Allison's Book Bag

Based Male Character on a Female Teacher

Posted on: October 2, 2014

Author of the five-book Henry Reed series, Keith Robertson was an American writer who wrote children’s books and murder mysteries. Unless otherwise noted, what little biographical information I could find came from the inside of jacket flaps of his books and Wikipedia.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Born in Iowa in 1914, Robertson joined the Navy in 1931 and served as a radioman on a destroyer. Later, he attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree. Apparently, one reason for his attending the academy is a “fanatical aversion to washing dishes.” In World War II, Robertson also served as captain of a destroyer, for which he was awarded five battle stars.

Robertson was married to Elizabeth Woodburn Robertson, a rare-book dealer, and had four children. He helped establish the Rutgers University Advisory Council on Children’s Literature to help aspiring authors. In 1991, he died of cancer at his home in New Jersey at the age of seventy-seven.

WRITING BACKGROUND

HenryReed

HenryReed

Robertson’s writing career spanned 40 years. During this time, he used the pseudonym Carlton Keith for his six murder mysteries. However, Robertson is best known for the Henry Reed series, beginning in 1958 with Henry Reed, Inc., which won the William Allen White Children’s Book Award in 1961. Later in 1969, Henry Reed’s Baby-Sitting Service also won this award, along with the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers’ Choice Award. The William Allen White Children’s Book Award is determined by a vote of schoolchildren in Kansas, who read selected books and choose their favorite author. Robert McCloskey illustrated all but the fifth and final Henry Reed book.

According to Collecting Children’s Books, Henry Reed was based on a female fourth-grade teacher! Robertson is quoted as saying, I always had in mind a female fourth-grade schoolteacher. It seems rather ridiculous, but we had a friend who taught school, and it always seemed that wherever she was, there was trouble. There was all sorts of activity, and things went wrong — not her fault, of course. Just a turmoil! Obviously, I couldn’t write a book about a fourth-grade teacher and have children read it. I converted her into a boy….” Robertson also based his stories on incidents from his children’s lives growing up in New Jersey.

I’ll review the Henry Reed books tomorrow. Save the date: October 3! If you’re already familiar with the series, you might also want to check out the fan fiction selection: The Reed and Glass Advertising Agency.

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