Written by Lauren Elmegreen

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


Life is never predictable. This is just what Cynthia Voigt's life has proven. After completing college, she swore that she would never be a teacher, which is just what she ended up doing. Cynthia's dream was to be a writer, but that dream was put on hold when she got married and started teaching, which she ended up enjoying. When her son was born, she found time to write, getting the idea for the book Building Blocks from watching her son. Her life took another twist when she started working on the book Homecoming and put the book Building Blocks on hold. She published Homecoming and her career as an author finally began.

Cynthia Voigt, a young adult author, has written many books for middle school aged children. Some of her books share the same characters, some do not. However, all of her books are read by many young adults. Cynthia's life-her childhood, family, hobbies, and influences-and how she gets ideas for books and writes them are important parts of who Cynthia Voigt is and how she became a popular young adult author.

Voigt was born on February 25, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts as Cynthia Irving. In her family were her mother, Elise Keeney and her father Frederick C, Irving who was a corporate executive. She was the second child of four (Senick, 13: 224) and grew up in southern Connecticut. (Hile, 79: 209) Voigt went to Smith College where she got a bachelor's degree. (Hile, 86: 209) She did graduate work at St. Michael's College (Junior Discovering Authors) and later got a teacher's certification at Christian Brothers College. (Hile, 79: 209)

Voigt held a few jobs in her life. She worked for an advertising agency. She has also been a secretary, and she was a high school English teacher in Glen Burnie and Annapolis, Maryland. She was the English department chair from 1971 to 1979 and now she is an author. (Hile, 79: 209) Cynthia Voigt likes to read, eat well, play tennis, and see movies. She also likes "hanging around with our children and considering the weather." (Hile, 79: 209)

Cynthia Voigt first married in September 1964. She divorced in 1972. In August 1974, she married Walter Voigt, a teacher. She has two children, Jessica and Peter. (Hile, 79: 209) She also had a dog named Rosie. Family life has influenced Cynthia because she has less time to write. (Senick, 13: 225) Cynthia Voigt and her family have lived in Annapolis, Maryland, New Mexico, and they currently live in Deer Isle, Maine. She says that she lived in Annapolis because it is both rural and urban; it has a southwestern sky, it has mountains and water, and it has an "everyman-kind-of state." (Senick, 13: 224)

Voigt first decided to become a writer when she was in high school because she liked books. (Hile, 79: 210) When she was teaching, she decided to write books for young adults. (Junior Discovering Authors) She wrote short stories and poetry in high school and college. (Hile, 79: 210) Voigt started writing Building Blocks first, but Homecoming was the first book that she finished and published. (Senick, 13: 224) It was published in 1981 by Atheneum. (Junior Discovering Authors) Since then, Cynthia Voigt has written six other books about the Tillermans. She has won many awards. She won the Notable Children's Trade Book in the field of social studies for Homecoming, the Newbery Medal, ALA in 1983 for Dicey's Song, and the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1984 for The Callender Papers, just to name a few. Among the other books she has written are A Solitary Blue, the Runner, Seventeen Against the Dealer, Izzy, Willy-Nilly, Come a Stranger, Sons from Afar, Tell Me if All Lovers Are Losers, and Tree by Leaf. (Hile, 79: 209-10)

Some of Voigt's books deal with "child abuse, verbal abuse, racism, and coping with amputation." (Hile, 79: 212) Some of her books are mystery or fantasy. (Hile, 79: 212) Voigt bases the characters in her books on different people. "In some cases a character may be part of myself, but not really." (Senick, 13: 24) She says that Dicey Tillerman is the child that she would have liked to be and Gram is the lady that she would like to become. Sammy Tillerman is similar to her son. (Senick, 13: 224) Cynthia gets plot ideas from different places. For the book Homecoming, she saw kids sitting in a car and wondered what would happen if no one came back for them. (Hile, 79: 211) For the book Building Blocks, Cynthia was watching her son play with cardboard blocks and she started to wonder "what would happen if . . . ." (Senick, 13: 224) The settings of her books are based on real places. (Senick, 13: 224)

Ideally, she would be able to write from eight a.m. until noon, but things such as grocery shopping cut into that time. To write her books, she first makes an outline of the plot and a map where by can write what will happen in each chapter. She likes stories based on fact and she enjoys doing characterization. Voigt has trouble creating a plot. (Senick, 13: 223-24)

Cynthia Voigt's books are enjoyed by many, but most of her readers do not know about her life and how she got where she is today. By learning about the life and writing process of an author, a reader can appreciate her writing even more. Cynthia Voigt, a young adult author, should be remembered not only as a writer, but as a mother, a teacher, and a wife. She has contributed many realistic fiction, fantasy, and mystery books. Her seven books about the Tillermans are read and enjoyed by many. Her numerous awards, such as the Newbery Medal prove her importance to the world of literature.


Dicey's Song

After Dicey, James, Maybeth, and Sammy Tillerman's journey last summer, they are just trying to fit in at their grandmother's house in Chesapeake Bay. As the school year begins, Dicey becomes friends with Wilhemina Smiths and Jeff Greene. Jeff sits outside after school and Dicey sings with him and wants to be friends, but it isn't easy for her to have friends and worry about her family, especially her dying mother. This realistic fiction book has characters that come to life. I would recommend this book for young adults looking for a book about people with problems.

Seventeen Against the Dealer

Dicey Tillerman's dream has been to build boats, so when she opens up a shop in Crisfield, Maryland, she has high hopes. She soon realizes that running a business isn't as easy as it seems when shortly after New Year's, she comes to the shop to find that it has been broken into and only then does she learn about getting insurance. Dicey has trouble making money so she agrees to paint boats that her landlord, Claude, has built. The process goes slowly until Cisco Kidd arrives one day. He makes the job go faster with his talk and help. Throughout this book, Dicey learns that her family and friends-Maybeth, James, Sammy, Gram, and Jeff-should come before work, and that people make mistakes.


Like many other authors, Cynthia Voigt focuses on a few stylistic devices in each book. In Dicey's Song and Seventeen Against the Dealer, she uses realistic language, dynamic characters, and loose ends. This section describes those conventions and how they fit into each book. The first characteristic that Cynthia Voigt uses is realistic language. The following is a passage from Dicey's Song.

"But even if I can't prove plagiarism, I can smell it. Besides, there was a restriction on this assignment. It was supposed to be about someone you knew. A real person. On those grounds alone the essay fails.'
Dicey should have known. She should have known this would happen, and everyone would believe him. The silence in the room told her what everyone was thinking. She was the only one standing up, for everyone to look at." (Voigt, Dicey's Song. 21).

This shows realism as Dicey is being accused of something that she didn't do. The second is getting a bad grade when she thought she deserved better. The third problem is being embarrassed in front of the class.

Realistic language is also demonstrated in Seventeen Against the Dealer.

"Someone had punched a hole through the glass, or had hit it with a rock or brick, most likely, because you could cut your hand putting it through glass, even thin glass like the door into the shop. . . . Someone had made that huge hole in the pane and then reached in to twist the little knob that locked the door. Someone had reached in to open the door. Why would someone do that?" (Voigt, Seventeen Against the Dealer.42).

That passage clearly shows the confusion and frustration that someone feels when they discover their house, or in this case their shop, had been broken into.

Second, Voigt uses the convention of dynamic characters.

"He wanted to do some fishing and crabbing or anything that would prevent him from spending the afternoon indoors or being polite. Now I notice, John didn't seem too happy about it either, does he? Did I ever tell you how Bullet didn't go to that party?" she asked.
Well, of course she hadn't, and she knew that as well as they did.
So Gram began the story. (Voigt, Dicey's Song. 211).

That shows a dynamic character because in most of the book, Gram isn't very open about her past or what her children were like. At this point in the book she is finally opening up by showing Dicey, James, Maybeth, and Sammy a picture album, and telling them stories. In this passage she is telling them about her sons Bullet and John.

Similarly, there are dynamic characters in Seventeen Against the Dealer. This paragraph best shows an example of a dynamic character.

"She thought about Jeff. She hadn't talked to him, or written to him, or heard from him, either, for a while. How long, she wasn't sure of. She hadn't realized how long it had been, however long it had been. Too long. She'd never totaled up how many phone calls she hadn't returned, but if she did she'd probably feel bad." (Voigt, Seventeen Against the Dealer.100).

That paragraph shows the turning point for Dicey. At first, she mostly cares about her work on the boats. After this point she understands how important her family and Jeff are to her, and she realizes that she hasn't been spending enough time with them.

Finally, Voigt uses the device I call loose ends. A conclusion is the ending of the book where all of the questions are answered. With loose ends, unanswered questions remain.

"I don't understand," she whispered.
Dicey didn't know what to do. "That's OK," she said. "They aren't important."
"I'm supposed to know them," Maybeth said.
"We'll try again," Dicey said. "Some other time." (Voigt, Dicey's Song.13).

This shows where one of the loose ends in Dicey's Song first comes up. Here Maybeth is learning fractions, and she doesn't understand. Dicey is trying to help her, but Dicey doesn't know how to teach Maybeth in a way that will make sense to her. Cynthia Voigt never says whether or not Maybeth learns it, or if she does, how she does.

Additionally, in Seventeen Against the Dealer, one of the unanswered questions deals with Maybeth.

"If he's going to be home, it'll be on Saturday. She wants him to call her, and he hasn't."
"You're that sure she wants him to?"
Sammy nodded. Dicey didn't question his accuracy. Sammy knew his sister, and understood her. "I kind of want him to, too. But he might not. Maybeth-never complains, but it doesn't seem to me that there are so many things she wants, not for herself." (Voigt, Seventeen Against the Dealer.164).

In that quote, Sammy and Dicey are discussing the possibility of Maybeth being asked out by a boy that she liked. It never says in the book whether or not he eventually asks her out.

Realism, dynamic characters, and loose ends are what makes Cynthia Voigt's writing style unique.


Hile, Kevin S., ed. Something About the Author. Vol 79. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1995.

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

Senick, Gerald J., ed. Children's Literature Review. Vol 13. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1987.

Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey's Song. New York: Ballatine Books, 1982.

Voigt, Cynthia. Seventeen Against the Dealer. New York: Ballatine Books, 1989.

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Created March 31, 1997, Last Updated April 8, 1997