When Frank McCourt passed last month, he left behind memoirs filled with anguish, love, and dark merriment. Personal experiences are what this Irish-American author took and shaped into works of sorrowful beauty.
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?
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.
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!
The author of Hans Brinker, a famous book about poor children who lived in Holland, grew up rather rich and never visited Europe. She was a New York City girl, born on January 26, 1831, to a well-off family who helped her on the way to becoming a beloved children's writer and magazine editor. This writer had an unusual and privileged background. Miss Mary Mapes did not go to school with everyone else. She was taught at home by tutors and governesses. There she studied French, Latin, music, drawing, and literature. Her family's circle of friends included some very intelligent people. Horace Greeley, a hugely important newspaper publisher, and the famous poet-journalist William Cullen Bryant were often hosted at the Mapes home.