Welcome to the first in a series of blog posts I’ve created to introduce you to various children’s book authors. There are a lot of great ones out there and it’s worth knowing about them. Who knows, you may find yourself reading some really great (children’s) literature.
I recently had a chance to meet some children’s book authors at the Children’s Literature Conference held at Western Washington University in Bellingham. It was a pleasure to meet Jennifer L. Holm that day. Here’s a little about her for your edification:
Jennifer was born in California and lived for a short time on Whidbey Island. She spent most of her growing up years in Audobon, Pennsylvania. Constantly reading as a child, her favorite author was Lloyd Alexander. She was a broadcast producer at an advertising agency in New York City before she took up writing and quickly received three Newbery Honor Awards for historical fiction novels. Holm currently lives in California with her husband and two young children where she loves to write in her slippers and pajamas while her children are at school.
Holm started writing with a series about Boston Jane. Sixteen-year-old Jane Peck has ventured to the unknown wilds of the Northwest to wed her childhood idol, William Baldt. But her impeccable training at Miss Hepplewhite’s Young Ladies Academy in Philadelphia is hardly preparation for the colorful characters and crude life that she finds in the Washington Territory. Having to rely upon her wits in the wild, Jane must determine for herself whether she is truly proper Miss Jane Peck of Philadelphia, faultless young lady and fiance, or Boston Jane, as the Chinook dub her, fearless and loyal woman of the frontier.
Our Only May Amelia is based upon Holm’s great-aunt Alice Amelia Holm’s diary. She was a Finnish-American girl born on the Nasel River in Washington state during the nineteenth century. Mae Amelia is the only girl in a family with seven brothers and has many great adventures. You certainly will enjoy this book set in Washington state. In fact, the city of Lacey, Washington recently used this novel as their “Everyone Reads” choice.
Holm recommended that you learn from her mistake and write a novel about your mother’s side of the family before you focus on your father’s side, as she did in Mae Amelia. Thus came the inspiration for Penny from Heaven. It’s 1953 and eleven year old Penny dreams of a summer of ice cream, swimming, and baseball. But nothing is that simple for Penny. She can’t go swimming because her mother is afraid that she’ll catch polio at the pool. This is a shinning story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America’s history when being Italian meant you were the enemy. But mostly, it’s a story about family. This is a book my mother-in-law would enjoy! You may also.
Turtle in Paradise, another Newbery honor book, is inspired by stories of Holm’s great-grandmother who immigrated to Key West at the turn of the last century. It’s 1935 and Turtle heads off to Key West Florida to live with relatives that she’s never met. It’s hot and strange, with wild jungle peeping out between houses, ragtag boy cousins, and secret treasure. Before she knows what’s happening, Turtle finds herself coming out of her shell (!) and the world opens up in unexpected ways.
It would be easy to typecast Holm as a historical fiction writer since she has written this slew of great historic fiction novels. But WAIT! There’s more! She has broken any expectations that hold her to that single genre with her two graphic novel series.
Growing up with four brothers, Holm’s family devoured comic books. She, however, was bothered by the representation (of lack thereof) of girls and women in these stories and decided to do something about it. Babymouse was born, introducing a likeable character who is strong-willed, risk-taking, funny, and impulsive. Her brother, Matt Holm, is the illustrator of these pink-tinted comics that cause readers to read one after another.
The Holm siblings also collaborate on Squish, a baseball-capped amoeba who leaves readers chuckling while also learning a few science related ideas. Holm creates mice and amoebas (as well as people) that captivate young readers in these graphic novel series.
Stay tuned for her upcoming middle grade novel coming out later this year, The Fourteenth Goldfish, where she and Grandpa Melvin explore the wonders of science and raise big questions about family and friendship, life and death.
You can find most of Jennifer L. Holm’s books here at the Everett Public Library. Come on down and borrow a few!