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of the Center for Children's Books

Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist, sometimes a new talent whose work has begun to come into its own and sometimes an old favorite whose reliable contributions deserve notice. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.

Kristine L. Franklin

One of the pleasures of this job is discovering the merits of an author early in their career; another one is knowing of authors whose work is reliably and consistently, though perhaps unflashily, good. Kristine Franklin obligingly provides both pleasures. While she originally began in 1992 as an author of picture books (and she has worked in nonfiction as well), her best writing appears in her novels.

Those novels have been a recent development in her career, with the first, Eclipse, published only in 1995. In Eclipse, narrator Trina movingly describes the effects of her father's severe depression on her family; the book captures the twelve-year-old's bewilderment, frustration, and fear at the changes in her father and the uncertainty about the family's future. The next year's Nerd No More was a very different book, in which sixth-grader Wiggy struggles to overcome his nerdy new image. 1997 saw Franklin working in a more serious vein again, with Lone Wolf the story of a boy who joined his father in withdrawing from the world after a family tragedy, but who begins to think that his father's solution may cause a different kind of pain.

Her tonal versatility is impressive, since the comedy of Nerd No More is as effective as the emotional realization of Lone Wolf and Eclipse. She has a sensitive ear for telling dialogue (Wiggy's belittling nickname, "Bowel Boy," is authentic both in its cruelty and its humor), an empathetic understanding of youthful human dynamics, and an ability to convey some complex and conflicting emotions with clarity and creativity. She's particularly notable for keeping herself out of her protagonists' way: you leave the book remembering the characters, not gasping at literary pyrotechnics.

Books for middle-graders often get shorted, stuck as they are between the eye-catching picture books and the near-adult YAs (perhaps the reason for this reviewer's protective fondness for them). Franklin's novels are meritorious not for breaking out of the parameters of middle-grade fiction but by demonstrating that one can write books of a consistently high standard within them--which conversely reminds us that there's therefore no excuse for fobbing off lesser stuff on the not-ready-for-YA crowd. Franklin's work shines with respect for her protagonists and readers.

--Deborah Stevenson, Assistant Editor

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This page was last updated on October 1, 1997.