Books by Julia Cunningham

THE STABLE RAT  by Julia Cunningham
Released: Oct. 1, 2001

The author of Dorp Dead (1965) and other distinctive short novels in the '60s and '70s flies into radar range again with nine poems, all but the last sharing an "animals at the manger" theme. Their language is formal, their tone reverent and joyful: "Crows On A Certain Evening" break into "a choir of caws," while a lowly rat, "a fill of skin so small among their legs," is spurned by the other livestock but transformed at a touch from the newborn baby. A puzzled sheep goes along with the flock, hoping for answers; wild animals, Wise Men, and even the wind join in praise. In the matching art, Lobel (The Black Bull of Norroway, p. 410, etc.) is at her most radiant and spiritual, depicting gently smiling creatures, people, and an occasional angel clustering around the manger or frolicking in flower-strewn landscapes. In her final scene, paired to a mystical rhyme ("Be my flower, / Be my star. / Lend me a breath / Of what you are . . . "), a comet and a great rose hover over a child dancing among flowers. Lyrical, deeply felt work from author and artist both. (Picture book/poetry. 8-10)Read full book review >
OAF by Julia Cunningham
Kirkus Star
by Julia Cunningham, illustrated by Peter Sas
Released: Feb. 12, 1986

Using simple, evocative language Cunningham spins another delicate fable of the triumph of good over evil. Oaf (shortened from Olaf) is given three gifts by his loving aunt before she leaves him forever: a red hat, a promise of treasure, and the words 50-50. Oaf too leaves home to look for the treasure. His kindness and absolute fairness (50-50 in everything, including, in one case, an exchange of blows) gather to him a following of a crow, a dog, a cat and a rat, all impressed by Oaf's firmly held innocence. The group, living hand-to-mouth, wanders about until they encounter a traveling entertainment, dancing puppet like people, put on by an ominous stranger. They investigate and discover that the puppets are dwarfs, drugged and forced to perform by their master. Another prisoner, a fox, joins Oaf to help him put on his own performance, an endeavor that inspires the master's revenge. The evil master captures Oaf and his friends, and they must find a way to defeat him and, more difficult, to decide what to do with him when they win. It is Oaf who decides, and his decision helps them to discover the treasure: each other. Read full book review >
WOLF ROLAND by Julia Cunningham
Released: March 12, 1983

Cunningham's latest medieval allegory concerns Tegonec, who makes his living with his donkey cart, and the talking wolf who materializes by the roadside and devours his donkey, Fanfare. An incensed Tegonec ("You shall pay dearly for Fanfare. I swear you shall!") commands the wolf to pull the cart in the donkey's place, and when the wolf obeys Tegonec christens him Roland and begins to dream of being made a saint for the "miracle" of taming the wolf. This thought determines the course of his travels, for "he needed Roland in order to fulfill his destiny. The knot of pride was strong in him." The wolf runs off a couple of times to fulfill his own nature but always returns. At one point the two help a group of starving orphans escape their prison-like institution. They leave the orphans at a ruined castle with the gentle young Countess Philomele ("What lovely faces to begin a new morning"), and go on their way with the liveliest orphan, Triggot—whom Tegonec then betrays by submitting the boy's correct answer to a riddle, accepting the rich life the king gives as a prize, and forgetting the boy. But that very night he is consumed by remorse and gives up his new life to find the wolf and the boy. At 108 pages the story is relatively short, with much dialogue to keep it flowing and elemental images for guaranteed effect. But like other Cunningham stories of medieval travels, orphans, and the like, it has a frozen, sanctimonious quality. Read full book review >
FLIGHT OF THE SPARROW by Julia Cunningham
Released: Oct. 1, 1981

Once again in this story of love among the waifs of Paris, Cunningham deals in pathos and sentimental stereotype. The sparrow of the title is a nine-year-old who is sprung from an orphanage by a sympathetic older boy, Mago. As she has no name Mago gives her a "tough" one, "Little Cigarette." He then takes her to live in an abandoned apartment with him and his two other charges, a dying girl who soon commits suicide and a retarded boy. When the boy, Drollant, breaks his leg and Mago wants money to put him in a private clinic, Cigarette agrees to steal a valuable painting. Her subsequent need to lay low, coupled with her guilt over violating the trust and friendship of the painting's owner, take her on an odyssey during which she is befriended by kind ladies, threatened by a "witch woman," and joined by a little dog. In the end the wronged man forgives her; Mago dies trying to protect her from Eel, the evil youth who arranged the theft; and she is free to return to the most inviting of the kind ladies and lead a normal life. Cunningham has curbed her excessive poeticizing here, but her imagination remains aquiver with maudlin frissons. Read full book review >
Released: March 12, 1980

One might speculate on why the mouse is called Junction, but not very profitably. Cunningham shows him at a junction in his life, a protected wide-eyed innocent eager for experience and unacquainted with tears, fear, or hunger. In Cunningham's typical pretentious prose, Junction steals from bed one night, "achieves a passage" to the outside world, and revels, "aquiver with delight," in the freedom, the smell of grass, and the sight of stars. A bird and a squirrel warn him of the monstrous rat and the fearsome owl; but "danger is what I have come for," says Junction to himself. A cautionary tale in the making? On the contrary, when the rat does turn up it's to rescue Junction from the swooping owl, and to pity the wounded mouse's newly (and proudly) acquired wretchedness. Junction responds to the pity with love, and the rat responds in kind, "with a smile so wide with joy it gathered Junction into a feeling of forever." Whatever forever feels like, Junction moves in with the rat, and the two become "like father and son, king and princeling." Doesn't Junction miss his old treats and toys and pillows? "Never," he answers the rat. "The best is here, you with me and me with you. Always." But what has replaced his pampered past? From the mushy core to the sticky surface, it's not much like real life. Read full book review >
TUPPENNY by Julia Cunningham
Released: Nov. 9, 1978

A strange, sweet girl who appears from out of nowhere, Tuppenny takes a job in the home of the local bigshot—the owner of the town factory and, essentially, owner of the town. Tuppenny reminds the Standings of their older daughter Victoria, who has run away from home, and her brief presence among them precipirates an emotional dinner-table scene. At her next job in the town cafe, Tuppenny reminds the proprietors of their daughter Josie, now in a home for the retarded; meanwhile she visits the town's only church and reminds the eerie, devil-worshipping minister and his wife of their Dottle, a presumed suicide found floating in the river. The story is projected more like an expressionistic play than a novel; characters speak out on cue to reveal basic conflicts, strong feelings, and action to date, and the air is charged with hints of past scandal and with Tuppenny's catalytic promise. Indeed, before the stranger vanishes, Victoria has returned home, Josie's parents have fetched her back from the institution, and the evil Reverend Masons have been dramatically exposed as the murderers of their daughter. Curiosity about all the secrets could keep an audience in place, but it's a shabby kind of drama, trite in conception and played for effect. Read full book review >
COME TO THE EDGE by Julia Cunningham
Released: March 1, 1977

The gray vacuum that is Gravel Winter's soul will remind you of the aloof presence of Gilly in Dorp Dead, but here it is kindness more than cruelty which threatens the integrity of a boy's alienation. When his only friend abandons him, leaving the orphanage without so much as a goodbye, Gravel runs away. He flees again from Mr. Paynter, an aptly named sign painter who is willing to take him in, no questions asked, only to find himself acting out the role of a polite, solicitous orphan boy, accepting food and shelter from three old people—blind, deaf, and crippled respectively—who need him to "fill the gaps" in their lives. Then, in short order, Gravel tries to save blind Mr. Gant from being murdered by his servant, discovers that Gant has slain the servant instead, and narrowly escapes becoming the victim of Gant's blackmail. Gravel returns to Paynter, though not without a good deal of silent recrmination—"You fool. . . . Don't you know that I sold myself to the first people who were seeking a prop, that I shaped myself to please them so they wouldn't know who I was?" At times like this, Gravel is so full of his own message that you want to shake him and indeed, in the twelve years since Dorp Dead, Cunningham has acquired such baggage as symbolic roses. Yet the dichotomy between possessiveness and the bonds of trust, as acted out by the sniveling miser Gant and Paynter (last seen letting Gravel draw wings around a pair of shoes he's sketched for an ad) seems to inspire this author's best efforts; even her constricted solipsistic manner is oddly complementary to the theme. Read full book review >
MAYBE, A MOLE by Julia Cunningham
Released: Nov. 18, 1974

This is another of Cunningham's sentimental stories told in that half-cute, half-hushed manner that reeks with serf-importance and the expectation of an awed reception. There are five separate episodes here, all demonstrating the compassion; honor and fidelity of Maybe, a mole who is exiled by his peers because he is different (he can see). Maybe moves in with a companionable fox after his dedication to his new friend — which he proves by digging to the point of collapse to help the fox find a treasure — converts the other animal from exploiter to friend. Elsewhere the risks and efforts Maybe undergoes in order to keep a bargain inspires a previously cynical mouse to similar lengths. When Maybe (who looks to us like a masochistic loser) isn't exhausting himself by dragging a foolish old turtle to safe harbor, or rolling about on burning rugs "without regard for his singed fur or the pain of the burns" in order to save a lady's "ring of roses" from fire, he is watching the fox and the hound risk their lives for each other. Perhaps we are meant to conclude that the mole's anomalous physical vision is paralleled by an ability to discern some as yet undiscovered altruism lurking in the hearts of beasts. Suck is the nature of the cozy, unilluminating glow that Cunningham has been casting from Candle Tales (1964) to The Treasure Is the Rose (1973) — despite more than a hint of stronger fires in Dorp Dead. Read full book review >
THE TREASURE IS THE ROSE by Julia Cunningham
Released: Oct. 15, 1973

In a crumbling 11th century castle hedged with roses, the power of a young widow's gentleness tames a trio of thugs and repels a haughty baron. Since her husband's death in battle Ariane has lived alone with a loyal nurse and a companionable mouse; the outlaws (their names are Toadflax, Ragwort and Yarrow) come upon the place at night and threaten to kill her if she does not produce a rumored treasure, but the lady's compassion so disarms them that when a treasure does turn up they stay to protect her. Cunningham's heavy romanticism is a little easier to take than the drippy sentimentality of her recent Tallow stories, but as usual her talent for simulating a trance exceeds her sensibility, so that from the opening disclaimer that "To tell about Ariane is to try to grow a rose on paper without the touch of sun and moon, rain and snow that make it real and growing," she comes as dose to parody as she does to sharing a vision. Read full book review >
FAR IN THE DAY by Julia Cunningham
Released: April 15, 1972

The mute French mime of Burnish Me Bright (1970) joins up with a tawdry five-man Irish circus for an even more sentimental performance than the one that ended in expulsion from his native village. There's Billy Duffy, a consumptive, motherless child who befriends the wordless waif from his appearance one evening at mealtime, finds him a bed under his trailer next to the aged performing bear, and dies in his arms in the end. Then there's the clown Jimsy who names him Tallow and applauds his inspired mimicry, the evil fat woman who accuses him of the theft she herself has committed, the slow but sympathetic strong man Philip, and Duffy the boss who closes the ailing circus after his son's death, leaving Tallow to ride off and "take the world." Even those who basked in the self-consciously poetical glow of Burnish Me Bright will find Tallow pretty drippy. Read full book review >
WINGS OF THE MORNING by Julia Cunningham
Released: March 1, 1971

Adumbrated in words that are not childlike is an experience unlike that of most children — who, finding an inert bird by the roadside, assume it to be hurt or dead and react fearfully or protectively according to their nature. But this bare-footed, blue-jeaned, otherwise otherworldly youngster, feeling her aloneness on the wide road, thinks that it is sleeping, "waiting there for me all morning." It "needs someone to fly beside it" — and so she spreads its wings and tosses it into the air. Immediately it falls and she is devastated, to recover only in the security of her father's arms. Manifestly metaphorical, this is nonetheless problematic: was the bird dead at the outset? if wounded, would she not unwittingly have killed it? These are the questions that would occur to a child, and the fact that the photographer's daughter is the gift to whom this happened does not answer them. Indeed, the simulation — i.e. photographic recreation — of such intense reality is itself suspect. And, coupled with the poeticizing, ineffectual by comparison with the creative simplicity of the Brown-Charlip Dead Bird. Read full book review >
BURNISH ME BRIGHT by Julia Cunningham
Released: May 11, 1970

The empathy between a once-celebrated mime and a victimized young mute is so inevitable that it goes without saying—certainly without saying "How he hated to leave this new being, this young tree of such talent he shone with it. Would he, after his teacher left him, find a way to continue growing, to send out new branches of bloom and leaf and fruit, or would he be trapped in this village prison of poverty and prejudice?" To answer the question, Auguste unfolds after Monsieur Hilaire's death and frees others—to her mother's chagrin Avril the invalid blooms, to his father's shock Gustave the bully becomes a gentleman; then he is set upon by the villagers ('something is afoot. . .') and forced to flee: but "the magic now belonged to him, the magician." As it might if the spontaneity of gesture weren't crushed by the author's heavy hand. Read full book review >
ONION JOURNEY by Julia Cunningham
Released: Oct. 1, 1967

Perhaps this very brief, very explicit allegory of the love between Gilly and his grandmother is Julia Cunningham's answer to critics of Derp Dead: it's no more than a tender Christmas greeting otherwise. Left alone on Christmas Eve by Grandmother's departure to work in a sick household. Gilly finds a red onion with a note identifying it as his gift. "Why had she left this nonsensical vegetable....He reminded himself that his grandmother was a person of many meanings." Perplexed, annoyed, obsessed by the onion, he wanders aimlessly in the woods, finding a tumbled bird that flies away at the first opportunity, a badger that seizes his sandwich and disappears, a trapped hare that leaps off as soon as he frees it, a pair of emerald eyes that seem to menace him. Fortuitously taking the onion and a pine branch as his talismans, he feels his foreboding turn to empathy and sees each incident differently. "And, last, he looked at the onion....It was like love, layer upon layer of unending mystery...." With the addition of the onion, the pine branch becomes a tree; added to the branch, the onion becomes a star. The combination of overt moralizing, overextended symbolism and wispy texture is likely to draw a blank from most children though adults may well find it charming. Read full book review >
VIOLLET by Julia Cunningham
Released: Nov. 12, 1966

Because of the controversy over Dorp Dead, this will be of considerable interest to librarians, but it is not likely to carry much conviction for children. The flaw is fundamental, in the form: this story of animals who talk and act as humans is neither fa nor fantasy nor allegory. (Not fantasy because fantasy requires either an imaginary world or a bridge from the real to the imaginary; not allegory because the chief conflict is individual and personal.) Viollet is a thrush, a natural musician who is afraid to ing except when she is alone. Her friend Warwick the wise fox tells her how he lost his own fear and came to rejoice in being a fox. Warwick converses with Oxford, the aged Count's faithful dog, and learns that Oxford fears his master's life to be threatened by Tressac, the covetous manager of the vineyard. The animals plot together to protect the beloved Count; when the attack comes, Viollet flies at Tressac's eyes to spoil his aim, and Oxford leaps at him, intercepting the shot. At the behest of the Count, who has regained his youthful vigor, the wounded Oxford is carried into the house. Abandoning their roles as wild animals, Viollet and Warwick join Oxford and the Count in front of the fire, and the four dine together in perfect understanding. "Now, in the circle of honor and loyalty and love," the thrush knew "it was time to sing, to be free of fear, to show herself whole." The beauty of the book is in the character of each of the animals and their relationships to one another; the weakness is in their intervention in the affairs of men. The old count is a credible character until his final transformation, but Tressac is a villain without dimension, a loathsome, petty person. Viollet La Grive is believable, but her story is not. Read full book review >
CANDLE TALES by Julia Cunningham
Released: Feb. 19, 1964

Mr. Minnikin, the candlemaker, allowed a mouse, a dog, a cat, a pig, a squirrel and a gull to live in the shed behind his house. The old man was gruff and off, but the six animals knew he would enjoy a birthday party. In order to obtain a candle each to go on his surprise birthday cake, they offer to tell him a story a night. The stories have to be in verse and the "animal decameron" begins with the gull — "Once upon a long and winter wave/And me so done I would have shaved a stone for food". Each animal speaks out in a different form of verse that emphasizes the sense of character established for him in the prose portions. The at, whose every remark is a light spray of supercilious malice, tells her story and leaves the impression of a latter-day Mehitabel. The mouse tells of an adventure that was both brave and sly, and the dog has a marvelously funny incident re-ited deadpan. As the cat remarks "Not very pure poetry, but entertaining," and considerably above much that is being done for children. The author's way with words was established in Macaroon and this will enhance her deserved reputation for excellence, just as the illustrator's superbly decorative work here enhances ers. Read full book review >
DEAR RAT by Julia Cunningham
Released: Aug. 15, 1961

Andrew, a Wyoming rat, hops a freighter and arrives in France where he soon becomes familiar with the ways of gangland sewer society as well as with the royal rat regime. Andrew's failing however is his honesty. He cannot allow a group of villainous mobsters to steal the jewels from the cathedral at Chartres, nor can he permit the beautiful Princess Angelique to be duped by the mob. He tells his own story from beginning to end and we accompany him as he runs for his life, vanquishes the mob, and wins the love of the fair Princess. Written in a kind of hard-hitting American slang, this is certainly action-packed, though hardly as clever either in conception or style as The Vision of Francois (Aug. 1, 1960), Miss Cunningham's first animal tale also centered around a French cathedral. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 14, 1960

Francois was by nationality, French, and by species a fox. He was a perfectly ordinary fox, wicked, sly, and avaricious until one day in the mid-twelfth century he has a vision. Francois, dazzled by the pristine beauty of a church window conceives of sainthood and vows to achieve sanctity. This he does, with all the accompanying struggles between carnal and spiritual satisfaction in a story which is at once piquant and moving. Read full book review >