Isaacs, Anne 1949–

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Isaacs, Anne 1949–

Personal

Born March 2, 1949, in Buffalo, NY; daughter of Samuel (a materials handling engineer) and Hope (an anthropologist) Isaacs; married Samuel Koplowicz (a media producer), 1978; children: Jordan, Amy, Sarah. Education: University of Michigan, B.A., 1971, M.S., 1975; attended State University of New York at Buffalo, 1971-72. Religion: Jewish.

Addresses

Home—CA. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Author and storyteller. Held numerous positions in environmental education from 1975 to 1990.

Awards, Honors

Notable Books for Children selection, American Library Association (ALA), and Best Illustrated Books citation, New York Times, both 1994, and Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Book citation, Children's Book of the Year list, Child Study Children's Book Committee, and Notable Trade Book in Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English, all 1995, all for Swamp Angel; 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, New York Public Library, 1998, for Cat up a Tree; National Jewish Book Award finalist, Sydney Taylor Honor Book designation, Notable Book for a Global Society designation, International Reading Association, ALA Best Books for Young Adults selection, and 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing selection, New York Public Library, all 2000, all for Torn Thread.

Writings

Swamp Angel, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Treehouse Tales, illustrated by Lloyd Bloom, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Cat up a Tree: A Story in Poems, illustrated by Stephen Mackey, Dutton Children's Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Torn Thread (young-adult novel), Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Pancakes for Supper!, illustrated by Mark Teague, Scholastic Press (New York, NY), 2006.

Adaptations

Swamp Angel appeared on Storytime, PBS, 1995.

Sidelights

Anne Isaacs is an award-winning author of picture books for young readers, among them Treehouse Tales and Pancakes for Supper! She is perhaps best known for Swamp Angel, an imaginative historical tale spotlighting a young female heroine who sometimes appears larger than life. Isaacs is also the author of the fictional work Torn Thread, which is based on the true story of a young girl imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp during World War II.

Isaacs was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1949 and lived there until she left for college in 1967, when she began attending the University of Michigan. She was a voracious reader from a young age, though she did not begin writing seriously until she was an adult. The author once told SATA: "As a child, I did a limited amount of creative writing on my own. I had two poems published at the age of ten in a city-wide magazine of writing by school children. I read constantly, selecting books haphazardly from my parents' and the public library shelves. In fifth grade, for example, along with The Wind in the Willows, I read Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest, plus Lorna Doone and The Caine Mutiny. As now, poetry affected me more profoundly than any other genre. At age ten, I memorized Coleridge's ‘Kubla Khan’ while reading it for the first time.

"Probably the greatest childhood influence on my writing was reading and re-reading, over a period of years, [Louisa May Alcott's] Little Women. I would finish the last page and immediately start over at the first. The story became a kind of life plan for me, although I didn't realize that until a few years ago. Like Alcott's semi-autobiographical heroine, Jo, I grew up to marry a kindly, professorial man with an unpronounceable name, to raise a passel of kids in the country, and to combine careers in educational program development and children's book writing. This experience has taught me to respect the long-term influence a children's book may have on its readers.

"I studied English literature in my undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, and in a year of graduate study at the State University of New York, Buffalo. I also studied French, Russian, Latin, and American literature during these years. I have always been especially interested in nineteenth-century novels and poetry. Only as an adult have I begun to read extensively in children's literature, often experiencing a book for the first time while reading it to my children.

"As a result of reading children's and adult literature interchangeably throughout my life, I have never recognized a clear distinction between them, nor do I apply different standards."

Isaacs's debut work, Swamp Angel, was described as "a brand-new backwoods legend, written mostly for girls, that has the feel of real frontier storytelling" by a contributor in Time. Written in a tongue-in-cheek style, Swamp Angel features Angelica Longrider, who, as an infant, is a bit taller than her mother, and who later accomplishes some amazing feats. In addition to building her first log cabin by the time she is two, Angelica rescues a wagon from Dejection Swamp and then defeats a bear, Thundering Tarnation, by throwing him up to the sky and creating a prairie from the bear's pelt. Commentators have compared Angelica to the legendary American hero Paul Bunyan, and Swamp Angel received stellar reviews. A Caldecott honor book, Swamp Angel was deemed "visually exciting, wonderful to read aloud, [and] … a picture book to remember" by Mary M. Burns in Horn Book. The author "tells her original story with the glorious exaggeration and uproarious farce of the traditional tall tale and with its typical laconic idiom," remarked Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman, and a critic in Kirkus Reviews exclaimed: "It is impossible to convey the sheer pleasure, the exaggerated loopiness, of newcomer Isaacs's wonderful story."

Set in rural Pennsylvania in the 1800s, Treehouse Tales collects three short stories that center on the members of the Barrett family. In the opening tale, Tom Barrett helps calm the fears of his brother, Natty, after the youngster spots a trail of smoke coming from their treehouse and becomes convinced that the dwelling is inhabited by a fire-breathing dragon. The second story concerns Emily, whose quick thinking saves the day after she awakens from a nap in the treehouse and spies a thief trying to rob the farm. The concluding story focuses on Natty who, inspired by the legend of George Washington and the cherry tree, attempts a similarly dramatic feat. "The tales are redolent of family affection and youthful ambitions," Ann A. Flowers stated in Horn Book. "Isaacs's lighthearted tales sparkle with warmth and humor," remarked Booklist contributor Kay Weisman.

Cat up a Tree: A Story in Poems was based on an event from Isaacs's life. While walking through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in 1991, Isaacs and her children watched some firefighters rescue a cat that had climbed into a tall cedar tree. On her home page Isaacs recalled that she became "fascinated" by the people in the gathering crowd. "What kept them there, despite fog and cold and growing dark?" she asked. "What was going through their minds?" In Cat up a Tree the author presents, in verse, an account of the incident. According to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "cat lovers will go wild for this work, as will poets and dreamers."

A more serious work is presented in Torn Thread, which Isaacs once described to SATA as "a fictional account of the experiences of my mother-in-law, Eva Buchbinder Koplowicz, as a young woman in a Nazi labor camp in Czechoslovakia from 1943 to 1945. All of the incidents are either true or possible." To write this emotionally

painful story, Isaacs researched a number of Holocaust topics; read the testimony of Holocaust survivors; visited the site of concentration camps, death camps, and former ghettos in Europe; and also visited the labor camp and factory where Eva worked.

In Torn Thread Isaacs "turns her considerable literary gifts to a painful subject … and transforms it into a powerful work of fiction," observed a Publishers Weekly critic. The novel focuses on the relationship between Eva and Rachel, sisters who turn to each other for comfort and support in order to survive the brutal conditions in the camp. School Library Journal reviewer Virginia Golodetz called Torn Thread a "powerful testament to the human spirit," and Claire Rosser, writing in Kliatt, stated that in the book Isaacs shares "an important story of the Holocaust" as well as "a story of the extraordinary love of one sister for the other."

Six years after the publication of Torn Thread, Isaacs penned Pancakes for Supper!, "another winning, comical tall tale," according to Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg. Inspired by Helen Bannerman's The Story of Little Black Sambo, the work follows the adventures of Toby, a girl in a pioneering family who falls off the back of her parents' wagon and finds herself lost in the woods of New England, surrounded by wild animals. Using only her wits and her brightly colored clothes, Toby manages to outsmart the ravenous creatures and earn herself a delicious meal. "Isaacs's clever, respectful take on an iconic tale is testament to its appeal," wrote Kathy Krasniewicz in School Library Journal, and a Kirkus Reviews critic deemed Pancakes for Supper! "totally delightful and a great new spin on an old story."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, October 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Swamp Angel, p. 424; September 15, 1997, Kay Weisman, review of Treehouse Tales, p. 235; March 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Torn Thread, p. 1236; October 15, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of Pancakes for Supper!, p. 46.

Horn Book, March-April, 1995, Mary M. Burns, review of Swamp Angel, p. 184; September-October, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of Treehouse Tales, p. 572; November-December, 2006, Barbara Bader, review of Pancakes for Supper!, p. 699.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 1994, review of Swamp Angels, p. 1408; September 15, 2006, review of Pancakes for Supper!, p. 955.

Kliatt, March, 2000, Claire Rosser, review of Torn Thread.

Publishers Weekly, October 3, 1994, review of Swamp Angel, p. 69; August 24, 1998, review of Cat up a Tree: A Story in Poems, p. 57; May 26, 1997, review of Treehouse Tales, p. 86; May 22, 2000, review of Torn Thread, p. 94; September 4, 2006, review of Pancakes for Supper!, p. 65.

School Library Journal, April, 2000, Virginia Golodetz, review of Torn Thread, p. 136; October, 2006, Kathy Krasniewicz, review of Pancakes for Supper!, p. 113.

Time, December 19, 1994, "Imagine: A Cow in a Gown!," review of Swamp Angel, p. 70.

ONLINE

Anne Isaacs Home Page,http://www.anneisaacs.com (November 10, 2007).