Reviews for Knots in My Yo-Yo String : The Autobiography of a Kid


Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 May 1998
Gr. 4^-7. In Fargo, North Dakota, in September 1992, Newbery medalist Spinelli was asked, "Do you think being a kid helped you become a writer?" In this warm, deeply personal memoir of the kid he was, Spinelli takes us to Norristown, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s. Very gently, he reveals the critical importance of bikes and baseballs, empty lots and early television, your own street, and where your friends lived. For adult readers--of a certain age--Bonomo's Turkish Taffy and Howdy Doody may bring tears or giggles of recognition; kids will be delighted by Spinelli's frank admission that he spent most of his youth reading only comic books and the sports pages. What a marvelous thing, though, to read about a grown-up writer who still has all the notes his ninth-grade girlfriend wrote him in 1956. Their longing, their shyness, their desire to please, can even now break hearts. Young readers will be delighted to find that the author of Maniac Magee (1990) had a dog he loved, found school peripheral to his real life, and acquired a pesky and charming little brother, just as they might. Readers will notice that he still holds as friends some of the guys he knew back then. And they will know that a regular kid can remember all that important stuff when he grows up. ((Reviewed May 1, 1998)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 1998
Spinelli's childhood memoir, illustrated with black-and-white photos, is presented as a series of highly polished vignettes. Important events, such as winning a foot race and losing a loved family pet, are juxtaposed with quiet reminiscences. There is an Copyright 1998 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1999 #1
Those who seek biographical information about children's book authors-those who want to know the story of an author's childhood, what the author thinks and believes, and (always) where the author gets his or her ideas-will find bounty in these two memoirs. Although occasionally limited, both are nonetheless fascinating autobiographies that delve into the authors' pasts with the same incisiveness and humanity that distinguish their novels.As indicated by the subtitle, Spinelli's book focuses on his childhood in Norristown, Pennsylvania, from his earliest memory of a World War II air-raid siren through his high school years-an era made memorable by ordinary pleasures such as "twin Popsicles and Bonomo's Turkish taffy, hightop Keds and a plaid cummerbund, Howdy Doody...on TV Tuesday nights, salamanders and snakes and candy cigarettes." There is an everyboy universality to Spinelli's childhood, even as the author's keen powers of observation and recall turn his experiences into a unique personal history. Following a loose chronological order, the narrative is composed of highly-polished vignettes that juxtapose major childhood events-such as winning a grade school race and losing a loved family pet-with quiet reminiscences of exploring the nearby woods and listening to the passing of a nighttime train. What emerges is a self-portrait of a very likable kid: a self-professed "good boy" who secretly appreciates the daring of the class "bad boy," a dedicated athlete, and, unbeknownst to even Jerry himself, a writer-in-the-making. Though a nonreader as a child, Spinelli's youthful daydreaming, active fantasy life, intense awareness, and thoughtful observations were all signs of his eventual career. And astute readers may well have a sense of d ja v when reading Spinelli's story, as they recognize moments from his own life that were later artfully transfigured in his fiction.Perhaps the autobiography's strongest achievement is its depiction of Jerry's continual growth: solitary treks that take him further and further from home; the quiet abandonment of his Sunday school "perfect attendance" pins when he begins attending school dances. Spinelli's writing is honest and immediate throughout, yet there are still moments when one questions the primary audience for the book. Kids will love reading about the day Jerry wears full cowboy regalia to third grade, or his desperate sixth-grade need to get into a fight-any fight. Somewhat older kids will relish the scenes of first love. But only adults can fully appreciate his occasional nostalgic forays. In one of the most beautifully written chap-ters, "Mrs. Seeton's Whistle," Spinelli recalls how one mother's dinnertime whistle drew all the neighborhood children home each evening and fantasizes about a "gray, slow-moving" Mrs. Seeton returning today. As she blows her whistle once again, the now-grown neighbor-hood chil-dren "return from our homes and cemeteries around the world...all of us one more time heading home." The passage is unlikely to provoke the same response from a child as it will from an adult. Still, it's not difficult to imagine that forty years from now some child of the 1990s will recall Spinelli's haunting words, and the long-delayed shiver will kick in. Such is the power of this richly rewarding autobiography.Knots in My Yo-yo String contains a scattered selection of family snapshots that serve as an appealing supplement to the written text. In Lowry's Looking Back, the photographs are central to the volume's format. Reading the slightly-oversized book is much like sitting on a couch and flipping through a family photo album while a favorite aunt sits alongside, identifying the subjects of the pictures, pointing out details you might miss, and providing delightful background stories. Unlike Spinelli's book, this volume provides a broader perspective on an author's life, tracing Lowry's entire lifespan to date and, in fact, going further back in time to provide a look at her mother's early life at the turn of the century. Each of Lowry's memories is highlighted by a clear black-and-white photograph, captioned by date, that reveals much about the author, her feelings, and the people she loves. Perhaps working under the assumption that "a picture is worth a thousand words," Lowry lets the photographs do much of the talking, and her own text is succinct, thoughtful, and very much to the point. The written commentary that accompanies each picture is sometimes as brief as a single paragraph."Stories don't just appear out of nowhere," Lowry states in the book's introduction. They are made from "memories, fragments, falsehood, and fantasies....things that happened, which caused other things to happen, so that eventually stories emerged." Leapfrogging through time, Lowry links not-so-disparate moments in short chapters that are introduced with pointedly appropriate or subtly apt quotations from her own published works. The chapter named "Wet Ones" begins with a qu Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1998 April #1
In this montage of sharply focused memories punctuated with b&w photographs, Spinelli (Maniac Magee; Wringer) reconstructs the experience of growing up during the '50s. His descriptions of his childhood universe (which does not extend beyond Norristown, Pa.) elicits the use of all five senses. He invites readers to gaze upon the same stars he studied as a child; to listen for the "not-very-loud" whistle of Mrs. Seeton calling not only her own brood but all the kids home to their suppers ("for a mother's call somehow touches us all"); to smell the "sour, vaguely rotten" aroma of the Adam Scheidt Brewing Company; to savor the taste of Texas Hot Wieners ("They had spunk. They fought back"); and to feel the "clack" of colliding teeth during his first kiss with Kathy Heller (in a game of Truth or Consequences). The audience might be content to bask in the warm glow of post-WWII reflections, but the author has other plans: he shows readers how the seeds of a writer were planted in his youth. Wedged between sometimes painful, more often hilarious scenes of preadolescent and adolescent angst are quiet, contemplative moments when young Spinelli develops his artistic imagination replaying the days' events and pondering such mysteries as time, space and the origin of knots in his yo-yo string. As Spinelli effortlessly spins the story of an ordinary Pennsylvania boy, he also documents the evolution of an exceptional author. Ages 10-13. (Apr.)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 1998 April #2
In this montage of sharply focused memories punctuated with b&w photographs, Spinelli (Maniac Magee Wringer) reconstructs the experience of growing up during the '50s. His descriptions of his childhood universe (which does not extend beyond Norristown, Pa.) elicits the use of all five senses. He invites readers to gaze upon the same stars he studied as a child to listen for the "not-very-loud" whistle of Mrs. Seeton calling not only her own brood but all the kids home to their suppers ("for a mother's call somehow touches us all") to smell the "sour, vaguely rotten" aroma of the Adam Scheidt Brewing Company to savor the taste of Texas Hot Wieners ("They had spunk. They fought back") and to feel the "clack" of colliding teeth during his first kiss with Kathy Heller (in a game of Truth or Consequences). The audience might be content to bask in the warm glow of post-WWII reflections, but the author has other plans: he shows readers how the seeds of a writer were planted in his youth. Wedged between sometimes painful, more often hilarious scenes of preadolescent and adolescent angst are quiet, contemplative moments when young Spinelli develops his artistic imagination replaying the days' events and pondering such mysteries as time, space and the origin of knots in his yo-yo string. As Spinelli effortlessly spins the story of an ordinary Pennsylvania boy, he also documents the evolution of an exceptional author. Ages 10-13. (Apr.) Copyright 1998 Publishers Weekly Reviews

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School Library Journal Reviews 1998 June
A loving reminiscence of childhood. Although the first five pages are slow moving, detail laden, and rather puzzling in parts, the rest of the book takes off as Spinelli takes small, seemingly insignificant snippets of the 10 years he lived on George Street on the West End of Norristown, PA, and explains from his adult viewpoint how they were stepping-stones to his success as a popular children's book author. Even though he only read cereal boxes and comic books as a child, he displays and describes his "early leaning toward language." Phrases such as "music's bunkhouse" to define an old crank phonograph, and using "picturing" to "co-create the moment" to show how listening to the radio was interactive, are evidence of his talent with words. In a conversational tone, Spinelli fondly recalls neighbors, pastimes, and events of the 1940s and 50s. Black-and-white photos present amusing images from his past. Readers may not be familiar with all of the lingo (Bonomo's Turkish taffy) or personalities (Lash La Rue), but they will enjoy the humorous episodes. In the last chapter, the author states, "I mixed my memories with imagination to make stories, to make fiction, and when I finished writing, I had a book, my fifth novel....It became my first published book....I continued to write stories about kids and to rummage through the attic of my memories." Lucky for his readers! Kate Kohlbeck, Randall School, Waukesha, WI Copyright 1998 School Library Journal Reviews

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VOYA Reviews 1998 December
Ten years, from age six to sixteen, in the life of Newbery Award-winner Jerry Spinelli are recounted here from a kid's perspective. Spinelli writes about the things that are really important to a kid the alley behind his house, the importance of thepark on the other side of the creek in his neighborhood. These are the places where Spinelli says he "caught a handful of salamanders, hit a home run, raced against my stopwatch, searched for the Devil, kissed a girl, and bled from an attack ofleeches." Written in chapters that stand alone and would be good for reading aloud, this child's autobiography is all the more noteworthy because it is written by an adult. Spinelli has included all the bits of his early life that a child would be interestedin, but adults will also enjoy reading about them and remembering similar events in their own lives. One can almost see the connections between Spinelli's life and some of his books, and that it is because of his background that he can write soconvincingly of a child's world. Buy this fine book for autobiography assignments, read it aloud to kids, put it on display do whatever it takes to get this book into the hands of Spinelli's audience. It will provide an entrance into his world for kids of all ages. Rosemary Moran. Copyright 1998 Voya Reviews

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