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Programs - 2000

Jane Kurtz:
Passionate Reader, Eloquent Writer, Multicultural Teacher, Soulful Friend

by Kaye Anderson, Ph.D.
Department of Teacher Education
California State University, Long Beach

It is with pleasure that I introduce our featured speaker, Jane Kurtz, who will be speaking on the topic of “Teaching Empathy: Helping U.S. Students Understand What It’s Like for Children of War.”

Passionate Reader

Jane has always been passionate about reading. She grew up without television and the multitude of books available in U.S. libraries. Nevertheless, in the earliest home that she can recollect in Ethiopia, she remembers that her family did own some classic children’s literature selections such as Charlotte’s Web, Winnie the Pooh, Black Beauty, and Caddie Woodlawn, and she read and reread these books many times over, developing a lifelong love of literacy.

As an adult, she read “tons and tons” of books to her own three children, and she continues to read voraciously, as she writes a review column of children’s literature as part of her responsibilities in the “guaranteed income” part of her career as a teacher educator—she teaches children’s literature in the English Department at the University of North Dakota half time.

Eloquent Writer

Her homesickness for Ethiopia, her childhood home, was the gnawing void which inspired her to write. She found early success in writing when some of her poetry was accepted for publication. Her first children’s book was published ten years ago, and her writing career, the “uncertain income” part of her career, took off with the book Fire on the Mountain. While at this point she has numerous books to her credit (see below), fortunately for us, she considers herself just at the beginning of her writing career.

Through her books she has found an opportunity to share some of the stories and culture which was a vital part of her own experience of growing up in a culture outside the United States as a child of a missionary family. For years she felt that the two worlds she experienced were greatly disjointed. Her writing has helped her to bridge the gaps between her two worlds which in turn has helped her to reconnect with her own childhood. Thus, her writing has not only been a service to others but also has been a healing liniment bringing a wholeness to her own psyche.

Definitely part of the age of technology, Jane uses a computer to compose her stories. She is also an early pioneer who has established her own website where she provides an opportunity for browsers anytime and any place to experience a virtual visit where she responds to the questions of fans and shares related information about her books and her interests (see below).

Multicultural Teacher

Jane’s books capture the sights, sounds, smells, and feels of life in another culture and she has brought to life diverse cultures and perspectives: Africa, pioneer America, Southwest U.S., and Inca, to name a few. In doing so, she helps her readers develop an appreciation for others who are different from themselves, a vitally important in developing empathy, a pressing need in today’s society, as she explores the commonality of universal experiences.

Her first novel, The Storyteller’s Beads, depicts the friendship which overcomes inbred prejudice of Sahay, a Christian Kemant girl, and Rahel, a blind Jewish girl, who find themselves together on a forced journey from Ethiopia to their shared homeland of Jerusalem during the famine and warfare of the 1980s. This book was selected by the International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group as one of last year’s Notable Books for a Global Society (Lehman, et al, 1999).

The two dozen books featured in this award program annually are described in The Dragon Lode with annotations, teaching suggestions, and lists of related books (Siu-Runyan, et al, 1996; Siu-Runyan, et al, 1997; Siu-Runyan et al, 1998; IRA CL/R SIG, 2000). Thus, through her work, Jane recognizes the need for bringing to public consciousness the universal experiences and themes which all of us need to examine so that we too can extend beyond our limited and sometimes selfish viewpoints and attain a multicultural perspective which features the common good of all and which overcomes the debilitating aspects of cultures and perspectives when they clash and collide with one another.

Jane herself is a model for becoming a multicultural teacher intimately aware of multiple cultures, and as a professor of children’s literature is helping bring the awareness of the need for a global perspective to prospective teachers (Anderson, 2000).

Soulful Friend

As a teacher for ten years at the elementary and high school levels, Jane is extremely aware of the need to bring to light some of the riveting issues facing young people—and all of our society—at this volatile time in history. Her work deals with such profound issues as belonging, prejudice, authenticity, and self-knowledge.
Jane says that she loves going to IRA and being surrounded by many people who are passionate about books. I believe she might be even happier to be among those who share her concerns for social responsibility, justice, and peace which are woven among her writings.

We are indebted to Harcourt Children’s Books for making Jane’s visit here in person possible, and I invite you to join me in giving a warm welcome to a passionate reader, an eloquent writer, a multicultural teacher, and our soulful friend, Jane Kurtz.


Published Books

# Kurtz, Jane, Bryant, Michael (Il.), and Lewis, Earl. (2000). Faraway Home. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace.
Desta, a young African American girl whose father must return “home” to Ethiopia to visit his sick mother, can’t bear the parting and develops an understanding of his father’s parting from the people he left behind.

* # Kurtz, Jane, and Brennan, Neil (Il.). (1999). River Friendly, River Wild. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Inspired by the 1997 flood of Grand Forks, ND, Kurtz weaves a story of a family who escapes the flooding river in 18 free-verse poems.

* # Kurtz, Jane, and Havice, Susan (Il.) (1999). I’m Sorry, Almira Ann. NY: Henry Holt.
Readers can readily identify with the tribulations of Sarah, a spunky child in pioneer America.

* Buzzeo, Toni, and Kurtz, Jane. (1999). Terrific Connections with Authors, Illustrators, and Storytellers: Real Space and Virtual Links.
Great information for planning, hosting, and enjoying author visits. Explores “virtual visits” where students
and authors can communicate on-line by using television/satellite links.

Kurtz, Jane. (1999). The American Southwest Resource Book: Volume I: The People and the Culture. Eakin Publishers.
A Resource Book for Teachers and Students. Collected true stories from Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are enhanced with activities, suggested books for students and teachers to read, and other background information.

* # Kurtz, Jane. (1998). The Storyteller’s Beads. San Diego: Harcourt.
During the political strife and famine of the 1980s, 2 Ethiopian girls, one Christian and the other Jewish and blind, struggle to overcome many difficulties, including their prejudices about each other, as they make the dangerous journey out of Ethiopia.

# Kurtz, Jane, Lewis, Earl B. (Il.), and Kurtz, Christopher. (1997). Only a Pigeon. NY: Simon & Schuster.
A boy in Addis Ababa spends his time away from school and work caring for pigeons and protecting them from danger.

* # Kurtz, Jane, and Bernhard, Durga (Il.) (1997). Trouble. San Diego: Harcourt.
A retelling of a traditional Eritrean tale in which a young goatherd disobeys his father by inadvertently trading away the board game that was supposed to keep him
out of trouble.

* # Katz, Jane, and Frampton, David (Il.). (1996). Miro in the Kingdom of the Sun. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
A young Inca girl succeeds where her brothers and others have failed, when her bird friends help her find
the special water that will cure the king’s son.

# Kurtz, Jane, and Lewis, E. B. (Il.). (1994). Fire on the Mountain. NY: Simon & Schuster BFYR.
A clever young shepherd boy uses wits to gain a fortune for himself and his sister from a haughty rich man.

* # Kurtz, Jane, and Cooper, Floyd (Il.) (1994). Pulling the Lion’s Tail. NY: Simon & Schuster.
Her grandfather finds a clever way to help an impatient young Ethiopian girl get to know her father’s new wife.

# Kurtz, Jane. (1991). Ethiopia: The Roof of Africa. Dillon Press.
Describes the geography, history, culture, economy, and people of the mountainous country in Northeast Africa troubled in recent years by drought, famine, and civil unrest. Discovering Our Heritage Series.

# Kurtz, Jane, (1990). I’m Calling Molly. Morton Grove, IL: Whitman.
Four-year-old Christopher has just learned to use the telephone, calls Molly with various ploys to persuade
her to play with him, but she is busy with another friend.

Kurtz, Jane.. A Treasury of the Southwest: Resources for Teachers and Students. Currently out of print.

* Listed as a “Five Star Book” by Amazon.com, based on reviews of her work submitted electronically
# Part of library collection in the Mesa, AZ, library system

Website: http://www.janekurtz.com
A virtual visit to Jane Kurtz’ website reveals an array of enriching information. The site:

  • Provides information about Jane Kurtz, the person and the author
  • Includes hints about her writing, how she is inspired, advice she gives students, a sample rejection letter, as well as a sample of her work before and after an editor’s suggestions
  • Features eight of her books, each with excerpts from reviews and ideas for activities which teachers and librarians have used in connection with her books
  • Highlights her recent “homecoming” trip to Ethiopia where she served as Author in Residence at three schools, one which she herself attended as a child
  • Publishes works of students related to the recent flood of Grand Forks, ND, her current home
  • Links browsers to many useful sites related to children’s literature and themes/topics in her books: Ethiopia/Africa, multicultural sources, the Americas, Jewish sources, blindness, goats, and other topics of interest.

E-mail: jkurtz@badlands.nodak.edu
Readers are invited to write her; she responds to selected questions on her website


Anderson, K., et al. (2000, Spring). Children’s literature: A vehicle to promote multicultural curriculum at its best. The Dragon Lode. 18/2, pp. 71-75.

IRA CL/R SIG. (2000). Notable books for a global society. International Reading Association’s Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group Website. [On-line]. Available: http://www.csulb.edu/org/childrens-lit

Lehman, B. A. et al. (1999, Fall). 1999 Notable books for a global society. The Dragon Lode. 17/1, pp. 11-24.

Siu-Runyan, Y., et al. (1998, Fall). 1998 Notable books for a global society. The Dragon Lode. 16/1, pp. 1-14.

Siu-Runyan, Y., et al. (1997, Fall). 1997 Notable books for a global society. The Dragon Lode. 15/1, pp. 15-26.

Siu-Runyan, Y., et al. (1998, Fall). 1996 Notable books for a global society. The Dragon Lode. 14/1, pp. 14-23.

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