Joan Bauer Bobbie Keenan Author Study FRMS 7331-Summer 2009
Born in River Forest, Illinois, Joan Bauer now lives in Darien, Connecticut, with her husband and assorted animals.
Her favorite childhood memory concerns her grandmother a storyteller who was quite famous in her day. She was very funny and her stories captivated and inspired Bauer as a young child.
Joan Bauer has worked in advertising, radio, television, and film, and credits her background in these fields for the determination and discipline with which she approaches her writing. "As a screenwriter," she says, "you have to know right from the start what the story is about. Having that skill helps me get started."
Joan Bauer began writing her first novel, SQUASHED, as a screenplay. After getting into a car accident, however, Bauer couldn't work as quickly as the film industry demanded and decided to translate her story into novel form.
In all of her work, Joan Bauer is very interested in using humor as a tool to discuss serious issues. She hopes humor will inspire kids to read about a subject they might not otherwise choose to read about.
Achievements & Awards
Her books have won numerous awards, among them the Newberry Honor Medal, the LA Times Book Prize , the Christopher Award, and the Golden Kite Award of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
She has twice participated in the State Department's professional speaker's program, going to both Kazakhstan and Croatia where she talked with students, writers, educators, and children at risk about her life and her novels.
Joan has also been the recipient of the ASTAL Award for Outstanding Contributions to Literature for Young People, the Michigan Thumbs-up! Award for Children's Literature, the Delacorte Prize for a First Young Adult Novel, the Pacific Northwest Library Association Award, the New Jersey Reading Association M. Jerry Weiss Award, the New England Booksellers Award, and the Boston Public Library's "Literary Light" Award.
Her novels have been chosen for many best book lists, among them, ALA Notable Books, ALA Best Books, ALA Quick Picks, American Bookseller Pick of the List, School Library Journal Best Books, Smithsonian Notable Children's Books, VOYA's Perfect 10s. Her novel Rules of the Road was chosen as one of the top young adult books of the last 25 years by the American Library Association .
* Left: Joan Bauer at Thanksgiving, 22 years old
Backwater Best Foot Forward Hope Was Here
Peeled Rules of the Road Squashed Sticks Stand Tall Thwonk
To say that Ellie Morgan is focused would be an understatement. Ellie has a dream … well, maybe two dreams. The most important thing is that, Max, her prize pumpkin needs to gain about 200 pounds and win the Rock River Pumpkin Weigh-in. The other dream is that she wants to lose 20 pounds.
Pumpkin growing is serious business in Rock River. So serious, that people guard their growing secrets and their pumpkins with guard dogs and guns. So serious, that vegetable sabotage and pumpkin stealing are considered major crimes. So serious, that Ellie Morgan will do anything to protect her prize squash. She even acquires a guard dog through, Richard, her supportive cousin. For most people, that wouldn’t be such big deal, but Ellie is afraid of dogs. However, Ellie is willing to do whatever it takes to see Max to victory and not fall victim to the mysterious pumpkin thief that has Rock River up in arms.
In addition to the pumpkin thieves stressing Ellie out, her dad is less than supportive of her endeavor and seems to be almost jealous of Max. Also, she keeps fighting 20 pounds that don’t seem to want go away, and the boy she likes, Wes, is being pursued by the prettiest girl in school. What’s a girl to do?
Despite the odds being stacked against her all fronts, Ellie never gives up and is determined to make her dreams a reality. Squashed is a story about never giving up hope and seeing your dreams through to the end.
Hildy Biddle is naturally curious. It’s no wonder that she plans to be a reporter when she gets older just like her late father was. For now, she’s a reporter for her high school paper, The Core . The Core’s advisor has recently retired, so Hildy and her friends have been running The Core on their own and expanding their reporting to town events also covered by the town’s paper, The Bee.
It’s been a rough couple of years for the residence of Banesville, New York. For the past two years, the annual apple harvest has been terrible. Some of the families have thrown in the towel and put their farms up for sale. As if that’s not bad enough, the old, Ludlow house on Farnsworth Road is showing signs of being haunted. Mysterious threatening messages are being left on the front door, and there are claims that the ghost of old man Ludlow has been seen in the windows. The Bee , starts running frightening front page stories about the Ludlow house, that attracts chill seekers from all over looking for a scare. Instead of being a boon to the town’s lagging economy, the chill seekers are more destructive and disturbing than anything.
The falling property values combined with The Bee’s front page hysteria convince even more people to put their farms up for sale. Add to all that, a big time, Boston real estate agent bullying land holders to sell their properties at rock bottom prices, and the reporter in Hildy jumps into action.
Under the guidance of recently unemployed reporter, Baker Polton, Hildy and her friends uncover a scheme designed to force out the apple farmers of Banesville to make way for a theme park that hopes to cash in on people’s morbid curiosity surrounding the Ludlow house. When Hildy starts getting close to the truth, The Core is shut down under threat of legal action by the editor of The Bee . Hildy and her friends start an underground newspaper, The Peel . The Peel’s mission is to inform the citizens of Banesville of what is really going on in their town, and hopefully prevent the corporate takeover of the Banesville apple orchards .
Ivy Breedlove doesn’t want to be a lawyer. She wants to be historian. Unfortunately, the entire Breedlove family, especially her father, is determined she will be happier if she practices law. Ivy is sure that’s not the case. However, it’s hard to convince the Breedlove’s that they’re wrong. Ivy doesn’t even try. Instead, she retreats into the world of Breedlove history rather than deal with their present.
The Kennedyesque Breedlove’s (all of them) live in the family compound in upstate New York in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. They aren’t what you would call tight knit, but they do appear to travel in a herd. They are a fiery, loud bunch, and are use to getting what they want. On the other hand, Ivy is quiet and introspective, like her Aunt Josephine, who no one has seen in years.
Ivy spends a lot of time in the family graveyard working on the Breedlove history. One day she notices that holly wreaths have been lain on her grandparents graves. Her neighbor reveals that Ivy’s Aunt Josephine left the wreaths at night. That’s when the historian in Ivy takes over. She decides she must find Josephine, because without her story, the Breedlove history won’t be complete. Ivy is also curious to know exactly why Josephine left so many years ago and never came back.
Ivy learns her aunt lives high up in the Adirondacks. She hires Mountain Mama, a local guide, to help her find her aunt, much to her father’s dismay. The journey to find her Aunt Josephine is difficult, but not without reward. With the help of Mountain Mama and Zack, a ranger in training they meet along the way, Ivy discovers that some of the Breedlove “fire” didn’t skip a generation after all. When Ivy meets Josephine, she understands that not all Breedlove’s are cut from the same cloth and it’s okay to be different, or “Backwater” as the Breedlove’s would say.
Ivy Breedlove Speaks Out
Jean Bauer on Joan Bauer's Backwater
I'm Jean (with an e) Bauer -- daughter of the author. When I was in high school my mother gave me an incredible gift; she made me the main character of her fifth novel, Backwater . I had just gotten back from three weeks of studying historical revolutions at an academic summer camp and was hooked for life. My mom was fascinated with my, well let's be honest here, obsession with history. I'd always liked history, but then I'd always liked every subject in school (even if I didn't like every teacher). After that summer something was different. For years I'd been asking Mom when she would write a book about a girl who loved school. One of my favorite things about Mom's writing is that her characters always have an animating passion: farming, photography, selling shoes, playing pool, the list goes on. Well my passion was school, and I thought it was high time Mom wrote about it.
Kids who love school often have a tough time. Teachers love us, but we don't always get along so well with our peers. I had close friends growing up, but it could be hard to explain why I loved learning so much. Backwater solved that problem. For starters, Mom gave me a long list of questions about why I love history, what I learned from history, who was my favorite history teacher (and why), the list went on and on. By the time I finished that I had all the answers I needed! A good friend of mine (who was even more of a history buff than I was) also received the questionnaire, and we're both thanked in the acknowledgements. Next page
Ivy Breedlove really is me. It's kind of scary to read the book, especially ten years later (no one wants to remember high school too well). But there are a few major differences that I feel honor bound to point out. First, I'm a good hiker, and while my intense fear of heights would have kicked into high gear on that ledge, the woods are not a foreign country to me, and I've carried some pretty heavy backpacks in my time. Second, I love big dogs and think having a wolf as a pet is beyond cool (Malachi is my favorite character in the book). As Backwater took shape Ivy also become a genealogist, a side of history I've never explored personally, but have often used in my own research.
By now you've probably guessed that I've grown up to be a professional historian. Right now I'm getting my PhD in Early American History at the University of Virginia. My dissertation (the book I have to write to earn my degree) examines the earliest years of the American Foreign Service to understand how the United States interacted with other countries in the midst of revolution and war. I hope to spend the rest of my life researching the past and sharing my work with others through writing and teaching. One of my favorite moments in Backwater is when Ivy's cousin, Egan, thanks her for helping him with his paper on Franklin Roosevelt. When people find out that I'm the Real Life Ivy Breedlove, there is one question they always ask: "What do you think of Jack?" Well, my then boyfriend hated him, but I always found Jack to be a very attractive guy. However, I think overtime he and Ivy would have run out of things to talk about, especially if Ivy ever ran into Zack Coleman -- the crazy smart, deeply funny, and extremely brave physicist from Mom's latest novel Peeled. Zack is based on my husband.
Backwater Activity for the Classroom
Joan Bauer’s book, Backwater is all about family. It’s an excellent opportunity for students to become more familiar with their own family history. Have students make a family tree by combining the past with the present day technology. Have them create a PowerPoint presentation about their family. They can scan in pictures of past and present generations and include stories from their own experiences with relatives as well a stories that have been handed down. Have them be creative and explore their family artifacts like heirlooms and gravestones like Ivy did in the story. * Below: Joan Bauer at her family home in 1952 and with her daughter, Jean, in 1982.
Views on Joan Bauer
The first book I ever read by Joan Bauer was Stand Tall . I loved it so much I convinced our middle school language arts teacher to use it as a novel study in one of her classes. She read it and loved it too, but the boys in her class hated it. They said it was a “girl book” even though the main character was a twelve year old boy. I didn’t get why they thought that way. I just figured they were being difficult, like most middle schoolers are. That is, until I read Squashed , Backwater , and Peeled . Now I get why the boys thought Stand Tall was a girl book. Joan Bauer is a “girl book” writer, no doubt.
Having never read any other Joan Bauer books other than Stand Tall prior to this assignment I didn’t have as clear a picture as I do now about the how she writes. Her stories are about the emotional growing pains that teens have, told with a generous amount of humor. Her main characters fight their inner demons to overcome their weaknesses and doubts to be the best they can be as they transition out of childhood and into adulthood. Inspiring? Yes. However, I don’t think it’s something that most middle school boys want to read about at this stage in their life. Go figure.
That being said, I really like Joan Bauer’s books. She definitely has a defined style, and honestly, I think her characters are interchangeable, but maybe that’s because I’m old and jaded. Nevertheless, her books are good light-hearted reads with inspiring messages. I highly recommend them.