Buell, Janet 1952–
Buell, Janet 1952–
Born April 20, 1952; daughter of William F. Buell, Sr. (owner of an insurance agency). Education: Carthage College, B.A., 1974; Notre Dame College, M.Ed., 1993. Politics: "Independent." Hobbies and other interests: Reading, anthropology, archaeology, indoor soccer, softball, hiking, health, "possibilities."
Writer and educator. Round Lake School District, Round Lake, IL, grade-school teacher, 1974-76; Timberlane Regional School District, Atkinson, NH, grade-school teacher, 1976-86; Londonderry School District, Londonderry, NH, gifted program teacher and advanced math teacher, 1986—. Londonderry Cable Television, creator, producer, and host of The Cosmic Learning Roadshow, 1990-92.
Derry Regional Writers' Group.
Anna Cross Giblin nonfiction work-in-progress grant, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, for "Time Travelers" series; Outstanding Children's Book designation, New Hampshire Writers' Project Literary Awards, for Bog Bodies.
NONFICTION; "TIME TRAVELERS" SERIES
Bog Bodies, Twenty-first Century Books (Brookfield, CT), 1997.
Ice Maiden of the Andes, Twenty-first Century Books (Brookfield, CT), 1997.
Ancient Horsemen of Siberia, Twenty-first Century Books (Brookfield, CT), 1998.
Greenland Mummies, Twenty-first Century Books (Brookfield, CT), 1998.
Sail away, Little Boat (picture book), illustrated by Jui Ishida, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.
Contributor to The Guinness Book of Records and to periodicals including Cobblestone, Cricket, Special Reports, New Hampshire Editions, Writer, and Horse Digest.
Janet Buell, who teaches gifted students for the Londonderry, New Hampshire public schools, is the author of Bog Bodies, Greenland Mummies, and other works in her "Time Travelers" series for middle-grade readers. In 2006 Buell published her first picture book, Sail Away, Little Boat.
Buell once told SATA: "Lots of kids dream about being authors when they grow up. I don't remember ever wanting that for myself. Mostly, when I bothered to think about growing up, I thought about being a veterinarian. I became a teacher instead—a stroke of luck, as it turns out, for my future as a writer.
"Back in the early 1980s, I was teaching third grade in Atkinson, New Hampshire. A man named Don Graves from the University of New Hampshire came to our school to study how children learn to write. I was really happy when he picked some students in my class as the subjects of his study.
"Don and his assistants spent lots of time watching these students. As they watched, the researchers saw how the children searched for ways through the writing process. For example, my kids always hoped their first drafts would be neat and clean so they wouldn't have to rewrite. They soon found out that neat and clean first drafts don't exist—at least not those that go on to be good pieces of writing.
"First drafts are ways to explore what you want to say. They can be very messy. All writers I know tug at their first words in some way or another. They change their minds. They rearrange. They cross out. They shuffle entire paragraphs from one place to another or annihilate them altogether. It's this tugging and rearranging—this hard work—that sets a writer apart from others who merely want to write.
"Don told me the only way I'd be able to teach my students to write well is to write. So I did. I wrote when my kids wrote—just like they wrote. I wrote drafts. I revised. I edited. I struggled to find words for the ideas buzzing about in my head. If you write, you know that struggle. I discovered that I really liked it.
"Then, as now, I was being open to possibilities. It's a philosophy that has stuck with me my whole life and has helped me to experience lots of different things. I've traveled different parts of the United States, camping along the way. I've gone moth collecting at night with the Nature Conservancy. I've taught courses to adults. I've acted in a play and I started a show on a local cable network, with my students and me as hosts.
"Being open to possibilities launched me into a writing career. Around the time my students and I were learning to write, I went to a seminar for writers. Two women, who had recently started a history magazine for kids called Cobblestone, led one of the sessions. Later when I talked with them, they encouraged me to query the magazine. A query is a letter telling the editors about the article you'd like to write for them. It's the way a lot of magazine articles get written in this country.
"I figured I had nothing to lose by trying, so I sent the editors a query for an upcoming issue they were doing about cowboys and the old west. I had done a little research into the subject and discovered the interesting history of cattle branding. The editors thought it was interesting, too. They gave me a ‘go-ahead’ to write the article on speculation. When editors assign an article on speculation, it means they're not going to commit to buying it until they see if it's any good or not. Editors often give new writers assignments on speculation.
"As you can imagine, I was thrilled. Those feelings were dampened a bit by a few doubters. They warned me that my piece might not be accepted after all. I think they were trying to soften my disappointment if the article didn't get accepted. I didn't let that stop me. I knew that I could write a good article and I did. Cobblestone accepted it.
"I wrote more articles for Cobblestone and for other magazines. Then, one day I visited a local bog. After my visit, I wanted to learn more about this fascinating wetland. At the library I discovered the strange, grim secret buried in bogs. That secret is the bodies buried in some of them. These bodies are so old, yet so beautifully preserved, that they defy belief. It's very weird to see the face of a two thousand-year-old person, beard stubble and all. I also learned that technology has become so advanced that scientists can learn a lot about these ancient humans—even what they ate for their last meal!
"Right away I knew I had to write a book about it. No one I knew had ever heard about bog bodies, and I wanted to tell everyone about them. Before I could start, though, I learned about other ancient human remains. Some of these remains were frozen on mountain tops or in arctic graves or on the high plateaus of Siberia. Instead of writing one book, I decided to write a series of books called ‘Time Travelers.’
"The next step was to write a proposal. A lot of people think you always write the book first and then look for a publisher. That's not the case with nonfiction. My proposal explained to publishers what I wanted to do. I sent it to five different publishers before Twenty-first Century Books accepted it.
"It took a little less than two years to write the four books in "Time Travelers." Mostly I wrote during my summer break from teaching, but I also wrote during the school year—in the evenings or on weekends. For a long time it seemed like the books would never get done!"
In the first two volumes in Buell's "Time Travelers" series, Bog Bodies and Ice Maiden of the Andes, she discusses the techniques used by scientists who study ancient societies. Reviewing both works in Booklist, Helen Rosenburg observed that "the well-written texts provide insight into an intriguing topic." In School Library Journal, Cathryn A. Camper described Greenland Mummies as "useful to students studying Inuit life and sure to interest mummy enthusiasts." In the book, Buell explores evidence provided by the 500-year-old mummified Inuit remains discovered in Greenland by Hans and Jokum Gronvold. As she pieces together information from these rare scientific finds, Buell details the lives of the primitive Inuit people for her young readers. Camper praised the author's "fascinating details about how these people hunted with harpoons, constructed igloos and sod huts, battled frostbite, and gave themselves tattoos with needle and thread."
Ancient Horsemen of Siberia describes the ancient burial site of a Pazyryk woman that was found preserved in an icy tomb along with her horses and possessions. Buell also examines what the site reveals about a people who lived long ago. In her review for School Library Journal, Elizabeth Talbot praised the author for going "beyond the [burial site] discovery to examine how Russian archeologist Natalya Polosmak and her colleagues made educated guesses about the lives and culture of [these] individuals who rode horses and tended other animals." Talbot also applauded Buell for clearly presenting a complex and interesting subject, and for further assisting the reader with the "valuable additions" of a glossary, a timeline, and suggestions for further reading.
Buell made the jump from nonfiction to fiction with Sail away, Little Boat, a rhyming tale inspired by her walks along a brook near her New Hampshire home. After two children launch a red toy boat down a babbling brook, it encounters a variety of animals on its voyage, including whirligig beetles, otters, and a bear cub. As the tiny vessel reaches the open sea, it is found by another group of children who are playing on the beach. Sail away, Little Boat received strong reviews. "Delightful sounds, rich language, imagery, and buoyant verse characterize the writing," observed School Library Journal contributor Teresa Pfeifer. A Kirkus Reviews critic stated that, "deeply respectful of the places where man and nature meet," Buell's tale "is a serene journey of beauty." A Publishers Weekly critic praised the work of illustrator Jui Ishida, stating that her "compositions feel bracing and bold—every spread conveys the energy of the water coursing inexorably through the landscape." According to Rebecca Rule, writing in New Hampshire's Portsmouth Herald, "this simple, beautiful story is as New Hampshire as can be—and as universal as well."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, February 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, reviews of Bog Bodies and Ice Maiden of the Andes, p. 912.
Kirkus Reviews, February 15, 2006, review of Sail away, Little Boat, p. 178.
Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, NH), May 14, 2006, Rebecca Rule, review of Sail away, Little Boat.
Publishers Weekly, March 6, 2006, review of Sail away, Little Boat, p. 74.
School Library Journal, March, 1998, Ann G. Brouse, reviews of Bog Bodies and Ice Maiden of the Andes, p. 229; October, 1998, Elizabeth Talbot, review of Ancient Horsemen of Siberia, pp. 151-152, and Carolyn A. Camper, review of Greenland Mummies, p. 152; April, 2006, Teresa Pfeifer, review of Sail away, Little Boat, p. 97.
New Hampshire Mirror Online,http://www.thenhmirror.com/ (December 20, 2006), Holly Bedard, "Janet Buell: Children's Author."