Whitesel, Cheryl Aylward
Whitesel, Cheryl Aylward
Married Paul Cassingham; children: Ross. Education: Northwestern University, B.S.; Tulane University Law School, J.D.
Attorney and author.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
Kiriyama Prize notable designation, Voice of Youth Advocates Top-Shelf Fiction for Middle-School Readers selection, both 2005, and NewHampshire Great Stone Face Book Award and Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award nominations, both 2006, all for Blue Fingers; New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age designation, and Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies selection, both for Rebel.
Rebel: A Tibetan Odyssey, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
Blue Fingers: A Ninja's Tale, Clarion Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Returning to her family's home in Chicago after living in Asia for twelve years, former attorney Cheryl Aylward Whitesel decided to share what she learned of Asian culture and history with American children. In her novels Rebel: A Tibetan Odyssey and Blue Fingers: A Ninja Tale, she introduces readers to the social and political structures of both turn-of-the-twentieth-century Tibet, a closed culture where strangers were murdered, and feudal Japan.
In Rebel young Thunder finds himself sent to live with his uncle, an influential Buddhist lama, after angry villagers find out he has broken one of the country's central laws by coming into contact with an outsider. To ensure his safety Thunder decides to remain in his uncle's monastery, and he works in the kitchen until he begins to live as an apprentice monk. With a cast of helpful and unique friends, the curious boy learns the rituals involved in the monastic life, but also comes to recognize his own adventuresome nature.
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Reviewing Rebel, a Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed the novel "a perceptive study of social, spiritual, and cultural values," adding that Whitesel writes with "brilliant subtlety" in presenting the Buddhist world view. In School Library Journal, Barbara Scotto commented that, "despite too many coincidences, Thunder's quest to understand who he is and where he belongs is compelling." Ilene Cooper wrote in her Booklist review that Whitesel's debut novel is "a worthwhile purchase, both because of the adventurous plot and because the subject is rarely written about in children's books." A Publishers Weekly contributor deemed Rebel "ambitious" and noted that the author "succeeds in creating sympathetic characters" and a "sense of [imminent] danger" that is "palpable" throughout much of the story.
Moving back in time several centuries, Blue Fingers chronicles the events that surround young Kojiro after he is taken hostage by a band of roaming ninjas. Shamed by the master dye maker, Koji had run into the forest, fleeing from his family and public humiliation, only to encounter his captors, a group of ninjas who call themselves "Grass." Remaining with the ninja band, Koji slowly learns the skills of the group and is molded into a skilled warrior. When the Grass embark on a plot to fight the ruling samurai, Koji aids them in their efforts. "Both rousing and thoughtful, this novel opens an unfamiliar time to most readers and offers an accurate look at these secretive warriors," commented Coop Renner in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic also praised Blue Fingers, noting that, "despite a few loose ends, readers will be made curious about Japanese culture and history as they become ensnared in this adventure." Cindy Welch commented in Booklist that "Whitesel includes a lot for readers who like action stories, but she also delivers enough ninjutsu philosophy to give older middle-graders something to think about."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 15, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Rebel: A Tibetan Odyssey, p. 1540; March 15, 2004, Cindy Welch, review of Blue Fingers: A Ninja's Tale, p. 1307.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, review of Blue Fingers, p. 269.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2000, review of Rebel; February 15, 2004, review of Blue Fingers, p. 187.
Kliatt, May, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Blue Fingers, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 2000, review of Rebel, p. 222; March 1, 2004, review of Blue Fingers, p. 70.
School Library Journal, July, 2000, Barbara Scotto, review of Rebel, p. 112; March, 2004, Coop Renner, review of Blue Fingers, p. 222.
Cheryl A. Whitesel Web site, http://www.cherylwhitesel.com (June 11, 2005).