Author Profiles

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.

Author of the Month: Uri Shulevitz

Picture book writer and illustrator Uri Shulevitz came into a world on the brink of a devastating war.  The son of son of Abraham and Szandla (Hermanstat) Shulevitz, Uri (pronounced oo-ree), he was only four years old when German bombs falling on Warsaw drove his Jewish family out of the city and into an eight-year period of travel in exile throughout Europe before finally settling in Paris in 1947, when Uri was twelve years old. 

Once Upon a Time with Charles Perrault

"As soon as he entered the wood all those great trees, and the interlaced brambles and thorns, separated to let him pass. He walked towards the castle, which he could see at the end of a great avenue. He was surprised that none of his companions had been able to follow him, since the trees had closed in again as soon as he had passed. But he did not falter. A young prince in love is always brave."

Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella. Puss in Boots. Little Red Riding Hood.
These enduring stories were created as we know them by a brilliant man who lived in 17th-century France. Although similar, but simpler stories were gathered more directly by the folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century, it was Charles Perrault's addition of delicate and amusing words, crafted to entrance a noble audience, that caught fire with readers' imaginations and were the basis for the way these stories are remembered today. It is easy to see the difference between a story collected by Grimm and a tale sculpted by Perrault. A Grimm tale is simple and direct and sometimes alarming while Perrault's are laced with details that still fire modern imaginations.

Munro Leaf

Wilbur Munro Leaf is best known for his beloved book, The Story of Ferdinand. It’s the tale of a peaceful yet rebellious bull that would rather enjoy the flowers in his meadow than fight in an arena. Munro Leaf and his friend, award-winning artist and writer Robert Lawson, had been talking about the kind of book they would want to write if they could get past the publisher’s ideas of what made a good book. It took him less than an hour—“25 minutes on a rainy Saturday”--to scribble down the story on a yellow pad of paper. With Lawson’s illustrations, the beatific bull was on his way to becoming internationally famous for his peaceful message in 1936--a time when the world was coming apart in war.

Marjorie Sharmat the Magnificent

Libraries are chock full of Marjorie Sharmat’s books, especially the many tales of her young detective, Nate the Great.  Nate is indeed great—at solving mysteries--but only after a plate of pancakes! Nate the Great is the start of one of the most popular series ever written for beginning readers. These mysteries are also drily witty and have been enjoyed by kids and adults alike.

As a girl, Marjorie Weinman was rather shy. She enjoyed playing the piano, reading and drawing. But her ambitions were not so tame. When she grew up, she wanted to be a writer or a detective or a lion tamer! With a friend, she published The Snooper’s Gazette; filled with news they learned by spying on grown-ups!  She kept writing throughout her high school years, eventually getting published in school magazines and newspapers.

Arna Bontemps Left a Rich Literary Legacy

A Solid Beginning

Arnaud “Arna” Wendell Bontemps was born on October 13, 1902, in Alexanderia, Louisiana, a child of middle class parents of mixed racial heritage--what is sometimes called Creole. His father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, was descended from French plantation owners living in Haiti and their slaves. After coming to the United States, the Bontemps family lived free in Louisiana for decades, and the many of the men worked as skilled brick and stone masons for generations.  In addition to working his trade, Arna’s father also played music with a popular band. Arna’s mother, Maria (pronounced Ma-rye-ah) Carolina Pembrooke was descended from an English planter and his Cherokee wife. Maria taught public school and enjoyed creating visual art.

Jack Prelutsky, Kids' Poet Extraordinaire

He was trouble, into everything at once, with an imagination that just wouldn't quit. Neither his teachers nor his parents knew quite what to do with him. But when he opened his mouth the most beautiful sounds came out. Young Jack Prelutsky had a glorious voice, so good they called him a prodigy, and the New York Metropolitan Opera's choirmaster gave him free lessons. But he gave up his dream of being the world's best opera singer when he heard Luciano Pavarotti perform. He knew he couldn't match that amazing voice, and he did know for certain that whatever he did in his life, he wanted to be the very best at it.

Glen Rounds: Cowboy Storyteller

Artist and author Glen Rounds was neither a tenderfoot nor a city slicker. He was the real deal of the nearly Wild West--though he wasn’t beyond telling a few tall tales, too, here and there. Born in a sod house in the Badlands of South Dakota, when he was just a babe he and his family traveled by covered wagon to the open spaces of Montana.

Spinning Tales for His Supper
 
Glen grew up on a horse ranch and worked as a mule skinner, a cowboy, and a carnival artist, but eventually his talents took him into the big city—Kansas City’s Art Institute where he studied for two years. In 1930, he moved to New York City and started taking night classes at the Art Students League and tried to sell stories during the day. He would visit publishers’ houses to sell his work, arriving in the late morning so he could grab a free meal—a trick he managed by starting a good story and offering to finish it over lunch. His artistic style was spare and rather rough, but it was perfect for the often funny, sometimes somber stories he wove about the American West.

Meindert DeJong: A Gentle, Persistent Spirit

Newbery Medal-winning author Meindert DeJong (pronounced De-Young) immigrated to the United States with his family as a young boy. The family came to America so that his older brothers would not be drafted to fight in World War I. The DeJong family had a difficult time in their new country. The family was poor, and the children were sent to a private, religious school where the children were bullied for being immigrants. Meindert DeJong never forgot the experience of being a lonely child, and he wove that perspective into many of his books.  

That Laura Ingalls!

 When Laura Elizabeth Ingalls got married, she asked the minister to change the wording in the wedding ceremony. She did not want to promise to always obey her husband, and in this as in many things she got her way. But she and Almanzo (whom she called Manly—he called her Bess) had a long and happy marriage working a farm not on the prairie that Laura loved so well but in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, leaving the Little House her Pa built far behind.

How did she go from prairie girl to mountain girl? The road to the Ozarks was a hard one for the young married couple. Luckily, Laura had always been strong as well as headstrong. Even when she was a young teenager she still liked playing baseball during her free time at school instead of sitting and chatting politely with the more ladylike girls. She used her strength for others, too. So that her sister Mary could go to the school for the blind, she worked every job she could—sewing, cooking, cleaning, waiting tables, and looking after the sick. When she was fifteen years old, a man from a neighboring community asked her to come and teach school. Although she was really too young to be allowed to do it and really didn’t want to be a teacher, she agreed. The money was good, and it would help her family.