- Virginia Johnson
Paula Danziger sometimes said she wished she had had her own books to read when she was growing up. As the nerdy, clueless daughter in a family where Dad yelled and Mom just tried to make Dad happy, life was not fun. When her dad said mean things to her, Paula would tell herself that someday she would put it in a book. And she did.
She grew up to like reading and writing and teaching. Fresh out of college in the early 1970s, she started work as an English teacher. She was the brave-hearted, kind teacher that all the kids liked. Paula drew on her experiences both as an awkward teen and idealistic teacher when she wrote her first book, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.
Brainy, Shy Kids Unite
Kids loved it. It was different from most of the books that had come out then. By turns realistic and funny, The Cat tells the story of a chubby, smart, kind, shy, gym-hating girl who comes out of her shell thanks to a special teacher. When the terrific teacher loses her job, it's the bright misfits who come to her rescue.
Soon enough, Paula had to choose between her teaching and her writing. She happily chose the writing, saying goodbye to all the annoying bits about being a teacher: getting to work on time, grading papers, calling roll, and keeping proper records.
Not a Crayon!
Her most famous series is probably the set of books featuring Amber Brown. Again, she took what she saw and what she knew in her heart about kids and their problems and worked them into the Amber Brown series. Paula's niece was the inspiration for Amber. Most all the smart talk and daily problems came from what she saw in real time.
In the first book, Amber Brown Is Not a Crayon, Amber is about to lose her best friend since forever in a move. Her life is completely wrecked, and she lets everybody know about it. Amber went on to have adventures for eight more books. Then Paula doubled back and began writing about Amber's early years for a younger crowd. This set, called "A Is For Amber Brown," begins with It's Justin Time, Amber Brown.
Paula also wrote about a dozen stand-alone books for young adults. Some famous ones are Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?, There's a Bat in Bunk Five, and The Divorce Express. Once more, she tackled bitter problems with humor and hope. Just a few years before her too early death of heart failure in 2004 she wrote two more funny/serious books with another favorite kid author, Ann Martin: P.S. Longer Letter Later and Snail Mail No More.
Scraps of Joy
One of her last books for older kids, United Tates of America, is a terrific combination of serious story and scrapbooking madness. Tremendously joyful, the Tates are a heck of a loving family--the family perhaps that Paula got to know through her brother's children. She became part of their lives, and to them she was always the crazy, wonderful aunt who would listen to their problems--and maybe write about them.
Paula loved kooky earrings, wild clothes, travelling the world, and meeting her readers. She is very much missed, but her spirit lives on in her book characters.
Most libraries stock a lot of Paula's books. They are remain kid and teen favorites. Click here to see a list of Paula's books that are owned by the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
Attention, Report Writers!
Much good information can be found about Paula online generally by googling her name, but try our PowerSearch portal for extremely useful, teacher-trusted databases including Biography Resource Center, Expanded Academic ASAP (lots of reviews), and Literature Resource Center. You will need a CRRL card to get to the databases from that page, but if you live outside our region it's perfectly possible that your own library subscribes to these and other useful resources.