You name it; she does it: picture books, middle grade, young adult… Because some of her most well-known (and well-loved) books are the Chadwick the Crab stories, set in the Chesapeake Bay, a popular misconception is that Priscilla Cummings is a native Marylander. The truth is, she grew up on a dairy farm in Massachusetts, “far from the water.” As a child, she had few books of her own, but was not only an avid reader; she wrote and illustrated animal stories, kept a diary, and wrote to over 20 penpals worldwide!
After earning a degree in English Literature, Priscilla worked as a journalist for ten years, receiving UPI’s Journalist of the Year in 1981. Her journalistic skills remain very much in evidence as she combs the news for stories, and fashions them into thought-provoking, must-read novels like What Mr. Mattero Did, and A Face First.
Brady Parks and two friends, J.T. and Digger, enjoy life in their Chesapeake Bay–area town. Slowly but surely, however, rich families encroach upon their way of life. J.T. and Digger become hostile toward a particular family, the DiAngelos, who bought the farm down the street that once belonged to Digger’s grandfather. Though loyal to J.T. and Digger, Brady befriends the DiAngelos and even babysits their son, Ben. On a day when the weather is particularly rough, the boys spot Mr. DiAngelo and his red kayak on the river heading toward rough water. Agreeing that “he deserves it,” the boys go on without warning Mr. DiAngelo. Brady’s father gets him out of school to help find someone who has been lost on the river. Unfortunately, it is not Mr. DiAngelo but his wife and son who have ventured out in the kayak and gotten lost. Compelled both by his feelings toward the family and his guilt for neglecting to warn them, Brady is determined to find the lost pair. After he saves Ben’s life, the community considers him a hero. Sadly, Ben dies of exposure in the hospital. In an effort to help Mrs. DiAngelo through this rough time, Brady begins to do chores for her around her property. Through his efforts, he discovers evidence that implicates his friends in the fateful events of that horrible day. Now Brady faces a tough moral dilemma that will require him to decide between betraying his friends and doing what he knows is right. Priscilla Cummings’s ability to accurately capture the thoughts and feelings of a thirteen-year-old boy is extraordinary; any adolescent can relate to the dilemma she so vividly describes of trying to choose between one’s friends and one’s conscience. Cummings dives directly into the heart of the story, creatively setting the scene for Brady’s imminent decision with several intense situations. Her use of imagery and straightforward plot create a clear picture of a problem that has no clear solution. 2004, Dutton Children’s Books/First Edition/Penguin, $15.99. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Kathryn Hanson (Children’s Literature).
What Mr. Mattero Did
When Claire, a seventh grader at Oakdale Middle School, along with her friends Suzanne and Jenna, meet with their principal to accuse their music teacher, Mr. Mattero, of touching them inappropriately, they do not anticipate the consequences of their actions. Wanting merely be transferred from his music class to study hall, they are surprised when the administration asks Mr. Mattero to leave the school until further notice. Jenna, the ringleader, stands firm in her accusation, but as Suzanne and Claire become nervous and insecure, they begin to waver. As the rumors escalate, Mr. Mattero’s family begins to fall apart as they await word from the police on whether or not he will be formally charged. His daughter Melody, an eighth grader at Oakdale Middle School, is particularly affected, since everyone around her assumes her father’s guilt. Cummings’s choice of two alternating first-person narrators–Melody and Claire–emphasizes contrasting perspectives and increases the suspense about Mr. Mattero’s fate. Claire’s insecurity and anxiety, as well as her submission to strong-willed Jenna, make her appealing and real, evoking the sympathy of the reader all the way to the conclusion of the novel. Cummings approaches this difficult topic cautiously, making this must-read novel dark but age appropriate. 2005, Penguin, $16.99. Ages 13 to 17. Reviewer: Whitney Hartsoe (Children’s Literature).
Meet Chadwick and His Chesapeake Bay Friends
This book introduces young readers to Chadwick the crab, the main character of a series of children’s books about animal life on the Chesapeake Bay. By meeting Chadwick and his friends, including Bernie the sea gull, Matilda the egret, and Baron Von Heron, among others, children will begin to learn about the diversity of animals living in and around the Bay. The book works well as a starting point for discussing the interacting populations of the bay’s ecosystem with young children. It is designed to be read aloud, with a sing-song rhythm to its rhyming verses, and a format that allows the book to be held lengthwise, making it easier to hold while reading to a large group. 1999, Tidewater Publishers, $11.95. Ages 3 to 6. Reviewer: Rebecca Singer (Children’s Literature).
Priscilla Cummings visits schools and speaks to students in grades K through 9th grade. She also visits libraries and other youth and adult groups to talk about her books and the writing process.
Book talks at elementary schools are 45 minutes long. The author talks about how she came up with the ideas for her stories, how she created and named her characters, and then takes students through her writing process and shows them how a book is made. With fourth and fifth graders, she also pulls in information about researching and writing her novels. Students are always allowed time to ask questions.
Book talks for middle school focus on the authors’ novels and are generally an hour long. Priscilla talks about how she turns the spark of a good idea into an entire novel, weaving in information about plot, characterization and theme. She hopes her audience has done some reading beforehand and includes time for students to ask questions.
Elementary school visits in Maryland start at $700 for two, back-to-back sessions; three talks for $850 and $1,100 for a full day at school, which includes four talks and a reading for pre-K and/or K. Out-of-state visits are higher.
Middle School visits in Maryland start at $850 for two, one-hour sessions and $1,100 for a full day
To learn more about Priscilla and her publications please visit www.priscillacummings.com/.