Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop grew up in a rambling house, surrounded by woods, and with a stream nearby for catching crayfish. With no television until she was twelve, she and her five brothers would make up all sorts of imaginative games. Their home was filled with books to feed that imagination. Among her favorites were C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins, as well as books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Charles Dickens. Both her parents loved to read, and her father was a journalist.
A Writer in the Wings
“My father read aloud from Shakespeare—he made us take parts and read from plays in the evenings sometimes… Reading was like breathing.”*
Elizabeth would someday write books for all ages—picture books for little ones, retellings of folk tales, and chapter books for young people as well as adults. She started writing early and kept at it, choosing Sarah Lawrence College specifically so she could major in creative writing. After she graduated, she got a job as an editorial assistant with Harper and Row, a publishing house.
The company worked with legendary children’s authors such as E.B. White, Arnold Lobel, Maurice Sendak, and Charlotte Zolotow. But there was also a pile of manuscripts from lesser-known authors on her boss’ desk. If the editors liked one of these stories, they might get it published. Elizabeth made sure her manuscripts were at the top of that pile and, sure enough, her first published book--called Bunk Beds--was read, chosen and put in print from their slush pile.
Brave Deeds, True and Otherwise
Two of Elizabeth Winthrop’s best-known books, The Castle in the Attic and its sequel The Battle for the Castle, are fantasies for young people. In The Castle in the Attic, William must say good-bye to the lady who has cared for him for many years. She wants to go home, back to England, but before she leaves she has a special gift for him, an elaborate castle complete with everything a castle would really need, just done small. An accident undoes a charm, and the castle’s only inhabitant, a miniature lead knight, turns human and lives again but needs William’s help to break a curse cast long ago. Unfortunately, William has his own plans for the castle’s magic.
One of her more recent chapter books, Counting on Grace, is no fantasy but based on the harsh realities for children working in New England textile mills 100 years ago. Grace is one of her teacher’s best students, though a bit of a trouble-maker, yet it’s needed and expected that she go work with her mother and sister in the town mill with all its dangers. What happens in the course of just a few months after a reformer secretly comes to town changes Grace’s life and those she cares about.
Elizabeth, the Storyteller
“If I am remembered after I go, I would like to be remembered as a storyteller. That she told a good story.” – Elizabeth Winthorp**
Elizabeth Winthrop has told many stories--some based on legend, some based in fact, some based in fancy, and all of them relating to the human spirit.
Born: September 14, 1948, in Washington, D.C.
Birth name: Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop
Education: Sarah Lawrence College, B.A., 1970.
Married: Walter B. Mahony, III, June, 1970 (divorced, 1993)
Children: Eliza G., Andrew A.
Selected Awards: Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the Pen Syndicated Fiction Award, the California Young Readers Medal and the Jane Addams Peace Prize Honor Book
Hobbies: Swimming, hiking, yoga.
Addresses: Home--250 West 90th St., No. 6A, New York, NY 10024.
Click here for all of her books that are owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
These resources were very helpful for preparing this article and contain much more information than is given here. Use your CRRL card to access Biography In Context as well as many other databases on our Research page.
**"Elizabeth Winthrop." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2009. Gale Biography In Context.
*"Elizabeth Winthrop." Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context.
On the Web:
Elizabeth Winthrop’s Home Page
The author’s own page has a blog (“Looking Over a Writer’s Shoulder”), a short biography in the form of an interview, a list of her books (“Bookshelf”) and teachers’ notes on several of her most popular novels: The Castle in the Attic; The Battle for the Castle; and Counting on Grace.
Introducing Award-Winning Author Elizabeth Winthrop
Author Turf’s quick interview covers a lot of interesting ground: her current writing projects, the most valuable writing advice she’s received, her advice for young writers, her favorite author as a child, and her favorite characters. It also includes an additional listing of awards.
Web Extra: Elizabeth Winthrop’s Discovery of Addie Card
An approximately 11-minute interview with the author on how she researched her main character and the mill-town setting for Counting on Grace.