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Fletcher, Ralph 1953-

Fletcher, Ralph 1953-

Personal

Born March 17, 1953; son of Ralph (a textbook publisher) and Jean Fletcher; married JoAnn Portalupi (a professor), May, 1989; children: Taylor Curtis, Adam Curtis, Robert, Joseph. Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1975; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1983. Politics: Democrat.

Addresses

Home—Durham, NH. Office—Arrowpoint 17, Inc., P.O. Box 8, South Hadley, MA 01075. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Educational consultant, 1985—; author, 1990—.

Awards, Honors

Christopher Medal, 2002, for Uncle Daddy.

Writings

JUVENILE FICTION

Fig Pudding, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Spider Boy, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Twilight Comes Twice, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Flying Solo, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Grandpa Never Lies, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

The Circus Surprise, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, Clarion (New York, NY), 2001.

Uncle Daddy, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, illustrated by Andrea Sperling, Orchard (New York, NY), 2001.

Hello, Harvest Moon, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 2003.

Moving Day, illustrated by Jennifer Emery, Wordsong (Honesdale, PA), 2006.

The One O'Clock Chop, Holt (New York, NY), 2007.

The Sandman, illustrated by Richard Cowdrey, Holt (New York, NY), 2008.

Fig Pudding has been translated into Dutch, German, and French.

JUVENILE NONFICTION

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.

Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.

How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid (memoir), Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

How to Write Your Life Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

POETRY

Water Planet: Poems about Water, Arrowhead Books (Paramus, NJ), 1991.

I Am Wings: Poems about Love (also see below), photographs by Joe Baker, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

Buried Alive: The Elements of Love (also see below), photographs by Andrew Moore, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.

Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.

Room Enough for Love (contains I Am Wings and Buried Alive), Aladdin (New York, NY), 1998.

Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.

A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets, illustrated by April Ward, Wordsong (Honesdale, PA), 2005.

OTHER

Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1991, published as Walking Trees: Portraits of Teachers and Children in the Culture of Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1995.

What a Writer Needs, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1993.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1996.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 1998, 2nd edition, 2007.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Nonfiction Craft Lessons: Teaching Information Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 2001.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2001.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Teaching the Qualities of Writing: Ideas, Design, Language, Presentation, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2004.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Lessons for the Writer's Notebook (curriculum guide), Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2005.

Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Stenhouse Publishers (Portland, ME), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Redbook, People, Cosmopolitan, and the Wall Street Journal.

Sidelights

Ralph Fletcher is the author of a number of well-received volumes of fiction and poetry for young readers, including Uncle Daddy, and Moving Day. An educational consultant, he has also written extensively on the craft of writing, penning such titles as Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and How to Write Your Life Story. "Most writers specialize in one particular kind of writing," Fletcher stated on his home page. "Not me. I have published novels, poetry collections, nonfiction, books for teachers and picture books. I find that each form comes with its own particular pleasures and challenges."

Fletcher's first published titles appeared in the early 1990s, but it was his 1994 volume of poetry for young adults, I Am Wings: Poems about Love, that garnered him solid reviews and established him as a popular writer with adolescent readers. I Am Wings consists of several short, unrhymed poems coupled with black-and-white photographs of teenagers by Joe Baker. The poems chronicle a romance, told by a boy named Lee. Divided into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out," Fletcher's verse attempts to capture the gamut of feelings that many young teens struggle with and find bewildering: the crush, the kiss, the betrayal. It is written in the vernacular of teen speech, and for this Fletcher won recurrent praise from reviewers for creating accessible verse for an age group that is usually not expected to gravitate toward poetry. Diane Tuccillo reviewed I Am Wings for Voice of Youth Advocates and found the verse "romantic and pensive, but not mushy."

Fletcher's next book of poetry, Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, was also geared toward teen readers, consisting of thirty-three brief poems with pencil drawings by Walter Lyon Krudop. The verses serve as a tutorial for the reader on how to leave the house and become an observer of the magic of nature. "Fletcher reminds young people that such a walk can be mind-clearing and therapeutic," remarked Sharon Korbeck in School Library Journal.

Fletcher returns to the subject of love, but ties in observations of the natural world outside with the inner turmoil of ardor in Buried Alive: The Elements of Love. Interspersing poetry with photographs and sectioned into four parts—Earth, Water, Fire, and Air—Fletcher's thirty-one poems each recount a tale of love or love's woe: the magic of mutual attraction; a secret crush on the baby-sitter; a gay girl ostracized but still proud, though her yearbook contains no signatures. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised Fletcher for creating "articulate, intense poems that treat the subject of love with dignity and compassion." School Library Journal reviewer Marjorie Lewis wrote that Buried Alive, as a whole, puts Fletcher "a step above" some of the other poets who write for adolescents. "Plainspeaking but lyrical, Fletcher makes poetry accessible while still keeping it, well, poetry," commented Roger Sutton in a review of the work for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

The humorous and astute observations of an eleven-year-old boy spending a day along the shore comprise Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, a collection of thirty-three poems. Very little escapes the narrator's attention, including the foolish antics of a group of teenagers and a chubby baby with a wet diaper. According to Lauralyn Persson, writing in School Library Journal, Fletcher's "simple language and conversational tone are just right for capturing the emotions of a child on the edge of adolescence." Moving Day, another poetry collection, details the emotions of twelve-year-old Fletch, who is preparing to move to a new state with his family. Noting the gamut of books that examine a youngster's adjustment to a new home, School Library Journal critic Mary Jean Smith remarked that "few focus in such depth on what was left behind."

A youngster chronicles the trials and triumphs of everyday life in A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets. The more than two dozen free-verse poems examine such varied topics as homework, road kill, haiku, and a grandmother's battle with senility. "What emerges is a picture of a young writer at work, looking closely at the world," noted School Library Journal contributor Lee Bock. In the words of Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson, the collection "demonstrates how poems can transform the daily experiences of a child's life into dead-on truth bombs."

Fletcher has also penned a number of works for young readers, including Twilight Comes Twice, a picture book told in verse. Illustrated by Kate Kiesler with drawings

of a young girl and her dog out for a walk, the work is structured around a twenty-four-hour period. Fletcher begins with the coming of night in a somewhat rural, though still populated, setting and picks up again with the arrival of daylight, hence the title. Observations of commuters, children playing, and animals and their activities are recorded in the verse. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found the work somewhat "cerebral," but granted that "both art and text are filled with sumptuous detail." A Kirkus Reviews contributor termed Twilight Comes Twice "a quietly alluring mood piece" that might entice "readers to move beyond the page" and explore dusk and dawn's special quietness for themselves.

Another notable book from Fletcher is Hello, Harvest Moon, a companion volume to Twilight Comes Twice. The work, noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "makes peaceful reading either in season, or on any moonlit night." Hello Harvest Moon traces the path of a single night, from the rising to the setting of the moon. Many people observe the light of the moon as they go about their lives; a girl and her cat play by it, a pilot flies by it, luna moths dance under it, and turtle hatchlings follow its reflection to the sea. Fletcher describes all of these activities with "lyrical, child-friendly images [which] will linger in readers' minds," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor.

In Grandpa Never Lies, a girl recounts special times with her grandparents, who invite the youngster to their cabin to hunt fossils, drink hot chocolate, and listen to Grandpa's imaginative stories. After her grandmother suddenly dies, however, the girl and her grandpa help each other cope with the loss. Despite its somber theme, Grandpa Never Lies "is an upbeat, joyous story of an intergenerational relationship," noted Lauren Peterson in Booklist. A familiar childhood predicament is the subject of The Circus Surprise. When Nick becomes separated from his parents while visiting the Big Top, a friendly clown lends assistance to the frightened boy. "Fletcher's text is by turns reassuring and practical in tone," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Fletcher explores the origins of a fabled individual in The Sandman, a "charming and comforting bedtime tale," wrote Ian Chipman in Booklist. The work centers on Tor, a wee fellow who discovers that dust from a dragon's scale cures his insomnia. "Fletcher's smoothly written story flows in a thoroughly plausible way," Persson stated.

Fletcher is also the author of several acclaimed novels for late-elementary readers. The first of these was Fig Pudding, published in 1995 to excellent reviews. Its narrator is Cliff Abernathy, III, the oldest of six children in a pleasant and close-knit family. Fletcher structures the narrative around a year in the life of the Abernathy family, beginning at Christmas one year and ending with the subsequent holiday season. Each chapter revolves around a family member, and through Cliff's tale, which encompasses everything from daily events to the tragic death of a sibling, readers come to know the characters and their very different personalities. "Written with humor, perception, and a clarity of language, the book resonates with laughter and sorrow," declared Alice Casey Smith in a review of Fig Pudding for School Library Journal. Chris Sherman, assessing the work for Booklist, termed the hero of Fletcher's story "a sympathetic and thoughtful narrator." The author writes about the tragedy and the way in which the family deals with its grief "with remarkable restraint and understatement," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Fletcher introduces yet another likable kid in Spider Boy. Seventh-grader Bobby loves his pet tarantulas and is fascinated by spiders in general. This never seemed to be a problem until Bobby's family leaves Illinois and moves halfway across the country. Bobby is suddenly known as the new kid in school with the bizarre hobby. Furthermore, his beloved tarantula Thelma has stopped eating, probably because of the stress of the move. So has Bobby, who still keeps his wristwatch set on Illinois time. Coming to terms with the bully at school, who derisively names Bobby "Spider Boy" and then is responsible for the death of one of his tarantulas, is the great trial of Bobby's life and one that resonates with the novel's intended audience. Candace Smith, writing in Booklist called Spider Boy an "appealing story" in which, Smith wrote, "Fletcher portrays the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome honestly by making Bobby a sympathetic but not perfect character." A Kirkus Reviews contributor said of the book: "Creating and guiding a winning cast with a light, sure hand, Fletcher puts a fine, fresh spin on a familiar premise."

A former educator, Fletcher drew upon his classroom experiences to depict a common fantasy among younger students in Flying Solo. When their substitute teacher fails to show up, a classroom of smart sixth graders seizes the opportunity and takes charge of the class curriculum for a day, while struggling to keep others at school in the dark regarding the situation. Fletcher introduces a host of students as lead characters, each with their own personal travail to resolve: Bastian is moving to Hawaii with his family the next day and must decide whether he will leave his dog with a family here or force it to undergo a long period of quarantine; Rachel has not spoken since a classmate who had a crush on her died several months earlier; Sean, a boy with a troubled family life, has a crush on Rachel now; Karen emerges as a natural leader, while Jessica shows herself as too uptight to learn from the experience of taking on responsibility for the first time. In the end, each student learns how to rely upon, trust, and forgive one another. The author, noted Kathleen Squires in Booklist, "expertly balances a wide variety of emotions, giving readers a story that is by turns sad, poignant, and funny." Writing in Horn Book, Susan P. Bloom stated that Fletcher's "kaleidoscopic novel is more thoughtful and poignant than most school stories, while still appropriately leavened with comic moments."

Another novel by Fletcher is Uncle Daddy, described as "a reassuring picture of forgiveness and acceptance within a family" by School Library Journal reviewer Heide Piehler. Ever since his father abandoned the family without warning when he was three years old, Rivers has been raised by his mother and his great-uncle, a man whom the boy calls "Uncle Daddy." Then, six years later, when Rivers is nine, his father returns. Although Fletcher avoids the clichés that readers might have expected from this situation—for example, Rivers's father and Uncle Daddy do not try to force the boy to choose between them—Rivers still faces a difficult adjustment. "With uncomplicated sentences and plenty of dialogue, Fletcher makes Rivers's dilemma immediate and real," commented a Horn Book critic.

Set in 1973, The One O'Clock Chop centers on fourteen-year-old Matt, a Long Island resident who takes a job as a clam digger so he can earn enough to buy his own boat. While dealing with his conflicted emotions about his father's remarriage, Matt falls in love with his exotic cousin, Jazzy, who comes to visit for the summer. "Fletcher's insight into Matt and his boat dreams fly off the page with a solid resonance," a contributor noted in Kirkus Reviews. "Writing with his customary sensitivity and flair for language," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Fletcher turns a coming-of-age story into a rich, affecting read."

Fletcher has also written several nonfiction works focused on the writing process, including Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook. He begins the book by positing that it is not altogether necessary for a writer to keep such a journal, and then moves on to provide guidelines for those who decide they would like to. He explains such a tool can help one learn to write without fear of judgment, and thus develop a clear voice. Such journals are also excellent ways for writers to find their inspiration, and Fletcher provides examples of how insignificant details, rhetorical questions, lists of oddities, and even the conversations of strangers can spark fire to the creative process. Compared to most "how-to" works for aspiring writers, "this one is refreshingly varied and undogmatic in its approach," noted Jeffrey Cooper in Kliatt.

Poetry Matters, a guide for middle-grade students, is written in a similar style. Described as "chatty, but never condescending" by Booklist critic Hazel Rochman, Poetry Matters "packs in a wealth of information without a word of jargon." In addition to writing about the components of poetry—images, rhythm, voice—Fletcher also includes interviews with three other children's poets. His points are illustrated with numerous excerpts from his own and others' works, which "embody the author's advice by showing how writing techniques actually function in poems," explained Kristen Oravec in School Library Journal.

Hoping to nurture young writers, Fletcher has also produced other books geared specifically to budding authors—A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You and Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words among them. A Writer's Notebook offers realistic advice on how to keep notes and use them to create stories and poems. Live Writing instructs young writers on how to use words, imagination, ideas, and a love of books to create written works that "live and breathe." In How to Write Your Life Story, Fletcher offers advice for young people who wish to write an autobiography or memoir. According to Booklist critic Ilene Cooper, aspiring writers "will be pleased with the suggestions Fletcher makes in his easy style."

Fletcher shares his own life story in Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid, "a dreamy reminiscence of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s," observed Anne O'Malley in Booklist. Fletcher grew up in a large Catholic family in the small Massachusetts town of Marshfield, where he explored the woods near his home, helped raise chicks, and, much to his embarrassment, learned from a classmate that his mother was going to have another baby. Writing in School Library Journal, Alison Follos praised the memoir's "sagacious eloquence and gentle humor," and a Kirkus Reviews critic stated that Marsh-field Dreams "will open readers' eyes to the bonds of a peerless time and simpler lifestyle."

"I've always treasured books," Fletcher once told SATA. "Books opened my eyes. They moved me from the inside out. At some point, I dreamed of becoming a writer. Today, when I write, I'm trying to put the reader through a powerful experience. I want to move my readers in the same way other authors have moved me with their books." On his home page, Fletcher noted that "becoming a writer is … a dream that has come true. I love to write. I love getting up every morning and mucking around in sentences, playing with stories, trying to build my city of words."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Audubon, November-December, 2001, Christopher Camuto, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 86.

Booklist, March 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of I Am Wings: Poems about Love, p. 1345; May 15, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of Fig Pudding, p. 1645; May 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, p. 1500; April 15, 1997, Karen Morgan, review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, pp. 1421-1422; June 1-15, 1997, Candace Smith, review of Spider Boy, p. 1702; October 15, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 414; August, 1998, Kathleen Squires, review of Flying Solo, p. 1998; July, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, p. 1940; August, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 2138; December 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 825; May 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, p. 1593; March 15, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets, p. 1290; October 1, 2005, Anne O'Malley, review of Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid, p. 51; October 1, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of How to Write Your Life Story, p. 51; September 15, 2007, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The One O'Clock Chop, p. 74; July 1, 2008, Ian Chipman, review of The Sandman, p. 73.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1996, Roger Sutton, review of Buried Alive, pp. 370-371.

Educational Leadership, March, 1991, Brenda Miller Power, review of Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, pp. 84-85.

English Journal, April, 1993, Tom Romano, review of What a Writer Needs, pp. 93-94.

Horn Book, July-August, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of I Am Wings, pp. 466-467; July-August, 1997, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Spider Boy, pp. 454-455; November-December, 1998, Susan P. Bloom, review of Flying Solo, pp. 728-729; July, 2001, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 450.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Buried Alive, p. 601; March 15, 1997, review of Spider Boy, p. 460; September 1, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 1388; February 15, 2002, review of Poetry Matters, pp. 254-255; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 1174; August 15, 2005, review of Marshfield Dreams, p. 913; November 15, 2006, review of Moving Day, p. 1173; July 1, 2007, review of The One O'Clock Chop.

Kliatt, September, 1997, Jeffrey Cooper, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, p. 25.

Language Arts, April, 1992, review of Walking Trees, p. 304; March, 1994, review of What a Writer Needs, p. 230; May, 2003, Junko Yokota, Mingshui Cai, and Theresa Kubasak, review of Poetry Matters, p. 396.

Library Journal, November 15, 1990, Nancy E. Zuwiyya, review of Walking Trees, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, April 24, 1995, review of Fig Pudding, p. 72; October 27, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 75; May 3, 1999, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 78; April 23, 2001, review of The Circus Sur-prise, p. 77; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, pp. 63-64; August 6, 2007, review of The One O'Clock Chop, p. 189.

Reading Teacher, December, 1997, Bonita L. Wilcox, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out, pp. 350-353.

School Library Journal, June, 1994, Judy Greenfield, review of I Am Wings, p. 154; July, 1995, Alice Casey Smith, review of Fig Pudding, p. 78; May, 1996, Marjorie Lewis, review of Buried Alive, p. 138; May, 1997, Sharon Korbeck, review of Ordinary Things, p. 144; July, 1997, Adele Greenlee, review of Spider Boy, p. 93; October, 1997, Virginia Golodetz, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 95; October, 1998, July Siebecker, review of Flying Solo, p. 135; April, 1999, Kristen Oravec, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 146; November, 1999, Ginny Harrell, review of Fig Pudding, p. 64; September, 2000, Steve Clancy, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 196; November, 2000, Alicia Eames, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 119; December, 2000, Timothy Capehart, review of How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, p. 160; May, 2001, Heide Piehler, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 149; June, 2001, Bina Williams, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 112; August, 2001, Lauralyn Persson, review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, p. 194; February, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Poetry Matters, p. 143; September, 2003, Shawn Brommer, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 178; April, 2005, Lee Bock, review of A Writing Kind of Day, p. 150; September, 2005, Alison Follos, review of Marshfield Dreams, p. 222; December, 2006, Mary Jean Smith, review of Moving Day, p. 98; November, 2007, Debbie Whitbeck, review of How to Write Your Life Story, p. 144; May, 2008, Lauralyn Persson, review of The Sandman, p. 98.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1994, Diane Tuccillo, review of I Am Wings, pp. 106-107.

ONLINE

Ralph Fletcher Home Page,http://www.ralphfletcher.com (December 1, 2008).

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Fletcher, Ralph (J.) 1953-

FLETCHER, Ralph (J.) 1953-

Personal

Born March 17, 1953; son of Ralph (a textbook publisher) and Jean (Collins) Fletcher; married JoAnn Portalupi (a professor), May, 1989; children: Taylor Curtis, Adam Curtis, Robert, Joseph. Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1975; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1983. Politics: Democrat.

Addresses

Home Durham, NH. Office Arrowpoint 17, Inc., P.O. Box 8, South Hadley, MA 01075. Agent Marian Reiner, 20 Cedar St., New Rochelle, NY 10801. E-mail [email protected]

Career

Educational consultant, 1985; author, 1990.

Awards, Honors

Christopher Medal, 2002, for Uncle Daddy.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN; FICTION

Fig Pudding, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Spider Boy, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Flying Solo, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

The Circus Surprise, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, Clarion (New York, NY), 2001.

Uncle Daddy, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Fig Pudding has been translated into Dutch, German, and French.

FOR CHILDREN; NONFICTION

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.

Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.

How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

POETRY

Water Planet: Poems about Water, Arrowhead Books (Paramus, NJ), 1991.

I Am Wings: Poems about Love (also see below), photos by Joe Baker, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.

Twilight Comes Twice, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Buried Alive: The Elements of Love (also see below), photos by Andrew Moore, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.

Room Enough for Love (contains I Am Wings and Buried Alive ), Aladdin (New York, NY), 1998.

Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.

Grandpa Never Lies, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, illustrated by Andrea Sperling, Orchard (New York, NY), 2001.

Hello, Harvest Moon, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 2003.

OTHER

Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1991, reprinted as Walking Trees: Portraits of Teachers and Children in the Culture of Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1995.

What a Writer Needs, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1993.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1996.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 1998.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Nonfiction Craft Lessons: Teaching Information Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 2001.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2001.

Sidelights

Ralph Fletcher is the author of a number of well-received volumes of fiction and poetry for young readers. An educational consultant, he has also written extensively on the craft of writing. His first few published titles appeared in the early 1990s, but it was his 1994 volume of poetry for young adults, I Am Wings: Poems about Love, that garnered him solid reviews and established him as a popular writer with adolescent readers. I Am Wings consists of several short, unrhymed poems coupled with black-and-white photographs of teens by Joe Baker. The poems chronicle a romance, told by a boy named Lee, from start to finish. Divided into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out," Fletcher's verse attempts to capture the gamut of feelings that many young teens struggle with and find bewildering: the crush, the kiss, the betrayal. It is written in the vernacular of teen speech, and for this Fletcher won recurrent praise from reviewers for creating accessible verse for an age group that is usually not expected to gravitate toward poetry. Diane Tuccillo reviewed I Am Wings for Voice of Youth Advocates and found the verse "romantic and pensive, but not mushy."

Fletcher's next book of poetry, Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, was also geared toward teen readers, consisting of thirty-three brief poems with pencil drawings by Walter Lyon Krudop. The verses serve as a tutorial for the reader on how to leave the house and become an observer of the magic of nature. "Fletcher reminds young people that such a walk can be mind-clearing and therapeutic," remarked Sharon Korbeck in School Library Journal.

His third volume of verse returned once again to the subject of love, but tied in observations of the natural world outside with the inner turmoil of ardor. Buried Alive: The Elements of Love was published in 1996 and again interspersed poetry with photographs. Sectioned into four partsEarth, Water, Fire, and Airthe thirty-one poems with almost as many narrators each recount a tale of love or love's woe: the magic of mutual attraction; a secret crush on the baby-sitter; a gay girl ostracized but still proud, though her yearbook contains no signatures. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised Fletcher for creating "articulate, intense poems that treat the subject of love with dignity and compassion." School Library Journal reviewer Marjorie Lewis wrote that Buried Alive, as a whole, puts Fletcher "a step above" some of the other poets who write for adolescents. "Plainspeaking but lyrical, Fletcher makes poetry accessible while still keeping it, well, poetry," commented Roger Sutton in a review of the work for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

Fletcher has also penned Twilight Comes Twice, another volume of verse. Illustrated by Kate Kiesler with drawings of a young girl and her dog out for a walk, the poems are structured around a twenty-four-hour period. Fletcher begins with the coming of night in a somewhat rural, though still populated setting, and picks up again with the arrival of daylight, hence the title. Observations of commuters, children playing, and animals and their activities make up parts of the verse. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found it somewhat "cerebral," but granted "both art and text are filled with sumptuous detail." A Kirkus Reviews contributor termed Twilight Comes Twice "a quietly alluring mood piece" that might entice "readers to move beyond the page" and explore dusk and dawn's special quietness for themselves.

Another notable book of verse from Fletcher is Hello, Harvest Moon, a companion volume to Twilight Comes Twice. It is "as atmospheric as its companion," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and "makes peaceful reading either in season, or on any moonlit night." The poems in Hello Harvest Moon trace the path of a single night, from the rising to the setting of the moon. Many people observe the light of the moon as they go about their lives; a girl and her cat play by it, a pilot flies by it, luna moths dance under it, and turtle hatchlings follow its reflection to the sea. Fletcher describes all of these activities with "lyrical, child-friendly images [which] will linger in readers' minds," thought a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Fletcher is also the author of several acclaimed novels for late-elementary readers. The first of these was Fig Pudding, published in 1995 to excellent reviews. Its narrator is Cliff Abernathy, III, the oldest of six children in a pleasant and close-knit family. Fletcher structures the narrative around a year in the life of the Abernathy family, beginning at Christmas one year and ending with the subsequent holiday season. Each chapter revolves around a family member, and through Cliff's tale, which encompasses everything from daily events to the tragic death of a sibling, readers come to know the characters and their very different personalities. "Written with humor, perception, and a clarity of language, the book resonates with laughter and sorrow," declared Alice Casey Smith in a review of Fig Pudding for School Library Journal. Chris Sherman, assessing the work for Booklist, termed the hero of Fletcher's story "a sympathetic and thoughtful narrator." The author writes about the tragedy and the way in which the family deals with its grief "with remarkable restraint and understatement," thought a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Fletcher created yet another likable kid for the title character of his 1997 novel, Spider Boy. Seventh-grader Bobby loves his pet tarantulas and is fascinated by spiders in general. This never seemed to be a problem until Bobby's family leaves Illinois and moves halfway across the country. Bobby is suddenly known as the new kid in school with the bizarre hobby. Furthermore, his beloved tarantula Thelma has stopped eating, probably because of the stress of the move. So has Bobby, who still keeps his watch set on Illinois time. Coming to terms with the bully at school, who derisively names Bobby "Spider Boy" and then is responsible for the death of one of his tarantulas, is the great trial of his life and one that resonates with its intended audience. Candace Smith, writing in Booklist called Spider Boy an "appealing story." Smith wrote that "Fletcher portrays the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome honestly by making Bobby a sympathetic but not perfect character." A Kirkus Reviews contributor said of the book, "Creating and guiding a winning cast with a light, sure hand, Fletcher puts a fine, fresh spin on a familiar premise."

As Fletcher once told SATA: "I have always loved words. As a little boy I used to ask my mother about the difference between 'read' and 'red,' 'bear' and 'bare.' It fascinated me that two words could sound the same but mean completely different things.

"I've always treasured books, too. Books opened my eyes. They moved me from the inside out. At some point, I dreamed of becoming a writer. Today, when I write, I'm trying to put the reader through a powerful experience. I want to move my readers in the same way other authors have moved me with their books. My novel Fig Pudding has been translated into Dutch, German, and French. It gives me a thrill to think that children in other countries can enter the world of my books.

"I didn't plan to write books for children. In 1983, I earned a master's degree in writing at Columbia University. That year I took a job in New York City, teaching teachers new ways of teaching writing. I did lots of demonstration teaching and lugged around a huge bag of children's books to give children ideas for their writing. Surprise: I fell in love with many of these books! I began trying to write books for children."

Fletcher drew upon his classroom experiences to create a novel that details a fantasy day in the life of any young school-goer in his novel Flying Solo. The day the substitute teacher never shows up, a classroom of smart sixth-graders seize the opportunity and take charge of their own education for a day, while struggling to keep others at the school in the dark regarding the situation. Fletcher introduces a host of students as lead characters, each with their own personal travail to resolve: Bastian is moving to Hawaii with his family the next day and must decide whether he will leave his dog with a family here or force it to undergo a long period of quarantine; Rachel has not spoken since a classmate who had a crush on her died several months earlier; Sean, a boy with a troubled family life, has a crush on her now; Karen emerges as a natural leader, while Jessica shows herself as too uptight to learn from the experience of having a bit of responsibility for once. In the end, Rachel finally talks, Bastian's dog finds the right home, and all the students learn more about themselves in one day than they expectedincluding how to rely upon, trust, and forgive one another. The author, noted Kathleen Squires in Booklist, "expertly balances a wide variety of emotions, giving readers a story that is by turns sad, poignant, and funny." Writing in Horn Book, Susan P. Bloom stated: "This kaleidoscopic novel is more thoughtful and poignant than most school stories, while still appropriately leavened with comic moments."

Another novel by Fletcher is Uncle Daddy, described as "a reassuring picture of forgiveness and acceptance within a family" by School Library Journal reviewer Heide Piehler. Ever since his father abandoned the family without warning when he was three, Rivers has been raised by his mother and his great-uncle, whom the boy calls "Uncle Daddy." Then, six years later, when Rivers is nine, his father returns. Although Fletcher avoided the cliches that readers might have expected from this situationfor example, Rivers's father and Uncle Daddy do not try to force the boy to choose between themRivers still faces a difficult adjustment. "With uncomplicated sentences and plenty of dialogue, Fletcher makes Rivers's dilemma immediate and real," commented a Horn Book critic.

Fletcher has also written several nonfiction works focused on the writing process, including the 1996 title Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook. He begins the book by positing that it is not altogether necessary for a writer to keep such a journal, and then moves on to provide guidelines for those who decide they would like to. He explains such a tool can help one learn to write without fear of judgment, and thus develop a clear voice. Such journals are also excellent ways for writers to find their inspiration, and Fletcher provides examples of how insignificant details, rhetorical questions, lists of oddities, and even the conversations of strangers can spark fire to the creative process. Compared to most "how-to" works for aspiring writers, "this one is refreshingly varied and undogmatic in its approach," noted Jeffrey Cooper in Kliatt.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, a guide for middle-grade students, is written in a similar style. Described as "chatty, but never condescending" by Booklist 's Hazel Rochman, Poetry Matters "packs in a wealth of information without a word of jargon." In addition to writing about the components of poetryimages, rhythm, voiceFletcher also includes interviews with three other children's poets. Fletcher's points are illustrated with numerous excerpts from his own and others' works, which "embody the author's advice by showing how writing techniques actually function in poems," explained Kristen Oravec in School Library Journal.

Fletcher once told SATA that he has a passion for nurturing young writers. In addition to Breathing In, Breathing Out and Poetry Matters, Fletcher has also produced other writing books geared specifically to budding authorsA Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You and Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words among them. A Writer's Notebook offers realistic advice on how to keep notes and use them to create stories and poems. Live Writing instructs young writers on how to use words, imagination, ideas, and a love of books to create written works that "live and breathe."

Of his own working style, Fletcher once said: "My habits are simple. I get up, make school lunches, get my kids off to school, make coffee, and write. I have learned that I need to devote the best hours of the day to my writing. I work about three or four hours daily. Fortunately, I work quickly. Often my editors push me further with their suggestions for revisions. I have been lucky to work with excellent editors . . . who continue to stretch me as a writer."

When asked about who were some of his inspirations, Fletcher was forthcoming about his influences: "Cynthia Rylant has inspired me with her honesty, and the stirring beauty of her language," he once told SATA. "William Steig writes and illustrates great books with wonderful word play. And many, many other authorsKatherine Paterson, Byrd Baylor, Jane Yolen, Gary Paulsen, Jon Sciescka, Gary Soto, John Steptoe, Bill Martin, Jr., Lois Lowry, Aliki, Richard Margolis to name a fewhave profoundly influenced my work."

To aspiring writers, Fletcher once commented: "There's no one single way to write. Everyone has to find his or her own way. I think it begins with your uniqueness. Sandra Cisneros says: 'Write about what makes you different.'"

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Audubon, November-December, 2001, Christopher Camuto, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 86.

Booklist, March 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of IAm Wings: Poems about Love, p. 1345; May 15, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of Fig Pudding, p. 1645; May 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, p. 1500; April 15, 1997, Karen Morgan, review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, pp. 1421-1422; June 1-15, 1997, Candace Smith, review of Spider Boy, p. 1702; October 15, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 414; August, 1998, Kathleen Squires, review of Flying Solo, p. 1998; July, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, p. 1940; March 15, 2000, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 1360; August, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 2138; December 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 825; May 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, p. 1593.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1994, p. 318; July-August, 1996, Roger Sutton, review of Buried Alive, pp. 370-71.

Educational Leadership, March, 1991, Brenda Miller Power, review of Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, pp. 84-85.

English Journal, April, 1993, Tom Romano, review of What a Writer Needs, pp. 93-94.

Horn Book, July-August, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of I Am Wings, pp. 466-467; July-August, 1997, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Spider Boy, pp. 454-455; November-December, 1998, Susan P. Bloom, review of Flying Solo, pp. 728-729; July, 2001, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 450.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Buried Alive, p. 601; March 15, 1997, review of Spider Boy, p. 460; September 1, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 1388; February 15, 2002, review of Poetry Matters, pp. 254-255; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 1174.

Kliatt, September, 1997, Jeffrey Cooper, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, p. 25.

Language Arts, April, 1992, review of Walking Trees, p. 304; March, 1994, review of What a Writer Needs, p. 230; May, 2003, Junko Yokota, Mingshui Cai, and Theresa Kubasak, review of Poetry Matters, p. 396.

Library Journal, November 15, 1990, Nancy E. Zuwiyya, review of Walking Trees, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, April 24, 1995, review of Fig Pudding, p. 72; October 27, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 75; February 2, 1998, p. 91; May 3, 1999, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 78; April 23, 2001, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 77; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, pp. 63-64.

Reading Teacher, December, 1997, Bonita L. Wilcox, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out, pp. 350-353.

School Library Journal, June, 1994, Judy Greenfield, review of I Am Wings, p. 154; July, 1995, Alice Casey Smith, review of Fig Pudding, p. 78; May, 1996, Marjorie Lewis, review of Buried Alive, p. 138; May, 1997, Sharon Korbeck, review of Ordinary Things, p. 144; July, 1997, Adele Greenlee, review of Spider Boy, p. 93; October, 1997, Virginia Golodetz, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 95; October, 1998, July Siebecker, review of Flying Solo, p. 135; April, 1999, Kristen Oravec, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 146; November, 1999, Ginny Harrell, review of Fig Pudding, p. 64; September, 2000, Steve Clancy, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 196; November, 2000, Alicia Eames, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 119; December, 2000, Timothy Capehart, review of How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, p. 160; May, 2001, Heide Piehler, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 149; June, 2001, Bina Williams, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 112; August, 2001, Lauralyn Persson, review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, p. 194; February, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Poetry Matters, p. 143; September, 2003, Shawn Brommer, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 178.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1994, Diane Tuccillo, review of I Am Wings, pp. 106-107; October, 1996, p. 228.

ONLINE

Ralph Fletcher Home Page, http://www.ralphfletcher.com/ (November 10, 2003).*

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Fletcher, Ralph (J.) 1953-

FLETCHER, Ralph (J.) 1953-

PERSONAL:

Born March 17, 1953; son of Ralph (a textbook publisher) and Jean (Collins) Fletcher; married JoAnn Portalupi (a professor), May, 1989; children: Taylor Curtis, Adam Curtis, Robert, Joseph. Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1975; Columbia University, M.F.A., 1983. Politics: Democrat.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Durham, NH. Office—Arrow-point 17, Inc., P.O. Box 8, South Hadley, MA 01075. Agent—Marian Reiner, 20 Cedar St., New Rochelle, NY 10801. E-mail—[email protected].

CAREER:

Educational consultant, 1985—; author, 1990—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Christopher Medal, 2002, for Uncle Daddy.

WRITINGS:

FOR CHILDREN; FICTION

Fig Pudding, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Spider Boy, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Flying Solo, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

The Circus Surprise, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, Clarion (New York, NY), 2001.

Uncle Daddy, Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

FOR CHILDREN; NONFICTION

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.

Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.

How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

POETRY

Water Planet: Poems about Water, Arrowhead Books (Paramus, NJ), 1991.

I Am Wings: Poems about Love (also see below), photographs by Joe Baker, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.

Twilight Comes Twice, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Buried Alive: The Elements of Love (also see below), photographs by Andrew Moore, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.

Room Enough for Love (contains I Am Wings and Buried Alive), Aladdin (New York, NY), 1998.

Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, Orchard Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Grandpa Never Lies, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, illustrated by Andrea Sperling, Orchard Boks (New York, NY), 2001.

Hello, Harvest Moon, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 2003.

OTHER

Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1991, reprinted as Walking Trees: Portraits of Teachers and Children in the Culture of Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1995.

What a Writer Needs, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1993.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1996.

(With wife, JoAnn Portalupi) Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 1998.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Nonfiction Craft Lessons: Teaching Information Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 2001.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2001.

Fig Pudding has been translated into Dutch, German, and French.

SIDELIGHTS:

Ralph Fletcher is the author of a number of well-received volumes of fiction and poetry for young readers. An educational consultant, he has also written extensively on the craft of writing. His first few published titles appeared in the early 1990s, but it was his 1994 volume of poetry for young adults, IAm Wings: Poems about Love, that garnered him solid reviews and established him as a popular writer with adolescent readers. I Am Wings consists of several short, unrhymed poems coupled with black-and-white photographs of teens by Joe Baker. The poems chronicle a romance, told by a boy named Lee, from start to finish. Divided into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out," Fletcher's verse attempts to capture the gamut of feelings that many young teens struggle with and find bewildering: the crush, the kiss, the betrayal. It is written in the vernacular of teen speech, and for this Fletcher won recurrent praise from reviewers for creating accessible verse for an age group that is usually not expected to gravitate toward poetry. Diane Tuccillo reviewed I Am Wings for Voice of Youth Advocates and found the verse "romantic and pensive, but not mushy."

Fletcher's next book of poetry, Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, was also geared toward teen readers, consisting of thirty-three brief poems with pencil drawings by Walter Lyon Krudop. The verses serve as a tutorial for the reader on how to leave the house and become an observer of the magic of nature. "Fletcher reminds young people that such a walk can be mind-clearing and therapeutic," remarked Sharon Korbeck in School Library Journal.

His third volume of verse returned once again to the subject of love, but tied in observations of the natural world outside with the inner turmoil of ardor. Buried Alive: The Elements of Love was published in 1996 and again interspersed poetry with photographs. Sectioned into four parts—Earth, Water, Fire, and Air—the thirty-one poems with almost as many narrators each recount a tale of love or love's woe: the magic of mutual attraction; a secret crush on the baby-sitter; a gay girl ostracized but still proud, though her yearbook contains no signatures. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised Fletcher for creating "articulate, intense poems that treat the subject of love with dignity and compassion." School Library Journal reviewer Marjorie Lewis wrote that Buried Alive, as a whole, puts Fletcher "a step above" some of the other poets who write for adolescents. "Plainspeaking but lyrical, Fletcher makes poetry accessible while still keeping it, well, poetry," commented Roger Sutton in a review of the work for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

Fletcher has also penned Twilight Comes Twice, another volume of verse. Illustrated by Kate Kiesler with drawings of a young girl and her dog out for a walk, the poems are structured around a twenty-four-hour period. Fletcher begins with the coming of night in a somewhat rural, though still populated setting, and picks up again with the arrival of daylight, hence the title. Observations of commuters, children playing, and animals and their activities make up parts of the verse. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found it somewhat "cerebral," but granted "both art and text are filled with sumptuous detail." A Kirkus Reviews contributor termed Twilight Comes Twice "a quietly alluring mood piece" that might entice "readers to move beyond the page" and explore dusk and dawn's special quietness for themselves.

Another notable book of verse from Fletcher is Hello, Harvest Moon, a companion volume to Twilight Comes Twice. It is "as atmospheric as its companion," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, and "makes peaceful reading either in season, or on any moonlit night." The poems in Hello, Harvest Moon trace the path of a single night, from the rising to the setting of the moon. Many people observe the light of the moon as they go about their lives; a girl and her cat play by it, a pilot flies by it, luna moths dance under it, and turtle hatchlings follow its reflection to the sea. Fletcher describes all of these activities with "lyrical, child-friendly images [which] will linger in readers' minds," thought a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Fletcher is also the author of several acclaimed novels for late-elementary readers. The first of these was Fig Pudding, published in 1995 to excellent reviews. Its narrator is Cliff Abernathy III, the oldest of six children in a pleasant and close-knit family. Fletcher structures the narrative around a year in the life of the Abernathy family, beginning at Christmas one year and ending with the subsequent holiday season. Each chapter revolves around a family member, and through Cliff's tale, which encompasses everything from daily events to the tragic death of a sibling, readers come to know the characters and their very different personalities. "Written with humor, perception, and a clarity of language, the book resonates with laughter and sorrow," declared Alice Casey Smith in a review of Fig Pudding for School Library Journal. Chris Sherman, assessing the work for Booklist, termed the hero of Fletcher's story "a sympathetic and thoughtful narrator." The author writes about the tragedy and the way in which the family deals with its grief "with remarkable restraint and understatement," thought a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Fletcher created yet another likable kid for the title character of his 1997 novel Spider Boy. Seventh-grader Bobby loves his pet tarantulas and is fascinated by spiders in general. This never seemed to be a problem until Bobby's family leaves Illinois and moves halfway across the country. Bobby is suddenly known as the new kid in school with the bizarre hobby. Furthermore, his beloved tarantula Thelma has stopped eating, probably because of the stress of the move. So has Bobby, who still keeps his watch set on Illinois time. Coming to terms with the bully at school, who derisively names Bobby "Spider Boy" and then is responsible for the death of one of his tarantulas, is the great trial of his life and one that resonates with its intended audience. Candace Smith, writing in Booklist, called Spider Boy an "appealing story." Smith wrote that "Fletcher portrays the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome honestly by making Bobby a sympathetic but not perfect character." A Kirkus Reviews contributor said of the book, "Creating and guiding a winning cast with a light, sure hand, Fletcher puts a fine, fresh spin on a familiar premise."

As Fletcher once commented: "I have always loved words. As a little boy I used to ask my mother about the difference between 'read' and 'red,' 'bear' and 'bare.' It fascinated me that two words could sound the same but mean completely different things.

"I've always treasured books, too. Books opened my eyes. They moved me from the inside out. At some point, I dreamed of becoming a writer. Today, when I write, I'm trying to put the reader through a powerful experience. I want to move my readers in the same way other authors have moved me with their books. My novel Fig Pudding has been translated into Dutch, German, and French. It gives me a thrill to think that children in other countries can enter the world of my books.

"I didn't plan to write books for children. In 1983, I earned a master's degree in writing at Columbia University. That year I took a job in New York City, teaching teachers new ways of teaching writing. I did lots of demonstration teaching and lugged around a huge bag of children's books to give children ideas for their writing. Surprise: I fell in love with many of these books! I began trying to write books for children."

Fletcher drew upon his classroom experiences to create a novel that details a fantasy day in the life of any young school-goer in his novel Flying Solo. The day the substitute teacher never shows up, a classroom of smart sixth-graders seize the opportunity and take charge of their own education for a day, while struggling to keep others at the school in the dark regarding the situation. Fletcher introduces a host of students as lead characters, each with their own personal travail to resolve: Bastian is moving to Hawaii with his family the next day and must decide whether he will leave his dog with a family here or force it to undergo a long period of quarantine; Rachel has not spoken since a classmate who had a crush on her died several months earlier; Sean, a boy with a troubled family life, has a crush on her now; Karen emerges as a natural leader, while Jessica shows herself as too uptight to learn from the experience of having a bit of responsibility for once. In the end, Rachel finally talks, Bastian's dog finds the right home, and all the students learn more about themselves in one day than they expected—including how to rely upon, trust, and forgive one another. The author, noted Kathleen Squires in Booklist, "expertly balances a wide variety of emotions, giving readers a story that is by turns sad, poignant, and funny." Writing in Horn Book, Susan P. Bloom stated: "This kaleidoscopic novel is more thoughtful and poignant than most school stories, while still appropriately leavened with comic moments."

Another novel by Fletcher is Uncle Daddy, described as "a reassuring picture of forgiveness and acceptance within a family" by School Library Journal reviewer Heide Piehler. Ever since his father abandoned the family without warning when he was three, Rivers has been raised by his mother and his great-uncle, whom the boy calls "Uncle Daddy." Then, six years later, when Rivers is nine, his father returns. Although Fletcher avoided the cliches that readers might have expected from this situation—for example, Rivers's father and Uncle Daddy do not try to force the boy to choose between them—Rivers still faces a difficult adjustment. "With uncomplicated sentences and plenty of dialogue, Fletcher makes Rivers's dilemma immediate and real," commented a Horn Book critic.

Fletcher has also written several nonfiction works focused on the writing process, including the 1996 title Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook. He begins the book by positing that it is not altogether necessary for a writer to keep such a journal, and then moves on to provide guidelines for those who decide they would like to. He explains such a tool can help one learn to write without fear of judgment, and thus develop a clear voice. Such journals are also excellent ways for writers to find their inspiration, and Fletcher provides examples of how insignificant details, rhetorical questions, lists of oddities, and even the conversations of strangers can spark fire to the creative process. Compared to most "how-to" works for aspiring writers, "this one is refreshingly varied and undogmatic in its approach," noted Jeffrey Cooper in Kliatt.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, a guide for middle-grade students, is written in a similar style. Described as "chatty, but never condescending" by Booklist's Hazel Rochman, Poetry Matters "packs in a wealth of information without a word of jargon." In addition to writing about the components of poetry—images, rhythm, voice—Fletcher also includes interviews with three other children's poets. Fletcher's points are illustrated with numerous excerpts from his own and others' works, which "embody the author's advice by showing how writing techniques actually function in poems," explained Kristen Oravec in School Library Journal.

Fletcher once commented that he has a passion for nurturing young writers. In addition to Breathing In, Breathing Out and Poetry Matters, Fletcher has also produced other writing books geared specifically to budding authors—A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer within You and Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words among them. A Writer's Notebook offers realistic advice on how to keep notes and use them to create stories and poems. Live Writing instructs young writers on how to use words, imagination, ideas, and a love of books to create written works that "live and breathe."

Of his own working style, Fletcher once said: "My habits are simple. I get up, make school lunches, get my kids off to school, make coffee, and write. I have learned that I need to devote the best hours of the day to my writing. I work about three or four hours daily. Fortunately, I work quickly. Often my editors push me further with their suggestions for revisions. I have been lucky to work with excellent editors … who continue to stretch me as a writer."

When asked about who were some of his inspirations, Fletcher was forthcoming about his influences: "Cynthia Rylant has inspired me with her honesty, and the stirring beauty of her language," he once commented. "William Steig writes and illustrates great books with wonderful word play. And many, many other authors—Katherine Paterson, Byrd Baylor, Jane Yolen, Gary Paulsen, Jon Scieszka, Gary Soto, John Steptoe, Bill Martin, Jr., Lois Lowry, Aliki, Richard Margolis to name a few—have profoundly influenced my work."

To aspiring writers, Fletcher once commented: "There's no one single way to write. Everyone has to find his or her own way. I think it begins with your uniqueness. Sandra Cisneros says: 'Write about what makes you different.'"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Audubon, November-December, 2001, Christopher Camuto, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 86.

Booklist, March 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of I Am Wings: Poems about Love, p. 1345; May 15, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of Fig Pudding, p. 1645; May 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, p. 1500; April 15, 1997, Karen Morgan, review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, pp. 1421-1422; June 1-15, 1997, Candace Smith, review of Spider Boy, p. 1702; October 15, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 414; August, 1998, Kathleen Squires, review of Flying Solo, p. 1998; July, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, p. 1940; March 15, 2000, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 1360; August, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 2138; December 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 825; May 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, p. 1593.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1994, p. 318; July-August, 1996, Roger Sutton, review of Buried Alive, pp. 370-71.

Educational Leadership, March, 1991, Brenda Miller Power, review of Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, pp. 84-85.

English Journal, April, 1993, Tom Romano, review of What a Writer Needs, pp. 93-94.

Horn Book, July-August, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of I Am Wings, pp. 466-467; July-August, 1997, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Spider Boy, pp. 454-455; November-December, 1998, Susan P. Bloom, review of Flying Solo, pp. 728-729; July, 2001, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 450.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Buried Alive, p. 601; March 15, 1997, review of Spider Boy, p. 460; September 1, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 1388; February 15, 2002, review of Poetry Matters, pp. 254-255; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 1174.

Kliatt, September, 1997, Jeffrey Cooper, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, p. 25.

Language Arts, April, 1992, review of Walking Trees, p. 304; March, 1994, review of What a Writer Needs, p. 230; May, 2003, Junko Yokota, Mingshui Cai, and Theresa Kubasak, review of Poetry Matters, p. 396.

Library Journal, November 15, 1990, Nancy E. Zuwiyya, review of Walking Trees, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, April 24, 1995, review of Fig Pudding, p. 72; October 27, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 75; February 2, 1998, p. 91; May 3, 1999, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 78; April 23, 2001, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 77; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, pp. 63-64.

Reading Teacher, December, 1997, Bonita L. Wilcox, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out, pp. 350-353.

School Library Journal, June, 1994, Judy Greenfield, review of I Am Wings, p. 154; July, 1995, Alice Casey Smith, review of Fig Pudding, p. 78; May, 1996, Marjorie Lewis, review of Buried Alive, p. 138; May, 1997, Sharon Korbeck, review of Ordinary Things, p. 144; July, 1997, Adele Greenlee, review of Spider Boy, p. 93; October, 1997, Virginia Golodetz, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 95; October, 1998, July Siebecker, review of Flying Solo, p. 135; April, 1999, Kristen Oravec, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 146; November, 1999, Ginny Harrell, review of Fig Pudding, p. 64; September, 2000, Steve Clancy, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 196; November, 2000, Alicia Eames, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 119; December, 2000, Timothy Capehart, review of How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, p. 160; May, 2001, Heide Piehler, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 149; June, 2001, Bina Williams, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 112; August, 2001, Lauralyn Persson, review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, p. 194; February, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Poetry Matters, p. 143; September, 2003, Shawn Brommer, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 178.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1994, Diane Tuccillo, review of I Am Wings, pp. 106-107; October, 1996, p. 228.

ONLINE

Ralph Fletcher Home Page,http://www.ralphfletcher.com/ (November 10, 2003).*

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Fletcher, Ralph 1953-

Fletcher, Ralph 1953-

PERSONAL:

Born March 17, 1953; son of Ralph (a textbook publisher) and Jean Fletcher; married JoAnn Portalupi (a professor), May, 1989; children: Taylor Curtis, Adam Curtis, Robert, Joseph. Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., 1975; Columbia University, M.F. A., 1983. Politics: Democrat.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Durham, NH. Office—Arrowpoint 17, Inc., P.O. Box 8, South Hadley, MA 01075. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Educational consultant, 1985—; author, 1990—.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Christopher Medal, 2002, for Uncle Daddy.

WRITINGS:

JUVENILE FICTION

Fig Pudding, Clarion (New York, NY), 1995.

Spider Boy, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Twilight Comes Twice, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 1997.

Flying Solo, Clarion (New York, NY), 1998.

Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, Holt (New York, NY), 2000.

Grandpa Never Lies, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson, Clarion (New York, NY), 2000.

The Circus Surprise, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin, Clarion (New York, NY), 2001.

Uncle Daddy Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, illustrated by Andrea Sperling, Orchard (New York, NY), 2001.

Hello, Harvest Moon, illustrated by Kate Kiesler, Clarion (New York, NY), 2003.

Moving Day, illustrated by Jennifer Emery, Wordsong (Honesdale, PA), 2006.

The One O'Clock Chop, Holt (New York, NY), 2007.

The Sandman, illustrated by Richard Cowdrey, Holt (New York, NY), 2008.

Fig Pudding has been translated into Dutch, German, and French.

JUVENILE NONFICTION

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You, Avon (New York, NY), 1996.

Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words, Avon (New York, NY), 1999.

How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid (memoir), Holt (New York, NY), 2005.

How to Write Your Life Story, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2007.

POETRY

Water Planet: Poems about Water, Arrowhead Books (Paramus, NJ), 1991.

I Am Wings: Poems about Love (also see below), photographs by Joe Baker, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.

Buried Alive: The Elements of Love (also see below), photographs by Andrew Moore, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.

Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.

Room Enough for Love (contains I Am Wings and Buried Alive), Aladdin (New York, NY), 1998.

Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, Orchard (New York, NY), 1999.

A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets, illustrated by April Ward, Wordsong (Honesdale, PA), 2005.

OTHER

Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1991, published as Walking Trees: Portraits of Teachers and Children in the Culture of Schools, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1995.

What a Writer Needs, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1993.

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 1996.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 1998, 2nd edition, Stenhouse Publishers (Portland, ME), 2007.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Nonfiction Craft Lessons: Teaching Information Writing K-8, Stenhouse (Portland, ME), 2001.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2001.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Teaching the Qualities of Writing: Ideas, Design, Language, Presentation, Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2004.

(With JoAnn Portalupi) Lessons for the Writer's Notebook (curriculum guide), Heinemann (Portsmouth, NH), 2005.

Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices, Stenhouse Publishers (Portland, ME), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Redbook, People, Cosmopolitan, and the Wall Street Journal.

SIDELIGHTS:

Ralph Fletcher is the author of a number of well-received volumes of fiction and poetry for young readers, including Uncle Daddy, and Moving Day. An educational consultant, he has also written extensively on the craft of writing, penning such titles as Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out and How to Write Your Life Story. "Most writers specialize in one particular kind of writing," Fletcher stated on his home page. "Not me. I have published novels, poetry collections, nonfiction, books for teachers and picture books. I find that each form comes with its own particular pleasures and challenges."

Fletcher's first published titles appeared in the early 1990s, but it was his 1994 volume of poetry for young adults, I Am Wings: Poems about Love, that garnered him solid reviews and established him as a popular writer with adolescent readers. I Am Wings consists of several short, unrhymed poems coupled with black-and-white photographs of teenagers by Joe Baker. The poems chronicle a romance, told by a boy named Lee. Divided into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out," Fletcher's verse attempts to capture the gamut of feelings that many young teens struggle with and find bewildering: the crush, the kiss, the betrayal. It is written in the vernacular of teen speech, and for this Fletcher won recurrent praise from reviewers for creating accessible verse for an age group that is usually not expected to gravitate toward poetry. Diane Tuccillo reviewed I Am Wings for Voice of Youth Advocates and found the verse "romantic and pensive, but not mushy."

Fletcher's next book of poetry, Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, was also geared toward teen readers, consisting of thirty-three brief poems with pencil drawings by Walter Lyon Krudop. The verses serve as a tutorial for the reader on how to leave the house and become an observer of the magic of nature. "Fletcher reminds young people that such a walk can be mind-clearing and therapeutic," remarked Sharon Korbeck in School Library Journal.

A later work returned once again to the subject of love, but tied in observations of the natural world outside with the inner turmoil of ardor. Buried Alive: The Elements of Love was published in 1996 and again interspersed poetry with photographs. Sectioned into four parts—Earth, Water, Fire, and Air—the thirty-one poems with almost as many narrators each recount a tale of love or love's woe: the magic of mutual attraction; a secret crush on the baby-sitter; a gay girl ostracized but still proud, though her yearbook contains no signatures. A Kirkus Reviews critic praised Fletcher for creating "articulate, intense poems that treat the subject of love with dignity and compassion." School Library Journal reviewer Marjorie Lewis wrote that Buried Alive, as a whole, puts Fletcher "a step above" some of the other poets who write for adolescents. "Plainspeaking but lyrical, Fletcher makes poetry accessible while still keeping it, well, poetry," commented Roger Sutton in a review of the work for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

The humorous and astute observations of an eleven-year-old boy spending a day along the shore comprise Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, a collection of thirty-three poems. Very little escapes the narrator's attention, including the foolish antics of a group of teenagers and a chubby baby with a wet diaper. According to Lauralyn Persson, writing in School Library Journal, Fletcher's "simple language and conversational tone are just right for capturing the emotions of a child on the edge of adolescence." Moving Day, another poetry collection, details the emotions of twelve-year-old Fletch, who is preparing to move to a new state with his family. Noting the gamut of books that examine a youngster's adjustment to a new home, School Library Journal critic Mary Jean Smith remarked that "few focus in such depth on what was left behind."

A youngster chronicles the trials and triumphs of everyday life in A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets. The more than two dozen free-verse poems examine such varied topics as homework, road kill, haiku, and a grandmother's battle with senility. "What emerges is a picture of a young writer at work, looking closely at the world," noted School Library Journal contributor Lee Bock. In the words of Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson, the collection "demonstrates how poems can transform the daily experiences of a child's life into dead-on truth bombs."

Fletcher also penned a number of works for young readers, including Twilight Comes Twice, a picture book told in verse. Illustrated by Kate Kiesler with drawings of a young girl and her dog out for a walk, the work is structured around a twenty-four-hour period. Fletcher begins with the coming of night in a somewhat rural, though still populated, setting and picks up again with the arrival of daylight, hence the title. Observations of commuters, children playing, and animals and their activities are recorded in the verse. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found the work somewhat "cerebral," but granted that "both art and text are filled with sumptuous detail." A Kirkus Reviews contributor termed Twilight Comes Twice "a quietly alluring mood piece" that might entice "readers to move beyond the page" and explore dusk and dawn's special quietness for themselves.

Another notable book from Fletcher is Hello, Harvest Moon, a companion volume to Twilight Comes Twice. The work, noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "makes peaceful reading either in season, or on any moonlit night." Hello Harvest Moon traces the path of a single night, from the rising to the setting of the moon. Many people observe the light of the moon as they go about their lives; a girl and her cat play by it, a pilot flies by it, luna moths dance under it, and turtle hatchlings follow its reflection to the sea. Fletcher describes all of these activities with "lyrical, child-friendly images [that] will linger in readers' minds," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor.

In Grandpa Never Lies, a girl recounts special times with her grandparents, who invite the youngster to their cabin to hunt fossils, drink hot chocolate, and listen to Grandpa's imaginative stories. After her grandmother suddenly dies, however, the girl and her Grandpa help each other cope with the loss. Despite its somber theme, Grandpa Never Lies "is an upbeat, joyous story of an intergenerational relationship," noted Lauren Peterson in Booklist. A familiar childhood predicament is the subject of The Circus Surprise. When Nick becomes separated from his parents while visiting the Big Top, a friendly clown lends assistance to the frightened boy. "Fletcher's text is by turns reassuring and practical in tone," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Fletcher explores the origins of a fabled individual in The Sandman, a "charming and comforting bedtime tale," wrote Ian Chipman in Booklist. The work centers on Tor, a wee fellow who discovers that dust from a dragon's scale cures his insomnia. "Fletcher's smoothly written story flows in a thoroughly plausible way," Persson stated.

Fletcher is also the author of several acclaimed novels for late-elementary readers. The first of these was Fig Pudding, published in 1995 to excellent reviews. Its narrator is Cliff Abernathy III, the oldest of six children in a pleasant and close-knit family. Fletcher structures the narrative around a year in the life of the Abernathy family, beginning at Christmas one year and ending with the next year's holiday season. Each chapter revolves around a family member, and through Cliff's tale, which encompasses everything from daily events to the tragic death of a sibling, readers come to know the characters and their very different personalities. "Written with humor, perception, and a clarity of language, the book resonates with laughter and sorrow," declared Alice Casey Smith in a review of Fig Pudding for School Library Journal. Chris Sherman, assessing the work for Booklist, termed the hero of Fletcher's story "a sympathetic and thoughtful narrator." The author writes about the tragedy and the way in which the family deals with its grief "with remarkable restraint and understatement," thought a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Fletcher created yet another likable kid for the title character of his 1997 novel, Spider Boy. Seventh-grader Bobby loves his pet tarantulas and is fascinated by spiders in general. This never seemed to be a problem until Bobby's family leaves Illinois and moves halfway across the country. Bobby is suddenly known as the new kid in school with the bizarre hobby. Furthermore, his beloved tarantula Thelma has stopped eating, probably because of the stress of the move. So has Bobby, who still keeps his watch set on Illinois time. Coming to terms with the bully at school, who derisively names Bobby "Spider Boy" and then is responsible for the death of one of his tarantulas, is the great trial of his life and one that resonates with its intended audience. Candace Smith, writing in Booklist, called Spider Boy an "appealing story." Smith wrote that "Fletcher portrays the new-kid-on-the-block syndrome honestly by making Bobby a sympathetic but not perfect character." A Kirkus Reviews contributor said of the book: "Creating and guiding a winning cast with a light, sure hand, Fletcher puts a fine, fresh spin on a familiar premise."

A former educator, Fletcher drew upon his classroom experiences to create a novel that depicts a common fantasy of students in Flying Solo. When their substitute teacher fails to show up, a classroom of smart sixth-graders seize the opportunity and take charge of their own education for a day, while struggling to keep others at the school in the dark regarding the situation. Fletcher introduces a host of students as lead characters, each with their own personal travail to resolve: Bastian is moving to Hawaii with his family the next day and must decide whether he will leave his dog with a family here or force it to undergo a long period of quarantine; Rachel has not spoken since a classmate who had a crush on her died several months earlier; Sean, a boy with a troubled family life, has a crush on her now; Karen emerges as a natural leader, while Jessica shows herself as too uptight to learn from the experience of having a bit of responsibility for once. In the end, Rachel finally talks, Bastian's dog finds the right home, and all the students learn more about themselves in one day than they expected—including how to rely upon, trust, and forgive one another. The author, noted Kathleen Squires in Booklist, "expertly balances a wide variety of emotions, giving readers a story that is by turns sad, poignant, and funny." Writing in Horn Book, Susan P. Bloom stated: "This kaleidoscopic novel is more thoughtful and poignant than most school stories, while still appropriately leavened with comic moments."

Another novel by Fletcher is Uncle Daddy, described as "a reassuring picture of forgiveness and acceptance within a family" by School Library Journal reviewer Heide Piehler. Ever since his father abandoned the family without warning when he was three, Rivers has been raised by his mother and his great-uncle, whom the boy calls "Uncle Daddy." Then, six years later, when Rivers is nine, his father returns. Although Fletcher avoided the clichés that readers might have expected from this situation—for example, Rivers's father and Uncle Daddy do not try to force the boy to choose between them—Rivers still faces a difficult adjustment. "With uncomplicated sentences and plenty of dialogue, Fletcher makes Rivers's dilemma immediate and real," commented a Horn Book critic.

Set in 1973, The One O'Clock Chop centers on fourteen-year-old Matt, a Long Island resident who takes a job as a clam digger so he can earn enough to buy his own boat. While dealing with his conflicted emotions about his father's remarriage, Matt falls in love with his exotic cousin, Jazzy, who comes to visit for the summer. "Fletcher's insight into Matt and his boat dreams fly off the page with a solid resonance," a contributor noted in Kirkus Reviews. "Writing with his customary sensitivity and flair for language," observed a Publishers Weekly contributor, "Fletcher turns a coming-of-age story into a rich, affecting read."

Fletcher has also written several nonfiction works focused on the writing process, including the 1996 title Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook. He begins the book by positing that it is not altogether necessary for a writer to keep such a journal, and then moves on to provide guidelines for those who decide they would like to. He explains such a tool can help one learn to write without fear of judgment, and thus develop a clear voice. Such journals are also excellent ways for writers to find their inspiration, and Fletcher provides examples of how insignificant details, rhetorical questions, lists of oddities, and even the conversations of strangers can spark fire to the creative process. Compared to most "how-to" works for aspiring writers, "this one is refreshingly varied and undogmatic in its approach," noted Jeffrey Cooper in Kliatt.

Poetry Matters, a guide for middle-grade students, is written in a similar style. Described as "chatty, but never condescending" by Booklist critic Hazel Rochman, Poetry Matters "packs in a wealth of information without a word of jargon." In addition to writing about the components of poetry—images, rhythm, voice—Fletcher also includes interviews with three other children's poets. Fletcher's points are illustrated with numerous excerpts from his own and others' works, which "embody the author's advice by showing how writing techniques actually function in poems," explained Kristen Oravec in School Library Journal.

Fletcher once commented that he has a passion for nurturing young writers. Fletcher has also produced other books geared specifically to budding authors—A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You and Live Writing: Breathing Life into Your Words among them. A Writer's Notebook offers realistic advice on how to keep notes and use them to create stories and poems. Live Writing instructs young writers on how to use words, imagination, ideas, and a love of books to create written works that "live and breathe." In How to Write Your Life Story, Fletcher offers advice for young people who wish to write an autobiography or memoir. According to Booklist critic Ilene Cooper, aspiring writers "will be pleased with the suggestions Fletcher makes in his easy style."

Fletcher presented his own life story in Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid, "a dreamy reminiscence of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s," observed Anne O'Malley in Booklist. Fletcher grew up in a large Catholic family in the small Massachusetts town of Marshfield, where he explored the woods near his home, helped raise chicks, and, much to his embarrassment, often learned from a classmate that his mother was going to have another baby. Writing in School Library Journal, Alison Follos praised the memoir's "sagacious eloquence and gentle humor," and a Kirkus Reviews critic stated that Marshfield Dreams "will open readers' eyes to the bonds of a peerless time and simpler lifestyle."

"I've always treasured books," Fletcher once commented. "Books opened my eyes. They moved me from the inside out. At some point, I dreamed of becoming a writer. Today, when I write, I'm trying to put the reader through a powerful experience. I want to move my readers in the same way other authors have moved me with their books." On his home page, Fletcher noted that "becoming a writer is … a dream that has come true. I love to write. I love getting up every morning and mucking around in sentences, playing with stories, trying to build my city of words."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Audubon, November-December, 2001, Christopher Camuto, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 86.

Booklist, March 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of I Am Wings: Poems about Love, p. 1345; May 15, 1995, Chris Sherman, review of Fig Pudding, p. 1645; May 1, 1996, Hazel Rochman, review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, p. 1500; April 15, 1997, Karen Morgan, review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, pp. 1421-1422; June 1-15, 1997, Candace Smith, review of Spider Boy, p. 1702; October 15, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 414; August, 1998, Kathleen Squires, review of Flying Solo, p. 1998; July, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, p. 1940; March 15, 2000, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 1360; August, 2000, Todd Morning, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 2138; December 15, 2000, Lauren Peterson, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 825; May 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, p. 1593; March 15, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of A Writing Kind of Day: Poems for Young Poets, p. 1290; October 1, 2005, Anne O'Malley, review of Marshfield Dreams: When I Was a Kid, p. 51; October 1, 2007, Ilene Cooper, review of How to Write Your Life Story, p. 51; September 15, 2007, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The One O'Clock Chop, p. 74; July 1, 2008, Ian Chipman, review of The Sandman, p. 73.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July-August, 1996, Roger Sutton, review of Buried Alive, pp. 370-371.

Educational Leadership, March, 1991, Brenda Miller Power, review of Walking Trees: Teaching Teachers in the New York City Schools, pp. 84-85.

English Journal, April, 1993, Tom Romano, review of What a Writer Needs, pp. 93-94.

Horn Book, July-August, 1994, Nancy Vasilakis, review of I Am Wings, pp. 466-467; July-August, 1997, Elizabeth S. Watson, review of Spider Boy, pp. 454-455; November-December, 1998, Susan P. Bloom, review of Flying Solo, pp. 728-729; July, 2001, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 450.

Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1996, review of Buried Alive, p. 601; March 15, 1997, review of Spider Boy, p. 460; September 1, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 1388; February 15, 2002, review of Poetry Matters, pp. 254-255; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 1174; August 15, 2005, review of Marshfield Dreams, p. 913; November 15, 2006, review of Moving Day, p. 1173; July 1, 2007, review of The One O'clock Chop.

Kliatt, September, 1997, Jeffrey Cooper, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer's Notebook, p. 25.

Language Arts, April, 1992, review of Walking Trees, p. 304; March, 1994, review of What a Writer Needs, p. 230; May, 2003, Junko Yokota, Mingshui Cai, and Theresa Kubasak, review of Poetry Matters, p. 396.

Library Journal, November 15, 1990, Nancy E. Zuwiyya, review of Walking Trees, p. 78.

Publishers Weekly, April 24, 1995, review of Fig Pudding, p. 72; October 27, 1997, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 75; February 2, 1998, p. 91; May 3, 1999, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 78; April 23, 2001, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 77; September 15, 2003, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, pp. 63-64; August 6, 2007, review of The One O'Clock Chop, p. 189.

Reading Teacher, December, 1997, Bonita L. Wilcox, review of Breathing In, Breathing Out, pp. 350-353.

School Library Journal, June, 1994, Judy Greenfield, review of I Am Wings, p. 154; July, 1995, Alice Casey Smith, review of Fig Pudding, p. 78; May, 1996, Marjorie Lewis, review of Buried Alive, p. 138; May, 1997, Sharon Korbeck, review of Ordinary Things, p. 144; July, 1997, Adele Greenlee, review of Spider Boy, p. 93; October, 1997, Virginia Golodetz, review of Twilight Comes Twice, p. 95; October, 1998, July Siebecker, review of Flying Solo, p. 135; April, 1999, Kristen Oravec, review of Relatively Speaking, p. 146; November, 1999, Ginny Harrell, review of Fig Pudding, p. 64; September, 2000, Steve Clancy, review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, p. 196; November, 2000, Alicia Eames, review of Grandpa Never Lies, p. 119; December, 2000, Timothy Capehart, review of How Writers Work: Finding a Process That Works for You, p. 160; May, 2001, Heide Piehler, review of Uncle Daddy, p. 149; June, 2001, Bina Williams, review of The Circus Surprise, p. 112; August, 2001, Lauralyn Persson, review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, p. 194; February, 2002, Kristen Oravec, review of Poetry Matters, p. 143; September, 2003, Shawn Brommer, review of Hello, Harvest Moon, p. 178; April, 2005, Lee Bock, review of A Writing Kind of Day, p. 150; September, 2005, Alison Follos, review of Marshfield Dreams, p. 222; December, 2006, Mary Jean Smith, review of Moving Day, p. 98; November, 2007, Debbie Whitbeck, review of How to Write Your Life Story, p. 144; May, 2008, Lauralyn Persson, review of The Sandman, p. 98.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1994, Diane Tuccillo, review of I Am Wings, pp. 106-107.

ONLINE

Ralph Fletcher Home Page,http://www.ralphfletcher.com (December 1, 2008).

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Fletcher, Ralph 1953-

Ralph Fletcher
1953-

INTRODUCTION
PRINCIPAL WORKS
AUTHOR COMMENTARY
TITLE COMMENTARY
FURTHER READING

American young adult poet, nonfiction writer, young adult novelist, and author of picture books.

The following entry presents an overview of Fletcher's career through 2003.

INTRODUCTION

An eclectic writer, Fletcher is the author of a number of well received volumes of fiction and poetry for young readers. His first few published titles appeared in the early 1990s, but it was his 1994 volume of poetry for young adults, I am Wings: Poems about Love, that garnered him solid reviews and established him as a popular writer with adolescent readers. He has won acclaim for his ability to accurately reflect the speech and thoughts of his well-drawn protagonists and, through them, speak to his teenaged readers. Fletcher is also an educational consultant and has written extensively on the craft of writing—particularly for adolescents hoping to become writers—in such works as How Writers Work: Finding a Process that Works for You (2000) and Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out (2002).

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Fletcher was born on March 17, 1953, the eldest of nine children. His father, Ralph Sr., was a textbook publisher. As a young boy, Fletcher became a voracious reader, with a particular interest in sports stories, the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and Jack London's Call of the Wild. He began writing at an early age with the encouragement of his junior high school and high school teachers. He attended Dartmouth College, graduating with his B.A. in 1975, and participated in two foreign study programs, living briefly in Tonga in the South Pacific and Sierra Leone in West Africa. When Fletcher was twenty-one, his seventeen-year-old brother, Bob, was killed in an automobile accident. The experience later served as the inspiration for Fletcher's first novel Fig Pudding (1995). His brother's death also inspired Fletcher to begin writing poetry and, for many years, he held poetry reading parties with his family and friends, with everyone bringing his or her own poem. When he was twenty-eight years old, Fletcher returned to college, receiving an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Columbia University in 1983. He participated in writing workshops and worked for three years with the Teachers College Writing Project, assisting in staff development. During this period, Fletcher discovered children's literature and decided he wanted to write for children, citing Cynthia Rylant, Katherine Paterson, Jane Yolen, Gary Paulsen, William Steig, Lois Lowry, and Aliki, among his major influences. He became an educational consultant in 1985, and in 1994, he published his first book for young adults, I am Wings. The father of four sons, Fletcher resides in Durham, New Hampshire, and continues to work as a nationally known educational consultant, speaker, and writer in the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.

MAJOR WORKS

I am Wings: Poems about Love, Fletcher's first young adult work, is a collection of short unrhymed poems chronicling a romance, from start to finish, narrated by a boy named Lee. The work is divided into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out," and attempts to capture the breadth of feelings in a teenager's first love—the crush, the kiss, the bewilderment, and the betrayal. Written in teen vernacular and accompanied by black-and-white photographs, I am Wings includes observations on several different varieties of adolescent romances, including a homosexual relationship. His second volume of verse, Buried Alive: The Elements of Love (1996), returns to the subject of love, but tied into observations of the natural world outside with the inner turmoil of ardor. Sectioned into four parts—Earth, Water, Fire, and Air—the thirty-one poems, with almost as many narrators, each recount a tale of love or love's woe: the magic of mutual attraction; a secret crush on the baby-sitter; an ostracized lesbian teenager, who retains her pride, though her yearbook contains no signatures. I am Wings and Buried Alive were later collected in the volume Room Enough for Love (1998). Fletcher's next book of poetry, Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring (1997) is also geared toward teen readers, consisting of thirty-three brief poems with pencil drawings by Walter Lyon Krudop. The verses serve as a tutorial for the reader on how to leave their home and become an observer of the magic of nature. Fletcher also composed Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family (1999), a selection of poems narrated by the youngest child in a family, and a collection aimed at a younger audience, Have You Been to the Beach Lately? (2001). He has additionally written several illustrated picture books—including Twilight Comes Twice (1997), Grandpa Never Lies (2000), Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble (2000), and Hello, Harvest Moon (2003)—which match his poetic verse with evocative paintings from such illustrators as Kate Kiesler, Ben Caldwell, and Harvey Stevenson.

Fletcher's first young adult novel, Fig Pudding, was inspired by the untimely death of his younger brother, Bob. The novel's narrator is Cliff Abernathy III, the oldest of six children in a pleasant and close-knit family. Fletcher structures the narrative around a year in the life of the Abernathy family, beginning at Christmas one year and ending with the subsequent holiday season. Each chapter revolves around a family member, and through Cliff's tale, which encompasses everything from daily events to the tragic death of a sibling, readers come to know the characters and their very different personalities. In Fletcher's youth novel Spider Boy (1997), seventh-grader Bobby loves his pet tarantulas and is fascinated by spiders in general. This never seemed to be a problem until Bobby's family leaves Illinois and moves halfway across the country to upstate New York. Bobby is suddenly known as the new kid in school with the bizarre hobby. Furthermore, his beloved tarantula Thelma has stopped eating, probably due to the stress of the move. In an attempt to defend himself against a schoolyard bully, who derisively names Bobby "Spider Boy," Bobby concocts outrageous stories about his family and his hobby, which only make him more of a target. When the bully eventually kills one of Bobby's tarantulas, Bobby is forced to work through his depression and find a support system in his new home. Fletcher drew upon his classroom experiences to create a narrative that details a fantasy day in the life of any young school-goer in his novel Flying Solo (1998). The day the substitute teacher never shows up, a classroom of smart sixth-graders seize the opportunity and take charge of their own education, while struggling to keep others at the school in the dark regarding the situation. Fletcher won the Christopher Medal for Uncle Daddy (2001), which revolves around nine-year-old Rivers, whose alcoholic father went out for pizza one night when Rivers was three and never returned. Six years later, Rivers fantasizes about what he would do to his father if he ever returned. In the meantime, his mother's uncle has taken on role of father for Rivers and earned the sobriquet "Uncle Daddy." Rivers' fantasies are tested when his father suddenly reappears, clean and sober and desiring a relationship with his son. As Rivers works through his conflicting emotions, he also worries about how the situation will affect his relationship with his beloved Uncle Daddy. When Uncle Daddy suffers a sudden heart attack, Rivers' father steps in to help build a new room for him on the ground floor of the family home, an act that serves to reunite Rivers' father with his son without displacing Uncle Daddy.

Fletcher has additionally written several nonfiction books, for both children and adults, focusing on the craft of writing. His first instructional work for children, How Writers Work: Finding a Process that Works for You, discusses how different people go about the creative process. He explains several aspects of writing such as brainstorming, rough drafts, revision, proofreading, and publication. Fletcher also includes examples of student writing and interviews with a number of children's authors. In his second how-to book for children, Poetry Matters: Writing aPoem from the Inside Out, Fletcher defines poems as "emotional x-rays." The chapters expound on the use of images, how utilize sound and rhythm, methods for generating ideas, poetic construction, and other aspects of writing poetry. Citing numerous examples from his own poems and the works of others, Fletcher offers advice on fine-tuning verse, experimenting with wordplay, and finding an original voice.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Though most of Fletcher's works have been generally well received by critics and readers alike, his most recognized works to date remain his collections of poetry for young and adolescent audiences. Fletcher has won recurrent praise from reviewers for creating accessible verse for an age group that is usually not expected to gravitate toward poetry. In her review of I am Wings, Nancy Vasilakis has commented that the author's "short, unrhymed verses speak with the touching intensity of untutored, hard-felt emotions." Additionally, Susan Marie Swanson has observed, "[Fletcher's] poems invite readers to enter a realm where they might fear to go and help clear a path to the more complex, unpredictable, and demanding poetry that lies beyond." Critics have noted Fletcher's evocative imagery in his verse, particularly complimenting his ability to write convincing for teenagers without coming across as condescending to his audience. However, some reviewers, such as Brooke Selby Dillon, have noted "editing carelessness" in Fletcher's collections and lamented the "prosaic nature" of his poetry. Fletcher's young adult novels have also won critical accolades, with many commentators applauding the author's willingness to address such difficult subject material as death and homosexuality. Uncle Daddy, in particular, has been complimented for presenting an insightful look at modern unconventional families. Praised for addressing both child and adult audiences at their need levels, Fletcher's nonfiction instructional works have received favorable notices from critics, with Hazel Rochman commenting that Fletcher's writing primers are "chatty, but never condescending, and encouraging about how to get started and how to keep going."

AWARDS

Fletcher was awarded the Christopher Medal in 2002 for Uncle Daddy.

PRINCIPAL WORKS

I am Wings: Poems about Love (young adult poetry) 1994

Fig Pudding (young adult novel) 1995

Buried Alive: The Elements of Love (young adult poetry) 1996

Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring [illustrations by Walter Lyon Krudop] (young adult poetry) 1997

Spider Boy (young adult novel) 1997

Twilight Comes Twice [illustrations by Kate Kiesler] (picture book) 1997

Flying Solo (young adult novel) 1998

* Room Enough for Love (young adult poetry) 1998

Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family (young adult poetry) 1999

Grandpa Never Lies [illustrations by Harvey Stevenson] (picture book) 2000

How Writers Work: Finding a Process that Works for You (nonfiction) 2000

Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble [illustrations by Ben Caldwell] (picture book) 2000

The Circus Surprise [illustrations by Vladimir Vagin] (picture book) 2001

Have You Been to the Beach Lately?: Poems (young adult poetry) 2001

Uncle Daddy (young adult novel) 2001

Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out (nonfiction) 2002

Hello, Harvest Moon [illustrations by Kate Kiesler] (picture book) 2003

*Collects I am Wings and Buried Alive.

AUTHOR COMMENTARY

Ralph Fletcher (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Fletcher, Ralph. "Roots and Wings: Literature and Children's Writing." In Pen in Hand: Children Become Writers, edited by Bernice E. Cullinan, pp. 7-17. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, 1993.

[In the following essay, Fletcher discusses techniques for encouraging children to write creatively and offers constructive suggestions to young writers.]

When I finished reading The Two of Them by Aliki, the second graders remained silent. You could actually see a residue of sorrow on their faces. This picture book about the love between a grandfather and granddaughter and her sadness at his death would echo inside them for a long time.

A curly-haired boy broke the silence with a squeaky voice. "My grandpa died, too," he said.

Now other children began sharing their reactions to this book, although one girl was noticeably silent. When the time came to write, she ran back to her seat and swiftly got to work. The other children began writing on a variety of topics—birthdays, skiing, an argument with an evil little sister—but Christine chose to borrow the theme from Aliki's book. Here's what she wrote:

Just like in the story the two of them my grandpa gave Heather my sister a necklise and when I was born my grandpa gave me a ring and last year it fit and this year he died. He died January 5, 1991, the beginning of the year. When I went to his house we played cards and we also played a guessing game. And we planted flowers. And when he died my grandma tolled me that the flowers died. I was the one who cryed the most. My Mom's friend Ilean took us for some pizza, and to see Home Alone, and then to Friendlys. He didn't want a funeral so that night we went to see him before he went away. I bought him some flowers and I used all my money and I'm still broke. And when I was born he said: "Thank god its another girl the army can't take her away."

(Fletcher, 1993)

It has been said that the two most precious gifts an adult can give a child are roots and wings: a solid foundation coupled with the courage and confidence to pursue big dreams. Books can give children parallel gifts. Through books students take root in our literary tradition; books help children begin to internalize myriad conventions of language. Books teach skills and techniques ranging from the most concrete (punctuation, paragraphing) to the most ephemeral (metaphor, rhythm, tension, foreshadowing). Children draw on what they know about books when they begin to write coherent narratives.

Books were my mentors when I started writing. Anything by E. B. White. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. Jack London's story "To Build a Fire" made me want to make other people feel the same savage intensity about life that London had made me feel. Reading made me want to write.

Our classrooms can be literate environments in which poems and stories spark our students' imaginations and open possibilities they never dreamed of for their own writing. We can encourage young writers to take inspiration from books they know by following a three-tiered approach:

  • Marinate students in the best literature we can find.
  • Find authentic ways to invite students to dwell in those books, stories, and poems, so they come to know these works from the inside out.
  • Once students have a common experience in certain books, begin to explore with them the composing techniques used by the professional writers who wrote those books.

Marinating

It's no secret that reading and writing have many links. Both activities immerse us in a process of actively using language to make meaning of the world; both involve a great deal of revision; the reader and the writer both conduct a "dialogue with an emerging text" (Calkins, 1983).

We need to marinate students in literature so that, over time, it soaks into their consciousness and, eventually, into their writing. JoAnn Curtis recently said to me, "We need to create classrooms that are giant invitations to read." We can do this by filling our classroom libraries with books—lots of them. We also need to provide students with frequent opportunities to immerse themselves in those books, beginning on the first day of school in the earliest grades. Some first grade teachers set the stage for reading and let parents know that books will be important in their classrooms by sending notes to the homes of incoming students before the school year begins. These notes can deliver the message by saying something as simple as "Please send your child to school with his or her favorite book. We'll be sharing our favorites in class during the first week of school."

Reading aloud, of course, is the single most powerful way of bringing literature to students. Children should be read to every day. No one would quibble with these statements if I were talking exclusively about primary children, and I think it's true that most kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers regularly read aloud to their students. But fewer teachers read aloud to students in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade, and fewer still read aloud to students in grades seven and eight. This may be a serious mistake. Trelease (1990) points out that most children are better able to process information aurally than visually. In fact, the average student's capacity for processing print typically does not equal capacity for processing spoken language until around grade eight. If we don't read aloud to older children, we deny them the enhanced comprehension that comes from listening to books. And we deny them the pleasure of hearing books read beautifully by a skilled reader.

A few common-sense thoughts about reading aloud to young writers:

Read books you love.

In his New York Times review of Jane Yolen's Owl Moon, novelist Paul Johnson wrote, "The very best books for not-quite-reading children must be written to charm and astonish the adults who will read them aloud: thrill that reader, who will communicate the prickles at the nape of the neck, and you'll have created a desire in the young listener to learn how to read books alone" (1988).

Children will be alive not just to the book you read but to the relationship between you and the book. I vividly recall watching editor and writer Adrian Peetoom give a passionate reading of Mary Ann Hoberman's A House Is a House for Me. I still can't pick up that book without thinking of his reading of it, a reading that was my first experience of the story.

Parents and administrators may react with arched eyebrows at the idea of fifth or sixth grade teachers reading picture books to their students. But picture books have many advantages for the reading-writing classroom. They are short and digestible—meant to be read in a single sitting—and give the reader the satisfaction of hearing the entire story at one time. The best books of this genre are beautifully written and contain many familiar literary elements—protagonist, setting, conflict, tension, climax, resolution, and so forth—that teachers point out in novel units. When I do encounter older children who smirk at picture books, I make a point of reading aloud a few powerful examples of this genre: Nettie's Trip South by Ann Turner, Faithful Elephants by Yukio Tsuchiya, A Father Like That by Charlotte Zolotow. Potent picture books like these will usually put any skepticism to rest.

Develop a chemistry with the books you read aloud.

This is time well spent. Practice reading aloud to your partner, daughter, grandson, cat. Once you become comfortable with a book and know it well, you can relax, fill your rendition with meaning and emotion, and make eye contact with students while reading aloud.

Beware of interrupting or dissecting the reading.

A book, like a joke, has a cadence, a rhythm. A good reader always stays with the book's rhythm. You risk destroying that rhythm if you stop frequently to summarize, teach vocabulary, or lead students through laborious exercises in prediction. I believe every child has a right to hear a first reading of a book or a poem in a straightforward, uninterrupted fashion. You can always go back and point out specifics or teach lessons in a rereading.

Make time for response.

Every student will have some reaction to the book you read. If, however, you launch immediately into a classroom discussion, only the most assertive students will get the chance to verbalize their reactions. Other, more timid students will be left with responses that are unarticulated and partially formed. Children need to talk about books to find out what they have to say.

Come up with a structure that allows each student to respond individually before a class discussion. (Otherwise students will tend toward "group think.") A student's first response to a piece of literature should be allowed to be as open-ended and unguided as possible. You might ask students to turn to a friend and talk for two or three minutes. Petrosky (1988) suggests that students internalize concepts of literature more readily through authentic, student-to-student "cross-talk" than through traditional teacher-student dialogue. With older students, talk could be alternated with a few minutes of writing in reading logs or response journals.

Dwelling

"The best way to improve a student's writing is to wake up the reader within that student," JoAnn Curtis once said to me. "Once the reader is awake and listening, we can speak to the reader in the child during a writing conference."

For many children, the internal reader wakes slowly and fitfully. We can help rouse our young readers by creating a classroom atmosphere that invites children to climb inside books, spend time there, and savor what they find so they come to know books from the inside out. The trick, of course, is not to give students literature-based busywork but rather to provide meaningful reasons for students to stay with the books they encounter.

A few suggestions:

Rereading.

"I read everything twice," novelist Robert Cohen (1988) says. "Once to enjoy it, and a second time to steal everything from the author. By that I mean I'm trying to learn how the author put the book together." In a first reading, the reader focuses on what happens in the story. When the reader rereads, the focus shifts and the reader may begin to wonder about the writing itself. How did the author do this? What are the techniques that created this effect? In the long run, such wondering nourishes the young writer far more than the ability to recapitulate what the book is about.

A writer's notebook.

Many writers keep a notebook in which they jot down passages from the books they read. The notebook becomes a vessel that holds striking beginnings or stirring endings, memorable descriptions, evocative sentences, or unusual words that affected the writer in some way when she or he encountered them. Students can keep such notebooks and peruse them occasionally to find inspiration for their own writing. Invite students to set up sections in their notebooks—"Leads," "Setting," "Unforgettable Language," "Endings," "Characterization"—or to create sections of their own choosing. This will help them organize the passages they wish to record and set up a way of locating particular entries when the notebooks are referred to later. (For more ideas on the writer's notebook, see Calkins, 1990.)

Student read-aloud.

Encourage students to practice reading aloud to one another. If it's true that knowing something well means being able to teach it to someone else, then one way of knowing a book well means being able to read it aloud confidently to another person. Have students practice reading their favorite picture books or poems out loud. Encourage them to practice until they can read with inflection and look up occasionally from the page. Children can enjoy these read-alouds in small groups of peers; alternatively, upper grade children might be paired with primary or preschool children to provide the older students with practice in reading aloud while giving the younger students extra exposure to books.

Choral reading.

Predictable books or books with repeated phrases lend themselves to choral readings. In a choral reading, a group of students (four to six is ideal) look carefully at a book or poem to decide how to read it aloud. What are the most important parts? Who will read which parts? Which parts should be read by the whole group? Should the voices get softer or sadder at certain parts? Should there be any movement or action during the reading?

Author Bill Martin Jr (1991) once remarked that children need to take book language and transform it in some way to make it their own. Choral reading encourages students to explore a text deeply through readings and rereadings that take place while students practice. This allows students to internalize the text and gradually put their own "spin" on the language. Choral readings are particularly helpful for hesitant, word-by-word readers because they allow such students to get swept up in the rhythm and melody of the language.

Drawing.

Heard (1989) suggests that students of all ages make drawings in response to poems. Drawing helps students internalize poetry by visualizing the images at its heart.

Author studies.

Author studies provide another means of inviting students to delve deeply into books, in this case those by a particular author. Author studies, like choral readings, can be undertaken in student groups. I once observed a group of third graders study 20 picture books by Byrd Baylor over a few days. They then made an oral presentation to the class. "She almost always writes about the desert," Lisa explained. "And she likes to write about things that are very old—like rocks, fossils, or just things that happened a long time ago."

"Her books are like poetry," Paul put in. "When you read the book it's like you're reading poems. Listen to this."

These students had moved well beyond the typical, dreary "This book is about …" book report. They spoke with the confidence of insiders. This is precisely the goal of routines and activities that encourage children to dwell in books.

Teaching from Common Ground

Students who know even five or ten books inside out have a genuine chance of understanding and appreciating many complex strategies available to them when they write. I will consider strategies involved with solving two common writing difficulties here, but there are certainly many more strategies to be learned from literature.

Details: The art of specificity. Anyone who has taught writing has exhorted students with words like these: "Put details into your writing! Specific details give readers a picture of what is happening!" Certainly true, and there is no shortage of children's literature to demonstrate this point. But the art of specificity goes beyond the mere inclusion of details. Here's a secret that writers know: specific details mentioned early in a story usually return, often with more significance, toward the end. Anton Chekhov once wrote, "If in the first chapter you say that a gun hung on the wall, in the second or third chapter it must without fail be discharged" (quoted in Murray, 1990). No accident that Brian receives a hatchet early in Gary Paulsen's Hatchet—that tool will help him survive later on. Such a detail is crucial to setting up the events that follow.

In Aliki's The Two of Them, the grandfather makes a ring for his granddaughter on the day of her birth. The girl grows up, sharing adventures and quiet times with him. The ring is not mentioned again until the end of the book. The girl has grown up, the ring now fits, but the grandfather has begun to fail. In this story, the ring works on many levels: a keepsake, a sign of the girl's coming of age, and a symbol suggesting the circularity of life.

Young writers also frequently have difficulty deciding which details are important. The much maligned bed-to-bed story results from a student's inability to exclude any event—no matter how insignificant or unimportant—from a particular day. This equal attention to all details weakens a story by creating a "shopping list" effect that forces the reader to do the hard work of sifting the wheat from the chaff. By following the examples of skilled writers, children can learn how to emphasize some details and events, cut others, and slow down at the crucial moment so the reader can fully absorb the drama taking place.

Time. Inexperienced writers are typically controlled by the element of time in their stories. Through frequent encounters with literature, young writers can discover techniques for controlling the time in their stories so time won't control them. One way of accomplishing this is by learning how to focus on one small slice of a day. Maxine Kumin's lovely picture book The Beach before Breakfast provides a fine example of this technique.

In many books, page one leads to page two which leads to page three—and so on through a chronological sequence. But other books are a collection of snapshots loosely held together and not linked in a linear progression. These books often provide sketches of particular characters. Rosalie by Joan Hewett, a portrait of a much-loved family dog, is among my favorites of this genre.

Flashback, when used with the appropriate transitional words, can be a powerful alternative to the straight chronological narrative. Many books use flashback: A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams, Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox, and Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold, to name just three of the best. Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall begins with a flashback to the mother's death. And in Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, the entire middle section consists of flashbacks to events in Julie's unhappy marriage. Books like these give students potential tools for playing with time in their own writing.

Students also need help in slowing time at the crucial moment of a story so the reader can fully absorb the drama taking place. Slowing the action with a dramatic scene is a device many writers use to great effect: for example, consider Barbara Shook Hazen's Tight Times and Cynthia Rylant's Miss Maggie.

Scarlett, a fifth grader, wrote a story about her family. Her first draft quickly summarized her family's first encounter with her adopted brother. In a second draft, she crafted this dramatic scene that allows the reader to relish the moment:

I had been waiting for this moment for almost two years.

My adopted brother was going to be arriving from Korea in only a moment. Suddenly a lady came off the plane. She told us the boy was very excited but also very shy. Then she walked back a little into the walkway from the plane. When she came back to us she was holding a Korean/Black boy's hand. He was simply adorable.

He had jet black hair and his skin was the color of chocolate milk. He bowed his head shyly and never spoke unless the lady asked him a question. Even then he gave short answers and spoke in a low tone. I sat in a chair and gazed at him while my mother and father talked with the woman with huge grins on their faces.

"This is Lee Yong Seok," she said.

My mom got on her knees and took his hand. She could hardly speak. All she said was "Hi." My dad stepped right up and tickled him. Yong Seok didn't seem to mind. He started laughing, playing. My dad was really excited. He hung the laughing boy upside down and tickled him some more. Soon Yong Seok was on the red carpeted floor of the airport laughing as hard as he could. Mom and I thought he would burst from laughing so hard. My dad kept repeating: "My little boy, my little boy," so many times I couldn't count them.

Opening the Door

The connections children make between the books they read and their own writing do not happen in an instant by means of a worksheet, a carefully orchestrated class project, or even frequent read-aloud sessions. The reading-writing connection is an important spark that happens within each student. Internal connections take time. The process can be slow and painstaking; moreover, this process cannot be forced. It's important to remember what Holdaway (1979) says about real learning: it is always self-initiated, self-monitored, and self-paced.

The students in our classrooms will tell us when they are ready to take the techniques gleaned from literature and bring them into their own writing. Books open the door; each young writer decides when to enter. If we watch, if we are patient, we can bring books to our young writers in a way that will give them the roots and wings they need for the journey ahead.

References

Calkins, L. M. (1983). Lessons from a Child. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, L. M. (1990). Living between the Lines. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Cohen, R. (1988, July). Paper presented at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Fletcher, R. (1993). What a Writer Needs. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Heard, G. (1989). For the Good of the Earth and the Sun. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Holdaway, D. (1979). The Foundations of Literacy. New York: Scholastic.

Johnson, P. (1988, January 3). Review of Jane Yolen's Owl Moon. New York Times Book Review.

Martin, B., Jr. (1991). [Interview conducted by R. Fletcher.] In N. Atwell (Ed.), Workshop 3: The Politics of Process. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Murray, D. M. (1990). Shoptalk. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook.

Petrosky, A. (1988, July). Workshop conducted at Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Trelease, J. (1990, September). Speech delivered at Paramus High School, Paramus, NJ.

Literature

Aliki. (1979). The Two of Them. New York: Greenwillow.

Fox, M. (1985). Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. Brooklyn, NY: Kane/Miller.

George, J. C. (1972). Julie of the Wolves. New York: Harper Trophy.

Hazen, B. S. (1979). Tight Times. New York: Viking.

Hewett, J. (1987). Rosalie. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.

Hoberman, M. A. (1978). A House Is a House for Me. New York: Viking.

Kesey, K. (1962). One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. New York: Viking.

Kumin, M. (1964). The Beach before Breakfast. New York: Putnam.

London, J. (1963). "To Build a Fire." In J. London, White Fang and Other Stories. New York: Dodd, Mead.

MacLachlan, P. (1985). Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: HarperCollins.

Paulsen, G. (1987). Hatchet. New York: Penguin.

Ringgold, F. (1991). Tar Beach. New York: Crown.

Robinson, M. (1980). Housekeeping. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Rylant, C. (1983). Miss Maggie. New York: Dutton.

Tsuchiya, Y. (1951). Faithful Elephants. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Turner, A. (1987). Nettie's Trip South. New York: Macmillan.

Williams, V. (1982). A Chair for My Mother. New York: Greenwillow.

Yolen, J. (1987). Owl Moon. New York: Philomel.

Zolotow, C. (1971). A Father Like That. New York: HarperCollins.

TITLE COMMENTARY

I AM WINGS: POEMS ABOUT LOVE (1994)

Hazel Rochman (review date 15 March 1994)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of I am Wings: Poems about Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 90, no. 14 (15 March 1994): 1345.

More dramatic monologue than poetry, these 33 simple pieces [in I am Wings ] make up a kind of short story about a boy falling in and out of love. The short lines, everyday words, and contemporary imagery make this accessible to even reluctant readers; and the spacious design of the book, with clear type and a few photographs (including a cover picture in pink and blue), will lure readers of both sexes to the ever-popular theme. From "First Look" and "First Kiss" to "First Fight" and "Changing Channels," kids will recognize their world. The vignettes are immediate: passing notes in the classroom, talking on the phone, meeting at the beach or the video store, watching cable TV. Occasionally a line astonishes you with sound and sense—for example, when he explores her hand "notch by knuckle" in the movie dark. A few lines rhyme, but mostly the rhythm is casual and conversational, the feeling gentle. This is romance.

Judy Greenfield (review date June 1994)

SOURCE: Greenfield, Judy. Review of I am Wings: Poems about Love, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 40, no. 6 (June 1994): 154.

Written from the point of view of a smitten young man, these 33 short, free-verse poems [I am Wings ] narrate the ups and downs of a teen romance. They begin with the "First Look" at the high school lockers, move to the beach, and conclude with the painful realization that the girl has lost interest in him. The last poem, "Seeds," suggests that the cycle is about to begin again. The collection includes an allusion to homosexual love in "Justin and Frank," which the writer observes with sensitivity and discretion. While this book tells a story that has been told before, it does so with fresh images and without clichés. A black-and-white photograph begins each section ("Falling In" and "Falling Out") and provides visual closure. Students will readily identify with this fine book.

Roger Sutton (review date June 1994)

SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of I am Wings: Poems about Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 47, no. 10 (June 1994): 318.

The cover picture of a boy looking over his shoulder towards a girl (caught in an incongruously Mae West pose) [in I am Wings ] will clue guys into the fact that this is a collection asking for—and meriting—their attention. While few of Fletcher's thirty-one brief poems specify genders, mostly relying on an I-thou address that could go either or any which way, they have an unflowery simplicity of sentiment that young men new to the game of love will appreciate: "In the movie dark / I explore it—notch by knuckle by / smooth flat land: / the new world / that is your hand." That's "The New World," from the first half of the collection, called "Falling In." Part two, "Falling Out," conveys the rueful side of the same story: "It was like nothing / I'd seen at the movies. // You never sat me down / with a husk in your voice. // It happened BANG: like you / just changed channels." While the poems aren't as sophisticated as Betsy Hearne's Love Lines or Ruth Gordon's anthology Under All Silences, they're smoothly constructed and fully ardent, perfect for private musing or intimate sharing.

Diane Tuccillo (review date June 1994)

SOURCE: Tuccillo, Diane. Review of I am Wings: Poems about Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Voice of Youth Advocates 17, no. 2 (June 1994): 106-07.

Broken into two sections, one about falling in and one about falling out of love, this short book of poems [I am Wings ] chronicles one teen romance from tentative beginnings to last painful good-byes. These quick-reading poems evoke strong images in few words. They appear to be from the point of view of a boy named Lee talking about his girlfriend and others around him. From his friend's "I'm telling you she / likes you, man, she really / likes you," to his final acceptance of their breakup at the end, the reader comes to learn about Lee's innermost feelings. Besides his own love interest, he observes the relationships of Katie, who has a crush on skinny Aaron, and Justin, who is gay and gets beat up defending his boyfriend Frank. The poems are romantic and pensive, but not mushy. Young adults could easily relate to them. For example, the image of a first kiss: "I'll never forget / that empty barn / smell of dry hay / those long columns / of dusty light … for one whole minute / you and I breathed / the same breath." After their first fight, he walks alone, "under a huge rainbow / beautiful and damaged / upper arch worn away / just two broken pieces / dangling from the sky." It is hard to find poetry selections high-interest enough for book-talks, but this one would fit the bill.

Nancy Vasilakis (review date July-August 1994)

SOURCE: Vasilakis, Nancy. Review of I am Wings: Poems about Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Horn Book Magazine 70, no. 4 (July-August 1994): 466-67.

These thirty-one poems about love [I am Wings ] are arranged into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out"; the volume is as brief as the typical crush of a young adolescent, the intended audience for this book. Length of time should not be equated with depth of feeling, however. These short, unrhymed verses speak with the touching intensity of untutored, hard-felt emotions. There is the shock of instant infatuation: "I stand / nailed to the shore / one foot in ocean / one on dry land / but already way / way over my head." Many of the verses describe events in school, where anonymous notes are passed—"Spring-time / and I wish I knew you"—and private passions revealed in public cause one to blush "an amazing red color / I think the word is / crimson / I think the word is / true." These first innocent encounters are followed by disappointment and betrayal—"You sit with Jon Fox / ignore me completely / laugh at his dumb jokes / let your head fall onto / his bony shoulder"—and, inevitably, by new beginnings. The poems, which are easily accessible to younger adolescents, are a good bet for reluctant readers. They will strike home with most teenagers, who'll recognize the feelings expressed here and will appreciate a volume of poetry written entirely in their own language.

Patti Sylvester Spencer (review date October 1994)

SOURCE: Spencer, Patti Sylvester. Review of I am Wings: Poems about Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Book Report 13, no. 2 (October 1994): 49.

"The library doesn't have love poetry, Mrs. S.; I really need a love poem." While Scott was not thorough in his tense and sweaty quest, I am glad that I can now refer him to this book, Fletcher's third volume of poetry [I am Wings ]. Divided into two sections, "Falling In" and "Falling Out," the collection both celebrates and dignifies the range of adolescent emotions involved in building and breaking relationships. Read individually, the poems reveal aspects of young love without sentimentalizing. Read collectively, the poems trace the development of a relationship ("First Look," "Crush Blush," "First Touch," "Fireworks," "First Kiss" ) and its eventual demise ("Playing with Fire," "First Fight," "Changing Channels," "Lies, Lies" ). The poetic voice is that of a young male, sensitive, observant, genuine—as in "The Note" : "I write you a note / unsigned / folded and tucked / inside the novel / you've been reading / … / All I want to say is: / don't worry about / any hidden meanings / or crazy symbolism / like in English class. / This note means / only what it says: / Springtime / and I wish I knew you." In "Justin and Frank" the poet personna sensitively acknowledges the fragility and isolation of another relationship as he observes two homosexual teens. Large type and striking b&w photos combine to make this collection attractive to even reluctant readers. Fletcher's language invites thought through accessible metaphors and meaningful situations relevant to contemporary youth.

FIG PUDDING (1995)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 1995)

SOURCE: Review of Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 63, no. 8 (15 April 1995): 556.

[Fig Pudding is a] book about a big happy family, with lots of laughter, lots of cooking, and lots of eating; it opens with Cliff, the 11-year-old narrator and oldest of six children, "getting ready to dig into a steaming plate of French toast," and closes with his whole family laughing so hard that tears are running down their faces. Each of the siblings quickly establishes a comic persona, and occasionally all of them talk at once in the polyphonic, laugh-out-loud episodes from everyday life—the kind of cozy family plots found in sitcoms. Viewing this brood through the eyes of the sympathetic Cliff, readers quickly get attached to all of them. When one of them—almost without warning—dies, Cliff must adjust his easygoing storytelling, to which he has committed himself, to accommodate this tragic event. He does a remarkably good job, compromising neither his tone, nor the event of his brother's death. Sensitive to all the potential problems of the disparity between the substance and the style of his book, Fletcher (I am Wings ) displays an extremely gentle touch.

Publishers Weekly (review date 24 April 1995)

SOURCE: Review of Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher. Publishers Weekly 242, no. 17 (24 April 1995): 72.

[In Fig Pudding, t]welve-year-old Cliff, the eldest of the six Abernathy children, looks back on a year that feels like "five years crammed into one. With plenty of stuff I want to remember forever. And stuff I wish I could forget." In a style reminiscent of Cheaper by the Dozen, this warm story (unobtrusively set in what seems to be the '70s) neatly blends the humor and frustrations of growing up in a large family headed by two sanguine parents. Each chapter, while centering around a particular child, subtly weaves together household events, large and small. In the first vignette, the youngest child is hospitalized just before Christmas and asks only for a "yidda yadda" from Santa; the family eventually interprets the demand as a "little ladder" and everyone works all night to build one. The episodes smoothly move forward to the family's ultimate crisis: Brad, the gentlest of the children, is killed while riding his bicycle. With remarkable restraint and understatement, Fletcher (I am Wings: Poems about Love ) conveys the bewilderment and grief as each of the Abernathys reacts to this loss. A hopeful ending implies that Brad's memory will live on in the family's exchanges.

Linda Perkins (review date May 1995)

SOURCE: Perkins, Linda. "Caught Between: Books for Fourth through Eighth Graders." Wilson Library Bulletin 69, no. 9 (May 1995): 100.

When contemporary kids speak of someone "having an attitude," they usually mean a "negative attitude," or someone with a chip on his or her shoulder. In their books, ironically, they prefer narrators with an attitude. The first-person narrator makes a story seem more realistic and more relevant, especially to reluctant readers. In the hands of the best writers, this voice also adds a distinct flavor to the telling.

In Ralph Fletcher's Fig Pudding, eleven-year-old Cliff, the oldest of the six Abernathy children, grouses that his parents expect him to be "Mr. Responsibility, Mr. Set-a-Good-Example," a complaint that will resonate for any first-born. "With plenty of stuff I want to remember forever. And stuff I wish I could forget," Cliff recalls the good and bad memories of an unforgettable year.

Each chapter features Cliff or one of his siblings, leaving snapshot impressions of each member of the family. The Abernathy household teeters on chaos. Fourth child Teddy exasperates the whole family, racing through rooms, biting relatives, even stealing the baby Jesus from the family crèche. Mrs. Abernathy explains that Teddy's "not bad, just wild." Cliff's wry observations of family life follow in the tradition of The Moffats (1941) and the Herdmans of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1972). Cliff isn't a whiner, but he does wrestle with typical preteen anxieties.

Tragedy strikes the Abernathies suddenly and unexpectedly when eight-year-old Brad suffers a fatal bike accident. In a voice that is never falsely precocious, Cliff records the family's hurt, anger, and gradual acceptance, but the recovery takes time. Cliff's memories conclude with a hilarious family gathering and a memorable "fig pudding." Like a sweet but tart dessert, Fletcher's story is a bittersweet mix of belly laughter and tears.

Roger Sutton (review date May 1995)

SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 48, no. 9 (May 1995): 306.

In a series of linked, short-story-like episodes, twelve-year-old Cliff recalls what turned out to be a rough year in his family's life [in Fig Pudding ]. It's a big family—six kids—and while sibling tussles are the order of the day, bonds remain strong even when second-grader Teddy seems doomed to sit in exile beneath the kitchen table forever for his various transgressions, or when lone sister Cyn decides she'd much rather belong to the vegetarian family down the street. None of them is prepared for the sudden death of eight-year-old Brad in a bicycling accident, and, truthfully, neither are readers, for Brad, despite a memorable evening when he ate the heads off of everybody's marshmallow chickens, is fictionally the least developed of the family members. While we perhaps aren't as saddened by the death as we seem meant to be, the grief of Cliff and the others is palpable and honest in its range of manifestations. References to a grandmother's having fought for suffrage and an uncle's having fought in World War II seem to set the book sometime in the 1960s or early '70s, and the book has the quality of an affectionate family memoir, with humor triumphing over sadness and funny specifics (punishment goes for naught when it's discovered that Teddy likes life under the table) that give the book a warm particularity.

Chris Sherman (review date 15 May 1995)

SOURCE: Sherman, Chris. Review of Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 91, no. 18 (15 May 1995): 1645.

Twelve-year-old Cliff, the oldest of six children ("Abernathys always overdo everything"), recalls the past year in episodes focusing on his brothers and his sister [in Fig Pudding ]. The year was bittersweet. There were good times, but there were also ones he'd like to forget—among them, the death of one brother, an event that will move readers to tears. Fletcher captures perfectly the humor, irritations, and sadness of life in a large, close-knit family and makes Cliff a sympathetic and thoughtful narrator, occasionally bewildered by his siblings' antics but always a completely believable older brother. The comedy in the final chapter will leave readers recalling hilarious family disasters of their own.

Alice Casey Smith (review date July 1995)

SOURCE: Smith, Alice Casey. Review of Fig Pudding, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 41, no. 7 (July 1995): 78.

In a fresh, exuberant voice, 11-year-old Cliff Abernathy III narrates a roller-coaster year in his family's life [in Fig Pudding ], beginning with Christmas and Grandma's visit. Chapters are colorful vignettes of celebrations, crises, and day-to-day events. Cliff's frustration with being the eldest of six children; Josh's brush with serious illness; Cyn's frustration with being the only girl among boisterous boys; Teddy's anger and devilry; and Brad's shyness and gullibility are evoked in chapters that help define and individualize each sibling. As each episode comes into focus, the picture of a strong, loving family develops. Tragedy strikes when Brad is fatally injured in a bicycle accident. Each family member faces grief—and another Christmas—without him. Written with humor, perception, and clarity of language, the book resonates with laughter and sorrow. Though mortality is skillfully introduced early on by the youngest Abernathy's bout of fever and by Grandma's frailty, Brad's death is still a shock. Nevertheless, as the characters slowly mend, glimmers of their irrepressible selves shine through, and readers know that though they have suffered, they will heal.

BURIED ALIVE: THE ELEMENTS OF
LOVE
(1996)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 1996)

SOURCE: Review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 64, no. 8 (15 April 1996): 601.

[Buried Alive is a] collection of poems about young love and all its complications, from cruelty to worship, from the author of Fig Pudding (1995). Over a cycle of poems, a number of stories unfold, of forbidden affection, cold calculation, suspicion ("hairs black, red and blond: / yours / mine / someone else's"), separation, disappointment, longing, and unlikely love. Pumpkins planted in the first bloom of a now-failed relationship refuse to wither on the vine and yield jack-o'-lanterns—"Not one face looked like yours." A likable tough guy falls for a delicate beauty and disarms her father with car talk. A lonely gay girl, her yearbook holding no signatures, teeters on the brink of love. There's a Mrs. Robinson-style mom ("… tanned and amazingly fit / from advanced aerobics classes"), a love poem that gets burned up by a girl's angry father, and love letters that keep arriving by mail after the love has been canceled in a phone call.

Fletcher has written articulate, intense poems that treat the subject of love with dignity and compassion.

Marjorie Lewis (review date May 1996)

SOURCE: Lewis, Marjorie. Review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 42, no. 5 (May 1996): 138.

Fletcher writes in the voices of a variety of teenagers [in Buried Alive ], dividing his poems into the fundamental elements of love—earth, water, air, and fire. The narrators appear in each section, revealing the stories of their experiences. One young woman is on the verge of a lesbian relationship; a macho guy loses his cool when Jeannie begins to pay attention to him; a girl receives love letters in Spanish and has to have them translated. Appropriately, the writing reflects the personality of each narrator and ranges from simplistic to graceful. The whole concept—the poetry, the inviting pages, the metaphor of the arrangement, the romantic situations, and the mysterious photo-collages—is, in its complexity, a step above the works of Mel Glenn and Gary Soto. Despite the fact that Buried Alive 's elemental metaphor promises more than it delivers, and that the title hints at a darkness and depth that is not apparent, this volume should intrigue YA readers. They will enjoy discovering stories of requited and unrequited love, puzzling over the gender of certain narrators, and pondering the added dimension each element gives to the poetry. Perhaps it will inspire them to read more skilled and complex work—and write their own. Also, the poems read aloud well and might form the basis for a choral reading.

Hazel Rochman (review date 1 May 1996)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 92, no. 17 (1 May 1996): 1500.

Like Fletcher's popular I am Wings (1994), this companion collection of free verse [Buried Alive ] has a simple immediacy about romantic love. While the teacher drones on about "natural disasters," a teenager watches his beloved flirting with someone else. In "Not Fair" a boy envies his two-year-old brother, kissed and fondled by the cute baby-sitter. Ted is the macho guy. Alexis is lesbian, proud, and lonely. Juliet is both awkward and defiant about her sexy body. The interior monologues are loosely arranged, and some of the same characters speak in several places about their feelings and how they are changing. Richard kisses a girl; in a later poem, he longs for her when she moves away. Dawne's boyfriend writes to her in Spanish; in the next section she gets someone to translate the note; in the last section her dad finds the note and rages at her. The metaphors spring easily from the classroom, the beach, the fields. Kids will be open to discovering poetry in such ordinary words as "Um, is this seat taken?"

Roger Sutton (review date July-August 1996)

SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of Buried Alive: The Elements of Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 49, no. 11 (July-August 1996): 370-71.

Fletcher, author also of the masculine but tender love-poem collection I am Wings, occupies a kind of YA middle ground between the collections of contemporary adult poetry compiled by Paul Janeczko (Wherever Home Begins,) and the simplistic poetic monologues of Mel Glenn (Class Dismissed,). The poems here [in Buried Alive ] are sometimes witty ("like all of a sudden I ain't so bad / since I seem more interested in / his wheels than his daughter"), more often yearning ("It's not fair / that my two-year-old brother / should get her for a babysitter") and occasionally sensual ("This summer / behind a weathered barn / I pick raspberries with you // Tiny torpedoes of pleasure"). The collection is divided into four sections—Earth, Water, Air, Fire—and often follows a single speaker's crush or love affair through its stages, so we hear of Brock's initial planting of pumpkin seeds with his love ("I had big plans for us"), the subsequent break-up ("When you dump me / I get an evil thought: / our pumpkins must die"), and acceptance ("I tried but could not hate them. / They weren't you or me: / they had grown beyond us"). One of the best and most touching sequences portrays Alexis, a young lesbian who in her first poem tells of hearing a classmate snicker "'finger in the dike' / accidentally on purpose," then cries over a secret crush ("Know how tulips protect themselves? / When it rains their petals fold up // so they don't catch too much water, / don't get too heavy, snap their necks"), and then, perhaps, finds love ("There is a place / where we could go // to speak plainly / into each other's eyes"). Plainspeaking but lyrical, Fletcher makes poetry accessible while still keeping it, well, poetry.

Susan Marie Swanson (review date winter 1996-1997)

SOURCE: Swanson, Susan Marie. "The School for Poetry." Hungry Mind Review, no. 40 (winter 1996-1997): 47, 51.

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ORDINARY THINGS: POEMS FROM A
WALK IN EARLY SPRING
(1997)

Karen Morgan (review date 15 April 1997)

SOURCE: Morgan, Karen. Review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 93, no. 16 (15 April 1997): 1421.

In Fletcher's poetry, observations on ordinary things reveal more complex thoughts and emotions. The poems in this collection [Ordinary Things ] would make strong choices for reading aloud throughout the year. Younger listeners might marvel, as Fletcher does in "Birds' Nests," when his grandmother throws some of his freshly cut hair on the ground outside so that later the hair could be "woven into a bird's wild tapestry." Older readers may understand the desire to look for arrowheads while out walking to "hold one in my hand / I want to touch the tip of history."

Sharon Korbeck (review date May 1997)

SOURCE: Korbeck, Sharon. Review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 43, no. 5 (May 1997): 144.

One season, one slender volume, 33 gently evocative poems. Ordinary Things is a quiet book that begs readers to look around, observe nature, and experience a walk through the woods in spring. The poems are the soul of brevity, often with no more than 12 or 16 lines, and embrace objects as common as birds' nests, birch trees, and a rug of leaves. Closer looks reveal shed snakeskins, ancient arrowheads and fossils, and even a discarded, rusty VW Beetle. Fletcher reminds young people that such a walk can be mind-clearing and therapeutic. "Each footstep is like a word / as it meets the blank page / followed by a pause / before the next one: / step, step, word.…" All the senses are at work in these selections, as Fletcher reflects on the "monotonous chant" of frogs, the sweetness of maple syrup, the sight of mailboxes that look like "old people dancing slowly cheek-to-cheek," and the feel of "hot horse breath on my cheek." Krudop's pencil drawings extend and enhance the natural woodland images. The next time readers take a leisurely, head-clearing walk, they may wish to recall the author's observations and create their own.

Brooke Selby Dillon (review date November-December
1997)

SOURCE: Dillon, Brooke Selby. Review of Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring, by Ralph Fletcher. Book Report 16, no. 3 (November-December 1997): 43-4.

Grouped into three categories—Walking, Into the Woods, and Looping Back—this collection of poems [Ordinary Things ] is geared to age 12 and up. The autumnal green and orange cover depicts a young person leaning against a tree, journal in hand, inviting the reader along on this walk. The poems carry the reader past stone walls, clotheslines, and maple syrup buckets into the woods, where he encounters ferns, birches, birds' nests, and arrowheads. Finally, the speaker feels a "new tug / pulling me toward home," passing snake skins, beetles, daffodils, and the railroad tracks on the way back. Pencil art accompanies many of the poems, which are gentle, lyrical, and accessible, albeit ordinary in places. Unfortunately, the word "flotsam" has been misspelled "floatsam" in the first poem. Yet despite the editing carelessness and the prosaic nature of some of the poems, Fletcher has used enough imagery, alliteration, and meter to keep the reader journeying along with the speaker, reaching ahead for just one more poem. Lines such as "… voices and voltage / sing through its wires" roll pleasurably off the tongue, and images such as apple trees, which are "old gnomes / half-hidden in the mist" excite the imagination. Useful as a model for student writing or as a pleasant journey for the student who generally avoids poetry.

SPIDER BOY (1997)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 March 1997)

SOURCE: Review of Spider Boy, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 65, no. 6 (15 March 1997): 460.

In a story every bit as engaging as Fletcher's Fig Pudding (1995), and less of an emotional roller-coaster to boot, [in Spider Boy, ] a seventh-grade arachnophile and his beloved tarantula take some time adjusting to a family move.

Between missing his old home and worrying about Thelma (the spider), who has stopped eating, Bobby feels suspended, unable to accept the change in his life long enough to unpack. His parents give him plenty of room and support, plus a huge, ferocious king baboon spider he dubs "Monk" as an early birthday present. Not until two new friends take him firmly in hand, and a bully's harassment escalates into spidercide, does Bobby snap out of it. So does Thelma, who molts and once again takes to pouncing on hapless crickets. Capable of telling wild but utterly convincing tall tales about his family at school, courageous enough to make handsome apologies later (and to face his nemesis without fear), Bobby is a beguiling character who fills his notebook with fascinating spider facts (a bibliography is appended) and trenchant observations: "The female [black widow] allows the male to mate with her. And to show her appreciation she kills him. Eats him.… It's lucky human girls aren't this dangerous. Or who knows—maybe they are." Creating and guiding a winning cast with a light, sure hand, Fletcher puts a fine, fresh spin on a familiar premise.

Elizabeth Bush (review date April 1997)

SOURCE: Bush, Elizabeth. Review of Spider Boy, by Ralph Fletcher. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 50, no. 8 (April 1997): 281.

[In Spider Boy, ] Bobby manifests his displeasure with the family's relocation and his new junior high by concocting outrageous fibs concerning his father's job and by elevating his interest in spiders from a hobby to an obsession. The lies are quickly exposed, and the embarrassment of a public apology coupled with his eccentricities make him an easy mark for the class bully, Chick Hall. When Bobby is teamed up with another newcomer—a much better-adjusted, African-American girl named Lucky Prescott—Bobby slowly begins to put his spider mania into perspective and enjoy the company of other bipeds. Fletcher lays on human/spider analogies with a heavy hand ("[The tarantula's] done what we all try to do.… Start over. Climbed out of her tired, old self and into a sleek new body.…Wouldn't it be great if it were that easy for us?"). Sporadic entries from Bobby's science journal, featuring a glut of spider data, seem to be more a haphazard science lesson for the reader than a necessary device to drive the plot. The tentative interracial romance subplot, dangerously spiced by Lucky's fascination with Chick, never quite makes it off the ground. Arachnophiles may revel in the spider trivia, but it's unlikely that the school-story crowd will bite.

Adele Greenlee (review date July 1997)

SOURCE: Greenlee, Adele. Review of Spider Boy, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 43, no. 7 (July 1997): 93.

[In Spider Boy, ] Bobby loves spiders and keeps a journal in which he records interesting facts about them, as well as some personal reflections. He is worried about his pet tarantula because she hasn't eaten since the family moved from Illinois to New Paltz, NY. The boy doesn't have much of an appetite himself. He doesn't fit in with the rest of the seventh graders at his new school. A group of his classmates call him "Spider Boy" and make his life difficult. The use of spiders in Bobby's journal and in the plot is a unique unifying theme of this novel. However, the character development is less successful. It takes awhile for readers to care about Bobby. The supporting characters are stereotypes (bully, understanding teacher, confident older sister). The story moves slowly and is limited in intensity until a final crisis. The resolution is predictable but upbeat. Bobby finds a niche for his unique interests, new friends with whom to play football, and even a little romance.

Elizabeth S. Watson (review date July-August 1997)

SOURCE: Watson, Elizabeth S. Review of Spider Boy, by Ralph Fletcher. Horn Book Magazine 73, no. 4 (July-August 1997): 454-55.

Seventh grade in a new school a thousand miles from his friends may sound bad enough, but for Bobby Ballenger [in Spider Boy ] things are worse: his pet tarantula, Thelma, is lethargic and won't eat. His interest in spiders and his recent move from the Midwest to New York have earned Bobby the title of "Spider Boy from Illinois," coined by the class bully. In a sensitively written novel, the author explores the painful adjustment period faced by an intelligent, introspective boy who has been uprooted from home. Selections from Bobby's spider journal are inserted throughout the story, providing a great deal of information about Arachnida. While accessible and fast-moving, the book is not lightweight; it deals head on with problems such as the bully who deliberately kills one of Bobby's pet tarantulas, a cheating incident, and the question of forgiveness. Although the book is somewhat didactically programmed, Bobby remains a sympathetic protagonist, realistic in his imperfections.

TWILIGHT COMES TWICE (1997)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 September 1997)

SOURCE: Review of Twilight Comes Twice, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Kirkus Reviews 65, no. 17 (1 September 1997): 1388.

[Twilight Comes Twice is a] quietly alluring mood piece that focuses on the twilight times when "night and day stand whispering secrets before they go their separate ways" at dawn and dusk. Fletcher (Ordinary Things ) finds impressionistic images—"Dusk pours the syrup of darkness into the forest" and "dawn erases the stars from the blackboard of night"—that [Kate] Kiesler makes concrete, by including in her lush, light-drenched paintings a girl and a dog who witness the topical observations of the text. The exploration of how these transitory periods affect the lives of people—from children playing in the park to fishermen casting out in the fading light, from commuters to the girl's family, setting the breakfast table—is achieved through an inclusive sensory range, from dusk's fireflies that swim through air to write "bright messages in secret code," to dawn's smell of doughnuts outside the bakery. Words and art coalesce into an invitation to readers to move beyond the page and into their own explorations of twilight.

Virginia Golodetz (review date October 1997)

SOURCE: Golodetz, Virginia. Review of Twilight Comes Twice, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. School Library Journal 43, no. 10 (October 1997): 95.

In spare, poetic prose [in Twilight Comes Twice ], Fletcher describes the twilight of mornings and evenings, those two brief times of day that often seem to have magical qualities. He personifies dawn and dusk and uses images and metaphors to evoke their special qualities and events. The full- and double-paged oil paintings depict a suburban community. A young girl and her dog wander through the scenes, adding interest even though they are never mentioned in the text. Various shades of green, orange, and brown are used effectively to show how the colors of things are transformed by twilight. The personification of dawn and dusk seems strained, and the metaphors are sometimes more distracting than illuminating, e.g., dusk "pours / the syrup of darkness / into the forest" and "hisses on the sprinklers."

Publishers Weekly (review date 27 October 1997)

SOURCE: Review of Twilight Comes Twice, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Publishers Weekly 244, no. 44 (27 October 1997): 75.

From Fletcher's (Fig Pudding ) intriguing title [Twilight Comes Twice ] to [Kate] Kiesler's (The Great Frog Race and Other Poems) closing painting of a town bathed in morning light, this leisurely depiction of dusk and dawn is as quiet as a whisper. Suffused with a cloudy yellow haze, the dark paintings capture the moments when twilight twice "slips through the crack" between night and day, while the plotless and metaphorically complex poem describes the sights. A golden-haired girl stands poised to throw a stick for her black Labrador as "dusk pours / the syrup of darkness / into the forest"; later, she sits with her family on the porch while dusk "sets the table carefully: / Venus, a few stars, / perhaps a crescent moon." Both art and text are filled with sumptuous detail: "Spiders rouse themselves / still stiff from the night / and go to work repairing / their dew-spangled webs." In spite of the commanding beauty of the language and art, however, the book engages the reader's emotions only minimally Rather than invite the reader to be a direct participant in the experience itself, the text, written in the second person, seems to ask the audience to stand in awe of an adult's ruminations. There are distinct pleasures to be had here, but they are chiefly cerebral.

FLYING SOLO (1998)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 July 1998)

SOURCE: Review of Flying Solo, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 66, no. 14 (15 July 1998): 1034.

The rich and complex emotional lives within a classroom of unsupervised students boil toward eruption the day an exceptional teacher is absent [in Flying Solo ].

When the designated substitute for Mr. Fabiano's sixth-grade class calls in sick, her message is overlooked in the chaotic office, and the children find themselves without a teacher. Rather than report it, and led by Mr. Fab's lesson plans, they run the class themselves. But powerful emotions are brewing under an otherwise ordinary day's surface: Tommy, a classmate who was often teased for his slowness, has been dead for exactly six months and the class's guilt over their treatment of him hasn't been addressed; Rachel, who hasn't spoken since Tommy died, is about to break her silence; and Bastian, often a bully, is making life-changing decisions on what has become his last day in school. Although Mr. Fabiano only appears at the end, his presence is felt on every page; Fletcher (Twilight Comes Twice, 1997) creates a testament to effective teaching in his realistic portrait of Mr. Fabiano as both caring and intelligent. A novel that is funny, real, and often moving.

Kathleen Squires (review date August 1998)

SOURCE: Squires, Kathleen. Review of Flying Solo, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 94, no. 22 (August 1998): 1998.

What happens when a sixth-grade class is left unsupervised for a whole day? One might imagine that anything but learning would occur. But when a class usually led by a gifted teacher is left to its own devices [in Flying Solo ], something unusual happens: when the substitute teacher fails to show, the children in Mr. Fabiano's class decide to run the day according to the strict but enjoyable routine ingrained in them by their creative, beloved teacher. Rest assured Fletcher's characters aren't goody-goodies. Rather, they are coconspirators as a countdown clock builds the tension: Will they make it through the day without being found out? As they go through their rote exercises, the kids gain self-assurance and self-reliance. They also come to terms with their feelings of guilt, grief, and sorrow about a classmate who died six months earlier. Fletcher expertly balances a wide variety of emotions, giving readers a story that is by turns sad, poignant, and funny, and, little by little, realistic portraits of the complicated kids emerge. There's no Lord of the Flies anarchy in this thoughtful, absorbing novel, which has a story that will linger long after the book is closed.

July Siebecker (review date October 1998)

SOURCE: Siebecker, July. Review of Flying Solo, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 44, no. 10 (October 1998): 135.

Fletcher follows members of a sixth-grade class through a day when their substitute teacher never shows [in Flying Solo ]. The students decide not to report that they are alone and to run the class by themselves. Personal issues are woven into the day's events. Rachel has been mute since a classmate who had an annoying, unrequited crush on her died six months before. Bastian, an Air Force brat used to moving, has to decide whether to subject his beloved puppy to a lengthy quarantine when he moves to Hawaii the following day. Sean's alcoholic father and unnurturing home life make him too shy to express his feelings, especially his crush on Rachel. Karen, a natural leader and "good child," takes the reins in the class, making her own evaluations of right and wrong. Jessica, whose parents are judgmental, can't get past her fear of recrimination to enjoy the class' freedom. The students learn about themselves and one another, and several issues are resolved by the end of the day (e.g., Rachel speaks, Bastian gives his puppy to Sean). The resolutions are simple but not pat, the prose is economical but not sparse, and the characters are developed as sketches rather than in-depth portraits, which helps keep the book moving briskly. The premise will make the novel easy to booktalk. Not a must-have, but a worthwhile purchase.

Susan P. Bloom (review date November-December
1998)

SOURCE: Bloom, Susan P. Review of Flying Solo, by Ralph Fletcher. Horn Book Magazine 74, no. 6 (November-December 1998): 728.

When sixth-grade teacher Mr. Fabiano calls in sick and the substitute fails to show up, the class takes it upon themselves to go solo for the day [in Flying Solo ]. But will they fly? Or crash? The surprise is not the occasional moments of frivolous abandon, but rather the maturity (mostly) with which the students handle the schedule left by their respected teacher. As readers, we are interlopers not only on their day's activities (music, math, computer lab, spelling, lunch), but also on their frequent writing sessions, the most important one not even designated in the day's lesson plan. Several students are highlighted: Rachel, who stopped talking six months earlier when a slow classmate who adored her and whom she rejected unexpectedly died; Karen, who as born leader spirits the class in their act of independence; Bastian, about to move to Hawaii, who can think only about his new puppy's upcoming four-month quarantine; and Jessica, who alone questions the wisdom of "KIDS RULE." Mr. Fabiano has obviously taught these kids more than reading and writing, and when he returns on Monday, he is the only one of the adults who wants to know what really went on. This kaleidoscopic novel is more thoughtful and poignant than most school stories, while still appropriately leavened with comic moments; it demonstrates an utter respect for its characters and its readers, who will appreciate the honest and uncondescending portrayals.

ROOM ENOUGH FOR LOVE (1998)

Debby Adams (review date August 1998)

SOURCE: Adams, Debby. Review of Room Enough for Love, by Ralph Fletcher. Voice of Youth Advocates 21, no. 3 (August 1998): 218, 220.

If teens read the poems in this book [Room Enough for Love ], they might just change their usual opinion of poetry: that it is hard to understand and does not relate to their own life experiences. Fletcher's poems are written in a simple, gentle prose about the one thing all teens experience, romantic love. Introspective teens especially will appreciate his talent for taking spare words and creating detailed images, leaving the reader thinking, "That's exactly how I feel!" The first section of this book contains the complete poems from Fletcher's earlier book I am Wings (1994). It is divided into two parts, "Falling In" and "Falling Out." In the second half of the book are the complete poems from (1996). The poems are arranged by the elements of earth, water, air, and fire.

The great strength of this book is that Fletcher gets the voices exactly right. Both male and female narrators are believable teens feeling believable feelings; these are not poems that are written in flowery language in voices too old or mature. The only disappointment with this book is its cover. Within the book are great black-and-white photographs of teens or natural scenes, but on the cover there is a tiny square collage surrounded by ivory space. It is not consistent with the style of the poems inside and definitely not a cover that would beg readers to grab it off the shelf to discover what is inside, and that is a shame.

RELATIVELY SPEAKING: POEMS ABOUT
FAMILY
(1999)

Kristen Oravec (review date April 1999)

SOURCE: Oravec, Kristen. Review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 45, no. 4 (April 1999): 146.

Like the puzzle pieces on the book's cover, these poems [Relatively Speaking ] come together to form a picture of one family. Narrated by the youngest member, each poem highlights a different person or event. Readers learn about his older brother's serious accident, his new sibling, and the family's annual reunion. There are poems about seldom-seen cousins, big brother's "beach muscles," and an uncle's funeral. The selections are striking in their simplicity, universal themes, and realistic voice. Pen-and-ink line drawings detail items ranging from a favorite quilt to a water bucket and sponge used to wash the car. Ultimately, these pieces connect throughout the book and show how individuals mesh to become a family.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 April 1999)

SOURCE: Review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 67, no. 7 (1 April 1999): 532.

In what amounts to a novel in poems, [in Relatively Speaking ] a narrator, 11, declares his satisfaction at "Being the Youngest," introduces his big brother ("God's Gift to Girls" ), who later has a scary brush with death, watches his grandmother plant tulip bulbs "in that dirty confusion / of bulb and knuckle, / knuckle and bulb," observes several relatives at a huge family reunion, tracks his mother's pregnancy, and, after his sister is born, finds pleasure in "Being a Middle Child," too. In easygoing free verse that hides no meanings behind oblique imagery or language, Fletcher (Ordinary Things, 1997) creates a close-knit, recognizable cast; [Walter Lyon] Krudop's small pen-and-ink still lifes of food and common household items evoke an air of intimate, everyday domesticity. Children will enjoy reading or listening to these linked episodes of high drama, low comedy, and comforting human contact.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review
date May 1999)

SOURCE: Review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, by Ralph Fletcher. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 52, no. 9 (May 1999): 312.

In a direct, age-appropriate voice, an eleven-year-old describes his family life in free-verse monologues [in Relatively Speaking ]: a brother's almost fatal accident, family reunions, loving and quietly heroic parents, and the family's anticipation of a new baby. Entries touch on such family problems as aging, death, and an uncle's alcoholism. They come closest to real emotional content in "The Bravest Deed," where an abusive parent punishes her child in the grocery store: "The girl is screaming / and the lady gets ready to smack her again / but all of a sudden Mom / sort of steps between them / and asks: Is everything okay? / You're having a hard time, / looks like." The poems present a repertoire of figurative language and comparisons that stay concrete and familiar: "Our family becomes / like a package of plums / shrink-wrapped / at the supermarket / so small and tight / I can hardly breathe." Fletcher's verses vary in form, mixing dialogue with narration and drawing on creative line breaks or the occasional anaphora; typically, however, they build to a climax in the last stanza or to a tidy last line, giving the individual poems a distracting predictability. Though the poetry may not invite repeated reading, the straightforward style makes it accessible and young readers will surely identify with the appealing protagonist. Pencil sketches reflect thematic images from the poems.

Susan Dove Lempke (review date July 1999)

SOURCE: Lempke, Susan Dove. Review of Relatively Speaking: Poems about Family, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 95, no. 21 (July 1999): 1940.

Fletcher writes with the insight and keen observation of an autobiographer, but his protagonist is a nameless, fictional boy [in Relatively Speaking ]. From his vantage point as the youngest child, the boy dissects his family as they go through a time of change. With an 11-year-old's quirky mixture of love and disdain, he mourns the loss of his big brother to new interests, bemoans his father's "warped" sense of humor (which the poet slyly indicates is shared by his son), and describes the family's avoidance of certain subjects: "We talk around him / like nothing's wrong / and my uncle becomes one of those lost men / sprawled on the sidewalk / everyone pretends / not to see." Fletcher captures the child's point of view vividly and manages to create more plot and momentum than many novels. Highly accessible, the poems accomplish the poet's goal of making the reader see things from a slightly shifted perspective.

GRANDPA NEVER LIES (2000)

Alicia Eames (review date November 2000)

SOURCE: Eames, Alicia. Review of Grandpa Never Lies, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Harvey Stevenson. School Library Journal 46, no. 11 (November 2000): 119-20.

A young girl tells the story of a special relationship over four seasons [in Grandpa Never Lies ]. Summer brings the promise of a whole month at her grandparents' country cottage, where days are spent playing cards, enjoying the outdoors, and simply talking. Grandpa delights in telling whimsically creative tales to answer his granddaughter's everyday questions. He blames "a roaring tornado" for his baldness, and explains that winter's frost is the work of "elves who come at dusk with magical brushes.…" Each of Grandpa's imaginative explanations is followed by the girl's fervent refrain: "And Grandpa never lies, so I know it's true." Reality intrudes, and without warning. The narrator simply states, "Then Grandma died. Suddenly." While the child and her grandfather cope with their loss with a faith in life's ultimate goodness that is poignantly portrayed, some readers might not make the transition quite so easily. Nevertheless, the lyrical language and engaging use of imagery are worth noting. Richly hued acrylic illustrations complement the mood of the text, moving smoothly from bright and fanciful to dark and somber. Suitable for read-alouds, but perhaps even better for sharing individually.

HOW WRITERS WORK: FINDING A
PROCESS THAT WORKS FOR YOU
(2000)

Timothy Capehart (review date December 2000)

SOURCE: Capehart, Timothy. Review of How Writers Work: Finding a Process that Works for You, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 46, no. 12 (December 2000): 160.

Fletcher focuses on the different ways professionals and students create a solid piece of writing [in How Writers Work ]. In the introduction, he states that there is no secret formula, though he manages to sustain the tone of one imparting a secret throughout the book. Processes such as brainstorming, rough drafts, rereading and revising, proofreading, and publishing are demystified through examples of students' writing and interviews with children's authors. The style is conversational and the suggestions are general. The book doesn't cover specificities of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction. Instead, it suggests that any piece of writing could become any one of these with a sufficient amount of work. The book makes youngsters feel good about their writing without making light of the work involved. Numerous mentions of the author's previous works begin to grate as the book progresses, as does the self-referential "Selected Reading" list appended. Still, this is a useful resource.

TOMMY TROUBLE AND MAGIC MARBLE
(2000)

Todd Morning (review date August 2000)

SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Ben Caldwell. Booklist 96, no. 22 (August 2000): 2138.

Tommy loves to collect things [in Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble ], so when Spencer Ross, the neighborhood sharpie, offers to sell a marble that supposedly guarantees protection from nightmares, Tommy wants it—even though the price tag is a steep $10. Tommy tries various schemes to raise the cash, but they all fail. In frustration, he throws a rock at a beehive, which leads to his little brother's getting stung. Racked with guilt, Tommy has a bad dream that night, which reveals the marble to be a fraud. Fletcher ably captures the affection and the squabbling between siblings, and he dusts the chapter-book text with plenty of dry humor. Today's children may have trouble relating to a story that ends with a game of marbles (does anyone play marbles these days?), but they'll still find lots to enjoy and think about. Ben Caldwell's black-and-white drawings are a plus; they have an angularity that nicely straddles the line between realism and cartoons.

Steve Clancy (review date September 2000)

SOURCE: Clancy, Steve. Review of Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Ben Caldwell. School Library Journal 46, no. 9 (September 2000): 196.

In this transitional reader, [Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, ] eight-year-old Tommy, a born collector, needs $10 to purchase a "magic marble" from an older boy. Spencer tells him that it has a net at its center that catches bad dreams. The gullible boy's unsuccessful schemes for getting the marble include picking flowers from his mother's prize rose garden to sell to a neighbor and trading his little brother's snake for it. However, when Spencer makes fun of his sibling, Tommy finally decides that the magic marble is not worth the trouble. It's unlikely that this slight story line will hold readers' interest, and while marbles still hold a certain fascination for this age group, they are way down on a list headed by Game-boys and Pokémon cards. Rudimentary black-and-white cartoons capture the characters' moods but occasionally appear out of proportion. Overall, Fletcher's book lacks the humor or adventure of Barbara Park's "Junie B. Jones" series or Mary Pope Osborne's "Magic Tree House" books (both Random). Stick with these more appealing choices or others like them.

THE CIRCUS SURPRISE (2001)

Publishers Weekly (review date 23 April 2001)

SOURCE: Review of The Circus Surprise, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 17 (23 April 2001): 77.

Circus trappings couch a bland if informative tale [The Circus Surprise ] that teaches children what to do if they become separated from their parents. For his birthday, Nick's parents surprise him with an outing to the circus. There, enticed by the sugary aroma of a cotton candy machine, he follows his nose to the sweet treat and soon realizes his parents are nowhere around. In a panic, Nick searches for Mom and Dad but finds a friendly clown on stilts instead. The clown guides Nick up a nearby ladder, then carries the boy on his back until Nick spots his worried—soon-to-be-relieved-parents. Fletcher's (Twilight Comes Twice ) text is by turns reassuring and practical in tone, providing tips that readers will find useful if facing a predicament like Nick's. [Vladimir] Vagin's (The Wide-Awake Princess) tightly composed gouaches show crowds, but the bustle doesn't come through. While his work is highly detailed (e.g., he finely delineates the lions' fur and manes, and shows the trim on an acrobat's costume), the scenes themselves look stiff and static.

Bina Williams (review date June 2001)

SOURCE: Williams, Bina. Review of The Circus Surprise, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Vladimir Vagin. School Library Journal 47, no. 6 (June 2001): 112-13.

Nick's parents take him to the circus as a birthday surprise [in The Circus Surprise ]. Before entering the Big Top, they mill around the grounds, surrounded by animals in cages, clowns, and a large crowd. The boy follows his nose to the cotton-candy vendor, and when he turns back, his mom and dad are nowhere to be found. After rattling off his list of instructions for what to do if he ever gets lost (including "Don't panic!"), Nick panics anyway. A kindly (and well-prepared) clown on stilts comes to the rescue and invites him for a ride to look for his parents. Finally, they come into view and a happy reunion ensues. Fletcher details an occurrence that is bound to happen to just about every kid at one time or another—getting lost in a public place [Vladimir] Vagin's gonache pictures vividly portray the details of a circus that is big enough to be interesting but not so big as to be scary.

HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE BEACH
LATELY?: POEMS
(2001)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 April 2001)

SOURCE: Review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?: Poems, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 8 (15 April 2001): 584.

An accessible collection of well-written poems for middle-school students and a welcome find [Have You Been to the Beach Lately? ], as rare as an unbroken sand dollar on a busy beach. Fletcher (Uncle Daddy ) has written several collections of poetry for middle-schoolers, as well as picture books and books on writing for both children and their teachers. This collection of 33 non-rhyming poems follows an 11-year-old boy through a day at the beach with his family, with the beach—borderland between water and earth—serving as metaphor for the borderland between childhood and adolescence. In a medley of poems that cover a wide range of preteen emotions and behavior, the likable narrator teases his little brother, plays with his buddies in the surf, and watches the bikini-clad girls, who range from impossibly untouchable college girls to a girl from his class who just might be touchable. Most of the poems are written in first person and have the authentic voice of an 11-year-old, but a few seem too mature in subject matter or insight for a boy of that age. [Andrea] Sperling's black-and-white beach photos help set the scene and break up the text, but don't particularly relate to the individual poems, and the boy in the cover photograph looks too young to be 11. Kids and adults will find the poems meaningful despite these minor drawbacks, and teachers who use Fletcher's popular books on writing will want to incorporate these new poems into their lesson plans.

Lauralyn Persson (review date August 2001)

SOURCE: Persson, Lauralyn. Review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?: Poems, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 47, no. 8 (August 2001): 194, 196.

[Have You Been to the Beach Lately? is a] perceptive and witty look into the 11-year-old heart. Thirty-three short poems describe moments during a boy's day at the beach. The simple language and conversational tone are just right for capturing the emotions of a child on the edge of adolescence. The narrator goes from "Watching Teenagers" ("When I'm a teenager / I'm never / getting zits on my face / and I'm never going to / make a fool of myself / just to impress some girl") to "Looking" ("Believe me: it's much easier / swapping baseball cards / than trading looks / with a girl") to playing "Shadow Football" ("At first I hardly notice this dark / spirit spilling out of me until / I have a double exactly my size / matching me step for step"). He also has a gift for observation and humor: the "Beach Baby" is "… one year old. One tooth. A total pudge. / She tries to get out of the water but her / soaked diaper must weigh / ten thousand pounds / so all she can do is / sit." Black-and-white photos add atmosphere and extend the feeling that seemingly ordinary times can be magical, if you really look at them. Both boys and girls will enjoy this accessible yet artful book. Perfect for use with creative-writing groups.

Melinda Miller (review date September-October 2001)

SOURCE: Miller, Melinda. Review of Have You Been to the Beach Lately?: Poems, by Ralph Fletcher. Book Report 20, no. 2 (September-October 2001): 68.

The author of I am Wings (1994), and Relatively Speaking (1999), presents us with another well-done collection of poems focused on a specific topic [with Have You Been to the Beach Lately? ]. Short poems from the viewpoint of an 11-year-old boy trace a day his family spends at the beach. The well-written poems, some lighthearted and some more insightful, cover fairly universal themes that most middle-school-aged children can relate to. For the most part, they do sound as though they come from the mind of an 11-year-old. All come together nicely to give readers a realistic view of all that goes on at the beach from the time of arrival through the drive home at night. The b&w photos complement the text very well and many add just the right background for the poems. Written mostly in free verse, these poems demonstrate that good poetry does not have to rhyme.

UNCLE DADDY (2001)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 March 2001)

SOURCE: Review of Uncle Daddy, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 6 (15 March 2001): 407.

[In Uncle Daddy, w]hen Rivers was three, his father went out to get a pizza and never returned. Now in fourth grade, Rivers does a lot of fantasizing about what he'd do if his father came back—"I'd wind up and sock him as hard as I could, right in the stomach." But when his fantasy becomes a reality, the situation stirs up far more ambiguous and confusing emotions than Rivers had anticipated. Since his father's disappearance, his too-good-to-be-alive great uncle (whom he calls Uncle Daddy) has filled the role of dad in Rivers's household. Despite the protagonist's amusingly rendered, emotionally justified anger toward his biological father, it's clear to the reader that Rivers does want to have a relationship with him, but is afraid this relationship will impinge upon the emotional connection he has with Uncle Daddy. Unwilling to trust the small, telling details of this tender tale, Fletcher conjures up a dramatic incident: Uncle Daddy suffers a near-fatal heart attack. This predictably forces River and his mother to depend on Rivers's biological father, whose expertise in the building trades—he helps build Uncle Daddy a downstairs bedroom so that the family won't have to constantly navigate the stairs—not only saves the day but shows off his newfound sense of responsibility as well. Despite this obvious gimmick, Fletcher is often insightful and his protagonist funny and winning. In this age of step and other nontraditional family groupings, the story should reassure youngsters that it's okay to love two father figures at the same time.

Heide Piehler (review date May 2001)

SOURCE: Piehler, Heide. Review of Uncle Daddy, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 47, no. 5 (May 2001): 149.

[Uncle Daddy is a] reassuring picture of forgiveness and acceptance within a family. Rivers has been raised by his mother and great-uncle, "Uncle Daddy," ever since his father went out to get a pizza and never came back. The boy's life is fairly typical of that of other nine-year-olds—until his father returns after a six-year absence. Then, anger, resentment, confusion, insecurity, and torn loyalties threaten to overwhelm the family. When Uncle Daddy suffers a near-fatal heart attack, Rivers and his parents come together in support and concern and the older man's physical healing parallels the relatives' emotional healing. The one-big-happy-family conclusion may come about a bit too quickly to be completely convincing, but youngsters will welcome it. While Uncle Daddy seems too good to be true, Rivers's parents are more multidimensional characters and the child's interactions with friends and his conflicted emotions concerning his father are portrayed realistically. This is not a first purchase, but it will appeal to readers who want an alternative to the grim realism of much contemporary fiction.

Deborah Stevenson (review date May 2001)

SOURCE: Stevenson, Deborah. Review of Uncle Daddy, by Ralph Fletcher. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 54, no. 9 (May 2001): 335-36.

[In Uncle Daddy, ] Rivers was three when his father left. Now finishing fourth grade, he's accustomed to his family life with his mother and her great uncle, known to Rivers as Uncle Daddy; he's convinced that if he encountered his father, he'd "give him something I've been planning for a long time. I'd wind up and sock him as hard as I could, right in the stomach." When his father does turn up—in the midst of the traditional family celebration of Rivers' Un-Birthday, a pre-departure invention of his father—Rivers and family are, however, simply stunned. Dad has finally gotten clean after years of a drug and booze problem, and he's intent on being a part of his son's life. Reacquaintance is awkward, and the family already under strain is thrown into new turmoil when Uncle Daddy suffers a life-threatening heart attack. While the title may elicit snickers from more jaundiced kids, this is a gentle yet solid story about family life rearranged. Uncle Daddy is a loving and entertaining character, redeemed from saintliness by his hostility towards Rivers' returned dad. Rivers is a credible kid, fending off and eventually succumbing to the friendship overtures of the annoying Ethan as he reels from the changes in the heart of his life and gradually acknowledging that his father's return might not be a bad thing. This has an accessibility unusual for such a serious topic, and middle-graders looking for a family story with some gravity will find it here.

Roger Sutton (review date July-August 2001)

SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of Uncle Daddy, by Ralph Fletcher. Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 4 (July-August 2001): 450.

Without explanation, Rivers's father abandoned his wife and son when the boy was three [in Uncle Daddy ], but Rivers still has "Uncle Daddy," his mother's uncle who moved in and "told me stories, gave me my bath, got me dressed, combed my hair, packed my lunch." During Rivers's ninth "Un-Birthday" celebration—six months after Rivers's actual, overshadowed (Christmas) birth date—Dad comes back. With uncomplicated sentences and plenty of dialogue, Fletcher makes Rivers's dilemma immediate and real. Although the situation is a little calculated, the book takes it in unformulaic directions. Dad and Uncle Daddy do not square off for Rivers's affections, and Uncle Daddy does not die from the conveniently placed heart attack, although the first chapter does seem to be setting us up for that saintly man's demise. Rivers's narration is open and vulnerable, and readers will feel a ready empathy, not to mention a wish for an Uncle Daddy of their own.

Reading Teacher (review date March 2002)

SOURCE: Review of Uncle Daddy, by Ralph Fletcher. Reading Teacher 55, no. 6 (March 2002): 604.

Uncle Daddy has raised 9-year-old Rivers ever since his father went out to get pizza one night and never returned. When his father reappears after a 6-year absence, Rivers, his mother, and his great-uncle must deal with the anger, resentment, and confusion that ensues. Uncle Daddy's near-fatal heart attack forces the family to come together to support one another through this difficult time. Ralph Fletcher's realistic relationship between adults is convincing while the hero status imposed by Rivers on his great-uncle provides a child's perspective of a relative who went beyond the common familial relationships to provide a safe and secure environment for loved ones.

POETRY MATTERS: WRITING A POEM
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
(2002)

Kristen Oravec (review date February 2002)

SOURCE: Oravec, Kristen. Review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, by Ralph Fletcher. School Library Journal 48, no. 2 (February 2002): 143.

[Poetry Matters is a] concise, nuts-and-bolts guide to creating poetry. The book begins by defining poems as "emotional X-rays" that seek to delve into a person's inner being. Chapters deal with images; creating "music," or sounds and rhythms; how to generate ideas for poems; the construction of the words on the page; and more. Tips on fine-tuning are also given, from experimenting with wordplay to finding a voice and narrowing the focus of a piece. Major poetic forms are defined, including haiku, ode, and free verse, and there is a section on ways to share your work. Interspersed are Fletcher's personal insights and interviews with three poets—Kristine O'Connell George, Janet S. Wong, and J. Patrick Lewis—who discuss what inspires them and how they go about creating their work. The many examples of poetry throughout embody the author's advice by showing how writing techniques actually function in poems. Since this thought-provoking book covers more of the internal, less-tangible aspects of poetry, it may be more suited for readers who have some experience with the genre.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 February 2002)

SOURCE: Review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, by Ralph Fletcher. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 4 (15 February 2002): 254-55.

In this pep talk for aspiring poets [Poetry Matters ], Fletcher (Have You Been to the Beach Lately?, 2001) speaks directly to his readers in a chatty, non-threatening manner, as if he were a guest lecturer in their classrooms or homes and he reminds his audience that poetry must be an honest expression of the heart and soul. In the first of two parts, he focuses on what he calls "the guts" of poetry: "emotion, image, and music." He explains the key role that each of these elements plays in the creative process and he also tackles the tricky problem of selecting a subject. The second part involves the nuts and bolts of crafting a poem. Throughout, he cites extensively from his own work, as well as those by other published writers and students. Also included are several interviews with poets who are asked about their inspirations, methods of writing, and advice to young poets. There is a lot of information to digest and understand, and it is not always presented clearly; ideas are thrown at the reader in rapid succession with hardly a breath in between. Each idea is ostensibly illustrated by a poem, but in too many cases neither the idea nor the poem is adequately explained before the next one comes along. Fletcher is obviously passionate about his subject. However, he might do well to follow the warning he gives to young poets: "beware of going on and on and draining the energy." Someone already intrigued with the idea of writing poetry might find just the right hints and tools here to spark that first successful poem. Anyone else will be overwhelmed and confused.

Hazel Rochman (review date 15 May 2002)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, by Ralph Fletcher. Booklist 98, no. 18 (15 May 2002): 1593.

Chatty, but never condescending, and encouraging about how to get started and how to keep going, this informal paperback guide [Poetry Matters ] packs in a wealth of information without a word of jargon. It's also an introduction to the fun of reading poetry. In short chapters Fletcher talks about feelings, images, music, and wordplay, and he explains what these are with lots of immediate quotes to turn kids on. He warns against message, against the "fake sentiment in a greeting card," and against pushing for rhyme, and he encourages young poets to find a personal voice. There's a brief chapter about form (haiku, free verse, etc.), but Fletcher's emphasis is on crafting the poem to describe something "as if we're seeing it for the first time." Brief, accessible interviews with three children's poets reinforce this view of the joy and hard work of creation. There's a lengthy annotated bibliography, and the cheerful, open, paperback format makes the book an excellent choice for classrooms and writing groups as well as individuals.

Junko Yokota, Mingshui Cai, and Theresa Kubasak
(review date May 2003)

SOURCE: Yokota, Junko, Mingshui Cai, and Theresa Kubasak. Review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, by Ralph Fletcher. Language Arts 80, no. 5 (May 2003): 396.

As the title [Poetry Matters ] indicates, Fletcher emphasizes innermost feelings more than outward forms when advising children about crafting poems. For him, poetry is "emotional x-rays" that probe a person's inner being; the best poetry ideas are "concerns of the heart." In the first part of the book, Fletcher explains how to build the "three pillars of poetry": emotion, image, and music. In the second part, including a chapter on troubleshooting, he offers strategies for crafting the raw materials of a poem into a refined artwork. In addition to his advice, readers hear the opinions of three distinguished poets as they share their personal experiences of creating poetry. Among examples of poetry cited are those written by children. The end of the book contains a list of recommended poetry books by contemporary authors. This book is part of a series on writing for children.

HELLO, HARVEST MOON (2003)

Shawn Brommer (review date September 2003)

SOURCE: Brommer, Shawn. Review of Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. School Library Journal 49, no. 9 (September 2003): 178.

In this lyrical offering [Hello, Harvest Moon ], the harvest moon rises on a quiet neighborhood and bathes the silent streets in brilliant lunar light. It illuminates corn and wheat fields, inspires luna moths to perform ballet in the crisp air, and casts a silver shadow on the red and orange autumn trees. A young girl and her cat play hide-and-seek by its light, a pilot flies her plane in near-daytime brightness, and a night watchman wonders if he'll need his flashlight. As morning nears, the moon sets in daylight and the child and her cat bid it goodnight. Fletcher's poetic prose makes use of gentle tempo and internal rhyme. Imaginative metaphors add to the text; as the moon sets, it sprinkles "silver coins like a careless millionaire." Careful use of second-person narrative draws readers into the text. [Kate] Kiesler's luminous oil paintings portray the luscious moon glow, and a refrained use of brush stroke captures the mystery of night-time when the familiar world becomes exotic, dazzling, and alive with nocturnal life. Warm hues evoke homey, autumn scenes. Hello, Harvest Moon helps usher in the season and encourages readers to connect with people throughout the ages who have marveled at the glorious sight.

Diane Foote (review date 1 September 2003)

SOURCE: Foote, Diane. Review of Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Booklist 100, no. 1 (1 September 2003): 128.

Impressionistic oil paintings evoke the feel of a crisp fall night in this ode to the harvest moon [Hello, Harvest Moon ]. Descriptive text introduces the huge, orange moon as it rises above the cornfields, and describes its effect on a little girl woken from sleep, a night watchman as he gets ready to go to work, and on nature itself. Moonflowers bloom, "though only night creatures will see them." Even though night is the focus here, the pace is anything but somnolent; readers will be awakened to a new world of activity that begins only when the moon rises. The overall effect is peaceful rather than frenetic, however; the dark beauty of the illustrations captures the magic of nighttime: a deep blue sky contrasting with the bright moon and stars; the little girl's cat pouncing on something invisible nearby; the harbor's dark water blending with the sky.

Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 2003)

SOURCE: Review of Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 18 (15 September 2003): 1174.

As atmospheric as its companion, Twilight Comes Twice, this tone poem [Hello, Harvest Moon ] pairs poetically intense writing with luminescent oils featuring widely spaced houses, open lawns, and clumps of autumnal trees, all lit by a huge full moon. Fletcher tracks that moon's nocturnal path in language rich in metaphor: "With silent slippers / it climbs the night stairs," "staining earth and sky with a ghostly glow," lighting up a child's bedroom, the wings of a small plane, moonflowers, and, ranging further afield, harbor waves and the shells of turtle hatchlings on a beach. Using creamy brushwork and subtly muted colors, [Kate] Kiesler depicts each landscape, each night creature from Luna moths to a sleepless child and her cat, as well as the great moon sweeping across star-flecked skies, from varied but never vertiginous angles. Closing with moonset, as dawn illuminates the world with a different kind of light, this makes peaceful reading either in season, or on any moonlit night.

Publishers Weekly (review date 15 September 2003)

SOURCE: Review of Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Publishers Weekly 250, no. 37 (15 September 2003): 63-4.

Like their Twilight Comes Twice, this quiet meditation on the beauty of the harvest moon [Hello, Harvest Moon ] is a visual and linguistic pleasure. The book begins with the moon's rising, "lifting free of the treetops" and shining through a girl's bedroom window, then moves outward to explore the ways in which the moon's light affects other people and animals. [Kate] Kiesler's oil paintings gleam with soft light as the girl and her cat watch luna moths and admire the fall foliage of the birch trees "double-dipped in moonlight." Text and art together create a sense of wonder at the beauty of open milkweed pods, "like tiny moonlings / floating / up to their mother" or a spider web etched in moonlight. Beginning with the close-up of the girl and her cat, poet and artist widen the perspective to incorporate other nighttime activity—a plane overhead, a night watchman, various animals and eventually, the pull of the moon on the earth's waters as it "grab[s] whole oceans with its arms." Fletcher's lyrical, child-friendly images will linger in readers' minds. With a gentle nod to Margaret Wise Brown, the child's morning is the moon's setting ("a sleepy head winking / falling / slow motion / onto its pillow"), and the book ends appropriately with the girl bidding, "Good night, harvest moon."

FURTHER READING

Criticism

Laminack, Lester L., and Barbara H. Bell. Review of Hello, Harvest Moon, by Ralph Fletcher, illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Language Arts 81, no. 5 (May 2004): 434.

Describes Hello, Harvest Moon as a "luscious" picture book.

Van Horn, Leigh. Review of Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem from the Inside Out, by Ralph Fletcher. Voices from the Middle 10, no. 2 (December 2002): 61.

Discusses Fletcher's techniques for teaching poetry to children in Poetry Matters.

Welton, Ann. Review of Spider Boy, by Ralph Fletcher. Book Links 9, no. 1 (September 1999): 12.

Provides an overview of Fletcher's plot in Spider Boy.


Additional coverage of Fletcher's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 173; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 132; Literature Resource Center; and Something about the Author, Vols. 105, 149.


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