Felice Holman, author of novels and poetry collections for children and young adults, died on March 2, 2023, at her home in La Jolla, CA. She was 103.
Ms. Holman's books, which often display deep concern for social issues, have been included in the American Library Association Notables, The New York Times Best Books of the Year and have won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and the Bank Street College
Critics have noted her ability to combine a humorous, lighthearted touch with themes of child homelessness, ethnic prejudice, loneliness, and concern for the environment.
Her best-known work, "Slake's Limbo", a novel for young adults originally published by Scribner's in 1974, and also was published abroad in numerous languages, including Japanese and Catalan. The work has become standard reading in many high schools.
Reissued in 2013 by Simon & Schuster as "121 Days", it is the story of Artemis Slake a boy who runs away from an unhappy home and bullying classmates and takes up residence in New York City's subway. His resourcefulness not only enables him to live there
for months but eventually leads him to safety and the knowledge that he has the ability to survive on his own.
Ms. Holman's early books, directed to younger children and middle-grade readers, tend toward simple mysteries and light fantasy, as exemplified by one of her personal favorites, "The Cricket Winter", in which a mechanically-minded young boy manages to
initiate communication with the resident cricket, using Morse code.
Ms. Holman also produced three books of poetry for the elementary school-age audience; "I Hear You Smiling", "The Song in My Head", and "At the Top of My Voice". All were critically praised for their originality and humor; selections from each have been
Felice Holman Valen, born in 1919, grew up in Flushing, then a small, quiet New York City suburb.
She went to Syracuse University, where she met Herbert Valen. Their marriage lasted from 1941, the year she graduated, until his death in 2001. The Valens lived in Westport, Connecticut, for 35 years, moving to Del Mar, California, in 1986, then to La
Jolla. They had one daughter, Nanine Valen.
Living in Westport, Ms. Holman found the inspiration for her first book in her daughter's love of birds and her husband's desperate efforts to outwit the squirrel that kept invading the bird feeder he had built.
"Elisabeth the Bird Watcher" was immediately successful and was followed by two more Elisabeth books, one of which, "Elisabeth and the Marsh Mystery", was made into a short film.
"Slake's Limbo" was followed by "The Wild Children", another survival story.
Based on fact, the novel takes place in the 1920s, after the Russian Revolution, when groups of children, made homeless by war, banded together and ran wild, squeezing out an existence through crime.
Praising the book, School Library Journal said, "The strength of the human spirit shines through as a powerful beacon of optimism."
In addition to her daughter, psychotherapist Nanine Valen, Ms. Holman is survived by her son-in-law, composer Gerald Levinson and her grandsons, filmmaker Ari Levinson and writer Adam Valen Levinson.
Who Am I
The trees ask me,
And the sky,
And the sea asks me
Who am I
The grass asks me,
And the sand,
And the rocks ask me
Who I am.
The wind tells me
And the rain tells me
But a piece of it all.
From "At the Top of my Voice and Other Poems",
illustrations by Edward Gorey.
From Lenona@21:1/5 to All on Tue Jun 6 08:32:07 2023
Most of what I posted in 2019:
About "Slake's Limbo":
"Desperate, driven, harassed to the breaking point, Slake decides to go underground—into the sheltering depths of the New York City Subway where he ends up staying for one hundred and twenty-one days. This is the story about survival, and about a 13-
year-old misfit's attempts to find footing in a hostile and threatening world."
That book was turned into the TV movie "Runaway" in 1989.
Another popular book of hers is "The Wild Children."
"Left behind when his family is arrested by soldiers during the dark days following the Bolshevik Revolution, twelve-year-old Alex falls in with a gang of other desperate homeless children, but never loses his hope for a better life."
A poem of hers, "Voices," is in the 1970 "The Haunted House and Other
Spooky Poems and Tales," ed. Vic Crume & Gladys Schwarcz.
To read that poem, click here and scroll 2/3 down. (There's a lot more, too! It's a great forgotten book.)
"It may be that Felice Holman is living her second life as a writer.
That, at least, was the opinion expressed by Holman's aunt--a psychic--
when Felice was born. Aunt Marie informed the author's family that she
had had a message from 'the other side' regarding young Felice. She
was the reincarnation of Florence Marryat, a prolific if little-known
novelist who lived in the 1800s. Whether Holman was invested with the reincarnated soul of a writer or simply came to writing of her own
account, she began practicing her life's work when she was only eight
years old. Her first completed work was a book of poetry that was
illustrated by her mother, an artist who had exhibited her work in
galleries in New York and Washington. Even at this tender age,
Felice's talent was evident.
"As an adult, Holman enjoys a career as a well-respected children's
book author, poet, and young-adult novelist whose work often displays
a deep concern for social issues. Critics note the author's ability to
combine a humorous, lighthearted touch with themes of child
homelessness, ethnic prejudice, loneliness, and concern for the
environment. While she has at times been faulted for resolving her
characters' dilemmas too happily, she has more frequently been praised
for the strength of her characterizations and the depth of her insight
into the problems of her characters...
..."In later years Holman turned to writing 'survival stories.'
The first of these is Slake's Limbo, the story of a boy who runs away
from a bad home to live in the New York subway. He stays for three
months, surviving through ingenuity and a little bit of luck. Slake
makes his home in a small 'room' in one of the subway tunnels and sets
up a small business selling used newspapers that he collects. He finds friendship of a sort from his customers, one of whom brings him her
son's cast-off clothes; and a waitress at a lunch counter, who gives
him food in exchange for sweeping the floor. By the end of the story,
Slake's circumstances are no better, but he has learned that he has
the ability to survive by his wits. To make the details of Slake's
Limbo convincing, Holman did thorough research on the subway. In
addition to learning the history and layout of the entire system, she
had to research ways in which Slake might survive: how he could get
water, food, and a place to sleep, and manage to stay hidden.
"The Wild Children is another survival story that required thorough
research. The novel takes place in the 1920s in Russia, shortly after
the revolution. Groups of children made homeless by the revolution
have banded together and now run wild, squeezing out a meager
existence through crime. The Wild Children tells the story of a boy
who, after his parents and sister are taken away by the police, joins
one such group.
(Quote from Holman): "Many of my books have appeared in numerous
languages and I love that, even when I can't read the book. Two books
have been made into films--one, Slake's Limbo, was adapted by PBS as a
TV movie, called The Runaway. It was not the same story. I was very disappointed. It is also being made into a film in France and I am
waiting to see what that will be like. Years ago a film for schools
and libraries was done from Elisabeth and the Marsh Mystery, and I am
surprised to know it is still being distributed. It is just like the
book and was, in fact, shot near my home in Connecticut."
"In 1994, Slake's Limbo was named by the ALA (American Library
Association) as one of the '101 Best Books for Young Adults' written
Silently, the Cat and Miss Theodosia, Macmillan, 1965.
Victoria's Castle, Norton, 1966.
Elisabeth and the Marsh Mystery, Macmillan, 1966.
Professor Diggin's Dragons, Macmillan, 1966.
The Witch on the Corner, Norton, 1966.
The Cricket Winter, Norton, 1967.
The Blackmail Machine, Macmillan, 1968.
A Year to Grow, Norton, 1968.
At the Top of My Voice: Other Poems, Norton, 1969.
The Holiday Rat and the Utmost Mouse, Grosset, 1969.
Solomon's Search, Grosset, 1970.
The Future of Hooper Toote, Scribner, 1972.
I Hear You Smiling, and Other Poems, Scribner, 1973.
The Escape of the Giant Hogstalk, Scribner, 1974.
Slake's Limbo, Scribner, 1974.
(With daughter, Nanine Valen) The Drac: French Tales of Dragons and
Demons, Scribner, 1975.
The Murderer, Scribner, 1978.
The Wild Children, Scribner, 1983.
The Song in My Head, Scribner, 1985.
Terrible Jane, Scribner, 1987.
(With Joan W. Blos) Brothers of the Heart: A Story of the Old
Northwest, 1837-1838, 2nd edition, Simon & Schuster/Aladdin (New York,
Secret City, U.S.A., Scribner, 1990.
Real, Atheneum Books for Young Readers (New York City), 1997.
"Elisabeth and the Marsh Mystery was adapted into a film for schools
and libraries; Slake's Limbo was adapted into the television movie The
Runaway, broadcast by PBS, and has also been optioned for film. The
Wild Children has been abridged by Reader's Digest in English and in translation worldwide."