McDonnell, Kathleen 1947–

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McDonnell, Kathleen 1947–


Born 1947, in Chicago, IL; immigrated to Canada; partner's name Alec; children: two daughters. Education: University of Toronto, B.A.


Home—Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada. E-mail—[email protected]


Playwright, author of fiction and nonfiction, and editor. Contributor to CBC Radio. Speaker and workshop leader at conferences. Young People's Theater, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, playwright-in-residence, 1999-2000.


Writers Union of Canada, Playwrights Union of Canada.

Awards, Honors

National Women's Playwriting Award (Canada), 1980, for Risk Factors; Chalmers Canadian Children's Play Award, 1994, for Loon Boy; Dora Award for best performance, 2003, for The Seven Ravens.



Ezzie's Emerald (also see below), illustrated by Sally J.K. Davies, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990.

The Nordlings ("Notherland Journeys" saga), Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

The Shining World ("Notherland Journeys" saga), Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

1212: Year of the Journey, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.

The Songweavers ("Notherland Journeys" saga), Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2008.


(With Francine Volker) Six-East, produced 1979.

Risk Factors, produced 1980.

Different, produced 1987.

The Cookie War, produced at Blyth Festival, 1988.

Precipitous, produced 1992.

Loon Boy (also see below), produced 1994.

Ezzie's Emerald (adapted from the novel of the same title; also see below), music by Phyllis Cohen, produced 1995.

Unpacking, produced 1995.

Foundlings (also see below), produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1999.

(With Anne Barber and Brad Harley) Right of Passage, produced in Toronto Island, Ontario, Canada, 2000.

The Seven Ravens (also see below), produced in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2001.

Putting on a Show: Theater for Young People (includes Foundlings, Ezzie's Emerald, Loon Boy, and The Seven Ravens), Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

The New Mother, produced in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2005.


Not an Easy Choice: A Feminist Re-examines Abortion, South End (Boston, MA), 1984, revised edition, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

(Editor with Mariana Valverde) The Healthsharing Book: Resources for Canadian Women, Women's Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

(Editor) Adverse Effects: Women and the Pharmaceutical Industry, Women's Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.

Kid Culture: Children and Adults and Popular Culture, Pluto Press Australia (Annadale, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.

Honey, We Lost the Kids: Re-thinking Childhood in the Multimedia Age, Second Story Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including Toronto Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Chatelaine, Maclean's, and Utne Reader.


Kathleen McDonnell is an award-winning children's playwright and the author of books for both children and adults. Born in Chicago, Illinois, McDonnell moved to Canada to attend the University of Toronto, and she began her writing career shortly thereafter. In 1979, her first play, co-written with Francine Volker, was produced, and her next play, Risk Factors, received the National Women's Playwriting Award in 1980. From 1999 to 2000, she served as playwright-in-residence at the Young People's Theater in Toronto.

The year 1999 was a memorable year for McDonnell for other reasons: the first volume of her "Notherland Journeys" children's fantasy saga was released. Titled The Nordlings, the book introduces headstrong Peggy who is transported to a world she thought she had made up as a child. Peggy is, in fact, the world's creator, and now that the world is in trouble from an outside evil, she must decide whether to attempt to save it or abandon it and return to her normal life. McDonnell had developed the idea for the saga years before, while she was working on a nonfiction work titled Kid Culture: Children and Adults and Popular Culture. Recalling her idea of "paracosms"—imaginary worlds made up by children—she wrote on her home page: "I knew right away that I wanted to write a story around this idea, and that it would involve a grown-up who returns to an imaginary childhood world to save it from extinction."

Peggy's journey continues in The Shining World as she and her companions search for the lost sky-spirit Mi. Their quest takes them through a number of dream worlds as Mi tries to make it to the Shining World, where his wounds will be healed. When the Evil Angel bars the way, Peggy must call upon her own special magic, found in her musical ability, to clear Mi's path. Noting the themes of real-world danger to children that hover around the edges of the narrative, Teresa Hughes wrote in Resource Links that "The Shining World is a very good read." The Songweavers, the final book in the "Notherland Journeys" series, was released in 2008.

Departing from the "Notherland Journeys," McDonnell's next novel, 1212: Year of the Journey, is a recounting of the Children's Crusade. Etienne, Abel, and Blanche all hope that their peaceful crusade will spread Christianity without violence, but sadly, many of the children who journey with them are sold into slavery or die due to the journey's hardships. "While 1212 is a very demanding read at times, it is also an extremely valuable read as the religious persecutions and tensions throughout the novel mirror many contemporary issues," wrote Emily Springer in a review of the book for Resource Links. Though Krista Hutley noted in Booklist that the novel's notes do not include sources for students wishing to research the late Middle Ages, she concluded that "McDonnell brings the period alive." Claire Rosser, writing in Kliatt, also made note of the historical detail, writing that "readers interested in religious history and European history will appreciate McDonnell's fine work."

McDonnell has continued to write plays in addition to her fiction. In 2004, several of her works for the stage were collected in a guide for theater teachers titled Putting on a Show: Theater for Young People. The book includes an introduction that "eloquently describes" suspending disbelief, according to Lynda Pogue in Childhood Education, as well as short essays about history, and cross-cultural performance themes. Adriane Pettit, reviewing the work for Resource Links, recommended the book as "an excellent handbook for any elementary drama teacher."

As McDonnell explained on her home page, she writes for and about kids, "for because … I find that children's stories are usually the best medium to express what I want to say; and about because I have a burning interest in kids and their culture, how they think and feel about the world they're growing up in."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 2007, Krista Hutley, review of 1212: Year of the Journey, p. 50.

Canadian Book Review Annual, 2004, David E. Kemp, review of Putting on a Show: Theater for Young People, p. 571.

Childhood Education (annual), 2005, Lynda Pogue, review of Putting on a Show, p. 301.

Kliatt, January, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of 1212, p. 24.

Quill & Quire, October, 1999, review of The Nordlings, p. 46.

Resource Links, February, 2004, Teresa Hughes, review of The Shining World, p. 36; April, 2005, Adriane Pettit, review of Putting on a Show, p. 48; February, 2007, Emily Springer, review of 1212, p. 38.

School Library Journal, March, 2007, Renee Steinberg, review of 1212, p. 214.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2007, Megan Lynn Isaac, review of 1212, p. 529.


Kathleen McDonnell Home Page, (December 20, 2007).

Second Story Press Web site, (December 20, 2007), "Kathleen McDonnell."

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McDonnell, Kathleen 1947–

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