The Wonders of Eleanor Cameron

“Any memorable children’s book will possess drama, vitality, vividness, possibly wit and humor, and its own dignity—that is, a deep respect for the child’s quick and devastating perceptions.  As for the story itself, it will convey a sense of complete inevitability, a feeling of rightness throughout the whole structure.  This can only be attained by the writer’s evoking the true aura of childhood through re-experiencing that emotional state he lived in as a child, a state composed of delight in the simplest, most secret, sometimes the oddest things, of sadnesses and fears and terrors one could not or would not explain, of a continuing wonder about much that seems drab and familiar to adults” 

--Eleanor Cameron writing in The Green and Burning Tree: On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children’s Books, pg. 14

Eleanor Cameron was capable of doing all these things, whether writing science fiction, fantasy or more everyday stories.  She was a celebrated children’s writer of the 1960s and 1970s and was known for her lyrical style and the honesty with which she told her tales. A mature reader of That Julia Redfern, featuring an aspiring young writer living in the 1910s Berkley, can easily find grown-up themes that are layered into the story and come to fruition in books about an older Julia, such as A Room Made of Windows.

“Toughness, wonder, humor, tenderness and wisdom, imagination pressed down and running over—it is because of these qualities that I believe that the myths and hero stories, fantasies, fairy tales, and the great legends nourish a child toward maturity.”

--The Green and Burning Tree, pg. 46

She was fond of classic children’s stories of myth and magic, and one of her best-loved books blends magical thinking with a very solidly-grounded story The Green and Burning Treeabout a young girl named Nina whose parents move from their prairie homestead to a shoddy apartment in a California big city. She positively loathes it and the fact that her parents hate it, too, while trying to put on good faces doesn’t make it any better. Adding to that, she has no friends except for a strange boy who is constantly writing in his notebook about the nature of time. He suggests she visit The French Museum, a magnificent place with interiors taken straight from a Napoleonic-era chateau. The furnishings aren’t all that was brought over. There is the spirit of a young girl who intrigues Nina and needs her help to resolve a centuries-old injustice. The Court of the Stone Children won the National Book Award for its excellence.

“Why do I feel that it is of overwhelming importance that we—all of us who are concerned in any way with children—try never to lose the dimension of amazement? For two reasons: if we lose it we lose both our understanding of the child world and our sympathy with that world and we lose what is so closely related our imaginative life.  We lose the power to imagine.”

--The Green and Burning Tree, pg. 232

Probably one of her best-loved series was set on the improbable and richly-imagined Mushroom Planet. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet first appeared in 1954 and was followed by four sequels. In the beginning of the series, Chuck and David take their homemade spaceship and travel to the world not too far from our own. It is a tribute to Ms. Cameron’s writing that these books are still fondly remembered and very popular.

Fast Facts:

Born: March 23, 1912, in Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, daughter of Henry and Florence Lydia Butler

Education: University of California, Los Angeles, 1931-33, and Art Center School, Los Angeles, one year.

Other employment: she worked as a librarian in and around Los Angeles from the 1930s through the 1950s.

Married: Ian Stuart Cameron

Child: David Gordon

Avocations: Archaeology, art, and the preservation of the environment

Served as: the Gertrude Clarke Whittall Lecturer, Library of Congress, 1977.

Died: October 11, 1996, in Monterey, California

The Eleanor Cameron Award for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction is given at WorldCon to the best science-fiction book written the previous year for children in grades two through six.

Major Awards:

A Room Made of Windows1964: Mystery Writers of America Award for A Spell Is Cast

1974: The National Book Award for The Court of the Stone Children

1985: Kerlan Award for a body of work

American Library Association Notable Books include: A Room Made of Windows; The Court of the Stone Children; To the Green Mountains; Julia and the Hand of God; and That Julia Redfern

More on the Web:

Loganberry Books: Most Requested: Eleanor Cameron

Biography in Context (available to CRRL card holders)

“Eleanor (Frances) Cameron.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2004.

“Eleanor (Frances) Cameron.” Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults.