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.
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.
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.
Dockside in Liverpool, England, was an exciting place to be a kid. Growing up there, young Brian Jacques (pronounced "Jacks") was surrounded by a loving and hardworking family. When his seafaring uncles would stop by between voyages, Brian heard tales of faraway places and amazing adventures. He listened, fascinated as his relatives "painted pictures with words."
Born on November 28, 1947, in Macon, Georgia, Mary Evelyn Lyons came from a family where reading was a part of everyday life. Her family moved around a lot, and Mary found a way to stay centered was by keeping her nose in a book or even a comic book. She liked to read different kinds of things. She read all the time, but she especially enjoyed "Katy Keene" fashion comics, and the Newbery-winner Hitty, Her First Hundred Years was definitely a favorite. This story of a beloved doll being passed down and loved by generations of girls had much history woven into it—something Mary would learn a lot about as she got older.
Imagine: the roads to your neighborhood are blocked by armed guards. You cannot leave without risking being shot. You have neighborhood stores, neighborhood meetings, and for a while, things go along in a scary way, and you get to the point where it seems almost normal. But people do disappear, a few at a time.
Every morning you follow your Dad into the rope factory where he and all the other men have been told to work. When your mother doesn’t come back home from visiting another walled off neighborhood, you don’t ask too many questions. She may come home, but she probably won’t. It’s better not to ask.
On July 14, 1789, a Parisian mob broke down the gates of the ancient fortress known as the Bastille, marking a flashpoint at the beginning of the French Revolution.
"What is the third estate? Everything. What has it been up till now in the political order? Nothing. What does it desire to be? Something."
--Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, French political activist