The magic of Rosemary Wells
Is there anything Rosemary Wells can't do? You probably know Rosemary Wells as the popular author and illustrator of picture books about Max and his bossy older sister, Ruby. Wells has delighted countless young children with titles such as Max's Bath, Goodnight MaxK/I> and Max Cleans Up. But what you may not know is that throughout her 30-year career Rosemary Wells has also written for older children.
The release of three new paperbacks proves she can grab the attention of kids from toddlers to teens. Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories is simply a gem of a book, inspired by the life of the remarkable Mary Breckinridge, a nurse who founded the Frontier Nursing Service in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky in 1923. A mountain boy named John Hawkins narrates the first story. "When Mama sees four men carrying Pa home with his leg crushed, she screams. The men try to make Mama sit down. One of them tells me, 'There's a horse doctor with a bone saw down in Krypton. We'll send him up to take the leg off.'"
When Mary Breckinridge appears on her horse, she convinces the family to let her transport Pa to a distant hospital, where he can get proper medical care. In return, John determines to help Mary realize her dream of building a clinic in the mountains.
Based on characters and incidents from Breckinridge's autobiography, these lyrical stories paint a poignant picture of the hardships faced not only by these mountain families, but also by the nurses who served them. As Wells relates in a note, Mary Breckinridge did indeed bring clinics to the mountains. The Frontier Nursing Service she founded still exists today and has served 250,000 patients and delivered 25,000 healthy babies.
As if crafting endearing picture books and luminous historical fiction weren't enough, Wells is also adept at writing page-turning mysteries for teen readers. Winner of the Edgar Allen Poe Award, When No One Was Looking is a riveting story that also explores the pressures young athletes face. Kathy Brady is a likeable 14-year-old whose recently discovered talent for tennis changes her life, as well as the lives of her friends and family. In her quest to become a top player, Kathy feels blocked by a girl she can never seem to beat. When tragedy strikes, Kathy finds herself entangled in a web of suspicion that forces her to ask hard questions about her own motives and the high cost of success.
Helen Curragh, the heroine of another Wells mystery for young teens, The Man in the Woods, is a shy high school freshman. But when she witnesses a car accident caused by a man deliberately throwing a rock through a windshield, Helen and her friend, Pinky, team up to uncover the man's identity. And so they begin a dangerous quest that leads them to a buried family secret.
In a recent interview, Rosemary Wells revealed, "A good mystery writer is like a good magician. You can never see the lead-up to the illusion." If it's magic you're after, you can't go wrong with Wells.
Deborah Hopkinson's picture book, A Band of Angels, won the 1999 Golden Kite Award. She lives in Walla Walla, Washington.