Hurst, Carol Otis 1933–2007

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Hurst, Carol Otis 1933–2007


Born October 13, 1933, in Springfield, MA; died of a heart attack, January 21 (one source says January 22), 2007, in Westfield, MA; daughter of Leo Derwood (a

science museum director) and Ruth (a homemaker) Otis; married John Hurst, 1954 (divorced, 1960); children: Rebecca Otis, Jill Hurst. Education: Westfield State College, B.S.Ed., M.Ed. Politics: Democrat.


Author and educator. Taught school in Tennessee, Ohio, and Minnesota; school librarian in Westfield, MA; also served as an educational consultant, workshop conductor, and storyteller.



Rocks in His Head, illustrated by James Stevenson, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2001.

Terrible Storm, illustrated by S.D. Schindler, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 2007.


Through the Lock, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

In Plain Sight, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

A Killing in Plymouth Colony, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

The Wrong One, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

You Come to Yokum, illustrated by Kay Life, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.

Torchlight, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.


(With Margaret Sullivan Ahearn) Long Ago and Far Away—: An Encyclopedia for Successfully Using Literature with Intermediate Readers, DLM (Allen, TX), 1990.

Once upon a Time: An Encyclopedia for Successfully Using Literature with Young Children, DLM (Austin, TX), 1990.

(With daughter, Rebecca Otis) Using Literature in the Middle-School Curriculum, Linworth (Worthington, OH), 1998.

Open Books: Literature in the Curriculum, Kindergarten through Grade Two, Linworth (Worthington, OH), 1998.

Curriculum Connections: Picture Books in Grades Three and Up, Linworth (Worthington, OH), 1999.

(With Rebecca Otis) Friends and Relations: Using Literature with Social Themes, Northeast Foundation for Children (Greenfield, MA), 1999.

Contributor to professional magazines, including Early Years (now Teaching K8).


Carol Otis Hurst made children's literature the focus of her life, first as a classroom teacher and then as a school librarian, storyteller, and author of educational materials and juvenile literature. During her sixteen-year stint as a school librarian, Hurst built a library collection and taught courses in children's literature at local colleges. She also published material related to the curriculum, including articles for Early Years magazine (now Teaching K8) and books such as Open Books: Literature in the Curriculum, Kindergarten through Grade Two, Curriculum Connections: Picture Books in Grades Three and Up, and Friends and Relations: Using Literature with Social Themes.

In Open Books Hurst suggests classroom activities to accompany fourteen picture books and gave information on twenty-five authors. According to Hazel Rochman in Booklist, Open Books is "an excellent resource for bringing picture books into the lower-grade classroom." In Curriculum Connections, Hurst took a similar approach to using picture books for students in grade three and higher, providing activities for students of all learning styles. "I was most impressed by the variety and originality of the curriculum activities," wrote Book Report critic Pat Miller in appraising Hurst's work. In support of her classroom materials, Hurst conducted workshops nationwide, and in the process was encouraged to try her hand at fiction writing. As she once told SATA: "At about the same time as the professional book writing career took off, so did the workshops. Soon I was on the road more than I was home and I had to tearfully bid goodbye to my library career."

Hurst continued: "Every so often someone would ask me why I hadn't written a children's book and I would say that that question was somewhat like asking an opera singer if she'd written any good operas. But I did have a lot of family stories rolling around in my head. I would tell people some of them and a couple of those stories began to take shape.

"One of the stories was about my Grandmother Clark. She was a wonderful woman and a great comfort and support to all my brothers and sisters. Her own early life had been a tragic one—orphaned at age eleven, the eldest of four. Her siblings had been split up and taken to different homes and she herself was tossed about from one foster home to another until being taken in by a wonderful family who loved her and sent her to school. Then there was my Grandfather Otis who had left his home at age nine. When we asked him, why he would only say that it was time to go.

"Then there was the Northampton New Haven Canal, a failed enterprise of the mid-1800s that had run practically through the backyard of the house in which I now live. I took the lives of those two grandparents, twisted them a bit, threw them back in time to have them establishing a home together on the banks of the canal and Through the Lock was born.

"Rocks in His Head came easier. It was my father's story and I wrote it first for my grandchildren. My father was an amazing man and my grandchildren will never know him. I wanted them to know how he had collected rocks and minerals from the time he was a child and made it his lifetime passion. He kept to that passion throughout his life and, because he did, wonderful things happened to him, but not until real hard times threatened to crush us all."

Hurst's middle-grade novel Through the Lock and her picture book Rocks in His Head marked the start of her career as a fiction writer. In Rocks in His Head she tells the story of a young man who has always been fascinated by rocks and retains that interest throughout his life, finding much success despite the hardships of the Depression. Reviewers found much to like in this picture book. Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld described the work as "delightful," "charming," and "inspiring," while Kathleen Kelly MacMillan wrote in School Library Journal that Hurst "paints a touching picture of a man who quietly pursues his passion." "Readers will warm to Hurst's rock-solid tale of unwavering dedication and determination," punned a reviewer in Horn Book.

Through the Lock takes place at a lock on the Farmington Canal, a waterway that, in the nineteenth century, ran from New Haven, Connecticut, to Northampton, Massachusetts. In the work, a young girl named Etta escapes the slavery of a foster home, to find herself sharing a small cabin near a canal lock with another fugitive from adversity, Walter. Together they each try to reunite their families. Although a Publishers Weekly critic noted some plausibility problems with elements of the novel, the reviewer praised the "likable" narrator and "atmospheric backdrop." "Hurst does an admirable job of presenting a topic" unfamiliar to most juvenile readers: the life along and importance of canals to America during the early years of the Industrial Revolution. "This story will grab readers from the first page," wrote Hazel Rochman in Booklist.

Another work of historical fiction, In Plain Sight, concerns Sarah Corbin, an eleven-year-old Massachusetts girl whose fun-loving but reckless father leaves his family behind to search for gold in California. When Sarah's mother takes a factory job to make ends meet, the youngster and her siblings are left to run the household and tend the family farm. The Corbins' problems are only beginning, however; they learn that their father has drowned at sea, and Sarah is burned while rescuing her brother from a disastrous barn fire. In Plain Sight received generally strong reviews. Writing in School Library Journal, Carol A. Edwards stated that the author "manages to keep sight of the child's perspective and longings while gradually uncovering the adult issues in the situation." Though some critics, such as Martha V. Parravano in Booklist, faulted the novel's "abrupt and extraneous" conclusion, they did not feel it diminished the work. "While enjoying the melodrama," noted a contributor in Kirkus Reviews, readers will "also learn a little American history."

Based on an episode from American history, A Killing in Plymouth Colony centers on John Bradford, the eleven-year-old son of William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony. Although John's relationship with his father is strained, he finds comfort in his friends and the love of his stepmother. His peaceful world is shattered, however, when one of the colonists is murdered, and suspicion quickly falls on John Billington, an outcast with a fiery temper. According to School Library Journal reviewer Heather Dieffenbach, "The well-developed setting and picture of daily life in Colonial America provide an interesting backdrop" to the tale, and Carolyn Phelan, reviewing the work in Booklist, remarked, "The mystery element gives an added dimension to this historical novel."

Hurst explores the supernatural in The Wrong One, "an appealing family portrait animated by ample doses of intrigue," noted a critic in Publishers Weekly. After their father passes away, eleven-year-old Kate, her younger brother, Jesse, and her newly adopted Asian sister, Sookan, move with their mother from a comfortable Brooklyn brownstone to a dilapidated farmhouse in rural Massachusetts. Things immediately go from bad to worse: Sookan is inexplicably terrified by the doll-motif wallpaper in her bedroom, the television appears to turn

itself off and on, and a mysterious blue light appears. "Enough details are left untied to make this interesting, leaving the premise of ghosts a possibility," wrote a critic in Kirkus Reviews.

Set in the 1920s, You Come to Yokum follows the exploits of the Carlyle family. After Mrs. Carlyle, an ardent suffragist, is arrested for chaining herself to the White House gate, her husband, hoping to escape further embarrassment, agrees to run Yokum, a vacation lodge located in western Massachusetts. Twelve-year-old Frank and his brother, Jim, contribute their efforts to their father's dubious cause, which doesn't go exactly as planned. "Hurst has her historical details just right," observed a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and Julie Cummins, reviewing You Come to Yokum in Booklist, wrote that "the fight for the vote becomes more than just a dry history lesson."

Immigration is the subject of Torchlight, a work of fiction based on an actual event. Set in Westfield, Massachusetts, in 1854, Torchlight looks at the tensions between the Protestant "Yankees" who settled the town and the newly arrived Irish Catholics through the eyes of two young girls who form an unlikely friendship. The author's "fast-moving and interesting novel will spark discussions about prejudice and racism," commented Elizabeth M. Reardon in School Library Journal. Terrible Storm, a picture book inspired by Hurst's family history, also takes place in Westfield. The work concerns gregarious Grandpa Walt and shy Grandpa Fred, who were caught outdoors during the blizzard of 1888. While the lively Walt finds shelter in a lonely barn, the reclusive Fred is trapped for days at the bustling White Horse Inn. "Hurst's call-and-response narrative approach … captures the rhythms of a story told, back and forth, many times over," a Publishers Weekly critic remarked. According to Ilene Cooper in Booklist, Hurst's "lively, clever story … neatly captures both the oddities of nature and how differing natures view the same event."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, December 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Open Books: Literature in the Curriculum, Kindergarten through Grade Two, p. 792; April 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Through the Lock, p. 1482; June 1, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 1890; December 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Killing in Plymouth Colony, p. 666; September 1, 2005, Julie Cummins, review of You Come to Yokum, p. 133; November 15, 2006, Ilene Cooper, review of Terrible Storm, p. 44.

Book Report, May-June, 1999, Pat Miller, review of Curriculum Connections: Picture Books in Grades Three and Up, pp. 85-86.

California Kids!, February, 2003, Patricia M. Newman, "Who Wrote That? Featuring Carol Otis Hurst."

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 2004, Elizabeth Bush, review of A Killing in Plymouth Colony, p. 194; February, 2007, Deborah Stevenson, review of Terrible Storm, p. 255.

Horn Book, March, 2001, Joanna Rudge Long, review of Through the Lock, p. 208; July, 2001, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 440; May-June, 2002, Martha V. Parravano, review of In Plain Sight, p. 331.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of In Plain Sight, p. 337; May 1, 2003, review of The Wrong One, p. 678; September 1, 2003, review of A Killing in Plymouth Colony, p. 1124; October 15, 2005, review of You Come to Yokum, p. 1139; September 15, 2006, review of Torchlight, p. 955; December 15, 2006, review of Terrible Storm, p. 1269.

Publishers Weekly, April 30, 2001, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 78; April 30, 2001, review of Through the Lock, p. 79; May 12, 2003, review of The Wrong One, p. 67; January 15, 2007, review of Terrible Storm, p. 51.

Reference and Research Book News, November, 1999, review of Using Literature in the Middle School Curriculum, p. 151.

School Library Journal, March, 2001, Coney Tyrell Burns, review of Through the Lock, p. 250; June, 2001, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Rocks in His Head, p. 118; March, 2002, Carol A. Edwards, review of In Plain Sight, p. 232; May, 2003, Heather Dieffenbach, review of The Wrong One, p. 154; October, 2003, Heather Dieffenbach, review of A Killing in Plymouth Colony, p. 168; January, 2006, Kristen Oravec, review of You Come to Yokum, p. 134; January, 2007, Catherine Threadgill, review of Terrible Storm, p. 98, and Elizabeth M. Reardon, review of Torchlight, p. 129.


Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web site, (November 10, 2007).



Republican (Springfield, MA), January 30, 2007, Pat Cahill, "Author Wove a Lasting Legacy."

Teaching Pre K-8, March, 2007, Allen Raymond, "So Long, Carol."


School Library Journal Web site, (February 5, 2007), "Author Carol Otis Hurst Dies at 73."