Griffin, Peni R. 1961–
Griffin, Peni R. 1961–
(Peni Rae Robinson Griffin)
Born July 11, 1961, in Harlingin, TX; daughter of William Jay (retired Air Force) and Sandra Sue (a Methodist lay pastor) Robinson; married Michael David Griffin (a programmer for Bexar county), July 13, 1987; stepchildren: Morgan Leigh. Education: Attended Trinity University, 1979-80, and University of Texas at San Antonio, 1982-84. Politics: "All systems fail eventually, and ours is going." Religion: "Agnostic." Hobbies and other interests: "Exploring the Net with a ‘Computer Gothic’ in view; always reading history, archaeology, mysteries; gardening."
Home and office—1123 W. Magnolia Ave., San Antonio, TX 78201.
Writer. City Public Service, San Antonio, TX, clerk, 1985-89; Manpower Temporary Services, San Antonio, temporary worker, 1990; ASCO, production assistant, 1991-95; Eckmann, Groll, Runyan & Waters, Inc., word processor, 1996—.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Science Fiction Writers of America.
Third place, Twilight Zone magazine writing contest, 1986, for "Nereid"; second place, National Society for Arts and Letters (San Antonio branch) short story contest, 1988, for "The Truth in the Case of Eliza Mary Muller, by Herself"; Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee, Mystery Writers of America, 1993, for The Treasure Bird; Best Western Juvenile Fiction Award finalist, Golden Spur Awards, 1993, for The Switching Well; The Ghost Sitter Edgar Award nomination, Anthony Award nomination, and William Allen White Award, all 2004, all for The Ghost Sitter.
FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Otto from Otherwhere (fantasy), McElderry/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1990.
A Dig in Time (fantasy), McElderry/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1991.
Hobkin (fantasy), McElderry/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
The Treasure Bird (mystery), McElderry/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
The Switching Well (fantasy), McElderry/Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.
The Brick House Burglars (mystery), McElderry/ Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
The Maze (fantasy), Margaret K. McElderry (New York, NY), 1994.
Vikki Vanishes (mystery), Margaret K. McElderry (New York, NY), 1995.
Margo's House (fantasy), Margaret K. McElderry (New York, NY), 1996.
The Ghost Sitter, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
The Music Thief, Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
11,000 Years Lost (fantasy), Amulet (New York, NY), 2004.
Author's works have been translated into Italian.
Contributor to magazines, including Dragon, Fantasy Macabre, Figment, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, Leading Edge, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Pandora, Pulphouse, Realms of Fantasy, Space and Time, and Twilight Zone. Cntributor to Stay True: Short Stories for Strong Girls, edited by Marilyn Singer, Scholastic, 1998.
Peni R. Griffin, who writes fantasy and mystery novels for young people, gained a reputation for her work by the publication of her fourth book. "Communication— singing and speaking—is important in Griffin's novels," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic in a review of The Treasure Bird, a juvenile novel published in 1992. In another review of the same book, Deborah Stevenson wrote in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that "Griffin's Texas settings are always atmospheric." Carolyn Cushman, writing in Locus, concluded in a review of the work that Griffin "has a knack" for "giving … [an] otherworldly twist" to the concerns of preteens.
Griffin once told SATA that writing comes naturally to her. "I have been absorbing stories through my skin since the hour I was born," she explained, "and an untold story is only half a story. Being an Air Force brat helped. Crossing the broad, apparently empty landscape of Mid-America, my brain had plenty of leisure to absorb and get to work on the implied stories of the houses, the landmark names, and the historical markers
we passed. Arriving at a new town, it was easier to infiltrate the world of a new library than of a new school. Books don't reject you, don't let you down, and they make the world so much broader than the scope of one little life. Louisa May Alcott never lied to me. Anne Frank died, but the diary preserved her alive. Words were Helen Keller's road out of lonely, silent darkness."
Griffin attended college in Texas and began to write, working day jobs only when necessary. She came up with the idea for her first book, Otto from Otherwhere, when her husband told her about a lake covered with fog, that "looked as if you could walk out across it into another world. I knew at once what people in that other world looked like." Otto from Otherwhere begins as ten-year-old Ahto is leading the family sheep home. He gets lost in a bank of mist and steps into the world we know. There, Paula and her brother, riding to school, are also encountering fog. The children run into, and then befriend Ahto, whom they call Otto, and he very quickly learns to speak English (with a southern accent). Claiming that Otto is a cousin from Brazil, Paula takes him to school. Because he looks different, with holes for his nose and ears, and has no hair or pinkies, the children avoid him. Meanwhile, Otto grows lonely for his old world, replete with music. After the school's music teacher discovers Otto's beautiful voice, the children begin to change their minds about him.
Griffin's "E.T.-style plot is likely to ensnare readers," predicted Barbara Elleman in a Booklist review of Otto from Otherwhere. While many critics noted the theme of accepting others for who they are, not what they look like, Annette Curtis Klause commented in School Library Journal that "readers are not beaten over the head with the theme," while Stevenson described the book as "a cozy and wish-fulfilling venture into science fantasy."
Griffin's second book "came bursting out of my head in about six months…. The idea of two children having an archaeological dig in their back yard and literally digging up the past took hold of me and made me write it." A Dig in Time is set in contemporary times where twelve-year-old Nan and her brother Tim live with their grandmother in San Antonio while their parents are out of the country on an archaeological dig. When the children decide to work on their own dig in the backyard and find their grandfather's pipe, Tim utters a poem that magically transports them through time to the moment of their grandfather's death. Nan and Tim then travel to other important and meaningful moments in family history, including their parents' wedding. They explain their activities to their parents upon their return, and, with their mother, take one last trip through time. A Kirkus Reviews critic described Griffin as a "powerful storyteller" and asserted that "few illustrate the continuity of place and family so well" in stories about time travel. Roger Sutton concluded in the Bulletin of the
Center for Children's Books that A Dig in Time "would be a good introduction for those readers put off by the more arcane reaches of the genre."
Hobkin begins as two girls—bearing names changed to Kay and Liza—are running away from their abusive stepfather. Although the younger sister, Liza, does not know it, the abuse Kay has suffered has been sexual, and Kay wants to protect Liza. When the sisters find an abandoned house, they tell those they meet that it belongs to a relative and they make it their home. Kay finds a job in the West Texas town, and Liza stays home to cook and clean (a difficult task in a place without running water or heat). It is not long until a brownie, Hobkin, makes himself known to Liza and helps her work in different ways. As readers learn, Hobkin followed a woman from England years ago to the house. By the end of the story, the brownie is finally released to make his own way in the world, and the girls' mother comes to live with them.
"Kay and Liza are fully realized, by turns resourceful or frightened," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic in a review of Hobkin. According to Zena Sutherland, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, the fantasy of Hobkin and the story of the girls' lives works: "It's the seamless blending that is impressive." As Edith S. Tyson observed in her review of the novel for the Voice of Youth Advocates, Griffin's "mixture of stark realism with fantasy may remind some people of some of the books of Madeleine L'Engle," and Booklist critic Deborah Abbott commented that Hobkin "offers an interesting variation on the survival theme."
Vikki Vanishes is another of Griffin's books that treats serious young-adult issues, but this one adds mystery. Sixteen-year-old Vikki and her nine-year-old half-sister Nikki have lived their lives without their respective fathers. Now, when Vikki's father reappears and takes her for a ride, Nikki is jealous. Then the man attempts to abuse his daughter, prompting Vikki to disappear. Nikki is the only one who has some idea what has happened to Vikki, but the adults ignore her. According to a Kirkus Reviews critic, Vikki Vanishes is "tightly written" and builds "dramatic tension until the girls are reunited." Although Anne O'Malley wrote in Booklist that Griffin's novel suffers from less than fully fleshed-out characters, she considered Vikki Vanishes "a well-plotted, tension-mounting survival story with a satisfying conclusion."
Fantasy works to the advantage of another girl with a serious problem in Margo's House. The father in this novel is near death when, magically, his spirit and his daughter Margo's make their way into Sis and Butch, two dolls he made for Margo. Margo and her father, as Sis and Butch, move in creaky doll bodies from the handmade doll house and through the large family house, dodging the family's scary pet cat to save Margo's father.
Maintaining a beloved home is difficult in The Treasure Bird. In this mystery by Griffin, when Jessy and her family move to a house in Texas, they are uncertain that they will be able to pay the taxes on the house. Jessy and her stepbrother, along with a parrot, search for a hidden treasure by piecing together a message found in some inherited samplers. According to Renee Steinberg in School Library Journal, The Treasure Bird "deals with loyalty, trust, love, and family" as well as treasure.
The Brick House Burglars, another of Griffin's mysteries, is "full of excitement," according to School Library Journal contributor Suzanne Hawley. Four adolescent girls set up a club, and, in the process of protecting their meeting place in San Antonio, foil the plans of criminals. A Kirkus Reviews critic found that Griffin provides "some realities of urban living" in her novel, and Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist that the author's "lively voice … captures the immediacy of the community in all its rich diversity."
One of Griffin's books treats historical San Antonio as well as the contemporary city. Switching Well is the
story of two girls—one living in 1891 and one living in 1991—who wish themselves into the past and future. As a Kirkus Reviews critic noted, the girls' stories unfold in "alternating chapters, using parallel experiences." The characters, confused and lost, are eventually taken in by each other's families. According to School Library Journal contributor Bruce Anne Shook, the fantasy/historical fiction features "plucky, intelligent characters who are believable and easy to like."
Griffin combines mystery and ghost stories with The Ghost Sitter. Noting that many ghost stories focus either on ghosts being humorous or horrifying, the author wanted to use the contemporary idea of ghosts as confused and harmless. "This story takes the assumptions of modern ghost belief, primarily that ghosts don't understand that they're dead and must be helped to ‘move on’ toward some unspecified place they're supposed to be," Griffin explained in an online interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith for Cynsations. Told from the alternating perspectives of a ghost who was killed in a fireworks accident fifty years before and Charlotte, the young girl who now moves into the ghost's room and decides to help her, The Ghost Sitter is "a suitable choice for kids who really don't want to be scared but love ghost stories," according to Marta Segal in Booklist. A critic for Horn Book felt that the mystery—as solved by Charlotte and her new neighbor and friend Shannon, the "just-scary-enough-ghost girl"—combines with the theme of sisterhood to bring The Ghost Sitter to a "resoundingly satisfying conclusion."
The Music Thief is set in a gritty urban environment, as eleven-year-old Alma is grieving for both her dead abuela and a local singer she idolized who was killed in a drive-by-shooting. To escape her crowded and noisy home life—one of her siblings is a high-school drop out with a child, and the other is a drug dealer—Alma creeps into the home of a neighbor, a music teacher who is gone during the day, and listens to the music collection. She carefully picks up after herself, leaving no trace, until one day when her brother follows her and begins burglarizing the house. Her brother's actions leave Alma with a difficult choice: does she protect her brother, or protect the house that has been her refuge? Griffin "observes without moralizing, allowing readers a clearer view of choices in their own lives," wrote a contributor to Kirkus Reviews. Noting that the book does not conclude with an easy resolution, Elizabeth Fernandez wrote in School Library Journal that The Music Thief "leaves readers earnestly wishing that Alma can find and stay on the right track."
Griffin spent several years doing the research for 11,000 Years Lost, in order to accurately depict life in the American Pleistocene era among the mammoth hunters. "It took me ten years off and on to do, was researched twice and substantially re-written three times, has lots of lovely backup material (map, family tree, glossary, etc.), and is even a fun read," she explained to Leitich Smith. "I've never been prouder of anything in my life." The story begins when Esther Aragones finds an Ice Age spearhead. While helping an archaeologist at the dig site, thie girl suddenly finds herself back in the Pleistocene era with no way to get home. Fortunately, she is taken in by mammoth hunters and struggles to learn their language and customs while also looking for a way home. "Along with sheer adventure, Griffin works in a touch of mysticism and an appreciation for the natural world," wrote Sally Estes in her Booklist review. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that 11,000 Years Lost contains "likable characters [that] populate a fully realized world."
Griffin once told SATA that her work is as essential to her as breathing. She also finds that writing fiction is important for another reason. "You don't reach people by talking to them straight. You reach them by telling stories, and letting them work out the truth for themselves, the same way you're doing as you write. It's simple."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 1, 1990, Barbara Elleman, review of Otto from Otherwhere, pp. 1702-1704; March 15, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Hobkin, p. 1378; June 1, 1993, p. 1812; March 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of The Brick House Burglars, p. 1259; May 15, 1995, Anne O'Malley, review of Vikki Vanishes, p. 1639; September 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of
Margo's House, p. 130; August, 2001, Marta Segal, review of The Ghost Sitter, p. 2120; November 1, 2004, Sally Estes, review of 11,000 Years Lost, p. 484.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1990, Deborah Stevenson, review of Otto from Otherwhere, pp. 264-265; October, 1991, Roger Sutton, review of A Dig in Time, p. 38; June, 1992, Zena Sutherland, review of Hobkin, p. 261; February, 1993, Deborah Stevenson, review of The Treasure Bird, p. 177.
Horn Book, May, 2001, review of The Ghost Sitter, p. 323.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1991, review of A Dig in Time, p. 471; April 15, 1992, review of Hobkin, p. 537; November 1, 1992, review of The Treasure Bird, p. 1375; April 15, 1993, review of Switching Well, p. 529; February 1, 1994, review of The Brick House Burglars, pp. 143-144; May 1, 1995, review of Vikki Vanishes, p. 634; September 15, 2002, review of The Music Thief, p. 1390; November 15, 2004, review of 11,000 Years Lost, p. 1089.
Locus, May, 1993, Carolyn Cushman, review of Switching Well, p. 58.
School Library Journal, August, 1990, Annette Curtis Klause, review of Otto from Otherwhere, pp. 146-148; November, 1992, Renee Steinberg, review of The Treasure Bird, p. 91; June, 1993, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Switching Well, p. 106; June, 1994, Suzanne Hawley, review of The Brick House Burglars, p. 128; June, 2001, Eva Mitnick, review of The Ghost Sitter, p. 149; December, 2002, Elizabeth Fernandez, review of The Music Thief, p. 140; December, 2004, Karen T. Bilton, review of 11,000 Years Lost, p. 146.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1992, Edith S. Tyson, review of Hobkin, pp. 94-95.
Peni R. Griffin Home Page,http://users.idworld.net/griffin (October 2, 2008).
Cynsations,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (October 8, 2005), Cynthia Leitich Smith, interview with Griffin.