Allison's Book Bag

Mini-Bios of Writers

Posted on: August 13, 2011

Growing up, I studied the inside jacket blurbs of books to learn everything I could about an author. If the bios provided were too short, I sought one in an encyclopedia. These days, I lean more towards online articles or even full-length autobiographies. This fanatical attraction of mine to authors might have something to do with my dream to be one. As such, you might not share the same interest.Yet many online readers do like to know about authors for the same reason many movie viewers like to hear commentaries. Authors can provide insight into how a novel came to fruition, along with how they feel about their characters and how they established their settings, and perhaps even provide trivial details about their story. It’s also just fun and fascinating to find out more about the person who wrote the story that I just finished. For all those reasons, I eagerly await the day when novels come packed with special features the way DVDS do. In the meantime, I enjoy researching into author biographies to provide you with some tidbits of info about the novelists whose books I feature.For my next review, I will feature a round-up of beloved books from childhood that encouraged me in my dream to become a writer. During the week itself, I will post mini-biographies of the authors of those novels. Save the date of my round-up: August 14!

Author #1: What famous writer resisted a publisher request, because she did not think she could write an interesting story for girls?

Headshot of Louisa May Alcott (November 29, 18...
Image via Wikipedia

In eighteen sixty-eight, a Boston publisher asked the struggling young to write a book for books, because it would have widespread appeal. He was right. When Alcott eventually decided to try, the result was the instantly success and now beloved classic Little Women.Read more of her biography at the Louisa May Alcott website. There, you can also see a photo of the home where Little Women was penned, read information about how to take a tour of the historic Orchard House, and purchase merchandise related to Little Women. Teachers can find educational programs and study kits.If you feel ready to test your knowledge of Louise May Alcott and her book Little Women, check out these quizzes from The Literature Network:

Author #2: Where was Eleanor Cameron born?Canada! Now although Eleanor Cameron was born in Canada, she lived most of her life in California. Her parents moved to Berkeley early in her life. She then lived in Los Angeles until she married Ian Cameron. They moved to Pacific Grove, where she lived for the rest of her life. For some reason, I thought she was British. Ah well.

Eleanor Cameron

Image via Wikipedia

Eleanor Cameron is known best for two sets, one being the Mushroom Planet books. Even as a child, I did not readily take to science fiction. So, this is not her favorite set of mine. Yet having learned of the origin, I am intrigued to reread them. Apparently, one day her son David, an avid Doctor Dolittle fan stood at the side of her table and told her what he had dreamed of: a story about himself and his closest friend, and how they would build a little spaceship and go off and find a planet just their size, just about big enough to explore in a day or two. And so, at her son’s request, the five Mushroom Planet books were born.It surprised me just as much to learn that Cameron was in her sixties when she began writing realistic fiction. One of the results, the Julia Redfern books, are among my favorite books for they featured an aspiring adolescent writer. Cameron’s last children’s novel, the final book in the Redfern series, was finished when she was seventy-seven. You can read an extensive biography of Cameron at Old Children’s Books and my review of one of the Julia Redfern books here on Sunday.

Louise Fitzhugh

Image via Wikipedia

Author #3: What author received criticism for her book about a rude and opinionated heroine who also carried a notebook with her everywhere?In 1964, Louise Fitzhugh published her first novel: Harriet the Spy. She was an only child. Her parents divorced soon after her birth and her father won complete custody, on the grounds that her mother was unfit. Biographies about Fitzhugh suggest that the loneliness of her youth influenced her writings. Her life was unusual in other ways too. For example, she attended an all girls’ school and later three universities, without obtaining a degree. Although she was married briefly, she dated girls after high school and wrote a book about two adolescent girls who fall in love. While this manuscript was rejected, Harriet the Spy became a classic. After only a handful of picture books and novels, Fitzhugh died in her forties of a brain aneurysm. For more info on Harriet the Spy, check out the tribute Purple Socks site.Author #4: Who won a Newbery Honor for her book about the Civil War?Irene Hunt! I couldn’t find much about her except that, after she received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she worked as a teacher. A number of authors seemed to have this background. Hunt taught French and English in the Illinois public schools and later psychology at the University of South Dakota. She retired from teaching in 1969.Growing up, she loved to listen to the stories that her grandfather told of his childhood during the Civil War. From these stories came her first novel, Across Five Aprils. It was named a Newbery Honor book in 1965. Only two years later, she received a Newbery Medal for Up a Road Slowly. One of my favorite books from childhood that encouraged me in my dream to become a writer, I’m still looking for information regards its origin.Author #5: Who is a famous literary orphan?

Lucy Maud Montgomery ca 1920 – 1930

Image via Wikipedia

Anne of Green Gables! The inspiration for Anne came from a scrap of paper that Lucy Maud Montgomery kept from a young age, describing a couple that were mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of a boy but had decided to keep her. Montgomery used a photograph of Evelyn Nesbit from New York’s Metropolitan Magazine as the model for the face of Anne. In also drawing upon her childhood experiences growing rural Prince Edward Island in writing Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery made Prince Edward Island famous across the world. Since its publication, Anne of Green Gableshas sold more than 50 million copies.When Montgomery was only two years old, her mother died of tuberculosis. Stricken with grief over his wife’s death, Hugh Montgomery gave custody of Montgomery to her grandparents and eventually moved out West to Saskatchewan. Montgomery grew up with her strict and conservative grandparents in Cavendish. Montgomery credits this lonely time of her life, in which she created many imaginary friends and places to cope with loneliness, as what developed her creative mind.Following the completion of her grade school education, she attended Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown. Completing a two-year program there in one year, she obtained her teaching certificate. Upon later leaving Dalhousie, where she studied literature, Montgomery worked as a teacher in various island schools. She also began to have short stories published in various magazines and newspapers. A prolific writer, Montgomery had over one hundred of her stories published from 1897 to 1907 inclusive. The following year, she published her first book: Anne of Green Gables.An avid fan of Montgomery’s novels, most of her life story is familiar to me. When reading recent biographies, however, I discovered that Montgomery underwent several periods of depression during her adult years while trying to cope with the duties of motherhood and church life, her husband’s attacks of melancholia and deteriorating health, and expensive lawsuits with her publisher. Truly, for much of her life, writing was her one great solace. You can read more about this troubled but beloved author at the Lucy Maud Montgomery Institute website.Author #6: What author survived a near-paralyzing struggle with polio in his teens?

Raccoon

Image by fatedsnowfox via Flickr

Sterling North! Born ina farmhouse on the shores of Lake Koshkonong, North grew to young adulthood in the quiet southern Wisconsin village of Edgerton. When North was eleven, several of his uncles wrote extended biographies about their parents and their pioneer farm life. This writing effort occurred at the same time as the setting of Rascal and may have been inspiration to North who often drew upon his own life for his books.After graduating from Edgerton High School, North began his writing career. He wrote for The Chicago Daily News, The New York World-Telegram and Sun, and for many magazines. North’s most famous work, Rascal, received several awards including the Newbery Honor. It was also made into a Disney movie.Additionally, it was made into a 52-episode Japanese anime entitled “Araiguma Rasukara”. Rascal’s popularity led to many Japanese children requesting raccoons as pets. Japan became such a big buyer of raccoons that North American raccoons are now a serious alien pest in Japan.You can read a fuller biography about Sterling North at the Sterling North Society. The society also features tours and related merchandise. To read more about Rascal’s popularity in Japan, check out: Go Jefferson. The page also provides photos and related trivia.

2 Responses to "Mini-Bios of Writers"

You really have me looking forward to tomorrow’s review as most of the books that it features are among our family’s favourite books. In our family reading of juvenile novels we read Louisa Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy in September, 2007, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in November, 2009, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables in August, 2010, and Irene Hunt’s Up a Road Slowly in March, 2011, and we plan to read Sterling North’s Rascal in October. Our reading a book in family reading means that each Robert and Shekinah has a hardcover copy of it in his or her collection of books. As well Robert has Irene Hunt’s Across Five Aprils and Shekinah has three of the five Eleanor Cameron’s Julia Redfern books.

You said, “I eagerly await the day when novels come packed with special features the way DVDs do.” Actually many of the classics do come in editions with such material. For example, Shekinah’s copy of Little Women contains SparkNotes (http://www.sparknotes.com/). I like such editions. However in getting books for family reading we generally get cheaper and less bulky editions.

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