Gilson, Jamie 1933-
Gilson, Jamie 1933-
Born July 4, 1933, in Beardstown, IL; daughter of James Noyce (a flour miller) and Sallie (a teacher) Chisam; married Jerome Gilson (a lawyer), June 19, 1955; children: Tom, Matthew, Anne. Education: Attended University of Missouri, 1951-52; Northwestern University, B.S., 1955.
Home—Wilmette, IL. E-mail—[email protected]
Thacker Junior High School, Des Plaines, IL, speech and English teacher, 1955-56; writer and producer for radio and television division of public school system in Chicago, IL, 1956-59; WFMT-Radio, Chicago, continuity director, 1959-63; Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, writer in film division, 1963-65. Lecturer and writing-workshop teacher, Wilmette Public Schools, 1974-90.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Society of Midland Authors, PEN American Center, Authors Guild.
Merit Award, Friends of American Writers, 1979, for Harvey, the Beer Can King; Carl Sandburg Award, Friends of the Chicago Public Library, 1981, and Charlie May Simon Award, Arkansas Elementary School Council, 1983, both for Do Bananas Chew Gum?; Dallas Market Center Gift Editorial Award, 1983, for column "The Goods"; Sequoyah Award and Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award, both 1985, Land of Enchantment Award, 1986, and Buckeye Award, and Sunshine Award, both 1987, all for Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub; Children's Reading Round Table Award, 1992; Society of Midland Authors Award for Children's Fiction, 2002, for Stink Alley; Illinois Reading Council Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children.
Harvey, the Beer Can King, illustrated by John Wallner, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1978.
Dial Leroi Rupert, DJ, illustrated by John Wallner, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1979.
Do Bananas Chew Gum?, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1980.
Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1981.
Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, illustrated by Linda Straus Edwards, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1982.
4-B Goes Wild, illustrated by Linda Straus Edwards, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1983.
Hello, My Name Is Scrambled Eggs, illustrated by John Wallner, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1985.
Hobie Hanson, You're Weird, illustrated by Elise Primavera, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1987.
Double Dog Dare, illustrated by Elise Primavera, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1988.
Hobie Hanson: Greatest Hero of the Mall, illustrated by Anita Riggio, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1989.
Itchy Richard, illustrated by Diane de Groat, Clarion (New York, NY), 1991.
Sticks and Stones and Skeleton Bones, illustrated by Dee DeRosa, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1991.
You Cheat!, illustrated by Maxine Chambliss, Bradbury Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Soccer Circus, illustrated by Dee DeRosa, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1993.
It Goes Eeeeeeeeeeeee!, illustrated by Diane de Groat, Clarion (New York, NY), 1994.
Wagon Train 911, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1996.
Bug in a Rug, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.
Stink Alley, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Gotcha!, illustrated by Amy Wummer, Clarion (New York, NY), 2006.
Author of Chicago Magazine column "The Goods," 1977-87. Contributor of articles to WFMT Guide and Perspective magazine.
Since the 1980s, Jamie Gilson's humorous books for middle-grade and elementary-grade readers have won fans through their humor and likeable characters. In her stories for young teens, all written in first-person from the perspective of an adolescent, Gilson demonstrates her keen understanding of the priorities and concerns of younger teens, while her chapter books, such as You Cheat! and Gotcha!, mix an engaging story with interesting facts and useful vocabulary. "Before writing books for children, all of my professional writing had been for the voice—radio, TV, films—so that my books, too, are told, as a child would tell them," Gilson once explained. "To keep that voice genuine, I work with children a good deal, speaking to them about my writing, teaching writing to sixth graders, sitting in with classes, going with a fifth-grade class on a nature study overnight. … My research is a joy."
One of the first books to grow out of Gilson's experience with children is Do Bananas Chew Gum?, published in 1980. Gilson got the idea for the story from an assignment she had as a reporter for Chicago Magazine to cover an archaeological dig in southern Illinois. "I discovered the real excitement that comes from finding broken arrowheads and shards of once-used clay pots," she recalled. "Sam Mott in Do Bananas Chew Gum? shares that enthusiasm." Sam is a sixth grader who has become the subject of his classmates' unkind jokes because he reads at a second-grade level. His reading difficulties make him feel stupid, so he tries to hide them from his family and friends. As the story progresses, Sam receives encouragement and motivation to overcome his problem from a young archaeologist who shares her love of history with him, as well as from both the kind woman for whom he babysits and one of his classmates. He agrees to a series of tests and learns that he is not stupid after all: instead, he has a learning disability. By working with an understanding teacher, Sam is not only able to read better, but also improves his confidence and outlook on life. "Told with humor and subtle compassion, this is a story that leaves you
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feeling good," reviewer Jane VanWiemokly commented in Voice of Youth Advocates. "I hope that children will not only find Bananas fun to read, but also revealing of the difficulties that a learning-disabled child faces," Gilson explained.
Gilson introduces one of her most popular characters, Hobie Hanson, in Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, published in 1982. In this story, Hobie and his fourth-grade classmates are surprised to find a substitute teacher, Miss Svetlana Ivanovich, taking over their lessons for the day. The boys and the girls quickly face off to see which team can be the first to "sink the sub," or upset her to the point of tears. Some of their antics include switching names, pretending not to speak the English language, and faking the loss of a contact lens. Miss Ivanovich remains pleasant and good-natured throughout the contest, which eventually makes the class like her too much to continue trying to "sink" her. Barbara Elleman, reviewing the story for Booklist, praised Gilson's tale for its "crisp, inventive plot that is top drawer in the contemporary fiction genre for this age group."
Gilson rejoins Hobie and his friends in several other books, including Hobie Hanson, You're Weird, Hobie Hanson: Greatest Hero of the Mall, and Soccer Circus. When Hobie's best friend, Nick Rossi, goes away to computer camp for the summer, Hobie is left on his own in Hobie Hanson, You're Weird. At first the boy is annoyed when his classroom rival, Molly Bosco, begins following him around, but before long the two fourth graders discover how much they have in common and share some entertaining adventures. Writing in School Library Journal, Julie Cummins noted that, "with dialogue right on target for the age, Gilson writes with humor and appeal for kids." A Booklist reviewer praised Gilson's "bulls-eye wit and ease with the written word" and predicted that "kids will be attracted to this like steel to a magnet."
Hobie has a harrowing adventure in Hobie Hanson: Greatest Hero of the Mall. In this story, heavy rains cause the nearby Hawk River to overflow its banks and flood much of Hobie's hometown. Although Hobie tries to act the hero, instead Molly Bosco floats by on an inflatable giraffe and rescues him as well as the little boy he is baby-sitting. Since their elementary school has been damaged in the flood, Hobie and his friends learn that school will be held temporarily in an empty department store at the local mall. In this unusual educational setting, the class finds a variety of new ways to make hilarious mischief. Hobie finally does become a hero by finding some diamond earrings that were lost in the flood and returning them to their owner, and he is only slightly less pleased with himself when he learns that the diamonds are fake. Denise Wilms, writing in Booklist, stated that Gilson's story "has action, humor, and a protagonist familiar enough to be the boy next door," and predicted that "Hobie's fans will be quick to line up for this one."
Hobie Hanson and friends are again featured at their temporary school in the mall in Sticks and Stones and Skeleton Bones. In this tale, Hobie and classmates Nick Rossi and Molly Bosco become embroiled in an accelerating cycle of practical jokes, misunderstandings, and retaliation, until all three end up in the school's new conflict management program, where they—and readers— learn that there are two sides to every story. Reviewing Sticks and Stones and Skeleton Bones for Booklist, Deborah Abbott maintained that Gilson "paints her characters with a refined brush, showing in an uncanny fashion the intricacies and nuances of the world of fifth-graders."
Stink Alley marks a thematic departure from Gilson's other stories for older readers. Set in Leiden in 1614, the novel follows the adventures of a fictitious Puritan girl named Lizzy who escapes the harsh conditions in the Brewster household by taking a servant's job with a wealthy family. There she meets a precocious boy who loves to draw, and together they embark upon a series of pranks that are both amusing and hair-raising. When the young boy finally reveals his name, he is seen to be Rembrandt, the famous Dutch painter. Jeanette Larson, writing in School Library Journal, praised Stink Alley as a novel that "provides a glimpse of life in a time and place [about] … which not much else is available," while Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson noted that Gilson "does a nice job of weaving pleasant, fictional Lizzy into a cast of historical characters to give a sense of the past." In Horn Book Margaret A. Bush concluded that the coming-of-age story presented in Stink Alley is "a deftly woven mix of adventure, youthful ingenuity, and overcoming the odds."
Gilson explores the relationship between two young brothers in You Cheat!, one of several books she has penned for younger readers. Active six-year-old Nathan longs to show up his video-game-loving older brother, Hank. When he cannot beat Hank at cards, Nathan challenges his brother to go fishing with him and see who can land the biggest fish. Since Hank thinks worms are gross and fishing is boring, Nathan convinces him to accept the challenge by promising to kiss every fish Hank catches on the mouth. Deciding that the prospect of watching Nathan kiss a fish is too good an opportunity to pass up, Hank agrees to the contest and makes Nathan deliver on his promise. In a review for School Library Journal, Maggie McEwen called You Cheat! "an excellent beginning chapter book" and noted that the "simple adventure will appeal to early readers."
Other books geared for young, beginning readers deal with subjects that range from head lice—Itchy Richard—and bats—It Goes Eeeeeeeeeeeee!—to bullying—Gotcha! In Itchy Richard someone in Mrs. Zookey's second-grade class has head lice, and rumors begin to fly among the children when the head nurse comes in to check each of their scalps. As the students exchange exaggerated ideas about these bugs and what they do, central protagonist Richard begins to feel kind of itchy himself. Mrs. Zookey settles everyone down with a simple explanation of head lice and how they are treated. Noting that the book is "loaded with kid-appealing humor and personalities straight out of a grade-school classroom," Stephanie Zvirin added in her Booklist review that "Gilson's sensitive story takes a fairly common elementary school problem and makes it seem … less scary." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly added that in Itchy Richard "Gilson displays the same snappy dialogue and brisk humor that have made her Hobie Hanson novels so popular with youngsters."
Richard and his friends from Mrs. Zookey's class return in It Goes Eeeeeeeeeeeee!, a story supplying a palatable dose of information about bats to again clear up young students' misconceptions and fears. In her review of this tale for Booklist, Zvirin noted that Gilson "feeds the facts smoothly and memorably into the fictional format." Other commentators cited the author's trademark warmth, humor, and first-person narration, while appreciatively underscoring her remarkable understanding of the world of grade-school students. In Gotcha! Richard is paired up with Patrick, the class bully, during Mrs. Zookey's class field trip to a nature area to study spiders. While Patrick manages to cause
all manner of mischief, he ultimately learns the price of breaking the rules in a story that School Library Journal contributor Debbie Whitbeck called "fast paced and engaging."
On her home page, Gilson explained that, although she did a great deal of writing during her career as a journalist, she never considered writing for young readers until she had children of her own. Then, by listening to them and reading with them, she learned what her children and their friends found humorous, and she uses their experiences in her own stories. Because her children are now grown, Gilson now tries her out ideas on schoolchildren during visits to area schools.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 1, 1982, review of Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, p. 244; September 1, 1983, review of 4-B Goes Wild, p. 85; June 15, 1987, review of Hobie Hanson,You're Weird, p. 1601; September 1, 1988, review of Double Dog Dare, p. 76; September 1, 1989, review of Hobie Hanson: Greatest Hero of the Mall, p. 71; March 1, 1991, p. 1392; September 15, 1991, p. 150; August, 1992, review of You Cheat!, p. 2011; April 1, 1993, review of Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, p. 1431; April 1, 1994, review of Soccer Circus, p. 1446; September 1, 1996, Michael Cart, review of Wagon Train 911, p. 130; April 15, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Bug in a Rug, p. 1444; April 15, 2002, Lauren Peterson, review of Stink Alley, p. 1400; April 15, 2006, Nancy Kim, review of Gotcha!, p. 48.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1978, p. 43; March, 1981, review of Do Bananas Chew Gum?, p. 133; June, 1981, p. 171; December, 1982, review of Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, p. 67; October, 1983, review of 4B Goes Wild, p. 27; September, 1988, review of Double Dog Dare, p. 8; April, 1991, review of Sticks and Stones and Skeleton Bones, p. 192; April, 2006, Loretta Gaffney, review of Gotcha!, p. 353.
Horn Book, September-October, 2002, Margaret A. Bush, review of Stink Alley, p. 572.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1978, p. 497; December 15, 1980, p. 1570; July 15, 1981, review of Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man, p. 872; September 1, 1983, review of 4-B Goes Wild, p. 161; March 1, 1985, p. 11; October 15, 1991, p. 1353; August 15, 1992, review of You Cheat!, p. 1061; May 1, 1994, p. 629; February 15, 2006, review of Gotcha!, p. 182.
Publishers Weekly, June 24, 1988, review of Double Dog Dare, p. 114; July 28, 1989, review of Hobie Hanson: Greatest Hero of the Mall, p. 222; January 18, 1991, p. 58; September 20, 1991, review of Itchy Richard, p. 134; March 8, 1993, review of Soccer Circus, pp. 79-80; June 24, 1996, review of Wagon Train 911.
School Library Journal, September, 1981, p. 124; January, 1983, review of Thirteen Ways to Sink a Sub, p. 75; August, 1985, review of Hello, My Name Is Scrambled Eggs, p. 64; June-July, 1987, review of Hobie Hanson, You're Weird, p. 95; September, 1988, review of Double Dog Dare, p. 183; October, 1989, Phyllis Graves, review of Hobie Hanson: Greatest Hero of the Mall, p. 118; March, 1991, Pamela K. Bomboy, review of Sticks and Stones and Skeleton Bones, p. 193; December, 1991, review of Itchy Richard, p. 90; September, 1992, review of You Cheat!, p. 203; June, 1993, George Delais, review of Soccer Circus, p. 106; June, 1994, p. 100; June, 1998, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Bug in a Rug, p. 103; July, 2002, Jeanette Larson, review of Stink Alley, p. 120; April, 2006, Debbie Whitbeck, review of Gotcha!, p. 106.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1981, review of Can't Catch Me, I'm the Gingerbread Man, p. 34.
Jamie Gilson Home Page,http://www.jamiegilson.com (February 7, 2007).