Peeps, Cream Puffs, and Mollusks: Authors on the Web

If you've ever seen a children's author speak to an audience of kids, you know that kids always want to know what in a book is "true", especially if it's based on the author's life. When you make a connection with the stories someone tells or writes, it makes you want to hear their own stories as well. And it's not just kids who are fascinated by true personal stories. Last week I hosted a storytelling party for librarians. One of the attendees gave us a choice: he could tell a folktale, or the story of how he learned to ride a bicycle when he was seven. Everyone there wanted to hear the bicycle story (it was good, too!).

Way back when I was a student librarian working at the central branch of a big city library, I used to browse through the "Something About the Author" series in our reference area. I loved reading the real stories behind the stories of authors I'd come to know and love through their work.

These days, researching authors' lives is much easier. "Something About the Author" is still around, but hundreds (maybe thousands) of children's authors also maintain Web pages that list their published books and usually include autobiographical information too.  And then there are some that have that little something extra:

  • Sarah Ellis, author of books such as Odd Man Out and The Several Lives of Orphan Jack, has a great "Then and Now" chart on her site about things she liked (picnics, bicycles, getting the giggles) and didn't like (raisin pie, arguments, cold water) as a kid and as an adult, as well as some things she didn't like as a kid but likes now (opera, Jane Austen, bedtime) and vice versa. Highly entertaining!
  • While writing my last blog post, I came across Nancy Farmer's website. Wow! What a treasure trove of information and memoir. As I mentioned, most author websites include a biography page, but hers is truly extensive, painting such a vivid picture of her emotional and family life during childhood as well as the later experiences that informed her fiction. I was fascinated to read her Q & A section, in which she includes long bits of personal background, especially about her dystopian novel The House of the Scorpion, which she considers her most important book as well as, astonishingly, the most closely based on her childhood. She writes:

"Matt is based on my son Daniel and on my own childhood.  No, I wasn’t thrown into a room full of sawdust, but it felt like that sometimes.  I was an unexpected, and probably unwanted, child born when my parents were too old.  El Patrón has some resemblance to my mother."

  • The biography section of Shannon Hale's website features short, medium-length, and "ridiculously long" (her phrase!) versions of her life story, but the best parts have got to be her husband's and toddler son's versions of her bio. (Excerpt from the latter: "She is a dedicated writer, a loving mother, and a passable dance instructor. She also brews a mean oatmeal-and-applesauce gruel.") I've read Hale's books Princess Academy and The Goose Girl, and though I loved them, they didn't strike me as especially funny, so her wicked sense of humor as evidenced on this site is a welcome surprise.
  • Grace Lin's site includes a "fun facts" section where she explores some other career paths she might have taken if she hadn't become a children's illustrator and author of The Year of the Dog and many other wonderful books. As she writes, Grace "has come to the conclusion that she's very glad that she IS a children's book illustrator. After you read about her other career possibilities, you will be too!" My favorite is probably the one about why she is not a chef. Hint: you will be very glad you never had to eat those cream puffs.
  • Jon Scieska's Answers to Frequently Asked Questions page is just that: the answers. As befits the creator of such smart and tricky books as Math Curse, he leaves it up to you to figure out what the questions are. He also lists several "Not All That Frequently, But Really Asked Questions," like "Have you ever been to America?" "What is your favorite mollusk?" and "We had to write to our favorite author, but Roald Dahl is dead so I'm writing to you."

Hungry for more kid author info? Check out the Authors and Illustrators section of "The Stacks," Scholastic's site for kids.

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