Married; has children. Education: Hollins College, B.A. (English), M.F.A. (study and writing of children's literature). Hobbies and other interests: Reading, nature photography, travel, hiking, golf, spending time with family.
Home and office—Greensboro, NC. Agent—Adams Literary, 7845 Colony Rd., C4 No. 215, Charlotte, NC 28226.
Children's book author.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Booksense 76 selection, 2002, and Booklist Top Ten Sports Book designation, both for I Smell like Ham.
I Smell like Ham, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.
Animal House and Iz, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.
Busted!, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2004.
Out of Order, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2005.
Get Real, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2006.
Goof-off Goalie, illustrated by Adam McCauley, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2008.
Basketball Bats, illustrated by Adam McCauley, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2008.
Swimming with Sharks, illustrated by Adam McCauley, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2009.
Contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Highlights for Children and Pockets; contributor of reviews to Children's Literature.
In her humorous novels for middle-grade readers, Betty Hicks draws on her experiences as a parent in creating likable young characters who find themselves dealing with typical family and school predicaments. Although some of her characters live in families that are non-traditional, Hicks keeps her focus on the many things most young people share: the urge for independence, having fun, getting into trouble, worrying about friendships, and trying to excel in extracurricular activities. She adds both humor and emotional resonance to the experiences of growing up, whether it be in a traditional or blended family situation. As Elaine E. Knight noted in a review of Hicks' novel Busted! in School Library Journal, "Hicks has an ear for [preteen] … dialogue … and a good feel for the sometimes rocky relationships between parents and early adolescents."
Being part of a newly blended family is the central issue in Animal House and Iz, although twelve-year-old Iz Becker lucks out when her laid-back divorced dad marries a fun-loving woman named Alice who has three equally cool sons. Soon her home is transformed into a zoo, literally, as crabs, snakes, a hedgehog, a parrot, and assorted insects join the busy household. When Iz's very trendy but very boring mom wants to have her daughter come and live with her, the preteen is not at all excited about the prospect, because something exciting is sure to happen while she is gone. Still, with two parents who are such opposites, Iz must grapple with the question of who she really is. Calling Animal House and Iz an "upbeat, humorous, and genuine family story," a Kirkus Reviews writer praised Hicks's use of "breezy, contemporary dialogue [that] rings true." "Readers will warm to this perky young protagonist and the members of her appealingly chaotic household," predicted a Publishers Weekly critic, adding that the novel "balanc[es] … humor and pathos" in dealing with Iz's personal journey. In Booklist Michael Cart noted that the depiction of "congenial, barely controlled chaos" in Animal House and Iz "dramatizes how America is re-defining family."
Another unusual blended family is the focus of Out of Order, which finds eleven-year-old Lily transitioning from being the oldest to the second-youngest sibling after her mom marries a man with two teen children. In chapters narrated by each of the four siblings—fifteen-year-old Eric, beautiful and popular thirteen-year-old V, Lily, and nine-year-old Parker—Hicks "crafts an endearing portrait of a newly blended family," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. As each child relates their perspective, they expose the hidden fears and other feelings that they hide from each other, imparting "subtle and affecting messages about communication, identity, honesty and forgiveness," according to the critic. In Kirkus Reviews a contributor praised Out of Order by noting that the author's use of "real-life kids, humor and inventive plot detail make this a first-rate read," and School Library Journal critic Debbie Whitbeck dubbed Hicks' novel "captivating and timely." In Booklist, Hazel Rochman recommended Out of Order as "a great choice for readers' theater."
Adoption is Hicks' focus in Get Real, but her approach is an unusual one. Rather than learning to fit in with an
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
adopted family, thirteen-year-old Dez feels a major disconnect in dealing with her real family, who are three of the most messy people the super-tidy teen has ever encountered. Going to friend Jil's home is a relief, however, because Jil's parents are meticulous and everything is labeled and organized. The fact that Jil has been adopted by these paragons of parenthood, and yet doesn't seem to appreciate her good fortune, confuses Dez. When Jil rebels and goes in search of her birth mother, Dez begins to understand the complex bonds between parents and children, bonds that are independent of DNA or habits. Get Real was described by a Publishers Weekly contributor as an "honest story that contains resonant messages about identity, honesty, family and friendship," and in Booklist Frances Bradburn cited the friendship between Jil and Dez as "a successful vehicle for unearthing the complexities of adopted children's emotions" and the family dynamics that are affected by them. Noting that "much of the narrative is laugh-out-loud funny," a Kirkus Reviews writer concluded that in Get Real "poignant and playful meld seamlessly."
In I Smell like Ham sixth grader Nick wants to make good on his promise to his late mom two years ago that
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
he would become a star, and basketball seems to be the way to do it. However, now that he has the chance two obstacles stand in his way: another schoolmate whose on-the-court skills rival his and the annoying teasing of his new stepbrother, Dwayne. "Hicks adds some fresh, funny touches to a … familiar story," noted Booklist contributor Stephanie Zvirin in her review of I Smell like Ham, while in School Library Journal Lee Bock cited the novel for treating middle-grade readers to "a fast-paced, tightly constructed narrative that weaves together basketball, Arthurian lore, blended families, and adolescent angst."
Living with a single mother becomes extra stressful for Stuart Ellis, the star of Hicks' middle-grade novel Busted! When the boy turns twelve, his widowed mom Jamie suddenly becomes a drill sergeant and won't let her son do much of anything. When he breaks one of her new rules, she responds with a totally unfair punishment: he has to quit his soccer team. Confused over his mom's behavior, Stuart and his friend Mack hatch a scheme to change her mood and divert her attention by finding her a new boyfriend. When Jamie begins to date Stuart's soccer coach, things go from bad to worse for the boy, in a novel that a Publishers Weekly contributor noted "entertains while delivering a thought-provoking message about relationships among family and friends." In addition to including plot elements that many soccer fans will enjoy, Busted! gains a "zing … from the well-drawn, believable characters" Hicks creates, according to Booklist contributor Todd Morning. Other sports-related novels by Hicks include Goof-off Goalie, Basketball Bats, and Swimming with Sharks, all of which combine action-based stories with likable preteen characters.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 1, 2002, Stephanie Zvirin, review of I Smell like Ham, p. 130; April 15, 2003, Michael Cart, review of Animal House and Iz, p. 1471; October 15, 2004, Todd Morning, review of Busted!, p. 406; September 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Out of Order, p. 66; October 15, 2006, Frances Bradburn, review of Get Real, p. 40.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of I Smell like Ham, p. 1033; March 1, 2003, review of Animal House and Iz, p. 387; August 15, 2004, review of Busted!, p. 807; August 15, 2005, review of Out of Order, p. 915; July 15, 2006, review of Get Real, p. 723.
Publishers Weekly, August 19, 2002, review of I Smell like Ham, p. 90; April 7, 2003, review of Animal House and Iz, p. 67; October 18, 2004, review of Busted!, p. 64; October 3, 2005, review of Out of Order, p. 71; September 4, 2006, review of Get Real, p. 68.
School Library Journal, September, 2002, Lee Bock, review of I Smell like Ham, p. 225; July, 2003, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Animal House and Iz, p. 131; October, 2004, Elanie E. Knight, review of Busted!, p. 166; October, 2005, Debbie Whitbeck, review of Out of Order, p. 162; January, 2007, Deborah Vose, review of Get Real, p. 129.
Adams Literary Web site,http://www.adamsliterary.com/ (July 20, 2008), "Betty Hicks."