James, Betsy

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James, Betsy


Born in MO; daughter of a geologist and a zoologist; married. Education: Attended Mount Holyoke College and University of Utah; B.A. (English). Hobbies and other interests: Hiking in the desert.


Home and office—Albuquerque, NM. E-mail—[email protected].


Writer and illustrator. Exhibitions: The Red Cloak included in National Museum for Women in the Arts exhibition, 1995-96.

Awards, Honors

Child Study Children's Book Committee Book of the Year designation, 1996, for Blow Away Soon; New York Public Library 100 Best Books selection, and International Reading Association Children's Choice selection, both 2004, both for My Chair; James Tiptree Award Honor Book designation, 2006, and New York Public Library Best Books for the Teen Age designation, 2007, both for Listening at the Gate.



What's That Room For?, Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.

The Red Cloak, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1989.

Natalie Underneath, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.

Mary Ann, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.

Tadpoles, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.


The Dream Stair, illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1990.

He Wakes Me, illustrated by Helen K. Davie, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1991.

The Mud Family, illustrated by Paul Morin, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.

Blow Away Soon, illustrated by Anna Vojtech, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.

Flashlight, illustrated by Stacey Schuett, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.

My Chair, illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma, Arthur A. Levine Books (New York, NY), 2004.


Long Night Dance, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989, reprinted, Simon Pulse (New York, NY), 2005.

Dark Heart, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992, reprinted, Simon Pulse (New York, NY), 2005.

Listening at the Gate, Atheneum Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Susan A. Roberts and Calvin A. Roberts, A History of New Mexico, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 1986, revised edition, 1991.

P.J. Petersen, The Fireplug Is First Base, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.

Barbara Williams, The Author and Squinty Gritt, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.

P.J. Petersen, I Hate Company, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.

Lucia Monfriend, No More Animals!, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.

Also illustrator of textbooks.


Betsy James is an award-winning author and illustrator of books for children and young adults, including her critically acclaimed fantasy trilogy "The Seeker Chronicles." "I have a card over my writing desk that says, ‘I build worlds,’" James remarked in an interview on the Simon & Schuster Web site. "But in fact I don't build them. They exist already, on the subcontinents of my imagination, and I just run around with a clipboard and a No. 2 mechanical pencil and have fun reporting on them."

James, who grew up in Utah and now lives in New Mexico, developed an early interest in the arts and literature. "I began both writing and illustrating ‘seri-

ously’—employing some version of the kind of imagination I still use to write—at eleven," she told Chronicles Network interviewer Teresa Edgerton. "I distinctly remember that ‘Aha!’: I was designing a WANTED poster for some drama or other, when it dawned on me that I could ‘look-listen-feel’ inward exactly as I looked-listened-felt outward. I could use the same awareness and attentiveness to detail in the imagination as I could in my ordinary life, and could record it in either images or words. It was like finding the door to a private universe."

A self-taught illustrator, James published her debut work, the humorous picture book What's That Room For?, in 1988. In Natalie Underneath, a follow-up volume, she follows the antics of a playful toddler. "James's bright crayon colors are the perfect medium" for the story, observed a Publishers Weekly critic. A young girl finds a praying mantis and names it after her playmate who moved away in Mary Ann. Here "James deals sensitively with the loss a friend," as Carolyn Phelan remarked in her review of the work for Booklist.

In The Dream Stair a girl enters a fantastic world after she bids goodnight to her grandmother. A Publishers Weekly reviewer described the child's dream as "an intriguing, nonthreatening journey." Sosi, an Anasazi girl, finds respite from a crippling drought and family tensions by fashioning a set of dolls in The Mud Family. Here "James's first-person narration conveys Sosi's conflicted feelings in simple, effective prose, unadorned by melodrama," a Publishers Weekly critic stated in a review of the book.

A girl who is frightened by the desert's howling wind learns a valuable lesson from her grandmother in Blow Away Soon. According to Booklist reviewer Leone McDermott, the "text has a poetic, mystical quality." In Flashlight, a grandfather enables his granddaughter to overcome her worries about spending the night in a strange environment. James' "brisk prose articulates the triumph in conquering one's fear of the dark," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. A group of neighborhood children gather outside, creating seating from boxes, tires, and cushions in My Chair. Called an "eloquent paean to chairs as much more than just places to sit" by a Kirkus Reviews critic, the work was also praised by School Library Journal contributor Marianne Saccardi for its "lively depiction of community caring and imaginative play."

James' "The Seeker Chronicles" were inspired by the legendary "selkies," a race of creatures able to transform themselves from seals into humans. James started writing stories about these mythological beings at age twelve, after hearing a Scottish ballad; years later, those tales informed "The Morning Series," a collection of 315 watercolors that provided the rough narrative for her trilogy. Long Night Dance, the opening novel, centers on Kat, a rebellious, red-headed teen who feels stifled in her chauvinistic Upslope community. Drawn one day to the forbidden seashore, Kat discovers a wounded Rig named Nall, and she calls upon the Downshore natives to nurse him back to health. "Though Kat's land is anchored firmly in the mythic past," observed a Publishers Weekly critic, "it is also a chilling reflection of contemporary times." Dark Heart follows Kat's initiation into womanhood among the Hill people. "The language here is richly evocative, the images compelling," a Kirkus Reviews critic wrote of the second installment. In the concluding volume, Listening at the Gate, Kat and Nall are reunited against the backdrop of a brutal war. "Kat's shifting, often conflicting emotions anchor this epic saga of the human heart," noted School Library Journal contributor Margaret A. Chang. Popular with teen readers, James' "The Seeker Chronicles" was reprinted beginning in 2005.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, June 15, 1992, Sally Estes, review of Dark Heart, p. 1825; January 1, 1994, Carolyn Phelan, review of Mary Ann, p. 832; October 15, 1994, Deborah Abbott, review of The Mud Family, p. 435; November 1, 1994, Chris Sherman, review of I Hate Company, p. 500; June 1, 1995, Leone McDermott, review of Blow Away Soon, p. 1786; November 15, 1995, Susan Dove Lempke, review of No More Animals!, p. 560; December 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Flashlight, p. 703; July, 1999, Julie Corsaro, review of Tadpoles, p. 1850; September 15, 2004, Karin Snelson, review of My Chair, p. 250; February 15, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Listening at the Gate, p. 93.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1989, review of Long Night Dance, p. 277; November, 1994, review of I Hate Company, p. 99; September, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of My Chair, p. 23; April, 2006, April Spisak, review of Listening at the Gate, p. 359.

Horn Book, November-December, 1989, Ann A. Flowers, review of Long Night Dance, p. 775.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1992, review of Dark Heart, p. 778; June 15, 2004, review of My Chair, p. 577; February 15, 2006, review of Listening at the Gate, p. 184.

Publishers Weekly, June 9, 1989, review of Long Night Dance, p. 70; April 13, 1990, review of The Dream Stair, p. 63; October 31, 1994, review of The Mud Family, p. 61; May 18, 1990, review of Natalie Underneath, p. 82; November 17, 1997, review of Flashlight, p. 61; June 28, 1999, review of Tadpoles, p. 77.

School Library Journal, August, 1989, review of Long Night Dance, p. 140; July, 1992, Marilyn Makowski, review of Dark Heart, p. 90; January, 1998, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Flashlight, p. 87; July, 2004, Marianne Saccardi, review of My Chair, p. 78; March, 2006, Margaret A. Chang, review of Listening at the Gate, p. 223.


Betsy James Home Page,http://www.betsyjames.com (October 17, 2007).

Chronicles Network,http://www.chronicles-network.com/forum/interviews/ (August 25, 2006), Teresa Edgerton, interview with James.

Simon & Schuster Web site,http://www.simonsays.com/ (October 17, 2007), "Betsy James."

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