Thomas, Jane Resh 1936–
Thomas, Jane Resh 1936–
Born August 15, 1936, in Kalamazoo, MI; daughter of Reed Beneval (a salesman) and Thelma (a teacher; maiden name, Scott) Resh; married Richard Thomas (a copywriter), November 13, 1961; children: Jason. Education: Bronson School of Nursing, R.N., 1957; attended Michigan State University, 1959–60; University of Minnesota, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1967, M.A., 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Gardening.
Home—3121 44th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55406. E-mail—[email protected]
Worked as registered nurse, 1957–60; University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, instructor in English composition, 1967–80; freelance writer, 1972–; writing instructor for Split Rock Arts Program, The Loft, and private workshops, 1974–; Vermont College, instructor in MFA program; Hamline University, instructor in MFA program, 2007. Freelance editor of children's books, 1988–95; lecturer to children, teachers, and librarians about reading and writing children's literature. Book critic for Minneapolis Star Tribune and Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1972–.
Parent's Choice Award for fiction, for Courage at Indian Deep; American Booksellers Pick of the Lists citations, for Wheels and Fox in a Trap; Joan Fassler Award, 1989, American Library Association Notable Book citation, and Best of the Best for Children citation, all for Saying Good-bye to Grandma; British Children's Book Award Runner-up, for The Princess in the Pigpen; Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs' America's Children's and Young Adult Book Award Commended List, 1994, for Lights on the River; Kerlan Award, 2001, for contributions to children's literature; Minnesota Book Award, 1998, for Behind the Mask, and 2006, for Counterfeit Princess.
Elizabeth Catches a Fish, illustrated by Joseph Duffy, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1977.
The Comeback Dog, illustrated by Troy Howell, Clarion (New York, NY), 1981.
Courage at Indian Deep, Clarion (New York, NY), 1984.
Wheels, illustrated by Emily McCully, Clarion (New York, NY), 1986.
Fox in a Trap, illustrated by Troy Howell, Clarion (New York, NY), 1987.
Saying Good-bye to Grandma, illustrated by Marcia Se-wall, Clarion (New York, NY), 1988.
The Princess in the Pigpen, Clarion (New York, NY), 1989.
Lights on the River, illustrated by Michael Dooling, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1994.
Daddy Doesn't Have to Be a Giant Anymore, illustrated by Marcia Sewall, Clarion (New York, NY), 1996.
Scaredy Dog (chapter book), illustrated by Marilyn Mets, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1996.
Celebration!, illustrated by Raul Colon, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1997.
The Snoop, illustrated by Ronald Himler, Clarion (New York, NY), 1999.
The Counterfeit Princess, Clarion (New York, NY), 2005.
Blind Mountain, Clarion (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Horn Book and New York Times Book Review.
Many of the children's books written by Jane Resh Thomas are inspired by the author's personal experiences, attitudes, and emotions. A dog from Thomas's childhood as well as one from her son's, went into the making of The Comeback Dog, while the Mexican migrant farm workers in Lights on the River were a familiar sight during Thomas's childhood in rural Michigan. Although she did not realize it at the time, Thomas was actually writing about herself and her own difficult experiences when she told the story of Elizabeth in The Princess in the Pigpen. "The most surprising thing I have learned about writing fiction is the extent and subtlety of its connections to an author's own life," Thomas once told SATA. "Fiction writers 'make up' their stories, but not out of thin air. Even Rumpelstiltskin couldn't make something out of nothing, but spun gold from the common straw at his feet. And it is the common straw of everyday experience from which fiction writers spin their stories—the people and places they've known, their own unique perspectives and attitudes."
The majority of Thomas's childhood was spent in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on her grandparent's peach orchard and tree nursery farm near Lake Michigan, and at a cottage on Big Cedar Lake. Nature and exploring were common activities for Thomas, as was fishing with her father, who taught her the names of many of the natural elements around them. "When we were at home in Kalamazoo, my favorite place was the Washington Square Library, with its stone entryway, its fireplace and leaded windows, and what seemed like miles of books," Thomas once described for SATA. And busy as Thomas's mother was raising four children with only financial support from her husband, she always found time to read to them. "I learned to love literature at her side," continued Thomas. "My family were uncommunicative people, and I relied on books, as I did on nature, not only to entertain but to sustain myself."
Desiring to be a writer since the age of seven, Thomas was at first discouraged by the responses of adults to the things she wrote. Overcoming this, she has since written a number of children's books depicting sensitively drawn characters and accurately describing their experiences and emotions. The first, Elizabeth Catches a Fish, describes the seven-year-old title character's birthday present of a fishing rod and equipment as well as the excitement leading up to her first fishing trip with her father. Barbara Karlin stated in the New York Times Book Review that Elizabeth Catches a Fish is written "with vivid clarity and precision."
This same accuracy is found in The Comeback Dog, in which nine-year-old Daniel must deal with the recent death of his beloved dog Captain. Finding another dog near death at the side of the road, Daniel reluctantly brings it home and nurses the pup back to health. Lady does not respond to his affections as Captain did, however, and when Daniel lets her off her leash she runs away. Reappearing a few weeks later and once again in need of Daniel's help, Lady slowly gains back her master's affections. A Kirkus Reviews contributor asserted that in the book "Thomas invests a youngish child … with real and satisfying skills, and writes a graceful, evocative prose." Celia H. Morris concluded in Horn Book that The Comeback Dog is an "exceptionally gentle, poignant story."
Fox in a Trap, the sequel to The Comeback Dog, finds Daniel a bit older and more interested in the exciting life of his Uncle Pete, a sportsman and writer, than what he perceives to be his family's boring life on their farm. Upset that his father thinks he will dislike trapping small game, Daniel convinces his parents to allow Uncle Pete to teach him the trade and help set up a trapline. In the end, though, Daniel finds himself unable to kill the animals he catches and decides he is actually much more like his parents than he thought. In School Library Journal, Charlene J. Lenzen praised "Thomas's sound knowledge of farm life" and "her emotionally charged writing style," while a Booklist reviewer related that in Fox in a Trap Thomas "carefully manipulates the characters' changing emotions with believability."
Sensitivity and believable emotions merge again to create Thomas's realistic story Saying Good-bye to Grandma. Told through the eyes of seven-year-old Suzie, the book begins with a two-day journey to Grandpa's lakeside home for her grandmother's funeral. Once there, both the joys of being together as a family and the sorrows of the occasion intermingle as Suzie plays with her cousins and listens to her grandpa crying in the night. At first afraid that the funeral will take her grandma away forever, Suzie is comforted by her parents and able to participate in the ritual of saying goodbye. In the end she leaves her grandpa's house looking forward to visiting next summer and learning to fish and cook.
"The purpose of this slim, quiet picture book is to prepare young children for the experience of a close relative's funeral," Anne Tyler explained in the New York Times Book Review. Pointing out the effectiveness of using Suzie as the narrator, Tyler added: "The tone is understated—not so much grief-stricken as stunned and uncertain, which seems exactly the emotion you'd expect from a child in these circumstances." Patricia Pearl similarly praised the first-person narrative in School Library Journal, stating that the book serves as an "exceptionally sensible and sensitive examination of a young girl's feelings about the death and funeral of her grandmother."
Another intergenerational tale, The Snoop focuses on Ellen's weekend trip with her grandmother to visit grandmother's old friends. Although told to be on her best behavior, Ellen cannot tether her curious nature, and she soon senses her grandmother's disappointment. However, during their time together, as family stories are told and grandmother's childhood hijinks are exposed, grandmother and granddaughter learn that they are very much alike, despite their generational differences. Family relationships are also the focus of Celebration!, which follows a close-knit African-American family during their July 4th festivities. Together with a variety of food comes a variety of personalities, from jovial Granny to bored teenager Maurice, to the freewheeling uncle who arrives late with the fireworks. Praising the illustrations by Raul Colon, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Thomas's "affectionate" picture book brings to life for readers "the pleasantly complicated coming together of a real family, complete with quirks, strains and real joy."
Thomas describes the life of a Mexican migrant farm worker family in Lights on the River. As the family travels from job to job in the old station wagon that is their home, young Teresa keeps memories of her real home in Mexico alive in her mind at all times. She longs for the happiness of her last Christmas dinner there, as well as the custom of floating candles down the river past other villages. As her family's situation continues to worsen, it is just such a candle given to Teresa by her grandmother that provides the memories of home needed to help the family through their rough times. "There's nothing heroic or sentimental about this poverty," stated Hazel Rochman in Booklist. Christine Heppermann, writing in Five Owls, also praised the realism of Lights on the River, maintaining: "Expressed in terms children will understand, this just indictment of the deplorable conditions migrant workers in the U.S. endure also eloquently attests to the importance of family and connectedness."
In a departure from the realistic themes of many of her books, Thomas has also delved into historical fiction as well as fantasy. Taking place in 1600, The Princess in the Pigpen finds nine-year-old Elizabeth, a duke's daughter, and her mother both sick in bed, until a sliver of sunlight in the young girl's room magically transports her ahead in time to a Black Hawk, Iowa, farm in 1988. Taken in by the McCormick family, Elizabeth sees a doctor for her fever and is cured, all the while struggling to understand the new world in which she finds herself. Only the McCormicks' daughter Anne believes Elizabeth's story of her true identity, and in the end helps her return to her mother with a cure for her illness. "The book's real drama lies in the many revelations Elizabeth finds in what we would call ordinary American society," remarked Patricia T. O'Conner in the New York Times Book Review. "Through her we learn that the things we take for granted—from female doctors to refrigerated food—are miracles indeed." A Kirkus Reviews contributor asserted that "Thomas develops her story with logic and gentle, compassionate humor," concluding that The Princess in the Pigpen is "an excellent venture into new territory by a fine author."
Based on the history of the English crown following the death of King Henry VIII, The Counterfeit Princess is set in 1553, as teenaged Edward VI lays near death and the English court is rife with intrigue over the young king's successor. As the king's trusted advisor, John Dudley, duke of Warwick and Northumberland, attempted to convince the king to pass the crown to his own daughter, Lady Jane Grey, others advocated for the crown to pass to Edward's half-sister, the Catholic Mary Tudor. In Thomas's novel, fifteen-year-old Iris must go into hiding when her Protestant parents are executed by Dudley, but takes her revenge on their deaths by becoming a spy for the young Princess Elizabeth. Iris's character "is well delineated" and "interesting as she grows and changes," according to School Library Journal reviewer Cheri Dobbs, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor deemed the book "a fine read with spirited escapades."
Thomas continues to follow her fascination with Tudor and Elizabethan England in her nonfiction work Behind the Mask: The Life of Elizabeth I. The biography begins by profiling Elizabeth's comfortable childhood as the daughter of Henry VIII and second wife Anne Boleyn, then passes through the tumultuous period that also served as the backdrop to The Counterfeit Princess. From there it follows Elizabeth's rise to queen at age twenty-five after the death of older half-sister Mary and her success amidst poisonous court intrigue and religious strife. In Horn Book a reviewer described Behind the Mask as a "vital and intelligent biography" that makes the legendary queen come to life as a strong and determined woman, while in Publishers Weekly a critic noted that Thomas "makes a complex period … digestible and fascinating" by framing her biography from Elizabeth's viewpoint.
Connections to her own family as well as the experiences and interests that have shaped her life continue to generate Thomas's stories and make them so realistic. "I have always recommended that the adult writers I teach write what haunts them, drawing on the satisfactions and troubles that they remember in their hearts and bellies," she continued for SATA. "To do so is a dangerous thing, however, for writers who explore the unlit closets of their minds are always finding out things they didn't want to know."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, November 1, 1986, p. 415; April 1, 1987, review of Fox in a Trap, p. 1210; August, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Lights on the River, p. 2053; May 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Celebration!, p. 1582; November 15, 2005, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Counterfeit Princess, p. 47.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1977, p. 55; April 1, 1987, p. 1210; October, 1989, pp. 46-47.
Five Owls, December, 1994, Christine Heppermann, review of Lights on the River, pp. 37-38.
Horn Book, August, 1977, p. 436; August, 1981, Celia H. Morris, review of The Comeback Dog, p. 427; January, 1999, review of Behind the Mask: The Life of Elizabeth I, p. 85.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1981, review of The Comeback Dog, p. 741; April 15, 1987, p. 645; August 1, 1988, p. 1158; October 15, 1989, review of The Princess in the Pigpen, p. 1537; September 15, 1994, p. 1284; August 15, 2005, review of The Counterfeit Princess, p. 924.
Kliatt, November, 2005, Claire Rosser, review of The Counterfeit Princess, p. 10.
New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1977, Barbara Karlin, review of Elizabeth Catches a Fish, p. 47; May 10, 1981, pp. 38-39; November 13, 1988, Anne Tyler, "In the Midst of Life," p. 48; April 22, 1990, Patricia T. O'Conner, review of The Princess in the Pigpen, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, October 31, 1986, pp. 65-66; July 1, 1996, p. 60; May 19, 1997, review of Celebration!, p. 75; November 23, 1998, review of Behind the Mask, p. 68.
School Library Journal, December, 1986, p. 96; June-July, 1987, Charlene J. Lenzen, review of Fox in a Trap, p. 102; February, 1989, Patricia Pearl, review of Saying Good-bye to Grandma, p. 76; October, 2005, Cheri Dobbs, review of The Counterfeit Princess, p. 175.
Jane Resh Thomas Home Page, http://www.janereshthomas.com (June 15, 2006).