Shea, Pegi Deitz 1960–
Shea, Pegi Deitz 1960–
Born September 22, 1960, in Matawan, NJ; daughter of George A. Deitz (a high-school history teacher and coach) and Margaret J. (a legal secretary) Devlin; married Thomas F. Shea (a professor of English), July 19, 1986; children: Deirdre Vincena, Thomas Sullivan. Ethnicity: "Irish/German." Education: Rutgers College, Rutgers University, B.A. (English and communications), 1982. Politics: "Independent." Religion: Christian.
Home and office—27 Fox Hill Dr., Rockville, CT 06066. E-mail—[email protected]
Children's book writer and poet. Writing instructor for Institute of Children's Literature; Pegi Deitz Public Relations, Rockville, CT, president and freelance writer, 1986–.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (member, New England conference planning committee, 1992–93), St. Bernard's Christian Service Committee.
Evelyn Hamilton Award for Creative Writing, Rutgers College, 1982; Notable Book designation, National Council for the Social Studies/International Reading Association, 1995, for The Whispering Cloth.
Bungalow Fungalow, Clarion (New York, NY), 1991.
The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1995.
New Moon, illustrated by Cathryn Falwell, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1996.
Ekaterina Gordeeva, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 1999.
I See Me!, illustrated by Lucia Washburn, HarperFestival (New York, NY), 2000.
The Impeachment Process ("Your Government and How It Works" series), Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 2000.
(With Cynthia Weill) Ten Mice for Tet!, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Carpet Boy's Gift, Tilbury House (Gardiner, ME), 2003.
Patience Wright: America's First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of poetry to periodicals, including Dan River Anthology, Connecticut Writer, College Composition and Communications, Aquarian, Tunxis Review, and Connecticut River Review; contributor of articles to Millimeter, Television Broadcasting Europe, and Videography.
Work in Progress
Noah Webster: Weaver of Words, for Calkins Creek Press, expected 2008; Abe in Arms, for the "Kidz-Court Fiction" series; Can't Gotta Work, teen poems.
Pegi Deitz Shea's first writing appeared as "little poems that I wrote on construction paper for holidays and birthdays," as she once explained. "The sight of those cards up on the mantelpiece, quite a place of honor in our home, inspired me to continue. I won two dollars in a poetry contest when I was in fifth grade and thought, 'Wow, this writing business pays!' While it may not have made me wealthy, writing has opened me up to new lands, new people, new ways of thinking." In addition to continuing her poetry-writing, Shea's books for young readers, such as Ten Mice for Tet! and The Carpet Boy's Gift, share her experiences with new people and new ways of thinking.
Shea's award-winning 1995 novel The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story takes readers to Thailand. The book tells the story of Mai, a Hmong girl who has lived in a refugee camp with her grandmother since fleeing the family's home in Laos. Despite her impoverished circumstances, Mai is rich in the traditions of her people and she learns from other women in the camp how to create a Hmongese pa'ndau, or story cloth. Hoping that the sale of the cloth to tourists will earn her family enough money to leave the camp and join relatives in the United States, Mai decides to detail the events of her short life, from her early childhood, the murder of her parents, and her flight through the Mekong carried by her grandmother, to her current life in the camp and her hopes for a brighter future. Illustrated with an actual pa'ndau cloth stitched by Thai refugee You Yang, Shea spins what a Publishers Weekly contributor described as a poignant tale that is "bound to elicit many questions" from elementary school-aged readers. You Yang's "stitched pictures … distance the brutality," noted Hazel Rochman in her Booklist review of Shea's "moving" picture book, "both showing and telling that art can be a powerful force."
Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story is a sequel to The Whispering Cloth. In Shea's novel Mai immigrates from the Thai refugee camp to the United States together with her grandmother. She quickly becomes overwhelmed by the many cultural differences in her new country, and those differences are exacerbated by the behavior of her more Americanized cousins. Mai now becomes torn between her wish to maintain her Hmong traditions and her desire to assimilate into the American way of life. Allison Follos, writing in School Library Journal, called Tangled Threads a "bitter-sweet story [that] balances social and intellectual pursuits against the strained relations of a family tapping roots into a new homeland."
Written for younger children, Shea's New Moon contains colorful cut-paper illustrations by Cathryn Falwell that depict an Hispanic boy and his younger sister as they await the reappearance of "la luna" after several moonless nights. Capturing the affectionate relationship between the two siblings as the brother attempts to explain to his sister why the moon changes shape throughout the month, New Moon embodies what a Children's Book Review Service contributor dubbed "the magic of discovery," while in Booklist, Julie Corsaro praised the picture book for its "simple and lyrical seasonal story."
Shea introduces young readers to the grave topic of child labor in The Carpet Boy's Gift. Inspired by the true story of Iqbal Masih, the twelve-year-old Pakistani boy who rallied against child labor until his murder in 1995, The Carpet Boy's Gift revolves around central character Nadeem. Nadeem is an indentured slave who works in a carpet factory in order to repay a loan made by his parents, but now strives to escape the realms of child slavery. Jennifer Mattson, writing in Booklist, noted that "Shea doesn't shy away from ugly realities" and weaves lifelike details into the story's scheme. A School Library Journal reviewer remarked that the author handles the "serious subject matter" with "intelligence and care, giving young readers enough information to form their own opinions."
In Ten Mice for Tet!—a collaboration with fellow Connecticut resident Cynthia Weill—Shea creates a counting book for children based on the Vietnamese New Year: the Tet. Shea and Weill incorporate ten mice as their central characters and describe how each mouse prepares for the Tet. Besides including illustrations based on Vietnamese embroidered art, Ten Mice for Tet!also includes comprehensive end notes and a glossary of Vietnamese words. A contributor to Publishers Weekly commented that the book's end notes are "helpful and extensive" and added that the title "emphasizes how a culture's beliefs shape the observance of a holiday." Tali Balas, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the book's illustrations, which feature "remarkable, vividly colored" embroidery, "enhance the text," while another School Library Journal critic wrote that they "convey the exuberance" of an Asian holiday.
Shea has authored several nonfiction books for young readers, among them The Impeachment Process, which introduces the process by which a sitting U.S. president can be removed from office, and a biography of Ekaterina Gordeeva. The winner of two Olympic gold medals for figure skating, Gordeeva was left widowed after her husband and skating partner, Sergei Grinkov, died prematurely in 1995. Shea's story of the Russian-born skater's life and efforts to deal with personal tragedy "offers readers hope that although tragic things happen life goes on," wrote Barb Lawler in her review of Ekaterina Gordeeva for School Library Journal.
Shea pays tribute to one of America's most famous landmarks in Liberty Rising: The Story of the Statue of Liberty. In detailing the construction of the icon of America, Shea also explores the meaning of liberty. She begins the title by introducing young readers to Edouard de Laboulay, the French law professor who initiated the construction of the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States. Shea then takes readers into the building stages of the New York Harbor landmark, which was designed by French architect Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi. Horn Book contributor Vicky Smith stated that Shea's text "eschews florid delivery, relying upon the accretion of fact upon fact to convey the awe-inspiring nature of the task." Shea also includes a timeline, a French pronunciation guide, and a list of further readings that allows young historians to continue their exploration of the Statue of Liberty story. Jennifer Mattson, writing in Booklist, remarked that Liberty Rising "provides a smooth entree to classroom discussions of our nation's founding ideals."
Shea told SATA: "My personality was formed by loving parents who demanded the best in everything we did. Growing up with four brothers and no sisters taught me to be tough, assertive, and strong. These qualities have helped me get over the 300-plus rejections in my writing career. I also cheered for twelve years, so my attitude is 'That's all right. That's okay. I'm going to beat you any way.' I never back down from a challenge. I never give up.
"My books spring from an insatiable curiosity in people—especially children—around the world. I have traveled all throughout Europe (my fave is France, because je parle Français) and widely in America. My trip to Thailand changed my life. My friend Susan was working in refugee camps, and I witnessed homelessness and despair in more than 40,000 people cramped, without electricity, phone, and running water, for years. My experience made me realize how fortunate we Americans are; I vowed to devote much of my writing efforts to human rights, especially children's rights. I've written about what war does to them (The Whispering Cloth, Tangled Threads); how forced labor robs children of their youth and education—their lives (The Carpet Boy's Gift and Abe in Arms [a novel in progress]); and books that celebrate the arts and cultures of children a world away (Ten Mice for Tet!). My book Liberty Rising is my gift to Americans to remind them how valuable our freedom is.
"Unlike many writers, I don't sit down and write every day. I usually plan two solid days of writing each week. I don't like a clock telling me I only have two hours a day to write. Once I get into a story or article, I don't want to come out. I visit a lot of schools to share my writing process—and even more important—my rewriting process. My writers group meets once a week to critique each other's work, and my stuff gets better and better until I feel it's ready to leave my incubator and fly to an editor. A first draft is like dumping a can of Play-doh onto a table. It looks cool and smells great! But it doesn't do anything until I play with it and mold it, squash it, try new ideas.
"Personally, I love playing anything with my two kids—sports, card games, board games, pool, air hockey, chess, chase with our naughty but loveable dog Sonny. My husband and I believe a healthy sense of humor can get anyone through the day, so we laugh a lot. I read constantly. Your 'output' is only as good as your 'input.' So feed your creativity all the time, and I may be reading your name here in the future!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, January 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of The Whispering Cloth: A Refugee's Story, p. 827; January, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of New Moon, p. 870; May 15, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of I See Me!, p. 1749; January 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Carpet Boy's Gift, p. 860; August, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Liberty Rising: The Story of the Statue of Liberty, p. 202.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1995, Elizabeth Bush, review of The Whispering Cloth, p. 250.
Children's Book Review Service, September, 1996, review of New Moon, p. 6.
Horn Book, July-August, 1991, Ellen Fader, review of Bungalow Fungalow, p. 473; September-October, 2005, Vicky Smith, review of Liberty Rising, p. 608.
Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1994, review of The Whispering Cloth, p. 61; December 15, 2003, review of Ten Mice for Tet!, p. 71.
School Library Journal, June, 1991, Andrew W. Hunter, review of Bungalow Fungalow, p. 98; January 1, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of New Moon, p. 879; April, 1999, Barb Lawler, review of Ekaterina Gordeeva, pp. 156-157; August, 2000, Linda Beck, review of The Impeachment Process, p. 202; November, 2003, Allison Follos, review of Tangled Threads: A Hmong Girl's Story, p. 148; December, 2003, Tali Balas, review of Ten Mice for Tet!, p. 140; February, 2004, Sue Morgan, review of The Carpet Boy's Gift, p. 122; October, 2004, review of Ten Mice for Tet!, p. S22.
Pegi Deitz Shea Home Page, http://www.pegideitzshea.com (June 5, 2006).
Boyds Mills Press Web site, http://www.boydsmillspress.com/ (June 5, 2006), "Pegi Deitz Shea."