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Publishers Weekly Review
Teacher-novelist Ashton-Warner is revealed in this rich, lively biography as a contradictory figure who, early on, ``was never one to let facts cloud the drama of a good story.'' Although her unorthodox approach to teaching Maori children--formulated on the concept of ``key vocabulary'' based on native imagery--won her international fame as an innovator, Ashton-Warner frequently expressed her dislike of teaching. This biography, the first book by New Zealand freelancer Wood, supplies factual evidence as to the parallels between Ashton-Warner's ambivalence in areas of her own life and that of the heroines of her novels, especially the bestseller Spinster. We're shown that life on her own terms was a condition set down by Ashton-Warner. She was born in 1906 into an eccentric New Zealand family; she combined a nontraditional marriage with an erratic career as teacher-writer. She thrived on love-hate relationships, was a deeply restless woman, flirtatious even in old age, alcoholic and, yet, as her biographer demonstrates, strangely charismatic. Photos. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
In this pleasantly quirky biography, novelist Sylvia Ashton-Warner emerges as a brave, odd, infuriating, and engaging figure. A native of New Zealand, she was first employed as a teacher of Maori children. Although earning a reputation for being eccentric and perhaps even crazy, she enjoyed phenomenal success as a teacher. (Mystified observers reported hearing Maori children singing Handel in intricate three-part harmony.) Her eccentricities, however, were even more remarkable than her teaching ability. Hood recounts numerous recollections of Ashton-Warner's friends and family members, all of whom testify to the woman's strange mix of capriciousness, charm, and irascibility. For example, she eavesdropped on her son and daughter-in-law when they were making love and later used their words in a novel. Yet Ashton-Warner's ability to enchant her listeners never left her and gives this biography a special appeal, especially for those familiar with her novels. Index. --Penelope Mesic
Kirkus Book Review
A dull yet disturbing portrait of the late novelist/educator. In the 1960's and 70's, Sylvia Ashton-Wamer became a heroine to many as her innovative teaching methods in schools for the Maori intents of New Zealand were internationally emulated and passionately admired. Through her novel, Spinster, and her nonfiction Teacher, a vision of the creative images in the inner world of children--which could be unlocked through the use of ""Key Vocabulary"" and expressed through drawing, music, and dance--appealed to teachers and parents hungry for more humane and creative schooling. Although always more of an emotional approach than a practical method, Ashton-Warner's way of schooling remains influential today. First-time book-author and native New Zealander Hood, however, does Ashton-Warner no justice here. The educator emerges as a tortured and somewhat sordid character, unrelenting in her flirtatiousness (""always longing to be kissed""), demanding, domineering, irresponsible, and often drunk or dragged. Planted firmly in the center of her own fantasy world, she made lovers, friends, and children all grist for her unsavory mill. Hood chronicles Ashton-Warner's misery and empty relationships in exhausting but unilluminating detail. And while there are plenty of testimonies to the impact of her theatrically charismatic appeal, the genuinely positive side of her nature never emerges here. Disappointing. Whatever spiritual truths Ashton-Warner may have touched are available only in her own writings, and are neither explored nor explained properly in Hood's biography. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.