Thomas, Frances 1943–

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Thomas, Frances 1943–

Personal

Born October 21, 1943, in Aberdare, Wales; daughter of David Elwyn (a teacher) and Agnes (a teacher; maiden name, Connor) Thomas; married Richard Rathbone (a university professor), 1965; children: Harriet, Lucy. Education: Queen Mary College, London, B.A. (with honors), 1965. Politics: British Labour Party.

Addresses

Home—London, England. Agent—David Higham Associates, 5-8, Lower John St., London W1R 4HA, England. E-mail[email protected]

Career

Writer. Former school teacher. Exhibit consultant to National Portrait Gallery, 1994.

Awards, Honors

Tir Na n-Og Prize, 1981, for The Blindfold Track, 1986, for The Region of the Summer Stars, and 1992, for Who Stole a Bloater?; Whitbread First Novel Award runner-up, 1986, and Welsh Arts Council Fiction Prize, 1991, both for Seeing Things; Scottish Arts Council Award (with Ross Collins), 1999, for Supposing….

Writings

FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

The Blindfold Track (first novel in "Taliesin" trilogy), Macmillan (London, England), 1980.

Secrets (middle-grade reader), illustrated by Lazlo Acs, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1982.

A Knot of Spells (second novel in "Taliesin" trilogy), Barn Owl Press, 1983.

Dear Comrade (for young adults), Bodley Head (London, England), 1983.

Zak (for young adults), Bodley Head (London, England), 1984.

The Region of the Summer Stars (third novel in "Taliesin" trilogy), Barn Owl Press, 1985.

Cityscape (for young adults), Heinemann (London, England), 1988.

Jam for Tea, Collins Educational (London, England), 1989.

The Prince and the Cave, Pont Books/WJEC Welsh History Project, 1991.

Who Stole a Bloater?, Seren Books, 1991, with illustrations by Lorraine Bewsey, 1998.

The Bear and Mr. Bear, illustrated by Ruth Brown, Dut-ton's Children's Books (New York, NY), 1994, published as Mr Bear and the Bear, Andersen Press (London, England), 1994.

Supposing …, illustrated by Ross Collins, Bloomsbury Children's Books (London, England), 1998, published as What If?, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1998.

Polly's Running Away Book, illustrated by Sally Gardner, Bloomsbury Children's Books (London, England), 2000, published as Polly's Really Secret Diary, Delacorte (New York, NY), 2002.

Maybe One Day, illustrated by Ross Colins, Bloomsday Children's Books (London, England), 2001, published as One Day, Daddy, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.

Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, illustrated by Sally Gardner, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2001, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2003.

I Found Your Diary (young-adult novel), Andersen (London, England), 2004.

Little Monster's Book of Opposites, illustrated by Ross Collins, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2005.

Little Monster's Book of Numbers, illustrated by Ross Collins, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2005.

FOR ADULTS

Seeing Things (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1986.

The Fall of Man (novel), Gollancz (London, England), 1989.

Christina Rossetti: A Biography, Virago (London, England), 1994.

Adaptations

Who Stole a Bloater? was dramatized on the television program Jackanory, BBC Television, 1993.

Work in Progress

Nowhere to Run, for Gomer Press.

Sidelights

Welsh author Frances Thomas began her writing career, appropriately enough, with an historical fantasy set in her homeland. Referring to the Celtic epic, The Mabinogion, for inspiration, Thomas decided to write about the legend of Taliesin. The Blindfold Track, the first of Thomas's three books on the subject, follows the adventures of the boy Gwion, who is abandoned as a child, raised by a prince, taught by Merlin the magician, and eventually becomes the famed bard Taliesin. Margery Fisher wrote in Growing Point that in this retelling, Thomas depicts a "modern psychological view of a boy growing up" in a time now veiled in legend. Although School Librarian contributor Dennis Hamley felt that the dialogue was too "modern-sounding," Junior Bookshelf reviewer R. Baines called Thomas's first tale "a well-written, absorbing and enjoyable book." The Blind-fold Track won the 1981 Tir Na n-Og Prize, and Thomas followed this success three years later with a sequel, A Knot of Spells. "The book mingles high politics and archaeology, military exploits and romantic affections," according to Fisher, the critic adding that this time the magical elements of Taliesin's story are "subordinated" in favor of concentrating on the characters' relationships. In this complex tale, noted Junior Bookshelf contributor D.A. Young, an "enthusiasm for all things Welsh on the part of a reader" is helpful in maintaining interest in the involved storyline.

Thomas, who educates dyslexic children in her home, has also written other books for young readers that feature a present-day setting. Dear Comrade follows the written correspondences between Kate Bannister and Paul Miles as they slowly grow to love each other despite their completely opposing political views (he leans to the right, and she to the left). Kate and Paul argue about the law and other political matters, never coming to a consensus (though they do change their views a
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little), so that the reader must decide for himself who is in the right. Dennis Hamley, writing in School Librarian, found the two characters "convincing, funny and moving."

Told from the perspective of a teenager named Mark, the young-adult novel Zak is about teens who are unhappy with who they are. Mark is bored silly by his life at school and at home, until a new kid named Zak comes to his school. Zak impresses everyone with his stories of living in Los Angeles with his father, whom he insists is a famous rock star. But when Mark visits Zak's home, he realizes the lies behind these stories. The book ends with Zak's disappearance and Mark going back to his original best friend and making amends. Young readers "will sympathise with the boredom and be entertained by Mark's contempt for adults," Margaret Campbell said in School Librarian.

In Cityscape Thomas demonstrates again her ability to write in different genres: in this case, science fiction/ fantasy. Fifteen-year-old Debra Stober discovers on her route to school that an old Jacobean mansion has doors that lead to cities in other worlds. She "travels" to a world in the future ruled by the Guardians, who suppress their people by denying them the right to read books. Then Debra becomes attracted to Cal, a handsome man who is leading a democratic rebellion that needs Debra's help because she knows how to read and write. By teaching these people to read, Debra gains a new sense of purpose and inner pride that inspires her to accept the dangerous mission of going to the Poison Tower where the Guardians have secreted away all the books. The Guardians are overthrown, but Debra is disillusioned when she later returns to the city to discover that Cal is becoming just as corrupt as the Guardians were. Debra rejects the other world in favor of her home, to which she returns to begin a relationship with a new boyfriend. "Among the proliferation of metaphors for growing up," commented Fisher in Growing Point, "the image of alternative cityscapes provides valid insights into teenage personality and problems."

Geared for slightly younger readers, Polly's Really Secret Diary—published in England as Polly's Running Away Book—introduces what Booklist contributor Kelly Milner Halls called a "delightful protagonist" who is "as British as her London-raised creator." In her first outing, Polly is caught up in typical eight-year-old concerns, such a missing pet hamster, the pending arrival of a noisy new sibling, and parents who never take the family anywhere fun while friends and their families depart daily for Euro-Disney. As far as Polly is concerned, running away from home is the only option,… as soon as she can add to her net wealth of seventy-six pence and half a bag of yummy snack chips. With illustrations by Sally Gardner that include what a Publishers Weekly reviewer described as a "jaunty jumble" of margin art, Polly's Really Secret Diary features a "snappy monologue" reflecting its young authoress's "high energy and high spirits."

Things go from bad to worse in Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, as Horace the hamster goes from missing to dead, the chicken pox arrives and cancels her ninth birthday party, and little sister Mopsy is even more annoying than the itchy chicken pox are to the unhappily bed-bound birthday girl. Filled with what Booklist reviewer Kay Weisman described as "the kind of petulant whining characteristic" of the under-tens, Thomas's humorous storybook—complete with authentic mis-spellings—was praised by Carolyn Janssen in School Library Journal as a "charming addition for chapter-book shelves" of early elementary-grade readers.

Moving from young readers to the storyhour set, Thomas has created several picture books, among them Secrets, The Bear and Mr. Bear, What If?, and One Day, Daddy. Secrets is a simple story about "the social need for discretion and self-control," according to Growing Point reviewer Margery Fisher. It tells how two boys devise their own secret when a friend refuses to tell them hers. The Bear and Mr. Bear—published in England as Mr Bear and the Bear—is a sensitive tale about a man who takes pity on a dancing bear that is abused by its trainer. He buys the bear and sets it loose on the grounds of his home. The man, who is called Mr. Bear by the town's children because of his grumpy disposition, empathizes with the sad beast, and man and animal find solace and comfort in each other's company. School Library Journal contributor Tom S. Hurlburt deemed the book a "heartfelt, uplifting story."

What If?, which features illustrations by Ross Collins, introduces Little Monster, a character who has reappeared in several books by Thomas. In What If? the young monster's vivid imagination brings to life nighttime terrors that include a giant spider and a gaping hole in his bedroom floor, but the cheerful face of his monster mom, along with breakfast and a fun-filled day, chase away scary thoughts. Little Monster returns in One Day, Daddy, where a handmade, mocked-up spaceship heads skyward through the imagination of the youngster. Praising the "winsome dialogue" that expresses the close relationship between Little Monster and his loving father, a Publishers Weekly contributor added that Thomas's "amiable" tale will "bolster … a fledgling feeling of independence" among young listeners. Little Monster also appears in a pair of board books teaching basic concepts: Little Monster's Book of Numbers and Little Monster's Book of Opposites.

Having written historical fantasy, realistic young-adult novels, fantasy for teens, and picture books for small children, Thomas has proven her diversity as a writer. Now living in Wales, she continues to demonstrate her versatility by also writing novels for adults, and, in 1992, publishing her first biography for adults, Christina Rossetti: A Biography.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 15, 1995, Julie Yates Walton, review of The Bear and Mr. Bear, pp. 938, 940; July, 1999, John Peters, review of What If?, p. 1955; June 1, 2002, Kelly Milner Halls, review of Polly's Really Secret Diary, p. 1726; July, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 1892.

Books for Keeps, November, 1987.

Books for Your Children, spring, 1985, p. 18; summer, 1995, p. 21.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1999, review of What If?, p. 3.

Growing Point, September, 1980, Margery Fisher, review of The Blindfold Track, p. 3767; January, 1983, Margery Fisher, review of Secrets, pp. 4004-4005; May, 1984, Margery Fisher, review of A Knot of Spells, p. 4263; January, 1989, Margery Fisher, review of Cityscape, pp. 5092-5093.

Junior Bookshelf, August, 1980, R. Baines, review of The Blindfold Track, p. 201; February, 1983, p. 34; February, 1985, pp. 49-50; December, 1988, pp. 297-298; June, 1984, D.A. Young, review of A Knot of Spells, p. 146; February, 1995, p. 12.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 812.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1994, review of The Bear and Mr. Bear, p. 62; June 18, 2001, review of One Day, Daddy, p. 80; June 3, 2002, review of Polly's Really Secret Diary, p. 88.

School Librarian, June, 1981, Dennis Hamley, review of The Blindfold Track, p. 157; June, 1983, p. 143; June, 1984, Dennis Hamley, review of Dear Comrade, pp. 153-154; March, 1985, Margaret Campbell, review of Zak, p. 63; February, 1995, review of The Bear and Mr. Bear, p. 938; winter, 2000, review of Polly's Running Away Book, p. 203; winter, 2001, review of Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 203.

School Library Journal, March, 1995, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of The Bear and Mr. Bear, p. 187; September, 2001, Carolyn Janssen, review of One Day, Daddy, p. 207; August, 2002, Amy Stulz, review of Polly's Really Secret Diary, p. 171; November, 2003, Carolyn Janssen, review of Polly Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 116; November, 2005, Amelia Jenkins, review of Little Monster's Book of Numbers, p. 109.

Times Literary Supplement, November 25, 1983.

ONLINE

Bloomsbury Web site, http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (June 15, 2006), "Frances Thomas."

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Thomas, Frances 1943–

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