At the very edge of Dimwood Forest stood an old charred oak where, silhouetted by the moon, a great horned owl sat waiting. The owls name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself. With his piercing gaze, he surveyed the lands he called his own, watching for the creatures he considered his subjects. Not one of them ever dared to cross his path. . .until the terrible night when two little mice went dancing in the moonlight. . .
Ask Avi how you know when you're a real writer and his answer is simple: "I think you become a writer when you stop writing for yourself or your teachers and start thinking about readers." Avi made up his mind to do that when he was just a senior in high school.
Avi was born in 1937 in New York City and was raised in Brooklyn. Kids often ask him about his name. "My twin sister gave it to me when we were both about a year old. And it stuck." To this day, Avi is the only name the author uses.
As a kid, Avi says, he was "shy, not into sports, but someone who loved to read and play games of imagination." He did not consider himself a good student, though. "In elementary school I did well in science, but I was a poor writer. When I got to high school I failed all my courses. Then my folks put me in a small school that emphasized reading and writing." What made him want to become a writer? "Since writing was important to my family, friends and school, it was important to me. I wanted to prove that I could write. But it took years before I had a book published."
Avi didn't start off as an author of children's books but as a playwright. It was only when he had children of his own that he started to writefor young people.
When asked if writing is hard for him, Avi gives an unequivocal YES. "But," he goes on, "it's hard for everyone to write well. I have to rewrite over and over again, so on average it takes me a year to write a book." Where does he get his ideas? "Everybody has ideas. The vital question is: What do you do with them? My wife, a college teacher, uses her ideas to understand literature. My rock musician sons shape their ideas in to music. I take my ideas and turn them into stories."
Avi's advice for people who want to write: "I believe reading is the key to writing. the more you read, the better your writing can be." He adds, "Listen, and watch the world around you. Don't be satisfied with answers others give you. Don't assume that because everyone believes a thing, that it is right or wrong. Reason things out for yourself. Work to get answers on your own. Understand why you believe things. Finally, write what you honestly feel, then learn from the criticism that will always come your way."Avi's many award-winning books for young readers include the Newbery Honor Books Nothing But the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, as well as more Tales from Dimwood Forest, including Poppy, winner of the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, Poppy and Rye, and Ragweed. His many other books include tales of mystery, fantasy, and historical fiction for young readers of all ages.In His Own Words...
When I was small, I was read to continually. My grandparents were always telling stories. Our house was filled with books. I saw adults read. Hardly a wonder, then, that I becane a early reader of all sorts of things books for childern, comic books, science magazines, history books anything in which I could fing a story. There was kids' radio too, which I adored. Even so, writing didn't interest me.
It was in my junior year of high school that a great crisis took place: My English teacher informed my parents that I was the worst student he ever had. That summer I was required to spend a lot os time with a family friend, a teacher, who tutored me in writing basics. She gave me something even more important: a reason for writing.
Writing, she taught me, was not just for myself or for some teacher. It was a way of sharing ideas and stories with many. With that notion in mind, I set out after that summer to be a writer, though it wasn't until I had childern of my own that I began to write for young people.
I believe that as a writer for kids, I have three basic options. The first is to write as well as I can. The second is to be honest. The third is to create a vision of possibility. It doesn't matter if that vision is happy or tragic, funny or serious. What does matter is that I show that life is worth living, that we must at least try to fulfill the promise of ourselves. As one of my characters once said, "A good childern's book of promises. And promises are ment to be kept."
I really enjoy meeting my readers. Each year I visit schools and classrooms, and talk to young readers, teachers, and librarians all over the country. We talk about books, the writing and reading of them, how books affect even change their readers. It's a good life.
About the Author
Brian Floca, in addition to being the illustrator of the books in Avi's Poppy Stories series, is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed picture books Locomotive, winner of the Caldecott Medal; Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11; Lightship; The Racecar Alphabet; and Five Trucks. You can visit him online at www.brianfloca.com.
Date of Birth:December 23, 1937
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Education:University of Wisconsin; M.A. in Library Science from Columbia University, 1964
Read an Excerpt
Mr. OcaxA thin crescent moon, high in the sky, shed faint white light over Dimwood Forest. Stars glowed. Breezes full of ripe summer fragrance floated over nearby meadow and hill. Dimwood it self, veiled in darkness, lay utterly still.
At the very edge of this forest stood an old charred oak on which sat a great horned owl. The owl's name was Mr. Ocax, and he looked like death himself.
Mr. Ocax's eyes-flat upon his face were round and yellow with large ebony pupils that enabled him to see as few other creatures could. Moon light even faint moonlight-was as good as day light for him.
With his piercing gaze, Mr. Ocax surveyed the lands he called his own, watching for the comings and goings of the creatures he considered his subjects-and his dinners. ~e looked at Glitter Creek, home to the fish he found so appetizing, the Tar Road, across which tasty rabbits were known to hop; Jayswood, where meaty chipmunks some times skittered before dawn. By swiveling his head he searched the Marsh for a savory frog, then New Field, where, usually, he could count on a delicious vole or two. He looked at Gray House, where Farmer Lamout used to live, then upon the Old Orchard. He even looked, nervously, toward New House. But nowhere did he see a thing to eat. Profoundly annoyed, Mr. Ocax was beginning to think he would have no dinner that night.
But finally, there near the top of Bannock Hill, where the ponderosa pines had all been cut, where only a few struggling saplings and bushes grew- he saw movement. Just the glimmer of food was enough to cause his owl's heart to pound, his curved black beak to clack, his feathered horns to stand uptall.
Mr. Ocax shifted his head from right to left, for ward and back. When he did so, he beheld . . . two mice! Of all the creatures the owl hunted, he enjoyed mice the most. They were the best eating, to be sure, but better still, they were the most fearful, and Mr. Ocax found deep satisfaction in having others afraid of him. And here, after a wait of nearly the whole night, were two savory subjects to terrify before he ate them.
One of the two, a deer mouse, crouched cautiously beneath a length of rotten bark. The other, a golden mouse, stood in the open on his hind legs, his short tail sticking straight out behind for
Ragweed laughed. "Dude, you must think I'm as dull as a dormouse. You just want to get some of this nut."
I don't want any of your precious nut," Poppy insisted. "I want to give you my answer. And I want to dance! Isn't that the reason we came up the hill? Only it's not safe out there."
"Oh, tell me about it."
"You heard my father's warnings," Poppy went on. "It's Mr. Ocax. He might be watching and listening."
"Get off," Ragweed sneered. "Your pop talks about that Ocax dude just to scare you and keep you under control."
"Ragweed," Poppy cried, "that's ridiculous. Mr. Ocax does rule Dimwood. So we have to ask his permission to be here. And you know perfectly well we never did."
"Dude, I'm not going to spend my life asking an old owl's okay every time I want to have fun. Know what I'm saying? This is our moment, girl, right? And now that I've dug this nut up, I'm going to enjoy it. Besides," he said, "it's too dark for an old owl to see me.""POPPY," Mr. Ocax scoffed under his breath. "Ragweed What stupid names mice have. Now, if only that deer mouse will move just a little farther out from under cover, I'll be able to snare both mice at once."
The mere thought of such a double catch made Mr. Ocax hiss with pleasure. Then he clacked his beak, spread his wings, and rose into the night air. Up he circled, his fluted flight feathers beating the air silently.
High above Bannock Hill, he looked down. The golden mouse the one eating the nut-was still in the open. So brazen. So foolish. Nevertheless, Mr. Ocax decided to hold back another moment to see if the deer mouse might budge.
"RAGWEED," Poppy pleaded, "please get under here."
"Girl," Ragweed said, "do you know what your problem is? You let your tail lead the way."
Poppy, hurt and wanting to show she was not a coward, poked her nose and whiskers out from under the bark. "Ragweed," she persisted even as she began to creep into the open, "being careless is stupid."
Her friend took another scrape of the nut and sighed with pleasure. "Poppy," he said, "you may be my best girl, but admit it, you don't know how to live like I do."
Poppy took two more steps beyond the bark.
Just then, Mr. Ocax pulled his wings close to his body and plunged.- In an instant he was right above and behind the two mice. Once there, he threw out his wings-to brake his speed; pulled back his head-to protect his eyes; and thrust his claws forward and wide like grappling hooks-to pounce.
It was Poppy who saw him. "Ragweed!" she shrieked in terror as she hurled herself back undercover. "It's Ocax!"
But the owl was already upon them. Down came his right claw. It scratched the tip of Poppy's nose. Down came his left claw. It was more successful, clamping around Ragweed's head and neck like a vise of needles, killing him instantly. The next moment the owl soared back into the air. A lifeless Ragweed earring glittering in the moonlight- hung from a claw. As for the hazelnut, it fell to the earth like a cold stone.
Powerful but leisurely strokes brought Mr. Ocax back to his watching tree. Once there, he shifted the dead Ragweed from talon to beak in one gulp. The mouse disappeared down his throat, earring and all.
His hunger momentarily satisfied, Mr. Ocax tilted back his head and let forth a long, low cry of triumph. "Whooo-whooo!"
Poppy did not hear the call. In her terror she had fainted. Now she lay unconscious beneath the length of rotten bark.
The owl did not mind. He had enjoyed the first mouse so much he decided to wait for the second. Indeed, Mr. Ocax was not entirely sorry that Poppy had escaped. She was terrified, and he enjoyed that. And for sure, he would get her soon. "Oh yes," he murmured to himself, "mice are the most fun to catch." Then Mr. Ocax did that rare thing for an owl: He smiled. Poppy. Copyright © by John Avi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.