Schmidt, Gary D. 1957–
Schmidt, Gary D. 1957–
Born April 14, 1957, in Hicksville, NY; son of Robert H. (a bank vice president) and Jeanne A. (a teacher) Schmidt; married Anne E. Stickney (a writer), December 22, 1979; children: James, Kathleen, Rebecca, David, Margaret, Benjamin. Education: Gordon College, B.A., 1979; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, M.A., 1981, Ph.D., 1985. Religion: Christian Reformed. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.
Author and educator. Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, professor of English, 1985—, department head, 1991-97.
Children's Literature Association, Early English Text Society, Phi Kappa Phi, Phi Alpha Chi.
Honorable mention, Book Award Committee, Children's Literature Association, 1993, for Robert McCloskey; Best Books for Young Adults citation, American Library Association (ALA), 1997, for The Sin Eater; Newbery Honor Book designation, ALA, Michael L. Printz Honor Book designation, ALA, and Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book designation, all 2005, all for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy; Newbery Honor Book designation, 2008, for The Wednesday Wars.
John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, illustrated by Barry Moser, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1994.
The Sin Eater (novel), Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
The Blessing of the Lord, illustrated by Dennis Nolan, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1997.
William Bradford: Pilgrim of Answerable Courage, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1997.
Anson's Way (novel), Clarion Books (New York, NY), 1999.
William Bradford: Plymouth's Faithful Pilgrim, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1999.
Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland, illustrated by Todd Doney, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2000.
(Editor, with Frances Schoonmaker Bolin and Brod Bagert) The Blackbirch Treasury of American Poetry, Blackbirch Press (Woodbridge, CT), 2001.
Mara's Stories, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.
Straw into Gold (novel), Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Wonders of Donal O'Donnell: A Folktale of Ireland, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.
The Great Stone Face: A Tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2002.
Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (novel), Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2004.
First Boy (novel), Holt (New York, NY), 2005.
The Wednesday Wars (novel), Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Trouble (novel), Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2008.
Supplementary Essays for College Writers, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1988, third edition, 1993.
(Editor, with Charlotte F. Otten) The Voice of the Narrator in Children's Literature: Insights from Writers and Critics, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1989.
Robert McCloskey, Twayne (Boston, MA), 1990.
Hugh Lofting, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor, with Donald R. Hettinga) Sitting at the Feet of the Past: Retelling the North American Folktale for Children, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1992.
(Editor, with William J. Vande Kopple) Communities of Discourse: The Rhetoric of Disciplines (includes instructor's manual), Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1993.
Katherine Paterson, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.
The Iconography of the Mouth of Hell: Eighth-Century Britain to the Fifteenth Century, Susquehanna University Press (Cranbury, NJ), 1995.
Robert Lawson, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Carol Winters) Edging the Boundaries of Children's Literature, Allyn & Bacon (Boston, MA), 2001.
(Editor, with Susan M. Felch) Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, illustrated by Barry Moser, Skylight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2003.
(Editor, with Susan M. Felch) Autumn: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, illustrated by Barry Moser, Skylight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2004.
A Passionate Usefulness: The Life and Literary Labors of Hannah Adams, University of Virginia Press (Charlottesville, VA), 2004.
(With Lawrence Kushner) In God's Hands, Jewish Lights Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2005.
(Editor, with Susan M. Felch) Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, illustrated by Barry Moser, Skylight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2005.
(Editor, with Susan M. Felch) Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, illustrated by Mary Azarian, Skylight Paths Publishing (Woodstock, VT), 2006.
(Editor, with Susan M. Felch) The Emmaus Readers: Listening for God in Contemporary Fiction, Paraclete Press (Brewster, MA), 2008.
Contributor to books, including Text and Matter: New Critical Perspectives of the Pearl Poet, edited by Robert J. Blanch, Miriam Miller, and Julian Wasserman, Whitston (Troy, NY), 1991. Contributor of articles, essays, stories, poems, and reviews to journals, including Christian Home and School, Lion and the Unicorn, Studies in American Humor, Christian Educators Journal, and Martha's KidLit Newsletter. Guest editor, Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 1989.
Several of Schmidt's works have been adapted as audio books.
Gary D. Schmidt has blended a career as a professor of English with one that involves writing both for children and adults. Schmidt's fiction and nonfiction children's books span genres from young adult and middle grade novels to picture books, and they deal with topics from biography to suicide. His novels include The Sin Eater, Anson's Way, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, while in other books, including The Blessing of the Lord: Stories from the Old and New Testaments and Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland, Schmidt mixes religious themes with biographical tales and retellings.
Schmidt's first books were for adults, but after writing a few biographies of children's writers, including Robert McCloskey and Katherine Paterson, he turned his hand to writing his own children's books. Ilene Cooper, reviewing Schmidt's biography of Paterson in Booklist, commented that he does "an excellent job of chronicling" the life of the two-time Newbery-Award-winning author. Schmidt once told SATA: "My first two children's books, the retelling of Pilgrim's Progress and The Sin Eater, both came out of my own past. Pilgrim's Progress had been with me some fifteen years before I finally turned to a retelling. It seemed to me that there were strong reasons why children would have turned this into a child's story back in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and I was not convinced that those reasons no longer pertained in the late twentieth century. I wrote the retelling thinking of my own early responses to the book, cutting out the parts that bored and that struck discordant notes."
Schmidt's retelling of Pilgrim's Progress "is much more accessible than the original version," according to School Library Journal contributor Kate Hegarty Bouman, voicing a common response to the work. Bouman noted that Schmidt's "mix of both historical periods and ethnic groups is a fascinating way to extend the text spatially and temporally." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly similarly praised Schmidt's "masterly rendition" as "a treasure sure to delight young and old."
Schmidt's first young-adult novel was The Sin Eater. "For The Sin Eater, I reached back into my own family's past and that of my wife," the author later explained. "The house is not the same as, but is like a real house in Brunswick, Maine. Though the action of the novel itself is not based on real events, the responses of the characters mirror responses that I have had in my past to not dissimilar events and people. The places around the farmhouse are all real, though drawn from sites in upper New York state, the Catskill Mountains, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and Cape Cod."
In The Sin Eater, middle-schooler Cole and his father move in with Cole's maternal grandparents in rural New Hampshire after Cole's mother dies of cancer. Cole delights in his new surroundings and in the village lore and tales of ancestry told him by his grandparents and other locals. His father, however, remains grief-stricken and ultimately commits suicide. "A work laden with atmosphere and meaning, this is a promising debut from an author who captures with admirable accuracy both the dark and light of life," asserted a Kirkus Reviews critic. A Publishers Weekly reviewer also found Schmidt's novel "engrossing," adding that the plot forms a "point of departure for a profound and lyrical meditation on life and the importance of shared history."
The Blessing of the Lord: Stories from the Old and New Testaments includes retellings from "unusual perspectives," as Shelley Townsend-Hudson commented in Booklist. Schmidt retells the stories of Jonah, Deborah, Barak, Peter, and others, with a twist that gives the "often tired old tales … new life," according to Townsend-Hudson. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised the "dramatic spin" Schmidt gives to these tales.
Further religious and spiritual matters are served up in William Bradford: Plymouth's Faithful Pilgrim and Saint Ciaran: The Tale of Saint of Ireland. The former biography, intended for older readers, looks at the guiding light of the Plymouth Colony, painting "a warm and cohesive picture of William Bradford's role in that colony's foundation and growth," as a critic for Kirkus Reviews observed. Bradford, an orphan from early childhood, embraced Puritan ideals as a teenager and ultimately led a group of Separatists on a perilous mission to found a colony in the New World. Schmidt uses Bradford's own writings as well as contemporary journals and prints to take the reader back into the religious beliefs of those early colonists. "The author clearly presents Bradford's religious views and shows how those beliefs affected his life and actions and those of the Pilgrims," wrote Elaine Fort Weischedel in a School Library Journal review.
Saint Ciaran is a picture book intended for younger readers. "In mouth-filling cadences of Gaelic … Schmidt tells the story of the sixth-century Irish saint," noted GraceAnne A. DeCandido in Booklist. Growing up a spiritual child, Ciaran went to Rome and discovered the Catholic faith in the city's churches. Sent back to Ireland by St. Patrick, he founded a religious community that attracted Christians from all over the island. DeCandido called Saint Ciaran a "beautiful picture book for older children," and Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, writing in School Library Journal, deemed the book a "gently moving tribute to a lesser-known saint."
Schmidt demonstrates the variety of his prose styles in the novels Anson's Way and Straw into Gold. Again using Ireland for a setting, this time in the eighteenth century, Anson's Way features a young Anson Granville Staplyton who follows his family calling and joins the Staffordshire military, the Fencible. Dreaming of glory, he is sent to Ireland as a mere drummer to help keep the peace. When he sees his fellow soldiers persecuting the locals, Anson begins to have mixed loyalties. When he meets an Irish hedge master—a person who illegally teaches the Irish their forbidden language and culture—he soon befriends some of the Irish rebels. Ultimately, Anson is forced to choose between his comrades in arms and his new Irish friends. This book "realistically portrays not only the tragedies of war but also the battle between heart and mind of a young soldier," as Booklist writer Shelle Rosenfeld remarked. Janice M. Del Negro, reviewing the title in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, also praised this "complex action/adventure novel" with its "shifting moral center." "Replete with drama and action," wrote Hilary Crew in Voice of Youth Advocates, "Schmidt's story presents a side of Irish history that is frequently marginalized in textbooks."
In his middle-grade novel Straw into Gold, Schmidt spins a new twist in the old Rumpelstiltskin tale, extending it to see what could have happened. In Schmidt's rendering, young Tousle leaves his forest cottage with his magical father, Da, to travel to the city and view the king's procession. He becomes separated from his father and then surprises himself by calling out for mercy for some rebels facing execution. One other voice raised against the execution is that of the queen herself. The king will spare the lives only if Tousle and a blind young rebel, Innes, are able solve the riddle the king sets for them: "What fills a hand fuller than a skein of gold?" "So begins a suspenseful quest that adds surprising twists and turns to the traditional fairy tale," wrote Booklist critic Frances Bradburn. School Library Journal reviewer Ginny Gustin was also beguiled by the tale, calling Straw into Gold a "fantasy-flavored quest."
Based on actual events, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy was named a John Newbery Honor Book and a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. Set in 1912, the novel centers on Turner Ernest Buckminster, III, the son of a minister in Phippsburg, Maine, and his unlikely friendship with Lizzie Bright Griffin, who lives on nearby Malaga Island, which was settled by former slaves. Fearful that the impoverished community will hurt tour- ism, the town elders force the island's residents from their homes, despite Turner's efforts to intervene. Writing in Booklist, Hazel Rochman called Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy a "haunting combination of fact and fiction that has a powerful and tragic climax," and School Library Journal contributor Connie Tyrrell Burns remarked that the "novel will leave a powerful impression on readers."
In First Boy, fourteen-year-old Cooper Jewett decides to stay on his family's New Hampshire dairy farm after the death of his grandfather, who had raised Cooper. Soon, however, the teen is followed by black sedans, a barn on the farm burns to the ground, and a U.S. presidential candidate takes a strong interest in his life. "Cooper is an entirely appealing protagonist," noted Vicky Smith in Horn Book, and Rochman described First Boy as "a poignant account of one boy's search for home."
The Wednesday Wars, set in 1967 against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, concerns Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grader who spends every Wednesday afternoon alone with his demanding teacher, Mrs. Baker, while his schoolmates attend religious classes. The pair finds common ground, however, when they begin reading the plays of William Shakespeare, and the educator becomes a positive force in Holling's life, in contrast to his often neglectful parents. Writing in Kliatt, Paula Rohrlick called The Wednesday Wars "a marvelous read, both achingly funny and deeply affecting," and School Library Journal critic Joel Shoemaker stated that the author "explores many important themes, not the least of which is what makes a person a hero."
The members of an affluent New England family find their privileged lives irrevocably altered by tragedy in Trouble, a work that examines loss, responsibility, and reconciliation. When Franklin Smith, a rugby star, is struck and killed by a car driven by his classmate, a Cambodian refugee named Chay Chouan, the residents of Blythbury-by-the-Sea react with anger toward the nearby immigrant community. According to Kate McClelland in School Library Journal, Schmidt's novel contains "compassionate examinations of the passage from childhood to adulthood and of the patterns of common experience that mark and unite us as humans."
"Teaching children's literature as I do, I have the opportunity to read many of the extraordinary children's books published each year," Schmidt once noted in SATA. "But teaching also means that I need to balance each day between my family, my writing, and my students. This, especially when the care of a hundred-fifty-year-old farm is thrown into the balance, becomes a delicate act. It means that I can spend one to three hours a day on my writing, but that's all. Afterwards, there are other worlds to turn to.
"Working at a college also means that I combine several levels of writing…. At the same time [as writing for children], I work on books that are slightly more arcane: a study of the medieval image of the mouth of hell and a biography of an eighteenth-century female historian. For me, these two very different kinds of writing (both creative, but one more scholarly than the other) help keep each project exciting rather than burdensome, even though there are the days when neither seems to have much energy."
"In thinking about my own work in children's literature, it seems to me that I am interested in showing the beatific and terrible complexities of our lives." Schmidt concluded for SATA. "I have had one reader tell me that The Sin Eater was sadder and funnier than he thought it would be. It seems to me that our lives are just that: often sadder and funnier than we ever thought they would be. They are also more beatific than we have any reason to expect, and my hope is to show that in the context of a world that is often dark."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 1, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of Katherine Paterson, p. 1611; December 1, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Robert Frost, p. 669; November 1, 1996, Ilene Cooper, review of The Sin Eater, p. 491; November 1, 1997, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Blessing of the Lord, p. 469; April 1, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Anson's Way, p. 1428; April 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Saint Ciaran: The Tale of a Saint of Ireland, p. 1459; August, 2001, Frances Bradburn, review of Straw into Gold, p. 2108; October 1, 2002, Kay Weisman, review of The Great Stone Face: A Tale by Nathaniel Hawthorne, p. 327; May 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, p. 1629; September 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of First Boy, p. 60; March 1, 2008, Ian Chipman, review of Trouble, p. 61.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Anson's Way, pp. 327-328.
Horn Book, November-December, 2004, Betty Carter, review of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, p. 717; September-October, 2005, Vicky Smith, review of First Boy, p. 589; July-August, 2007, Betty Carter, review of The Wednesday Wars, p. 403; May-June, 2008, Robin L. Smith, review of Trouble, p. 326.
Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1996, review of The Sin Eater, p. 1328; June 1, 1998, review of William Bradford, p. 816.
Kliatt, September, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of First Boy, p. 14; May, 2007, Paula Rohrlick, review of The Wednesday Wars, p. 19; March, 2008, Ashleigh Larsen, review of Trouble, p. 19.
New York Times Book Review, December 16, 2007, Tanya Lee Stone, "Starting out in the '60s," review of The Wednesday Wars, p. 23.
Publishers Weekly, December 19, 1994, review of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, pp. 54-55; October 14, 1996, review of The Sin Eater, p. 84; August 25, 1997, review of The Blessing of the Lord, p. 66; March 1, 1999, review of Anson's Way, p. 70; April 10, 2000, review of Saint Ciaran, p. 95; March 31, 2008, review of Trouble, p. 62.
School Library Journal, December, 1994, Kate Hegarty Bouman, review of Pilgrim's Progress, p. 130; October, 1997, Patricia Pearl Dole, review of The Blessing of the Lord, p. 154; April, 1999, Starr E. Smith, review of Anson's Way, p. 12; June, 1999, Elaine Fort Weischedel, review of William Bradford, p. 153; August, 2000, Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, review of Saint Ciaran, p. 175; August, 2001, Ginny Gustin, review of Straw into Gold, p. 188; November, 2002, Grace Oliff, review of The Great Stone Face, p. 135; May, 2004, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, p. 157; October, 2005, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of First Boy, p. 173; July, 2007, Joel Shoemaker, review of The Wednesday Wars, p. 110; April, 2008, Kate McClelland, review of Trouble, p. 148.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1998, Kathleen Beck, review of The Sin Eater, p. 103; August, 1999, Hilary Crew, review of Anson's Way, pp. 185-186.
Calvin Spark Web site,http://www.calvin.edu/publications/spark/ (spring, 2006), Myrna DeVries Anderson, "Opening The Book That Is Gary Schmidt: Award-Winning Author, Supportive Colleague and Dedicated Father Are Chapters in the Life of This Calvin English Professor."
Miss Erin Web log,http://misserinmarie.blogspot.com/ (May 23, 2008), "SBBT Interview: Gary D. Schmidt."
Publishers Weekly Online,http://www.publishersweekly.com/ (May 3, 2007), Sue Corbett, "Children's Bookshelf Talks with Gary Schmidt."
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 10, 2008), "A Conversation with Gary D. Schmidt."