Meet Eve Bunting
By Marian Betancourt, Contributor
June / July 2004
It was only natural that the young Eve Bolton would grow up to be a writer, and a very prolific one who would produce more than 200 books for children. From her earliest years in Maghera, a small town in County Derry, books and stories filled her life. Both of her parents were great readers.
Eve remembers sitting in her father’s lap and being read to. “It was always poetry. He was a big, rough, tough cattle-dealing man, and his friends would never have believed he loved poetry.” And while Yeats was her dad’s favorite Irish poet, he read long epic poetry to Eve, who distinctly remembers Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.” “I thought all stories were written like poems,” she said.
After reading one of these epics, Sloan Bolton would look at his daughter and ask, “Now, darlin’, do you understand it?” Eve says her father scoured the countryside and went to farm auctions to buy up all the books. “He’d fill up a tea chest,” she said, and bring it home.
At age seven, Eve left home for boarding school in Belfast because her parents wanted more than what the small elementary school in town could provide. She got home only for vacations and occasional long weekends and missed her parents. From boarding school Eve went to Queen’s University, Belfast where she studied English and other languages.
“My grade advisor told me not to pursue English because I wasn’t good enough.” Eve left school after two years, not because of her grade advisor, but because she met Ed Bunting, then an upper classman and now her husband of 51 years and a retired hospital administrator. When Ed graduated they got married. They later settled in Belfast and had a daughter Christine and two sons Sloan and Glen.
In 1958, “The troubles were really bad,” Eve said. Even though they were Protestant, Eve and Ed had many Catholic friends and didn’t like the atmosphere. “Ed was really ambitious and there was a cap on how ambitious you could be in Ireland then,” Eve recalled. “People were leaving.” The Buntings packed up their three kids and came to America.
“We came here without a job. We had no house and three kids, but I had faith in Ed and faith in God, not necessarily in that order,” Eve said. The Buntings remained in San Francisco for about a year and eventually Ed got a job in Los Angeles with Kaiser Permanente. They now live in Pasadena.
When her children were in junior and senior high school, Eve joined a writing class at her local college because she wondered what she would do with the rest of her life. “I always liked to write,” she said. “I was the only kid in boarding school who loved to do other kids’ homework for them.” Eve sent one of her stories to Jack and Jill, a children’s magazine. They rejected it, but the undeterred Eve then sent it to an educational publisher, who accepted it in 1971. The publisher asked her to do four more books. With the books under her belt, Eve began writing the stories she had been longing to tell.
“I began sending manuscripts to the slush piles and had success,” she said. “The timing was right, because now that doesn’t work.” Her first book with a commercial publisher was printed in 1972. The Two Giants was a story from Celtic folklore about Finn McCool, the Irish giant who out-smarted the Scottish giant. Since then Eve has published more than 200 books (she doesn’t keep count) for kids from tots to teens.
A story that came from her childhood, Market Day, was published in 1996 by HarperCollins. This book for four to eight year olds was inspired by Market Day in Maghera, a very big day in a small Irish village. The streets are filled with livestock, produce, flowers, and some unusual performances including a sword swallower. Calling it “a Celtic charmer,” Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “It’s almost impossible to read this winsome tale without lapsing into an Irish brogue.”
Another book is based on the true story of the first Irish girl to enter the newly built Ellis Island on January 1, 1892. In Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story, Annie Moore arrives from Cork on her 15th birthday. This book, published in 2001, won a Teachers Choice Award from the International Reading Association of Teachers.
Eve’s books are whimsical and funny, but also help children cope with bigger issues. Smoky Night was written after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. “The riots were close by,” Eve said, “and I wondered how it would be for a little kid to live with that.” The book won the prestigious Caldecott Award in 1995.
But it’s the children who really let Eve know how she’s doing.
“I get an enormous number of letters,” Eve said, offering 40 a week as a conservative estimate. She answers all of them with some help from Ed, who addresses the envelopes. She laughed and said, “Some children are so thoughtful as to send a self-addressed stamped envelope.
“But some really come from the heart,” she said. Eve’s 1993 picture book for four to eight year olds, Fly Away Home, is about a bird that gets trapped in an airport. A door opens, and it flies away. As it escapes, the boy in the story says, “And I knew it was singing.” Eve received a letter from a boy who told her he had read the book 16 times and asked for it from his mother for Christmas. This boy had been abused by his father. Eventually the father was taken to jail and the boy wrote, “I was free. And you know I was singing.” Eve kept up a correspondence for a while. “The boy is playing in the school band for football games and he sent me a picture. I could tell he was doing fine,” she said.
Not all letters are as heart-rending. Another child wrote: “Dear Eve Bunting: For an old lady you sure write good!”
Eve is never too old to try something new. For her book Snow Boarding on Monster Mountain, just released by Cricket Books, she first took a snow-boarding lesson. The story was inspired by her granddaughters, Tory and Erin, who love to snowboard. “We have a condo in the snow country,” Eve said. “I watched them and listened to all their snow boarding talk.” Then she took a lesson.
Her two other new books are The Presence, a young adult book, and My Big Boy Bed, a picture book, both published by Clarion.
As her children were growing up, Eve always read to them, “but not as well as my father did with me.” She described reading to her kids on the porch and how her son would be listening to the story with one ear while watching the neighborhood to see who was playing ball. Unlike rainy Ireland, “the weather is always good here.” Eve was inside the house a lot as a child. Whenever the sun came out, her mother would tell her, “okay, now go outside and play.”
All of the children and grandchildren have visited Ireland with Eve and Ed. Their last visit was four years ago. “Most of the relatives are gone now,” Eve said, “so there is less reason to go.” Nevertheless, the grandchildren always ask her when they can all go to Ireland.
“There’s a pull,” Eve said, “especially when you hear an Irish song.” ♦