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Serfozo, Mary 1925-

Serfozo, Mary 1925-

Personal

Surname accented on second syllable; born February 21, 1925, in Seattle, WA; daughter of Patrick (an engineer) and Olive Cannon; married John Serfozo, August 8, 1953; children: Stephen, David. Education: University of Washington, B.A. Politics: "Independent." Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, swimming, reading, becoming computer literate.

Addresses

Home—Paso Robles, CA.

Career

Freelance author and copywriter. Has worked variously as an assistant editor of Mademoiselle magazine, a copywriter for a California advertising agency, and in publicity for Elizabeth Arden in New York City, Pan American Airways, and the Hawaiian sugar industry in Honolulu.

Awards, Honors

American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, and Children's Choice Certificate of Excellence, for Who Said Red?; Parenting magazine Reading Magic Award, for Who Wants One?

Writings

Welcome, Roberto!/Bienvenido, Roberto!, photographs by husband, John Serfozo, Follett, 1969.

Who Said Red?, illustrated by Keiko Narahashi, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1988.

Who Wants One?, illustrated by Keiko Narahashi, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1989.

Rain Talk, illustrated by Keiko Narahashi, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Dirty Kurt, illustrated by Nancy Poydar, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Benjamin Bigfoot, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Joe Joe, illustrated by Nina S. Montezinos, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1993.

What's What?: A Guessing Game, illustrated by Keiko Narahashi, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 1996.

There's a Square: A Book about Shapes, illustrated by David Carter, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1996.

A Head Is for Hats, illustrated by Katy Bratun, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1999.

Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin, illustrated by Valeria Petrone, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2001.

The Big Bug Dug, illustrated by Jeffrey Scherer, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.

Whooo's There?, illustrated by Jeffrey Scherer, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of bilingual classroom packages.

Sidelights

Mary Serfozo was inspired to write her first published children's book, Who Said Red?, when she observed a group of children listening to her local librarian sing and play the guitar. When it came time for the children to sing their line in every chorus, they "joined in so joyously," Serfozo told Diane Roback in Publishers Weekly, "I thought it would be fun in a read-aloud book to have a line that kids would know was coming up." Since writing Who Said Red?, Serfozo has created a number of concept books for younger children, her simple texts enhanced by illustrators such as Keiko Narahashi, Valeria Petrone, Jos. A. Smith, Nancy Poydar, and Jeffrey Scherer. A collaboration with Scherer, Whooo's There?, was praised as a "tranquil and engaging bedtime sojourn … just right for one-on-one sharing" by a Kirkus Reviews writer, and in her School Library Journal review of Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin Piper L. Nyman asserted that Petrone's "large, vibrant illustrations are a perfect match" for Serfozo's "engaging read-aloud."

Featuring illustrations by acclaimed artist Narahashi, Who Said Red? is a colorful tale of a young boy and his teasing older sister. Karen Leggett, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the book "ripe … with possibilities for playing, learning, reading and laughing," while Emily Arnold McCully deemed Narahashi's simple, spare illustrations "cozy, full of energy and detail and [with] … room for the imagination to roam."

The brother-and-sister team featured in Who Said Red? are once again brought to life via Narahashi's art in Who Wants One? Here the imaginative older sister pulls an array of increasingly silly items out of a magic box and offers them to her younger brother one after another. The little boy refuses each numbered offering in turn with a firm, insisting that he only wants one. Finally, the boy's sister presents him with one: one precious puppy, that is. In her review for School Library Journal, Luann Toth called Who Wants One? a "magical presentation of the numbers from one to ten and back again." "This jaunty and original counting book is a standout," a Publishers Weekly critic similarly concluded.

Another collaboration between Serfozo and Narahashi, What's What?: A Guessing Game, posits simple questions followed by a three-line poem that illustrates basic concepts while leading to a surprise ending. In Publishers Weekly, a critic cited the book's "simple text" and "appealing watercolors," while Hazel Rochman concluded in Booklist that the "story, ideas, design, and illustrations [in What's What?] work beautifully together." In Rain Talk author and illustrator move from poetry to prose to relay a simple story about a girl's walk in the rain with her dog. Noting Serfozo's engaging use of onomatopoeia, another Publishers Weekly critic also cited Narahashi's "bright appealing watercolors."

Several of Serfozo's books revolve around the start of school. The main character in Dirty Kurt cannot seem to keep himself clean. No matter what he does, he is a "magnet for filth," as reviewer Laura Culberg noted in School Library Journal. When his mother expresses concern that the kids in his new school will think he is a "dirt ball with feet," Kurt solves the problem by going out to play bundled up in his raincoat. "Kids, just like dirt, will be drawn to Kurt," stated Culberg.

The problem for the main character in Benjamin Bigfoot is that he wants to wear his father's big shoes to school. When Ben's mother takes him to meet the new teacher before school starts, he discovers that the big shoes are not exactly comfortable for climbing, sliding, or bike riding. A Head Is for Hats also focuses on a young boy discovering the ways of the world, and this time Serfozo's story helps readers find uses for feet, heads, hands, and more. Susan Hepler praised Benjamin Bigfoot in School Library Journal, observing that the simple story "shows a five-year-old working through a situation on his own with the support of sympathetic adults." A Head Is for Hats treats children to what Booklist critic Carolyn Phelan described as "simple, satisfying fare for reading aloud" or for budding readers.

Serfozo began telling stories in the third grade, winning ten dollars in a Christmas Seal essay contest. "I didn't get around to picture books until I was about ready to retire," she once explained to SATA. "I was writing advertising copy for the first time in a wordy career, and finding it quite illuminating. As with picture books, much of what I did involved choosing the right few words to go in a limited space and combine with art to make an impact. My boss was not impressed to learn of the parallel I saw between his target market and the average five-year-old, but it certainly exists. My picture book texts have been described as ‘spare,’ and I recognize this as a reflection of the discipline imposed by the column inch.

"I write picture books because I feel right at home with preschoolers who love the sound of words—like to roll them on their tongues and repeat them endlessly. I like rhymes and rhythms and exaggeration and humor. And I'm delighted to see my ideas come alive through the insight of an illustrator. I've been writing my entire life, and most of the time it has been rewarding. None of it has been this much fun."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 1, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of Dirty Kurt, p. 1042; October 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of What's What?: A Guessing Game, p. 351; October 1, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Head Is for Hats, p. 352; September 1, 2001, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin, p. 122.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1996, review of What's What?, p. 75.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2001, review of Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin, p. 947; June 15, 2007, review of Whooo's There?

New York Times Book Review, November 13, 1988, Karen Leggett, review of Who Said Red?, p. 63; May 19, 1991, Emily Arnold McCully, review of Who Said Red?

Publishers Weekly, September 9, 1988, review of Who Said Red?, p. 130; July 14, 1989, review of Who Wants One?, p. 75; July 28, 1989, Diane Roback, "Coming Attractions," p. 136; July 27, 1990, review of Rain Talk, p. 232; January 18, 1993, review of Benjamin Bigfoot, p. 471; January 15, 1996, review of There's a Square: A Book about Shapes, p. 461; September 2, 1996, review of What's What?, p. 130; September 24, 2001, review of Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin, p. 42.

School Library Journal, January, 1989, Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, review of Who Said Red?, p. 66; December, 1989, Luann Toth, review of Who Wants One?, p. 96; March, 1992, Laura Culberg, review of Dirty Kurt, p. 224; August, 1993, Susan Hepler, review of Benjamin Bigfoot, p. 151; January, 1994, Marianne Saccardi, review of Joe Joe, p. 98; September, 2001, Piper L. Nyman, review of Plumply, Dumply Pumpkin, p. 206; August, 2007, Kirsten Cutler, review of Whooo's There?, p. 92.

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