Virginia Johnson

Outside in with Avi

"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.

Floyd Cooper Draws from the Heart

To open a book illustrated by Floyd Cooper is to be drawn into a world of warmth, bravery, and joy. His drawings are as essential as the text itself in illuminating the world of childhood, often of the Black experience.

He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1956. Early on, his family lived in the projects and had little money, but his mother was able to give him a sense of self-worth that he has carried with him always. She also shared stories with him, helping to build his imagination.

From the Mixed Up Files of E.L. Konigsburg

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?

Peggy Rathmann Makes Reading Fun

It was her third grade teacher who showed Peggy Rathmann that reading could be fun. She had spent the first two grades squinting at the blackboard, trying to make out the alphabet with her nearsighted eyes. But her third grade teacher used pictures to tell stories, and when Peggy grew up to be a famous illustrator, she made sure that her big, bold pictures were clearly outlined in black ink so the kids in the back of the class could see them clearly.

Richard Peck: A Teacher Finds His Audience

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.

The Eerie Worlds of Chris Van Allsburg

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.

Beatrix Potter, Peter Rabbit, and Other Friends

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.

Karen Hesse: Genius at Work

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.

 

The Strange Stories of Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka (pronounce that SHESH-ka) is a wild and crazy guy. Don't leave the man alone in a room with an old-fashioned story. He'll twist it and bend it around 'til it looks like something that should be dripping with cheese and sold at the shopping mall.

His takes on classic tales are so off-the-wall you'll wonder what it would have been like to have him in your class. Let me tell you: it would have been dangerous-for you. He'd sit quietly, and then he'd crack up the other kids without making a sound. THEY would be the ones to get into trouble. Not Jon.

C.S. Lewis and the Land of Narnia

C. S. Lewis spent his first years at the family home, called Little Lea, in Belfast, Ireland. He was never really called C. S. or even Clive (C. S. stands for Clive Staples). This young man wanted to be called Jack. Like another college professor (Indiana Jones), Jack nicknamed himself after his beloved dog, Jacksie, who died when the author was quite young. His friends called him "Plain Jack Lewis," and it suited him. He was not especially handsome, but he was kind and bluff and came to have many friends.