Dunbar, Joyce 1944–

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Dunbar, Joyce 1944


Born January 6, 1944, in Scunthorpe, England; daughter of Russell (a steel worker) and Marjorie (a homemaker; maiden name, Reed) Miles; married James Dunbar-Brunton (an illustrator), January 27, 1972; children: Ben, Polly. Education: Goldsmiths College, London, B.A. (English; with honors). Hobbies and other interests: Gardening, walking, visual arts, theatre, art, building, traveling.


Home Norwich, England. Agent Hilary Delamere, The Agency, 24 Pottery Lane, Holland Park, London W11 4LZ, England.


Writer. Worked variously as a nanny, waitress, barmaid, and market-stall salesperson. English teacher, 196889; employed in college drama department, Stratford-on-Avon, England; teacher of creative-writing; leader of workshop for deaf playwrights, Unicorn Theatre. Facilitator in creative writing program, Skyros, Greece, beginning 1998. Member of judging panel for Mother Goose Award, 199699.


Society of Authors, Norfolk Contemporary Art Society, East Anglian Society of Authors.

Awards, Honors

Guardian Children's Fiction Award runner-up, 1986, for Mundo and the Weather-Child; A Bun for Barney shortlisted for Parents' Best Books for Babies Award, 1987; Software Superslug included on Smarties' Guide to Children's Reading, 1991; Best Books designation, Publishers Weekly, 1996, and Pick-of-the-Lists designation, American Booksellers Association, both for This Is the Star; Editor's Choice citation, Bookseller, 1998, and Best Books designation, Child Education, 1999, both for Tell Me Something Happy before I Go to Sleep.


Jugg, illustrated by husband, James Dunbar, Scolar Press (London, England), 1980.

The Magic Rose Bough, illustrated by James Dunbar, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1984.

Mundo and the Weather-Child, Heinemann (London, England), 1985.

A Bun for Barney, illustrated by Emilie Boon, Orchard Books (London, England), 1987 published as A Cake for Barney, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1988.

The Raggy Taggy Toys, illustrated by P. J. Lynch, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1987.

Software Superslug, illustrated by James Dunbar, Macdonald (London, England), 1987.

Mouse Mad Madeline, illustrated by James Dunbar, Hamish Hamilton (London, England),1988.

Tomatoes and Potatoes, illustrated by Lynn Breeze, Ginn, 1988.

Billy and the Brolly Boy, illustrated by Nick Ward, Ginn, 1988.

One Frosty Friday Morning, illustrated by John Dyke, Ginn, 1989.

Joanna and the Bean-Bag Beastie, illustrated by Francis Blake, Ginn, 1989.

I Wish I Liked Rice Pudding, illustrated by Carol Thompson, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

Software Superslug and the Great Computer Stupor, illustrated by James Dunbar, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1989.

Ollie Oddbin's Skylark, illustrated by James Dunbar, Heinemann (London, England), 1989.

Software Superslug and the Nutty Novelty Knitting, illustrated by James Dunbar, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1990.

Ten Little Mice, illustrated by Maria Majewska, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1990.

Five Mice and the Moon, illustrated by James Mayhew, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Lollopy, illustrated by Susan Varley, Anderson Press (London, England), 1991.

Four Fierce Kittens, illustrated by Jakki Wood, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.

The Scarecrow, illustrated by James Dunbar, Collins Educational (London, England), 1991.

Giant Jim and Tiny Tim, illustrated by James Dunbar, Collins Educational (London, England), 1991.

I Want a Blue Banana, illustrated by James Dunbar, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1991.

Why Is the Sky Up?, illustrated by James Dunbar, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1991.

Can Do, illustrated by Carol Thompson, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1992, published as I Wish I Could Count to a Million, Hodder Children's (London, England) 2000.

Mouse and Mole, illustrated by James Mayhew, Transworld, 1993.

Mouse and Mole Have a Party, illustrated by James Mayhew, Transworld, 1993.

The Spring Rabbit, illustrated by Susan Varley, Anderson Press (London, England), 1993.

Seven Sillies, illustrated by Chris Downing, Anderson Press (London, England), 1993.

(Editor) My First Read-Aloud Story Book, illustrated by Colin and Moira Maclean, Kingfisher Books (London, England), 1993.

Brown Bear, Snow Bear, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1994.

Doodlecloud, illustrated by James Dunbar, Longman (London, England), 1994.

Doodledragon, illustrated by James Dunbar, Longman (London, England), 1994.

Doodlemaze, illustrated by James Dunbar, Longman (London, England), 1994.

Doodling Daniel, illustrated by James Dunbar, Longman (London, England), 1994.

The Wishing Fish Tree, Ginn, 1994.

Little Eight John, illustrated by Rhian Nest-James, Ginn, 1994.

Oops-a-Daisy, and Other Tales for Toddlers, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1995.

Happy Days for Mouse and Mole, illustrated by James Mayhew, Picture Corgi (London, England), 1996.

A Very Special Mouse and Mole, illustrated by James Mayhew, Picture Corgi (London, England), 1996.

Freddie the Frog, illustrated by Dennis Hockerman, 1996.

Indigo and the Whale, illustrated by Geoffrey Patterson, BridgeWater Books, 1996.

This Is the Star, illustrated by Gary Blythe, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1996.

Hansel and Gretel, illustrated by Ian Penney, Hove, 1997.

The Selfish Snail, illustrated by Hannah Giffard, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1997.

If You Want to Be a Cat, illustrated by Allan Curless, Hove, 1997.

Baby Bird, illustrated by Russell Ayto, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Tell Me Something Happy before I Go to Sleep, illustrated by Debi Gliori, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1998.

Pomegranate Seeds, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

The Secret Friend, illustrated by Helen Craig, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Gander's Pond, illustrated by Helen Craig, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1998.

Tutti Frutti, illustrated by Helen Craig, Walker (London, England), 1999.

The Glass Garden, illustrated by Fiona French, Frances Lincoln (London, England), 1999.

Panda's New Toy, illustrated by Helen Craig, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

The Bowl of Fruit, illustrated by Helen Craig, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 1999.

The Pig Who Wished, illustrated by Selina Young, DK Publishers, 1999.

Eggday, illustrated by Jane Cabrera, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.

The Sand Children, illustrated by Mark Edwards, Crocodile Books, 1999.

The Very Small, illustrated by Debi Gliori, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.

The Ups and Downs of Mouse and Mole, illustrated by Alison de Vere, Transworld, 2000.

Hip-Dip-Dip with Mouse and Mole, illustrated by Alison de Vere, Transworld, 2000.

Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big, illustrated by Debi Gliori, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2001.

Daisy's Day at the Contact Centre, illustrated by Polly Dunbar, Norwich Family Contact Centres (Norwich, England), 2001.

Magic Lemonade, illustrated by Jan McCafferty, Egmont (London, England), 2991, Crabtree (New York, NY), 2002.

A Chick Called Saturday, illustrated by Brita Grandström, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.

The Love-Me Bird, illustrated by Sophie Fatus, Scholastic (London, England, 2003, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

The Railway Angel, illustrated by Lisa Toft, Young Corgi (London, England), 2003.

Nightlights: Stories for You to Read to Your Child, Duncan Baird (London, England), 2003.

Boo to the Who in the Dark, illustrated by Sarah Massini, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

(Reteller) Snow White, illustrated by Julie Monks, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.

I Wish, illustrated by Ivan Bates, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.

Shoe Baby, illustrated by daughter, Polly Dunbar, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2005.

Voices and Visions: A Celebration of Norwich Market (nonfiction), illustrated byLys Flowerday, Mousehold Press, 2005.

Also author of stories for children's educational series. Contributor of stories to anthologies, including Tobie and the Face Merchant, edited by Julia Eccleshare, Collins, 1991; The Trick of the Tale, edited by Eccleshare, Viking, 1991; Bedtime Stories for the Very Young, edited by Sally Grindley, Kingfisher, 1991; and Fairy Tales, edited by Grindley, Little, Brown, 1993. Author of Cycle Cuba, for National Deaf Children's Society.

Author's work has been translated into several languages, including Zulu, Hebrew, Welsh, and Hebrew.


Stories have been broadcast on BBC Radio show Listening Corner, including "Jim Sparrow," 1982, "Sally and the Magic Rattle," 1983, "Doomuch and Doolittle," 1983, and "Shapes and Sounds," 198384. A Bun for Barney was adapted into a musical play and performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company for their children's Christmas Pantomime, 1988 and 1989. Software Superslug was adapted into a musical play performed in Norwich, England, 1990. A Bun for Barney was made into an interactive video game by BBC Multimedia Corporation, 1990. Mouse and Mole was produced as a twenty-six part animated series by Grasshopper Productions, 1997, and was adapted as a play.

Work in Progress

The picture books Where's My Sock, for Chicken House; and Moonbird, for Random House.


Although she admits to being non-bookish as a child, British writer Joyce Dunbar has become a prolific author of books for young children. Writing most of her works for the read-me-a-story set, she has created a host of gently humorous tales that celebrate family ties and friendship. Among Dunbar's many books are The Love-Me Bird, about a lonely bird's misguided search for love; A Chick Called Saturday, about a curious chick whose exploration of the outside world ultimately bring him back home to roost; and the reassuring bedtime read Tell Me Something Happy before I Go to Sleep, while books such as This Is the Star are appropriate for an older readership. In Publishers Weekly a critic noted that the "breezy pace and repetitive refrains" in Dunbar's text in A Chick Called Saturday is sure to please young readers, while Connie Fletcher, writing in Booklist, dubbed The Love-Me Bird a "whimsical tale with wisdom at its heart."

Dunbar was born in Lincolnshire, England, where her father worked as a steel worker. After earning her English degree at Goldsmiths' College, London, she worked several jobs before settling in as a college teacher. "I'd been writing for some time before a strange combination of circumstances turned me into a writer for children," Dunbar explained to Something about the Author (SATA ). "First, I found myself married to an illustrator. A barrister by training, he used to draw a character called Jugg who was his alter-ego. I liked this character so much that I thought he should have a story. Jugg became our first book. Secondly, my children. Writing children's stories was a way of entering into and sharing their world. Third, desperation. The house was falling down round my ears and I needed to do something to cheer myself up."

Dunbar's gradual hearing loss put an end to her teaching career after almost two decades. "I'm glad in a way," she once noted to SATA, "because it gave me a very strong motive to survive the early difficult stages of writing, when you are very unsure of yourself, and can't believe that anyone will want to read what you write, never mind publish it!" In fact, writing Mundo and the Weather-Child was Dunbar's way of helping her son, Ben, accept his own loss of hearing due to this inherited condition. "What was started as a therapeutic exercise emerges as a delicate work of fantasy which explores the difficult world of those childhood days when the border between the real and the imaginary has not yet been drawn," a School Librarian critic explained.

Many of Dunbar's books for young children feature animal characters who engage in all manner of humantype activities. In A Bun for Barney, for example, a bear acquires one of his favorite foods: a sweet roll, but when a succession of animal friends each ask for a taste, the polite bear finds that he himself may have to go without. In Growing Point, Margery Fisher noted that Dunbar's gently humorous story comes alive through the author's "use of alliteration," which "gives the text a flavour of its own." In a School Library Journal review, Lee Bock added that the surprise ending "is also a satisfying one for children because Barney learns to stand up for himself."

Lollopy presents a reassuring story for youngsters learning about separation and reunion, and how to reconcile fantasy with reality. Liza Bliss commented in School Library Journal that Dunbar's simple and direct text about a little girl who ventures into the forest with a stuffed rabbit, Lollopy, as her only companion, "leaves readers enough space for their own reactions and emotions."

A rabbit named Smudge is the star of The Spring Rabbit, while Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big and its companions feature bunnies Willa and Willoughby. In The Spring Rabbit Smudge is too impatient to wait until spring for a new brother or sister, but when he starts scouting for a sibling, his search takes him to all the wrong places. Reviewing The Spring Rabbit, Booklist reviewer Mary Harris Veeder commented that "the prose is tender and [the] illustrations are wondrous depictions of gentle woodland life," and concluded that this "bunny book" would stand out among all the others in the marketplace. In Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big tiny Willa learns that things are different for her older brother Willoughby when she awakens early and tries to make breakfast on her own. While taller brother Willoughby makes bigger sound better as he helps his little sister fix the morning mealand in fact does most of the work!Willa also realizes that being small still has its own rewards. Several reviewers praised the brother-sister relationship portrayed in the book, a Kirkus Reviewer noting that in Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big Dunbar "evokes the gentle guidance, loving support, and the deep bonds that develop" between siblings. Dubbing the book "deeply satisfying," Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido also praised the characters' "utterly charming and natural dialogue."

While animals also figure in The Very Small, the main character is both very small and very unusual. Separated from his mom and discovered by a baby bear, the creature clinging to a leaf has pointed ears, twisty antennae, and very strange and very tiny fur overalls. Even though Baby Bear shares his meals, room, toys, and time with his new friend, the Very Small is still homesick, but with help from a sleeping Baby Bear he is reunited with his almost just-as-small parents. Praising the "charming watercolor" art by Debi Gliori, Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson dubbed The Very Small a "sweet story" that "celebrates friendship and sharing." Equally appreciative of Dunbar's storytelling skills, Joy Fleishhacker wrote in School Library Journal that the author's "gentle, reassuring" tale is "written with careful attention to a young child's perspective."

Although the majority of Dunbar's books are best suited for children of preschool or primary-school age, two titles stand out for their appeal to older audiences. Indigo and the Whale and This Is the Star address complex themes with engaging simplicity. Of Indigo and the Whale, a story of one boy's painful, yet rewarding saga of self-discovery, Elizabeth Baynton-Clarke wrote in School Librarian: "The storyline is lively, fantastic, surreal in places, and all through sings praises in support of the individual." Critical praise also followed This Is the Star, Dunbar's rendition of the Nativity story written in rhyming cumulative text. A reviewer in Publishers Weekly asserted that Dunbar's "sophisticated vocabulary and phrasing guard against the singsong rhythm that so frequently governs cumulative verse," while a Kirkus Reviews critic declared that text and illustrations "do full justice both to the glory and to the simple humanity of the Christmas story."

Other books of note for toddlers is Baby Bird, a story that Booklist reviewer Helen Rosenberg claimed will inspire children to "cheer Baby Bird as he lifts himself into the sky" after the other animals dared to make fun of his attempts. The Bowl of Fruit, Panda's New Toy, Tutti Frutti and The Secret Friend are about the friendship between Panda and Gander. Elizabeth Bush, reviewing the series in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, predicted that children will energetically respond to the books because "they will know the rules [of sharing and jealousy told in the books] and be more than happy to inform Panda of them along the way."

As Dunbar once explained to SATA regarding her thoughts on writing: "The great thing about writing is that it makes almost every experience worthwhile because you can make a story out of it. The other great thing is that you can live two lives at once: one in the so-called 'real' world (which is never quite what we ordered), and one inside your head, which you can order in whatever way you like."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 15, 1988, p. 1000; April 15, 1990, p. 1628; April 15, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of The Spring Rabbit, p. 1538; September 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Oops-a-Daisy: And Other Tales for Toddlers, p. 84; June 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Baby Bird, p. 1778; December 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of The Very Small, p. 825; December 15, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big, p. 739; August, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of A Chick Called Saturday, p. 1988; February 15, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of The Love-Me Bird, p. 1062.

Books for Keeps, May, 1994, p. 11.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1999, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Bowl of Fruit, The Secret Friend, and Panda's New Toy, pp. 349-350.

Growing Point, January, 1988, Margery Fisher, review of A Bun for Barney, p. 4921.

Junior Bookshelf, February, 1986, review of Mundo and the Weather-Child, p. 32; April, 1994, pp. 48-49.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 1996, review of This Is the Star, p. 1476; August 15, 2001, review of Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big, p. 1211; July 1, 2003, review of A Chick Called Saturday, p. 909.

Publishers Weekly, October 4, 1991, p. 86; August 14, 1995, p. 82; September, 30, 1996, review of This Is the Star, p. 88; July 2, 2001, review of Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big, p. 74; June 2, 2003, review of A Chick Called Saturday, p. 50; December 15, 2003, review of The Love-Me Bird, p. 46.

School Librarian, November, 1991, p. 139; May, 1993, p. 54; August, 1996, Elizabeth Baynton-Clarke, review of Indigo and the Whale, pp. 98-99; September, 2001, Alison Kastner, review of Tell Me What It's Like to Be Big, p. 188.

School Library Journal, May, 1988, Lee Bock, review o f A Cake for Barney, p. 83; August, 1992, Liza Bliss, review of Lollopy, p. 135; May, 1994, p. 91; August, 1996, p. 121; November, 2000, Joy Fleishhacker, review of The Very Small, p. 119; August, 2003, Bina Williams, review of A Chick Called Saturday, p. 126; January, 2004, Sally R. Dow, review of The Love-Me Bird, p. 97.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), December 1, 1996, p. 13.


Joyce Dunbar Web site, http://www.joycedunbar.com (July 10, 2005).

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