Sunday, January 12, 2014

An Author a Day: Richard Peck

January 12
Richard Peck (b. April 5, 1934) is one of the nicest men that I know.  He is the only author who has ever written me a thank-you for interviewing him and writing about him.  He was so generous and humble.  That demeanor shows in his presentations as well.  The day this photograph was taken was the day, I believe, that he was speaking on the same program with Will author he seems to have mentored through the start of Hobbs's writing career.
Peck grew up in a Midwestern town, Decatur, Illinois and that background often shows up in his writing.  He became well-known for his supernatural comedies featuring Blossom Culp and her "second sight."  But later went on to write some of my favorite young adult titles. 

The River Between Us is a story set in the historic days during the Civil War and involves the secret one family carries into the South.  It is a story of mystery and war -- and of a family that finds its history impacted by the struggles to survive.  It is one of the few books that share the female experience during the Civil War.
Another favorite is Here Lies the Librarian -- Peck's humor at its best.

In your quest to find out more about Richard Peck, the children's and young adult author, don't confuse him with Richard E. Peck who is an author of books for older readers.

McElmeel, Sharron L.  100 Most Popular Children's Authors.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 1999;  pages 341-345.
Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Author a Day: Anna Grossnickle Hines

 January 11
Anna Grossnickle Hines (b. July 13, 1946) knew from the time she was seven that she wanted to make books for children.  Along the way she studied art at San Fernando Valley State College but got little encouragement.  She left college and studied on her own, married, and became the mother to two daughters, and began to write.  She divorced and to support herself she returned to school and became a  teacher. She married again — to a forest ranger.  During the years they lived near the Yosemite National Park the Anna became the mother to her third daughter.  In 1983 her virst book Taste the Raindrops was published. But it was when the family moved to Pennsylvania that Hines renewed her interest in quilting and those quilts became the models for some of her illustrations.  But the break through came when she presented an idea to illustrate a book with miniature quilts that she made.  A book of poems, Piees: A Year in Poems & Quilts  became a landmark book of poetry, winning her the coveted 2002 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award or Children's Poetry.
Anna Grossnickle Hines and her husband, Gary Hines, both continue to write and now live in Gualala, California, a rustic area north of San Francisco near the redwood forest.
Learn more about her books, her illustrative methods, and her inspiration in the resources listed below.
Anna Grossnickle Hines (WEB)
Anna Grossnickle Hines (BLOG)
McElmeel, Sharron L.  Children's Authors and Illustrators too Good to Miss.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2004;  pages 119-123.

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Friday, January 10, 2014

An Author a Day: Mary Downing Hahn

January 10

Mary Downing Hahn (b. December 9, 1937 - ) caught my attention with a book tha I still love, Daphne's Book.  That book dealt with peer pressure and borrowed on incidents in her two daughters' lives.  She draws heavily on her experiences - and borrows from everyone's life that she intersects with.  Her books have (and continue) to win awards and attract readers.

While I loved Daphne's Book, probably my very favorite of her books is The Dead Man in Indian Creek.  Some reviewers felt some of the incidents in the book were not logical.  Guess I don't read for logic.  I enjoyed the suspense of the who-dun-it and wanted to figure out what happened before it happened.  I love the mystery -- but I was also a die-heart fan of the TV show, Murder She Wrote, so perhaps this book was a natural for me.  Love the ins and outs of figuring things out.  Waiting for the clues, and sorting out the red herrings from the real clues.  Loved this book. 

You can find out about her more recent titles on her website.  When you go to her website, take note of her current photograph on her homepage.  I love that despite the almost 25 years that have come between the photograph on this page (1990) and the one of her webpage (circa. 2014) Mary Downing Hahn has the very same smile -- different glasses, different hair color (don't we all), but the smile is very recognizable.  I think her joy in life comes through in her writing as well.

Mary Downing Hahn's website (WEB)
McElmeel, Sharron L.  100 Most Popular Children's Authors.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 1999;  pages 196-201.
Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Thursday, January 9, 2014

An Author a Day: Louis Sachar

January 9
Many of you will associate Louis Sachar (b. March 20, 1954- ) with his most popular Newbery Award winning Holes.  But I first got to know the writings of Louis Sachar when I read Sideways Stories from Wayside School.  It was hilarious and absolutely a great read.  I thought so, and so did Jim Trelease who championed this book in many of his speeches about great read aloud books.  To say Sachar was an instant success would negate his many years of hard work honing his writing.   During his studies at the University of California at Berkeley he had to find a 3 hour course to fill out his schedule and fortunately he learned about a volunteer school position that would give him three hours credit.  Perfect -- and soon he was not only volunteering but working as the paid "yard supervisor."  The students came to know him as Louis, the yard teacher.  The children he met and one of the teachers, a Mrs. Jukes was a model for
patience and caring.  So once Sachar graduated from Berkeley he took at job at a sweater factory in Connecticut.  The job lasted for seven months -- but Sachar was writing the beginning of Sideways Stories from Wayside School. So when he ended his job he decided to go back to school -- law school.  He had just begun law school when his book was accepted (1977).  Six years later he had graduated law school, taken the bar, and had written a couple more books.

One story that I love is that his editor came to California.  By this time Sachar was enjoying a large degree of popularity and his editor invited him to lunch but since she also had another author in the area she asked if she might include her in the lunch as well.  The other author was Mavis Jukes - a great writer in her own right.  It was then that a coincidence came to light.  Ms. Jewels - the wonderful teacher who makes her appearance in Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School was based largely on
that patient teacher he had met at the elementary school way back when he was "Louis, the Yard Teacher."  That teacher, Mrs. Jukes, is Mavis Jukes mother.  In fact, sometimes Mrs. Jukes gives out copies of Sachar's book -- because she is in it, a fact, that does not go unnoticed by her author daughter, Mavis Jukes.

Louis Sachar went on of course to write more block buster books.  Holes was a National Book Award book and the Newbery Medal medal in 1999.  The two lower pictures in this blog are pictures of Sachar as he is in the reception line and accepting the congratulations of the hundreds of attendees at the year's Newbery/Caldecott banquet.  The red hat Sachar is wearing says "Camp Greenlake," a reference to the camp in his winning book, Holes

His most recent book is The Cardturner which is described on his website as, "A novel about a king, a queen, and a joker.  You can learn more about Sachar (including how a school visit played into his meeting his wife, Carla) by checking the reference sources below -- all of which contain more information about Sachar and his writing.

Louis Sachar and his family live in Austin, Texas.

Louis Sachar's Home Page (WEB)
McElmeel, Sharron L.  100 Most Popular Children's Authors.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 1999;  pages 368-371.
McElmeel, Sharron L. Authors in the Kitchen: Recipes, Stories, and More. ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2005; pages 49-51.

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

An Author a Day: Marilyn Sachs

January 7

The year was 1976 and I had been asked to organize a major book conference for our school district - a book conference for educators that would feature authors/illustrators of books for young readers.  I was the librarian in a K-6 grade school, and the books of Marilyn Sachs (December 28, 1927 - ) were very popular.  I decided that she should be invited to be one of our author speakers.  But how to invite her.  Those who had organized such conferences in other locations cautioned that I should always contact the author through their publisher.  So I hunted up the names and phone numbers of the publicity or children's marketing people at her recent publishers and called, and called and finally when I got a hold of someone in person they did not seem to know who she was.  In other words they were totally clueless.  So determined to at least have a chance at getting her to come; I did some research and found out that she lived in San Francisco, and her husband's name (since in the 1970s most phones were listed in the male's name).  I called telephone information -- found three entries by that name; and I began to call each number.  I hit pay dirt on the first call.  One of her children answered the phone, confirmed that I had the household for the writer Marilyn Sachs and told me she would be back from the grocery store in a hour and to please call back.  I did - and the result, Marilyn Sachs was one of the first authors to be part of the Cedar Rapids Community Schools "Books Have It ... So Do We" book conference that endured for a quarter of a century.
Among those titles by Marilyn Sachs, titles that are really too good to have missed are:
The Bear's House -- a story about 4th grader, Fran Ellen Smith, who is smelly and a thumb-sucker and who struggles to survive in her fatherless home, where she and her siblings struggle to survive without assistance from their mentally ill mother.  The classroom's play house -- the Bear's House-- provides a degree of refuge for her.
A Pocketful of Seeds tells the story of a young girl who must flee from the Nazis during WWII.  The story is a story of coping when she, her sister, and her parents are captured and sent to a concentration camp.

Every time I think of Marilyn Sachs I think of how gracious she was and how wonderful that entire first conference was.  I loved the entire day.
And I think of two stories that somehow bring a smile to my memories.
The first one involves A Pocketful of Seeds.   An intermediate reader had checked that title out of the library and had failed to return it.  We sent overdue notices with no response.  So in a last ditch effort, I made a call to his home to ask the parents to please take a look around for the book.  The mother literally yelled at me. Her son would NEVER check out a book about gardening.  He did not even like plants.  Obviously the library records were wrong and please stop bothering her.  Well, okay.  I knew there was not going to be any success with persisting on that route.  Shortly after that the family moved to a small town about 20 miles from our larger city and the child moved schools.  About 4 weeks later, a plain brown envelope arrived in the mail.  The post mark was from that small town.  Inside the envelope was the missing book, A Pocketful of SeedsNo note, no apology - just the book, but at least the family returned the book.  I always wondered if the mother took a look at the book and realized what the content really was all about.
The second story is about Sach's book Matt's Mitt (1975).  The book had arrived in our library and looked very strange.  The book jacket was brightly colored but the illustration (by Hilary Knight) just seemed to be two-thirds or so of the height that it should be.  The bottom half of the book was fully illustrated but the top 1/2 - 1/3 of the cover was solid white.  The original Library of Congress entry lists the book as being 20 x 24 cm.which would be about 7.9 inches x 9.4 inches.  That was the size of the illustration but not of the book itself. Clearly someone had changed their mind mid-publication.
Somewhere along the way (but late in the game - pun intended), the publsher decided that the book should be taller than planned but somehow had overlooked getting the art for the jacket changed.  So the first books off the press came with cover illustrations that seemed too short for the book.  i can't remember the changes to the art on the interior pages but every child who checked out this book - -and it is a good book about a fantastical mitt that could do amazing things, there was a question about the cover.  Just added a little something to the interest in the book.

Marilyn went on to write many other wonderful intermediate aged books and continues to live with her family in the San Francisco area.


Marilyn Sach's Home Page (WEB)
Marilyn Sach's Blog on Red Room: Where the Writers are  (WEB)

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Monday, January 6, 2014

An Author a Day: Coleen Salley

January 6

I first met Coleen Salley (August 7, 1929-September 16, 2008) during an American Library Association convention held in New Orleans.
I was invited to a small luncheon, held in a wine room of a prestigious restaurant -- don't ask me which one as I don't know.  But the dinner was lots of fun and several authors were in attendance - well as many as possible with a guest list of only 12 which had to include some of us librarians.  Coleen was a master storyteller and held reign at the University of New Orleans for over 30 years.  She WAS an institution.  She was a guest lecturer at numerous colleges along the way, spoke at many conferences and in general was heralded as a children's literature.
She was known for "selling" children's books to audiences of all types.  But one thing she said at that luncheon, in response to a question regarding what books she was recommending during the current book season.  She said, loosely quoted, "I never booktalk a book by Tomie dePaola, he doesn't need me.  I spend my time on those new upcoming authors and illustrators who need me.  The Eric Carles, Steven Kelloggs, they don't need me but there are plenty that do."
 I've never forgotten that sentiment -- what a wise woman.  It is a little like a teacher reading aloud ALL the books by Lemony Snicket during a school year.  No, if the book is good enough -- read one and then the children don't need to be introduced to another one.  Move on to a book that needs you.

I did not meet Coleen again until several years later when the conference was again in New Orleans and my publisher was holding a rather large party -- and it was to be in Coleen's townhouse right in the French Quarter, on Chartres Street.  The get-together was shortly after the publication of Anne Miranda's To Market, To Market (1998).  The picture here is of Coleen, at that party, with her hat (constructed just for her) for the book.  The illustrations in Miranda's book were created by Janet Stevens and used Coleen as the model for the woman who visited the market.  Later I found out that Coleen had been the inspiration for illustrations of Old Befana in Tomie dePaola's The Legend of Old Befana (1980).

Coleen's house was filled with touches of authors that she had met and befriended.  There were autographs and comments on a door way, signed illustrations, little touches everywhere one looked.  The house was a wonder - and Coleen Salley was full of energy and enthusiasm for all sharing new stories that she loved.  And she read a bit of To Market, To Market.  Rosemary Wells was there that night along with other notables.

By 2002 (when Coleen was 72) her first children's book was published and four more were written before her death in 2008:  Epossumondus; Epossumondas Saves the Day; Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail Who's That Tripping over My Bridge, and Epossumondas Plays Possum.  Her final book, Epossumondas Plays Possum was published in 2009, a year after her death in 2008.  Janet Stevens wrote the dedication for that book, it reads: "For my dear friend Coleen. I miss you."  That same year Eric Kimmel dedicated his 2009 book, Even Higher to Coleen's memory with these words, "In memory of our dear friend Coleen Salley. Life is well worth living." Her long-time friend Terrace Young published an article in Booklinks in, 2010 about Coleen Salley and her tales about the little possum she called Epossumondus -- and who is the main character in Coleen's versions of the five noodlehead tales that she tells.  Down load that article at


Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Sunday, January 5, 2014

An Author a Day: Steven Kroll

September 5

Steven Kroll (August 11, 1941-March 8, 2011) was a prolific author of children's books.  He wrote more than 69 children's books.  His first one was Is Milton Missing (1975).  Most of his writing years were spent in Manhattan and in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  And his books reflected both his love of history and his many years spent in a very diverse neighborhood.  Many of his books were fiction with non-fiction elements and toward the end of his book writing days more and more history began to trickle into his writing.  The Boston Tea Party (1998), Doctor on an Elephant (1994), and his holiday books: Big Bunny and the Easter Eggs, The Biggest Pumpkin Ever, Happy Father's Day, Happy Mother's Day, and Mrs. Claus's Crazy Christmas.


McElmeel, Sharron L.  100 Most Popular Picture Book Authors and Illustrators.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2000;  pages 268-72.

Obituary: Steven Kroll, Author of Children's Books, Dies at 69 — (WEB)

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Saturday, January 4, 2014

An Author a Day: Jane Kurtz

January 4

I first met Jane Kurtz (April 17, 1952 - ) at the 1997 International Reading Associations conference held in Chicago during May of that year.  It was years later that I learned that Kurtz had almost not attended the conference because she had just experienced a great flood that had invaded their Grand Forks, Nebraska home, an invasion that began on her birthday.   I was thrilled to meet her because I had read her folklore tales from Ethiopia, Fire on the Mountain (1994, illustrated by E.B. Lewis) and her Pulling the Lion's Tail (1995, illustrated by Floyd Cooper) and later came to know Only a Pigeon written with her brother Chris Kurtz, and illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

Not only did that 1997 meeting with me result in a long-time friendship but that May she shared accommodations with two of her long-time writer friends: Deborah Wiles and Deborah Hopkinson.  All three were at loose ends regarding what to write next.  From the late night discussions and kibitzing about writing came three outstanding books.  Jane was in the midst of dealing with that devastating flood and was encouraged to deal with her feelings by writing about those feelings.  The result was a book of poems that individually capture a moment during that flood and the recovery -- but collectively tell the story of the resilience of the people of Grand Forks.  Her writing became River Friendly, River Wild (2000).
Deborah Wiles thought about her own situation and she too decided to write about something that had impacted her memories.  The summers of her childhood were often spent in the south with her grandparents and she looked forward to swimming in the town's pool with her friends.  But one summer the pool was closed by the town government rather than allow blacks and whites to swim in the pool together.  The story of that unforgettable summer is told in Freedom Summer (2001). And Deborah Hopkinson worked on idea she had for a book to focus on another aspect of escape from slavery in the South.  She had written the immensely popular Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1995) and with encouragement from Kurtz and Wiles, Hopkinson developed the manuscript for
Under the Quilt of Night (2002) which was published with illustrations by James Ransome.  Ransome had illustrated Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt as well.

Jane Kurtz has gone on to write many other great books — stories inspired by her childhood in Ethiopia, others inspired by her pioneering family who trekked westward over the Oregon Trail, and by history in general.  Many of her books include strong female characters.  I particularly like Bicycle Madness (2003) as although it is an early chapter book it has so much potential for acquainting older learners with the thinking and resistance aimed at those women who sought some degree of independence by learning to ride a bicycle.  In fact, that change eventually is credited with promoting a irreversible turn in the role of women in society.  Those studying the movement toward women's suffrage would do well to acquaint themselves with Frances Willard.

Her recent title Anna Was Here breaks new ground in that it is a historical story that brings a measure of religion into the family's life.  This would not have been unusual and the situation is forthrightly presented within the context of an average girl's devote family and her gentle, optimistic story focusing on her family's move to a new community and Anna's efforts to make new friends, adjust to a new school, a new community, and a family of strangers await, and what's even worse, it's all smack-dab in the middle of Tornado Alley.

McElmeel, Sharron L.  Children's Authors Too Good to Miss.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2004;  pages 143-49.

McElmeel, Sharron L. "Jane Kurtz —Orange Spirals" Authors in the Kitchen.   ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2005;  pages 133-36.

Jane Kurtz: Author of Books for Young Readers (WEB)

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

Friday, January 3, 2014

An Author a Day: Debra Frasier

An Author a Day: Debra Frasier

Debra Frasier (April 3, 1953- ) grew up in Vero Beach, California but now lives much of the year in Minnesota.  I met her in San Francisco during a reading or was it a library convention in 2002.  We had coffee and a great conversation about the circumstances of the origin of her very first children's book On the day You Were Born (1991)The popularity of that book spurred her to continue and when her then nine-year-old daughter declared, "Mom, today I figured out that Miss Alanieus is not a person," Debra Frasier got the seed that grew into her very popular Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster (2000).  Her books are filled with fun vocabulary, nature, and exploration.  She writes and illustrates (often with collage) her books and each have enchanted young readers.  She also loves animals so after her books about water, and words, and nature, she wrote a book about Spike: Ugliest Dog in the Universe (2013).  Her website has a downloadable booklet that young readers can use to build their own character and voice involving Spike.

McElmeel, Sharron L.  Children's Authors Too Good to Miss.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2004;  pages 94-97.

Debra Frasier's Home Page (WEB)

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits