The pages turn over like rocks on the beach, disclosing multiple treasures underneath, declared Horn Book in a starred review of Janet Hickman's Jericho. Now the critically acclaimed author tells the story of Susannah, a teenage girl who has been brought by her widowed father to live in a Shaker settlement in Ohio in 1810. In this austere, orderly community where few things other than religious devotion and duty are tolerated, Susannah grieves for her mother and longs for the simple freedoms of the outside world. Her tale is one of loyalty and defiance, compassion and bravery and will strike a resonant chord in the hearts and minds of readers.
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Janet Hickman is a professor at Ohio State University, where she teaches children's literature. Ms. Hickman gerw up in a small town in Ohio and says she was blessed by having many strong women in her family and in her life. She has written several books for children, including Zoar Blue and The Thunder-Pup.In Her Own Words...
"When I was little, the stories that interested me most were not the ones my parents read to me but the real-life ones I overheard in my grandparents' kitchen or on their front porch, where personal crises and world disasters were discussed by great-aunts and uncles and older cousins and assorted friends and neighbors. In Kilbourne, the tiny Ohio town where I grew up, extended families kept in touch, the past seemed very close to the present, and I spent a lot of time listening to people talk. What I've kept from that time in my childhood is a close attachment to family, a sense of connection to other generations, and an ear for the language of everyday speech.
"As soon as I could read, books became my favorite companions, thanks in part to a bookmobile that brought the library to us. Reading a lot soon led me to think that I could make stories of my own. I've been picking away at writing ever since I produced, at age seven, A Cowgirl Romance.
"When I went to college, though, it wasn't to study writing. That would have been considered impractical. I became a teacher instead. My first students were eighth graders who complained about an assignment from their history book. "Take the information in this chapter and use it as background for writing a story." To quiet their complaints (and because it sounded like fun), I promised to write the assignment too, The result was my first paid publication, accepted on its first submission to a magazine. This extraordinary beginner's luck earned me a few points with the eighth grade and made me think I should write a novel.
"Over the next several years, during summers off while I was teaching and in odd moments when I became a stay-at-home mom, I wrote several novels that earned nothing but rejection slips and then, finally, four that were published.
"By the end of that time I had also completed a Ph.D. at Ohio State University, where I now teach children's literature. My students are mostly teachers of grades K-8. Like my first eighth graders, most of them seem interested in having a professor who is also a writer. But working at two desks slows me down. My fifth book, Jericho, is short, but it took more than ten years to write-maybe because the story is so close to my own life. Now that my husband and I have married children, a grandchild, and a young nephew growing up as our son, its theme of family continuity seems more important to me than ever."From School Library Journal:
Grade 5-8-When Susannah's mother dies, the girl and her rigid father join the Shaker community on the Ohio frontier. Unlike her father, Susannah does not accept the lifestyle and beliefs of this group and longs to live with her mother's family. At 13, she's clear about the values she cherishes and feels that they are something she shared with her mother. Finally, her father comes to understand her feelings and allows her to make her own decision about leaving. Two plot elements move the story forward: Susannah's effort to restore herself and her young charge, Mary, to loving environments; and the pending attack of unsympathetic settlers on the Shakers. With introspective, sometimes eloquent language, Hickman portrays the girl's despair. Susannah is multidimensional and faced with difficult dichotomies, though surrounding characters are not as thoroughly developed. The novel is rich with historical texture. Readers learn how all members of this religious community worked to build and acquire, and how children were raised apart from their parents. The themes are stated early in the novel but build very slowly to resolution. Engaged readers will stick with this story and be rewarded. Others will miss a tenacious heroine and a valuable historical perspective rarely treated in children's fiction.
Carolyn Noah, Central Mass. Regional Library System, Worcester, MA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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