated by Herm Auch, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1998.
Frozen Summer (sequel to Journey to Nowhere), Holt (New York, NY), 1998.
The Road Home (sequel to Frozen Summer), Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
I Was a Third-Grade Spy, illustrated by Herm Auch, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.
Ashes of Roses, Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
I Was a Third-Grade Bodyguard, illustrated by Herm Auch, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.
Wing Nut, Holt (New York, NY), 2005.
(As M.J. Auch) One-Handed Catch, Holt (New York, NY), 2006.
Sara Pennypacker, Dumbstruck, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1994.
Vivian Vande Velde, Troll Teacher, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2000.
The Easter Egg Farm and Peeping Beauty were adapted for audiocassette by Live Oak Media (Pine Plains, NY), 1995, as was Eggs Mark the Spot, 1997. The Witching of Ben Wagner was made into a film by Leucadia Film Corp. and released by Films for Families (Murray, UT).
Author, illustrator, and poultry fan Mary Jane Auch has written contemporary and historical novels as well as humorous picture books. Many of her picture books, such as Bantam of the Opera, feature Auch's favorite feathered friends—chickens—which she renders in brilliant, heat-dried oil paints. In addition, Auch has collaborated on a number of works with her husband, Herm Auch, including Souperchicken and Poultrygeist. Also among her titles are the juvenile novels Journey to Nowhere, I Was a Third-Grade Science Project, and Wing Nut.
Auch's interest in art and poultry came early. Because she was an only child and wished she were part of a larger family, she exercised her imagination freely, filling notebooks with drawings of characters having conversations via dialog balloons. On her home page Auch remembered: "I loved to draw from the time I was able to hold a pencil or crayon. I used to fill notebooks with my sketches, often drawing the same characters on page after page." The year she attended second-grade many families kept their children home from school because a dangerous polio epidemic was raging and vaccinations had not yet been instituted. Auch's mother, a former second grade teacher, taught her daughter to read, and when classes finally resumed at mid-year, Auch was reading several grade levels ahead of her class. "By the end of the school year, I had learned that reading was magic," the author/illustrator noted on her home page. "Though I didn't know it then, the writer in me was probably born the year that I almost missed second grade."
Auch majored in art at Skidmore College, but because she found graphic art work unrewarding, she went on to earn a second degree in occupational therapy. After working for a few years at a children's hospital in Connecticut, she met her future husband, graphic artist and editorial cartoonist Herm Auch. After getting married, Herm Auch went to work for a Rochester, New York, newspaper while Auch raised their son and daughter on the family's small farm.
Despite enjoying her role as a mother, Auch yearned to get back into the art field. She eventually found a job creating illustrations for the children's newspaper Pennywhistle Press. At the suggestion of friends, in 1984 she also took a week-long workshop on writing for children that turned out to be a revelation. Realizing that writing books for children was what she wanted to do, she went to work. After writing four novels and racking up thirteen rejection letters, Auch sold her first book, The Witching of Ben Wagner, about newcomer Ben, who befriends friends a mysterious girl. Several reviewers commended the work for its characterizations, among them Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan, who also commented on Auch's inclusion of "satisfying touches of humor and insight."
During the late 1980s and early 1990s Auch honed her writing skills and published at least one, but often two, novels per year. In these novels, which feature contemporary teens, families struggle with real challenges. Despite sometimes serious themes, Auch handles her plots with a light touch, often employing slapstick humor. In Cry Uncle!, which a Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed "an auspicious debut," a boy deals with not only moving to a new town but also having his great uncle move in with the family. In Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne a daughter whose parents are divorced resists liking her mother's new boyfriend. Reviewers commented favorably about Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, particularly noting the interjection of a humor that, according to Booklist critic Denise M. Wilms, compensates for "some occasionally forced characterizations."
Auch's novel Pick of the Litter recounts a teen's feelings as she adjusts to her mother's pregnancy, while The Kidnapping of Kevin Kowalski shows how two boys deal with the physical limitations of an injured friend. Writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Roger Sutton acknowledged Auch as an established writer of children's books due to her "practiced" hand at telling a good story featuring "believable characters" and an interesting plot.
After writing nine books for older children, Auch took on a new challenge. Rekindling her interest in oil painting, she wrote and illustrated with cartoonish paintings her first picture book. Easter Egg Farm features a peculiar hen named Pauline whose eggs are anything but plain. Pauline returns in Auch's 1996 offering, Eggs Mark the Spot. In this tale Pauline visits an art museum, thwarts art robbers, and renders her own versions of famous masterpieces.
With the success of the "spirited yarn" featuring Pauline, to quote Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin, Auch has gone on to write a steady stream of books featuring multitalented chickens involved in such pursuits as acting, dancing, and singing. Tongue-in-cheek titles include Peeping Beauty, Hen Lake, Eggs Mark the Spot, Bantam of the Opera, and The Nutquacker.
Why chickens?, one may ask. In fact, chickens were a fond part of Auch's childhood, and both her grandmothers raised them. One grandmother had a large chicken farm and sold eggs to stores throughout Long Island, while the other had a small flock housed in an area dubbed "Hen Park," where Auch liked to watch them. As she noted on her home page, "After watching the hens go about their business for a while, I discovered that they had real personalities, just like my class in school. There was the bossy one, the shy one, the hard worker, the lazy one, and even the class bully!" Because of their personalities, chickens seemed ideal fictional characters; for example, in Peeping Beauty a hen named Poulette aspires to become a ballerina, creating in Booklist reviewer Ilene Cooper's view a "delightful new twist" on the old chicken-fox tale. Full of puns, ballet terms, and boldly colored paintings, Peeping Beauty garnered praise, School Library Journal critic Joy Fleishhacker remarking on the book's "lively" language and "positive message" while a Publishers Weekly critic dubbed it a "snappy tale."
Auch's enthusiasm for her feathered friends has inspired farces based on famous theatrical works. The ballet Swan Lake becomes Hen Lake, as Poulette competes for stardom against a snooty peacock. In the same way, Phantom of the Opera is transformed into Bantam of the Opera when the rooster Luigi, tired of crowing, seeks a more exalted role. Although young readers
might miss Auch's sly classical-music references, these books possess other appealing qualities. Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin described the illustrations for Hen Lake as "delightfully silly," while Kay Weisman noted in the same periodical how the artwork for Bantam of the Opera suits the story's "exaggerated humor."
Some of Auch's more recent poultry parodies have been done in collaboration with her husband. In Souperchicken, Henrietta's voracious reading habits earn her a scolding from her many aunts, who insist that the young hen pay more attention to laying eggs. When egg production drops, those same aunts are slated for a wonderful "vacation"; the truck they hop aboard, however, belongs to the Souper Soup Company. Thanks to her reading skills, Henrietta spots the truck's logo as it pulls away, realizes the danger her aunts are in, and begins a daring rescue mission. "Filled with the author's trademark puns," observed a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, Souperchicken "also boasts nicely drawn stock characters and a storyline that never gets sidetracked." In Booklist, Lauren Adams praised Auchs' tale, "hilariously illustrated in wonderfully expressive, super-silly cartoon pictures."
A pair of rowdy roosters create problems for their neighbors in Poultrygeist, a story that is "good humored throughout," according to a Kirkus Reviews critic.
Though most of the farm animals manage to ignore noisy roosters Rudy and Ralph, Clarissa the cow and Sophie the pig grow increasingly annoyed with the duo. Just before Halloween, as the animals gather to prepare their costumes, a frightening ghoul appears, scaring everyone out of the barn. On Halloween night, when the ghostly figure returns, the two roosters summon the courage to face their antagonist. "In art and text, the humor shines in this holiday tale," wrote School Library Journal contributor Marge Loch-Wouters.
The Auchs provide a new take on a traditional fairytale in Chickerella. When her mean stepmother will not allow Chickerella to attend the Fowl Ball, Fairy Goose-mother flutters to the chick's side. When Chickerella is whisked away at midnight, she leaves behind a glass egg, the only clue the Prince has to her identity. "Wordplay and visual details will have … readers laughing aloud," noted a critic in Kirkus Reviews.
In yet another creative turn, Auch and her husband teamed up to create three intermediate chapter books about a reluctant science-fair trio: I Was a Third-Grade Science Project and its follow-ups I Was a Third-Grade Spy and I Was a Third-Grade Bodyguard. Mary Jane provided the narrative for each work; supplementing the text were Herm's line-drawn illustrations. In I Was a Third-Grade Science Project Josh, best friend Brian, and reluctant teammate Dougie try to hypnotize Brian's dog, but accidentally hypnotize Josh instead, with surprising results. Reviewing the volume in School Library Journal, Lucy Rafael pointed out the "funny, clever ending," while in Publishers Weekly a critic commended Auch's use of "flippant dialogue and clever one-liners." I Was a Third-Grade Spy, which Piper L. Nyman called a "perfectly silly sequel" in School Library Journal, recounts how the boys use the dog—who can now speak English—as a spy. In I Was a Third-Grade Bodyguard, Brian's dog is asked to watch over a chicken while his owner goes on vacation, but the trash-talking fowl has plans of its own. Lee Bock, writing in School Library Journal, noted that "the simple plot clips along with plenty of dialogue … to a humorous resolution."
When Auch decided to try her hand at historical fiction, she delved deep into the history of western New York during the early 1800s. Journey to Nowhere, Frozen Summer, and The Road Home, which form the "Genesee" trilogy, portray the unsuccessful attempt by a Connecticut family to homestead in Genesee County, New York. It is told from the point of view of the eldest daughter, Mem, who shoulders increasing responsibility as the tale progresses. Upon publication of the first volume of the trilogy, Journey to Nowhere, reviewers recognized Auch's desire to present a realistic and un-romanticized portrait of pioneer life while at the same time telling a good story. According to Horn Book contributor Mary M. Burns, Auch is largely successful, providing readers with "fascinating details" and "insight" into local customs. Elizabeth Bush noted the "refreshingly believable portrait" of Mem's family in her Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review, while School Library Journal critic Allison Trent Berstein praised the book's "appealing characters."
Auch continues her "Genesee" trilogy with two more novels. In Frozen Summer Mem's family combats crop-killing weather, the birth of another baby, and her mother's death as a result of post-partum depression. Although Carol A. Edwards found the plot somewhat implausible in her School Library Journal review, a Kirkus Reviews critic praised the novel as "refreshing" and "highly realistic." Booklist contributor Kay Weisman cited Auch's characterizations, particularly that of Mem's fallible father, while in Voice of Youth Advocates Evelyn Butrico applauded Frozen Summer overall as "an excellent piece of historic fiction." Mem's efforts to return to Connecticut with her siblings are the focus of The Road Home. Again, the work was praised for its characterizations and descriptions. While Horn Book critic Mary M. Burns found the ending "contrived," Burns added that this weaknesses was outweighed by the book's merits.
Auch returns to more contemporary fare with Wing Nut, a "simple, satisfying story," in the words of School Library Journal contributor Joel Shoemaker. Since his father's tragic death several years ago, Grady Flood and his mother, Lila, have adopted a nomadic life, never staying in one place for long. When their car breaks down, stranding them in rural Pennsylvania, Lila lands a job as the caretaker for Charlie Fernwald, a retired farmer with a passion for purple martins. Though Grady at first dismisses the elderly bird-lover's eccentric behavior, he gradually learns to trust Charlie. The character's "emotions are heartfelt, and readers will be encouraged by the hopeful, upbeat ending," wrote Shoemaker. In the opinion of a Kirkus Reviews critic, "the story of a boy who finally finds a place to call home should resonate deeply" with younger readers.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Book Links, February 15, 1991, review of Kidnapping Kevin Kowalski, pp. 1214-1215.
Booklist, November 15, 1987, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Witching of Ben Wagner, p. 560; June 15, 1988, Denise M. Wilms, review of Pick of the Litter, p. 1732; January 1, 1989, Denise M. Wilms, review of Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, p. 782; January 15, 1990, Denise M. Wilms, review of Angel and Me and the Bayside Bombers, p. 996; March 1, 1992, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Easter Egg Farm, p. 1278; January 15, 1993, Leone McDermott, review of Out of Step, p. 905; March 1, 1993, Ilene Cooper, review of Peeping Beauty, p. 1234; October 15, 1993, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Bird Dogs Can't Fly, p. 448; February 1, 1994, Kay Weisman, review of The Latchkey Dog, p. 1005; November 15, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of Monster Brother, p. 610; August, 1995, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Hen Lake, p. 1954; March 1, 1996, Nancy McCray, review of The Easter Egg Farm, p. 1190; March 15, 1996, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Eggs Mark the Spot, p. 1268; April 15, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of Journey to Nowhere, p. 1428; October 1, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of Bantam of the Opera, p. 335; October 15, 1997, Donna Miller, review of Eggs Mark the Spot, p. 423; March 15, 1998, John Peters, review of I Was a Third-Grade Science Project, p. 1243; January 1, 1999, Kay Weisman, review of Frozen Summer, p. 874; November 1, 1999, Marta Segal, review of The Nutquacker, p. 537; April 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of The Road to Home, p. 1476; November 15, 2000, Marta Segal, review of Troll Teacher, p. 650; May 1, 2001, Gillian Engberg, review of I Was a Third-Grade Spy, p. 1678; March 15, 2003, Lauren Petersen, review of Souperchicken, p. 1329; September 1, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Poultrygeist, p. 133; April 15, 2005, Michael Cart, review of Wing Nut, p. 1455.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1989, Roger Sutton, review of Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, pp. 115-116; May, 1990, Roger Sutton, review of Kidnapping Kevin Kowalski, p. 207; April, 1994, Betsey Hearne, review of The Latchkey Dog, p. 250; November, 1994, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Monster Brother, p. 79; June, 1997, Elizabeth Bush, review of Journey to Nowhere, p. 350.
Childhood Education, June, 1988, Tina L. Burke, review of Cry Uncle!, p. 309.
Children's Book Review Service, October, 1993, review of Bird Dogs Can't Fly, p. 13; December, 1995, review of Hen Lake, p. 37.
Horn Book, March, 1989, Nancy Vasilakis, review of Glass Slippers Give You Blisters, p. 207; March, 1990, Anita Silvey, review of Angel and Me and the Bayside Bombers, p. 198; July-August, 1997, Mary M. Burns, review of Journey to Nowhere, p. 449; January, 1999, review of Frozen Summer, p. 57; July, 2000, Mary M. Burns, review of The Road to Home, p. 450.
Kirkus Reviews, October, 1987, review of Cry Uncle!, p. 1511; February 1, 1988, review of Pick of the Litter, p. 198; October, 1988, review of Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, p. 1523; November, 1992, review of Out of Step, p. 1372; December, 15, 1993, review of The Latchkey Dog, p. 1586; March 15, 1996, review of Eggs Mark the Spot, p. 455; March 1, 1998, review of I Was a Third-Grade Science Project, p. 334; November 15, 1998, review of Frozen Summer, p. 1664; April 1, 2003, review of Souperchicken, p. 530; September 1, 2003, review of Poultrygeist, p. 1119; April 1, 2005, review of Chickerella, p. 412; April 15, 2005, review of Wing Nut, p. 468.
Kliatt, May, 2004, Claire Rossner, review of Ashes of Roses, p. 16.
Language Arts, January, 1994, Miriam Martinez and Marcia F. Nash, reviews of The Easter Egg Farm and Peeping Beauty, pp. 56-57.
Publishers Weekly, November 27, 1987, review of Cry Uncle!, p. 82; November 16, 1990, review of A Sudden Change of Family, p. 57; April 27, 1992, review of The Easter Egg Farm, p. 267; April 12, 1993, review of Peeping Beauty, p. 62; November 22, 1993, review of The Latchkey Dog, p. 63; April 4, 1994, review of Dumbstruck, pp. 80-81; November 14, 1994, review of Monster Brother, p. 67; September 11, 1995, review of Hen Lake, p. 85; February 12, 1996, review of Eggs Mark the Spot, p. 77; May 12, 1997, review of Journey to Nowhere, p. 77; July 28, 1997, review of Bantam of the Opera, p. 74; March 23, 1998, review of I Was a Third-Grade Science Project, p. 100; December 7, 1998, review of Frozen Summer, p. 60; September 27, 1999, review of The Nutquacker, p. 59; January 28, 2002, review of The Princess and the Pizza, pp. 289-290; February 24, 2003, March 15, 2003, review of Souperchicken, p. 71; August 4, 2003, review of Poultrygeist, p. 78.
School Library Journal, October, 1987, Lucy Hawley, review of The Witching of Ben Wagner, p. 124; November, 1987, Sylvia S. Marantz, review of Cry Uncle!, p. 102; May, 1988, Trev Jones, review of Pick of the Litter, p. 95; November, 1988, Phyllis Graves, review of Mom Is Dating Weird Wayne, p. 110; February, 1989, Katherine Bruner, review of Glass Slippers Give You Blisters, p. 80; March, 1990, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of Angel and Me and the Bayside Bombers, pp. 184-185; May, 1990, Katharine Bruner, review of Kidnapping Kevin Kowalski, p. 102; December, 1990, Trev Jones, review of A Sudden Change of Family, pp. 97-98; October, 1991, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Seven Long Years until College, p. 119; April, 1992, Heide Piehler, review of The Easter Egg Farm, p. 86; September, 1992, Janet M. Bair, review of Out of Step, p. 250; April, 1993, Joy Fleishhacker, review of Peeping Beauty, p. 90; December, 1993, Nancy Mendali-Scanlan, review of Bird Dogs Can't Fly, p. 78; January, 1994, Jana R. Fine, review of The Latchkey Dog, pp. 112-113; May, 1994, Rebecca O'Connell, review of Dumbstruck, p. 118; October, 1994, Leah Hawkins, review of Peeping Beauty, p. 75; November, 1994, Lauralyn Persson, review of Monster Brother, p. 72; October, 1995, Teresa Bateman, review of The Easter Egg Farm, p. 80, and Steven Engelfried, review of Hen Lake, p. 96; May, 1996, Betty Teague, review of Eggs Mark the Spot, p. 84; May, 1997, Allison Trent Bernstein, review of Journey to Nowhere, p. 128; August, 1997, Judith McMahon, review of Eggs Mark the Spot, p. 63; October, 1997, Ann Cook, review of Bantam of the Opera, p. 88; May, 1998, Lucy Rafael, review of I Was a Third-Grade Science Project, p. 106; December, 1998, Carol A. Edwards, review of Frozen Summer, p. 118; October, 1999, Lisa Falk, review of The Nutquacker, p. 65; July, 2000, Sharon Grover, review of The Road to Home, p. 100; October, 2000, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Troll Teacher, p. 140; July, 2001, Piper L. Nyman, review of I Was a Third-Grade Spy, p. 72; May, 2003, Eve Ortega, review of Souperchicken, p. 108; September, 2003, Marge Loch-Wouters, review of Poultrygeist, p. 168; December, 2003, Lee Bock, review of I Was a Third-Grade Bodyguard, pp. 102-103; May, 2005, Julie Roach, review of Chickerella, p. 76, and Joel Shoemaker, review of Wing Nut, p. 120.
Stone Soup, September, 1999, Cathrina Altimari-Brown, review of Frozen Summer, p. 34.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1988, Mary L. Adams, review of The Witching of Ben Wagner, p. 21; June, 1992, Carmen Oyenque, review of Seven Long Years until College, p. 91; August, 1999, Evelyn Butrico, review of Frozen Summer, p. 182; June, 2005, Mike Brown, review of Wing Nut, p. 124.
Poultry in Motion: The Books of Mary Jane and Herm Auch,http://www.mjauch.com (September 1, 2006).