Born in Columbus, OH; married, husband's name Sandy; children: Sarah, Sam. Education: Washington School for Ballet, graduate.
Home and office—Los Angeles, CA. Office—Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, 1714 21st St., Santa Monica, CA 90404.
Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, Santa Monica, CA, middle-school teacher..
Notable Children's Trade Books in Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts, National Council of Teachers of English, Jefferson Cup Award Honor Book designation, Virginia Library Association, and Judy Lopez Memorial Award Honor Book designation, all 1998, and Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, 1999, all for Treasures in the Dust; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, for A Dance of Sisters.
Treasures in the Dust, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
A Dance of Sisters, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Billy Creekmore, Joanna Cotler Books (New York, NY), 2007.
A middle-school teacher for more than twenty-five years, Tracey Porter is the author of the young-adult novels Treasures in the Dust, A Dance of Sisters, and Billy Creekmore. In an interview on the HarperCollins Children's Web site, Porter remarked that her work as an educator has influenced her writing. "I think that I strive to be open to each of my students' individual characteristics, and that helps me avoid certain clichés when I create characters," she stated. "I don't underestimate my students or readers. They deserve the best language and imagery that I can give them."
Porter's first novel, Treasures in the Dust, centers on the friendship between Annie May Weightman and Violet Cobble, a pair of eleven-year-old girls who are growing up in Oklahoma during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Although Annie's family manages to hold onto their farm, the Cobbles are forced from their land and must journey to California, where they live in a migrant camp. "I had always been interested in the dust storms," Porter told Publishers Weekly contributor Shannon Maughan. "When I became an eighth-grade teacher myself, I had my students read The Grapes of Wrath. I was much more interested in the people who stayed and endured the Dust Bowl than the people who left. Once I realized that, I started the book."
Treasures in the Dust earned a host of awards and garnered strong reviews. In the words of Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman, Porter's "prose … is lyrical and immediate," and Maeve Visser Knoth wrote in Horn Book that the novelist employs "figurative language to develop character and a vivid sense of setting." According to a critic in Publishers Weekly, in Treasures in the Dust readers "will find … a stirring depiction of survivors beating the odds."
A Dance of Sisters is based in part on Porter's own experiences as a dancer. A graduate of the Washington School for Ballet, she explained to an interviewer for the Cedar Crest Books Web site that quitting ballet "was an extremely painful event, and as a writer, I had to deal with that part of my life. I wanted to write a book about a dancer who does not ‘reach her dreams’ because books that center on that are such a cliché. The lives of most dancers are filled with so many compromises, that it's a little more interesting to explore someone who doesn't get there."
A Dance of Sisters concerns thirteen-year-old Delia and her older sister, Pearl, both of whom are still struggling to cope with the death of their mother years earlier. While troubled Pearl practices witchcraft, Delia studies at a prestigious dance academy under the tutelage of a demanding ballet instructor. Porter "does a credible job of revealing the underbelly of the serious ballet student's world," noted Elaine Baran Black in School Library Journal, and a Publishers Weekly critic remarked that "the ballet story lines [in A Dance of Sisters] converge elegantly and poignantly with Pearl's and Delia's different experiences of bereavement and loss."
Set in the early twentieth century, Billy Creekmore focuses on a ten-year-old orphan living at the Guardian Angels Home for Boys. After a long-lost uncle takes Billy to a small West Virginia mining town, the youngster begins working as a mule skinner until violence breaks out between the miners and strike breakers. Before writing the novel, Porter noted in an essay on the HarperCollins Web site, she sought inspiration from the works of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, writers whose stories "deal with children who were ill treated or abandoned by parents and society." "I loved following the rise and fall of the main character's fortunes," she added, "how each chapter began with its own suspenseful title, and ended with a sentence that made you
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want to turn the page. These books—suspenseful, traditionally structured, plot and character bound—became my model for Billy Creekmore."
Reviewing the work in Horn Book, Vicky Smith observed that Billy Creekmore "harks back to the sprawling novels of the nineteenth century," and Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper applauded the author's "shrewd choice to frame this as a picaresque journey," similar to the one depicted by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, August, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Treasures in the Dust, p. 1902; February 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of A Dance of Sisters, p. 1070; April 15, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of Billy Creekmore, p. 52.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1997, review of Treasures in the Dust, p. 98; January, 2003, review of A Dance of Sisters, p. 209; October, 2007, review of Billy Creekmore, p. 105.
Horn Book, September-October, 1997, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of Treasures in the Dust, p. 578; September-October, 2007, Vicky Smith, review of Billy Creekmore, p. 585.
Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, May, 2007, Judith A. Hayn, review of Billy Creekmore, p. 690.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of A Dance of Sisters, p. 1612; July 1, 2007, review of Billy Creekmore.
Publishers Weekly, July 14, 1997, review of Treasures in the Dust, p. 83; December 22, 1997, Shannon Maughan, "Flying Starts" (profile of Porter), p. 28; November 18, 2002, review of A Dance of Sisters, p. 61.
School Library Journal, January, 2003, Elaine Baran Black, review of A Dance of Sisters, p. 142; July, 2007, Lillian Hecker, review of Billy Creekmore, p. 108.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1998, review of Treasures in the Dust, p. 276; February, 2003, review of A Dance of Sisters, p. 481.
Cedar Crest Books Web site,http://www.cedarcrestbooks.com/ (August 1, 2008), "Ballet Interviews: Tracey Porter."
HarperCollins Children's Web site,http://www.harperchildrens.com/ (August 1, 2008), interview with Porter.
HarperCollins Web site,http://www.harpercollins.com/ (August 1, 2008), "Tracey Porter."