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Peck, Robert Newton 1928-

PECK, Robert Newton 1928-

Personal

Born February 17, 1928, in Vermont; son of Haven (a farmer) and Lucile (maiden name, Dornburgh) Peck; married Dorothy Anne Houston, 1958; married Sharon Ann Michael (SAM), 1995; children: (first marriage) Christopher Haven, Anne Houston. Education: Rollins College, A.B., 1953; Cornell University, graduate coursework in law. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Playing ragtime piano, sports.

Addresses

Home 500 Sweetwater Club Circle, Longwood, FL 32779.

Career

Writer and farmer. Worked variously as a lumberjack, in a paper mill, as a hog butcher, and as a New York City advertising executive. Director of Rollins College Writers Conference, 1978-82; owner of publishing company, Peck Press; teacher and speaker at conferences. Military service: U.S. Army Infantry, 1945-47; served with 88th Division in Italy, Germany, and France during World War II; received commendation.

Awards, Honors

Best Books for Young Adults, American Library Association, and Spring Book Festival Award older honor, Book World, both 1973, Media & Methods Maxi Award (paperback), 1975, and Colorado Children's Book Award, 1977, all for A Day No Pigs Would Die; New York Times Outstanding Book designation, 1973, for Millie's Boy; children's book of the year designation, Child Study Association of America, 1973, for Millie's Boy, 1975, for Bee Tree and Other Stuff, 1976, for Hamilton, and 1987, for Soup on Ice; Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library, 1980 and 1981, for A Day No Pigs Would Die, 1980, 1981, and 1982, for Hang for Treason, and 1980 and 1982, for Clunie; Mark Twain Award, Missouri Association of School Librarians, 1981, for Soup for President; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1982, for Justice Lion, and 1986, for Spanish Hoof; Michigan Young Reader's Award, Michigan Council of Teachers, 1984, for Soup; Bologna International Children's Book Fair includee, 1985, for Spanish Hoof.

Writings

FICTION; FOR YOUNG ADULTS

A Day No Pigs Would Die, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.

Millie's Boy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Soup, illustrated by Charles Gehm, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.

Bee Tree and Other Stuff (poems), illustrated by Laura Lydecker, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1975.

Fawn, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1975.

Wild Cat, illustrated by Hal Frenck, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1975.

Soup and Me, illustrated by Charles Lilly, Knopf (New York, NY), 1975.

Hamilton, illustrated by Laura Lydecker, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976.

Hang for Treason, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.

King of Kazoo (musical), illustrated by William Bryan Park, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.

Rabbits and Redcoats, illustrated by Laura Lydecker, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1976.

Trig, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

Last Sunday, illustrated by Ben Stahl, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1977.

The King's Iron, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

Patooie, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

Soup for President, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1978.

Eagle Fur, Knopf (New York, NY), 1978.

Trig Sees Red, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.

Mr. Little, illustrated by Ben Stahl, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.

Basket Case, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.

Hub, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Clunie, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Trig Goes Ape, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

Soup's Drum, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.

Soup on Wheels, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

Justice Lion, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.

Kirk's Law, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.

Trig or Treat, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.

Banjo, illustrated by Andrew Glass, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.

The Seminole Seed, Pineapple Press, 1983.

Soup in the Saddle, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.

Soup's Goat, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Dukes, Pineapple Press, 1984.

Jo Silver, Pineapple Press, 1985.

Spanish Hoof, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Soup on Ice, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Soup on Fire, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.

Soup's Uncle, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Hallapoosa, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1988.

The Horse Hunters, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.

Arly, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1989.

Soup's Hoop, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1990.

Higbee's Halloween, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1991.

Little Soup's Hayride, Dell (New York, NY), 1991.

Little Soup's Birthday, Dell (New York, NY), 1991.

Arly's Run, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1991.

Soup in Love, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.

FortDog July, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1992.

Little Soup's Turkey, Dell (New York, NY), 1992.

Little Soup's Bunny, Dell (New York, NY), 1993.

A Part of the Sky, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Soup Ahoy, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Soup 1776, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Nine Man Tree, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.

Cowboy Ghost, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.

Extra Innings, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Horse Thief, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Bro, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

FICTION; FOR ADULTS

The Happy Sadist, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1962.

NONFICTION

Path of Hunters: Animal Struggle in a Meadow, illustrated by Betty Fraser, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Secrets of Successful Fiction, Writer's Digest Books, 1980.

Fiction Is Folks: How to Create Unforgettable Characters, Writer's Digest Books, 1983.

My Vermont, Peck Press, 1985.

My Vermont II, Peck Press, 1988.

Weeds in Bloom: The Autobiography of an Ordinary Man, Random House (New York, NY), 2005.

Also author of songs, television commercials, and jingles. Adapter of novels Soup and Me, Soup for President, and Mr. Little for television's Afterschool Specials, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC-TV).

Adaptations

Soup was adapted for television and broadcast by ABC-TV, 1978. A Day No Pigs Would Die was adapted for cassette and released by Listening Library; several of Peck's other novels have been adapted as audiobooks.

Sidelights

Beginning with his first title in 1972, A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck has carved out a territory in YA fiction for himself. Dissecting the past, Peck takes readers back to a rural America which honors the old-fashioned virtues of hard work, self-sufficiency, and the importance of education. Often set in Vermont, Peck's stories reflect the influence of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, especially so in Peck's humorous set of books based on the character Soup. But Peck's works also engage serious themes, portraying adolescents in their struggles on the cusp of adulthood in such titles as A Day No Pigs Would Die and its 1994 sequel, A Part of the Sky, and the novels Millie's Boy, Justice Lion, Spanish Hoof, Arly, and Arly's Run. Teachers often appear in Peck's fiction where they serve as supporting and life-affirming role models, and he details their importance to his development as both an adult and a writer in his autobiography Weeds in Bloom: The Autobiography of an Ordinary Man. Born in 1928, the seventh child of rural Vermont farmers, Peck was the first member of his family to attend school. There he fell under the influence of an inspiring teacher, Miss Kelly, who he has often memorialized in his fiction in one guise or another. He also formed a childhood friendship with a young boy named Luther, nicknamed Soup, who has also become a fixture in Peck fiction. Peck's father slaughtered hogs during the difficult Depression years, and memories of this also feature in Peck's writing. Academically inclined, Peck went on to attend college, earning an A.B. from Rollins College in 1953 and then studying law at Cornell University. Married in 1958, he and his wife had two children while Peck pursued a successful career as an advertising executive in New York City. By his mid-forties, however, Peck was ready to try something different, and his love of books drew him to writing.

Peck's first novel, A Day No Pigs Would Die, is a semi-autobiographical account of his memories of growing up on his family's Vermont farm. Written in only three weeks, the tale portrays a young boy's coming-of-age when faced with the task of killing his pet pig, thereby becoming a man in the eyes of his Shaker family. Dubbed "charming and simple" by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times Book Review, the novel became an instant favorite, especially with reluctant readers, and also won numerous awards. Lehmann-Haupt went on to note that the novel is "a stunning little dramatization of the brutality of life on a Vermont farm, of the necessary cruelty of nature, and of one family's attempt to transcend the hardness of life by accepting it." This theme of the objective cruelty of nature and man's need to fit into its pattern has been replayed in much of Peck's subsequent fiction and nonfiction alike. Jonathan Yardley, also writing in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that A Day No Pigs Would Die "is sentiment without sentimentality an honest, unpretentious book." Since its publication, the novel has found a place on most best-of-YA lists and has also been included in the curriculum of some college young-adult literature courses.

Peck reprised the protagonist of A Day No Pigs Would Die over two decades later in A Part of the Sky. With his father now dead, young Rob Peck is forced to work at a store in order to keep up with payments on the family farm. Most critics felt, however, that the sequel is not as strong as the initial title, which depicted the strong bond between boy and father and presented a compelling evocation of Shaker ideals.

Peck has revisited the coming-of-age theme in several other novels. In Millie's Boy, which takes place in Vermont at the turn of the twentieth century, he tells the story of another boy on the edge of adulthood. Left an orphan after his prostitute mother is killed, sixteen-year-old Tit Smith is chased by wild dogs when he runs away from the county work farm, and is ultimately taken in by a kindly doctor. A reviewer for Booklist noted that the novel contains "well-done characterizations, dialog and background," and is "laced with adventure and humor."

In Arly and it's sequel, Arly's Run, Peck portrays teachers as positive and supportive. Miss Binnie Hoe serves up education as a way to freedom for the children of workers in the factory town of Jailtown, Florida. Young Arly is forced into labor too, as his father falls ill and bills need to be paid. Miss Hoe arranges for Arly's escape from the virtual prison of Jailtown. Jennifer Brown, writing in Children's Book Review Service, declared that this "is a powerful book which any caring adult should read," while Katharine Bruner concluded in School Library Journal that "Arly's adventures at school, his encounters with evil, his moments of grief and despair, remain vivid long after the last page has been turned." In the sequel, Arly's Run, the young boy discovers that freedom is something that must be won everywhere, and he ultimately finds a new home for himself. Kathy Elmore noted in Voice of Youth Advocates that his "historical adventure grabs the reader from the first chapter" and would serve as an "eye-opening" introduction to "the plight of migrant workers."

Both Clunie and Spanish Hoof mark a change of pace for Peck in that they feature female protagonists. His novel Extra Innings also features a strong female central character, this time an older woman named Vidalia, who inspires a young man with her stories of touring with an all-black, all-woman baseball team during the lean Depression years. Clunie, based on Peck's research at an institution, focuses on a young girl named Clunie Finn who is mentally disabled; she is relentlessly teased and called "simple" by her fellow students at school. The novel was praised as a "moving story, though not altogether free of sentimentality," according to a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Reviewing Clunie in the New York Times Book Review, Patricia Lee Gauch commented that "Peck has never been more the consummate storyteller than in this book about a retarded farm girl caught in a web of adolescent cruelty."

In Spanish Hoof, Peck tells "an utterly predictable yet endearingly sweet-'n'-earthy tale of cattle-ranching in Depression-era Florida," according to a critic for Kirkus Reviews. Narrated by eleven-year-old tomboy Harriet "Harry" Beecher, the novel follows one family's attempt to stay above water financially, an effort that is aided by Harry's sacrifice: selling her horse to help save the ranch. Booklist contributor Karen Stang Hanley concluded that Peck's "rewarding story about a girl's departure from childhood and a loving extended family is a natural for independent reading."

Spanish Hoof also introduced a new setting for Peck's novels when it was published in 1985. Whereas most of his early books are set in Vermont, after relocating to Florida in the 1980s, he began using that location more and more in his fiction. In Hallapoosa and The Horse Hunters, as well as in Arly, Nine Man Tree, Cowboy Ghost, and Bro, Peck spins his coming-of-age tales about young boys against a Florida backdrop. In Hallapoosa he presents an orphan brother and sister who are sent to live with a relative, a justice of the peace in the small southern Florida town of Hallapoosa, during the Depression years of the 1930s. Peck weaves a tale involving "murder, a kidnapping, and return from the dead," according to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who concluded that the author's "language is a pungent, evocative pleasure." In Bro, which also takes place in the 1930s, Tug Dockery, an orphaned boy is haunted by a horrific incident he witnessed at his grandfather's ranch six years before. Now orphaned by a train wreck that killed his parents and forced to live with his moody grandfather, Tug awaits the release from jail of an older brother who Tug hopes will rescue him from his ghosts; however, fate has other plans in store in a "compelling tale" that School Library Journal contributor Gerry Larson praised for its "wit, insight, compassion, and hope." The Horse Hunters once again evokes Depression-era Florida in its tale of a young boy who moves into manhood while on a wild mustang roundup. Reviewing The Horse Hunters for Voice of Youth Advocates, Allan A. Cuseo felt that this "coming-of-age epic" is "more lethargic" than Peck's other works, but that the author's "usual themes of endurance, freedom of choice, and humankind's basic goodness are affirmed."

In addition to mining the social history and customs of his own lifetime, Peck sometimes reaches into the more distant past when setting his novels. Taking readers back to the colonial and Revolutionary War periods, he has crafted the coming-of-age stories Eagle Fur, Fawn, Hang for Treason, The King's Iron, and Rabbits and Redcoats. Throughout these tales, Peck shares his love of history as well as his belief in the importance of the father-son bond. Additionally, he continues to employ a graphic style of writing well suited to descriptions of often violent circumstances.

During the mid-1990s Peck left writing and undertook a personal battle with cancer. Winning the fight, the author returned with more fiction in 1998. Nine Man Tree is set in 1931 in the backwoods of Florida where "an illiterate dirt-poor family suffers under the rule of an abusive father," according to a Publishers Weekly commentator. Eleven-year-old Yoolee Tharp protects his little sister Havilah, as well as his mother, from his father's drunken rages, but soon an even bigger enemy looms: a giant wild boar that is attacking and eating humans. Few tears are shed when Yoolee's father is killed on an expedition to kill the animal, but the boy suffers a loss at the death of Henry Old Panther, an elderly Calusa native who is ultimately killed by the beast, a long-time enemy that the Indian refuses to kill. Helen Rosenberg, writing in Booklist, remarked that in Nine Man Tree Peck "tells a haunting story in which the wild boar and the abusive father meet similar fates, but it is also an adventure and a tale that will have reluctant readers glued to their chairs."

In Cowboy Ghost, Peck tells another growing-up story against the backdrop of a Florida cattle drive in the early years of the twentieth century. Young Titus battles Seminole Indians and bad weather in the 500-mile drive, rising from cook's helper to leader of the drive. William C. Schadt noted in School Library Journal that readers will be "entertained by the way Peck portrays the cowboy lifestyle, including his liberal use of folksy, country jargon," and concluded that Cowboy Ghost spins "a good story."

Ranch life is also the backdrop of Horse Thief, which finds seventeen-year-old rodeo rider Tullis Yoder desperate to save the lives of thirteen rodeo horses after the Big Bubb Stampede Rodeo show that owns them goes bankrupt and plans are made to send the horses to slaughter. Joining with several unlikely partnersincluding a horse-thieving gambler and his daughter, a doctorTullis steals the horses, and soon finds that the crime stirs up more trouble than he could possibly imagine in a novel that School Library Journal reviewer Carol Schene called "witty, unpredictable, and a story that refuses to take itself too seriously." Noting that the author's love of horses is apparent throughout the novel, Kliatt contributor Paula Rohrlick added that Horse Thief is a "fun, folksy read" that reflects Peck's "understanding of boys' longing to prove themselves." "Western fans are in for a treat," added Booklist reviewer Debbie Carton, dubbing the novel a "convoluted and surprisingly funny odyssey, chock-full of engaging characters."

While many of his books have involved hardships of one sort or another, Peck has penned several other books that, like Horse Thief, contain more-lighthearted fare. He turns to less-serious themes with his "Soup" series of books about young Rob and his friend, Soup. Soup is a boy who can talk Rob into almost any mischief, from smoking cornsilk to rolling downhill in a barrel. Episodic and filled with humor, the first novel in the series, Soup, chronicles life among poor, rural Vermonters during the 1930s. Critics compared the book to Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and a reviewer for Booklist called the first "Soup" title "a series of entertaining, autobiographical recollections." Peck has continued the "Soup" series in over ten installments, which have been praised for helping to bring reluctant readers into the literacy fold. Though Zena Sutherland reflected the feelings of some reviewers by noting in a review of Soup for President for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that Peck's "corn-fed nostalgia" comes off as "just a bit too jolly," other critics have been more enthusiastic. Mary M. Burns wrote in Horn Book that the adventures of Soup and Rob succeed "primarily as a humorous reminiscence of small-town attitudes and customs in the pre- World War II era." Other titles in the series include Soup on Ice, "a story that portends the real Christmas spirit in subtle style," according to Peggy Forehand in School Library Journal, and Soup 1776, which School Library Journal contributor Connie Pierce called "a blast."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Children's Literature Review, Volume 45, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997, pp. 93-126.

Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, edited by Sally Holmes Holtze, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1983, pp. 240-241.

Peck, Robert Newton, Fiction Is Folks, Writer's Digest Books, 1983.

St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, edited by Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 683-685.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 235-247.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 1, 1974, review of Soup, p. 878; December 1, 1975, review of Millie's Boy, pp. 382-383; April 15, 1985, Karen Stang Hanley, review of Spanish Hoof, p.1198; June 1, 1994, p. 1799; January 15, 1995, p. 946; February 15, 1996, p. 1036; August, 1997, p. 1920; August, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 2008; February 1, 2001, Kelly Milner Halls, review of Extra Innings, p. 1046; May 15, 2002, Debbie Carton, review of Horse Thief, p. 1605; March 15, 2004, Carolyn Phelan, review of Bro, p. 1299.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1978, Zena Sutherland, review of Soup for President, p. 165.

Children's Book Review Service, June, 1989, Jennifer Brown, review of Arly, p. 126.

Horn Book, May-June, 1978, Mary M. Burns, review of Soup for President, pp. 279-280; November-December, 1995, p. 776.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1980, review of Clunie, p. 125; March 1, 1985, review of Spanish Hoof, p. J13; April 15, 1988, review of Hallapoosa, p. 567; September 1, 1998, p. 1291; May 15, 2004, review of Bro, p. 496.

Kliatt, July, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Horse Thief, and Stacey Conrad, review of Extra Innings, p. 26; July, 2004, Paula Rohrlick, review of Bro, p. 11.

New York Times, January 4, 1973.

New York Times Book Review, January 4, 1973, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of A Day No Pigs Would Die, p. 35; May 13, 1973, Jonathan Yardley, review of A Day No Pigs Would Die, p. 37; February 24, 1983, Patricia Lee Gauch, review of Clunie, p. 33; November 13, 1994, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, July 21, 1997, p. 203; August 17, 1998, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 73; January 11, 1999, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 73; January 15, 2001, review of Extra Innings, p. 77; June 10, 2002, review of Horse Thief, p. 61.

School Library Journal, October, 1985, Peggy Forehand, review of Soup on Ice, p. 192; June, 1989, Katharine Bruner, review of Arly, p. 108; March, 1994, p. 183; August, 1994, p. 70; October, 1995, Connie Pierce, review of Soup 1776, p. 139; November, 1998, p. 126; March, 1999, William C. Schadt, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 213; March, 2001, Todd Morning, review of Extra Innings, p. 255; July, 2002, Carol Schene, review of Horse Thief, p. 124; August, 2004, Gerry Larson, review of Bro, p. 128.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1989, Allan A. Cuseo, review of The Horse Hunters, p. 105; April, 1992, Kathy Elmore, review of Arly's Run, p. 34.

ONLINE

Robert Newton Peck Web site, http://www.athenet.net/~blahnik/rnpeck/ (December 2, 2004).*

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Robert Newton Peck

Robert Newton Peck

Robert Peck (born 1928) won critical and popular acclaim for his first novel, A Day No Pigs Would Die (1973). Critics lauded its unsentimental rendering of farm life and the often brutal realities of the natural world, and the book is now a frequently studied text in junior high school classrooms.

Peck was born in rural Vermont to Shaker farmers whose hard yet rewarding lives inspired much of his fiction. He commented: "A Day No Pigs Would Die was influenced by my father, an illiterate farmer and pigslaughterer whose earthy wisdom continues to contribute to my understanding of the natural order and the old Shaker beliefs deeply rooted in the land and its harvest." The first of his family to learn to read and write, Peck was profoundly influenced by his grade school teacher and later based the character Miss Kelly in the Soup series of novels on her. As a young man he found employment as a lumberjack, hog butcher, and paper-mill worker. He joined the United States Army infantry during World War II, serving for two years in Italy, Germany, and France. After the war he received his bachelor's degree from Rollins College and studied law at Cornell University. He later became an advertising executive, writing jingles for television commercials, but abandoned this career following the successful publication of A Day No Pigs Would Die in 1973. He now divides his time between Vermont and Florida, where he is the director of Rollins College Writers Conference.

Told in a spare yet vivid style, A Day No Pigs Would Die revolves around thirteen-year-old Rob Peck and his relationship with his austere father, a farmer and hog butcher. Rob, in return for helping a neighbor's cow give birth, receives a sow that soon becomes his beloved pet. The pig proves barren, however, and Rob must help his father slaughter it, knowing that their meager income prohibits the luxury of a useless animal. Through this experience, he comes to understand the meaning of love and the necessity of death. He is also able to face the loss of his father, who, though silent on the subject, has been slowly dying. The reaction of reviewer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt to A Day No Pigs Would Die echoed the estimation of many critics: "[This novel] is a stunning little dramatization of the brutality of life on a Vermont farm, of the necessary cruelty of nature, and of one family's attempt to transcend the hardness of life by accepting it. And while … there is no rhetoric about love—in fact nobody in A Day No Pigs Would Die ever mentions the word love, or any other emotion for that matter—love nevertheless suffuses every page."

In the Soup series of novels, Peck embellishes upon his childhood adventures with Soup, his mischievous best friend whose practical jokes often result in mayhem at such small-town functions as parades and school plays. Among the best known of these books are Soup (1974), Soup and Me (1975), Soup for President (1978), and Soup's Drum (1980). Most critics have found that while the plots of the books have grown increasingly repetitive, the stories' slapstick humor ensures their continuing appeal for young readers. A similar estimation has been accorded to Peck's series of novels revolving around the character Trig, a preteen tomboy living in 1930s Vermont whose antics often arouse the displeasure of her elders. Trig (1977), Trig Sees Red (1978), Trig Goes Ape (1980), and Trig or Treat (1982) have also been faulted for what many reviewers regarded as Peck's superficial treatment of female characters, a criticism leveled against much of his fiction.

Other novels by Peck evince his interest in colonial America and the Revolutionary War. Such novels as Fawn (1975), Rabbits and Redcoats (1976), The King's Iron (1977), and Eagle Fur (1978) feature adolescents who come of age amidst historical events such as the capture of Fort Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold. Critics have praised the sense of place, strong characterizations, and powerful scenes of these books, yet find them marred by what they perceive as Peck's puerile treatment of violence and sexual relationships. The uneven quality of these novels typifies Peck's work following A Day No Pigs Would Die. However, most critics concur with the estimation of Anne Scott MacLeod that "those who admired Pigs have often been disappointed by Peck's work since that strong beginning. Nevertheless, we look with interest at each new title by this erratic author, hoping that he will sometime match the achievement of that first powerful, moving story."

Further Reading

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 3, Gale, 1990.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 17, Gale, 1981.

Peck, Robert Newton, Fiction Is Folks, Writer's Digest Books, 1983.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale, 1986, pp. 235-247.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press, 1989.

Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press, 1994.

Horn Book, August, 1973; October, 1973; April, 1976; December, 1976. □

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Peck, Robert Newton 1928-

PECK, Robert Newton 1928-

PERSONAL: Born February 17, 1928, in VT; son of F. Haven (a farmer) and Lucile (Dornburgh) Peck; married Dorothy Anne Houston (a librarian and painter), 1958 (marriage ended); married Sharon Ann Michael, 1995; children: (first marriage) Christopher Haven, Anne Houston. Education: Rollins College, A.B., 1953; Cornell University, law student. Religion: Protestant. Hobbies and other interests: Playing ragtime piano, sports.

ADDRESSES: Home—500 Sweetwater Club Circle, Longwood, FL 32779.

CAREER: Writer and farmer. Worked variously as a lumberjack, in a paper mill, as a hog butcher, and as a New York City advertising executive. Director of Rollins College Writers Conference, 1978—. Owner of publishing company, Peck Press. Teacher, and speaker at conferences. Military service: U.S. Army, Infantry, 1945-47; served with 88th Division in Italy, Germany, and France; received commendation.

AWARDS, HONORS: Best Books for Young Adults citation, American Library Association, Spring Book Festival Award older honor, Book World, both 1973, Media & Methods Maxi Award (paperback), 1975, and Colorado Children's Book Award, 1977, all for A Day No Pigs Would Die; New York Times Outstanding Book citation, 1973, for Millie's Boy; Children's Books of the Year citations, Child Study Association of America, 1973, for Millie's Boy, 1975, for Bee Tree and Other Stuff, 1976, for Hamilton, and 1987, for Soup on Ice; Books for the Teen Age citations, New York Public Library, 1980 and 1981, for A Day No Pigs Would Die, 1980, 1981, and 1982, for Hang forTreason, and 1980 and 1982, for Clunie; Mark Twain Award, Missouri Association of School Librarians, 1981, for Soup for President; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citations, National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1982, for Justice Lion, and 1986, for Spanish Hoof; Michigan Young Reader's Award, Michigan Council of Teachers, 1984, for Soup; Bologna International Children's Book Fair, 1985, for Spanish Hoof.

WRITINGS:

FICTION; FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS

A Day No Pigs Would Die, Knopf (New York, NY), 1972.

Millie's Boy, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Soup, illustrated by Charles Gehm, Knopf (New York, NY), 1974.

Bee Tree and Other Stuff (poems), illustrated by Laura Lydecker, Walker (New York, NY), 1975.

Fawn, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1975.

Wild Cat, illustrated by Hal Frenck, Holiday House (New York, NY), 1975.

Soup and Me, illustrated by Charles Lilly, Knopf (New York, NY), 1975.

Hamilton, illustrated by Laura Lydecker, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976.

Hang for Treason, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1976.

King of Kazoo (musical), illustrated by William Bryan Park, Knopf (New York, NY), 1976.

Rabbits and Redcoats, illustrated by Laura Lydecker, Walker (New York, NY), 1976.

Trig, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

Last Sunday, illustrated by Ben Stahl, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1977.

The King's Iron, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.

Patooie, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1977.

Soup for President, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1978.

Eagle Fur, Knopf (New York, NY), 1978.

Trig Sees Red, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.

Mr. Little, illustrated by Ben Stahl, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1979.

Basket Case, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1979.

Hub, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Clunie, Knopf (New York, NY), 1979.

Soup's Drum, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1980.

Trig Goes Ape, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.

Soup on Wheels, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.

Justice Lion, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.

Kirk's Law, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1981.

Trig or Treat, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.

Banjo, illustrated by Andrew Glass, Knopf (New York, NY), 1982.

Soup in the Saddle, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.

The Seminole Seed, Pineapple Press (Englewood, FL), 1983.

Soup's Goat, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1984.

Dukes, Pineapple Press (Englewood, FL), 1984.

Soup on Ice, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Jo Silver, Pineapple Press (Englewood, FL), 1985.

Spanish Hoof, Knopf (New York, NY), 1985.

Soup on Fire, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1987.

Soup's Uncle, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1988.

Hallapoosa, Walker (New York, NY), 1988.

The Horse Hunters, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.

Arly, Walker (New York, NY), 1989.

Soup's Hoop, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1990.

Higbee's Halloween, Walker (New York, NY), 1990.

Little Soup's Hayride, Dell (New York, NY), 1991.

Little Soup's Birthday, Dell (New York, NY), 1991.

Arly's Run, Walker (New York, NY), 1991.

Soup in Love, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.

Little Soup's Turkey, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Dell (New York, NY), 1992.

Little Soup's Bunny, Dell (New York, NY), 1993.

Soup Ahoy, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

A Part of the Sky, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Soup 1776, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Nine Man Tree, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.

Cowboy Ghost, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.

Extra Innings, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.

Horse Thief, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.

Bro, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

FICTION; FOR ADULTS

The Happy Sadist, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1962.

NONFICTION

Path of Hunters: Animal Struggle in a Meadow, illustrated by Betty Fraser, Knopf (New York, NY), 1973.

Secrets of Successful Fiction, Writer's Digest (Cincinnati, OH), 1980.

Fiction Is Folks: How to Create Unforgettable Characters, Writer's Digest (Cincinnati, OH), 1983.

My Vermont, Peck Press (Longwood, FL), 1985.

My Vermont II, Peck Press (Longwood, FL), 1988.

Also author of songs, television commercials, and jingles. Adapter of novels Soup and Me, Soup for President, and Mr. Little for television's Afterschool Specials, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC-TV).

ADAPTATIONS: Soup was adapted for television and broadcast by ABC-TV, 1978; A Day No Pigs Would Die was adapted for audiocassette and released by Listening Library.

WORK IN PROGRESS: An autobiography, titled Weeds in Bloom, scheduled for publication by Random House in 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: The strength of Robert Newton Peck's works stems from their striking depictions of the past. Many of his books bring to life the rural Vermont of his childhood, describing the adventures and encounters with nature that helped shape his life. The six-foot-four-inch tall Peck once described himself as follows: "I wear mule-ear boots, a ten-gallon hat, Western shirts and weigh over 200 pounds." Peck went on to observe, "Socially, I'm about as sophisticated as a turnip. . . . I'man expert skier, a dismal dancer, and I love horses." Sophisticated or not, the author has penned a long list of books for children, many of which reflect his boyhood struggle with the competitiveness of nature and its impending threat of death. Peck, who lives on a five-hundred-acre ranch in Florida, has also written poetry, adult novels, and how-to books for would-be writers.

Educators figure prominently in Peck's fiction, thanks to the influence of his first, much-admired teacher—he still respectfully refers to her as "Miss Kelly." "A lot of my characters are teachers—all of whom are strong, fair, and respected," Peck once explained. Although reading was a skill revered by Peck's family and neighbors when he was a boy, not everyone was privileged enough to learn how to do it. In Peck's own family no one had ever attended school before him, although he was the youngest of seven children. Luckily, he was able to convince his parents to let him join the other students. Miss Kelly kindled the minds of the first-through-sixth grades in what Peck described in an essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS) as a "tumble-down, one-room, dirt-road school in rural Vermont." There she taught the children to wash up before handling any of the few, but treasured, books. Ivanhoe, The Wind in the Willows, and Tom Sawyer were some of the classics Miss Kelly read to her classes, along with biographies of outstanding personalities such as Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain, and Charles Lindbergh.

Peck not only grew up to write many books of his own, he also married a librarian, Dorrie, in 1958. The best man at their wedding was none other than Fred Rogers, the star of the popular Mister Rogers' Neighborhood television show for children; Peck had met him in college. Writing about his own children, Christopher Haven and Anne Houston, Peck once stated, "I hope they both grow up to have a tough gut and a gentle heart. Because I don't want to sire a world of macho men or feminist women, but rather a less strident society of ladies and gentlemen."

Peck's writing career began with A Day No Pigs Would Die. The book is based on memories of his father, "an illiterate farmer and pig-slaughterer whose earthy wisdom continues to contribute to my understanding of the natural order and old Shaker beliefs deeply rooted in the land and its harvest," Peck once observed. In the story, a young boy comes of age when he must summon the will to kill his pet pig on the family farm in Vermont. The book was met with mixed reviews because of the graphic account of the butchering, but for the most part Peck earned praise for his honest and unsentimental story. A Part of the Sky continues the young boy's story as he becomes responsible for his mother, his aunt, and the mortgage payments for the family farm following his father's death. A Day No Pigs Would Die marked the beginning of Peck's long writing career in which an Authors and Artists for Young Adults essayist noted, "hard work, self-sufficiency, and the importance of education are predominant."

A boy named "Soup" is featured in Peck's Soup, and in a number of his following works. "Rob and Soup, though abrim with rascality, respect their beloved Miss Kelly, her Vermont virtue—and her ruler," Peck once remarked. Like Miss Kelly, the character Soup is based on a real person in Peck's life: his closest friend in childhood. Describing the real Soup in his autobiographical essay, Peck expressed his view that "When a boy has a best friend, he's the richest kid on Earth." He went on to note that Soup's "real and righteous name was Luther Wesley Vinson, and he grew up too to become a minister." In Soup Ahoy, the thirteenth book of the series, Soup and his pal Rob enter a contest sponsored by Soggymushies cereal and win a visit from radio star Sinker O. Sailor. The book is filled with puns, alliteration, and other forms of word play.

For Higbee's Halloween Peck created the humorous "Soup-like" characters of Higbee Higginbottom and Quincy Cobb. Their pranks are typical for boys growing up in the 1930s until the Striker children move to Clod's Corner. After the Strikers use their homemade torture chamber, Higbee comes up with a plan to get revenge during the town's Halloween celebration.

Arly is the story of eleven-year-old Arly Poole, who seems destined to be a vegetable picker and slave to the owner of his hometown of Jailtown, Florida, until a schoolteacher arrives in town. He experiences many heartbreaks, including the death of his father. In Arly's Run, Peck continues Arly's harrowing tale. He recounts Arly's unsuccessful attempt as a twelve-year-old to escape Jailtown, his capture by company men and forced labor on a work gang, and his ultimate escape with an elderly picker named Coo Coo.

Peck's Spanish Hoof and The Horse Hunters are two coming-of-age novels set on ranches. In Spanish Hoof, twelve-year-old Harriet, called Harry, lives on a Florida cattle ranch during the Depression with her mother, younger brother, and hired hands. Harry relates the threats to the herd and her family and her decision to sell her pony to save the ranch. "The only problem is the language Harriet uses to tell her story," noted Anne Tyler in the Washington Post Book World. "It's dialect in the extreme, and although it may be perfectly authentic, it sounds forced and is often difficult to understand." The Horse Hunters likewise is set in Depression-era Florida. The novel features fifteen-year-old Ladd Bodeen, who sets out to prove his manhood to his difficult older brother by going on a wild mustang roundup, an adventure that is danger packed.

Nine Man Tree is the story of "an illiterate, dirt-poor family" who "suffers under the rule of an abusive father," wrote a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. The story is set in backwoods Florida in 1931 where a wild boar is terrorizing the swamp, killing anything in its path. The protagonist is Yoolee, whose father is fatally wounded by the boar during the hunt. The boar is finally killed by an elderly Native American man. "The Southern dialect is vigorous, even poetic, and the details shine sharp as a knife blade," continued the reviewer. Booklist's Helen Rosenberg called Nine Man Tree "an intriguing story with an unusual setting." Rosenberg noted that Peck's writing "transports readers smoothly to another time and place."

Peck's Cowboy Ghost focuses on Titus MacRobinson, the sixteen-year-old son of a Florida rancher. To prove himself to his father, Titus sets out with his older brother, Micah, to lead a cattle drive. Along the way, Titus gains insights into the lives of his brother, his family, and himself. Roger Leslie wrote in Booklist, "The strength of the novel emerges from richly drawn characters whose evolution is unpredictable but entirely believable."

"Peck shines as he writes about a Depression-era black baseball team" in Extra Innings, lauded Kelly Milner Halls in Booklist. Peck tells the story of Tate Stonemason, a recently orphaned young boy left handicapped after a plane crash, whose dream of playing professional baseball has been shattered. Helping him cope with the losses in his life is Aunt Vidalia, the African-American adopted daughter of Tate's great-grandfather. Vidalia relays to Tate the story of a poor African-American baseball team in the South during the Great Depression, who battled racism and hatred in their travels. "The account of the barnstorming team, getting by on a shoestring and finding kindness and hatred in the deep South, is the best part of this book," wrote Todd Morning in School Library Journal.

Horse Thief is Peck's entertaining, often humorous, novel about seventeen-year-old Tullis Yoder. Tullis works as a hand at the Big Bubb Stampede Rodeo, hoping to get the chance to one day compete. When the chance arises, Tullis mounts a bull named Gutbuster, only to lose two fingers when he falls from the bull. When the star of the show dies during a bull-riding stunt, the owner decides to close the show and sell the horses to the slaughterhouse. Tullis cannot bear the thought of losing his beloved horses. Adventure ensues as Tullis, his doctor, and her father go on a mission to rescue the thirteen horses. "Witty, unpredictable, and a 'dam' good story that refuses to take itself too seriously, Horse Thief will have readers cheering for Tullis, his friends and their herd of thirteen," noted Carol Schene in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Horse Thief a "highly entertaining ride," while Booklist's Debbie Carton dubbed it "a convoluted and surprisingly funny odyssey, chock-full of engaging characters."

Among Peck's many other works are three historical novels which arose from his interest in the Colonial and Revolutionary periods in American history. The children in Hang for Treason, Fawn, and Rabbits and Redcoats are believable because of Peck's view that children are the same regardless of the time period in which they are born.

Although many of his works have been well received by children and young adults, Peck once commented that he "didn't start out to write for any particular age group. If my books turn out to be right for teenagers, as well as adults and/or kids, it just happens that way. I can only write about what I know and I've never been shy about telling people what I know. As a matter of fact, when I told my mother . . . that three of my books were about to be published by a very important publishing house, she thought for a minute, looked up at me and said, 'Son, you always did have a lot to say.'" No matter who reads his books, though, Peck considers it extremely important to motivate young people to read. One motivator is to read a chapter out loud to children, suggested Peck, so they will be eager to find out what happens next. "My richest talent is making a kid smile. And getting him to read and write," Peck pointed out in his autobiographical essay. He even takes the time to answer up to one hundred letters weekly from fans in the United States and abroad.

When asked why he includes so much of himself in his writing, Peck related in his Fiction Is Folks that it's "because I've got so much of me to give. Like you, I am abrim with likes, dislikes, talents, cumbersome inabilities, joys, triumphs, and failures . . . so why should I even consider wasting such a storehouse?" He went on to say in SAAS that "compared to the worth of so many talented authors, my novels aren't really so doggone great. Yet secretly, I truly believe that I am the best teacher of creative writing in the entire galaxy." And most important, he concluded, "Life is fun. It's a hoot and a holler. If you can't revel in America and enjoy all the wonderful Americans you meet, you wouldn't be happy in Heaven or even in Florida." Peck once told CA that, after a bout with cancer during the mid-1990s that entailed surgeries and numerous radiation treatments, he is cured and once again appearing onstage "playing concert-level jazz and ragtime piano, and making people laugh."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 3, 1990, Volume 43, 2002.

Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 1, Beacham (Washington, DC), 1990.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 17, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.

Continuum Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, Continuum (New York, NY), 2001.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Literature and Its Times, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Peck, Robert Newton, Fiction Is Folks, Writer's Digest (Cincinnati, OH), 1983.

St. James Guide to Young Adults Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 235-247.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1989.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, February 15, 1989, p. 995; December 15, 1991, p. 759; February 15, 1994, p. 1082; August, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 2008; June 1, 1999, Roger Leslie, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 1816; February 1, 2001, Kelly Milner Halls, review of Extra Innings, p. 1046; May 15, 2002, Debbie Carton, review of Horse Thief, p. 1605.

Book Report, March, 1999, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 62.

Books for Young People, April 15, 1994, p. 562.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1998, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 142; March, 1999, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 252; March, 2001, review of Extra Innings, p. 275.

Children's Book Review Service, April, 1985, p. 100; June, 1989, p. 126; January 1991, p. 58.

Horn Book, August, 1973; October, 1973; April, 1976; December, 1976.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1988, p. 1352; November 15, 1991, p. 1474; July 15, 1994, p. 943; September 1, 1998, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 1291; December 15, 1998, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 1802; May 15, 2002, review of Horse Thief, p. 739.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, March, 1998, review of A Part of the Sky, p. 14; May, 1999, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 12.

New York Times, January 4, 1973.

New York Times Book Review, May 13, 1973; November 13, 1994, p. 27.

Publishers Weekly, September 16, 1988, p. 66; March 10, 1989, p. 91; October 18, 1993, audiobook review of A Day No Pigs Would Die, p. 28; August 22, 1994, review of A Part of the Sky, p. 41; August, 17, 1998, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 73; November 23, 1998, reviews of Soup on Wheels, Soup for President, Soup 1776, and Soup, p. 69; January 11, 1999, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 73; January 15, 2001, review of Extra Innings, p. 77; June 10, 2002, review of Horse Thief, p. 61.

School Library Journal, May, 1985, p. 105; June, 1989, p. 108; October, 1990, p. 118; February, 1992, p. 108; March, 1994, p. 223; October, 1995, p. 139; November, 1998, review of Nine Man Tree, p. 126; March, 1999, review of Cowboy Ghost, p. 213; March, 2001, Todd Morning, review of Extra Innings, p. 255; July, 2002, Carol Schene, review of Horse Thief, p. 124.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1985, p. 259; June, 1989, p. 105; August, 1989, p. 160; December, 1990, p. 287; April, 1992, p. 34; August, 2001, review of Extra Innings, p. 206.

Washington Post Book World, May 12, 1985, p. 116; May 8, 1994, p. 20.

ONLINE

Children's Literature,http://www.childrenslit.com/ (November 22, 2002), review of Cowboy Ghost.

Robert Newton Peck Web site,http://my.athenet.net/~blahnik/rnpeck/ (November 24, 2003).

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