Betsy Byars: Bored Housewife Becomes Beloved Children's Author

No teacher ever told Newbery-winning author Betsy Byars she should be a writer when she was growing up. Young Betsy Cromer, nicknamed “Cro,” was a wide-awake kid and into most everything, but not writing. Part of the time her family lived in the country, which was heaven for Betsy as she was surrounded by nature. When she got older, she was interested in nature of a different kind—boys!

Starting to Write

Off to college, she tried to follow in her math genius sister’s footsteps but stumbled and wound up an English major--and fell in love with a fly-boy Rama, the Gypsy Catassistant professor. They flew all over the country in his small plane while they dated before marrying and settling down in one place so he could get his doctorate. With two young children in a faculty apartment—“the barracks,” as she called it, Betsy became very bored. She started by writing articles for magazines. Her first sale was to the Saturday Evening Post.

As time went on, she began working on children’s books. Rejection after rejection came her way, but she was determined to “show them.” Finally her first book was published—but it didn’t get very good reviews. Betsy did not give up. She kept writing and somewhere along the way she discovered realistic children’s fiction. Stories set in the known world without fantasy elements were something new to her, and she took to this sort of writing very well. Her next book was Rama, the Gypsy Cat. Rama, named for a long-ago prince, wanders away from his Gypsy owner and has many adventures. This is a realistic travel book, a kind that Betsy has said is the easiest for her to write. Rama got better reviews, and from her desk overlooking the mountains of West Virginia, she wrote more and better stories.

Good Books Come from Good Ingredients

In her very entertaining autobiographical essay in Contemporary Authors*, Betsy laid out what she needs to make a good book, in order of importance: characters; plot; setting; good scraps (“and most of the other things…like theme and mood…I don’t think about”). Those scraps are very important to her, whether it’s a diary written and forgotten by her daughter long ago, a story about a sand hill crane, or two elderly twins who still dress exactly alike.

These are all things she has seen herself or read about and filed away to use later on. Her Newbery-winning book, The Summer of the Swans, was inspired by a time she spent tutoring kids, some of whom had special needs. She did additional research in a medical library so she would know what was going on that character’s mind and how his family would relate to him. Because she concentrated on characters first, the result was a book with deep understanding and humanity.

Well-loved Books in Series

The Not-Just-Anybody FamilySome of Betsy Byars’ most popular novels come in a series. The Bingo Brown books follow the adventures of a young man experiencing the ups and downs of school, family, and mad crushes. As she writes, “He's fun to write about because he thinks of things himself - whether it's falling in love three times during English class or organizing a T-shirt rebellion or discovering mousse.”

The Not-Just-Anybody Family series starts with a boy thinking about jumping off the roof of his barn. After all, he’s got wings, doesn’t he? Built them himself! What happens next is just the first of many calamities to plague the Blossom family. With Pap in the county jail for a misunderstanding involving a shotgun and a bunch of recyclables and Mom on the rodeo circuit, the kids are left to their own resources to save the day.

Some things have changed for Betsy Byars. She and her husband have moved from the West Virginia mountains to South Carolina, but she hasn’t stopped writing or learning from living and enjoying it thoroughly. Whether she’s befriending a black snake (chronicled in her autobiography, The Moon and I) or taking flying lessons, this author’s joie de vivre and keen interest in everything going on around her keeps her writing fresh and flowing and well-worth reading.

Fast Facts:

Born: August 7, 1928, in Charlotte, North Carolina to George Guy, a cotton mill executive, and Nan (née Rugheimer) Cromer, a homemaker.

Favorite book as a child: The Adventures of Mabel

Education: Furman University (1946-48); Queens College in Charlotte, N.C.; graduated with a degree in English.The Summer of the Swans

Family: married Edward Ford Byars on June 24, 1950. They have four children: Laurie, Betsy Ann, Nan, and Guy. She has numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Selected Awards: the Newbery Medal in 1971 for her novel The Summer of the Swans; the American Book Award in 1981 for The Night Swimmers; The Edgar (for the best mystery for young people) in 1992 for Wanted…Mud Blossom; and the Regina Medal by the Catholic Library Association for the body of her work

Click Here for a Complete List of Her Books That Are Owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library

Learn More About This Author on the Web:
Her Web site includes writing tips, biography and information about her books.

Random House: About the Author: Betsy Byars
Has a biography with quotations and some reviews of her works.

You will need your CRRL Library Card to read these articles from our Research section:

"Betsy Byars." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Biography in Context. Web. 23 July 2014.

*"Betsy Byars." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2014. Biography in Context. Web. 23 July 2014.