His dad was "an airy optimist with nimble skills." His mom was a crackerjack card player. Both came from old Europe with the great wave of Jewish immigrants in the early part of the 20th century, and both were jim-dandy storytellers.
Sid helped his parents at their neighborhood store in San Diego, California. This was during the Great Depression when no one had much money, but he found that for just a dime he could hang out all day at the traveling vaudeville show. There he met his first magician, a lady sharpshooter, and other amazing performers whose memories would one day be conjured for the Wild West boy-and-his-dog story, Jim Ugly.
Gary Soto came from a hard background by anyone's reckoning. His young father died in an industrial accident when Gary was only five years old. His Mexican-American family was struggling and lived in a tough neighborhood--next to a junkyard and across from a pickle factory. All through school, he and his family worked at whatever jobs they could get, including picking fruits as migrant laborers.
Eleanor Ruth Rosenfeld (Estes) loved to tell stories to children. She began by working as a children's assistant in her hometown library, but when she became sick with tuberculosis, she spent the quiet days of her recovery writing down her childhood memories as a series of stories for young readers.
In The Moffats, a terrific family, growing up during tough times in Cranbury, Connecticut in the 1910s, face calamity when the landlord puts a "For Sale" sign on their beloved yellow house. Janey's widowed mother works as a seamstress every day to put food on the table, coal in the grate, and clothes on their backs, but there isn't enough money left to buy a home. Week after week, month after month, the kids--fifteen-year-old Sylvie, twelve-year-old Joey, nine-year-old Janey, and five-year-old Rufus--expect the worst: that someone will buy their house, and then what will happen?
When people hear the name Ann M. Martin, they naturally think of her wildly popular Baby-sitters Club series. What was supposed to be just a four-book set turned into a 130-book saga, not counting the 120-book series for younger readers, Baby-sitters' Club Little Sisters and other spin-offs.
Why did these quick books about four very different middle-school friends take off on the bestseller lists? The secret must lie with Ann's gift for remembering her feelings throughout childhood and young adulthood. She was a babysitter herself, and a lot of the things that happened to the babysitters on the job happened to her or her friends. She also remembers what it feels like to lose a parent, have an annoying little sister, and deal with family secrets.
"Avi!" that was the nickname his twin sister called him when they were small. That was enough of a name for Avi (pronounced Ah-Vee) Wortis then, and it's still the name that he writes under today.
Avi came from a family who were passionate about radical politics and the arts. Family members in New York and Boston argued all the time, but in a loving way, so any dinner table discussion might turn into a free-for-all of exciting ideas.
Elaine Lobl Konigsburg has always loved reading. As a girl, she discovered the magic of The Secret Garden and learned about life in a middle-class English family from Mary Poppins. These stories became part of her childhood, and, as she relates in her excellent book of essays, TalkTalk: A Children's Author Speaks to Grown-ups, classic stories become a bridge between today's children and earlier generations.
What she was looking for as a child and did not find, was a reflection of her life in a Pennsylvania mill town. In classic books, the mothers were just that. The women in Elaine's neighborhood worked as maids for extra money. In classic tales, there were maids, but they were always on the sidelines, and the classroom rolls were filled with Smith's, Jones', Edwards', and the like. Where were the Ravinsky's, Machotka's, and Spinelli's?
Richard Peck grew up in the heartland town of Decatur, Illinois. His childhood and young adulthood were filled with grown-ups of different generations. If a problem arose, there was always someone around to ask for advice.
When 16, he took a trip to the Empire State that changed the way he felt about Illinois. He realized that New York City was the place he wanted to be. At 20, he sailed for England to spend a year at the University of Exeter. The American students were popular because they were so out-going and made friends easily. The rest of his college days were spent in Illinois, but that one year abroad opened up his eyes to the world's possibilities.
Mysteries for the mind and the eye, that's what Chris Van Allsburg creates for his readers. His drawings seem quite still and perhaps a little dull-until you notice the huge snake slithering across the mantelpiece (Jumanji) or the brambles stealthily growing out of a sleeping girl's book in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Over 100 years ago, Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London. Her family had plenty of money, but they were not truly happy. Lonely Beatrix lived upstairs in the nursery. She rarely saw her parents and was looked after by a nanny, who, although she was strict, did tell her marvelous fairy stories which she loved. Beatrix and her little brother were happiest when the family went on holidays (vacations) to the countryside. There the children were free to play outside and explore nature.
Do you know Karen Hesse? Her books can take you on a voyage of discovery with Captain Cook, into the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, or turn-of-the-century Russia. A sense of place has always been important to this author. She grew up very quietly in a row house and later an apartment in Baltimore, Maryland. When she wanted a place to be by herself, she had to get creative. Outside, there was an apple tree where she could sit for hours, reading and dreaming. Nearby was the Enoch Pratt Free Library, where she started with Dr. Seuss and kept on going, from picture books to chapter books to novels.