The Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature at Rhode Island College




- Cynthia Voigt -

About the Author

Cynthia Voigt was born on February 25, 1942 in Boston, Massachusetts. She grew up in southern Connecticut. She decided to become a writer while she was still in high school. She attended Smith College to follow this aspiration. However, she received little encouragement there. After graduation, she worked as a secretary before becoming unhappy with her job. She inquired into the requirements of becoming a teacher. She attended Christian Brothers College to fulfil these requirements and began teaching. Voigt taught in various positions in Maryland from 1968-1988. Voigt published Homecoming, her first novel, in 1981. She has published young adult fiction continually ever since. Growing up in New England has an evident effect on the settings of many of her books, including those in the Tillerman series.


The Tillerman Family Books:

Homecoming, Atheneum, 1981; Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1983
Dicey's Song, Atheneum, 1982, Ballantine Books, New York, NY
A Solitary Blue, Atheneum, 1983; Scholastic, New York, NY, 1983
The Runner, Atheneum, 1985; Ballantine Books, New York, NY
Come A Stranger, Atheneum, 1982; Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1987
Sons from Afar, Macmillan, 1987; Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1988
Seventeen Against the Dealer, Macmillan, 1989; Ballantine Books, New York, NY

Other Young Adult Fiction:

Tell Me If Lovers Are Losers, Atheneum, 1982; Ballantine Books, New York, NY
The Callender Papers, Atheneum, 1982; Ballantine Books, New York, NY
Building Blocks, Atheneum, 1984; Ballantine Books, New York, NY
Jackaroo, Atheneum, 1985; Ballantine Books, New York, NY
Izzy, Willy-Nilly, Atheneum, 1986; Aladin Paperbacks, New York, NY, 1995
Tree by Leaf, Macmillan, 1988; Ballantine Books, New York, NY
On Fortune's Wheel, Macmillan, 1990, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1990
The Vandemark Mummy, Atheneum, 1991
David and Jonathon, Scholastic, New York, NY, 1992
Orfe, Macmillan, 1993
The Wings of a Falcon, Scholastic, New York, NY, 1993
When She Hollers, Scholastic, New York, NY, 1994

Other Books:

Stories About Rosie (picture book), Macmillan, 1986
Glass Mountain, (adult fiction), Harcourt, 1991

Selected Awards

Notable Children's Trade Book in the field of social studies, 1981, Homecoming
National Council for Social Studies/Children's Book Council, 1981, Homecoming
American Book Award Nominee, 1981, Homecoming
American Library Association (ALA) Best Young Adult Books citation, 1982 Tell Me If Lovers Are Losers
ALA Best Children's Books Citation, 1982, Dicey's Song
Newbery Medal, 1983, Dicey's Song
ALA Best Young Adult Books citation, 1983, A Solitary Blue
Newbery Honor Book, 1984, A Solitary Blue
Edgar Allan Poe Award for best juvenile mystery, 1984, The Callender Papers
Silver Pencil Award (Dutch), 1988, The Runner
Deutscher Jegend Literatur Preis, 1989, The Runner
ALAN Award for achievement in young adult literature, 1989
California Young Reader's Award, 1990, Izzy Willy-Nilly


Homecoming is the story in which Voigt introduces the Tillerman children: Sammy, Maybeth, James, and Dicey. At the beginning of the story, they are abandoned by their mother at a shopping center. The children are supposed to be going on a trip to visit their rich Aunt Celia in Bridgeport, when their mother leaves them in the car. The only instructions she leaves the children with are to mind Dicey, the oldest child. Momma never returns. The children decide to continue on to Bridgeport to find their aunt, and hopefully Momma. Dicey decides to do this rather than telling the authorities because she has heard about foster homes, and she is afraid the children would be split up. The children stick together for weeks trying to get to Aunt Cillia's. They must find places to sleep, money, and food. The journey that Dicey hopes will take a week ends up taking much longer. When Dicey is near desperation because they have no food, money, or shelter, two college students befriend the family, and help them get the rest of the way to Bridgeport. After arriving at Aunt Cillia's, they find that their aunt has died and was not rich after all. They meet Cousin Eunice who takes the children in because she feels it is her duty. Through the help of a police officer and a priest, the children discover their mother has been institutionalized in a mental hospital. The children are not badly treated, but Cousin Eunice is obviously not used to children, and Dicey is constantly worried about the children performing well enough so they don't get separated. While staying with their cousin, the children find out they have a grandmother they never knew existed. Part Two of the story tells the tale of the children going to find their grandmother. Again, they need to survive on their own, finding food, shelter, and money. Near the end of their trip, the children received help from some members of a circus. The children do find their grandmother, who was none too happy to see them. She really wants nothing to do with the children. The children start fixing things around the farm, hoping their grandmother would just allow them to stay. By the end of the story, the children have endeared themselves to their grandmother, and have a new home.

Book Review:
"...The characterizations of the children are original and intriguing, and there are a number of interesting minor char-acters encountered in their travels. While the scope and the extent of their journey has an element of unbelievability about it, the abundance of descriptions that detail their efforts to survive and keep going help achieve a semblance of reality. The only real problem with the story is that it's just too long, and despite the built-in suspense of the plot, the on-going tension suffers in the multitude of crises."
--Marilyn Kaye, in a review of Homecoming, in School Library Journal, Vol.27, No. 8, April, 1981, p. 144.
"Despite flaws, the alarmingly hostile characterization of most adults, an overly long ending, this is a glowing book. Its disturbing undercurrent of hostility and cynicism is counter-balanced by the four's obvious love and loyalty to one another, and by the capability, cleverness and determination that characterize all the survival episodes on the road and the homemaking scenes in Maryland...."
--Kathleen Leverich, in a review of Homecoming, in the New York Times Book Review, May 10, 1981, p. 38.

Classroom Connections:
Homecoming would be a good book to study story grammar including plot and theme, however, a character study would be especially appropriate for this book. Voigt provides extremely detailed characters in this book which would be interesting to use for character study activities such as compare/contrast, Venn Diagrams, Semantic Trait charts, etc...
One interesting idea presented in the story is the importance about knowing ones family roots. The children really didn't know of any relatives other than their Aunt Celia. They never knew they had a grandmother. The importance of knowing this information is stressed in the story. Knowing their family could have provided others to turn to for help. The family roots idea could be extended in the classroom by having students work on a family tree. Students could also write essays about family members.
Another issue in the story is that the children's mother is institutionalized in a mental hospital. The children wonder what this means, and James worries about the possibility of a hereditary connection. Students could use this opportunity to study mental illness.

Dicey's Song

Dicey's Song is the second book in the Tillerman series. This story is about the Tillerman children's adjustment to living with their new found grandmother. They each have problems to deal with in their new home. Dicey has to learn to fit in at Junior High. She doesn't have friends, and she hates Home Ec class. James has to learn to enjoy school, yet not worry about feeling different because he is smart. Maybeth is having much difficulty in school, and yet soars with music. Sammy is behaving well at school, but his natural spirit is repressed. Early in the story, the family hears from the mental hospital in which Momma has been institutionalized. When it appears that the children's mother's condition will not improve, the grandmother begins adoption proceedings. Much of the story deals with Dicey's inner turmoil. She has spent most of her life worrying about the other children and taking care of them. Dicey is tired of worrying. She doesn't want to worry about them anymore, but she knows that she needs to. However, Dicey also learns that she can release some of that worry to her grandmother. Dicey is also dealing with whether or not to try to make friends. A couple of kids reach out to Dicey, and she learns to reach back. Another conflict is with her English teacher about her supposed cheating. Through these experiences, Dicey begins to come to terms with herself as a young adolescent. Near the end of the story, the Tillerman's receive word that Momma is dying. Dicey and her grandmother go to visit her. They spend a few days in Chicago, while Dicey's mother passes away. The children try to deal with the death and move on. By the end of the story, the Tillerman children are adjusted to their new home and are looking toward the future.

Book Review:
Dicey's Song is a gentle melody of an early teen's search for purpose in a life that is no bargain....
Loving and caring are the theme of Dicey's Song. To her credit, Mrs. Voigt does not lay it on too heavily.... There's an undercurrent of juvenile cruelty throughout, sometimes unspoken, sometimes sotto voce disdain and sometimes flailing fists. The Tillerman kids are ragtag and a little different.
This touching work ends on a triumphantly sad note. Death, however long expected is life's hardest lesson in letting go. For Dicey, Momma's passing is the antithesis of Gram's fundamental truism that reaching out and holding on are what life is really all about. How Dicey handles this ideological conflict is a beautiful moment.
(Senick, Gerard J., ed. Children's Literature Review, Vol. 13, Gale Research Co.: Detroit, MI, 1987, p. 230. )

Classroom Connections:
As in Homecoming, Dicey's Song also explores characters in depth, and would be an excellent way to study characterization as explained in the classroom connections section in the discussion of Homecoming.
Music is a major influence on the Tillerman series books. In Dicey's Song, Maybeth is found to have a special musical talent and receives special lessons from her music teacher twice weekly. The children sing together often, an activity passed on from their mother. Dicey's friends Mina and Jeff are also interested in music. In fact, Jeff plays his guitar outside of school daily. This is how Jeff and Dicey become acquainted. This musical theme could be explored by students. They could investigate questions about the history of music and how music plays important roles in different people's lives. Students could write essays about how music has influenced their own life, or the life of someone they know.
Developing friendships is another important theme in the story. Dicey has a difficult time making friends and doesn't reach out to others. There are two reasons Dicey finds friends. Mina and Jeff reach out to Dicey first. Also, Dicey's grandmother encourages Dicey to reach out also. Students can explore the importance of friendship. They can discuss how Dicey's life would be different without friends. How would it feel to be new in a school without friends? How can people help new students feel welcome?
In Dicey's Song, Momma is in a mental hospital. Near the end of the story, she dies. Students can explore themes of death and dying.
Other ideas presented in the story include Maybeth having learning problems, sailing, repairing a sailboat, being responsible and hard-working, and learning new skills.
These ideas can also be explored in class.

The Callender Papers

The Callender Papers is a historical fiction story. Jean Wainwright is thirteen years old during the summer of 1894. Jean lives with her Aunt Constance who is headmistress of a girls' school. Jean goes to work for a man named Daniel Theil. Her job is to catalog boxes of family papers that have been accumulating for years. While sorting the papers, Jean comes across somewhat of a mystery of how Mr. Theil's wife, Irene Callender, died years earlier and the strange disappearance of their baby daughter. Things are further complicated due to the animosity between Irene's brother and Mr. Theil as well as the question of who inherited the large sum of money from Josiah Callender. Jean also has to deal with Mr. Theil's stern attitude, and his strange housekeeper. Jean puzzles through these mysteries with the help of a neighbor boy. In the end, she learns that she herself is the missing child, and her Aunt Constance was an old family friend who whisked her away to protect her from Irene's greedy brother.

Book Review:

This is a highly enjoyable and stylishly written Gothic mystery.... Voigt occasionally comes dangerously near to permitting Jean, the narrator, to be too stupid to be believed- always a risk in the atmospheric had-I-but-known type of mystery--but through her deft prose and Jean's real youth and innocence, she brings it off successfully.
(Senick, Gerard J., ed. Children's Literature Review, Vol. 13, Gale Research Co.: Detroit, MI, 1987, p. 233.)

Classroom Connections:
The Callender Papers can be used as a classroom study of two different novel genre`. It is both a mystery novel and a historical fiction novel. Students can explore the properties of both of these types of novels.
Another area of study can be the topic of foreshadowing. There are several instances of foreshadowing throughout the story.
Students may also be interested in studying the time period in which the novel takes place. The story is set in the 1890's. There are many descriptive sections of the story which help illustrate that time period.
Other ideas presented in the story include that appearances can be deceiving, as well as the effectiveness of an intriguing plot.


Hile, Kevin S., Something About the Author, vol 79, Gale Research Inc.: Detroit, MI, 1995, pp.209-214

Page compiled in part by: Marsha Williams

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