Chall, Marsha Wilson
CHALL, Marsha Wilson
Born in MN; children: Lindsay, Robbie. Education: Drake University, B.S., 1975; University of Minnesota, M.A., 1984.
Adult Options in Education, Hopkins and St. Louis Park, MN, adult literacy instructor, 1983-2002; Metropolitan State University, St. Paul, MN, community faculty instructor in creative writing, 1998—. Has conducted writing workshops at The Loft Literary Center, Minneapolis, MN, and St. John's Preparatory School, Collegeville, MN. Has given readings and lectures on children's literature at colleges and associations in Minnesota, North Dakota, and elsewhere.
Smithsonian Notable Children's Book citation, 2000, for Bonaparte; Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Assistance fellowship, and Loft Literary Center's Minnesota Writers Career Initiative grant, both 2001; Ohio Farm Bureau Outstanding Children's Literature Award, 2002, for Sugarbush Spring.
Mattie, illustrated by Barbara Lehman, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1992.
Up North at the Cabin, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1992.
Bonaparte, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 2000.
Happy Birthday, America!, illustrated by Guy Porfirio, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 2000.
Sugarbush Spring, illustrated by Jim Daly, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 2000.
Prairie Train, illustrated by John Thompson, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Marsha Wilson Chall's picture books have earned praise for their warmth and charm, as well as for their incorporation of the kind of details often left out of books for young readers. In an interview for the Children's Literature Network Web site, she said: "Writing for children allowed me [the] joy of experiencing the world over and over again for the first time. Adults lose this childlike appreciation and discovery through over-complication. I like to make the complex simple. Not simple-minded, but pared down to the essential." Chall admits she may work for months or even years on a children's story, searching for just the right phrase or storyline to capture a child's imagination. She is therefore amused when people suggest that writing picture books is easier than creating fiction for adults.
Some of Chall's books are based on childhood memories from her own youth in Minnesota. In Up North at the Cabin, she takes readers on a summertime journey to a rustic cabin in the deep woods. The family in Sugarbush Spring works together to tap maple trees and turn the sap into syrup, and in Happy Birthday, America!, an extended family gathers to celebrate the Fourth of July in a small town. All three titles celebrate not only nature's abundance and seasonal festivals, they also depict the interactions between three generations as grandparents transmit traditions to grandchildren. New York Times Book Review correspondent Beth Dunlop felt that Up North at the Cabin "tugs at memory and childhood without being overly sentimental." Chall's words, according to Dunlop, have "a pleasant read-aloud rhythm and imagery that will tickle children." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commended Sugarbush Spring as an "evocative tale" in which text and pictures combine to produce a "tactile quality." Another Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded of Happy Birthday, America!: "Ample good cheer, mixed with splashes of patriotism and nostalgia, make this a family outing to which nearly everyone will feel invited."
Two of Chall's more whimsical tales are Bonaparte and Rupa Raises the Sun. Bonaparte is a French dog who tries in vain to join his beloved owner in school. Throughout the week, Bonaparte adopts many ruses—all of them unsuccessful—until finally he must come to the rescue of his boy. In her Booklist review of Bonaparte, Lauren Peterson declared: "This humorous and heartwarming tale will engage youngsters." A Horn Book contributor likewise found Bonaparte a "lighthearted story," concluding: "Bonaparte est charmant. " In Rupa Raises the Sun, the title character begs for a vacation after rousing the sun 21,954 times. When a substitute sun-raiser cannot be found, the village elders try to solve the problem in innovative ways. "Chall charms the listener with her fondly told tale of foolishness," observed Annie Ayers in Booklist. A Publishers Weekly critic deemed the book "a quirky, warmhearted work for sophisticated readers."
Chall's Prairie Train stems from her recollection of childhood train rides between Iowa and Minnesota. In the book, a young girl describes her first solo trip on the Great Northern to see her grandmother in St. Paul. At first the journey is thrilling, full of exciting sights and sounds and leading to a newfound freedom. Then, when the train halts due to a snowdrift, a note of anxiety creeps in until the other passengers reassure her, in various ways, that all is well. Julie Cummins in Booklist described Prairie Train as a "poignant glimpse of a time gone by." Tony Hiss in the New York Times Book Review praised Chall for being "unusually sensitive to the heightened awareness, the wonder mixed with fear, that travel brings with it."
In her online interview with Children's Literature Network, Chall said: "A friend of mine recently reminded me of the axiom that work should be play with a purpose. Writing to me is that kind of work, like being in water; I lose track of time, in the same miraculous way I did as a child in the backyard creating miniature worlds that slipped imperceptibly into nightfall."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 1992, p. 1527; September 1, 1998, Annie Ayers, review of Rupa Raises the Sun, p. 124; October 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Bonaparte ; September 1, 2003, Julie Cummins, review of Prairie Train, p. 128.
Horn Book, September—October, 1992, p. 574.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1992, p. 716.
New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1992, p. 38; November 16, 2003, Tony Hiss, "One-Track Minds," p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1998, review of Rupa Raises the Sun, p. 70; January 3, 2000, review of Sugarbush Spring, p. 75; June 5, 2000, review of Happy Birthday, America!, p. 94; August 7, 2000, review of Bonaparte, p. 94.
School Library Journal, June, 1992, p. 89; August, 1992, p. 134; November, 1998, p. 77; March, 2000, Virginia Golodetz, review of Sugarbush Spring, p. 189; June, 2000, JoAnn Adams, review of Happy Birthday, America!, p. 102.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), August 24, 2003, Colleen Kelly, "Picture This: There's a Bounty of New Picture Books by Twin Cities Writers and Artists," p. F1.
Children's Literature Network, http://www.childrensliteraturenetwork.org/authors/chall.html/ (December 6, 2003), interview with Chall.*