Dubosarsky, Ursula 1961–
Dubosarsky, Ursula 1961–
Born June 25, 1961, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; daughter of Peter (a writer and politician) and Verna (a writer) Coleman; married Avi Dubosarsky, December 17, 1987; children: Maisie, Dover, Bruno. Education: Sydney University, B.A. (with honors), 1982, Dip. Ed., 1989; Macquarie University, Ph.D., 2007.
Writer. Australian Public Service, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia, researcher, 1983-84; Reader's Digest magazine, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, freelance researcher, 1986—. Formerly worked as a teacher of French.
Notable Book designation, Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA), for High Hopes, Zizzy Zing, Bruno and the Crumhorn, and Black Sails White Sails; New South Wales commendation for Family Therapy Award, 1990, for High Hopes; CBCA Young Readers Award shortlist, 1994, for The Last Week in December, and 2001, for The Game of the Goose; New South Wales State Literary Award, and Victorian Premier's Award for Children's Literature, both 1994, and CBCA Award for Older Readers shortlist, 1995, all for The White Guinea-Pig; New South Wales State Ethnic Affairs Commission Award, 1995, and Royal Blind Society Talking Book Award shortlist, inclusion in United Nations White Raven library collection, and CBCA Honour Book designation, all 1996, all for The First Book of Samuel; Queensland Premier's Literary Award shortlist, 2001, for The Game of the Goose, and 2003, for Abyssinia; South Australian Festival Award for Literature (Young Adult), and Ethel Turner Prize shortlist, New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, both 2004, both for Abyssinia; Ethel Turner Prize, and Victorian Premier's Literary Award, both 2006, both for Theodora's Gift; Queensland Premier's Award, 2006, White Ravens International Catalogue Honor Book citation, CBCA Book of the Year designation, and Ethel Turner Prize, all 2007, all for The Red Shoe.
Maisie and the Pinny Gig, illustrated by Roberta Landers, Macmillan (South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 1989.
High Hopes, Penguin (New York, NY), 1990.
Zizzy Zing, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1991.
The Last Week in December, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1993.
The White Guinea-Pig, Viking (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1994, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
The First Book of Samuel, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.
Bruno and the Crumhorn, Viking (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1996.
Black Sails White Sails, Penguin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1997.
The Strange Adventures of Isador Brown ("Aussie Bites" series), illustrated by Paty Marshall-Stace, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
Honey and Bear, illustrated by Ron Brooks, Viking (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998.
My Father Is Not a Comedian!, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1999.
The Game of the Goose, illustrated by John Winch, Penguin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
The Even Stranger Adventures of Isador Brown ("Aussie Bites" series), illustrated by Paty Marshall-Stace, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2000.
The Two Gorillas ("Aussie Nibbles" series), illustrated by Mitch Vane, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.
Fairy Bread ("Aussie Nibbles" series), Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.
The Magic Wand, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2002.
Special Days with Honey and Bear, illustrated by Ron Brooks, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2002.
Abyssinia, Viking (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2003.
Isador Brown's Strangest Adventures of All, illustrated by Mitch Vane, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2003.
How to Be a Great Detective, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2004.
Theodora's Gift, Penguin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2005.
Rex, illustrated by David Mackintosh, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.
The Red Shoe, Allen & Unwin (Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia), 2006, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2007.
The Puppet Show, illustrated by Mitch Vane, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2006.
The Word Spy: Come and Discover the Secrets of the English Language, illustrated by Tohby Riddle, Penguin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2008.
Jerry, illustrated by Patricia Mullins, Puffin (Camberwell, Victoria, Australia), 2008.
Australian author Ursula Dubosarsky is noted for penning young-adult novels that, while sometimes humorous, also reveal a dark side. In award-winning books such as Zizzy Zing, High Hopes, The White Guinea-Pig, The First Book of Samuel, and Black Sails White Sails, she introduces readers to vivid characters who are involved in closely wrought incidents. Gaining in popularity even among U.S. readers who are sometimes unfamiliar with the "Australianisms" scattered throughout her books, Dubosarsky has continued to reveal her talent as a writer through both her compelling protagonists and her use of language. Noting that she "writes with extraordinary clarity and simplicity," Viewpoint contributor Robyn Sheahan-Bright added that Dubosarsky's books "are timeless … and ageless in their appeal." Moreover, the critic added, the Australian author "loves to empathize with children. She gives us their angst and their fearlessness; their poignant attempts to understand the frailties of adults who act in ways which are impenetrable to them." Difficult to classify by genre, according to Sheahan-Bright, Dubosarsky's stories "are enigmatic and original and boundaries definitely don't suit them."
Born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, Dubosarsky was raised by parents who were both writers, and as a child she enjoyed books by Maurice Sendak, Enid Blyton, and other imaginative authors. Graduating from Sydney University in 1982, she spent two years in Canberra as a researcher for the Australian Public Service while writing in the evenings. She lived for a year on an Israeli kibbutz where she met her Argentine-born husband. Returning to Sydney in 1986, Dubosarsky worked as a researcher for Reader's Digest, married, and began raising her three children.
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Dubosarsky's first published picture book, Maisie and the Pinny Gig, tells the story of a young girl and her imaginary friend, Pinny Gig. Also for young readers are several books in the "Aussie Bites" series of beginning readers, among them The Strange Adventures of Isador Brown and its sequels, The Even Stranger Adventures of Isador Brown and Isador Brown's Strangest Adventures of All. Part of the "Aussie Nibbles" series of readers, Dubosarsky's The Two Gorillas is a "highly entertaining" story about how a pair of stuffed gorillas are treated by their rambunctious owner, according to Magpies reviewer Debbie Mulligan.
In Rex, another title designed for young readers, Dubosarsky chronicles the adventures of Rex, the chameleon class pet, as he goes home with each student. As the classmates take care of Rex in turn, each chronicles his or her adventures, and the pictures that accompany the student's words are drawn in a childlike style. Rather than just staying at the student's home, the chameleon is often taken to movies or restaurants; in one case, he is dressed up to play with a little girl's Barbie dolls. Through the children's imaginations, Rex is transformed from a humble chameleon to a powerful dinosaur. "Dubosarsky writes open-ended comments and questions that leave Rex's true nature up to the reader," noted a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Noting the short phrases the author uses to describe the experiences of the story's young characters, Randall Enos concluded in Booklist that in Rex Dubosarsky's "text clearly reflects a child's point of view."
High Hopes is one of many novels Dubosarsky has written for older readers. The novel focuses on twelve-year-old Julia. The preteen's concern over her widowed father's new girlfriend leads her to bake a "poisoned" cake—one with an entire bottle of vanilla in it—in an effort to derail the romance. Although her harmless plot fails, Julia eventually accepts her father's need for companionship and reconciles herself to the addition of a stepmother to the family. Reviewing High Hopes for Voice of Youth Advocates, Andrea Davidson deemed it a "funny, offbeat novel about growing up, remarriage, and family ups and downs," praising in particular Dubosarsky's "very skillful writing." In Horn Book Ellen Fader described the novel as "breezy" and "with realistic underpinnings that will please fans of contemporary fiction," while Adrian Jackson concluded his assessment of High Hopes in Books for Keeps by praising the author's "lovely confidence in the story telling" and her "clever blending of the comic and serious."
The mysterious letter at the heart of Dubosarsky's Zizzy Zing leads young Phyllis back in time to 1938 and into the most horrifying summer of her life. Dubosarsky cut her teeth on this mystery novel, which she wrote years before the publication of her first two books. As she worked on the book, Dubosarsky knew only that she wanted to create a murder mystery where the child was the detective; what she ended up with was perhaps a bit more of a ghost story than mystery, teaching her that the best stories are sometimes as much a surprise to the writer as they are to the reader.
Abyssinia, like Zizzy Zing, is a mystery novel that involves time shifting. In the story, sisters Mary and Grace live in rural Australia, where a dollhouse is one of their few playthings. As Dubosarsky's story unfolds, readers learn that there is a strange connection between the stories the girls concoct for their dolls and their own lives, a connection that becomes alarmingly clear when one of the girls disappears.
Written in the third person, The White Guinea-Pig introduces Geraldine, who while reluctantly taking care of her friend's guinea pig for six weeks, finds her life suddenly falling apart. Her bankrupt father is selling their house; her older sister is emotionally crumbling under relationship problems; and her cute neighbor, Ezra, appears to be guarding an awful secret. Booklist contributor Chris Sherman felt that the "surreal quality" of the novel "sets it apart from the usual crop of middle-school problem novels about families," while Deborah Stevenson, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted that with The White Guinea-Pig Dubosarsky creates "a story of humor and notable eccentricity" that is sure to be appreciated by "readers with particularly offbeat literary tastes."
The First Book of Samuel is inspired by the Biblical story of Samuel. In it, the main character disappears on his twelfth birthday, leaving family members trying to piece together his life using the scraps of information available to them. Reviewing the novel for Magpies, Jo Goodman observed that "every word, every nuance is carefully judged." Bruno and the Crumhorn, another middle-grade novel by Dubosarsky, is about a boy taking lessons on the crumhorn, a musical instrument dating back to the fourteenth century that has an embarrassing honking sound. Val Randall, writing in Books for Keeps, called Bruno and the Crumhorn "a whimsical story peopled with eccentric characters," then went on to note that the "narrative has a dry, whacky humour." Reviewing that same novel in Magpies, Anne Hanzl called Bruno and the Crumhorn "a ‘hoot’ of a story full of sly humour, and interesting, quirky characters."
In My Father Is Not a Comedian! Dubosarsky showcases her humorous take on adult life from a nine year old's point of view. In the first-person novel, Claudie is determined to waste no time in beginning her literary career and she decides to start by writing about her family and friends. Her disgruntlement at not having her story about a singing cactus acknowledged by a literary magazine—as well as her slightly off-kilter interpretations of adult activities—fuels the novel's subtle humor, according to Australian Book Review contributor Ruthe Starke. Starke called Claudie "a keen but tolerant observer" and cited My Father Is Not a Comedian! as proof that Dubosarsky "is one of the funniest writers around." In Magpies, Joan Zahnleiter offered a similar opinion, writing that the dramatic Claudie, the ostensible author of the book, "knows how to hold her audience, with tantalising chapter headings and hooks in the ends of chapters…. She is quite a character."
Rather than using time travel to bring her readers into the past, Dubosarsky wrote her award-winning novel The Red Shoe as straight historical fiction. Set in 1954, the novel describes the lives of three sisters: fifteen-year-old Elizabeth, eleven-year-old Frances, and six-year-old Matilda. Told in the third person, the text focuses on Matilda's perspective, particularly the little girl's fantasies about the mysterious neighbors living in the large house next door. When Matilda makes a connection between a newsreel she sees about a Russian diplomat who defected to Australia and her neighbors, she tells another neighbor that they are surrounded by spies. The Red Shoe includes excerpts from actual 1954 newspaper articles, giving readers a deeper picture into time and place. Calling the novel "honest" and "poignant," a critic for Publishers Weekly added that "Dubosarsky proves masterful in conjuring and connecting images" such as that surrounding the titular red shoes. Deirdre F. Baker, writing in Horn Book, noted that the narrative tells three different coming-of-age stories simultaneously, "evoking the concerns and sensibilities of each with affection, humor, and insight."
Although most of Dubosarsky's stories take many months to make it from idea to finished manuscript, there are notable exceptions. She once described the process of writing her book Honey and Bear to SATA: "I was suffering a great deal from sleeplessness. One night lying there staring at the dark feeling rather desperate, the very first story of Honey and Bear, which is called ‘Good Idea, Bad Idea,’ came into my head, word for word, virtually as it appears on the page today. It was as though the characters of Honey the bird and Bear the bear and their life together dropped down from heaven, in just the right voice. In fact, all five of the little stories in Honey and Bear came to me that very night. Then, at last, feeling both very excited and content, I fell asleep.
"When I woke up, I remembered my nocturnal visitors, and I was both happy and nervous—altogether too nervous to rush to the word processor to write them down! What if they were no good? I walked around for several days keeping the stories a secret in my head, like someone who has witnessed something strange and is in two minds about telling anyone about it. Finally, about a week later, I sat down and typed the stories out. Wonderful to relate, I seemed to have remembered them all—every word.
"I had never had what you might call a creative experience quite like that—one that came like something given, and brought its creator so much pleasure in the process…. For me, the book feels like a blessing; writing it was one of those experiences which … comes to a writer perhaps once in a lifetime. And I am so grateful for it."
Biographical and Critical Sources
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Australian Book Review, September, 1999, Ruth Starke, review of My Father Is Not a Comedian!, pp. 42-43.
Booklist, August, 1991, Mary Romano Marks, review of High Hopes, pp. 2146-2147; July, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of The White Guinea-Pig, p. 1878; November 15, 2006, Randall Enos, review of Rex, p. 52.
Books for Keeps, May, 1991, Adrian Jackson, review of High Hopes, pp. 14-15; September, 1996, Val Randall, review of Bruno and the Crumhorn, p. 16.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1995, Deborah Stevenson, review of The White Guinea-Pig, p. 107.
Economist, November 26, 1994, review of The White Guinea-Pig, p. 102.
Horn Book, September-October, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of High Hopes, p. 596; May-June, 2007, Deirdre F. Baker, review of The Red Shoes, p. 281.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2006, review of Rex, p. 784; May 1, 2007, review of The Red Shoe.
Magpies, July, 1993, Robyn Sheahan, review of The Last Week in December, p. 34; May, 1995, Jo Goodman, review of The First Book of Samuel, p. 32; May, 1996, Anne Hanzl, review of Bruno and the Crumhorn, p. 42; July, 1999, Joan Zahnleiter, review of My Father Is Not a Comedian!, p. 33; March, 2001, Debbie Mulligan, review of The Even Stranger Adventures of Isador Brown and The Two Gorillas, p. 29; May, 2002, review of Special Days with Honey and Bear, p. 28; September, 2002, review of The Magic Wand, p. 30; May, 2003, review of Abyssinia, p. 16; March, 2008, Lyn Linning, review of The Word Spy: Come and Discover the Secrets of the English Language, p. 34.
Observer (London, England), November 20, 1994, review of The White Guinea-Pig, p. 12.
Publishers Weekly, September 11, 2006, review of Rex, p. 54; March 26, 2007, review of The Red Shoe, p. 94.
School Librarian, spring, 2007, Lucinda Jacob, review of The Magic Wand, p. 18.
School Library Journal, September, 2006, Grace Oliff, review of Rex, p. 171; June, 2007, Suzanne Gordon, review of The Red Shoe, p. 142.
Viewpoint, summer, 2000, Robyn Sheahan-Bright, review of The Game of the Goose.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1991, Andrea Davidson, review of High Hopes, p. 226.
Achuka Web site,http://www.achuka.co.uk/ (September 28, 2008), interview with Dubosarsky.
Penguin Australia Web site,http://www.penguin.com.au/ (September 28, 2008), "Ursula Dubosarsky."
Ursula Dubosarsky Home Page,http://www.ursuladubosarsky.com (September 28, 2008).