Willo Davis Roberts
Roberts, Willo Davis 1928-
ROBERTS, Willo Davis 1928-
Born May 29, 1928, in Grand Rapids, MI; daughter of Clayton R. and Lealah (Gleason) Davis; married David W. Roberts (a building supply company manager, photographer, and writer), May 20, 1949; children: Kathleen, David M., Larrilyn (Roberts) Lindquist, Christopher. Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Politics: Republican. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, research.
Writer. Has worked in hospitals and doctors' offices; former co-owner of a dairy farm. Lecturer and workshop leader at writers' conferences and schools; consultant to executive board of Pacific Northwest Writers' Conference.
Mystery Writers of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild of Authors League of America, Seattle Freelancers, Eastside Writers, Sisters in Crime, Northwest Christian Writers.
Children's Book of the Year Award, Library of Congress, for The View from the Cherry Tree; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1977, Young Hoosier Book Award, Association for Indiana Media Educators, 1980, West Australian Young Readers Award, 1981, and Georgia Children's Book Award, University of Georgia, 1982,
all for Don't Hurt Laurie!; Mark Twain Award, Missouri Library Association and Missouri Association of School Librarians, 1983, California Young Reader Medal, California Reading Association, 1986, Children's Book of the Year Award, Library of Congress, California Young Readers Award, and Junior Literary Guild selection, all for The Girl with the Silver Eyes; Children's Book of the Year Award, Library of Congress, and Junior Literary Guild selection, for The Pet-Sitting Peril; Pacific Northwest Writers Conference Achievement Award, 1986, for body of work; West Virginia Children's Book Award honor book citation, 1987, and Junior Literary Guild selection, for Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy; Mark Twain Award, Young Hoosier Award, South Carolina Children's Book Award, Nevada Young Reader's Award, and Junior Literary Guild selection, all for Baby Sitting Is a Dangerous Job; Children's Book of the Year Award, Library of Congress, for The Magic Book; Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children, National Science Teachers Association/Children's Book Council, for Sugar Isn't Everything; Edgar Allan Poe Award (juvenile category), Mystery Writers of America, 1989, and Junior Library Guild selection, for Megan's Island; Junior Library Guild selection and OMAR Award (Evansville Book Award), for What Could Go Wrong?; Governor's Award for contributions to the field of children's literature, Washington State, 1990, for body of work; Texas Lone Star List, 1990-91, Sunshine State Award, 1993, and Junior Library Guild selection, all for Nightmare; Junior Library Guild selection, for To Grandmother's House We Go; California Young Reader Award, 1994, for Scared Stiff; Junior Library Guild selection, for Caught!; Edgar Allan Poe Award (juvenile category), Mystery Writers of America, 1995, and Junior Library Guild selection, for The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes; Edgar Allan Poe Award (juvenile category), Mystery Writers of America, 1997, and Junior Library Guild selection, for Twisted Summer; Books for the Teen Age selection, New York Public Library, 2000, for Pawns; Nevada Young Readers Award, for Hostage; Junior Literary Guild selection, for Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl.
The View from the Cherry Tree, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1975.
Don't Hurt Laurie!, illustrated by Ruth Sanderson, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.
The Minden Curse, illustrated by Sherry Streeter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1978.
More Minden Curses, illustrated by Sherry Streeter, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.
The Girl with the Silver Eyes, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.
House of Fear, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1983.
The Pet-Sitting Peril, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
No Monsters in the Closet, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1983.
Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy, illustrated by Leslie Morrill, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1984.
Elizabeth, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1984.
Caroline, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1984.
Baby Sitting Is a Dangerous Job, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1985.
Victoria, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1985.
The Magic Book, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
Sugar Isn't Everything: A Support Book, in Fiction Form, for the Young Diabetic, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1987.
Megan's Island, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1988.
What Could Go Wrong?, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
Nightmare, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1989.
To Grandmother's House We Go, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1990.
Scared Stiff, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1991.
Dark Secrets, Fawcett/Juniper (New York, NY), 1991.
Jo and the Bandit, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.
What Are We Going to Do about David?, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1993.
The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.
Caught!, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1994.
Twisted Summer, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1996.
Secrets at Hidden Valley, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1997.
Pawns, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
The Kidnappers, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1998.
Hostage, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2000.
Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2001.
Undercurrents, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Rebel, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2003.
Blood on His Hands, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2004.
Murder at Grand Bay, Arcadia House, 1955.
The Girl Who Wasn't There, Arcadia House, 1957.
Murder Is So Easy, Vega Books, 1961.
The Suspected Four, Vega Books, 1962.
Nurse Kay's Conquest, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1966.
Once a Nurse, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1966.
Nurse at Mystery Villa, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1967.
Return to Darkness, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1969.
Devil Boy, New American Library (New York, NY), 1970.
Shroud of Fog, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The Waiting Darkness, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1970.
Shadow of a Past Love, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The Tarot Spell, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The House at Fern Canyon, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1970.
Invitation to Evil, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The Terror Trap, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1971.
King's Pawn, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1971.
The Gates of Montrain, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1971.
The Watchers, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1971.
The Ghosts of Harrel, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1971.
The Secret Lives of the Nurses, Pan (London, England), 1971, published as The Nurses, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Inherit the Darkness, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Nurse in Danger, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Becca's Child, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Sing a Dark Song, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
The Face of Danger, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Dangerous Legacy, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Sinister Gardens, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
The M.D., Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1972.
Evil Children, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1973.
The Gods in Green, Lancer Books (New York, NY), 1973.
Nurse Robin, Lennox Hill, 1973.
Didn't Anybody Know My Wife?, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974.
White Jade, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1975.
Key Witness, Putnam (New York, NY), 1975.
Expendable, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1976.
The Jaubert Ring, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1976.
Act of Fear, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1977.
Cape of Black Sands, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1977.
The House of Imposters, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1977.
Destiny's Women, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1980.
The Search for Willie, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1980.
The Face at the Window, Raven Press, 1981.
A Long Time to Hate, Avon (New York, NY), 1982.
The Gallant Spirit, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1982.
Days of Valor, Warner (New York, NY), 1983.
The Sniper, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1984.
Keating's Landing, Warner (New York, NY), 1984.
The Annalise Experiment, Doubleday (Garden City, NJ), 1985.
My Rebel, My Love, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1986.
To Share a Dream, Worldwide (New York, NY), 1986.
Madawaska, Worldwide (New York, NY), 1988.
"black pearl" series
The Dark Dowry, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1978.
The Stuart Strain, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1978.
The Cade Curse, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1978.
The Devil's Double, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1979.
The Radkin Revenge, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1979.
The Hellfire Heritage, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1979.
The Macomber Menace, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1980.
The Gresham Ghost, Popular Library (New York, NY), 1980.
Work in Progress
The Other Angel, a juvenile novel.
Willo Davis Roberts, a prolific and versatile writer of mystery, historical, and gothic novels for adults, is probably best known for her award-winning children's books, although the two genres are not as disparate as they seem. As she stated in an essay for the Writer, "I write for [young people] the same way I write for adults—as intelligent, caring, responsible individuals." Despite this, Roberts initially hesitated over the shift in her writing career. When her agent and an editor both suggested that she pitch her novel, The View from the Cherry Tree, as a children's book, "I was outraged," Roberts wrote in an autobiographical essay for Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS ). "I wanted grown-ups to read it! Which shows how much I knew. … I hadn't anticipated the non-monetary re wards of writing for kids." Once past her initial reluctance, Roberts's transition to children's literature came easily. "I never had any trouble switching from adult to kids' books," she continued in SAAS. "I think in essence I've remained about eleven myself. I remember very clearly what I thought and felt at that age, how painfully shy I was, how I was intimidated by people and circumstances."
Roberts spent her childhood moving with her family from town to town in Michigan. Her father could do any job that came his way but he was never motivated to stay for long in one place. Although he provided his family with food and a home, he was not very interested in material things. Roberts recalls that when she was in the fourth grade she was enrolled in six different schools because the family moved so often; she consequently never fully learned her multiplication tables. Embarrassment at the kinds of houses her family lived in, compounded by extreme shyness, made it difficult for Roberts to make friends. Her insecurity in the social world nudged her early in her life into the solitary pursuit of writing.
After graduating from high school, Roberts met and later married David Roberts. The couple rented several large dairy farms in California, where they began raising their four children. The farms, despite the Roberts's hard work, led the family deep into debt. Roberts, who has never written about the ranches because, she wrote, she still cannot recall them with a sense of humor, described the long hours of hard work and constant financial stress of dairy farming as the time in her life "when I really learned about poverty." For several years, Roberts had little time for her writing, but sent a few of her manuscripts to publishers. She sold her first novel in 1955, describing the experience in SAAS: "The thing that did the most to keep me going was that I finally sold a book, an adult mystery called Murder at Grand Bay, for the munificent sum of $150.00, which was a lot of money to us then; it gave me hope that after all those years of submitting stories that were rejected I might be able to earn money for the family on a regular basis. I went out on the back forty and cried my eyes out when I realized that I had to go to work and help bring in money faster than the writing could yet do."
Roberts went to work at a hospital. While working full time as well as tending a large family and keeping house, she managed to write and sell mystery novels. While she worked at the hospital she became familiar with a popular genre called "nurse novels" and tried her hand at writing one. She sold it for one thousand dollars. Roberts then transformed the heroines of her already-written mystery novels into nurses and quickly sold these books as nurse novels. When this genre went out of fashion, Roberts changed the title of the last nurse novel she had written—for which she had not been able to find a publisher—and sold Return to Darkness immediately, without changing the text, as a suspense novel.
In the 1970s Roberts submitted her manuscript for The View from the Cherry Tree to her editor, who liked it, but suggested that it was not at an adult level. After some hesitation, Roberts sold it as a children's book, and it became one of her most successful works. In this mystery, Rob, a boy seeking escape from his family's preparations for his sister's wedding, witnesses a murder from his perch in a cherry tree. He tries to tell various members of his family what he saw, but they are too busy to listen. They are still too busy to be bothered when Rob tells them that someone is trying to get him. He therefore must fend for himself against a murderer in the suspenseful story that follows. "Although written in a direct and unpretentious style," a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books contributor observed, "this is essentially a sophisticated story, solidly constructed, imbued with suspense, evenly paced, and effective in conveying the atmosphere of a household coping with the last-minute problems and pressures of a family wedding."
The author demonstrated her ability to create well-received books in other genres as well with the 1977 novel Don't Hurt Laurie! The acclaimed novel follows the story of eleven-year-old Laurie, the victim of a physically abusive mother. Presented in third person but always from Laurie's perspective, the book conveys the powerlessness of the young girl's situation as long as she is unable to communicate her mother's violent behavior to other adults. Eventually, after her stepbrother witnesses a beating, Laurie's stepfather intervenes. Although New York Times Book Review contributor Judith Viorst judged that this "persuasive and blood chilling story" is, because of its subject matter, "inevitably lurid, sadistic and violent" reading for a thirteen-year-old, other critics praised its straightforward treatment of a difficult subject. A reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books remarked that while "the events are inherently dramatic in a shocking sense," Don't Hurt Laurie!, with its "excellent characterization and an easy narrative flow—is both realistic about the problem and realistically encouraging about its alleviation." The book is still popular many years after its publication and is often used by educators and child counselors who work with abused children, Roberts once remarked. The author further noted: "Librarians have told me it is among the most stolen books in their libraries, presumably by battered kids who can't afford to own it but want to read and re-read it."
Roberts's 1980 award-winning novel, The Girl with the Silver Eyes, was conceived as an adult novel, but Roberts once again decided to write it as a children's book. In this story, a group of mothers who were exposed to a certain drug during pregnancy have given birth to mutant children with telekinetic powers. The social world, suspicious of difference, has not been kind to these children. Silver-eyed Katie must decide whether to hide her powers in order to fit into her mother's "normal" world or risk exposure to public hostility so that she can find others like herself. The book received praise for its suspense and style, as well as its treatment of family interactions and social responses to difference.
Megan's Island, Roberts's 1988 mystery and winner of an Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery writing, is the story of a sister and brother who discover that their mother is on the run from something or someone unknown to them. After being taken to their grandfather's cottage in the middle of the night, they notice that they are being spied on by strangers. Their mother leaves them with their grandfather, who is then injured, and they turn to Ben, the boy next door, for help. In the novel's eventful conclusion, the children thwart a kidnapping plot. Ruth Sadasivan wrote in School Library Journal that, despite its "occasional plot lapses into predictability and implausibility, Megan's Island succeeds both as an entertaining mystery and as a novel about human relationships."
Other titles by Roberts have earned Edgar Allan Poe awards as well, including The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes and Twisted Summer. In the first title, twelve-year-old Lewis and his twin sister Allison accept an invitation from their neighbors to go on a summer holiday to Yellowstone Park in a spacious motor home. Initially, Lewis thinks the time spent away from his neat, organized home will be a relief as the Rupes allow their children free rein and plenty of junk food. However, when his sister is assigned twenty-four-hour babysitting duty for the younger Rupes and the lack of well-balanced meals begins to make him yearn for vegetables, Lewis realizes that the vacation is not what he expected it to be, especially after he notices a pair of suspicious-looking men following the motor home. When the men kidnap the children and take off in the recreational vehicle, it is up to the children to foil their plans and make it to safety. School Library Journal critic Susan W. Hunter found The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes a "high-spirited tale of action and light suspense." Since "humorous fiction for this age, especially for boys, is hard to find," Booklist contributor Frances Bradburn suggested that this title be purchased as "an investment in circulating slapstick."
Described as "a well-crafted, sophisticated story" by School Library Journal reviewer Connie Tyrrell Burns, Twisted Summer features fourteen-year-old Cici as she spends the summer with her family in a cottage on Michigan's Crystal Lake. Hoping for a summer romance with Jake, Cici is horrified to learn that Jake's brother had been convicted of murdering a young woman. Believing that the case against Brody was flimsy, the narrator decides to do an investigation of her own, uncovering details that put her own life in danger. According to Booklist 's Karen Simonetti, this "first-person narrative enhances the realistic characterizations."
Roberts returned to the topic of abduction with the 1998 work The Kidnappers. Because of his reputation for telling tall tales, no one believes Joel Bishop when he claims to have witnessed the kidnapping of fellow classmate Willie, a bully who has a history of antagonizing Joel. Only believed by his sister and best friend, Joel feels obligated to help find Willie, not knowing that he too is a target of the criminals. Double-crossed by a trusted family friend, the young boy must rely on his own smarts to free himself from his captors. Recommending the book for reluctant readers, Booklist contributor Helen Rosenberg wrote that "the combination of a witty narrative and a suspenseful plot makes this a good page-turner."
Issues of loss, grieving, and displacement mingle with more spine-chilling situations in Roberts's subsequent books. In Hostage, middle-schooler Kaci is taken hostage when she surprises house burglars and is forced to outsmart the thieves to gain her freedom. Vincente F. Gotera of the North American Review called the thriller "believable and satisfying." In Rebel, fourteen-year-old Rebel spends the summer in Seattle helping her grandmother remodel a Victorian boarding house. When she and her new friend, fifteen-year-old Moses, inadvertently videotape a robbery, they become obsessed with solving the crime, despite the danger involved. Kay Weisman of Booklist noted that the book contains Roberts's trademark tight plotting and called it "an entertaining mystery."
More somber in tone is Undercurrents, the story of fourteen-year-old Nikki, whose father has quickly remarried after the death of Nikki's mom, and the troubles she faces as she learns to deal with her peculiar stepmother, Crystal, and adjust to her sister moving away to college. When the family is vacationing at a beach house Crystal inherited, Nikki's dad is called back to town on business. Alone in the spooky old house, Crystal's fragile composure disintegrates. As it becomes apparent that Crystal is no longer able to repress the trauma she suffered in the house as a child, Nikki is forced into a role of responsibility beyond her years. Nancy Chrismer of Kliatt called the book "another great page-turner," and Frances Bradburn of Booklist wrote that "undercurrents of more universal issues," namely the death of a parent, remarriage, and shifting family dynamics, "add depth" to the story.
Similar issues figure in Pawns, the story of fourteen-year-old Teddi, who is taken in by her next-door neighbor Mamie after the death of her parents. Mamie herself has recently lost a son in a plane crash, and the two share a special bond over their grief. When a pregnant woman shows up claiming to be Mamie's widowed daughter-in-law, Teddi enlists the help of her new friend Jason to discover whether or not the mysterious woman is who she says she is. In terms of suspense, "Roberts shakes the dust off a well-worn formula and turns the reader's assumptions inside out," wrote a review for Publishers Weekly, who also praised the book for its depiction of the deeper issues of "grief and abandonment."
When it comes to some of the more sensational aspects of her novels, particularly the seriousness of the crimes encountered by her major characters, Roberts says she refuses to shy away from such things as kidnapping and even murder. "I have been criticized for this realism," she explained in the Writer, "but almost never by the young readers." She advises new writers to find their own zone of comfort but stresses that "it's all in how you handle it."
In the late 1970s Roberts's husband retired and the couple began a life of writing and traveling around the country in a motor home equipped with an office and computer. Many of their trips are research oriented. Roberts has written several historical novels, including her best-selling Destiny's Women, and she likes to gather information on location. She also travels to schools to speak with her readers. Roberts spends a good deal of time helping aspiring writers. Having survived many hard times before her dream of professional writing was realized, Roberts believes that a writer must accept hard knocks and persist in his or her pursuit, no matter how unattainable the goal may seem. "I know now that it's possible to overcome adverse circumstances, that it's important to a writer to know the sorrows as well as the joys of life, the downs as well as the ups," she said in SAAS. "Children often ask how long I'm going to keep on writing. My reply is that I hope to write until the day I die—hopefully many, many more books. I've already done so much that I never realistically believed I could do, way back when I started."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, 2nd ed., Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
Roberts, Willo Davis, Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 8, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989, pp. 243-261.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers, 3rd ed., St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.
Booklist, January 15, 1995, Frances Bradburn, review of The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes, p. 929; March 15, 1996, Karen Simonetti, review of Twisted Summer, p. 1252; February 1, 1998, Helen Rosenberg, review of The Kidnappers, p. 919; November 15, 1998, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Pawns, p. 581; February 1, 2000, Frances Bradburn, review of Hostage, p. 1023; February 15, 2002, Frances Bradburn, a review of Under-currents, p. 1010; July, 2003, Kay Weisman, a review of Rebel, p. 1892.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, January, 1976, review of The View from the Cherry Tree, p. 85; June, 1977, review of Don't Hurt Laurie!; November, 1978; October, 1980; March, 1983; April, 1983; September, 1984; April, 1987; April, 1988; March, 1989; September, 1989; June, 1990; February, 1991.
Horn Book, August, 1977; November, 1989; May-June, 1990.
Junior Literary Guild, September, 1980; April, 1988.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2003, a review of Rebel, p. 864.
Kliatt, September, 2003, Nancy Chrismer, a review of Undercurrents, p. 20.
New York Times Book Review, October 20, 1974; June 8, 1975; April 17, 1977, Judith Viorst, review of Don't Hurt Laurie!, p. 51.
North American Review, November-December, 2003, Vincente F. Gotera, a review of Hostage, p. 58.
Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1998, review of Pawns, p. 75; March 4, 2002, a review of Undercurrents, p. 80.
School Library Journal, May, 1980; October, 1984; May, 1985; May, 1986; April, 1988, Ruth Sadasivan, review of Megan's Island, p. 104; March, 1989; March, 1995, Susan W. Hunter, review of The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes, p. 206; April, 1996, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Twisted Summer, p. 158; May, 2001, Angela J. Reynolds, review of Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl, p. 159.
Writer, May, 1996, Willo Davis Roberts, "Writing Mysteries for Young Readers," p. 21.
Writer's Digest, August, 1981.
Willo Davis Roberts Home Page, http://www.willodavisroberts.com/ (May 24, 2004).
Willo Davis Roberts
Sometimes, when we are in the midst of an exciting adventure, or in a long-dreamed-of place with magical meanings, my husband David will look at me and grin. "You've come a long way for a little country girl," he says.
A country girl is what I was, and in many ways still am. I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and grew up in that state. My earliest recollections, however, are of a little house my father built in a no-longer existing subdivision called Home Acres, a few miles from what is now the town of Portage, near Kalamazoo.
He bought the land during the Depression for one dollar down and fifty cents a week, with no payments due during January and February. I don't know how he paid for the house itself. In retrospect, I suppose it didn't amount to very much. He wasn't a carpenter, and there was no electricity or plumbing involved.
Our nearest neighbors were about a quarter of a mile away, and they were all just as poor as we were—at that time, virtually everyone was poor—but I didn't feel deprived. I loved living "out in the sticks," as I still do.
We had a big garden, where my younger sister Joyce and I picked fat, green worms off the tomato plants. (In those days I didn't mind touching such things as worms and snakes and baby mice.) There were swings at the foot of the garden where a big owl could sometimes be seen, and more often heard. Beyond the swings were wonderful woods, full of trees to climb and hide amidst, wild red and black raspberries to pick, violets to find, and a creek.
I was, for the most part, a very good child. I suppose I was too timid to be otherwise. But the creek, forbidden to Joyce and me except when we were accompanied by an adult, drew me like a magnet. When we were supposed to be taking afternoon naps, we climbed out the window and went off on adventures to the creek. We'd probably have been spanked for it, except that by
some miracle we never got caught. Mother never knew until we were grown up. Years later, the younger two of my own children also played in a forbidden stream, the much more dangerous Stanislaus River in California, and I didn't hear about that until years later, either. In neither case was there any bad intention; children are simply drawn to places and things that are exciting, and water is one of them.
They say that my storytelling began at that first remembered home, the summer I was two. My aunt Neva was painting the house and nearly fell off the ladder as she tried to stifle her laughter over the conversations I was having below her as I and my dolls had a tea party, with some quite adult observations from a two-year-old point of view.
I also had an imaginary companion named Bobby, who went everywhere with us. My folks played along with setting a place for him at the table, holding the door to give him time to get in behind us, and tucking him into bed at night. Bobby lived with us for several years, until I finally had other live companions.
I was two and a half when a neighbor teasingly asked me who was boss at our house. I astutely replied, "Well, Daddy thinks he is, but Mama really is." In later years, it took me a long time to realize that while my father made ninety-nine percent of the decisions, and could be blusteringly loud about doing it, the one percent left to my mother was often the most important decision of all.
When Joyce got big enough to understand—she was three years younger than I—I told her stories. Nobody, including me, ever knew quite where they came from, but the imagination was there from the beginning. I began to write the stories down when I was nine.
I always loved books. In those days there were not many books for children, but since both my parents were avid readers, there were always books in the house. Mostly they came from public libraries, though some were among my most beloved treasures. I can remember owning, before the age of eight, Black Beauty, Heidi, Andersen's and Grimm's Fairy Tales, Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates.
My mother, Lealah Gleason Davis, was and is a remarkable woman. She grew up in a family of one brother and five sisters. They lived on a farm and did all kinds of wild, exciting things I loved to hear about. They were most adventurous, and it was a wonder they didn't all break their necks as they jumped off barns, or nearly drowned in watery exploits. They, too, rescued one another from disasters, not telling their parents until long after the danger had passed.
My maternal grandfather was killed in an accident when Mother was about ten, and Grandma raised the family on her own in an age when women didn't have careers; work open to females was very hard and poorly paid, but she managed it, and they had fun. Even after they were all grown up, and I and my cousins were edging toward our teens, they played childish games and embarrassed us by their laughter over things we had come to consider too immature for ourselves.
My father came from an entirely different kind of family. I never heard the term until my own kids were nearly grown, but Daddy was an abused child if there
ever was one. I never knew if his own mother and father had also been abused, or what led to the fighting, both verbal and physical, that went on between them. He had a younger brother and sister, and on several occasions apparently saved their lives by intervening in a situation where they might have been seriously injured, at the least, by parents in conflict with each other. He was, I think, a difficult child—as he later could sometimes be a difficult man—but no child deserves to be caught between two adults who threaten him with opposing demands, as happened to him.
His name was Clayton, which he hated. When he left home (at the age of thirteen he ran away with a traveling carnival) he not only abandoned brutality as a way of life but changed his name to Bill Davis, which he was forevermore.
Though he never had more than an eighth-grade education, he read everything he could get his hands on, and his memory was phenomenal. He hadn't been allowed to read for pleasure when he was a child, but he made up for it later. It was not unusual for him to stay up all night reading a book and go to work the following day with no sleep whatever. Of course, it had to be a good book.
My father, like everyone else in those years, learned to adapt to the Depression. He had a quick mind and a quick tongue, and he'd tackle anything that offered in the way of a job. He often claimed to a prospective employer that he knew how to do a job he'd never experienced, and learned fast once they gave him the position.
He had little ambition, however, beyond the present. He had wandered about the country as a young man, doing balloon ascensions at county fairs, herding cattle or harvesting crops in the far west, working on boats in Florida (where he met Zane Grey, one of his idols), and worked on the Works Progress Administration the winter I was ten because that was the only thing there was to do. We always ate, but we never had anything in a material sense. It didn't bother him if his family lived in a shack as long as we were warm and had food in the house.
Daddy didn't know how to write anything, but he was a natural born storyteller. I used to think he made a lot of his stories up, but one by one they were proved to be true, for the most part. I can remember being extremely embarrassed on more than one occasion by the way he monopolized conversations; only when I was grown up did I realize that people liked listening to him, when a young man said to me, "Boy, your dad is a fascinating man!" Of course he was hearing those particular stories for the first time.
Daddy was the feisty sort, and thought nothing of quitting a job if anyone gave him any guff, even after he had a family to take care of and there were no more jobs in sight. In his early days he was handy with his fists, though my mother more or less tamed him once they were married.
He had two loves when it came to jobs. He loved driving, and for many years delivered new trucks out of Pontiac to dealers all over the United States. He also loved running a sport trolling boat, first on Lake Michigan and later on Lake Superior, where he was affectionately known to the customers who came back year after year as "Captain Bill."
As a driver, he had a lot of experiences that were even interesting to me—at least the first time he related them—like meeting President Truman and his entourage at a restaurant way out on the prairie somewhere, early one morning. Dad spoke to him—he was never bashful about speaking to anyone, even presidents and other famous people—and Truman invited him to sit with him to eat, to the obvious discomfiture of his Secret Service companions. Dad wasn't bashful about asking these celebrities to have their pictures taken with him, either.*
It was the summer I was eight that he sold our little house in Home Acres to go fishing for the first time. I didn't mind moving to Northport, up on the "little finger" of Michigan. For the first time in our lives, Joyce and I had unlimited water to play in, on Grand Traverse Bay. We taught ourselves to dog-paddle, and while I never became an expert swimmer, my love of water and sandy beaches was set forever.
From then on, until I was in high school, we spent wonderful summers in the north woods, and less wonderful winters in lower Michigan when he went back to driving during the winters.
To this day the fragrance of pines or, as here in Washington, cedars and firs, sends my heart soaring and soothes my soul. Beaches do the same thing. I used to walk for miles along deserted dunes or hard-packed sand, telling myself stories, and I still do it when I get the chance. I would talk out all the conversations between my characters then, as I now sometimes work out what I'm going to put in the next book.
For years I was very leery of letting anyone know I talked to myself, because it was a peculiar thing to do. Everybody knew that only crazy people talked to themselves. Eventually I decided that was crazy. My thoughts come together better when they're voiced aloud. Now, when my daughter-in-law tells me about our grandson walking around the backyard telling himself stories (and sword fighting the bushes so that most of them are denuded of leaves) I think, uh-huh, another writer coming up. He dictates some of his tales onto a tape recorder, and then gets someone to type them out for him, an option kids of my era didn't have.
Unfortunately, Dad didn't have steady jobs all those winters; he wasn't willing to give up the fishing, where
he could combine his love of regaling paying customers with his stories while also enjoying being on the water, for the security of one job. So from the year I was eight until I entered high school, we moved more times than even my mother can recall. Years later, when Daddy was old and sick, he said, "I don't think it really hurt you kids to move around," The fact that he spoke of it after all that time suggests to me that he'd felt guilty about it and had tried to pretend he hadn't contributed to what had been a painful situation that lasted throughout our childhoods. I didn't say anything. It was in the past by then, and while it did hurt all three of us (we eventually had another sister, Janice) it probably also contributed to my writing ability.
The year I was in the fourth grade, I was enrolled in six schools; and I didn't go the last month because our family was quarantined with scarlet fever. The day I came down with it I didn't tell my mother I was unwell, because Shirley Temple was playing at the local theater in The Little Princess, one of my favorite stories. In spite of feeling awful, by the time my father came to find me I'd seen the movie two and a half times. I suppose I infected half the kids in Traverse City with scarlet fever.
At any rate, I learned very little in the fourth grade. To this day I don't know the multiplication tables much past the fives. I was shy and timid, and didn't make friends easily. That year was extremely traumatic and set the pattern for the ones that followed, when we moved so often that I seldom had any friends. By the time I'd gotten acquainted with anyone well enough to be invited to their home, we moved again. Besides that, we lived in some places I was ashamed to invite anyone to visit. It wasn't until many years later that I realized that real friends don't choose you on the basis of what your home is like.
During one of the short terms in school, I came into a class right when everyone else was in the middle of learning to read music. No one ever tried to help me understand what I had missed, and the whole thing went over my head. At the age of nine I was convinced that I was too stupid ever to be able to read music. I remained convinced for forty years that all I could ever do about music was listen to it. I liked singing, but never could go high enough to sing soprano nor low enough to be an alto; music teachers usually just threw up their hands and left me to shift for myself. Unlike the gym teachers who kept trying to make an athlete out of a person with no coordination or ability whatever in that direction.
It wasn't until my older daughter, Kathie, was in college that I discovered a wonderful thing. Our family has always written out Christmas want-lists which are then posted on the refrigerator to share; these include everything from inexpensive pens and paper clips (everybody in the family writes) to highly imaginative things like homes on the beach, with hot tubs, etc. Kathie was studying to be a kindergarten teacher, and had to know how to play a piano well enough to lead the children in simple songs. She joked that she wanted a piano.
A real one was out of the question, but in the spirit of the joke, I bought her one of those little toy ones with about two and a half octaves of keys. And we were amazed at how much music she could get out of the thing! A few weeks later, my other daughter, Larrilyn, and I were checking out the after-holiday sales and came across a little chord organ, the kind you learn to play by number. I just happened to have the $39.95 to spare, and took it home with me.
It was so popular that we had to set up a schedule to take turns, fifteen minutes per person. And wonder of wonders, even I, the musical idiot, could play recognizable tunes. I was ecstatic. Eventually that little toy piano led to full-sized organs—and with two lessons that were the most I ever managed to fit into my too full days—I got beyond playing by number to actually reading music. I wasn't too stupid, after all.
To this day, one of my greatest pleasures—and tranquilizers—is playing the organ or my electronic keyboard with automatic rhythms. Even a gross amateur can sound good with one of those. I'll never be a concert performer, but my own pleasure in this is marvelous. And I learned a lesson: don't let anyone convince you that you're too stupid or inept to do anything you really want to do. What do they know?
At any rate, I was a good student, so I didn't get held back to try fourth grade again. But some gaps in my education, from that year, are still there.
I didn't really like school. I was terrified when I had to enter a new one. Besides my difficulties in making friends, I was too shy to speak up. I was in agony hoping the teachers wouldn't call on me, so drymouthed and tongue-tied I could hardly respond when they did. Eventually a teacher asked me, "Why is it you never raise your hand, but you always know the answers when I call on you?" Red-faced, I admitted I couldn't talk in public. After that, he just called on me more often.
I began, a little, to get over the inability to speak in front of more than two people when, to my horror, I was elected president of our tenth-grade class. (It was the highest grade in the Drayton Plains school.) The only reason I could think of for the kids to have elected me was that I had a good relationship with our vice principal/class advisor, Lela Jeffries (the best teacher I ever had) and that she often agreed to my suggestions more readily than to those brought up by others. I suppose it was because I was considered to be "sensible." Thirty years later when I returned to Drayton and my friend Virginia called Lela to say, "You'll never guess who's standing in my kitchen," my beloved Miss Jeffries said without hesitation, "Willo." So maybe I had more going for me than I had recognized then.
At any rate, as class president I had to conduct meetings. The first ones were absolutely petrifying, to the point where I thought I'd throw up. Gradually, though, they became a little easier. I didn't know it yet, but I was learning another lesson: the more often you do anything, the better you get at it and the less frightening it is, though public speaking was a problem it took many years to conquer. Now I speak to many groups, hundreds of people at a time, as part of earning my living. And I love every minute of it.
By the time I got to high school as a junior, however, I went from a tiny friendly school to a huge impersonal one I had to reach by bus. Nobody knew me from Adam, nobody elected me to anything, and while I continued to get good grades, nobody noticed, either. I was lonely and at one point would have dropped out without finishing if my parents hadn't insisted I stick it out. (Daddy didn't have much education, but he believed in it for us.) The only teacher I really liked died that first year at Pontiac Senior High; the one I got in her place gave me the only C 's I ever got in English, and accused me of plagiarizing the essays I wrote from professional writers! I never figured out how, after she'd been assured by some of the other kids that I really had written my own material, she could judge my work to be of professional quality yet only worth C 's; since she made me write some things from scratch in class, she could see that I hadn't cheated. I resent her to this day. I stayed in school in spite of her, but there were others who didn't.*
When adults assured me that these school days were the best ones of my life, I nearly despaired. It's possible, though, that if school hadn't been so miserable, and moving around so traumatic as it was, I wouldn't have spent nearly as much time writing.
Because once I started writing stories they became a refuge from the things that made me unhappy, lonely, left out. In my imagination I could be anything, anyone, go anywhere. I could live in a mansion, own more than one pair of shoes; have nice clothes, own books, and see every movie ever made. (Movies cost a dime, and dimes were very hard to come by.)
Summers were great, as long as we stayed at Northport. We and the DeWitt kids, three boys and a girl, ran loose and pretended ourselves into other ages and all kinds of exciting adventures. I made up plays, and we put them on for our own entertainment. We went whole summers virtually without taking baths. We didn't need them when we dressed in bathing suits in the morning and spent much of each day in the water. There was no television, of course, and we had no money for entertainment; we made our own. In those days nobody worried about bad people menacing their children; we often took a lunch with us after breakfast and disappeared in the woods or along the beach until hunger drove us home for supper. Life was lovely, until school started again.
The first thing we did as a family when we moved to a new place was to locate the library. We would never have survived without them. Most of them were wondrous places filled with books that could be had for the picking, at no cost, which was what we could afford. In several different libraries, our family checked out more books over the winter than any other family had ever done. In Kalamazoo, my sister Janice was, at eighteen months, the youngest child ever to hold a library card. This was because they only allowed each patron two books at a time, and none of the rest of us was willing to give up any of our books in order to provide her with the picture books she already loved.
I'll always remember the library at Suttons Bay the year I was eleven. It was very small and open for only two hours each Saturday afternoon. I lived about a mile and a half away, and I would walk there along the beach to be first in line when they unlocked the doors. I would then quickly check out two books, which was all that was permitted, race across to the beach and find a place in the shade, read the books, then dash back to the library to replace them with two others to last me until the following Saturday. What a treasure I found in libraries after that when we were allowed to bring a big cardboard box and fill it with as many books as we could carry!
By the time I was ten, I had read every juvenile book they had in the Northport and Traverse City libraries. I was well into Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, still reading the "Oz" books to my little sister, and perishing for lack of reading material. That's undoubtedly why these days I splurge on books for my grandchildren, to make up for the ones I never had at their ages. Both my parents enjoyed murder mysteries, and in desperation I tried those, immediately falling under the spell of Erle Stanley Gardner, Mignon Eberhart, and others too numerous to mention. (One of my valued mementos is a delightful letter from Mrs. Eberhart that made me realize how much writers—the famous and the infamous, the good ones and the less talented ones—have in common.)
I was writing my own stories for two basic reasons at that point. They entertained me when I couldn't find enough books to read, and they took me out of the real world when other people around me made me feel inadequate and without worth. It's as appalling to me now as it was then how thoughtless and cruel others can sometimes be. Any number of adults made it clear that I and my family were little more than "trash," and I recall one woman in particular who hurt me deeply.
The summer we spent in Suttons Bay I had discovered a little white-frame church, with a crimson runner down the aisle. My family was not particularly religious, though Mother had taught me to say my prayers at night when I was very small, but I had always believed in God. This church answered a need for me. Not only did I have a momentary feeling of belonging during the Sunday services when I joined in singing those lovely old hymns but the church was a quiet place I could go any time to escape from the problems an eleven year old had. It was never locked, and during the week I usually had it to myself.
I had joined the Sunday school, and when they had their annual picnic my father gave up a paying party of fishermen (which he could ill afford to do) to take everybody out on free boat trips. The following Sunday, as I emerged from church, a woman in a big flowered hat stopped me on the steps outside to ask who I was. I told her my name, explained upon further questioning who my family was, and watched her expression congeal. "Your parents don't come to church?" she asked in a disapproving manner. I explained that my father's best business days were on the weekends, so he couldn't come to church (I had enough discretion not to mention that he had no regard for organized religion and wouldn't have come anyway), and it was too far for my mother to walk since Janice was little more than a baby.
She evaluated this, then allowed in a condescending manner that she supposed it was all right if I continued to attend.
I was young, but I knew I was being told, once again, that the Davises weren't really good enough to associate with. I never went back. And I hope I never made anyone else feel that they were inferior because they were poor or their family background wasn't "suitable."
My only satisfaction, slight though it was, came from watching a big spider descend on his strand of web into her elegantly coiffed hair as we stood there. I didn't mention it to her.
When I entered the ninth grade, we settled down in Drayton Plains, a few miles outside of Pontiac, where Daddy built another house. It was no more than a concrete slab, studs covered with waterproof paper for walls, and a roof when we moved in. This time we had electricity: dangling light bulbs with pull chains. There was no plumbing, then or ever, beyond a pump in the kitchen, where Joyce and I had to pump the water to be heated on a big copper boiler on a kerosene stove every wash day.
There was a war on now, and because of that we stayed there for four years. There were shortages of various things—tires, gas, shoes, sugar, etc., were rationed—but we didn't really suffer from it except that Joyce wore out her shoes so fast Mother used her own coupons for Joyce's shoes. I don't think Mother had a new pair through the entire war.
My father was too old to be drafted, and he had too many dependents. But now his job was essential: delivering buses and trucks for army use. He continued to go all over the country, meeting interesting people. That's the period when I first remember paperback books: he always brought a few home—murder mysteries, historical and adventure novels, anything he came across that caught his eye—and we read them eagerly.
By this time the house had three bedrooms and I had a room of my own. It was tiny, but private, and I cherished it. It wasn't anywhere near as nice as the homes of the friends I had now been able to make, though; there were few of them I ever invited inside, except for Virginia who lived across the road. Her house was no better than ours and had more people in it. She lives in Colorado now and is still my friend.
It was during one of those years that I practically dragged my mother into town and coerced her into buying a couch—a blue velour one that could be opened into a bed. Except for an old horsehair sofa with one end so high and sloping we slid down it, which I remember from the days at Home Acres, it was the first decent thing we'd ever had to sit on. Things like that didn't bother Daddy.*
Now that I was staying in the same school, small enough so that I was making friends, I began to have problems at home. Joyce and I were quite different in temperament, and we clashed constantly. In our younger days, playing with paper dolls, we had squabbled over my realistic, teacherish ways (I often conducted "schools" and even made up the tiny textbooks for each paper pupil) and Joyce's more flamboyant flights of fancy in which the dolls flew through the air and sometimes attacked one another in a manner that left some of them in shreds. Paper dolls also cost a dime per book, and getting a new book was a rare treat, so I didn't want my dolls damaged.
We no longer played with paper dolls, but there was friction between us. It's easy to see now that she was simply jealous of me and suffering her own conviction of shortcomings, but at the time I was bewildered and hurt. I was very self-conscious about my developing figure—I'd always been skinny as a twig, to the point that administrators in new schools thought I must be tubercular and insisted on my being tested before they allowed me in their classrooms—and she teased me unmercifully about it. I had baby-sitting jobs, which gave me more opportunities to earn money than she had yet, and I saved my money until I had enough to buy the clothes I craved, while she blew every cent the moment she got it. She often slid into a chair just as I was about to sit on it; she would turn on the radio to something she didn't even want to hear just before I was to listen to I Love a Mystery or one of the other programs that lightened our lives in the days before TV. She "borrowed" my hard-earned clothes after I'd gone to school, especially a red corduroy jacket that had to be drycleaned—when I went to wear it, it would be soiled or ripped. Our relationship deteriorated to where we professed to hate each other.
Our teachers undoubtedly contributed to the discord between us. I got very good grades and never misbehaved—I was too timid to defy authority at that point
in my life—and the teachers kept asking Joyce why she didn't do as well as I did, why she wasn't quieter like me, etc. She wasn't, I think, because she chose not to compete with me, scholastically or any other way. It's a mistake some teachers still make, comparing one child to another. It rarely brings out the best in the child who feels he's being compared to his disadvantage, and his behavior often worsens as he tries for attention on a different level.
But the worst part of my slipping life was my relationship with my father. Up until the time I began to express opinions about serious subjects, we'd gotten along fine. It was the era of race riots in nearby Detroit, and for the first time I went to school with black kids. I sat next to them in class, and I came to like and admire some of them very much. When assigned to do a long essay on a subject of my choice, I decided to write on the race riots and the problems of black people. Not only did this happen to offend my racially biased English teacher, she of the C- grades, so that she gave me a very poor mark on what was essentially a well-thought-out and well-written essay, but when I talked about the subject at home, my father also took issue with my opinions on the matter.
This led to some real rows, and Daddy wasn't a person you wanted to have a row with. He was bigger, he was loud, and though he never struck me, there were times when I fully expected him to do so. (I was a lot luckier than he'd been; his father had used a horsewhip on him.)
Other relatives told me the reason my dad and I didn't get along was that we were too much alike. Well, we may have been alike in that we both held strong opinions, but we were very different from one another in many areas. I considered him to be bigoted and unnecessarily forceful, and it seemed that I couldn't make the most innocent remark without bringing the house down around my ears because he disagreed with whatever I said. If he hadn't been on the road, away from home a lot, or if I'd been a boy instead of a girl, I wonder if we might not have come to physical violence.
At the same time, in senior high school, two instances of what I considered to be extreme injustice came up. For the first time in my life, I stood up to adult authority. At home I usually ended up either backing down or at least shutting up before I set off Dad's fuse. This time I fought an insensitive vice principal for what I thought was right. On both issues in school, I won out, to my own and other students' amazement.
I was still timid and avoided a confrontation when I could, but a small worm of power and gratification had begun to form within me, too. I recently read a quote that perhaps describes what I was beginning to feel. Robert Frost made an observation about a guy who won't take his own side in a fight. I could see that if I didn't take my own side in my own fights, nobody else was likely to do it.
I knew I wasn't going to win any fights with Daddy, however. My best bet seemed to be to keep my mouth shut (except that I set him off, quite inadvertently, so many times, with such innocent observations!) and plan to leave home as quickly as I could.
I continued to write, because I was compelled to. Even when I had friends at last, and I was participating (though still somewhat of a loner) in the same activities as other kids my age, I never stopped needing to write. The world of my imagination was often more real, more important, than life as I was living it.
I had encountered my first typewriter when I was about eight, over a Christmas visit to my aunt Nellie's. All my cousins were outside trying out new sleds and skis, but that old fashioned clunker of a machine drew me irresistibly. One finger at a time, I plunked away at those keys, writing out a few sentences of an impromptu story. I didn't finish it, but I never forgot that typewriter, either. Never had I coveted anything as much as I did that old Underwood.
My cousins were baffled and urged me to join them. When I refused, too fascinated by the way the words appeared at my uncertain touch on that virgin piece of paper, it was my first experience—but far from the last—of being thought "weird" for preferring writing to doing more "normal" things.
My aunt Neva came to my defense, then and to this day; I could write if I wanted to, she told me, and it didn't matter what anyone else thought.
It did matter, of course, to a child who often felt sheer terror when approaching a new school, new people, classes I entered in midstream where I never fully understood what was going on. It mattered that others made unkind remarks—adults and kids alike—indicating there must be something inferior about a girl who was skinny, plain, and poor. My name was different: the kids teased me about that. And since my writing interests were also "odd" that, too, seemed to set me apart from everyone else. I was grateful for whatever crumb of support came my way, but in those days before I became a "famous author" there weren't many crumbs.
Today many schools have creative-writing programs. The students where I go to speak proudly show me their stories and their art work, often bound into lovely books. They win prizes and good grades with them, and praise. How we all need a little praise from time to time, and how often those around us fail to give it!
I learned that I was, almost always, the underdog. I learned to empathize with underdogs, and usually do to this day. Such people are everywhere, though they don't wear labels on their foreheads so you would notice them. They tend not to push themselves forward, not to create a fuss to win you over to their side. But oh! how lovely it is for them when anyone expresses understanding or sympathy. I often write from the viewpoint of the underdog because it comes so naturally. I've been there. Plain. Poor. Bright but too timid to claim any honors or recognition for that. Dreaming so many dreams, and all of them, it seemed unattainable.
Yet the dreams kept time going. On the long walks to and from school, I became someone else. I imagined a life in which I would have everything, do everything, be everything. Looking back now, I see that even my longings were pathetically simple. I didn't want much. A few friends who didn't put me down, a decent place to live.
My obsession with houses started far back, when I was very young, no doubt because I was aware that my own home was not as nice or as comfortable as those of other kids. I went to extraordinary lengths to see the insides of nice houses, so that I could dream more realistically. To this day, when we tour the country, we often visit historic houses, and they've become a rich source of story material. More than once I've wandered through a very old house and emerged with an idea for an entire book; it's as if the ideas seep out of the walls and the floors to meet me, as if the people who once lived there have left an essence of their lives that I am somehow able to absorb.*
During my last year of high school I started writing a historical novel. (All of this was done with a pen that had to be dipped in ink every few words!) This was an ambitious undertaking, and it didn't take long for me to realize that it was more than I was capable of doing. However, the idea was a good one; I "lived" with those characters for many years, periodically dusting them off and trying again. Each time I got further along in the story, and each time I put it away again, seeing that I could not do it justice.
Eventually, more than thirty-five years later, my writing skills were sufficiently honed to enable me to do the job I had envisioned at seventeen; I wrote a proposal for a book called The Gallant Spirit, and redeveloped that original idea. By the time I had written eight
hundred pages, I was only halfway through the complete story I had envisioned, and I contacted the editor. Did he want me to end it there? Or should I do a second book with the last half of the story? He opted for the second book, which became Days of Valor. It is one of the most bitter disappointments of my life that the publisher sold their fiction list just as The Gallant Spirit was issued; the new publisher agreed to bring out the second book and said they would also reissue their own edition of Spirit, with a cover to match that of Valor. Almost the entire first printing of Spirit was destroyed in anticipation of this (without even giving me any warning so that I could buy a stock of the books myself) but they never followed through on it, though both books had excellent reviews. Those who found only Valor wondered about things that were fully explained only in the previous book. One of my strongest unfulfilled dreams is that one day these two books will be reprinted as "one big toothsome book," as my agent Emilie Jacobson puts it, so that those who were deprived of Spirit the first time around will have a second chance.
In a very real sense, books are a writer's children; we struggle with them, live inside the characters, or they within us; when they are discarded or mistreated, we feel it almost as deeply as when disasters happen to our flesh-and-blood loved ones. That is how it is with Spirit and Valor.
And this example shows why an aspiring writer should never throw away anything he's written: even if you can't write it well enough to get it published the first time the idea strikes, you may well reach a point where you can do it later on.
Up until I was nearly ready to graduate from high school, I wrote entirely for my own pleasure—though I did share some of my writings with friends who were impressed with them. When it dawned on me that there were people out there who got paid for writing the things I enjoyed reading, a little flicker of hope began to grow in my heart; maybe I, too, could earn money this way some day.
Also during that final period I spent at home, my father bought our first set of encyclopedias and an unabridged dictionary. I'd always had a love of words, and for a time he almost killed it with the dictionary because he drove the whole family crazy. He read it at random, and when he came across an intriguing word he'd say to the family at large, "I'll bet you can't guess what this means." It didn't matter that we were engrossed in other things, that we didn't want to figure out what his words meant. We had to try to come up with answers.
Gradually I learned about root meanings, and became intrigued myself, although I preferred doing my own explorations among words to being expected to "guess meanings" on demand. To this day I have a terrible time looking up words in the dictionary; it's not unusual for my eye to fall upon some unknown word that distracts me, so that I even forget what I was trying to look up in the first place. For that reason, I keep a small Webster's Instant Word Guide beside my computer to check spelling; it has no definitions to lure me away from the job at hand.
My parents were willing to buy me a typewriter for a graduation present, but at the end of World War II there were none to be had. Manufacturing had all been switched over to produce munitions and other goods needed to win the war. It wasn't until I'd been out of school for six months or so that my name reached the top of the waiting list for one of the first typewriters made in 1946. It was a Royal Portable, and I used it with great joy for over twenty years.
I started out trying to write short stories. I got lots of encouraging letters from editors, but I didn't sell anything. And then I met David Roberts.
I'd heard about him from his cousin and had seen his picture (too precious for words, was the way he struck me in the photograph, and too perfect, from his cousin's description of him), and I didn't think I'd like him. Nobody could be that perfect, and if he were, why would he be interested in me?
Yet the moment I saw him, all my reservations melted away. He was back in Michigan for one night, to visit his sister, before he headed for the West Coast, just discharged after three years in the navy. He wasn't the callow youth in the picture, nor the "perfect" cousin I'd heard described.
We've laughed about it many times, that we probably could have gotten married that very night and made it work. As it was, we weren't quite that foolish, or maybe it was only that he had a train to catch and we didn't have any time.
We wrote to each other almost every day from Christmastime until May, when David finally found a permanent job and sent me the money to travel to Oregon on the train. We'd met in person once, for a few hours, but we'd poured our hearts out on paper. My practice as a writer finally came to some good use!
We horrify people with the truthful statement that we never had a date before we were married. The events of our wedding day were wildly improbable, but we managed to be married in church—without guests—and while we would never recommend our methods to anyone else (especially not our kids!) we are still happily married forty years later, and we're still best friends.*
Being married, and having four kids, cut into my writing time considerably. I did the best I could to write, but the time was frustratingly limited. When I finally got an automatic washer and dryer, and they came out with clothes that didn't have to be ironed, it helped quite a bit. But for most of the time the kids were growing
up, we lived on a dairy farm in the San Joaquin Valley in California, where there never seemed to be an end to the work to be done.
I hated central California. I would have enjoyed living on a ranch, because I always liked being outdoors, but dairying was a losing proposition. Many people have asked me why I've never written about that long phase in my life, and the answer is simple: until I can write about it with a sense of humor, I'd rather not write about it at all. And even many years later, I can't look back on it with much humor.
David put in fourteen-hour days, seven days a week. During the summers, when he was irrigating as well as milking up to 120 cows morning and night, he sometimes put in twenty-hour days, with only occasional fifteen-minute naps to keep him going. And this was when I really learned about poverty.
We barely kept our heads above water. Farmers are subject to catastrophes of nature to a large degree, and we were no exception. Operating on marginal financing to begin with, we slid deeper and deeper into debt while dealing with things like broken ditches that deprived our corn of water at a critical stage (resulting in far less feed than we needed for our cattle) to epidemics of blue bag. One morning David came into the house with his shoulders sagging. Most of the ranch houses were ratty places; ranchers put their money into barns instead, and this house was worse than most. Four more cows had died during the night. We needed to inoculate the others, and we didn't have the money to do it. Our herd was being decimated, and we felt so helpless. In addition to that, David had severely burned his right hand a few days earlier; the flesh looked gray and dead and made my stomach churn when I changed the dressings on it, and I was afraid it might never heal adequately. We tried to think of something encouraging to say to each other.
The best we could manage was what David said as he sank down in the little window seat that was the only pleasant thing this house had to offer: "Well, at least we can still enjoy the sunshine."
And at that exact moment, as if someone had thrown a switch, the sunlight went out, leaving us in near darkness.
After a few startled seconds, we started to laugh, though admittedly my own laughter was close to tears. Not even the sun could be counted upon, it seemed. It was one of the (many) low points during those years.
I came to resent the cows as well as California. Whenever there were a few dollars available, they had to be spent on cattle feed or medication. When our kids ran out of clothes or shoes—amazing how many shoes four kids need!—the only way to pay for them was to buy fewer groceries, and I felt I was already getting by on less than we needed. The kids, as adults, say they never felt deprived in any way and loved living on a ranch; so at least they weren't damaged by poverty, which I defined as being unable to afford the "necessities" of adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. For years our family doctor got us through health emergencies, including tetanus injections for the whole family after a calf died with it; David was trying to give the poor thing a shot when it went into convulsions and he accidentally stabbed himself as well. There were plenty of emergencies, and we never had any money to pay the doctor or buy medicines. That doctor was one of the reasons we refused to declare bankruptcy at the end of our ranching days, and though it took us many years of being harassed by creditors and continued financial struggling, we did eventually pay the doctor and the others off.
What was among the hardest things to bear, though, was the heat. The morning the thermometer registered 107 at 7:30 in the morning, I wondered in despair if I'd live through the day. David drinks lots of water and has a good natural cooling system because he perspires heavily. I'm just the opposite; I have no ability to cope with heat, and in those days we had no air conditioning, not even a fan.
As I've learned is usually the case, something good comes out of most things, even the worst of circumstances, though I'd have been hard to sell on that idea at the time. I learned to experience and describe extreme heat, and I relive it yet when I write about it. The first June on what we came to call "the big ranch" outside of Oakdale we had twenty days when it went over one hundred degrees, and it didn't cool down much at night. Linoleum floors were so warm we stopped going barefoot in the house. The bathtub retained so much heat that I put a folded towel on the edge of it to sit on when I bathed the kids. The water came from a distant well in pipes barely under the ground, and I had to run their bath water well in advance and let it cool off before they could sit in it comfortably.
There were times when I felt as if I'd surely suffocate; the air was so hot and thick it was like trying to breathe cotton. I can remember wringing towels out of
the coolest water I could get and spreading them over me when I tried to sleep, in the hope that the evaporation would help. The towels dried within minutes, and the cooling power was gone.
The kids, luckily, didn't react to heat the way I did, though they often refused to go outside during the afternoons, complaining that it was too hot to play. And we lucked out with our neighbors across the road.
The Woodbridges had a chicken ranch as well as dairy cows, and they had kids about the ages of ours. They also had a swimming pool. I guess that swimming pool was about the only thing that saved my sanity in the years we lived on the big ranch, because every day they'd call us up and invite us to go swimming. After a while they said, "Just come on over whenever you want to," and if we didn't show up by 1:00 p.m. they'd call to find out why we hadn't arrived. All four of our kids learned to swim there, and even though we got heated up again walking the quarter of a mile home, it was several hours of respite from that devastating heat.
We had no money for entertainment of any kind. We say the kids were our only entertainment for years; they were funny and cute and precocious. Kathie, the oldest, was quiet and shy but very imaginative. She was only persuaded to go to school by the promise that she would then learn to read and could write down her own stories instead of just telling them. She came home in tears the first day because she didn't know how to read yet, but it didn't take her long.
David, two years younger, was also extremely bright and at the age of two had a vocabulary that made our neighbors raise their eyebrows in disbelief. Years later I came upon him in our utility room with the washer, dryer, freezers, and furnace, explaining to his two-month-old son, in adult terms, how they all worked. He was also the "problem" child in our brood, the one who got into trouble with astonishing frequency. He fell and broke his arm; pulled Kathie out of a tree and broke her arm; was bitten by a snake that we thought might have been a rattler; jumped sideways off the diving board and slashed open his chin so that it needed ten stitches; slid down a steep hill on a piece of cardboard and collided with his cousin, almost tearing one ear off his head, etc. He provided much material for my books later on. Interestingly, he now has a son who appears to be his clone.
Larrilyn, three years younger than Dave, was an absolute angel by comparison. I remember one time when our kids and their cousins had been naughty, and my sister-in-law said, "They all did it, even Larri! "It was one of the few things she ever did to upset us.
Christopher, the youngest, never did anything that I can recall that created any problems. He was sweet and solemn and quiet; he did get hurt a few times, or sick, and we worried about that, but his behavior never caused alarm. When he was three and wanted to go down to the pond where huge bull frogs could be caught, and I told him he couldn't go there alone, he fixed those big dark eyes on me and asked reasonably, "Well, where's all those angels that are supposed to be watching over me?"
Once in a while, when we could spare the money for the gasoline—it was about thirty cents a gallon then, but expensive to us—we would load kids (ours, and their friends the Fahlenkamps; we were always trading kids back and forth with them after church) in our Volkswagen van and with a picnic lunch head for the nearby Sierra foothills. We visited the gold rush country, which I would write about many years later in a number of different books.
We stayed in the dairy business for twelve years, which we wouldn't have done if we hadn't kept thinking things would surely get better soon. When it ended, leaving us deeply in debt, with a family to raise and nothing to do it with, it was more a relief to me than a disaster, though I felt badly for the end of my husband's dream.*
The thing that did the most to keep me going was that I finally sold a book, an adult mystery called Murder at Grand Bay, for the munificent sum of $150, which was a lot of money to us then; it gave me hope that after all those years of submitting stories that were rejected I might be able to earn money for the family on a regular basis. I went out on the back forty and cried my eyes out when I realized that I had to go to work and help bring in money faster than the writing could yet do.
Yet that, too, disastrous as it seemed then (I was convinced I'd never have time to write again if I had to hold down a full time job as well as keep house) worked out for the best. I went to work at the Oakdale hospital, where they asked me if I was bothered by the sight of blood. I told them I had four kids, and two of them were boys, and I'd been in their emergency room with one of the boys many times, which got me over that hurdle.
It didn't pay much, but it bought groceries, and oh, what I learned. I loved it. True, I didn't write much for a time, but I was picking up so much that served as a basis for many books later on. I sold several more books, also adult mysteries written in pathetically brief moments—I was up to $350 advances now—and then I was introduced by the surgery staff to "nurse novels." I'd never heard of them, but after reading half a dozen I sat down and cranked one out, and sold it to Ace Books for $1,000. That was as much as I earned at the hospital in four months!
The acceptance came when I was recuperating from major surgery, and when I saw the envelope I thought it contained another rejection slip. But no, they wanted the book, though they said the little boy in the story was too precocious, and would I rewrite his dialogue so he sounded younger. This was an ongoing problem for some years. Usually I told the editors that precocious kids were the only kind I knew anything about, and mine did talk with vocabularies like these. When I eventually began to write children's books, the editors took my word for it and I've never had a complaint from the kids or their teachers regarding my child characters being too smart.
Earning my first "big money" as a writer was heady stuff. I could write nurse novels forever, with little effort, because of what I'd learned at the hospital. However, I had on hand three twenty-thousand-word novelettes I'd originally written as suspense novels for the old American Magazine; they hadn't sold, though I'd had nice encouraging letters from the editor there.
I pulled out those old scripts, expanded them to forty thousand words, changed the heroines to nurses, and sold them to Ace as fast as I could get them typed.
I thought I was on a roll. And then nurse novels died, as genre fiction sometimes does. Nobody wanted them. Nobody bought the last one I'd written.
So I suggested to my agent, who hadn't thought of it, that since it was a mystery about a nurse in an old house (it was a Gothic but I didn't know the word then) that we change the title to a suspenseful one, Return to Darkness. It was submitted with no change in text to Lancer Books, who bought the next twenty-two books I wrote. I was on my way.
Three times over the ensuing years I thought I'd reached a stage where I could make a living writing; three times I went back to work in doctors' offices, because I couldn't quite do it and we were still paying off ranch debts.
At one point early on a relative made the remark that I was wasting my time, that nobody had ever heard of me and nobody would buy anything from me. There was a time when such a remark might have crushed my spirit. Now it made me furiously indignant. Who was he to decide such a thing? I kept on writing, and it gave me great satisfaction when I reached a point where I was making as good a living with my writing as he did on his job.
I've since met hundreds of writers, and read about them, and I realize that many of them were discouraged by family and friends from doing the writing they longed to do. My feeling now is that nobody can make you feel incapable or inferior unless you allow them to do it. And never again did I allow anyone to convince me I couldn't succeed.
I was lucky that my husband, David, was always supportive. Without that, everything would have been so much harder. He also provided me with much of my material; our adventures together over the years gave me firsthand experience in situations I would have avoided at all costs, such as being caught in a rock slide (three-foot boulders bouncing off a cliff all round us while our car was trapped between some of them) and driving along cliffs where the road disappeared under a violent stream of water shooting out into space on the other side. He's a champion archer, so I learned about that; I often call on his expertise with firearms, and his memory and his camera provide me with details I couldn't retain on my own. He's a history buff, and has often been the one to find a reference to some obscure moment in time that's sent us on excursions to find out more than enough to turn the idea into a book.
Though I often put (precocious) children into my books, I never considered writing for children. When Larrilyn was planning for a big formal wedding, I got the idea for The View from the Cherry Tree, in which eleven-year-old Rob sees a murder committed next door when he escapes from his sister's wedding preparations by hiding in a tree. The book was based largely on things that really happened (exaggerated, naturally) and my kids said I should be ashamed to take money for the book because they provided all the material. It was wonderfully easy to write (it took twelve or thirteen days) because so much of it was true; it seemed I had only to sit at the typewriter and let it flow out through my fingertips. Nightmare is the only other book ever done as easily as that of the eighty titles I've sold.
Cherry Tree was intended as an adult suspense novel, but my editor at Doubleday's Crime Club, while saying she enjoyed it tremendously, felt it wasn't an adult book.
I was outraged. I dragged my feet for a full year when my agent suggested we try it as a juvenile. I wanted grown-ups to read it! Which shows how much I knew. It was the first of many books sold to Atheneum for kids, and to one of the top editors in the business, Jean Karl. A couple of years later, I was informed that it had become a classic, as had Don't Hurt Laurie! which followed it.
Jean nudged me gently for more, saying, "Children need good books too, you know."
I hadn't anticipated the non-monetary rewards of writing for kids, such as the volume of fan mail. Adults write to an author primarily to tell her what she did wrong. Kids write to you for that, too, but more often they tell you what they love about your books. Their letters are warm and funny and poignant and wonderful. I have at least a dozen in my files from kids ten to twelve years old with complete plots for sequels to The Girl with the Silver Eyes, and they're all perfectly viable.*
I never had any trouble switching from adult to kids' books; I think in essence I've remained about eleven myself. I remember very clearly what I thought and felt at that age, how painfully shy I was, how I was intimidated by people and circumstances. Children are still vulnerable; they have little control over their lives and the adults around them are not always aware of nor responsive to their fears and problems. They feel inadequate, awkward, shy, frightened, and they still respond to encouragement and love. I know about those things. And the books are such fun to write! Not to mention what fun it is to win awards voted upon by my young readers.
I used to get some of my ideas from my own kids, who are all imaginative and creative themselves. They give me credit for contributing to that, because they say that I used to send them to bed because I was exhausted, and since they were not yet sleepy, they told stories to each other. Including, I found out years after the fact, ones about monsters under their beds and in their closets that kept the littler ones afraid to get out of bed at night. All four of them write now, and extremely well. And the third generation, our six grandchildren, is beginning to do so, too.
These days I get some neat things from the grandchildren. The episode in Baby Sitting Is a Dangerous Job where the little boy paints his sister really happened when my son neglected to put away a can of paint; our poor Sammy was blue for some time before the paint wore off. Some of the things the kids do don't get into books because I don't want to give other kids ideas their parents wouldn't appreciate, such as the one when Dave's children learned from TV how to make Green Slime with disastrous results. Maybe I could use that if I don't give the recipe.
In 1977 I signed contracts to write nine adult books. For years David and I had talked longingly of wanting to travel, to see distant places, to research historical novels on the spot. So I called him at work, where he was managing a building supply company, and told him my work would support us for a couple of years; why didn't he retire for that time, and we'd travel a bit? Within a few weeks, we were on our way to Alaska, a truly memorable trip where he took some of the pictures that now appear in the slide show we take around the country to schools.
We came home long enough to see my mother through cataract surgery, then took off again in a fifth-wheel trailer to research Destiny's Women in Georgia.
By this time David was submitting magazine articles about archery, hunting, RV traveling, etc. He learned that he had to have pictures in order to sell them, so he became a photographer, specializing in wildlife and the outdoors. To begin with, we thought his "retirement" would he temporary, but we found that we liked the life-style that was possible when neither of us had to report to a regular job. We're not quite as enthusiastic about the uncertainties of the writing income—too many editors/publishers seem to assume that we write for the fun of it and have other sources of income (untrue, in our case) so there's no necessity to pay us in a reasonable period of time.
But we love writing and we love traveling. I prefer not to write about places I haven't seen—there's so much margin for error and the natives will inform you of your mistakes and, particularly in writing historicals, there is often much information available only on the site.
After a Toklat grizzly bear tried to open up our trailer at 4:00 a.m. in Alaska, we switched to a motor-home, which we find much more comfortable. The one we have now is thirty-four feet long. It has a queen-size bed, a full bathroom with shower, a complete kitchen (with the dinette turned into office space for the computer that travels with us), couch and easy chairs, and a color TV and VCR we never get time to watch. It has become a part of our traveling "show" at schools where we put on our slide presentations.
We thoroughly enjoy meeting children who have read my books. They always want to know where the ideas come from.
Some, like Sugar Isn't Everything, come from real life. I, too, am diabetic, and when I learned there was nothing available for diabetic kids to learn about their condition, I wrote a fictional story about Amy's experience. I was not an abused child, but my father was, and I had several friends who were, also. Don't Hurt Laurie! came out of their experiences. The idea for What Could Go Wrong? came from a scary episode that happened to a nine-year-old great-nephew when he was flying alone. Many other stories were simply made up for fun.
For a long time I felt educationally deprived. There were no community colleges where I lived when I was young, and there was no money to go away to school. After I started writing adult mysteries I was able to attend police-science classes both in Modesto, California, and later in Eureka where we lived when I began to write for children. I became acquainted with many police officers in order to know about procedures they rely on, and now son Chris is a cop in Everett, Washington, so I sometimes call on him to assure accuracy.
After Kathie and then young Dave attended college, I began to think that perhaps I hadn't been so short-changed after all. Not that I minimize the value of higher education: I don't. I urge young people to get as much education as they can manage. But I would also say to those for whom college is not an option that they needn't despair over that. Learning can be done anywhere, through reading and through life's experiences. It's possible to have multiple degrees, for instance, and have no understanding of what other people go through, how they struggle just to survive and to cope with the mishaps life dishes out. Once I was at a conference where I was virtually the only one, of twenty-five authors, who didn't rattle off a string of degrees. It made me feel somewhat inferior until my wonderful husband pointed out that I had more published books to my credit than all of them put together.
Some authors advise youngsters to keep a daily journal as practice for becoming a professional writer some day. There is nothing wrong with this, if you can't think of anything more imaginative to write about. However, it was always more fun for me to make up something, to write stories that excited me. I do think it's very important to write regularly and to set priorities that allow this, if you ever want to be published. It's also essential to develop such a strong belief in what you want to do that you get thick-skinned about criticism of your dreams. Many creative people seem to have met strong resistance from family and friends in their attempts to be writers, or artists, musicians, actors, or dancers. Some parents and grandparents want their children to follow their own footsteps into professions or businesses that would stifle the joy of creating their own careers.
I was lucky that both my parents and my husband supported my desire to write in every possible way. They encouraged me when I got rejection slip after rejection slip, then exulted with me when I began to be successful.
My kids, who were not overly cooperative about helping me find time to write when they were younger, suddenly did an about-face the year that I got an unexpected eight thousand dollar check on the 14th of December. After years of homemade gifts (including certificates of services we would perform for one another, because no one had money for "boughten" presents) we had a glorious Christmas.
Our tree, harvested on the property of the doctor I was then working for, was fourteen feet high after it had been trimmed to fit into the parlor of the wonderful old Victorian house we had bought in Eureka. The kids got electric typewriters, bikes, stereos. My ailing father got a color TV with earplugs so that my mother didn't have to listen to his endless sporting events.
Overnight, my kids became serious writers. (Actually, Kathie had been since the age of six.) At thirteen, Chris made a bet with his brother Dave that he would be the first to see his work in print. Scoffing, Dave put up his money—and lost it. Chris wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated, and there was his name in print. David came
home one day and heard five typewriters going all over the house at the same time; he begged us not to synchronize them for fear our one-hundred-year-old house would come down around our ears.
Once I had sold a book, I forgot about writing short stories or articles, although recently I have sold medical articles about diabetes and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When I told Larri that I'd agreed to do a twenty-five-hundred word article for Parents Magazine, she stared at me in consternation. "Can you write anything that short?" she asked. It was hard work. It's much easier for me to write long.
I love writing. I love learning about many things, both from meeting other people and by traveling to places we've never seen before. So far our travel has been restricted to the United States and Canada, because we enjoy the motorhome so much. When we get too old to go that way, we'll try ships and planes to more distant places.
I know now that it's possible to overcome adverse circumstances, that it's important to a writer to know the sorrows as well as the joys of life, the downs as well as time ups.
I have few regrets about my life, none of any significance about things that I did do. Lack of courage kept me from doing some things that I had a chance to try. Like driving (I finally got a license when I was thirty-two) and dancing. I was too self-conscious to make the attempt, when a friend of the family offered to teach me to dance when I was twelve. I regret it still. I wish I'd discovered sooner that I could make music, at least for my own entertainment. I wish I'd gained the courage, sooner, to speak in public. I wish I hadn't wasted so much time on projects that weren't important, so I'd have written more by this time. I wish I'd been braver about defending people and ideas instead of being intimidated by someone who was only louder than I was, not more right-thinking.
Children often ask how long I'm going to keep on writing. My reply is that I hope to write until the day I die—hopefully many, many more books. I've already done so much that I never realistically believed I could do, back when I started.
And maybe—just maybe—one of these days I'll even take dancing lessons.
POSTSCRIPT: Willo Davis Roberts contributed the following update to SATA in 2004:
For seventy-six years, I have been one of the luckiest people in the world.
I didn't always know that. There were times when I felt positively unlucky. There were even times when I whined when things didn't go the way I wanted them to. My mother dealt with whining children by stating that she could not hear them, and therefore she ignored them. When feeling sorry for ourselves did not get my sisters and me any sympathy, we quickly turned to something more satisfying.
For me, what was fun and exciting and extremely gratifying was making up stories. Not very many people thought I could ever succeed in becoming a professional writer, able to earn a living from doing what I most loved to do. I might have been crushed when they told me that, and given up. But I was so determined that I kept right on writing, no matter what anyone else thought, until that first book sold in 1955.
Many young people write to me today to tell me that they want to create stories, too, except that they don't know how to come up with ideas. Many said their lives were so ordinary, and so dull, that they were convinced nobody would be interested in anything they had to say.
Gradually, over the years, it became clear to me that if a person didn't have a wonderfully exciting life to provide ideas, they could be made up, or they could be developed around the adversity that happens to everybody.
So I now suggest that they build stories around the difficult things that have happened in their lives.
During my entire childhood and teenage years, our family was poor. Of course part of that time was during the Great Depression, when practically everybody was poor. Many people didn't have jobs. I grew up in houses with no electricity except one dangling light bulb per room, and with no indoor plumbing. The things kids take for granted today—televisions, cell phones, microwaves—weren't even thought of yet.
Even if they had been available, the Davis family would not have been able to afford them.
After World War II, though, a lot of my friends weren't especially poor anymore. They had houses so much nicer than the ones I lived in that I felt ashamed to invite anyone over to visit. I wanted a nice house so badly I dreamed about houses for many years. Eventually houses inspired many of my stories. And eventually I realized that anyone who has any brains at all doesn't pick friends for the houses they live in.
I particularly enjoyed going through old historic houses, imagining who had lived in them, and what happened to them. Long after I'd grown up and was selling the stories I wrote, we bought a house in Eureka, California, that had been built in 1880. It was enormously tall, with fancy gingerbread trim: fourteen-foot ceilings downstairs, ten-foot ceilings upstairs, and an attic where my husband always said he was going to build an archery range, because there was plenty of room. The house had seven bedrooms and three bathrooms and double parlors and a dining room as well as a kitchen and a laundry room. Sometimes we heard footsteps overhead, only to discover later that there had been no one home up there at the time. Strangers asked us if we had ghosts. We never saw any, but there were those mysterious footsteps.
It had been a neglected house for many years, which was the only reason we could afford it. The sole heat in this 7,000 square foot house was a floor furnace between the parlors. It did have two fireplaces—too old to be safe to use—but they were only large enough to have burned a gallon milk carton. My husband David installed two forced air furnaces—the one under the ground floor had twenty-three outlets—and one in the attic for the second floor. I wondered how people had lived in the house for almost a hundred years with no more heat than that. It was a seaside town where the climate was cool enough that I frequently wore a goose-down jacket to walk the dog in the evenings. I'll bet our predecessors wore sweaters and long underwear most of the time. Maybe even mittens.
Once a reporter came to interview and photograph me and the house after I'd just written one of the five books I eventually set there. Two of them were The View from the Cherry Tree and The Pet-Sitting Peril. After the picture came out I got a letter from a lady whose grandparents had lived there when she was a little girl. She told me that at the top of the stairs, which was a small open room, her grandparents had kept all of their pets. They had been sent to a taxidermist after they died, and preserved as if they were still alive. They had dogs, and cats, and birds. For a long time, the little girl believed that when she died, she, too, would be stuffed and put on display there.
We lived in the house for only five years, so we didn't get to do all the things we wanted to do to it. We loved living there. We installed lovely red velvety carpeting in the twin parlors. I had fewer dreams about houses now that we had this one.
When he was in his early teens our Chris used to paint elaborately detailed historical battle scenes on "canvases" he improvised by putting the largest pieces of paper he could find together with scotch tape. His was the only room I had painted yet, when the kids came running to tell me that "Daddy just fell through the ceiling in Chris's room." Daddy had been in the attic, pulling out old, unsafe wiring, when he slipped off the timbers. The area had burned at one time, and all the charred bits and dust and dirt fell through onto Chris's bed. Eventually I had to repaint the ceiling before I went on to the rest of the house.
By this time, with four kids and a marvelous old house, things were seldom dull.*
But when I was a child I didn't really appreciate my life. Besides being poor, and doing without things many other families had, we moved. And moved. And moved. Once we only lived in a house for only two weeks before it was sold out from under us so that we moved yet again.
One summer we lived in a chicken coop. Two summers we lived in tents. A skunk got under one of them and had to be coaxed out without doing any smelly damage. Later, one of his relatives got into the tent where I was sleeping with some neighbor kids. It wasn't hostile until a dog came in with us, and scared the skunk so it ruined everything we had in there. That included a pretty dress I had just gotten from my grandmother for my twelfth birthday. I had worn it only once, and no matter what we did with it, we couldn't get the odor out of the dress and I was never able to wear it again. This was a tragedy, because new dresses didn't come my way very often.
One summer, while the family lived in a primitive cabin with no plumbing or electricity, my sister Joyce and I slept in what had been a woodshed. There was no bathroom, so we never had a bath all summer. But it didn't matter, because we lived on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay, which had wonderful white sand beaches. When we got up in the morning, we put on our bathing suits, and spent all day in and out of the water. The sand scoured our bare feet so that all we had to do was brush it off before we crawled into bed.
Those summers were a lot of my lucky times. We had no responsibilities, no worries, and while we were at the fishing camp where my dad ran his sport trolling boat, I had friends. I made up plays, and we all put them on for our own entertainment. I directed, of course.
Looking back, I'm amazed that so much of the joy of my childhood was packed into such short periods of time, about five months of each year for five years. The same kids came back to camp each year, and we always took up where we'd left off: roaming the woods and the beaches, in a day when it wasn't dangerous to be by ourselves. When I didn't have companionship, I was content with telling myself stories as I walked for miles along the edge of the bay. And yes, I spoke the dialogue out loud.
However, except for those summers between the ages of eight and twelve, I was very lonely. I don't think it's coincidence that it was when I was nine years old, the year I was enrolled in six different fourth grades, that I started to write down my stories.
My only friends apart from those months during the summers were the characters I created in my own head. We had no money to buy anything to read; if I wasn't where I had access to libraries, life was totally miserable. And in those days there were only a limited number of books written for kids, so that by the age of ten I had exhausted them all and I began to read mysteries and historical novels for adults.
But already I had one of the greatest gifts I could ever have asked for. I had imagination beyond the ordinary.
I have read that virtually all children are naturally imaginative. Unfortunately, by the time they start school, much of that wonder has been shamed/punished out of them by parents who consider this "lying" rather than being creative. One of our grandsons, at the age of three, would tell us that whatever naughtiness he was involved in was done by "Babby," his imaginary playmate. We all recognized that he was making up the companion and hoping to slide out of responsibility. This was handled so that he knew we were not excusing unacceptable behavior, but nobody branded him a liar and insisted he give up Babby. When life provided companionship, Babby faded away on his own, just as my "Bobby" had done when I was that age. It is sad that parents cannot accept this helpful, not harmful, way of enabling lonely children to cope.
When I encountered people who felt compelled to point out that my family was "poor white trash," I escaped into my private world of fiction, where I could be anybody, go anywhere, have any wonderful adventure I liked.
Many of the things I experienced during those early years were not fun. But they were all learning experiences. How else would I have learned to write about a child who was lonely? Friendless? Scared? Angry and impotent in the face of injustice?
How else could I now write about kids with so many needs, and so little control over their own lives? How could I get inside the hearts and minds of today's children who struggle with the same problems as I did then? First I had to experience those things myself, and by knowing how much they hurt, I can connect with other people who also suffer.
Over the years, I have written about children who had to land in an airport where they were not supposed to be, because of a bomb threat on their plane. That came out of an experience our nine-year-old nephew had, when traveling alone. (What Could Go Wrong? )
When I was diagnosed with diabetes, the instructors at the hospital begged me to write a book to help diabetic kids understand what was happening to them, and how to cope with it. That was Sugar Isn't Everything. It was an example of making lemonade when someone has handed you a lemon.
There are plenty of lemons in every life. If you've been burglarized (yes, it happened to us, and it was a distressing experience) it's easy to describe how someone feels about this. If someone you love has died, it readily works into a story. Most kids love pets, and many things that happen to them could induce a character to do something dangerous to rescue a pet that children would never think of doing on their own behalf.
Many of the things I've written about, in an imaginary story, were based on real things that happened that frightened me. I'm not a very brave person, but I try to think of reasons why my characters would be brave enough to take chances—to save a friend or a dog, for instance.
I like to write about ordinary kids caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Such as in Buddy Is a Stupid Name For a Girl, when Buddy has to go stay with a family of dysfunctional relatives when her father disappears. Lots of families have dysfunctional relatives. If you put them into a story, be sure to change their names so they won't recognize themselves. Actually, if I write about an obnoxious person under a different name, it's amazing how few of them do detect their own unfortunate attributes.
The real thing that happened before Buddy was written was that my husband broke an axle on the rear trailer of the eighteen-wheeler he was driving, and it threw him and the truck over a 400 foot cliff. He survived, and another seed was planted in my mind to use years later.
Many of the most unlikely things in my books are based on events that actually happened. Over the years my kids and grandkids have provided me with many things to write about. I did not always appreciate those behaviors at the time.
When my older son repeatedly did things that damaged either himself or his siblings, which resulted in multiple trips to the Emergency Room, I hardly appreciated him at all. Once when young Dave had provoked me greatly (he was about nine at the time) I told him I hoped when he grew up he would have a kid just like him. Interestingly enough, he did. The little sister Saul painted blue, an incident that appeared in Baby Sitting Is a Dangerous Job, now is the mother of our great-granddaughters, Ashley and Willow. At three, Ashley, is already showing great promise as future inspiration.
I have written about kids who ran away to escape what they saw as impossible situations at home (Caught!, To Grandmother's House We Go ). I've written about a child abused by her mother (Don't Hurt Laurie! ) Both my grandparents were so abusive that Daddy ran away at the age of thirteen and did not see either of them again until he was twenty. I've always regretted that it did not occur to me to question those grandparents as to whether or not they were both abused themselves, as I suspect was the case.
I've written about a little boy who desperately wants a family of his own (Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy ) and a girl who has lost her own family who hopes for a caring foster mother (Pawns ) because I've seen so many children who do not have loving and caring parents. Sometimes the only way these young readers can find hope is through a story.*
During the years that we lived in scrape-the-bottomof-the-barrel poverty, when there was no money for entertainment, our humor and perspective were maintained by our kids. We had four of them: Kathie, David, Larrilyn, and Christopher. They were all exceptionally bright, and they were funny. Oh, were they ever funny! Larri's interpretations of the movies she saw on TV (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ) often had us collapsing on the floor in laughter.
It gave me a lot of insight into how easily children can misunderstand what they hear. Sometimes they are unnecessarily frightened by what they misinterpret. Plenty of story material there.
So, ultimately, my children were a major part of my tremendous good fortune. As adults, they have all become wonderful people and good friends. There are many families in which this is not true, and I feel greatly blessed in this gift.
And, equally on a par with them, my husband has been beyond simple good luck.
I met David Roberts on the one night he spent in Grand Marais, Michigan, when he was on his way to the West Coast after being discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1948. It was love at first sight, and we will have been married fifty-five years in May of 2004. When the time comes that you are considering a marriage partner, be sure to pick someone who loves to read as much as you do and makes you laugh and is fun!
I have already stated that I am not a particularly brave person. In fact, I have moments of abject cowardice. Not so my husband. He completely counterbalances my timidity.
David has been responsible for many adventures I never would have had without him. This includes the jams his adventurous spirit has gotten us into; so far he's also managed to get us out of all of them. And when I write myself into a corner, where I have cut off all avenues of escape for my hero or heroine, he helps come up with something creative to save them from the villains.
I have described the experience of being caught in a rock slide on Highway 101 in California, with 300-foot-cliffs rising on one side, and a 400-foot plunge into a canyon on the other. We could easily have been killed. Again, in the Fraser River Canyon in British Columbia, only David's quick reactions saved us and five other people from death in a head-on crash with a careless driver. There have been many close calls in traffic in the 600,000 miles we've driven together, and we're appreciative of the years of experience David had before that, driving trucks.
When I describe breaking down in the desert, you can be certain I have been through it. Or meeting another vehicle on a narrow mountain road that is only wide enough for one, and where there is no guardrail. I learned what it's like to be threatened by a forest fire that has turned the sky red and is dropping bits of burning debris around us, choking us with smoke.
One of our "favorite" horror stories happened when we started out on a speaking tour which was to cover three Midwestern states over a period of a little more than a month. We had allowed plenty of time to get to our first date, but we only got 135 miles from home when we broke an axle on the motorhome.
We were dead in the water. We were thankful for a cell phone, to call for help. We were on a busy freeway, with barely room to pull off the pavement, and no room to get out without risking our lives. The tow truck that responded had to call for the police, who came in two cars to make sure we could be moved off the shoulder, on a narrow bridge, without that seventy-m.p.h. traffic running over us.
We sat in Ellensburg, Washington, for five precious days, trying to get a replacement axle. The nearest one was in Chicago. It had to be airlifted to us, and our mechanic and his helper worked all night to put it on. By the time we could move, we had despaired of making it to Duluth, Minnesota, for the presentation scheduled there.
I do not drive the coach. We would not have trusted just anybody else to do it, either, unless they were accustomed to driving trucks or buses. We hired a friend who had driven big rigs in the Army, and he and my husband took turns driving 1,600 miles in thirty-two hours, stopping only to refuel.
To add to our time pressures, we hit a genuine blizzard going across North Dakota during the final night. We knew if we stopped, we would never get started again, and that we had no slack in our schedule at all. In ten inches of snow on the road, over ice, we followed the taillights of a bus that helped us to know we were still on the road we could not really see.
We made it to Duluth with barely time for me to take a shower before I had to be on stage to give my slide show/lecture presentation.
Our schedule was set up so that we had just time enough to get from one town to the next, and if we missed a date, there was no time to reschedule. I was speaking virtually every day. And of course if I didn't get there on time, I would not get paid, and we'd already spent our own money to reach each of these places.
In one city in Indiana, we spoke to kids in two neighboring schools, a total of 2,300 middle-school students. Each of them had a copy of either The Absolutely True Story or Megan's Island, both Edgar winners. I autographed every copy, the most I've ever done in one stopover. Yes, my hand and arm were painful!
To many people, touring schools sounds exciting and rather glamorous. When we get home, people ask, "Did you have a nice vacation?" They have no idea how hard we've worked, and how many obstacles we've encountered just trying to get to the right place on time. Bad weather is one of the hazards, when the freeways are closed because of snow or ice, when bridges are washed out, when our maps are useless because every road is under construction and we don't know where to go, when detours send us miles out of our way and we have not allowed enough extra time for this.
We've also had two major tours when I continued to lecture when I was so sick I would hardly have been able to stand up if I hadn't had a podium to hang onto. Once, near the beginning of the Indiana part of fifteen engagements, I had to have a wheelchair to get out of the auditorium. That was scary, because I wasn't sure I would get better before the rest of them. For a few months I had to wonder if I would ever get better. That made me think about how it must be for those with disabilities from which they have no hope of recovery.
But the rewards are endless. Most of the time I'm speaking to 200 to 600 kids at a time. A few times I've talked to about twenty-five kids at an isolated school where they've never had an author visit before. Those are the exciting ones, talking to boys and girls who never dreamed that an ordinary person could write books, and it gives them the courage to try things for themselves that other people don't believe they can do. I'm proof that miracles are possible.
Everyone should be able to live in expectation of a miracle on one level or another. I never dreamed, as an underprivileged teenager, that I would ever have the life that has been so exciting and so rewarding.*
A large part of this, of course, relates to enough success in writing so that for many years I have not had to do anything else to earn a living. The other major factor has been my relationships with people.
Most of those were very good relationships. My mother, Lealah Davis, was a wonderful person. She always supported whatever I wanted to do, cheered me on when great things happened, was proud of my accomplishments and supportive through the tough times. I remember once when I'd written her a letter detailing all the reasons why I'd been too depressed to write to her, and she said, "The Lord must love you a lot, because He chastens those who are His own." It's hard to think of that in such a light when there are so many needs that seem not to be met, when it can be touch and go with despair when no solutions can be found. Yet without faith that eventually everything will work out, most of us wouldn't have the courage to hang in there and keep trying.
My father, Clayton "Bill" Davis, was a better parent than he might have been, considering that he did not have a good example in his own early life. By any standard, he would have been considered abused. Many abusing parents go on to mistreat their own children in turn. Dad never did that, but he was an opinionated man, with deep-set prejudices. By the time I was fourteen, I had begun to form strong opinions of my own, and we clashed about quite a few things. He expected everyone to leap into action the moment he gave an order, and I had a tendency to want to stop and explain why (I was articulate at a very early age, say from the time I was two) I did not want or feel it necessary to follow his explicit orders.
That made for uncomfortable conflict. I suspect that if he had not been traveling much of the time, we could not have lived in the same household. I left home as soon as I could manage it, right after I graduated from high school. That probably saved either my life or his.
My tendency to have my own ideas about how to do things has carried over into my writing. When an editor has occasionally questioned a character or an incident in a story as "unnecessary," and ask me to delete it, I have instead successfully written more fully about the matter so that the editor accepted it after all. Cutting truly unnecessary words is frequently essential to a tightly-written story, but reducing the word count on anything is one of the hardest things for me to do. It's much easier to enhance the original words with additional ones than to take anything out.
The one thing Dad and I did have in common was a love of books and words. He never finished the eighth grade, and his own reading had been curtailed up to then because his father believed it was a waste of time. I suspect that Daddy read for the same reason I did: not only to be entertained, but to escape from a world that was increasingly painful around him as a boy. He did not write, but he was a storyteller. Many of his stories were true experiences, and he loved relating them to everyone around him. As a teenager I resented the fact that he monopolized most conversations. It was not until other people began to comment on how fascinating he was that it occurred to me that they saw him differently than I did.
He educated himself, reading everything from mysteries to cereal boxes. And when I finally began to sell what I wrote, he was very proud of me and bragged about my success even when it was so marginal that it hardly made a blip on the screen of life.
In his later years, when because of health problems he had to retire and then lived with us until he died, he could no longer be the aggressive person who had annoyed me so much in the past. Getting angry meant he had chest pain. He learned to tamp down on his temper because losing it meant risking his life. Oddly enough, though it made the household less volatile, it also made me sad. He was a pathetic man during the last few years, unable to handle even the simpler problems in his life, and he was afraid of what was to come. I tried to convey to him my own faith in what was ahead, but he resisted almost to the final hour. I have often regretted that I could not persuade him to my own beliefs that would surely have given him peace much sooner than it came.
I had to wait until my father died, and then my mother as well, nearly thirty years later, to write The Caregiver. It deals with a man shaped by factors he does not know how to control, and his daughter caught in painful circumstances which make it impossible for her to forgive him.
One of the things that affected my own life strongly was learning that harboring resentment and dislike harms only the one who cannot forgive, not the one who inflicted the pain in the first place. Writing about the people who were difficult during my lifetime has enabled me to achieve understanding of why they were the way they were. One thing beginning writers sometimes overlook is the fact that the villains as well as the heroes need plausible motivations. Once, in Act of Fear, I had intended one character to be a murderer. However, the more I wrote about his background, the more justification I gave him, and eventually I had to create a different villain because I liked this young man so much!
For twenty-five years we traveled the U.S. and Canada in motorhomes, speaking in schools and libraries and doing research for my books. Along the way we
had many adventures that I'd just as soon have skipped—they were often very frightening—but they all have made fodder for stories with at least a thread of truth to them.
Breaking down mechanically, or being caught in blizzards when freeways had to be closed, or having hail break out our skylights and make the road impassible, were some of the "lucky" but ultimately useable things that have happened to us. Each of them makes us wiser and stronger. Even things that at first seem catastrophic can be used for good.
How can you relate to someone else who is struggling if you have never learned to struggle yourself?
Life is a journey. It is said that we are just about as happy as we decide to be. Even when we cannot control our circumstances, we can control our own attitudes, and that can make all the difference in the world as to how we lead our lives.
A thing as small as a smile can reach out positively to other people. Try it, and see how many others will smile back at you.
And believe in yourself. You are the only one qualified to determine how happy—and how successful—you can be.
Roberts, Willo Davis 1928-
Willo Davis Roberts 1928-INTRODUCTION
American author of young adult fiction and children's mysteries.
Sophisticated stories and solid plot construction are the hallmark of Roberts's fiction. She has been highly praised for her insightful characterizations and narrative flow. Her direct and unpretentious mysteries address realistic problems such as the complications of diabetes in Sugar Isn't Everything (1987) and child abuse in Don't Hurt Laurie! (1977), while successfully retaining the viewpoint of a child.
Born May 28, 1928, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Roberts moved often as a child with her family. In fourth grade alone she studied at six different schools. Shy and embarrassed about her home life, Roberts found it difficult to make friends and began to write. After graduating from high school she met David Roberts, whom she married in 1949. They bought a dairy farm in California, where they lived for a time with their four children. Unfortunately, the farm was not a financial success and led them into debt. It was, Roberts said, a time "when I really learned about poverty" and had little time for writing.
In 1955 Roberts sold her first novel, an adult mystery, for $150. Roberts wrote in Something about the Author, "It gave me hope that after all those years of submitting stories that were rejected I might be able to earn money for the family on a regular basis. I went out on the back forty and cried my eyes out when I realized that I had to go to work and help bring in money faster than the writing could yet do." She began working in a hospital and became familiar with the genre of "nurse novels." Her first attempt in this genre sold for $1,000, which led her to write a line of nurse novels. When the genre went out of fashion, Roberts changed the title of her next novel to Return to Darkness (1969) and sold as it as suspense novel, which led to further success.
When Roberts submitted the manuscript for The View from the Cherry Tree (1975), her agent suggested that she rewrite it as a novel for children. Although Roberts was initially reluctant, she ultimately found the transition easy, and the book became one of her best sellers. In the late 1970s Roberts's husband retired and the couple began to publish books together using her text and his photographs. In Something about the Author Roberts observed, "Children often ask how long I'm going to keep on writing. My reply is that I hope to write until the day I die—hopefully many, many more books. I've already done so much that I never realistically believed I could do, way back when I started."
Roberts was a successful author of adult mystery and romance novels when she wrote The View from the Cherry Tree, her first book for children. The story concerns nine-year-old Rob who, while seeking an escape from the preparations for his sister's wedding by hiding up in the cherry tree, witnesses the murder of a neighbor. Although he sees hands push the neighbor out of the window, he does not see who the murderer is. When he tries to tell the adults about it, they are too busy with the wedding preparations to listen. Unfortunately, one of the people he tells is the murderer, placing his own life in danger. In Don't Hurt Laurie! Roberts addresses the subject of child abuse. Eleven-year-old Laurie is being physically abused by her mother, feels powerless, and is unable to communicate her situation to other adults. Her stepfather is unaware of her situation, but her stepbrother witnesses one of the beatings and tells his father who intervenes, rescuing Laurie and obtaining help for her mother. According to Roberts, librarians have commented that Don't Hurt Laurie! is one of the most frequently stolen children's books from libraries.
The winner of many state awards, The Girl with the Silver Eyes (1980) is Roberts's first foray into science fiction. A group of mothers are exposed to a peculiar drug during their pregnancy, resulting in the birth of mutant children with telekinetic powers. The children are viewed as outcasts, and when the protagonist, Katie, discovers she is one of them, she must decide whether to hide her powers to appear normal or risk exposure and public hostility to find others like herself. With a subtext about family interactions and the social responses to difference, the book was well-received by audiences and critics alike. Ruth Sadasivan declared in School Library Journal that Megan's Island (1988) "succeeds both as an entertaining mystery and as a novel about human relationships." Megan's single mother has sent Megan and her brother to stay with their grandfather in Minnesota, a place where she says they will be "safe." Megan figures out that her wealthy paternal grandfather is searching for her and her brother in order to kidnap them. By foiling her grandfather's plot, Megan frees her family from hiding, allowing them to resolve their family issues.
Critics took great delight in the humor of The Absolutely True Story … How I Traveled to Yellowstone Park with the Terrible Rupes (1994). Twelve-year-old Lewis thinks he is really lucky to be invited to go to Yellowstone Park with the next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Rupe and their children. They eat junk food, do not have chores, and do exactly what they want. Unfortunately, the Rupes are not as much fun as Lewis had thought: Mr. Rupe's driving is frightening, they pay no attention to sights, and two dangerous looking men seem to be following the luxurious motor home. The men kidnap the children, but the children manage to escape. In her review of Twisted Summer (1996) for Book Report Brenda Williams suggests that "Anyone enjoying mysteries will like this one." In the book, fourteen-year-old Cici and her family spend every summer at a cabin in Michigan. One summer, Cici arrives to find that the brother of her friend Jake has been convicted of murder, but Cici and Jake are sure that he is innocent. Cici and Jake make a list of suspects and attempt to pursue the truth. When the list disappears, they realize that someone knows what they are up to. Danger ensues until the mystery is solved.
Critics have praised Roberts for her well-drawn characters and clever plots, calling her books suspenseful and hard to put down. Roberts has also been commended for her realistic development of characters and situations. A Kirkus Reviews critic found The View from the Cherry Tree intriguing: "This backyard melodrama exudes an aura of freaky and facile menace that keeps you hanging on." Barbara Elleman of Booklist particularly lauded the character development in The View from the Cherry Tree, commenting that "The characterizations are excellent; Rob never ceases being a normal kid whose family is not uncaring, just too busy." Reviewers have also commended Roberts for her sensitive handling of the subject of child abuse in Don't Hurt Laurie! A critic for Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books wrote, "[Don't Hurt Laurie!] is the most trenchant of the few stories for young readers on the subject of child abuse … the book—which has excellent characterization and an easy narrative flow—is both realistic about the problem and realistically encouraging about its alleviation." Roberts has also been acclaimed for her series of mysteries, such as Megan's Island and The Absolutely True Story … How I Traveled to Yellowstone Park with the Terrible Rupes.
Roberts received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the junior division from the Mystery Writers of America three times: in 1989 for Megan's Island, in 1995 for The Absolutely True Story … How I Traveled to Yellowstone Park with the Terrible Rupes, and in 1997 for Twisted Summer. Sugar Isn't Everything was named an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Children by the National Science Teachers Association and the Children's Book Council. Roberts is also the recipient of many state awards. In 1986 Roberts was honored by the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference with an Achievement Award, and in 1990 she received the Washington State Governor's Award for Contribution to the Field of Children's Literature for her body of work.
The View from the Cherry Tree (mystery) 1975
Don't Hurt Laurie! [illustrations by Ruth Sanderson] (young adult fiction) 1977
The Minden Curse [illustrations by Sherry Streeter] (mystery) 1978
The Girl with the Silver Eyes (science fiction) 1980
More Minden Curses [illustrations by Sherry Streeter] (mystery) 1980
House of Fear (mystery) 1983
No Monsters in the Closet (mystery) 1983
The Pet-Sitting Peril (mystery) 1983
Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy [illustrations by Leslie Morrill] (fiction) 1984
The Sniper (mystery) 1984
Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job (mystery) 1985
The Magic Book (fantasy fiction) 1986
Sugar Isn't Everything (fiction) 1987
Megan's Island (mystery) 1988
Nightmare (mystery) 1989
What Could Go Wrong? (mystery) 1989
To Grandmother's House We Go (mystery) 1990
Scared Stiff (mystery) 1991
Jo and the Bandit (mystery) 1992
What Are We Going To Do about David? (young adult fiction) 1993
The Absolutely True Story … How I Traveled to Yellowstone Park with the Terrible Rupes, No Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Guilty (humor) 1994
Caught! (mystery) 1994
Twisted Summer (mystery) 1996
Secrets at Hidden Valley (mystery) 1997
The Kidnappers (mystery) 1998
Pawns (mystery) 1998
Hostage (mystery) 2000
Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl (mystery) 2001
Undercurrents (mystery) 2002
Rebel (mystery) 2003
THE VIEW FROM THE CHERRY TREE (1975)
Publishers Weekly (review date 14 July 1975)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 208, no. 2 (14 July 1975): 60.
An author of some 40 mysteries for adults brings expertise to her first novel for younger readers [The View from the Cherry Tree ]. Nothing, however, says this exciting story can't be enjoyed by grown-ups as well as subteens and teens. Rob is seeking refuge in his favorite hideaway—high in the cherry tree in his yard—more and more often. His home has turned into bedlam, with unending preparations for his sister's wedding. So the boy is perched in his eyrie and sees what happens when someone pushes the next-door neighbor, mean old lady Calloway, out a window. Everyone except the killer thinks Rob is fantasizing; the general belief is that the old woman has lost her balance and fallen to her death. Since Rob doesn't know who the murderer is (all he saw was a hand) he doesn't know whom to avoid, only that someone is after him, a situation which results in teeth-rattling suspense for the reader of an exceptional entertainment.
Barbara Elleman (review date 15 September 1975)
SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Booklist 72, no. 2 (15 September 1975): 167-68.
For Rob, the cherry tree has always been a retreat [The View from the Cherry Tree ]; now in particular he finds it a refuge from the family's frantic preparations for his sister's wedding. The tree also provides Rob an opportunity to spy on eccentric old Mrs. Calloway in her Victorian mansion next door. His only aim is to annoy—but instead he witnesses her murder. Taut with suspense, this spell-binding story carries the reader along as Rob attempts in vain to find a listener. His mounting frustration overflows the pages as he is shunted aside until his pleas to be heard reach the ears of the murderer. A dropped pot, a near-miss bullet, and a poisoned cat later, Rob knows his own life is in danger, and he finds himself playing a deadly hide-and-seek game in the Calloway mansion. The characterizations are excellent; Rob never ceases being a normal kid whose family is not uncaring, just too busy. And, although the mystery is solved, the book ends on a slightly ironic, humorous note when Rob laments there is "still that blamed wedding to get through."
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date January 1976)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 29, no. 5 (January 1976): 85.
Although written in a direct and unpretentious style, this [The View from the Cherry Tree ] is essentially a sophisticated story, solidly constructed, imbued with suspense, evenly paced, and effective in conveying the atmosphere of a household coping with the last-minute problems and pressures of a family wedding. (There are actually a few too many of these for credibility, the one weakness of the book.) Everybody's too busy to listen to Rob when he tries to tell them that, from his perch in the cherry tree, he has seen their crotchety old neighbor die and that she didn't fall, but was pushed. He'd seen two big hands push her out of the window. Everybody's too busy, that is, except for the murderer; he tries repeatedly to trap Rob (nobody will listen to Rob's stories of near-misses, either) and finally does so in the empty house next door. While the ending is exciting, it may disappoint readers that, although Rob is proved right, there's little evidence of any chagrin on the part of his family. However, on the whole, this is a smooth, well-constructed story.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 July 1976)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 43, no. 13 (1 July 1976): 714.
From his secret perch in the cherry tree [A View from the Cherry Tree ], Rob watches a murder next door and then narrowly escapes becoming the killer's next victim … all while his family is preoccupied by the last minute frenzy of sister Darcy's big wedding. Wedding or no, you'd think that finding old lady Calloway hanged in the cherry tree would make more of an impression on Rob's folks, and even the last minute explanations about heroin dealing don't really convince us that Darcy's old boyfriend would put strychnine in Rob's fried chicken. Ultimately the premise wears thin, but this backyard melodrama exudes an aura of freaky and facile menace that keeps you hanging on.
School Library Journal (review date December 1976)
SOURCE: School Library Journal 22, no. 4 (December 1976): 66-7.
Those who demand realism and plausibility in characterization and plot will like The View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts. Eleven-year-old Rob Mallory feels unwanted because his older sister is getting married and his family is preoccupied with the wedding. Rob escapes to his favorite perch high in a cherry tree where he meditates and spits cherry stones through the window of Mrs. Calloway's house next door. Rob is horrified to see a man's arms push Mrs. Calloway out the window to her death. When Rob tries to tell what he saw, hardly anyone will listen to him, and those who do admonish him for telling tall tales. He becomes increasingly frustrated until he tells his story to the murderer—who believes him. In her first book for children, Roberts, an adult mystery writer, has succeeded in combining humor and suspense.
DON'T HURT LAURIE! (1977)
Publishers Weekly (review date 7 March 1977)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 211, no. 11 (7 March 1977): 100.
The plight of the battered child is the latest subject to appear in books for young readers. Roberts handles it sensitively in her memorable story [Don't Hurt Laurie! ] of 11-year-old Laurie. Her unbalanced mother, Annabelle, has brutalized the child repeatedly, following the desertion of the woman's first husband, Laurie's father. Married to widower Jack and the stepmother of his younger boy and girl, Annabelle continues to abuse her daughter during Jack's absences; he's a traveling salesman. A kindly man, Jack is puzzled by Laurie's aloofness and by her many "accidents"—cuts, burns, broken bones. After a final assault, when Annabelle nearly kills the child, the truth comes out. Jack takes the psychotic woman to a hospital where she will get help and the three children look forward to a better life. A well-written, memorable story.
Karen Harris (review date April 1977)
SOURCE: Harris, Karen. School Library Journal 23, no. 8 (April 1977): 70.
This tract on child abuse [Don't Hurt Laurie! ]is about as subtle as a lead pipe. Annabelle, Laurie's mother, has uncontrollable fits of rage; Laurie's cuts, bruises, and broken bones are the end result. Laurie's stepbrother, however, is wise to the real cause of her injuries despite Annabelle's lies and attempts at secrecy. Finally, after Laurie is beaten unconscious, Tim takes her to his grandmother who refuses to return the children to Annabelle until she receives psychiatric help and gains some control over her behavior. The characterizations are extremely weak, particularly that of Laurie who seems remarkably unscarred emotionally for a child who has suffered so much abuse, and young readers will have difficulty sympathizing with the mother even though Roberts tries to present her both as victim and villain.
Barbara Elleman (review date 15 April 1977)
SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Booklist 73, no. 16 (15 April 1977): 1269.
Laurie's continual burns, bruises, broken bones, and knife cuts are not the result of her clumsiness, as her mother Annabelle claims, but of her mother's physical abuse [Don't Hurt Laurie! ]. Discouraged from having friends, wary of her mother's temper, and constantly forced to change schools to resist prying questions, Laurie lives a lonely, fearful life. Afraid of not being believed and further incurring her mother's wrath, she has never dared tell anyone about her troubles. Now, with Annabelle's second marriage, things seem better for Laurie as she finds understanding in her eight-year-old stepbrother Tim, a friend in a boy next door, and even a potential confidante in her new teacher. Then Annabelle's temper erupts again, resulting in Laurie's being beaten unconscious with a poker. This time Tim defends her, suffering a bruise himself; they escape to his grandmother, where Laurie finally finds someone who believes her. The book ends on an upbeat note (Annabelle is hospitalized), with Laurie fearing her mother may never change but confident that help is nearby. Roberts, author of The View from the Cherry Tree, handles this difficult subject more realistically …, gives more depth to her characters …, but still offers a brighter ending than many a child is likely to find in suffering a similar situation.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date June 1977)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 30, no. 10 (June 1977): 164.
This [Don't Hurt Laurie! ] is the most trenchant of the few stories for young readers on the subject of child abuse; while written in third person, it consistently sees developments from the viewpoint of the eleven-year-old protagonist, Laurie. Laurie's father never communicates with her; her mother, who has remarried, periodically assaults her daughter viciously, although she does it only when they are alone. Laurie's stepfather, Jack, is a pleasant man but often away on business trips: her younger stepbrother, Tim, is sympathetic, knowing that Annabelle (Laurie doesn't think of her as "mother") is cruel to his stepsister. The pattern of Laurie's life has been that as soon as she makes a friend or is taken to one emergency room too many times, Annabelle moves. Matters come to a head when Tim witnesses a beating that leaves Laurie insensible. The children take refuge with Tim's grandmother, and when Jack learns the whole story he takes Annabelle away for treatment. The events are inherently dramatic in a shocking sense, but Roberts deals with them matter-of-factly, and the book—which has excellent characterization and an easy narrative flow—is both realistic about the problem and realistically encouraging about its alleviation: first, Laurie learns that people do believe her story when she finally tells it and second, they help her. Roberts also closes with an encouraging note by having Jack explain to Laurie some of the causes of her mother's illness, the changes that therapy should produce, and the fact that he still loves Annabelle, leaving the possibility that she will be a lovable mother when she recovers.
Sally Holmes Holtze (review date August 1977)
SOURCE: Holtze, Sally Holmes. Horn Book Magazine 53, no. 4 (August 1977): 444.
The author of The View from the Cherry Tree tackles the currently popular topic of child abuse [Don't Hurt Laurie! ]. Eleven-year-old Laurie, cruelly mis-treated by her mother since her father deserted them years before, finds herself in the emergency room of a local hospital once more. Because the nurse seems suspicious about the nature of Laurie's frequent injuries—cuts, bruises, and burns—her mother Annabelle decides to move and persuades her new husband, who has two children of his own, to go along with the idea. Laurie understands the true reasons for the move: to end the new friendships she is starting at school and to prevent teachers or nurses from detecting her problem. Annabelle's intentions of isolating Laurie backfire, however; she makes friends with a boy who lives next door to their new house. Her mother's repeated, unprovoked attacks on the girl become more violent; and when Annabelle angrily exclaims, "'I think I could kill you,'" Laurie feels an urgent need to find a way out of her situation. The book's strength lies in the realistic and believable portrayal of the young girl's frustration and helplessness; she does not trust adults and feels that they won't believe her. After Annabelle completely loses control and beats Laurie in front of the other children for the first time, there is a satisfying climax in which the woman's actions are finally revealed to her husband; later it is explained that Annabelle must receive psychiatric help. The illustrator, although not always accurate in detail, has the ability to portray emotions in an amazingly lifelike way.
THE MINDEN CURSE (1978)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 April 1978)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 46, no. 7 (1 April 1978): 376.
The Minden Curse —a knack for being at the wrong place at the right time—has obviously been passed on to eleven-year-old Danny. The minute he arrives at Indian Lake to spend the school year while his widowed photo-journalist dad is off in Ireland, Danny lands smack in the middle of two car accidents, a bank robbery, the near-drowning of a baby, and the kidnapping of Sir Angus MacDuff of Kentsbridge, the valuable Silky Terrier of rich Mrs. Trentwood. With the help of his mongrel Leroy (also afflicted with the "curse") and new friends C. B. (Clarissa Beatrix) and Paul, Danny cracks the case and decides that life in Indian Lake may not be so "boring" after all. Although the see-through mystery never once keeps you guessing, some readers may enjoy staying one step ahead of Danny and indeed, this would be pleasantly innocuous fare if not for Roberts' gratuitous sexist slurs. Except for boyish C. B., all the female characters are sourpusses or nincompoops, good only for baking pies or providing a laugh for their bemused, indulgent menfolk.
School Library Journal (review date May 1978)
SOURCE: School Library Journal 24, no. 9 (May 1978): 85.
The Minden Curse affects both Danny and his grandfather, with whom he is living at Indian Lake for the year his father is abroad, by causing them to arrive at the scene of any catastrophe that arises. The "curse" is really considered a blessing by Danny since it enlivens what promises to be a dull stay. Things look up when Danny adopts a gigantic stray mutt named Leroy and makes a new friend. With Clarissa Beatrix "C. B." Hope, Danny seeks the source of mysterious lights in an abandoned cottage by the lake. These investigations lead the kids into the middle of a dognapping plot, and they must race against time to rescue a pedigreed animal in a climax that wraps everything up with spirit. Danny's sexist attitude toward C. B. is annoying and only partially offset by her strong personality. However, although Willo Davis Roberts' plot rambles, it is action-filled and the lakeside setting along with Danny's new-kid insecurity have natural appeal.
Barbara Elleman (review date 1 May 1978)
SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Booklist 74, no. 17 (1 May 1978): 1438.
Being stuck in Indian Lake with Gramps and Aunt Mattie [The Minden Curse ] instead of traveling to Ireland with his photographer father is not Danny Minden's idea of an exciting year—until a huge affectionate dog named Leroy, curiosity about a series of strange happenings around town, and a meeting with a spunky girl called C. B. changes Danny's mind. Finding Leroy and himself proudly "afflicted" with the Minden Curse, Aunt Mattie's term for Gramps' propensity for always being present when anything unusual happens, pleases Danny, and the two plunge headlong into solving a mysterious case of petnapping. The offhand first-person narrative is somewhat rambling (perhaps more appropriately told by Gramps than Danny) but results in an easy-flowing, if less than intense, mystery. Roberts draws likable characters in Gramps, Danny, and Leroy and brightens the plot with plenty of humor.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date November 1978)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 32, no. 3 (November 1978): 51.
You couldn't convince Danny or Gramps that they didn't have the family curse [The Minden Curse ]of always being on the scene when things went wrong; if there was an accident, one of them was sure to be a witness. Or a bank robbery. They didn't see a valuable dog being kidnapped, but Danny—who had expected to be bored by a summer with Gramps and Aunt Mattie—managed to get on the track of the miscreants. This has writing as smooth as Roberts' earlier books, A View from the Cherry Tree and Don't Hurt Laurie! and it has action and humor, but it doesn't have the same kind of suspense or cohesion.
THE GIRL WITH THE SILVER EYES (1980)
Judie Thoms (review date November 1980)
SOURCE: Thoms, Judie. School Library Journal 27, no. 3 (November 1980): 79.
Silver eyes [The Girl with the Silver Eyes ] are not all that set ten-year-old Katie apart from her peers—she's able to move things by thinking about them and talk to animals. Living with her mother for the first time since she was three, Katie tries to adjust to the other adults in the building, to her mom's male friend, and to her own strange situation. Several encounters with unwelcome sitters and too curious neighbors climax in Katie's successful search for other children with psychokinetic powers whose mothers had been exposed to the same dangerous drug. The plot is smoothly paced, and Katie's character is truly believable.
Publishers Weekly (review date 5 December 1980)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 218, no. 23 (5 December 1980): 53.
Author of several splendid thrillers including A View from the Cherry Tree, Roberts tells the humorously hackle-raising tale [The Girl with the Silver Eyes ]of Katie Welker, a 10-year-old whose silver eyes and telekinetic powers have made people fear and avoid her. The young loner moves to her divorced mother's apartment after the death of her grandmother with whom she has lived for six years, and both mother and daughter are ill at ease. Katie determines to curb her powers but can't resist scaring a nasty sitter to get rid of her, causing more problems. Still, life brightens a bit until a stranger moves into the building and begins asking questions about Katie. The worried child runs off, in a desperate search for others she has heard of, three youngsters like herself, for possible answers to her dilemma and to the role of the strange man in their future.
MORE MINDEN CURSES (1980)
School Library Journal (review date May 1980)
SOURCE: School Library Journal 26, no. 9 (May 1980): 86.
Danny Minden from The Minden Curse (1978) is up to his ears in More Minden Curses. Rumor has it their father's fortune is hidden in the spooky house inhabited by elderly "Cat Ladies" Rosie and Anna Caspitorian. Someone is trying to drive the sisters out, as evidenced by several suspicious accidents which have befallen Miss Rosie and ghostly faces seen in the upstairs windows. Danny is trying to help the sisters and at the same time help himself (his initiation into a secret club at school requires that he capture Killer, a ferocious spitfire of a cat owned by the Caspitorians). The task seems hopeless when Killer disappears but Danny's search for the missing cat turns up the missing fortune as well. Indian Lake is the perfect locale for a good story that Willo Davis Roberts has filled with interesting characters, plots, and action.
Barbara Elleman (review date 15 June 1980)
SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Booklist 76, no. 20 (15 June 1980): 1534.
In The Minden Curse, Danny found that he, like his grandfather, was afflicted with a strange knack for landing where the action is. Evidence of the so-called curse resurfaces in this more cohesive tale [More Minden Curses ], where Danny finds himself involved with the eccentric Caspitorian sisters, dubbed the Cat Ladies, who live in a large Victorian house. Class bully Frankie challenges Danny to kidnap Killer, the sisters' large, black, feisty feline, and in trying to accomplish the task, Danny is plunged into a mystery, which has both suspenseful and humorous sides. With the help of friend C. B.—and hindrance from his dog, Leroy—he not only shows up Frankie but also helps to discover the old house's secret and to unveil the schemers who plot to outwit the owners. Despite its length, the pace is good and the well-integrated plot has enough appealing elements (ghosts, lost treasure, missing animal) to draw readers along.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 July 1980)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 48, no. 14 (15 July 1980): 911.
As in The Minden Curse (1978), eleven-year-old Danny Minden seems to turn up where "funny things happen" (such is the curse); and though few of them would occur outside a juvenile mystery, they do pose some real problems for Danny and bouncy C. B. (Clarissa Beatrix), his fellow newcomer in town. Somebody [More Minden Curses ] is out to make it appear that elderly Cat Ladies Rosie and Anna Caspitorian are too incapacitated and irresponsible to remain in their old castlelike house—where everyone believes their father stashed away a pile of money. Danny's come to know them and like them, so he's concerned; but he has a special interest in ingratiating himself because he's been set the near-impossible task of capturing the sisters' most formidable cat, "Killer," as his initiation into the fifth-grade boys' Secret Club. So when Miss Rosie is hospitalized after another "accident" and Danny is invited to stay with Miss Anna, he welcomes the chance to thwart both the Caspitorians' nasty nephew and their oily neighbors—whose ends (if not means) even the sisters spot—and the chance to bag Killer. Tripping up the money-seekers turns out to be less difficult than netting Killer, who ups and disappears. And why do the sisters, who've assured Danny they have resources nobody suspects, speak of the cat in the same breath? Danny has a flash: the cat's fancy collar—a sign, to some, of the sisters' irresponsibility—might contain real diamonds (he's right); and he has a shock: the cat was overpowered and hidden and left for almost-dead by Danny's nemesis, the club bully. The windup finds the sisters spared further harassment and Danny opting out of the club: it was wrong to think of capturing Killer in the first place. Roberts needn't have had all the other kids follow his lead, but the cat aspect gives this some gut-interest that neither the sisters' familiar predicament nor the transparent villains provide.
HOUSE OF FEAR (1983)
Sally Estes (review date 1 February 1984)
SOURCE: Estes, Sally. Booklist 80, no. 11 (1 February 1984): 809.
Sent to stay with her godmother while her parents are in New York for three months [House of Fear ], 17-year-old Brooke Stannings and her 9-year-old brother, Tim, are confronted by a hostile companion/housekeeper who refuses to let them see Miss Tansy because the old lady has suffered a stroke. When Brooke is unable to get in touch with her parents, the housekeeper reluctantly lets them stay. Brooke's suspicions are aroused not only by the housekeeper and equally surly yardman but also by a young man who answers an ad for a cook to live in the house. Even though the outcome is predictable, the suspense is maintained well enough for nondemanding readers, and a budding romance adds appeal to this latest entry in Scholastic's contemporary gothic line.
Nancy E. Black (review date April 1984)
SOURCE: Black, Nancy E. School Library Journal 30, no. 8 (April 1984): 125.
Formula writing, replete with contrived events, predictable plots and flat characters, [this] book nonetheless [has an] unusual setting with each chapter invariably ending in a cliffhanger.… In House of Fear, Brooke, her brother Tim and friend Jack try to save elderly Tansy Snow from criminals posing as servants attempting to kill Tansy to benefit from her will. This one rates the best in terms of plot, writing and interest level.
NO MONSTERS IN THE CLOSET (1983)
Publishers Weekly (review date 16 December 1983)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 224, no. 25 (16 December 1983): 72.
Roberts is one of the well-known, popular authors who are initiating the Escapade line, moderately priced adventures that should be immensely successful. Steve Quentin, 12, narrates the story [No Monsters in the Closet ] of predicaments arising from his curiosity about the three rough men hanging around the old, long-vacant Hanson house in his neighborhood. The galumphing puppy adopted by Steve's little sister snags the loiterers' lunch, hamburgers that the boy recognizes as the best in town, made by Rotten Ralph, and the dog also snatches a watch from the Hanson place. What Steve and his friends find when he returns the watch incites them to hatch a plan to catch the men who seem to be up to no good. And the suspenseful, funny, swift tale whirls to a surprise finish.
Barbara Elleman (review date 15 February 1984)
SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Booklist 80, no. 12 (15 February 1984): 861.
Steve, who enjoys scaring his younger sister with stories about monsters in the closet, finds himself in a frightening situation when he begins investigating some strange goings-on in a nearby boarded-up house [No Monsters in the Closet ]. However, it's the family's recently adopted puppy, Sandy, a Great Dane with an insatiable appetite, that propels Steve into the middle of a pirated tape cassette rip-off game headquartered in the old house. Short and readable, this lacks the well-honed style usually found in Roberts' books, but is nevertheless a fast-paced story peopled with characters who have surefire appeal.
Drew Stevenson (review date May 1984)
SOURCE: Stevenson, Drew. School Library Journal 30 (May 1984): 101.
The "Escapade" series will be welcomed by librarians frustrated by the lack of good mysteries for middle-grade readers. It offers large print and short chapters; the unintimidating formats should also attract reluctant readers. While the plots are not particularly distinctive or memorable, they are entertaining and hold interest … In No Monsters in the Closet, Stevie and his buddies investigate a supposedly haunted house and uncover an illegal music tape duplicating ring.
THE PET-SITTING PERIL (1983)
Barbara Elleman (review date 1 March 1983)
SOURCE: Elleman, Barbara. Booklist 79, no. 13 (1 March 1983): 910.
Nick's various pet-sitting jobs take him often to 1230 Hillsdale, an old Victorian house turned apartment building [The Pet-Sitting Peril ]. Although he enjoys his customers (except Eloise, a large, feisty Persian) and their owners (especially feeble Mr. Haggard), Nick finds the unexpectedly dark hallway uncomfortable. Suspicious events build until one night Nick and his friend Stan notice a fire and turn on the alarm only to find themselves prime suspects. The arsonists return again, however, and this time Nick and the pets are the sole occupants of the old house. Roberts uses tension well, inserting touches of humor and some well-developed characters to give the story dimension. This has all the elements of a popular read and is topped off with high-quality writing. A winner.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date April 1983)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 36, no. 8 (April 1983): 157.
At first, Nick's only summer job was walking old Mr. Haggard's dog [The Pet-Sitting Peril ]; then other people living in the same building as Mr. Haggard asked Nick to care for their pets. Save for one uncooperative cat, all went well; what bothered Nick was not the pets but something odd about the building. Lights went out just after being replaced; a can of gas disappeared; one dog barked at something or someone; there was a mysterious trash fire that Nick and his friend Sam extinguished. The clues lead logically to a solution, with Sam and the pets triumphing over the two men who have been hired to burn down the building, in a dramatic confrontation that is just a bit contrived. This is not as firmly structured as other books by Roberts, but it has suspense despite the erratic pace; although most of the characters are not fully developed, they are believable, and the writing style is smooth.
Drew Stevenson (review date May 1983)
SOURCE: Stevenson, Drew. School Library Journal 29, no. 9 (May 1983): 93.
Eleven-year-old Nick Reed has a job caring for pets in an old Victorian house [The Pet-Sitting Peril ]. The first clue that something strange is going on is when the porch and hall lights keep going out at night. Then Nick and his friend Sam find the street light off and a fire burning against the back wall of the house. Nick continues to fulfill his pet-sitting responsibilities until one night he finds himself completely alone in the apartment house. Alone, that is, except for the pets and the two arsonists who have returned to finish their torch job. With the help of the pets Nick manages to foil the arsonists and again saves the house. The bungling methods of the arsonists seem contrived to create dramatic situations rather than to be realistic. Fortunately, Nick is a likable soul and the climax is both funny and exciting enough to hold up the overextended plot.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 May 1983)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 51, no. 9 (1 May 1983): 524.
Another [The Pet-Sitting Peril ] smooth, tightly-plotted mix of psychological unknotting and scare-surmounting from the author of The Minden Curse and umpteen others. There are animals on the premises again too: the assorted dogs and cats belonging to the assorted tenants of 1230 Hillsdale Street that undersize, nearly-twelve Mike has, to his gratitude, been hired to walk or feed or, when their owners are all variously and simultaneously absent, to sit with. The job gives Mike some leverage with 14-year-old brother Barney, the one member of his largish, all-pitch-in family who rides him. It also hooks him up with new, "real cute" Melody (in Barney's approving assessment), who moves in next door to 1230 and has a way with cats. But chiefly it pitches him into the "mystery" of the disappearing hall lights, the suspicious fire, and finally the arson attempt on the old, unprofitable rental property—by owner Mr. Hale, which any reader will guess from his first, carefully planted gripes. Still and all, reasonably snappy and pretty informative on the fire department/arson scene.
EDDIE AND THE FAIRY GODPUPPY (1984)
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date March 1984)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 37, no. 7 (March 1984): 134.
This [Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy ] might almost have been designed as a television script, since it has a sure-fire plot (a scamp of an orphan who gets adopted by the person for whom he cares most) and an engaging protagonist, and a puppy smuggled into a Children's Home, and a kindly handyman, and a cross housekeeper. Fortunately, the style is light, and the story is believably concocted if not impressive in either theme or structure.
Irene Cooper (review date 15 March 1984)
SOURCE: Cooper, Irene. Booklist 80, no. 14 (15 March 1984): 1066.
Eddie [Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy ] is a 10-year-old orphan who lives at the small Riverpark Children's Home. He is sure he will be there until he is a man—who wants to adopt a homely, red-haired kid who's always spilling or breaking things? Miss Susan, the school administrator, adores Eddie and tries to persuade him he's wrong, but the strict matron, Miss Mundy, agrees with the boy's assessment of himself and his situation. When a puppy appears on the grounds under strange circumstances, Eddie willingly accepts the explanation given to him by the handyman: the dog is magic. Maybe he is even Eddie's fairy godpuppy. Eddie sure could use one, so he names the dog F. G. P. For an animal that's supposed to be magic, F. G. P. manages to cause as much trouble as Eddie. Young readers will like the gentle, often humorous story that evolves as Eddie tries to keep the puppy away from the allergic matron and other prying eyes. There is even some pathos when Eddie learns that his best friend is leaving and that Miss Susan is getting married and moving away. But the ending will seem pat even to this crowd. Eddie is adopted by Miss Susan and her husband on their wedding day, and F. G. P. is given to Eddie by the handyman who took him so he wouldn't be discovered. Easily read, lower middle-grade fare.
Marguerite F. Raybould (review date May 1984)
SOURCE: Raybould, Marguerite F. School Library Journal 30, no. 9 (May 1984): 84.
Nine-year-old Eddie is convinced he will be left at the Riverpark Children's Home forever [Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy ]. He finds an abandoned puppy, and Mr. Caw, who is painting the orphanage, suggests the puppy may be magic: a fairy godpuppy. Eddie clings to this belief in the hope that he may get a real family. When Eddie's dream of living with Mr. Caw and his wife falls through and his favorite social worker announces her plans to marry and move away, he is bereft and plans to run away. Slight humor comes from Eddie's accident-prone tendencies, and minor suspense is supplied by hiding the puppy; there is not enough of either to keep the story moving. Also, Eddie and the other characters are two-dimensional and their conversations are lackluster; the comparison of Eddie's youthful impulsiveness with the puppy's is forced. Most readers will not read as far as the predictable, happy ending in which Eddie gets a loving family—and F. G. P. to keep.
THE SNIPER (1984)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 February 1984)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 52, no. 4 (15 February 1984): 176.
In a small town near Seattle [The Sniper ] live Jane Madison, her twelve-year-old brother Teddy, and their widowed mother Muriel—a trio on the hard-working edge of poverty. Then Jane inherits a big Victorian house from miserly Uncle Addison; his aged, active sister/housekeeper Bea comes with the property. And so, in short order, Jane and Bea are joining forces, renting extra rooms to some of Bea's friends and enjoying a slightly improved quality of life. But … what about that series of killings of elderly neighborhood women? Or the subsequent near-killing of Charlie Silvers, one of the house's boarders? Or an attack on Muriel inside the house? Jane, a bright young thing, quits her job, finds another, starts a new romance with handsome policeman Jeff Carey—and even has time to figure out the killer's identity … with the reader way ahead of her. Still: a mildly entertaining, cheerful, unpretentious story—supplying a fair measure of suspense on the way to a happy ending.
Publishers Weekly (review date 23 March 1984)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 225, no. 12 (23 March 1984): 68.
The inheritance of an old boarding-house and its odd assortment of lodgers ends, for a time, the financial woes of young Jane Madison, her mother Muriel and her kid brother Teddy [The Sniper ]. There's trouble, though, in the neighborhood they've moved into—a sniper is on the loose, shooting elderly women. When Teddy stumbles onto the body of a fresh victim and Muriel is attacked one night on the stairs, Jane must contend with the attentions of a handsome, concerned policeman and her own growing suspicion that the murderer is an inhabitant of the house. Briskly moving and filled with vignettes of daily life—shopping malls, bingo games, boring jobs—this is another satisfying offering from the veteran mystery author.
Diana Hirsch (review date October 1984)
SOURCE: Hirsch, Diana. School Library Journal 31, no. 2 (October 1984): 177.
Roberts is up to her suspenseful best in this mystery [The Sniper ] which will appeal to her fans as well as those of Mary Higgins Clark. Jane Madison led a dull life, working for an insurance company, dating an unexciting man and living with her 12-year-old brother and widowed mother. When she inherits a large Victorian house from a distant uncle, she converts it into a boarding home for several elderly women and enjoys her independence. The murder of two elderly women within a few blocks of her new house destroys her sense of security and well-being, and the terror increases when it becomes apparent that she might be the sniper's next victim. Fast, spine-tingling reading with a hint of romance. The only drawback is the book's dull cover.
BABY-SITTING IS A DANGEROUS JOB (1985)
Publishers Weekly (review date 22 February 1985)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 227, no. 7 (22 February 1985): 157.
Roberts's latest [Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job ] matches her previous mysteries in electrifying suspense and introduces an appealing 13-year-old heroine, the narrator Darcy. Sitting afternoons with the three Foster offspring is grueling, but Darcy regards the fat fee as worth the trouble. Then comes the day when kidnappers invade the house and carry off the children, forcing Darcy to go with them when she lets slip the fact that she recognizes them. The older man is the father of Darcy's classmate Diane, who has run away from home to escape his beatings. The others are Diane's no-good brothers. Aware that the survival of her charges and herself depends on persuading them to trust and obey her, Darcy proves to be a remarkably dependable and courageous girl in the crises that ramify from the crime. Readers will applaud her triumph, which also effects Diane's release from a brutal household.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date March 1985)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 38, no. 7 (March 1985): 134.
Darcy, the thirteen-year-old narrator, thought she had been trailed by two men in a black car on the day she first interviewed for the babysitting job [Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job ]. But she must have been wrong, why would they be interested in her? They weren't; as Darcy realized all too soon, the men had been gathering information before kidnapping the three children with whom she was sitting; it was the wealthy Fosters who were the ransom victims, and Darcy had simply been picked up because she had blurted out the fact that she knew who the men were (the father and brothers of a physically abused classmate). Darcy and the oldest Foster (Jeremy, six) outwit the kidnappers in a believable way, their ploy taking place just as the police come to the rescue. The story has good style and structure, suspense and brisk pace, and a much subtler presentation of characters and relationships than is usually found in an adventure story.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 March 1985)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 53, nos. 1-5 (1 March 1985): J-13.
Don't toss off the title [Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job ] as a joke: true, narrator Darcy (rising "thirteen and a half") has her hands full sitting for the privileged, under-parented Foster young: Shana, two; Melissa, four; Jeremy, six. But this is about their kidnapping, Darcy in tow: a horror scenario that, for better or worse, isn't credible or scary. (No nightmares are in prospect—neither is edge-of-the-chair reading.) The very day that Darcy goes for her interview with "Mrs./Dr. Foster" (a psychiatrist, wouldn't you know), a black car tails her. Said black car is suspiciously around at other times too—but maybe just out of male interest in Darcy and boy crazyish friend Irene (the most natural thought here). Meanwhile Darcy is deciding, with some OK help from her mother, that the Foster children crave attention. And also meanwhile, classmate Diana Hazen, whose father beats her, has run away again: Darcy and Irene hide her, provisionally, in a tree house. Putting one and one together, it's the Hazens (father, brothers) who've been casing the Foster domicile, and who now abduct Darcy and the tots. The book's second, sluggish half has to do with Darcy's attempt to fool or foil the captors. There's an oafish brother who lets down his guard playing TV games with whiz-kid Jeremy; there are guard dogs with a weakness for little children. And, the ransom paid, all ends well and properly: the kids are in hiding, when the police arrive. At one point Darcy wisely doesn't open the Foster door for a suspect repairman; and the discussion of runaway Diana's legal/social welfare situation is instructive. But in general Roberts is out of her wholesome, whimsical element here.
School Library Journal (review date May 1985)
SOURCE: School Library Journal 31, no. 9 (May 1985): 110.
Thirteen-year-old Darcy Stevens discovers that Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job when she agrees to care for the three children of the wealthy Fosters. A black car seems to follow her just after she accepts the job; a man claiming to be from the gas company tries to get into the house, and the house's burglar alarm suddenly goes off. Before she knows what's happening, Darcy and the children are kidnapped and taken to a remote house in the country. When Darcy recognizes her captors and lets them know that she knows who they are, she has to wonder if they can afford to let her go even after Mr. Foster has paid the ransom money. Still, Darcy keeps her wits about her and, although locked in the house with the kidnappers plus two ferocious guard dogs, she helps to guide rescuers in while keeping her captors at bay. Kidnapping stories for young readers have been done before, and Roberts breaks no new ground here. She has, however, written a solid suspense story and given a very resourceful young girl plenty of chances to show her mettle.
Irene Cooper (review date 1 May 1985)
SOURCE: Cooper, Irene. Booklist 81, no. 17 (1 May 1985): 1258.
Darcy has done some baby-sitting before, but never for three such potentially bratty children [Baby Sitting Is a Dangerous Job ]. Jeremy, Melissa, and Shana Foster are the children of a psychiatrist mother and banker father. Their house boasts a swimming pool, giant playhouse, and every game and toy seen on television. What the kids lack, however, is parental attention, and Darcy is relieved she will only be baby-sitting while the Fosters' housekeeper is having daily appointments with the dentist. Almost immediately, however, strange things begin happening, and it seems as though someone is trying to break into the house. Though Darcy performs her sitting responsibilities well, she cannot prevent a kidnapping that finds her and her charges in the hands of three dangerous men. Roberts' decision to link the kidnappers to an abused schoolmate of Darcy's seems forced, but the rest of the story moves along briskly as Darcy and the three children use their wits to escape from their captors. A solid adventure with more than a few spine-tingling moments.
Childhood Education (review date September-October 1985)
SOURCE: Childhood Education 62, no. 1 (September-October 1985): 56.
A likable, competent 13-year-old [Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job ] finds herself matching wits with a trio of kidnappers holding her and her three wealthy young charges in a deserted estate. Six-year-old Jeremy, her former aggressive opponent, now becomes her ally as the two of them tame the guard dogs and set loose a nest of angry wasps on the kidnappers. Well plotted and subplotted, this makes entertaining reading.
THE MAGIC BOOK (1986)
Virginia Golodetz (review date May 1986)
SOURCE: Golodetz, Virginia. School Library Journal 32, no. 9 (May 1986): 97.
A book of magic spells and potions falls mysteriously into 12-year-old Alex's hands [The Magic Book ]. When the book opens itself to a page describing a spell that will make a bully change his ways, Alex knows that this is just what he needs to deal with Norman, the class bully. Alex and two friends try the spell on Norman, and they stalk him to see what will happen. It is unclear which is more effective in teaching Norman that it hurts to be a victim—the injury he receives during the earthquake that occurs after the spell is cast or the unnerving effect of being stalked. Exciting events such as boilers blowing up and midnight visits to graveyards are attention-getters, but they overshadow Alex's accomplishment of being able to stand up to the bully when he terrorizes Alex's younger brother. Alex knows that the self-confidence he gains by his act of bravery will help him more than magic spells, but readers might miss the point. Magic potions that smoke and smell, combined with a bully story, are sure to interest young readers. The main characters are well developed and the story moves along briskly, but it is too bad that the theme of learning to stand up to a bully gets muddled by the magic.
Irene Cooper (review date 15 May 1986)
SOURCE: Cooper, Irene. Booklist 82, no. 18 (15 May 1986): 1400.
When Alex goes to the library's used book sale, he notices a strange thing [The Magic Book ]. An old black book that keeps inexplicably tumbling off the table has his name in it. The title—Magic Spells and Potions for the Beginner—is certainly intriguing, and the spell that describes how to disarm a bully speaks directly to Alex' current problem. Norm Winthrop, who delights in getting kids into trouble or giving them the sly push—or worse—always has his eye on Alex. Alex takes the book home, but when he looks for the bully spell, he can't seem to find it. There are, however, other charms that look interesting; Alex and his friends, in whom he has confided, give them a try. Naturally, the unexpected happens, and when the time comes to hex Norm, that too works itself out in a peculiar way. The story has a couple of hexes too many, but its humor, good pace, and mysterious happenings have innate appeal. At the book's conclusion, it is Norm who has the magic book, paving the way for a possible sequel.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (review date June 1986)
SOURCE: Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 39, no. 10 (June 1986): 195.
The narrator [The Magic Book ], Alex, resents being persecuted by Norm Winthrop, the school bully. Therefore when he finds a book of directions for magical spells, his one goal is casting a spell that will repel a bully. Oddly, although he's seen the title for such a spell, it then disappears from the book. Alex and his chum try a few other spells which do seem to work; eventually the bully-spell turns up again, the fateful ingredients are mixed, and they work. Or do they? Like every previous spell, there's the alternative possibility of a logical explanation. That the book of the title introduces a fantasy element, there's no question, since there are several episodes in which it moves by itself. This isn't a very convincing blend of realism and fantasy, and although it has some humor and is written with brisk pace and casual flow, it is weaker in structure and development than most of the author's previous books.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 June 1986)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 54, no. 11 (1 June 1986): 866-67.
An old book of magic [The Magic Book ] falls into Alex's life from a table at a book sale. He sees his name written on the flyleaf; inside is a recipe for a "Spell to end a bully's ways," which seems the solution to Alex's worst problem: an archetypical monster of a classmate, Norm.
Then the spell for bullies seems to vanish, but others tempt Alex and his friends to assemble such things as rat's toenails and tombstone moss and work spells to close school on Friday, raise their grades, and eliminate delays in the bathroom. Finally, after Norm has taken Alex's little brother and has become Nazi-like in nastiness, the spell to squelch a bully reappears. Many spells come together in one grand denouement; Alex, terrified by his success, dumps the fatal book at another book sale. He sees Norm approach—and the book falls open at the bully's feet.
Although Alex and his friends are muzzy at first, they become well-turned people by the end. Norm, however, is so one-sidedly evil that a scene in which his mother yells at him would evoke sympathy from any other mother, rather than pity for the bully. When Norm is endowed with magic powers, the threat of violence is disconcerting. While Alex has learned that using magic can get out of control, the bully has a different ethic; we are not convinced that Alex's spell will "put an end to the bully's ways."
SUGAR ISN'T EVERYTHING (1987)
Publishers Weekly (review date 13 March 1987)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 231, no. 8 (13 March 1987): 85.
With this coping-with-diabetes novel [Sugar Isn't Everything ], Roberts sets out mainly to provide information, since she herself is a recently diagnosed diabetic. Still, her fictional format works smoothly. Eleven-year-old Amy wonders what's wrong—she's ravenous, can't get enough juice and has to run to the bathroom often. After she collapses, her disease is diagnosed and she begins the long road toward adjustment. Readers find out that forward-thinking hospitals allow children to visit patients, hold classes and support groups for adolescents and give people the courage to inject themselves. Roberts infuses her characters with believable thoughts and emotions—Amy wonders if she'll ever feel normal again and realizes people are glad they don't have her bad luck. A useful book for other chronic illnesses as well, particularly its discussion of anger.
Patricia Manning (review date May 1987)
SOURCE: Manning, Patricia. School Library Journal 33, no. 8 (May 1987): 103-04.
While this [Sugar Isn't Everything ] reads like a case history or a manual for newly diagnosed diabetics, it also will have appeal for readers of realistic problem novels. Amy, 11, is hiding her diabetic symptoms as the book begins, not knowing what they are. Her overwhelming hunger and thirst, her fatigue, and her frequent need to urinate are masked with the determination that only a budding adolescent who doesn't want to appear "different" can muster. Complete collapse ensues, and friends, family, teachers, and Amy herself must make the painful, permanent adjustments to her new condition. It's difficult for all, but more so for Amy because the adjustments are forever. As Amy discovers, diabetes is a lonely disease, for diabetics look—and are—well while their systems are in balance, so support, empathy, and sympathy from others can be spasmodic, even when welcome. While the plot follows a predictable line, and most of the characters never truly come to life, the book is empathy-inducing. For young diabetics, it is bibliotherapy. For non-diabetics, it is informative about a silent, potentially life-threatening illness and its treatment. It certainly has a place on the shelf—and may circulate a good deal of the time.
MEGAN'S ISLAND (1988)
Publishers Weekly (review date 26 February 1988)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 233, no. 8 (26 February 1988): 198.
Megan and her brother never thought about their tumbleweed life-style [Megan's Island ]; Mother is on the go, always looking for a better job. But this time their mother packs them up without allowing Megan to tell her best friend. Megan and Sandy are worried; their mother seems frightened and tells them they'll be "safe" with Grandfather in the lake country of Minnesota. Someone is looking for them, and though Grandfather doesn't tell them everything, Megan is able to piece together the story. Years before, their father was jailed and Megan's wealthy paternal grandfather tried to wrest Sandy and Megan from their mother. A couple of bad guys show up, but they are foiled, leaving Megan and her family to sort out their problems and stop running at last. Appealing setting and engaging subplots add much to this entertaining, if somewhat predictable novel.
Ruth Sadasivan (review date April 1988)
SOURCE: Sadasivan, Ruth. School Library Journal 34, no. 8 (April 1988): 104.
Megan Collier [Megan's Island ] is shocked when her mother takes her and her brother, Sandy, to their grandfather's isolated cottage in the middle of the night without a word of explanation. Megan is further disturbed by evidence that three strangers are spying on them. With their mother away and their grandfather injured, Megan and Sandy turn to their nearest neighbor, a smart but sometimes obnoxious boy named Ben, for help. Suspense is built slowly but convincingly. With the exception of a few shadowy minor characters, the people are well rounded. Ben is especially complex. Unfortunately, in portraying Megan's gradual acceptance of Ben as a friend, Roberts comes suspiciously close to moralizing. His family situation, being shuttled back and forth between divorced parents, neither of whom appears to want him, contrasts a little too neatly with Megan and Sandy's situation of being sought after by too many people. Despite these flaws and occasional plot lapses into predictability and implausibility, Megan's Island succeeds both as an entertaining mystery and as a novel about human relationships.
Publishers Weekly (review date 25 August 1989)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 236, no. 8 (25 August 1989): 64.
Seventeen-year-old Nick Corelli enters a world of exciting drama when a man falls from an overpass and crashes onto his car [Nightmare ]. Although the incident is ruled suicide, Nick is haunted by the terrified expression on the victim's face, and is convinced that the man had no intention of taking his own life. In order to escape the ordeal which has brought him recurring nightmares, Nick plans a trip to visit his older brother in Texas. After crossing the Arizona border, Nick discovers that a neighbor, 15-year-old Daisy, has stowed away in the back of his parents' motor home. It is Daisy who first notices that they are being followed by the same blue Thunderbird that was spotted near the scene of Nick's accident. Action rises to a climax when Nick and Daisy fail to give their pursuers the slip and are cornered in Galveston. Readers may piece together the clues of this mystery more quickly than the protagonist. Although characters and plot appear somewhat formulaic and action is unevenly paced, this novel offers enough suspense to gratify most action/adventure fans.
Maria B. Salvadore (review date September 1989)
SOURCE: Salvadore, Maria B. School Library Journal 35, no. 13 (September 1989): 276.
Seventeen-year-old Nick Corelli's life had been going along fairly well until [Nightmare ], in one nightmarish day, his steady girl drops him, the relationship with his new stepfather becomes shakier, and a man falling from an overpass smashes into his windshield. That night, someone breaks into his home and shoots Nick's dog. The police rule Paul Valerian's death a suicide, but Nick's nightmares continue as he recalls the look on the man's face, a look that clearly ruled out suicide. To get away for a while, Nick drives the family's motorhome from California to Texas to visit his brother, but instead of getting away, he finds himself in the middle of a murderous adventure. This taut mystery is satisfyingly resolved, as are Nick's relationships. It is a mostly plausible tale which moves along at a fast pace, and most of the characters are likable and interact believably. Some, however, are clichéd; the bad guys with Italian names, Sal and Vito, are Mafia-like, shadowy, and remorseless. Nonetheless, Roberts has created a convincing enough thriller that is comparable to her View from the Cherry Tree (1975).
Ethel R. Twichell (review date November 1989)
SOURCE: Twichell, Ethel R. Horn Book Magazine 65, no. 6 (November 1989): 776.
Having a man's body hurtle down from an overpass onto the hood of his car is a horrifying and unnerving experience for seventeen-year-old Nick Corelli [Nightmare ] and a dramatic beginning to an absorbing tale of pursuit and excitement. Although entirely innocent of causing the accident, Nick now finds other odd and threatening events beginning to follow him. His family's house is broken into, and only Nick's room is torn apart during the intruder's hasty search. Later, driving the family motor home through desert country to visit his brother, Nick and his next-door neighbor Daisy—an unwarranted stowaway—find they are being followed mile after mile by a blue Thunderbird and a red Camaro. The author sustains the pace well and develops Nick's grudging acceptance of "dorky" Daisy into a companionable and perhaps even affectionate relationship. The menace of their unknown pursuers is carefully maintained, growing in gradual stages from mere uneasiness to a wild and exciting finale. As in many suspense stories, the conclusion seems a bit farfetched, but the reader has been given a good ride.
Jim Lauritsen (review date March 1990)
SOURCE: Lauritsen, Jim. Book Report 8, no. 5 (March 1990): 34-5.
Nick begins his day on the wrong foot when he finds his steady girl with a college man. Upset, he goes home but finds no sympathy from his apathetic step-father. So Nick goes out for a ride, and, as he drives under an overpass, a man falls and lands on his car. The police write this off as a suicide, but Nick cannot forget the man's expression as he hit the car and is not convinced. Also, an eyewitness confirms that the dead man was not alone on the overpass. Now the nightmare really begins. A series of disasters befall Nick, including his dog being shot by an intruder and his home being broken into and his room ransacked. Nick cannot figure out who is looking for something he has, nor does he know what he has that anyone would want. In order to get away from his troubles, Nick takes his family's motorhome from California to visit his brother in Texas. He finds his 16-year-old neighbor, Daisy, has stowed away on the motorhome, which is followed all the way to Texas by two men who match descriptions of those seen on the overpass just before the one man fell. This story reads quickly with a tight plot. The reader is kept in suspense until the end, when the reason that the men follow Nick is revealed: He (unknowingly) had the dead man's keys to a locker of money, and the bad guys are bank robbers. Characters are well drawn, and Nick develops nicely from his experiences.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG? (1989)
Bruce Ann Shook (review date March 1989)
SOURCE: Shook, Bruce Ann. School Library Journal 35, no. 7 (March 1989): 178.
An enjoyable if somewhat slow-moving mystery/adventure tale [What Could Go Wrong? ]. When their Aunt Molly invites cousins Gracie, Eddie, and Charlie to fly from Seattle to San Francisco for a visit, they are elated. Before they board the airplane, Gracie picks up a discarded newspaper and befriends an elderly woman who is nervous about flying. These seemingly innocent actions lead to an unscheduled landing due to a bomb threat, a mugging of the old woman, and the children's growing conviction that someone is out to get them. The mystery centers around the newspaper, which contains a message concealed in the crossword puzzle. By the time they reach San Francisco, the young people have deciphered the message, been locked in a room by money-laundering criminals, and rescued by an FBI agent. Gracie, 11, narrates this tale of intrigue. She comes across as a friendly, likable character with a penchant for helping others and a strong desire to stay out of trouble. Charlie, the oldest and most sophisticated of the trio, has a reputation for turning any event he is involved with into trouble, but this time the trouble finds him. Eddie, the youngest, is naive but feisty. In places readers may wish for less talk and more action, although toward the end there is plenty of excitement as the children are pursued and captured by the criminals. The offense—laundering money—may be hard for young readers to understand. Overall, this is a welcome contribution to collections in which mysteries are in demand.
Publishers Weekly (review date 24 March 1989)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 235, no. 12 (24 March 1989): 72.
When cousins Gracie, Charlie and Eddie are invited to fly to San Francisco to visit their Aunt Molly [What Could Go Wrong? ], Gracie's mother decides they may go, musing "What could go wrong?" If only she had known about the man in the Hawaiian shirt carrying a newspaper with a mysterious code written on it. Or about the bomb threat that forces the plane to make an unscheduled landing in Portland. Or about the strange disappearance of Mrs. Basker, a kind, old lady who befriends the children on the airplane. Since it is her first plane trip, Gracie wonders if her imagination is teasing her; then she realizes that she and her cousins are inadvertently involved in an exciting, frightening adventure. Lively prose and strong characterizations make an ordinary event—a first plane ride—into an extraordinary backdrop for a mystery. Roberts's clever plot enhances the suspenseful and unexpectedly humorous story.
Nancy Vasilakis (review date May 1989)
SOURCE: Vasilakis, Nancy. Horn Book Magazine 65, no. 3 (May 1989): 373.
For those who never have enough books to satisfy the appetites of that vast middle-grade audience looking for another good mystery, this book [What Could Go Wrong? ] will fit the bill nicely. Three cousins, led by the irresistible but accident-prone Charlie, are waiting at the airport in Seattle for a plane to take them to visit their aunt in San Francisco. Gracie, the female component of this threesome, innocently picks up a newspaper with a coded message penciled into the crossword puzzle, and the game is on. By the time she realizes her mistake, the cousins have endured bomb threats, have been witness to the mugging of a fellow passenger, and have found a briefcase full of money, all the while being followed from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco by a suspicious-looking character. They finally come up against an FBI agent with whose help they capture the criminals—members, it turns out, of an international stolen-car ring. Most of the action takes place in airport terminals, where the rushed, impersonal ambience adds to the breathless tone of the narrative. Cliff-hanging chapter endings build suspense, and well-developed main characters lend substance. While the book doesn't possess the taut, dense qualities of the author's thriller The View from the Cherry Tree, it's just as hard to put down.
TO GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE WE GO (1990)
Barbara Hutcheson (review date April 1990)
SOURCE: Hutcheson, Barbara. School Library Journal 36, no. 4 (April 1990): 122.
To avoid being sent to separate foster homes while their mother recuperates from a heart attack [To Grandmother's House We Go ], Rosie, 10, and her two brothers run away to the grandmother they have never met because of a long-term family rift. They find their grandmother, but she is distinctly unwelcoming, and her house, rather than being a refuge, is as cold as she. Their Uncle George seems friendlier, but there is a third, unseen resident, an obscure face at an upstairs window, a visitor in the night, that both their grandmother and their uncle pretend to ignore. Rosie and the boys now face the triple dilemma of convincing Grandmother to keep them, of wanting to solve the family mystery, and of dealing with their fear of having to live, even briefly, in a house that appears to be haunted. This seems to be the season for Jane Eyre spin-offs, with this novel leaning even more heavily on the Victorian classic than Hila Feil's Blue Moon (1990). This may be because the age level at which Roberts is aiming is too young to have read the original. But, without giving away the game, the formula is there and will be recognizable to more experienced readers. This being so, the solution of the mystery is a little too predictable. However, Roberts has a real sense of how children view the sometimes puzzling behavior of adults and the ability to depict their reactions believably. Most of the story is seen through the eyes of Rosie, but older Kevin and younger Nathan have distinct personalities as well. Refreshingly, adult characters are not reduced to the stereotypes too often found in contemporary children's novels. The runaway plan and its resolution are realistically developed. Suspense is well maintained, and is just scary enough, making this a good addition to mystery shelves.
Ethel R. Twichell (review date May 1990)
SOURCE: Twichell, Ethel R. Horn Book Magazine 66, no. 3 (May 1990): 335-36.
Imagine a combination of Jane Eyre and Cynthia Voigt's Homecoming, and you have another of Willo Davis Roberts's well plotted and absorbing mysteries [To Grandmother's House We Go ]. With their father dead, their mother seriously ill in a hospital, and assignment to foster homes a real possibility, Kevin, Rosie, and Nate run away and arrive on the doorstep of their stern, unwelcoming grandmother and their elderly Uncle George. Grudgingly—and temporarily—allowed to stay in the rundown old house, they quickly become aware of puzzling inconsistencies. In a house without visitors, why is there a third rocking chair on the porch? Whose is the face peering out of an upstairs window? Just who paid a midnight visit to Rosie's room and left a small bunch of flowers? Kevin, Rosie, and Nate also wonder why, years ago, their grandmother had given away her young daughters—the children's mother and aunt—instead of raising them herself. The puzzles are all satisfactorily solved with enough suspense and creepiness thrown in to keep young readers interested right up to the final moment.
SCARED STIFF (1991)
Diane Roback and Richard Donahue (review date 21 December 1990)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, and Richard Donahue. Publishers Weekly 237, no. 51 (21 December 1990): 57.
Once again Roberts (The Magic Book ; Nightmare ) has written an enticing, suspenseful mystery for young readers [Scared Stiff ]. Rick, 11, knows his mother did not abandon him and his younger brother Kenny, even if the police do not believe them. Rick had seen her talking anxiously with someone in a black car, and he is convinced this is related to Ma's disappearance. While she is missing, the boys stay with their uncle, who lives in a trailer adjacent to the deserted Wonderland Amusement Park. The brothers explore the park with adventurous Julie and Connie, who befriend them. Since the police are unwilling to investigate, Connie convinces Rick that they must track down Ma themselves. The plot's exciting climax takes place in Wonderland's slippery, winding Pirate's Cave. The clever sleuthing and intriguing setting will make readers want to ride this one to the finish.
Connie Tyrrell Burns (review date March 1991)
SOURCE: Burns, Connie Tyrrell. School Library Journal 37, no. 3 (March 1991): 194, 196.
Eleven-year-old narrator Rick Van Huler learns that troubles do indeed come in threes [Scared Stiff ]: a load of TVs is stolen from his father's tractor-trailer rig, his father walks out after an argument with his mother, who is then kidnapped. Rick and his younger brother go to live with their great-uncle Henry in his converted school bus in an RV park across from Wonderland, a shutdown amusement park. While searching for their mother, the boys uncover a hijacking operation and an insurance scam. The theme of abandonment pervades the novel and, as a symbol of this, the amusement park provides a suspenseful, spooky backdrop. The brisk pace, fluid style, and excitement of the novel are sure to entertain readers, while the sensitive handling of such issues as separation and alcoholism, and the not-perfect ending make the book a cut above the general fare. The title and book jacket will attract readers, and they won't be disappointed in Roberts's latest offering.
JO AND THE BANDIT (1992)
Chris Sherman (review date 1 June 1992)
SOURCE: Sherman, Chris. Booklist 88, no. 19 (1 June 1992): 1754.
This [Jo and the Bandit ] has everything a junior high school reader could possibly want: a capable, orphaned heroine who must overcome her uncle's prejudice against girls; a post-Civil War Texas setting; danger, excitement, tornadoes; and a hint of romance with a handsome young bandit. After their mother's death, Jo and her younger brother are sent by stagecoach to their bachelor uncle, a storeowner and local Texas judge who has a reputation for being a "hanging judge." When the stagecoach is robbed, Jo observes the bandits carefully and is able to describe and even draw a picture of them. Later, however, Jo hides one of the bandits, the stepson of the gang leader, and helps him escape. In an exciting climax, she saves the day after her uncle's plan to use her as bandit bait fails. Roberts describes the restrictive social conventions, the dust and heat, and the rigid frontier justice of a late 1860s Texas quite convincingly, and 12-year-old Jo is appealing and believable—even if she is a shade bossy. The adventure will be fun and easy to booktalk, and it will fill the bill quite nicely when students need historical fiction for book reports.
Jeanette Larson (review date July 1992)
SOURCE: Larson, Jeanette. School Library Journal 38, no. 7 (July 1992): 74.
Jo and Andrew Whitman [Jo and the Bandit ] are moving temporarily to west Texas to live with their uncle, Judge Macklin, until their aunt can come up from Galveston to take over both their deceased grandmother's house in east Texas and their care. En route to Muddy Wells, the stagecoach in which they are travelling is robbed by masked bandits, and the pair unexpectedly find themselves involved in the frontier justice system. Jo's artistic talent puts their lives in jeopardy when the bandits discover that she can draw pictures of them and their horses for the wanted posters. But when one of the bandits makes a purchase at the general store where she is working, Jo realizes that he is too young and gentle to really be a criminal. She tries to help him and to convince her uncle not to prosecute him with the rest of the villains. Some readers may feel that the pace moseys a bit, but it is refreshing to find a strong-minded, independent female protagonist in a genre usually overwhelmed by bonnets and gingham. Roberts has spiced up a light Western with just the right touch of mystery.
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT DAVID? (1993)
Publishers Weekly (review date 1 March 1993)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 240, no. 9 (1 March 1993): 58.
Since David's father is going to be on the road this summer, and his mother will be working in Hawaii, David is sent to his grandmother's [What are We Going to Do about David? ]. The 11-year-old can't imagine staying with her—"it would be like going to live with a stranger"—in a dreary town on the Washington coast. Even though his parents have been fighting, he misses them. Before long, though, the boy grows to love his grandmother and the countryside, and it will come as no surprise to readers that when David's parents return for him, his grandmother fiercely defends the boy and wants to keep him with her. Though somewhat lacking in humor and characterization, David's affecting story represents the plight of many children of troubled families. The boy's quandaries are credibly presented; his tale may prove inviting primarily to those readers who prefer contemporary family life distilled into black and white, with heroes and villains clearly delineated.
Julie Corsaro (review date 15 March 1993)
SOURCE: Corsaro, Julie. Booklist 89, no. 14 (15 March 1993): 1322.
After overhearing a conversation between his parents about an impending separation [What are We Going to Do about David? ], 11-year-old David is abruptly sent to the Washington coast to spend the summer with the grandmother he barely knows. In contrast to his critical mother, Grandma Ruthie is a generous, understanding woman who helps him grow in self-reliance and self-confidence. While David's climactic confrontation with his self-involved parents is hastened by his best friend's contrived move out of state, this first-person novel has convincing situations and characters, including a gentle, disfigured boy and a large, rambunctious dog. Roberts' implication that mothers should stay at home with their children (as do those of David's pals Lee and C. J., which makes him envious) should appeal to children living under similar conditions. Fans of Roberts' popular mysteries will appreciate the suspense that permeates this realistic story about one boy's fate.
Marilyn Long Graham (review date April 1993)
SOURCE: Graham, Marilyn Long. School Library Journal 39, no. 4 (April 1993): 124.
This fine story [What are We Going to Do about David? ] features an introspective, keenly sensitive child as he opens a new chapter in his life. David, 11, is the only child of busy professional parents who don't seem to notice that he's growing up. Their demanding jobs and their strained marriage make home life tense and unhappy for their son. His friendly relationship with the housekeeper comes to an abrupt end when his mother fires the woman after an argument. Shortly afterward, both of David's parents have business trips at the same time and decide to send the boy to stay with his grandmother, whom he barely knows, for a month. He is lonely and homesick at first, but Ruthie's kindness and a newfound friend in the neighborhood brighten his stay with her. After his vacation is extended, David is able to confront his parents with his true feelings about returning home. Told in the first person with plenty of natural dialogue, the plot unfolds at a brisk pace, with the concerns of a preadolescent boy convincingly portrayed.
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE STORY … HOW I TRAVELED TO YELLOWSTONE PARK WITH THE TERRIBLE RUPES, NO NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE GUILTY (1994)
Frances Bradburn (review date 15 January 1995)
SOURCE: Bradburn, Frances. Booklist 91, no. 10 (15 January 1995): 929-30.
Twelve-year-old Lewis thinks he's the luckiest kid around [The Absolutely True Story: My Trip to Yellowstone Park with the Terrible Rupes, No Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Guilty ] when he's invited to go to Yellowstone with his next door neighbors the Rupes, who eat junk food, don't assign chores, and seem to do exactly what they want. He even gets his twin sister, Alison, invited so that she can take care of the younger Rupes. Yet the irresponsibility and even the junk food gradually lose their appeal as the days pass in the luxurious motor home. Mr. Rupe's ineptness in driving a vehicle this large is downright scary, Mrs. Rupe leaves all the child care to Alison, the entire family appears uninterested in any of the sights along the way, and the motor home seems to be attracting two menacing men who follow them cross-country. Roberts has written a humorous mystery, more humor than mystery. The Rupes are the quintessential ugly Americans—even in America—and in spite of the de rigueur kidnapping of all the children, the thieves are more bumbling oafs than terrorists. Yet humorous fiction for this age, especially for boys, is hard to find. Consider this an investment in circulating slapstick.
Susan W. Hunter (review date March 1995)
SOURCE: Hunter, Susan W. School Library Journal 41, no. 3 (March 1995): 206
Twelve-year-old twins Lewis and Alison are invited to join their new neighbors, the five-member Rupe family, on a summertime trip from Washington state to Yellowstone Park in a rented motor home [The Absolutely True Story ]. Though pleased to be going, Lewis realizes that he and Alison (especially Alison) will be responsible for Billy, 4, and Ariadne, 3, as brother Harry, 12, and the wealthy, laissez-fair parents seem oblivious to the needs of the two mischievous youngsters. Lewis often reflects on the orderly comfort of his own home with its wholesome meals and consistent parents, as traveling with the Rupes involves driving mishaps, frayed nerves, missing children, and a surfeit of junk food. Even the fascinating scenery is dimmed by the Rupes boorish behavior, but the real discomfiture surrounds Billy's puzzling discovery of stray $100 bills in the motor home and the sense that they are being tailed by two suspicious-looking men. Danger intensifies when the men seize the vehicle and drive off with the children on board. The kids use clever guerilla tactics to foil the predictably nasty kidnappers and save the day in this high-spirited tale of action and light suspense, reminiscent of Roberts's popular Baby-Sitting Is a Dangerous Job (1985).
Deborah Abbott (review date 1 April 1994)
SOURCE: Abbott, Deborah. Booklist 90, no. 15 (1 April 1994): 1451.
When their mother goes on a business trip, leaving Gram in charge [Caught! ], 13-year-old Vickie, convinced she can't tolerate Gram's meanness and constant reprimands about acting before thinking, leads the way as she and her younger sister hop a bus to California to stay with their dad. But he is gone from his apartment, and they are mystified and frightened when they find a photo of a woman and child, a pipe, and wet bloodstains on the carpet. The first night Vickie dreams she hears a key in the door and sees a figure watching her, only to discover the dream is a real-life nightmare. The girls, certain that something terrible has happened to their father, seek help from a young upstairs neighbor, and the three investigate. Once again Roberts spins an exciting web of intrigue. Although not her best effort—the characters of the parents and grandmother seem shallow, and the ending lacks force—the story is guaranteed to keep the author's fans and new readers alike turning the pages as fast as they can read.
Ann W. Moore (review date May 1994)
SOURCE: Moore, Ann W. School Library Journal 40, no. 5 (May 1994): 118.
Vickie, 13, doesn't get along with her grandmother—especially since her father left home [Caught! ]. When her mother goes away on business, leaving Gram in charge, Vickie's irritation overflows. Without permission, she and her nine-year-old sister Joanie travel from Washington to their father's California apartment. But he isn't there—only a cat (Dad doesn't like them), a pipe (he's a nonsmoker), an unfamiliar photo, and assorted bloodstains. Helped by new friend Jake Ohanian, several tenants, and a bulldog, Vickie and Joanie finally solve the mystery and track down their father. Caught! gets off to a promising start, but bogs down in the middle. There is too little the children can realistically do. Consequently, they rapidly reach their limits and are then dependent on adult players, accidents, and chance to pull them along. Once undercover agent Aaron Feldman shows up, readers are subjected to endless talk and explanations. Vickie's final bawling out by her father is a disappointment (and unnecessary). Other portions of the book are equally wordy and repetitious. Roberts's characters tend to be stereotypes: the rebellious teenager, the nagging grandmother, the eccentric senior citizen, the nasty criminal, the grubby-looking boy with a heart of gold. The title is catchy, but not particularly pertinent to the plot. There are far better juvenile mysteries available.
Connie Allerton (review date September 1994)
SOURCE: Allerton, Connie. Book Report 13, no. 2 (September 1994): 45.
In this teenage mystery [Caught! ], Vicki, age 13, and her younger sister Joanie struggle with family difficulties familiar to contemporary adolescents. Mom works, but Dad is an unemployed accountant who lives in California, searching for work. The girls' lives are further complicated by Gram, their maternal grandmother, who comes to live with them to "help out." Gram's strict supervision of chores and after-school hours rankles, but she really makes life tense by denouncing the girls' absent father at every opportunity. Vicki finally has enough of Gram's tirades and, with Joanie in tow, catches a bus to California to see their father. They are dismayed that he is not home when they arrive, nor does he come home later that night. There is even more to cause alarm: blood stains on Dad's carpet; a photo of an unknown woman and child; a bearded man calling himself by Dad's name; phone numbers for a hospital and a union; strangers lurking in the alley; shadowy, dreamlike visitors in the night. With the aid of Jake, a teenage boy who lives upstairs, the girls unravel the mystery of their father's disappearance and its relation to his job with a corrupt union. Before they return home, the girls finally are able to visit Dad, who has been in the hospital. He reprimands them for irresponsibly running away and traveling alone so far from home; no mushy "I'm so glad to see you—you saved the day!" scenes for this fellow. At the story's end, there is a glimmer of hope that Dad will move home to try to find work, since Gram has decided to live in Montana with her sister.
TWISTED SUMMER (1996)
Karen Simonetti (review date 15 March 1996)
SOURCE: Simonetti, Karen. Booklist 92, no. 14 (15 March 1996): 1252-54.
Last summer Cici and her family couldn't make it to their Michigan cabin. This promises to be better [Twisted Summer ]. Fourteen-year-old Cici fits into her new bikini beautifully; surely, 17-year-old Jake will notice. But last summer, Jake's older brother was convicted of murder, and this summer, Jake wants to talk about it. As Jake and Cici review the facts of the case, clues surface. In the middle of their investigation, Cici's grandmother dies. Although Cici feels guilty for suspecting the mourners, she prepares a list of suspects with motive and opportunity. When the list disappears, it's apparent that someone knows what the teens are doing. Cici's first-person narrative enhances the realistic characterizations, and although the ending is a bit formulaic, it's still a surprise. A charming mystery for readers who like Nancy Drew.
Connie Tyrrell Burns (review date April 1996)
SOURCE: Burns, Connie Tyrrell. School Library Journal 42, no. 4 (April 1996): 158.
The brisk pace of this suspenseful murder mystery [Twisted Summer ] lures readers right to the gripping ending. Fourteen-year-old Cici Linden's anticipated summer among family and old friends on Crystal Lake in Michigan takes an abrupt turn when she realizes that the brother of the boy she likes has been convicted of murdering a flirtatious girl from the summer community. Convinced of Brody's innocence, Cici searches for the real killer in the midst of the illness and death of her beloved grandmother and her growing conviction that her stepgrandfather is somehow involved in the crime. Before discovering the murderer's identity, Cici survives being shot at and uncovers double blackmail. Roberts writes insightfully about death and the different ways in which people grieve. This is a well-crafted, sophisticated story that conveys Cici's conflicting feelings as her hopes for a romantic summer turn sour.
Brenda Williams (review date January 1997)
SOURCE: Williams, Brenda. Book Report 15, no. 4 (January 1997): 38
This fast-paced, short, easy-to-read murder mystery [Twisted Summer ] begins as 14-year-old Cici, her mother and her mother's family gather at their Michigan summer home to find Crystal Lake secured by fence with a gated entrance. They learn that a local resident was strangled here last year and that a friend is in prison for her murder—a man whose younger brother Cici hopes will notice her this summer. Cici spends the summer proving Brody innocent, in the process discovering that her grandmother killed a man and that the judge, the now-dead grandmother's second husband, is being blackmailed. Not even being shot at deters the teenage sleuth. Anyone enjoying mysteries will like this one.
SECRETS AT HIDDEN VALLEY (1997)
Chris Sherman (review date 15 March 1997))
SOURCE: Sherman, Chris. Booklist 93, no. 14 (15 March 1997): 1243.
Eleven-year-old Steffi is dismayed when her mother, an actress who must spend the summer on location, sends her to northern Michigan to stay with a grandfather she has never met [Secrets at Hidden Valley ]. She is uncertain of the reception she will receive, as her grandfather never responded to her mother's letters. Sure enough, he is not expecting her when she arrives at the seedy RV park where he lives. Despite his gruff manner, however, Steffi settles in, helping with cooking and cleaning up the park. In the process, she befriends several eccentric campers with surprising secrets, becomes entangled in an FBI investigation, and discovers her own family's history. Once again Roberts demonstrates her ability to weave a satisfying mystery and a realistic problem novel into a smoothly paced story. This one also has sure-fire appeal.
Lisa Dennis (review date June 1997)
SOURCE: Dennis, Lisa. School Library Journal 43, no. 6 (June 1997): 126-27.
This novel [Secrets at Hidden Valley ] by a veteran author may disappoint readers looking for action-packed mystery and adventure but will appeal to those who enjoy books about kids sorting out family conflicts. Off-loaded by her mother, a recent widow and Hollywood hopeful, 11-year-old Steffi must learn to cope with a very different way of life and a curmudgeonly grandfather who seems unwilling to accept her. The fact that she does so with unfailing cheer and determination is not completely convincing, but will make her an appealing heroine for young readers. The bulk of the novel concerns her attempts to win over her grandfather, Vic; make physical improvements at his run-down trailer park; and figure out why various residents fear strangers. The climactic scene features a confrontation that offers Vic the opportunity to express his growing concern for Steffi by saving her from a would-be kidnapper. Although the story ends with the girl's future up in the air, she's clearly a survivor, whether at Hidden Valley or in Hollywood. Roberts's straightforward writing style moves the story along and makes even the unlikeliest incidents believable. Quirky secondary characters, while not always well developed, add charm and interest to the main plot. The author's fans will welcome this look at a contemporary child coping with everyday issues and unusual incidents.
Emergency Librarian (review date September-October 1997)
SOURCE: Emergency Librarian 25, no. 1 (September-October 1997): 50.
For a solid mystery with a few good surprises, direct readers to Secrets at Hidden Valley by Willo Davis Roberts. Steffi doesn't want to stay with her grandfather in a crummy RV park in Michigan. Her mother has a bit part in a B-Western somewhere in New Mexico and Steffi can't go with her. Leaving California to spend the summer with her grandfather is bad but arriving is almost worse. Her grandfather didn't know she was coming to stay with him and hardly speaks to her. Then he has an accident and Steffi ends up running the park for him. The residents of the campground are a puzzling bunch. There are secrets among them that Steffi doesn't fully uncover until her own life is threatened. Roberts' protagonist is a likable girl-next-door type with lots of common sense.
Alison M. Walters (review date November 1997)
SOURCE: Walters, Alison M. Book Report 16, no. 3 (November 1997): 42.
Sent to Michigan to live with her paternal grandfather for the summer after her stuntman father is killed and her mother takes a job on the road, 11-year-old Steffi finds there is no one to meet her when she gets off the bus [Secrets at Hidden Valley ]. So she walks to Hidden Valley, the RV park where the grandfather she has never met makes his home. The RV park is well-named; it has a palpable air of secrecy. One resident is a special agent trying to get proof that two of the other residents are bank robbers. Another elderly resident is hiding from her adult daughter because she fears being put into an adult foster-care facility. Young readers who like realistic fiction will enjoy this well-paced mystery if they can get past the unappealing hardback cover (a dark green-and-white photograph of a girl with luggage) and the type face and peculiar word spacing, which make the text look stretched or elongated and is hard on the eyes.
THE KIDNAPPERS (1998)
Helen Rosenberg (review date 1 February 1998)
SOURCE: Rosenberg, Helen. Booklist 94, no. 11 (1 February 1998): 919.
Roberts has created another suspenseful mystery for young readers [The Kidnappers ], although devoted fans may recognize some similarities with A View from the Cherry Tree (1975): the witness to a crime, who can't get anyone to believe his story, soon finds himself being hunted down by the villain. Here, Joel Bishop, a student at an elite private school, witnesses the kidnapping of his classmate, Willie. Unfortunately, Joel has been known to tell a few tall tales and has recently been fighting with Willie, making his story very hard to believe. In fact, only his sister and his best friend believe him; everyone else is too distracted by an upcoming party to pay attention, even when it looks like Joel might be the next victim. When Joel is actually kidnapped, he discovers, to his horror, that the family chauffeur is in on the crime. It takes some quick thinking and ingenuity on Joel's part to outwit the kidnappers and escape unharmed. The combination of a witty narrative and a suspenseful plot makes this a good page-turner that will leave even the most reluctant readers glued to their seats.
Connie Tyrrell Burns (review date March 1998)
SOURCE: Burns, Connie Tyrrell. School Library Journal 44, no. 3 (March 1998): 218.
In a new twist on the old "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" story [The Kidnappers ], 11-year-old Joey Bishop's well-deserved reputation as a liar and teller of tall tales gets in the way of helping to solve a crime. When Joey accidentally hits the class bully in the nose, he knows it's only a matter of time before Willie seeks revenge. Hiding outside of his expensive New York City private school after most of the chauffeurs have come and gone, Joey witnesses the abduction of his worst enemy. By the time he convinces others of the veracity of his story, he realizes that having seen the kidnapping is nearly as dangerous as being kidnapped. The fast-paced mystery unfolds with suspense and excitement, as Joey is nearly run down and then abducted himself. A double-crossing by an old friend and the making of a new one conclude this first-person narrative. Joey's frustrations with his schoolmates and family add humor to the mystery. While the subplots tend to dilute the tension, this remains a quick, satisfying read.
Sue Rusk (review date January 1999)
SOURCE: Rusk, Sue. Book Report 17, no. 4 (January 1999): 64.
Eleven-year-old Joey Bishop attends an expensive private school in New York City [The Kidnappers ]. At recess, he accidentally elbows a bully named Willie, causing Willie's nose to bleed. Willie holds a grudge and looks for a fight to even the score. While the boys wait for their chauffeurs to pick them up after school, Joey tries to avoid Willie by hiding in the lobby of a nearby apartment building. From the lobby window, Joey sees Willie being kidnapped, but no one believes him when he tries to report it. Finally, Joey's grouchy father gets involved by calling Willie's family. After seeing a computer-generated drawing of the kidnapper, Joey and his friend, Pink, see the man. A series of events finally leads to Joey discovering where Willie is being held. Joey, himself, is abducted in an elevator. This is where the story loses some of its believability. Now Willie and Joey both are being held by Joey's father's chauffeur and his buddies. The boys band together to try to escape their dangerous situation. All ends neatly, with the boys being friends and with everyone safe and sound. The pat ending will lose all but the most avid mystery fans. Some readers may not relate to the rich lifestyle and private school setting. Often, in the text, Joey's name is changed to Joel.
Janet Hilbun (review date 1 November 1998)
SOURCE: Hilbun, Janet. School Library Journal 44, no. 11 (November 1998): 128.
Roberts once again proves her craftsmanship in this tale of mystery and intrigue [Pawns ]. Teddi, 14, has lived with her neighbor Mamie for several months since her mother's death and her father's suicide. The two have developed a close relationship, especially since the recent death of Mamie's son Ricky in a plane crash. Then a very pregnant Dora arrives, purporting to be Ricky's wife. This news shocks Mamie as she didn't know her son had married. Still, she welcomes Dora and the baby with hope and open arms. Teddi, though, finds herself doubting the young woman's story and decides she must try to find out what's going on, knowing that what she uncovers may hurt Mamie. With the help of Jason, a new friend and neighbor, she investigates. Roberts blends the elements of mystery and suspense, a budding romance, and coming to terms with traumatic events of the past into a taut, well-constructed plot. Teddi's desire to protect her caregiver makes her a worthy heroine. Mamie's strength and humaneness as she faces Dora's arrival, the birth of her "grandson," and the discovery and aftermath of the betrayal provide a fully realized adult character often missing in young adult fiction. With its strong story line and well-defined characters, this novel is sure to be popular.
Stephanie Zvirin (review date 15 November 1998)
SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Booklist 95, no. 6 (1 November 1998): 581.
When pregnant Dori shows up claiming to be the wife of Mamie's recently deceased son, Ricky, 14-year-old Teddi is both jealous and scared [Pawns ]. On the one hand, she worries that generous Mamie, who took Teddi in following the deaths of Teddi's parents, will no longer be able to care for her; on the other, she sees Mamie's spirits lift at the thought of a grandchild. No matter how Teddi looks at the situation, however, something about Dori just isn't right. Where, Teddi wonders, does Dori go when she sneaks out at night? Why did she insist on giving birth with only Teddi to help? And why did she steal the money from the petty cash jar? There's no mistaking the villain here (Teddi and Mamie are just too nice), and don't look too hard for credibility. Still, veteran suspense writer Roberts keeps readers guessing about the whys and hows of the goings-on, and, by adding a hint of romance for Teddi and allowing Teddi to work through her feelings about her father's suicide, Roberts gives readers plenty grist to contemplate. A made-for-TV-movie on the page.
Publishers Weekly (review date 16 November 1998)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 245, no. 46 (16 November 1998): 75.
Left all alone after her mother's death from cancer and her father's subsequent suicide [Pawns ], 14-year-old Teddi is happy to have found a home with her grandmotherly next-door neighbor, Mamie, who is herself recovering from her son Ricky's recent death in a plane crash. So Teddi is understandably shaken when young and very pregnant Dora shows up on Mamie's doorstep, claiming to be Ricky's wife, and proceeds to move in. Teddi is immediately wary—and then feels guilty for it. But with the help of her new friend Jason, 16, who has moved into Teddi's old house, she sees that her suspicions of Dora are well-founded. How can she expose Dora as an impostor without making herself look bad or, worse yet, crushing Mamie? With a neat fillip, Roberts (Twisted Summer ) shakes the dust off a well-worn formula and turns the reader's assumptions inside out. The sensitive exploration of Teddi's feelings of grief and abandonment, moreover, considerably deepens the story's impact.
Janet Hilbun (review date February 2000)
SOURCE: Hilbun, Janet. School Library Journal 46, no. 2 (February 2000): 125-26.
Kaci's family's new house [Hostage ] has everything—bathrooms and bedrooms for everyone, room for her brother's grand piano—and a sense of security lacking in her old community. Shortly after the move, Kaci goes home in the middle of the school day to get her allergy medication and stumbles upon a burglary in progress. The robbers kidnap her, and when a nosy neighbor suspects that something is wrong and tries to help, they take her as well. At first, Kaci discounts Mrs. Banducci's ability to help them escape, but quickly discovers that the elderly woman not only has some good suggestions, but also helps the girl keep up her courage. By the time they are rescued, the two have become friends and Kaci has discovered the value of faith and resourcefulness. Roberts blends an exciting, well-crafted plot with strong characters. As in Pawns (1998), her emphasis on friendship, trust, and respect between older adults and teenagers provides a welcome change from much young adult literature. Without being preachy, she also introduces the idea of a sustaining faith in God. Fast paced and entertaining.
Frances Bradburn (review date 1 February 2000)
SOURCE: Bradburn, Frances. Booklist 96, no. 11 (1 February 2000): 1023.
Kaci and her family have moved from their house in an older, deteriorating neighborhood, in part because her mom no longer feels safe there [Hostage ]. She believes that their spacious new home in Lofty Cedars Estates offer a safer environment for middle-school Kaci and her siblings. Yet even Lofty Cedars is not immune to a ring of thieves, as Kaci learns when she returns one autumn afternoon to get her allergy medicine. When she surprises the thieves in her new house, they immediately take her and a snoopy elderly neighbor hostage, setting the stage for nerve-wracking adventure. Although not deep or complex, this is a pleasantly scary, quick read that plays on early adolescent fantasies and fears of just such a scenario.
BUDDY IS A STUPID NAME FOR A GIRL (2001)
Amy Easter (review date winter 2001)
SOURCE: Easter, Amy. Childhood Education 78, no. 2 (winter 2001): 112.
Buddy is thrown into a life she doesn't want after the disappearance of her father, who has gone off to take a new job [Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl ]. She is sent to live with relatives she hardly knows. Aunt Addie hates Buddy's dead mother, Aunt Cassie's husband is an alcoholic, and Grandpa has dementia. Plus, she must adjust to a new school where everyone knows her business. Can Buddy uncover why Aunt Addie hated her mother? Can she find out what happened to Grandpa's money? And what has happened to her father? This is a touching and captivating read.
Elaine A. Bearden (review date February 2001)
Bearden, Elaine A. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 54, no. 6 (February 2001): 234-35.
Amy Kate (Buddy) finds herself in the care of her brother Bart when her father tries to make a go of it as a truck driver [Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl ]. When he doesn't return as promised, the kids are evicted, and Bart sends Buddy to stay with relatives while he searches for their father. As Buddy attempts to acclimate to life in her late mother's childhood home, her uncanny resemblance to her mother, EllaBelle, stirs old family wounds. While Aunt Cassie would like to forget the past, Aunt Addie has more difficulty letting go, providing opportunity for Buddy to learn of their grievance against her mother: Addie first loved Buddy's father before EllaBelle swept him away, and EllaBelle was the person last seen with the flowered tote containing Buddy's greatgrandfather's fortune. Just as brother Bart will not believe their father hijacked a semi-truck filled with valuable inventory (as the trucking company believes), Buddy is unable to believe her mother would steal, and each sibling seeks the truth. Roberts' story rides on Buddy's predictable idealism and pluck and on a sequence of plot contrivances (the siblings' eviction, for instance, means they weren't home for their father's only phone call). However, Buddy's successful sleuthing (her mother's name is cleared and the money returned to its rightful owners) will appeal to youngsters, who will identify with the kid solving a mystery and working towards a cause in which no one else believes.
Angela J. Reynolds (review date May 2001)
SOURCE: Reynolds, Angela J. School Library Journal 47, no. 5 (May 2001): 159.
Buddy's father has disappeared [Buddy Is a Stupid Name for a Girl ], and she and her teenaged brother are forced to move out of their home because they can't pay the rent. While Bart goes off to look for Dad, Buddy is sent to live in Montana with her maternal aunts, who seem glad enough to have her, but have something against her deceased mother. Buddy delves into the mystery and learns that her relatives believe that EllaBelle stole a large amount of cash from the family, and the child sets out to prove them wrong. She is helped by her cousin Max and her senile great-grandfather, who occasionally remembers details. The action happens at a good pace, and the whole book takes place within a few weeks time. However, the characters are almost stock. The codependent aunt and the bossy one, the forgetful old man, alcoholic uncle, caring but absent father, and male cousin who is at first distant but who comes around color Buddy's world. While the story is fairly interesting, there are details that just don't jive. The day of the alleged theft doesn't match up with details of when EllaBelle died, and some of the plot elements are forced, including the action associated with the book's title. A well-meaning story, with a few nuts and bolts missing.
Frances Bradburn (review date 15 February 2002)
SOURCE: Bradburn, Frances. Booklist 98, no. 12 (15 February 2002): 1010.
Nikki Simons [Undercurrents ] cannot imagine coping with more than she already faces: her mother has died, and her beloved older sister is headed for a job and college, leaving Nikki to care for her brother, father, and the house. Then her father announces that he is marrying Crystal, a woman not much older than the girls themselves. When the family spends the summer at Crystal's childhood home, Nikki becomes aware that something horrible happened when Crystal lived there, something that seems to be replaying itself in Crystal's dreams. The mystery unfolds too slowly, and Bruce, the threatening gardener, is introduced too late and too nonchalantly to warrant the role he's given in the climax. Yet undercurrents of more universal issues—a child's reaction to a parent's remarriage, especially after the other parent's death, and changing family dynamics after an older sibling leaves home—add depth to the prolific author's latest offering.
Tina Zubak (review date February 2002)
SOURCE: Zubak, Tina. School Library Journal 48, no. 2 (February 2002): 136.
Only eight months after 14-year-old Nikki Simons's mother dies [Undercurrents ], her father marries Crystal, a young artist at the publishing company where he is an editor. Shortly thereafter, Crystal inherits a house on the California coast and Nikki's dad insists they go there for a vacation despite his new wife's obvious resistance. Nikki, her 10-year-old brother, and his friend Jeremy head out with the new couple to California. After Nikki's father is conveniently called away on business, the teen is left to cope with her stepmother's nightmares, unexplained terror, and refusal to be seen by any of the locals. Finally, Crystal reveals the reason for her traumatized state: she had witnessed the murder of her parents by a relative in a nearby house when she was a child. A fog at a pivotal point provides excitement, as does the moment that Nikki realizes that the murderer has been watching her. Crystal is described over and over again as pale and timid, and is so withdrawn that it's impossible to know what Mr. Simons could have seen in her. As in Roberts's To Grandmother's House We Go (1994), the hasty conclusion hinges on a fire and a mentally unstable relative, but this book leaves readers hanging as to what happens to him.… For Roberts at her best, suggest Megan's Island (1988) or The Absolutely True Story … How I Visited Yellowstone Park with the Terrible Rupes (1994).
Publishers Weekly (review date 4 March 2002)
SOURCE: Publishers Weekly 249, no. 9 (4 March 2002): 80.
Roberts's (Pawns ) mystery novel [Undercurrents ] generates suspense, but, ultimately, too many unanswered questions will leave readers unsatisfied. Eight months after 14-year-old narrator Nikki's mother dies, her father marries Crystal, a younger woman. On a picnic to meet the kids, shy Crystal admits to a tragic childhood (her parents both died when she was seven), and when she later inherits a beach house from her aunt, she unsuccessfully resists Nikki's father's decision to vacation there. Nikki's father must return home, and leaves Crystal in the beach house with the kids. The woman begins to act strangely. Crystal has nightmares, forbids Nikki to go to the neighboring mansion of a handicapped professor, who has hired the girl to type his manuscript, and hides her hair in public. Nikki must decide if Crystal is merely "sensitive" or if something larger looms. Many of the chapters have cliffhanger endings ("And that was when everything seemed to start falling apart"), and the big old houses overlooking the ocean provide a solid setting for the plot to unfold. But while the mystery surrounding Crystal's behavior is finally solved, others are not, both small (What's important about Crystal drinking so much carrot juice?) and large (Why doesn't anyone in town tell Nikki why the mansion is supposedly haunted?). This, compounded by cookie-cutter characters, such as the matronly housekeeper and creepy gardener (even Nikki herself is a bit too formal, and her relationship with the professor's son is weak), makes for less-than scintillating sleuthing.
Deborah Stevenson (review date April 2002)
Stevenson, Deborah. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 55, no. 8 (April 2002): 291.
[In Undercurrents ] Nikki is stunned when, eight months after the death of her mother from cancer, her father marries Crystal, a young illustrator. Her pains of bereavement and sudden transition are complicated by puzzlement: Crystal is mysteriously reticent about her past, and Nikki realizes with astonishment that her young stepmother is downright afraid when an aunt leaves Crystal a house on the California coast and Nikki's father decides that the family will spend a vacation there. Crystal's behavior becomes even stranger and more secretive in California; after Nikki's father is forced to leave on a business emergency, an infuriated Nikki refuses to obey Crystal's arbitrary stricture that she quit her job (typing for a neighbor), until revelations about Crystal's past suggest that the darkness that looms over Crystal may now threaten Nikki as well. Roberts is a dab hand at foreshadowing, effectively exploiting Nikki's natural resentment of an abruptly appearing stepmother, and Nikki's essential fair-mindedness (she realizes that Crystal often does get a raw deal in the family) makes her a sympathetic narrator. The payoffs are not really worth the foreshadowing, however, thereby becoming letdowns rather than fulfillment; this is particularly true of the climactic drama, which really has very little connection to the book's buildup and merely offers an overly convenient solution to the problems of Crystal's past. Between an isolated house on the coast, an interloper in the family, and hints of terrible secrets from the past, however, there's still enough pleasingly foreboding atmosphere to entertain mystery fans.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 June 2003)
SOURCE: Kirkus Reviews 71, no. 12 (15 June 2003): 864.
Amanda Jane has been called Rebel since she was two [Rebel ]. At 14 (and nearly six feet tall), she's delighted to spend part of her summer in Seattle helping her unconventional Gram ready an old Victorian house for college-age boarders. Gram's friend and partner in homesteading is Vi, who has brought along her grandson. He's not only Rebel's age, he's 6 foot 6 and named Moses. Moses's video camera captures a robbery-in-progress at the local deli, and that sparks a series of events involving counterfeit money and Moses's Irish wolfhound. Showing the rooms between bouts of housepainting enables Rebel and Moses to trace who the perps might be, and Rebel's independent streak keeps the more sensible Moses from calling the police until it is almost too late. Rebel is clearly checking Moses out in a big way, and their byplay is rather more interesting than the contrived plotline. The possibility of a European tour with both grandmothers and the teen duo leave readers open for sequels.
Kay Weisman (review date July 2003)
SOURCE: Weisman, Kay. Booklist 99, no. 21 (July 2003): 1892.
Despite her name and early contrarian beginnings [Rebel ], 14-year-old Rebel, who is really a pretty agreeable girl, opts to spend some time with her grandmother, helping to rehab an old boarding house in Seattle. There she meets 15-year-old Moses, an aspiring filmmaker and the grandson of Gram's business partner, Viola. While walking a dog, the young people inadvertently videotape a robbery/counterfeiting incident. They realize they should turn the matter over to the police, but the chance to solve the crime on their own is very appealing, even in the face of the danger that it causes them and their families. Roberts usually excels at mystery plotting and suspense, and this novel is no exception, with criminal suspects lining up to rent rooms from Gram at an alarming rate. Although Rebel seems to spend an inordinate amount of time privately considering Moses' marriage potential (his major attraction—he is taller than her five feet, 10 inches), this is an entertaining mystery that will attract readers of all sizes.
Connie Tyrrell Burns (review date August 2003)
SOURCE: Burns, Connie Tyrrell. School Library Journal 49, no. 8 (August 2003): 165.
Amanda Jane Keeling, 14, has answered only to the name "Rebel" since she was two [Rebel ]. When her grandmother, sick of the confinements of assisted living, joins an elderly friend, Viola, in buying an old rooming house near the University of Washington, Rebel and Vi's grandson, Moses, are asked to help paint, clean, and get the house ready for roomers. Rebel, at 5' 10", is immediately taken with the 6'6" Moses. Much to his father's dismay, Moses wants to write, direct, and produce films rather than enter law. He carries an old video camera around, inadvertently filming a young man as he is grabbing back a $20 bill after purchasing a candy bar at the local mom-and-pop store. This brief encounter sets in motion a nighttime break-in at the old house, a nearly missing Irish wolfhound, and the cracking of a band of young counterfeiters, and, in the end, the teens realize that they should have called on the police sooner rather than sleuthing on their own. Rebel is an engaging, independent character; the photo on the jacket will appeal to middle school kids. Unfortunately, the mystery unfolds too slowly to hook them, and this uneven pacing leaves all of the suspense until the very end.
Karen Coats (review date September 2003)
Coats, Karen. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 57, no. 1 (September 2003): 30.
Because her first and favorite word was "no!" Amanda Jane Keeling has been called nothing but Rebel since she was two years old. When the rest of her family heads to Europe for a music competition [in Rebel ], she decides to stay home and help her grandmother, from whom she inherited her rebellious tendencies, fix up an old house for boarders. Her grandmother's friend and business partner, Vi, has a grandson helping her, and soon Moses and Rebel find that they are kindred spirits-exceptionally tall young people with a passion for mystery, which they conveniently find. While walking their dogs, they witness a petty theft that turns out to be the tip of a criminal iceberg. Moses and Rebel follow all of the classical leads-muddy footprints, discarded jackets, wallets filled with counterfeit bills-and finally devise a scheme to lure the culprits to their home, even though they know that such a move is risky. Fortunately, Moses' uncle is a cop, and his late-night return from a fishing trip tidily corresponds with the counterfeit gang's break-in, resulting in a messy but ultimately harmless roundup of all the bad guys. More Scooby Doo than Nancy Drew, this mildly interesting mystery turns on too-convenient coincidences and fortuitous circumstances. Dialogue is generally stilted and authorial forecasting painfully intrusive, with chapters ending with lines such as "if they'd had a crystal ball their response would have been quite different." There is also a rather strange and persistent subtext of fourteen-year-old Rebel's sizing Moses up as potential marriage material. Still, there is sufficient action and predictable enough clue detection to catch the undemanding mystery fan, with the added bonus of two clever dogs whose detective work deserves some Scooby snacks.
Roberts, Willo Davis, and C. Herb Williams. "This Willo Isn't Weeping." Writer's Digest 61 (August 1981): 18-19.
Roberts discusses how her writing rescued her family from poverty.
Review of Don't Hurt Laurie! by Willo Davis Roberts. Kirkus Reviews 45, no. 8 (15 April 1977): 427.
The critic faults Don't Hurt Laurie! as a story "without much force or dimension."
Viorst, Judith. Review of Don't Hurt Laurie! by Willo Davis Roberts. New York Times Book Review (17 April 1977): 51.
Viorst criticizes Don't Hurt Laurie! as an "inevitably lurid, sadistic and violent" children's book.
Additional coverage of Roberts's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 13; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 3, 19, 47, 112; Junior DISCovering Authors ; Literature Resource Center ; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults Supplement, Ed. 1; St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers ; Something about the Author, Vols. 21, 70, 133; Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Vol. 8; and Twentieth-Century Romance and Historical Writers.
Roberts, Willo Davis 1928-2004
ROBERTS, Willo Davis 1928-2004
See index for CA sketch: Born May 29, 1928, in Grand Rapids, MI; died of congestive heart disease November 19, 2004, in Granite Falls, WA. Author. Roberts was an award-winning author best known for her children's mystery novels. A few years after graduating from high school, she married and began to raise a family. After moving to California, she and her husband tried to run a dairy farm with little success. Their financial problems led Roberts to find work at a hospital, and she also began writing to earn extra money. At first, she focused on books for adults, writing mysteries and stories about nurses. Her first novel, Murder at Grand Bay, was published in 1955. More books followed, and by 1970, when she released seven books, she was producing fiction at a prolific rate. In 1975, at the suggestion of her editor and her agent, Roberts rewrote one of her mysteries for a younger audience. It was released as The View from the Cherry Tree (1975) to great success. Publishing ninety-nine books during her lifetime (she was working on rewrites for her hundredth when she passed away), her notable works are Don't Hurt Laurie! (1977); The Girl with the Silver Eyes (1980), which won a Mark Twain award; Eddie and the Fairy Godpuppy (1984); Baby Sitting Is a Dangerous Job (1985), which was another Mark Twain award-winner; Sugar Isn't Everything: A Support Book, in Fiction Form, for the Young Diabetic (1987); and three Edgar Allan Poe Award-winning novels: Megan's Island (1988), The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone with the Terrible Rupes (1994), and Twisted Summer (1996).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2005, p. B9.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 2004, p. 23.
School Library Journal, January, 2005, p. 22.