LEARNING ABOUT
AVI


Written by Megan Hall

Grade 8
John Jay Middle School, Cross River, New York
Lucretia Pannozzo, Teacher

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION

Avi is not just a talented writer; at some point in his life he has been a photographer, a librarian, a reader, a hiker, a music student, a runner, a bread maker and a cricket player. Maybe Avi is such a good writer because he has experience in all sorts of fields. Avi was also a child, a student, and a parent, which means he can write from many points of view. Avi has also felt many emotions in his life, so he can write about feelings. All of these things make Avi a great writer.

Avi has written a variety of books, most of them targeted for young adult readers. Some of his many books include: The Barn, Devil's Race and The Man Who Was Poe.

Avi was born in New York City on December 23, 1937 and was raised in Manhattan. (Telgen, 71:7) When he was young, he had dysgraphia, which is a writing problem. This played an important role in his life. Most of his school papers were covered in red pen. Avi once said," I wasn't even paying attention (to the red marks) to it. I liked what I wrote."(JRDA) He was also influenced by his family, who were very involved with the arts. He said, "a very strong art community and what this meant for me as a child was that there was always a kind of uproarious sense of debate. It was all very affectionate sharing of ideas--arguing, but not arguing in anger, arguing about ideas. (JRDA) Avi describes his adolescence in this quote, "I think my adolescence was unhappy in the way that many adolescents' lives are unhappy." (JRDA) Avi attended the University of Wisconsin and received a BA in 1959 and his MA in 1962. He also attended Columbia University and received his MLS in 1964. (Telgen 71:7)

Avi's family had a great influence on his life. His father Joseph is a psychiatrist; his mother Helen is a social worker; his first wife Joan Gabriner is a weaver; and his present wife Coppelia Kahn is a English professor. His great grandparents, his grandma, his brothers and his aunt were all writers; two of his uncles were painters; another uncle was a composer; and both Avi's parents wrote. All of these people contributed to the fact that Avi is a writer. (Telgen 71:7)

Avi presently lives at 15 Sheldon St. in Providence, Rhode Island, 02906. (Telgen 71:7) He has not always lived here and has not always been a writer. He has been an assistant professor and a humanities librarian. (JRDA) Both his parents were photographers, and Avi also is a photographer. He develops his own pictures in the basement of his house. (Podel)

He once asked, "How many of you have athletic trophies displayed in your schools?" (Podel) You can just imagine how many people raised their hands. Then Avi asked, "How many of you have trophy displays for the best reader or writers?" (Podel) No one raised their hands. You may be wondering why he became a writer. That is simple--because he was told he couldn't; Avi had dysgraphia. Another question you might have is when did Avi become a writer. Avi thinks that the first step to writing is reading. He has a diary entry from high school which states that he wants to be a writer. In college, Avi wrote plays; one was even published in a magazine. Avi became a novel writer after his first son was born. He enjoyed telling him stories, so he decided to became a writer. (JRDA)

In this next quote Avi explains his goals as a writer,

"I try to write about complex issues--young people in an adult world-- full of irony and contradiction in a narrative style that relies heavily on suspense with a texture rich in emotion and imagery. I take a great deal of satisfaction in using popular forms-- the adventure, the mystery, the thriller-- so as to hold my reader with the sheer pleasure of a good story. At the same time I try to resolve my books with an ambiguity that compels engagement. In short, I want my readers to feel, to think, sometimes to laugh. But most of all I want them to enjoy a good read." (JRDA)

Avi writes not just adventure, mystery and thrillers; he also writes historical fiction, serious, comic, realistic fiction, fantasies and short stories. Avi has won over twenty one awards for his many books he has won Best Book of the Year, Newbery Honor, Golden Kite Awards, Society of Children's Book Writers and ALA Notable Book Citation. (Telgen 71:8)

Avi's first book was Things that Sometimes Happen: Very Short Stories for Very Young Readers, published in 1970. Avi has an office with a computer where he spends about six hours a day working on his novels. Where does Avi get these wonderful ideas for his stories? "The answer is everywhere. Ideas do not come whole cloth. They are amalgams of random thoughts, observations, moods, squeezed into shape by the way I took upon the world." (Podel) To go with these ideas are his characters; his characters are parts of himself and "the American role model." (JRDA)

Isn't it exciting to see all the things that influence a writer? You would never think that doing poorly in school and being told you can't write would encourage someone to became a writer. Yet Avi continues to write great novels.

AUTHOR'S STYLE AND CONVENTIONS

Avi has written many books; the two that will be presented in the following paragraphs are The Barn and Devil's Race. The three aspects of his style discussed are the cliffhanger, point of view and dynamic characters.

The first convention that Avi used in both books that I read was the cliffhanger. Cliffhangers leave the reader not knowing what will happen next. One example of a cliffhanger in Avi's book The Barn is, "By then I found my answer. 'It isn't just a barn,' I said. 'It's a gift.'" (Avi, The Barn. 77) At this point in the story you don't know want is going to be done about the barn. Will it get built or will Ben (the main character) get in a fight with his older brother and sister about building it? You have to read the next chapter to find out.

Avi also uses first person point of view. Point of view is who tells the story. First person is when the story is told through the main character's point of view. This is the narration technique that is used for The Barn.

"In the seven months since I'd seen him last him, he appeared to have grown about a foot. How I envied his size and strength, his shovel wide face and those hands as tough as horn." (Avi, The Barn. 11)

This is a description of Ben's older brother, Harrison, through Ben's eyes. Avi chose to write the book through Ben's point of view because the book is about how Ben deals with his father's palsy attack.

Similarly, first person point of view is used in Devil's Race. An example of this is,

"She caught him off guard. I had expected a lecture. Instead, she had asked me the one thing I had been asking myself and could not answer: What was the matter" (Avi, Devil's Race. 1).

This example comes from the first page of the book, it sets the mood for the book, but it is introduced though first person narration.

Dynamic characterization is a third aspect of Avi's writing. A dynamic character is one that undergoes a change. In the book The Barn the main character changes as revealed in the following quotes: "It was hard work for it was then that I learned how truly helpless Father had become." (Avi, The Barn. 28-29) In that quote you can see that Ben has never done much hard work for he is only looking after his father. In this next quote you see how Ben changed into a hard worker.

"Next I had to strip off the bark, the trick was to peel it in sheets as big as possible, which we could nail onto the barn roof for shakes. I used Father's peeling chisel, the one with the widest blade. Smaller pieces I used to patch the roof on our house." (Avi, The Barn. 74)

The character that undergoes a change in Devil's Race is John Proud, the Second.

"I was sixteen, tall, lanky, with a round, almost baby face and a pug of a nose. Mr. Average Nice Guy. When the girls took a poll, there I was, "Best Boy Pal." (Avi, Devil's Race.1)

This how John Proud describes himself in the beginning of this novel. As the novel progresses John Proud changes,

"It's like... he is me, but all the same, he's not. Doesn't make much sense, does it? It's as if he does things, things I might only think of doing. But I don't know if I'm the only one who is thinking them."
"Who else?"
"Him. Putting thoughts in my head."
"Breaking things? Stealing?"
I nodded, adding, "Killing Uncle Dave." (Avi, Devil's Race. 64)

This shows how John Proud goes from a popular young teen to a young trouble maker who doesn't know his own thoughts.

Avi uses these three devices, along with others, to create wonderful novels. These novels quickly involve readers in the stories, as if they were facing the problem themselves.

MY CRITICAL COMMENTS ON BOOKS

The Barn

In The Barn, Ben is attending boarding school in Portland until he hears of his father's accident. Nettie, his sister, comes to take him home to father, who is dying of palsy. When Ben arrives home, he is shocked to see his father's condition. Ben does his best to communicate with his father, but it is not for a couple of weeks that Ben notices that his father blinks his eyes to answer questions. His father wants Ben to build a barn. To build a barn meant that you intended to stay. Ben's father wanted Ben to stay on the farm, and Ben wanted his father to stay alive. I liked the way you see the world through the eyes of Ben. I enjoyed this book a lot and recommend it to anyone who wants a fast read.

Devil's Race

What do you do when you are talking with someone who looks and has the same name as you, but isn't you? That is the problem that John Proud faces in the book Devil's Race. The first John Proud was hung in 1854 for being a demon, now he wants to come back. To do this he must kill someone else and take his place. Uncle Dave and Cousin Ann are not strong enough for him to take their places. The second John Proud is the only one who can take his place.

This story takes place in the fall in Philadelphia. John Proud travels to Licksdale to visit the cemetery were his great, great, great, great grandfather is buried. That is where he meets the first John Proud. Devil's Race is a great book with a fast moving pace. I recommend this book to anyone.

CONCLUSIONS

Avi writes wonderful novels that grab readers and pull them into the setting of the book. The two novels that I read by this author are The Barn and Devil's Race. They are books with real conflicts that could actually happen in real life. Avi has won twenty one awards for his many books such as The Man Who was Poe, which won the Library of Congress Best Book of the Year Citation in 1990. The awards that Avi treasure the most are the ones presented by young readers themselves. I would recommend an Avi book to anyone.

WORKS CITED

Avi. Devil's Race. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.

Avi. The Barn. New York: Richard Jackson/Orchard Books, 1994.

Avi. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. New York: Richard Jackson/Orchard Books, 1990.

Junior Discovering Authors. CD-ROM. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1994.

Senick, Gerard, ed. Children's Literature Review. Vol 24. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1991.

Telgen, Diane, ed. Something About the Author. Vol 71. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1993.

 

 

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Created March 31, 1997, Last Updated April 7, 1997