Born in Gettysburg, PA. Education: Attended Middlebury College and Oxford University.
Agent— c/o Author Mail, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York, NY 10003.
Prop man for film industry in New York, NY; freelance writer; teacher of creative writing. New York Library Summer Seminar for High School English Teachers (summer program), dean; workshop presenter. Open Society, independent project fellow. Co-founder, Chapbooks.com (Web site). Speaker and lecturer.
Grants from Spencer Foundation, Overbrook Foundation, Johnson Family Foundation, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, National Broadcasting Corporation, and Teaching Tolerance; Books for a Better life award, and Christopher Award, both 2005, both for I Am a Pencil; William Randolph Hearst fellowship.
The Araboolies of Liberty Street, illustrated by Barry Root, Potter (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Katya Arnold) Katya's Book of Mushrooms (nonfiction), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
The Krazees, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1997.
Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, illustrated by Sue Riddle, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York. NY), 2000.
Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, illustrated by Carll Cneut, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
(Editor with Donald Letcher Goddard) Saving Wildlife: A Century of Conservation, H. Abrams (New York, NY), 1995.
I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories (nonfiction), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Parenting, New York Times Book Review, Threepenny Review, Teacher, Voices from the Middle, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Utne Reader, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping.
The Araboolies of Liberty Street was adapted as an opera by Constance Congdon, music by Ronald Perera, Pear Tree Press (Northampton, MA), 2002; and as a musical. The Krazees was optioned for a film starring Robin Williams.
The written world is present in all facets of author Sam Swope's career. In addition to producing fiction and nonfiction for both children and adult readers, Swope helped found a short-lived but ambitious Web site to help teachers publish student writings, and also spends much of his time promoting creative writing through writers' and teachers' workshops. His nonfiction title I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories recounts Swope's experiences during the three years he taught a diverse group of elementary-school students at a Queens, New York City public school, following the students from grades three through five and watching as their talent and interests expanded. In Swope's first book for children, The Araboolies of Liberty Street, General Pinch and his wife maintain order and quiet on Liberty Street, because everyone nearby knows that the General will call in the army on anyone who deviates from the norm. Then the Araboolies move in, a big family whose members do not speak English and can change their skin color at will. They paint their house in bright zigzags, camp out in their yard, and draw the neighborhood children into their games and colorful lifestyle. When the General orders the army to remove the "different" house, a young girl named Joy enlists the other children to decorate all the houses except the General's with bright paint and balloons. By the time the army arrives, the General's house is the house that is different, and he himself is dragged away. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that although Swope's message about conformity "is wordy and repetitive … the messages of freedom, individualism and tolerance are strong." Praising the picture book in a Booklist review, Deborah Abbott dubbed The Araboolies of Liberty Street "thought-provoking at any age."
The nature-focused picture book Katya's Book of Mushrooms was co-authored with Katya Arnold, who grew up in Russia where mushrooming is popular. "Perhaps this explains the convivial tone, unusual in a science book," surmised Diana Lutz in a Horn Book review. The book is written for the younger reader, and is intended, according to Arnold, as an introduction that "will help families discover the special excitement of hunting and naming mushrooms." The coauthors use folk names together with scientific names and illustrations ranging from paintings and cartoons to artwork resembling woodcuts. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Katya's Book of Mushrooms "Fungal fervor at its most contagious."
Noting that the book is "heavy with nonsense words," a contributor to Kirkus Reviews called Swope's The Krazees "a properly silly read-aloud." "Children of all ages will recognize the Krazees, nutty creatures that infest a too-quiet house and attack only on rainy days," wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, describing the book as "a gleeful fantasy for wet-weather shut-ins." The Krazees are checkered, striped, and polka-dotted creatures who appear to a girl named Iggie. They do their mischief in her cupboards, television, and refrigerator, disappearing when the sun reappears. School Library Journal reviewer Heide Piehler compared Swope's style to that of popular children's author Dr. Seuss, and noted that although his cadence is not "as smooth or successful," Swope's "nonsensical rhyming text, filled with alliteration and word play, is sure to elicit giggles." Swope follows the life of a monarch caterpillar in Gotta Go! Gotta Go! As the story opens, a black and yellow bug is hustling across an open meadow, determined to make the 3,000-mile trip south to Mexico. Ultimately exhausted, the bug falls asleep, and awakens as a butterfly. Easily making the journey to Mexico, the butterfly joins a mass migration of monarchs, and when she hatches a new generation of bugs Swope's tale encompasses the insect's life cycle. Noting that the book's "simple and urgent" text effectively conveys the monarch's "powerful instinct," Hazel Rochman added in her Booklist review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go! that Swope's "rhythmic storytelling bears repeated readings." "The clarity of the storytelling and artwork match the heroine's determination," added a Publishers Weekly reviewer, noting that illustrator Sue Riddle "complements the lucid narration with charming ink-and-watercolor miniatures."
Combining the Biblical tale of the Seven Deadly Sins with the familiar folk story about Jack and the bean-stalk, Swope's short children's novel Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants focuses on a young miscreant foster child. After misconstruing a minister's warning that some marauding giants might be attracted to the village by evil-doers, young Jack leaves his village to wander the countryside, a cow his only companion. During his travels he encounters a strange man who presents him with the gift of a magic bean in return for Jack's kindness. This gift sends the boy on a trip during which he must overcome seven giants before receiving his wish of being reunited with his true mother. Sloth, Wild Tickler, Terrible Glutton, and four other overgrown ne'er-do-wells cross Jack's path and are vanquished in turn. Calling the book an "inventive melange" of literary sources, Booklist reviewer Abby Nolan praised Jack and the Seven Deadly Sins for its "concise, graceful language" as well as illustrator Carll Cneut's "off-kilter" artwork. Reviewing the book in Horn Book, Christine M. Heppermann noted that Swope's message—"that hands-on learning is more effective than being lectured at"—is clearly reflected in an entertaining story that has the "spontaneous feel of a bedtime story, spun out over a week of nights."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1989, p. 560; February 15, 1991, p. 1214; April 1, 1997, Chris Sherman, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 1326; June 1, 1997, p. 1675; November 15, 1997, review of The Krazees, p. 567; March 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, p. 1243; May 15, 2004, Abby Nolan, review of Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, p. 1622; August, 2004, Deborah Donovan, review of I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories, p. 1882.
Horn Book, July, 1989, p. 60; May-June, 1997, Diana Lutz, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 336; May, 2000, Maria V. Paravanno, review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, p. 300; May-June, 2004, Christine M. Heppermann, review of Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, p. 336.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1997, p. 1313; June 15, 2004, review of I Am a Pencil, p. 572.
Library Journal, September 15, 2004, Terry Christner, review of I Am a Pencil, p. 67.
New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1989, p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1989, p. 457; April 17, 1995, p. 49; March 3, 1997, review of Katya's Book of Mushrooms, p. 75; June 23, 1997, review of The Krazees, p. 90; January 31, 2000, review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, p. 105; May 17, 2004, review of Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, p. 50; May 31, 2004, review of I Am a Pencil, p. 58.
School Library Journal, December, 1989, p. 90; April, 1997, p. 143; December, 1997, p. 101; May, 2000, Patricia Manning, review of Gotta Go! Gotta Go!, p.156; May, 2004, Maria B. Salvadore, review of Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants, p. 125.
Sam Swope Web site, http://www.samswope.org/ (December 2, 2004).