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




- M.E. Kerr -


M.E. Kerr was born Marijane Meaker on May 27, 1927, in Auburn, New York. Her parents are of the middle working class and they valued the importance of education and reading. She attended Stuart Hall in Staunton, Virginia, and later in 1949, Meaker earned a B.A. from the University of Missouri. Later she moved to New York City, where is published her first story in the Ladies' Home Journal in 1951. She now lives in East Hampton on Long Island.

Over the years she has had many jobs, but they have always been a part of the writing world. She has worked as an assistant to E.P. Dutton, a publisher; she continues to be a freelance writer; she is a member of the Ashawagh Hall Writer's Workshop; and she is the founder of P.E.N. Authors League of America, Society of Children's Book Writers.

She is a leader in the field of young adult literature because she is not afraid to travel into unchartered territory. Meaker wrote one of the first young adult books on the topic of AIDS, Night Kites. I find her work refreshing because it is real and it is meaningful. My students like her work because it is entertaining, and because they can relate to what she is writing about.

Young adult fiction under the pseudonym M.E.Kerr

Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack
If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?
The Son of Someone Famous
Is That You, Miss Blue?
Love Is a Missing Person
I'll Love You When You're More Like Me
Little, Little
What I Really Think of You
Him She Loves
I Stay Near You
Night Kites
Fell Back
Fell Down
Deliver Us from Evie

Young adult nonfiction:

Me, Me, Me, Me, Me _ Not a Novel

Selected Awards won by M.E.Kerr

Many of M.E. Kerr's young adult novels have won the American Library Association's (ALA) Best Book for Young Adults Award they include:
*Is That You, Miss Blue? in 1975;
*Gentlehands was selected in 1978;
*Little, Little was selected in 1981;
*Me, Me, Me, Me, Me: Not a Novel was selected in 1983;
*I Stay Near You in1985;
*Night Kites in 1986; and
*Fell in 1987.

Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack! was awarded the ALA's Best of the Best Books(YA) 1970-83.
Gentlehands won the Christopher Award in 1979 and a New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age Award in both 1980 and1981.
Little, Little won the Golden Kite Award for Fiction the Society of Children's Book Writers in 1981, and it also won one of the New York Public Library's Books for the Teen Age Awards in 1982.
In 1986 Night Kites was designated a Recommended Book for Reluctant YA Readers by the ALA.
Fell Back was a finalist for the 1990 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best young adult mystery which is sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America.
Fell Down was awarded the ALA's Booklists Books for Youth Editor's Choice in 1991.

Quotes from reviews of selected young adult novels by M.E. Kerr

"Kerr's approach to controversy spans from a religiously-based controversy to the controversy written about in Night Kites when a conservative family is confronted with the fact that theireldest son is gay and has AIDS." Audrey Eaglen states the following in the April 13, 1986, New York Times Book Review: "In less sure hands, this moving and understated examination of the angst of first love and first sex, of the effects of a catastrophic illness on one family, especially an illness like AIDS with its undercurrents of irresponsibility on the part of its victims, could have been just another problem novel. M.E. Kerr, the author of Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!, however, has managed to transcend that young adult genre, and has, with sensitivity and delicacy, described and issue that may face many more families if predictions about AIDS come true. This is a fine story, beautifully told, with characters that ring true. M.E. Kerr has simply never been better in her long and lauded career; she too is a 'night kite', unafraid to soar into the darkness of human predicament.

Horn Book (September_October, 1986) also gave Night Kites a favorable review: "...Like Robert Cormier and Richard Peck, M.E.Kerr is one of the few young adult writers who can take a subject that affects teenagers' lives, can say something important to young readers about it, and can craft what is first and foremost a good story, without preaching and without histrionics. Consequently, Night Kites is an important part of the Kerr canon and an important contribution to the literature for young adults."

Plot summaries, unifying themes or events, and activity ideas for three of M.E. Kerr's most significant young adult novels:

One overwhelming theme that has great power in each of these novels is the theme that being dishonest leads to great pain. In each of these novels the main character is dishonest to family or friends in some way. This dishonesty leads to great pain and a breakdown within relationships.
This theme is something that young adults can relate to because it is a common problem. Whether dishonesty leads to a minor problem or a relationship breakup it is relevant; it is a breakdown.

Deliver Us from Evie. HarperCollins publishers, 1994, pb.177 pages, fiction
This book is told from the brother's point of view. Parr Burrman faces many typical young adult problems: fitting in at school, deciding to leave or stay and be a part of the family business, and dealing with the personalities of his parents and siblings. On the other hand, he has to also deal with the fact that his sister, Evie, has discovered that she is a lesbian and she runs off with the town's banker's daughter.
Even though the voice of this book is that of a sixteen year old male, he spends most of his time dealing with his older sister's lifestyle choice. This is not surprising because he lives in a rural Missouri town where the normal worries include crops, flood waters, and loans from the bank. Therefore, when Evie decides to "come out" her family and friends are devastated. She questions all of the morals that she was raised with, and she faces them head on, much to the discomfort of others.
This is a valuable book because it gives a realistic and vivid look at the effects of a family member's lifestyle. It is a refreshing approach to a common occurrence
I would feel good about recommending this book to any of my students that are going through a change or if he/she has a family member or friend that is going through a similar metamorphosis or conflict.
The following activities would be appropriate with this novel: a reader response journal, discussion continuum about the choices and reactions made by characters, and a small group approach to young adult novels that discuss sensitive issues.

Night Kites Harper & Row publishers, 1986, pb.216 pages, fiction.
The main character in this novel, Erick, feels as if he needs to hide or be dishonest about two aspects of his life. He hides the fact that he has a new girlfriend, Nicki Marr. She is far from the typical, preppie, pom pon squad member that his old girlfriend was. Rather Nicki is the class freak that lives in an old run down motel run by her father. Every part of the motel is named after something relating with Edgar Allan Poe, because her late mother was convinced that she was related to the writer. Not only does she live in a strange place she also wears strange second hand clothes from a second hand store that her mother used to run. Nicki does anything to not be typical. Her personality and outward appearance are offensive and abrasive to the average member of her town, but Erick finds comfort in her arms because she is safe and she won't enter into the "normal/typical" part of his existence that he is having problems with. She is an avoidance mechanism, and she offers refuge from his real problems.
Besides the fact that Erick has changed girlfriends he is also hiding the fact that his older brother is gay and is dying of AIDS. Erick has a hard time dealing with his brother's illness and lifestyle because it is so foreign to the way that he was raised. There are many heart_felt moments in this book that I feel are realistic when dealing with such a deadly and devastating illness. The reaction of the family's maid, the fear of what the community will think, and the walls that Erick builds up around himself are very poignant.
I would recommend this book to students and use the exact same activities with this book for the reasons stated with the previous novel.

Gentlehands Harper & Row publishers, 1978, pb.183 pages, fiction.
The main character in this book, Buddy Boyle, is trying to impress a very sophisticated and rich girl, Skye Pennington. One of the ways that he hopes to impress her is by introducing her to his grandfather who is very cultured and sophisticated like Pennington.
To his amazement Buddy learns that his grandfather is a Nazi war criminal, therefore, his plan is crushed by dishonesty, and the ending of this book leaves that reader with many questions.
This is a valuable book in the sense that it is a realistic look at how a young adult tries to get himself through some very difficult times. I doubt if any of my students would ever find themselves in a similar situation, but many of my students have and will have family problems because of dishonesty, therefore, this is a valuable novel for all young adults to read.
I would recommend this book for the same reasons as the other two novels, and I would use the same activities with this novel. I would add one activity; I would ask students reading this book to do a writing piece paralleling the events in this book with an event or events from their own lives; therefore, they would have to think about and apply the bigger ideas of dishonesty, rather that focus on the idea of a Nazi grandfather.
Confidently, I can say, that I think all of my students could make some sort of connection on some personal and relevant level.

Page compiled in part by: Denise Emery

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