Outside in with Avi

"Avi!" that was the nickname his twin sister called him when they were small. That was enough of a name for Avi (pronounced Ah-Vee) Wortis then, and it's still the name that he writes under today.

Avi came from a family who were passionate about radical politics and the arts. Family members in New York and Boston argued all the time, but in a loving way, so any dinner table discussion might turn into a free-for-all of exciting ideas.

Avi loved reading, and one of his favorite books was The Wind in the Willows. He was a smart young guy, but he did very badly in school, mostly because he had problems spelling words correctly. This condition, called dysgraphia, caused him to fail many classes. While other kids were getting acing grammar, Avi, the future Newbery-Award winner, was avoiding every English class he could. He hated getting bad grades, but if school was rough, he did have good friends, a loving family, and a terrific imagination to fall back on. But none of that could get him the grades he needed to stay in school:

"Third year in high school marked the turning point. It was then that my English teacher threw up his hands in despair about my writing skills. He insisted I go to a tutor that summer or flunk the course, which meant dismissal from the school. I spent the summer learning to write. Or rather, I learned to want to write. Perhaps it was stubbornness, but from that time forward I wanted to write in some way, some form. It was the one thing everybody said I could not do."
-EPA's Top 100 Authors

Avi learned how to craft a memorable story while studying playwriting at Antioch College. After graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he worked as a playwright in New York City. In time, he became a librarian at New York Public Library's performing arts research center.

After his children were born, Avi began setting down some of the stories he had told them at bedtime. His first collection, Things That Sometimes Happen: Very Short Stories for Little Listeners, was published in 1970. He went on to write many stories for children and young adults. He and his wife, Linda Wright, have developed Breakfast Serials, quality children's fiction that appears in local newspapers to help develop youngsters' imagination and literacy.

"Being dysgraphic, with the standard history of frustration and anguish, I always ask to speak to the learning-disabled kids. They come in slowly, waiting for yet another pep talk, more instructions. Eyes cast down, they won't even look at me. Their anger glows. I don't say a thing. I lay out pages of my copy-edited manuscripts, which are covered with red marks. `Look here,' I say, `see that spelling mistake. There, another spelling mistake. Looks like I forgot to put a capital letter there. Oops! Letter reversal.' Their eyes lift. They are listening. And I am among friends."
- "Avi" in Authors and Artists for Young Adults, reproduced online in Biography Resource Center.

Three to Read from Avi

He's written dozens of well-crafted books, but these three are particularly memorable:

Poppy
When Mr. Ocax spied Ragweed and Poppy enjoying a bit of romance on a beautiful moonlit night, he had no qualms about swooping down and devouring first one, and then the other. They were out of bounds, after all, and he was a bit hungry. Poppy, though but a small deer mouse, has the heart of a lion and the courage to avenge her love and save her family from the deceitful rule of the great horned owl.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
In 1832, sweet Charlotte would never dream of not doing what her father said. He was always right, wasn't he? Who was she, a thirteen-year-old girl, to question his decisions? He had told her to board the sailing ship to America alone, and it should have been perfectly safe. Two other respectable families were set to sail as well, and the ship belonged to her father's firm. But before the Seahawk leaves port, there are hints of trouble. Crew members warn that they want no passengers on this voyage, and Charlotte spies a figure, half-hidden by darkness, shimmying up a rope and into the ship's hold. By the end of the violent passage, Miss Charlotte Doyle's view on what is proper and what is wrong will be utterly transformed.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead
Asta's son is filthy, illiterate, and poor, and he is known by no other name than "Asta's son." Surely he's no threat to anyone, let alone Lord Furnival's steward. So why has he been declared a "Wolf's Head," a criminal whom anyone is encouraged to kill on sight? With his mother dead and his father unknown, Asta's Son sets out on the road to find his true identity in this Newbery-winning tale set in fourteenth-century England.

Click here for all of Avi's books for young readers owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. These books may be reserved by our patrons and sent to a favorite branch. Some are also available in audio book format--terrific for long drives.

On the Web

Avi
http://www.avi-writer.com/
Avi's personal page has a short interview, lists of his books with descriptions of each, and a special freebie for teachers: a cassette of readings from recent books: The Mayor of Central Park, Never Mind! and The End of the Beginning.

Avi: Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech
http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/avi_newbery.html
A humble, inspiring, and beguiling speech given in Toronto in 2003.

Biography Resource Center: Avi Wortis
http://www.librarypoint.org/articles_databases
Scholarly essays on the author's life and works from Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Contemporary Authors, Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, and St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. Available at no charge to CRRL card holders.

Breakfast Serials: Avi
http://www.breakfastserials.com/1PRODUCT_4Authors_Detail.asp?authorID=39
Breakfast Serials, a fiction project for young readers via daily newspapers, was created by Avi and his wife, Linda Wright, and others. Click on Talk to the Author to send Avi a note online.

The Life of Avi
http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2005/3/10/20262/6416
Interesting details of Avi's early life and later career from the educational project, A Walk Along Wickenden.