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!
“I have a normally strange family.”
Award-winning author Sharon Creech wove a lot of her own life into her books for young adults, including her first one, Absolutely Normal Chaos. Written as a journal as are many of her novels, what strikes a reader immediately are her humor and casual way of storytelling. Everything is told offhand, as if it doesn’t really matter—just a 13-year-old chattering. Until what happens does matter and things get serious. That’s when readers are grateful for the humor, and having a strong if strange family really becomes important.
From African-American history to folktales to album covers, Kadir Nelson has added his glowing and inspired paintings to dozens of projects and gone on to become an award-winning author himself.
Award-winning author Paula Fox had an extremely unusual childhood. Given away by her parents at birth, she spent the first few years of her life in a small town on the Hudson River. Her guardian, a poor minister, was a bachelor who looked after his very ill mother. He was a kind and cultured man who taught her to read and encouraged her to grow. But this pleasant time wasn’t to last.
Virginia Hamilton, self-described writer of "Liberation Literature,"* was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the same place where her grandfather was brought to freedom as an infant through the Underground Railroad. Yellow Springs has a connection to our area because it was here that Moncure Daniel Conway brought his newly-freed slaves from Stafford County to settle in the days just before the Civil War.
With books such as Sad Underwear And Other Complications: More Poems for Children and Their Parents, it’s no wonder that Judith Viorst is best-known for bringing humor and poignancy to readers in a reflection of childhood’s (and parenthood’s) spirit.
"In other worlds I used the imaginary kingdom not as a sentimentalized fairyland, but as an opening wedge to express what I hoped would be some very hard truths. I never saw fairy tales as an escape or a cop out....On the contrary, speaking for myself, it is the way to understand reality."*
Lloyd Alexander wrote many adventure stories for young people, including the wonderful Chronicles of Prydain which follow the adventures of brave, young Taran, who proudly holds the title of assistant pig-keeper, the fiery, quick-witted Eilonwy, shambling man-beast Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam, a teller of tales, mostly tall ones. In The Book of Three, these unlikely heroes are on the run from dread forces that have more personality and are therefore more terrifying than Tolkien’s Sauron.
Growing up with Books and Traveling the World
With a scientist/writer for a mother and a research physician for a father, it’s little wonder that Molly Bang grew up to be a writer and illustrator who would eventually make it her mission to create books that drawn children into the world of science. Her family kept a large library and would often give each other books illustrated by the famous Charles Rackham as gifts. Molly found these to be inspiring.
After she graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in French, Molly traveled to Japan to teach English at a university there for 18 months before returning to work on master’s degrees in Oriental studies. Then it was back overseas to illustrate health manuals for UNICEF, as well as Johns Hopkins and Harvard, working, among other places, in Calcutta and Bangladesh.
Author Jean Fritz has written many books that kids enjoy. They’re often funny and full of adventure and always have great characters. They’re also pretty much absolutely true. Jean specializes in history books, especially people’s life stories. As a biographer, she tries to get to know the people and the times in which they lived through research including reading their own words. Then she takes all that history and turns it around in her mind until it becomes a story her readers will enjoy.