Virginia Johnson

Vera B. Williams Creates Community in Her Books

Vera Baker was born in Hollywood, California, on January 28, 1927. She and her family moved to New York City when she was quite young. Luckily for Vera, they lived near a studio space called Bronx House where she learned painting, writing, acting, and dance. When she was nine-years-old, one of her paintings, called "Yentas," was put on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. She was filmed there explaining to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt the meaning behind her work. The Movietone film reel ran before the regular features at the movies. This, Vera recalled, made her quite a big shot in the neighborhood!

Simms Taback: Welcome to the Shtetl

Mr. Taback grew up in the East Bronx of New York City in 1930s and 40s. His family was Jewish, and they had strong ties to Eastern Europe. Their neighborhood was made up of many such families who together created a community rich in the traditions of the Old Country. When he was a young boy, he spoke the Yiddish language. Although he remembers little of it today, the old songs, stories, and ways of life have made a tremendous impact on the work of this Caldecott Award-winner. In old Poland, a village such as the one he grew up in would be called a shtetl.

Barbara Park: Still Clowning Around

Barbara Tidswell was born in Mount Holly, New Jersey, on April 21, 1947. Mount Holly was a small town, surrounded by farms. Young Barbara was the class clown in elementary school. Whenever she thought of something funny, she would just blurt it out to share with everyone in the room. In fact, she got sent to the principal's office for talking too much. This was not a cool thing to have happen as her dad was then president of the school board! She also loved to read comic books. In high school and college, she studied to be a teacher. She thought she might be able to add some humor to dull science classes. Barbara never thought back then that she would be a writer.

In the Ring with Author/Illustrator Ted Lewin

Buffalo, New York. It's cold up there near the Canadian line, the kind of place where houses often have sun porches to catch what heat they can get in the blustery winters. In the 1940s, most families would content themselves filling it with a couch, some houseplants, and a radio. In the Lewin household, the sun porch was filled with gym mats and weights.

Helen Oxenbury: On the Side of the Child

"One of the most important things is to laugh with your children and to let them see you think they're being funny when they're trying to be. It gives children enormous pleasure to think they've made you laugh. They feel they've reached one of the nicest parts in you.... As a picture book artist, I don't think one can be too much on the side of the child."

Helen Oxenbury, from Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book, by Leonard S. Marcus.

Helen Oxenbury understands babies. She knows that they are messy, cranky, and wonderful. She knows that few things fascinate a baby like, well, another baby. In the world of board books, those sturdy first books that are impervious to drool and can survive a few tasty chews, Helen Oxenbury reigns supreme.

The Many Stories of Patricia Polacco

Every morning, Patricia (Trisha) Polacco wakes to the sounds of singing birds on her old Michigan farm. She goes downstairs, pours herself a cup of coffee, and then plays an antique music box, enjoying its magical beauty. She then sits in her favorite chair, rocks and rocks, and dreams of stories, old and new, that she can tell to children through her words and her drawings.

Bountiful Betsy Byars

When Betsy Cromer was a young girl, someday being a famous author never crossed her mind. To her way of thinking, book writers led dull lives, shut away in some quiet room without company, just typing and typing. There was no way she wanted to live that kind of life. Yet years later, Betsy has written dozens of books. Unlike the authors she imagined, Betsy's ability to understand and work with people was absolutely essential to making her books a success.

Daring and Dangerous Joan Aiken

Born on September 4, 1924, in Rye, Sussex, England, Joan was the daughter of famed American writer, Conrad Aiken. She decided to be a writer when she was five years old and kept writing to the end of her days.

Growing up in a house filled with art and literature, she thoroughly enjoyed being homeschooled during her early years. When she was 12, she was sent to boarding school at the improbably named Wychwood near Oxford, England.

Time Travel with Russell Freedman

Award-winning author Russell Freedman takes readers to important places and times with his true stories of courage in hard times. Pick up one of his books, and you may find yourself face to face with Abraham Lincoln, dancer Martha Graham, or Chinese philosopher Confucious. Talk about an excellent adventure!

Madeleine L'Engle: Once Upon a Lifetime

She was born Madeleine Camp in grand old New York City on November 29, 1918. Young Madeleine took her meals on a tray in her room with her beloved Nanny, in the English fashion. Often at night, her father and mother would go out to the theatre. Other times, the theatre and literary world would come to them. Madeleine's mother, a Southern belle, played the grand piano wonderfully, and the family apartment would be filled with music and friends.