Jane Kurtz was born in Portland, Oregon, but when she was two years old, her parents moved to Ethiopia. Jane grew up in Maji, a small town in the southwest corner of the country. Since there were no televisions, radios, or movies, her memories are of climbing mountains, wading in rivers by the waterfalls, listening to stories, and making up her own stories, which she and her sisters acted out for days at a time.
When Jane was in fourth grade, she went to boarding school in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. By the time she came back to the United States for college, she felt there was no way to talk about her childhood home to people here. It took nearly twenty years to finally find a way–through her children’s books. Now she often speaks in schools and at conferences, sharing memories from her own childhood and bringing in things for the children to touch and taste and see and smell and hear from Ethiopia.
Since the publications of her first books Jane has published a book each year. She has written several more picture books, a novel, and resources for educators. Part of her time is spent visiting in schools. She worked in classrooms with elementary and high school students for over ten years and then for another ten years at the University of North Dakota.
Jane currently lives in Kansas with her husband, Leonard Goering, and where both of them enjoy visits from their children. Together they have traveled to Ethiopia, the site of one of the literacy projects Jane supports.
In the Small, Small Night
Illustrated by Rachel Isadora
Abena tries to reassure her little brother Kofi when he cannot sleep for worrying about what may happen to them in America. She recalls for him the stories told by the storyteller back in their village in Ghana. The first tale is of tricky Anansi, who tries to take all the wisdom of the world away in a pot, but is foiled by his wise young son. The next is of how turtle tricks vulture, who has teased him. Finally, as she is carrying him to bed, Kofi turns the tables on her, dispelling her fears of being teased in their new country by reminding her of the lessons in the story and of their family togetherness. For as she falls asleep she knows that the stars she sees walking across the sky will be seen by her family in Ghana as well. Isadora uses her pastels to model characters, to depict the loving sibling relationship as well as the lively Anansi and the rich, warm African setting. The animals, like turtle and vulture, are also full of strong emotional content. Her full-page scenes are loaded with a pulsating sense of vitality, even to the final page of Abena sleeping with a parade of toy animals behind her pillow. In a note, the author explains the source of the stories and the inspiration for the book. 2005, Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers, $16.99 and $17.89. Ages 5 to 8. Reviewers: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz (Children’s Literature).
Illustrated by Amy June Bates
Very young children may not really understand why we have holidays such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but early readers like this one can help. Jane Kurtz’s poetic text is reminiscent of the oratory that one would have heard from Reverend King himself. She focuses on the day in 1963–the March on Washington, D.C.–when more than 200,000 gathered on the Mall near the Lincoln Memorial. His speech called for all to be included–that every man or woman regardless of color should be allowed to vote and to go anywhere. That things should be fair and that children of all races would hold hands together. His words still ring true, and how pleased Reverend King would be to have witnessed the election of 2008, when a man who had a white mother and a black father was elected the 44th president of the United States. Yes, indeed, his dream of equality has come true. The drawings that accompany the text show various scenes in Reverend King’s life–his role as a minister, marching in Civil Rights demonstrations, sitting in jail contemplating his fate and that of the Civil Rights movement and on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, giving one of his most famous speeches. A Level 1 book in the “Ready-To-Read” series. 2008, Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, $3.99. Ages 4 to 6. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children’s Literature).
Water Hole Waiting
Jane Kurtz and Christopher Kurtz
Illustrated by Lee Christiansen
The authors who have lived in Ethiopia and traveled in Kenya depict a waterhole and the drama of the animals that come to drink there from morning to night. Throughout, sad-faced monkeys wait their turn so as not to get stepped on by elephants and hippos, or trampled by the grazers, or eaten by the ever-present crocodile floating like a log in the water. Telegraphic, often poetic prose, in short bursts, tells how mama monkey grabs whatever part of her anxious and thirsty baby she can reach–ear, leg, tail–to teach him to wait while the personified sun cartwheels up and somersaults across the sky until evening slinks through, pulling shadows behind it. Finally, “Evening sighs. Sun sinks./Crocodile ripples away” and “the monkeys leap/jiggle/chitter-chatter/wiggle/all the way down/to the waiting water hole./Aaaaah.” The book pairs well with other African savannah-set stories to show the importance of a waterhole and the animals that use it. 2002, Greenwillow, $15.95. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Susan Hepler, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
Jane Kurtz travels throughout the United States and the world to speak to students and teachers about her writing. In her presentations she answers the questions: where do authors get ideas, where do authors get details, how does reading change lives, and how can kids make a difference. She adapts her presentations to fit the age of the audience. Presentations are generally 30 minutes for K – 1st grade and 40 mins – hour for older audiences.
Fees: $1,500 plus expenses.
To learn more about Jane Kurtz and her publications please visit www.janekurtz.com.