St. George, Judith 1931–
St. George, Judith 1931–
Born February 26, 1931, in Westfield, NJ; daughter of John H. (a lawyer) and Edna (maiden name, Perkins) Alexander; married David St. George (an Episcopal minister), June 5, 1954; children: Peter, James, Philip, Sarah. Education: Smith College, B.A., 1952. Religion: Episcopalian.
Home —8 Binney Rd., Old Lyme, CT 06371.
Suburban Frontiers (re-locating service), Basking Ridge, NJ, president, 1968–71; writer, 1970–. Rutgers University, Rutgers, NJ, instructor in children's writing and member of advisory council on children's literature; Brooklyn Bridge Centennial Commission, commissioner; York Correctional Institution, Niantic, CT, instructor in creative writing.
Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America.
Best books for spring list, Saturday Review, 1976, for By George, Bloomers!; runner-up, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Mystery Writers of America, 1979, for The Halloween Pumpkin Smasher; Children's Choice book, Children's Book Council (CBC)/International Reading Association, and New York Times Best Mystery designation, both 1980, both for Haunted; named American Library Association (ALA) Notable Book, American Book Award Honor Book, Golden Kite Honor Book, and New York Times notable book, all 1982, and New York Academy of Sciences award, 1983, all for The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built; New Jersey Institute of Technology children's literature award, 1983, for Do You See What I See?, 1988, for Who's Scared? Not Me!, 1989, and Golden Kite Nonfiction Award, and ALA Notable Book designation, all for Panama Canal: Gateway to the World; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council on the Social Studies/CBC, ALA No-table Book designation, and Golden Kite Honor Book designation, all 1985, and Christopher Award, and Claremont Graduate School Recognition of Merit Award, both 1986, all for The Mount Rushmore Story; best juvenile novel award, Voice of Youth Advocates, 1986, for What's Happening to My Junior Year?; Recommended Books for Teenagers, 1992, for Mason and Dixon's Line of Fire; Young Hoosier Book Award, 1994–95, Notable Book in the Field of Social Studies, and William Allen White Book Award, 1993–94, all for Dear Dr. Bell … Your Friend Helen Keller; Young Adult's Choices, IRA/CBC, 1998, for To See with the Heart: The Life of Sitting Bull; New York State Book Award, Sons of the American Revolution, 1998, for Betsy Ross: Patriot of Philadelphia; Caldecott Medal, 2000, and ALA Notable Book designation, 2001, both for So You Want to Be President.
FOR YOUNG PEOPLE; FICTION
Turncoat Winter; Rebel Spring, Chilton, 1970.
The Girl with Spunk, Putnam (New York, NY), 1975.
By George, Bloomers!, Coward (New York, NY), 1976.
The Chinese Puzzle of Shag Island, Putnam (New York, NY), 1976.
The Shad Are Running, Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
The Shadow of the Shaman, Putnam (New York, NY), 1977.
The Halloween Pumpkin Smasher, Putnam (New York, NY), 1978.
The Halo Wind, Putnam (New York, NY), 1978.
Mystery at St. Martin's, Putnam (New York, NY), 1979.
Haunted, Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.
Call Me Margo, Putnam (New York, NY), 1981.
The Mysterious Girl in the Garden, Putnam (New York, NY), 1981.
Do You See What I See?, Putnam (New York, NY), 1982.
In the Shadow of the Bear, Putnam (New York, NY), 1983.
What's Happening to My Junior Year?, Putnam (New York, NY), 1986.
Who's Scared? Not Me!, Putnam (New York, NY), 1987.
The Amazing Voyage of the New Orleans, Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.
The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built, Putnam (New York, NY), 1982.
The Mount Rushmore Story, Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
Panama Canal: Gateway to the World, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
The White House: Cornerstone of a Nation, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
Mason and Dixon's Line of Fire, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.
Dear Dr. Bell … Your Friend, Helen Keller, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.
Crazy Horse, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
To See with the Heart: The Life of Sitting Bull, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
Sacagawea, Putnam (New York, NY), 1997.
Betsy Ross: Patriot of Philadelphia, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
In the Line of Fire: President's Lives at Stake, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1999.
So You Want to Be President?, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2000.
John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2001.
So You Want to Be an Inventor?, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2002.
You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2004.
So You Want to Be an Explorer?, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Take the Lead, George Washington, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The One and Only Declaration of Independence, Philomel Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Judith St. George writes both historical fiction and non-fiction, blending elements of mystery and exciting action along with closely detailed research to come up with such award-winning titles as Haunted, The Halloween Pumpkin Smasher, In the Shadow of the Bear, The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built, and The Mount Rushmore Story. Employing large elements of personal experience in both her fiction and nonfiction, St. George often writes of young girls confronting challenging situations, and of the importance of friendship and family history.
Born in Westfield, New Jersey, in 1931, St. George was raised during the Great Depression and had close contact with grandparents on both sides. Her childhood was, as she typified it in an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS ), "idyllic." Raised in a close and loving family, St. George did not greatly feel the effects of the Depression years. Instead, her childhood memories are filled with the escapades of her four best friends on Maple Street in quiet Westfield, of hopscotch and roller skating in the summer months, and of making snow angels and playing hockey on a frozen pond in winter. Her older brother, Jack, and younger sister, Anne, both influenced these early years as well, and they also found their way into the pages of her fiction. In her SAAS entry, St. George recalled herself being "terribly shy" and a "worrier" as a child. Though she was a slight, gangly girl, she excelled at sports; "I have to admit that being selected as the only girl to play on the boys' sixth-grade baseball team still remains a high moment of my school career," the author recalled in SAAS.
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St. George's parents were a strong influence in her life. High school sweethearts, her parents remained married for sixty-one years. Her father was an inveterate reader who "always had his nose in a book," and was the one who taught St. George the importance of ethics and integrity, the two words most often used to describe him. Her mother devoted her life to her family and provided a nurturing and secure environment. Another "powerful factor in the growing up years was having two sets of grandparents, who also lived in Westfield," St. George noted in SAAS. Her paternal grandfather, "rather foreboding," was the model for the stern father figures in her fiction, while her maternal grandparents, the Perkinses, were "another set of warm, loving, and caring parents." St. George spent a weekly overnight with the Perkinses, listening to the tales of her mother's grandfather, who had been a sea captain for thirty-five years. These stories have also found their way into her fiction.
"I have no recollection of when I learned to read," St. George wrote in SAAS, "probably in the first grade like everyone else." Once started, she coursed through everything from "Nancy Drew" mysteries to movie magazines and comics. "There was no question that reading became a permanent habit," St. George recalled in SAAS, "and to this day, if I'm not in the middle of a book, I feel a distinct void in my life." If she is vague about when she learned to read, St. George is very exact about when she first began writing: In October of 1941 she composed a play for her sixth-grade class, a reflective drama featuring four matrons sitting around a tea table reminiscing about their classmates of fifty years before. From a very early age, friendship formed a core to her life, and it takes on equally great importance in the pages of her books.
If her years at elementary school were serene, those spent at "fortress-like" Roosevelt Junior High were less so. Placed in different classes from her old friends, St. George reverted to shyness. The same year she began junior high, her paternal grandfather died, and her family moved into his large, imposing home in Westfield. Always afraid of the dark, St. George's fears were compounded in this draughty old house with its five exterior doors and several unused rooms on the second floor.
She continued her reading and sports—adding tennis to her favorite competitions—and at age fifteen was sent to boarding school. The next two years were, according to St. George in SAAS, "among my unhappiest." Not only did she have trouble making friends, but she also had an English teacher who made her feel "truly hopeless." All these experiences would provide grist for St. George's literary mill, however, and furnish her with scene, character, and incident for her fiction.
In 1948 St. George entered Smith College and experienced "the most wonderful and fulfilling" four years "any college student could ask for," she noted in SAAS. She formed close friendships and was fortunate to study English in a department full of world-class instructors. She also wrote for and edited the college humor magazine, the Campus Cat, and continued her enjoyment of athletics. After graduation, she moved in with several friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Two years later she married David St. George, who was studying to become an Episcopal minister. St. George then "lapsed into the 50's syndrome of house-keeping with a capital H," as she once told Something about the Author. After her first child, she and her husband moved to Eastern Oregon for his ministry, serving a population of less than 6,000 in a county the size of New Jersey. St. George soon found friends and settled into her new life. Another son was born, and then her husband received a ministry in New Jersey, where her next two children were born. "Those were baby years for me," St. George noted in SAAS, "filled with pregnancies, diapers, mumps, measles, chicken pox, colds, and little else." In New Jersey she was close to her parents again, as well as to her grandparents, who all took an active role in helping with her children.
By the time her youngest child was three years old, St. George began "to feel a definite itch," desiring to do more with herself than parenting. Another move, this time to Millington, New Jersey, near Morristown, set her researching the Revolutionary War, for it was there that George Washington and his troops once wintered. As a young reader, St. George had been hooked on historical fiction; now she began creating it herself, working on her old college typewriter. Soon she had a book, Turncoat Winter; Rebel Spring, the story of a fourteen-year-old patriot boy in the winter of 1779–80 who is torn between protecting a friend who saved him and turning him in as a British spy. After nine rejections, she finally sold the book. Now the typewriter came out of hiding. But the second book went unpublished, and it was not until her third, The Girl with Spunk, that she began publishing regularly.
Set in 1848 in a town in New York, The Girl with Spunk tells the story of fourteen-year-old Josie who loses her job due to gossip and finds help in the fledgling women's rights movement. In the end, she has hopes that maybe she can eventually become a naturalist in a world controlled by men. Barbara Elleman, writing in Booklist, felt that the book is a "memorable recreation of a young girl's struggles against the attitudes of the times," while a Kirkus Reviews critic noted that there "is a sprinkling of ginger in Josie; her trials are realistic … and those who take their adventures on the tame side and their consciousness raising in small stages can share her growing imagination." Josie's habit of stuttering when faced with a threatening situation is a direct writing from life. The use of such real-life material became a hallmark for St. George's work.
St. George continued with historical fiction for her next title, By George, Bloomers!, set in the mid-nineteenth
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century and dealing with the disapproval that eight-year-old Hannah suffers when she wants to wear a pair of the new and daring lady's apparel, bloomers. She eventually wins the right to wear these pants after rescuing her brother from the roof in a story that "gives historical perspective" and that is both "pleasantly told and illustrated," according to a reviewer in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.
St. George employs both her maternal grandfather's reminiscences of a seafaring life and the domineering character of her paternal grandfather, and even indulges in her love for mysteries and spooky ghosts, in The Chinese Puzzle of Shag Island. Young Kim Laudall goes to her family's ancestral home, Shag Island off the coast of Maine, to visit her supposedly senile ninety-three-year-old great-grandfather. He protests against selling his imposing mansion, and soon Kim is involved in a "Yankee gothic, with clues and curios," according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Some of these "curios" are the ghosts of Chinese pirates who may be haunting the house, though, according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "Everything is satisfactorily explained at the end of a fresh, entertaining mystery for young buffs of the genre."
St. George's paternal grandfather also inspires the demanding father figure in The Shad Are Running, an historical novel that is partly based on the sport of racing Hudson River steamboats in the 1830s. Young Corny Van Loon overcomes his fear of water and of his stern fisherman father when he alerts his village to the collision of steamboats and participates in the subsequent rescue process. Patricia S. Butcher, writing in School Library Journal, noted that the "plot moves along at a good clip, climaxed by a well described rescue scene."
With her fiction, St. George has continued to explore her twin loves: history and mystery. In The Halo Wind, set along the Oregon Trail in 1845, St. George describes a mystery surrounding a young Chinook girl who joins a group of settlers and details the actual hardships such a journey involved in "a nicely balanced and well-written novel," according to Ann Flowers in Horn Book. Blending a contemporary setting with fantasy time-travel, St. George evoked nineteenth-century England in The Mysterious Girl in the Garden and the life of the naturalist painter, James Audubon, in Who's Scared? Not Me!
Other St. George fiction titles remain firmly planted in contemporary times and deal with adventure and suspense, as in the award-winning Haunted, the story of sixteen-year-old Alex who is hired to house-sit an estate which was recently the scene of a murder-suicide. Drew Stevenson, writing in School Library Journal, found the book to be "St. George's suspense at its best." Young male protagonists star in the mystery-adventures The Shadow of the Shaman, set in Oregon, and Do You See What I See?, set on Cape Cod. The former involves mysterious Indian charms and a rickety old lodge in a story with a "brisk" pace and "colorful" scenery, according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, while the latter is, as Judith Geer noted in Voice of Youth Advocates, "an excellently written story with firm characterization and suspense enough to curl your toes." Church business and counterfeit money come into play in Mystery at St. Martin's, an opportunity for St. George to use material drawn from her husband's career, while adventures in Alaska involving a wilderness-trek and U.S.-Soviet relations form the core of the thriller In the Shadow of the Bear. In Call Me Margo and What's Happening to My Junior Year? St. George tackles material dealing with her own boarding-school years.
Mor recently, St. George's fiction has given way to nonfiction. Starting with her first factual book, The Amazing Voyage of the New Orleans, she has created award-winning titles dealing with everything from a history of the Brooklyn Bridge to biographies of Native Americans and a profile of the U.S. presidency. Writing in SAAS, St. George noted that she began to realize that "nonfiction was a whole new field for me, a field in which I felt very much at ease."
In The Amazing Voyage of the New Orleans, St. George tells the story of the first steamboat to travel down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in 1811. Booklist critic Elleman noted that the book "is recounted in an amiable, amusing narrative." In The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built she hit her stride with nonfiction, and much of her best creative effort has been devoted to that genre since 1982. The book's publication coincided with the centennial of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the work relates the seemingly impossible job of building a bridge over the East River in the nineteenth century, and focuses on the Roebling family, two of whose members were chief engineers on the project. "The author touches gently upon the personal trials and torments of this remarkable family, celebrating instead their public triumphs," Shirley Wilton stated in School Library Journal. Writing in Horn Book, Karen Jameyson called the book a "fascinating history."
Other famous man-made structures—both imaginary and real—are described in The Mount Rushmore Story, Panama Canal: Gateway to the World, The White House: Cornerstone of a Nation, Mason and Dixon's Line of Fire and Dear Dr. Bell … Your Friend, Helen Keller. For the award-winning book about Mount Rushmore, St. George climbed atop the Black Hills monument for her own personal up-close look, and blended stories of the sculptor Gutzon Borglum with those of the Sioux Indians for whom the Black Hills of South Dakota are a spiritual home. "The Mount Rushmore Story is a fine acquisition for basic general information and details," concluded George Gleason in a School Library Journal review of the work.
More recent nonfiction works by St. George have examined the lives of notable Native Americans, including the Oglala warrior, Crazy Horse, the Hunkpapa Sioux chief, Sitting Bull, and Sacagawea of Lewis and Clark fame. Daniel Menaker, writing in the New Yorker, called St. George's Crazy Horse a "soundly written biography," while a Publishers Weekly critic noted that To See with the Heart: The Life of Sitting Bull is "a biography of unusual depth."
In the Line of Fire: President's Lives at Stake tells the stories of those presidents who have been the victims of assassination or targets of assassination attempts. The four presidents to have been killed by assassins—Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy—are given a full chapter each. The motives of their killers, the medical treatment they received in an effort to save their lives, and their accomplishments while in office are highlighted. The book's concluding section covers seven presidents who were violently attacked but survived, including Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. Randy Meyer in Booklist called the book "a thorough account of our history of presidential assassinations."
St. George examines the top job in the United States in the Caldecott Medal-winning So You Want to Be President? She begins by presenting the job's advantages and disadvantages. St. George then considers qualifications for the job, comparing forty-one presidents on the basis of upbringing, personality, physical appearance, educational background, and other factors. The book closes with the presidential oath of office and includes an appendix that chronologically lists the presidents, along with biographical data, terms of office, and brief
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summaries of their tenures. Carolyn Phelan, writing in Booklist, stressed the book's "sense of the significance and dignity of the office and the faith that children still aspire to be president." A reviewer for Horn Book found the book to be "positively inspiring," while a critic for Publishers Weekly dubbed it "a clever and engrossing approach to the men who have led America."
So You Want to Be an Inventor? takes a similar approach to another childhood career aspiration. Here St. George tells the stories of many famous inventors, including Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, and Clarence Birdseye, to illustrate the qualities it takes to be a successful inventor. Among those qualities are persistence, stubbornness, and the ability to dream. Dona Ratterree, writing in School Library Journal, called the book "a skewed, funny, and informative look at the history of inventions and their inventors," while a critic for Publishers Weekly praised the book's "lighthearted style."
St. George recounts a real-life love story in her book John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story. John Adams was America's second president and a leading figure in the events that led up to the American Revolution. He and his wife Abigail were married for fifty-four years. Much of their voluminous correspondence has survived, and St. George makes use of this material to present the details of their long and happy relationship. "The history is solid," according to Randy Meyer in Booklist, and "there's a good deal of information here." "Readers will enjoy this look at the romance of these two patriots who worked so tirelessly for their country," a critic for Publishers Weekly maintained. Kitty Flynn, writing in Horn Book, found that "St. George succeeds in humanizing her subjects and in fleshing out complicated social and political events."
While finding research to be "fun," as she noted in her SAAS entry, St. George concluded that "it's the writing that's hard. Writing is hard for me. Is that because I make more demands on myself with each new book? I hope that's the reason, but I'm not sure. All I know is that I want my readers to care as much about the outcome of historical events as if they were reading today's headlines."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Sixth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1989.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 12, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Booklist, February 15, 1976, Barbara Elleman, review of The Girl with Spunk, p. 857; March 15, 1977, p. 1101; October 15, 1978, p. 386; January 1, 1980, p. 669; May 1, 1980, Barbara Elleman, review of The Amazing Voyage of the New Orleans, pp. 1298-1299; November 1, 1980, p. 401; January 1, 1982, p. 599; January 15, 1982, p. 668; December 15, 1986, p. 642; November 15, 1987, p. 555; March 1, 1996, p. 1174; August, 1997, Lauren Peterson, review of Sacagawea, p. 1896; January 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Betsy Ross: Patriot of Philadelphia, p. 807; December 1, 1999, Randy Meyer, review of In the Line of Fire, p. 692; July, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of So You Want to Be President?, p. 2034; November 1, 2001, Randy Meyer, review of John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story, p. 466; August, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of So You Want to Be an Inventor?, p. 1954; March 1, 2005, Ilene Cooper, review of The One and Only Declaration of Independence, p. 1201.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1976, p. 163; September, 1976, review of By George, Bloomers!, p. 17; October, 1976, pp. 30-31; December, 1977, p. 68; February, 1979, p. 105; February, 1980, p. 118; March, 1981, p. 138; September, 1981, p. 15; January, 1983, p. 96; January, 1987, p. 99; February, 1993, pp. 192-193; December, 1994, pp. 145-146; January, 1998, p. 178.
Horn Book, February, 1979, Ann Flowers, review of The Halo Wind, p. 66; August, 1980, p. 430; August, 1982, Karen Jameyson, review of The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built, pp. 425-426; July, 2000, review of So You Want to Be President?, p. 476; January-February, 2002, Kitty Flynn, review of John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story, p. 107; September-October, 2002, Betty Carter, review of So You Want to Be an Inventor?, p. 601; September-October, 2004, Betty Carter, review of You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt, p. 608.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1975, review of The Girl With Spunk, p. 1336; February 1, 1976, p. 132; May 15, 1976, review of The Chinese Puzzle of Shag Island, p. 594; January 15, 1978, review of The Shadow of the Shaman, p. 47; May 1, 1982, pp. 557-558; November 1, 1983, p. 207; October 1, 2001, review of John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story, p. 1434; July 15, 2002, review of So You Want to Be an Inventor?, p. 1044; August 15, 2004, review of You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt, p. 813; December 15, 2004, review of Take the Lead, George Washington, p. 1208.
New Yorker, December 12, 1994, Daniel Menaker, review of Crazy Horse, p. 118.
Publishers Weekly, May 3, 1976, review of The Chinese Puzzle of Shag Island, p. 64; November 9, 1992, p. 88; May 27, 1996, review of To See with the Heart: The Life of Sitting Bull, p. 80; June 30, 1997, review of Sacagawea, p. 77; December 13, 1999, review of In the Line of Fire, p. 84; July 17, 2000, review of So You Want to Be President?, p. 193; October 1, 2001, review of John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story, p. 62; July 1, 2002, review of So You Want to Be an Inventor?, p. 77; September 13, 2004, review of You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt, p. 78.
School Library Journal, September, 1977, Patricia S. Butcher, review of The Shad Are Running, p. 137; August, 1980, p. 70; December, 1980, Drew Stevenson, review of Haunted, p. 74; December, 1981, p. 68; February, 1983, Shirley Wilton, review of The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn't Be Built, p. 92; February, 1984, p. 85; October, 1985, George Gleason, review of The Mount Rushmore Story, p. 188; February, 1987, p. 85; November, 1994, p. 117; July, 1996, pp. 96-97; February, 1998, p. 124; March, 1998, p. 242; December, 2001, Shauna Yusko, review of John and Abigail Adams: An American Love Story, p. 171; September, 2002, Dona Ratterree, review of So You Want to Be an Inventor?, p. 251; March, 2003, Renee Steinberg, review of Sacagawea, p. 173; October, 2003, review of So You Want to Be President? (audiobook), p. S23; October, 2004, Margaret Bush, review of You're on Your Way, Teddy Roosevelt, p. 150; January, 2005, Ann Welton, review of Take the Lead, George Washington, p. 114.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1982, Judith Geer, review of Do You See What I See?, pp. 35-36.