Biographical information

More about the authors and artists featured in our Virtual History Exhibit, including Roald Dahl, James Marshall, Beatrix Potter, Rosemary Wells, and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Lloyd Alexander

Considered one of the world’s master storytellers, Lloyd Alexander has written both picture books and novels, including the Newbery Medal recipient The High King. Writing as a career did not seem possible to a young Alexander; his parents pleaded with him to do something more “sensible,” so he took his first job as a bank messenger. He left that job for college, but soon felt he needed adventure. He joined the army, and was sent to Wales, Alsace-Lorraine, the Rhineland, and southern Germany, and eventually attended the University of Paris. After returning to the United States, Alexander made his living as a cartoonist, advertising writer, and editor for a small magazine while trying to get his novels published. He wrote and published for adults for ten years, and then began writing for young people, using Welsh mythology and his memories of the enchanted land of Wales to bring alive his magical kingdoms. His Prydain chronicles continue to be favored reading for many fantasy fans.

1965 letter from Lloyd Alexander | More Lloyd Alexander on

Isaac Asimov

To list Isaac Asimov’s honors, as to list his books, would be excessive. Let it simply be noted that Isaac Asimov was the most famous, most honored, most widely read, and most beloved science fiction author of all time. In his five decades as an author, he wrote more than four hundred books, won every award his readers and colleagues could contrive to give him, and provided pleasure and insight to millions. He died in 1992, still at work. (From HarperCollins web site. Permission granted.)

In addition, Asimov reviewed science books for The Horn Book Magazine from 1958 to 1960 and wrote the “Views on Science Books” column from 1961 to 1967.

1964 letter from Isaac Asimov

Arna Bontemps

Born in 1902, Arna Bontemps was a highly respected writer, educator, and librarian whose literary awards include a Newbery Honor and the Jane Addams award for Story of the Negro (1948). Bontemps's books for children, numbering more than thirty, also include Sad-Faced Boy, Golden Slippers, Popo and Fifina, Chariot in the Sky, The Story of George Washington Carver, Lonesome Boy, Five Black Lives, and Young Booker. Bontemps died in 1973.

1938 letter from Arna Bontemps

Marcia Brown

At one time, Marcia Brown thought about becoming a doctor. If medical school hadn’t been so expensive, she says, she might actually have done that. But as one of three sisters growing up in a minister’s family during the Depression, she knew she had to settle on something more practical: teaching.

In the fall of 1936, Brown enrolled in the New York State College for Teachers, the University at Albany’s predecessor, where she majored in English and drama. She went on to teach those subjects at Cornwall High School in the lower Hudson Valley, but left the profession after three years to move to New York City and pursue her dream of writing and illustrating children’s books.

Today, Brown is an internationally renowned illustrator and author of children’s books. Winner of the Caldecott Medal, awarded by the American Library Association for the most distinguished picture book of the year an unprecedented three times, Brown has produced over 30 children’s books during her 49-year career. Many of her titles have been produced in other languages, including Afrikaans, German, Japanese, Spanish and Xhosa-Bantu. She is noted for her spare texts, strong images and the vitality of her experimentation with a variety of media ranging from her trademark woodcuts to pen and ink and gouache. Her characters — lively and humorous, full of magic and enchantment — include handsome princes, sly cats, evil sorcerers, flying elephants and snow queens.

Note and painting from Marcia Brown (undated) | More Marcia Brown on

Susan Cooper

British author Susan Cooper has written many books for children and adults, and received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the Newbery Medal for The Grey King and the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and Newbery Honor Award for The Dark Is Rising. She currently lives in Connecticut.

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1976 letter from Susan Cooper | 1986 letter from Susan Cooper | More Susan Cooper on

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl was born in Wales in 1916 and educated in English boarding schools. During World War II, he was a Royal Air Force fighter pilot in North Africa and Greece. He was transferred to Washington D.C., where he saw his first piece of work published, “A Piece of Cake,” an account of a fighter plane crashing in Libya. Soon after he published his first piece of fiction, a story called “The Gremlins.” Fifteen years later, Mr. Dahl found himself telling bedtime stories to his children over and over again. These stories became the basis for James and the Giant Peach. After that came Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Matilda. Every book of Roald Dahl’s was written in a little brick hut in an apple orchard about two hundred yards away from his home. He wrote them all in pencil. More can be learned about Roald Dahl by reading the autobiographical Boy: Tales of Childhood and Going Solo. Roald Dahl died in 1990 at the age of seventy-four. (Biographical information posted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

1972 letter from Roald Dahl | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory controversy (1972–73) | More Roald Dahl on

James Marshall

James Marshall was born in San Antonio, Texas, and grew up sixteen miles outside of the town on the family farm. His father, who worked for the railroad, had his own dance band in the thirties and appeared on the radio. His mother, also musical, sang in the church choir. So it wasn't surprising when Jim considered playing the viola for a career and received a scholarship to attend the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. But during an airplane trip he was jerked out of his seat and injured his hand, and that was the end of his musical career.

He returned to San Antonio College and later Trinity, where he studied French under Harry Allard, his future collaborator. After moving East, Jim graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a degree in history and French. The French major somehow wound up trying to teach Spanish in a Catholic school in Boston. Before long he was looking for a new profession.

On a fateful summer afternoon in 1971 James Marshall lay on his hammock drawing pictures. His mother was inside the house watching Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on TV. The strident voices of the movie's protagonists, George and Martha, split the quiet air, and as the sketches began to take shape, history was made . . . and James Marshall never had to look for another profession.

And so, with "tongue-in cheek," Jim Marshall began his career and became one of the most prolific and successful author/illustrators of children's books. He is best known for his series on the mischievous exploits of Fox, a debonair, lazy showoff; the uproarious adventures of the two Cut-Ups, Spud and Joe; George and Martha; and the misadventures of the Stupid family.

The Washington Post said in a review of his work, "There are few better writers and illustrators for children now than Marshall. Certainly there is no one else working today who more successfully captures the child's point of view than does the creator of George and Martha and the Stupids." The New York Times said about the Fox books: "The miracle of Mr. Marshall's work is that so often his stories are as profound as they are simple." He illustrated new versions of many children's classics including Goldilocks and the Three Bears, for which he received a Caldecott Honor, Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Hansel and Gretel.

In an interview with Texas Monthly, Jim Marshall said about his work: "People have very odd ideas of what a children's writer should be like. Children always expect me to look like a hippopotamus and adults assume that by nature I have to be a little off the wall."

James Marshall died in October of 1992. He divided his time between an apartment in the Chelsea district of New York and his home in Mansfield Hollow Connecticut. (Copyright © Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. Reprinted with permission from Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.)

1986 radio interview with James Marshall | More James Marshall on

Leo Politi

Leo Politi’s life was the stuff that picture books are made of. Born into an Italian family in Fresno in 1908, he was transported to Italy at the age of seven — in an “Indian Chief suit,” via transcontinental railroad and ocean liner — and grew up, constantly drawing, in his mother’s native village near Milan. After art school, and some designing and illustrating, he returned to the States — via the Panama Canal, with its Latino color — and settled on Los Angeles’s quaintly Mexican Olvera Street, where he sketched tourists and sold drawings alongside potters, weavers, and other artisans-in-residence. Whatever the authenticity of Olvera Street, Politi’s affection for the Mexican-Americans and their folkways was genuine; an affinity. Most especially, as a devout Catholic at home with Italian saints, he responded to Mexican ritual. Children — natural, spontaneous children — he loved without reserve or distinction. Drawing Mexican children, for magazines and books, gave him an American career and a professional identity. In 1980, the Fresno Public Library was named for him, and in 1991, the Leo Politi Elementary School in Los Angeles was dedicated.

— Barbara Bader

1947 illustrated envelope from Leo Politi | More about Politi’s Horn Book connection

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866. During a typically sheltered upper class childhood, she and her brother kept a succession of animals which they drew and studied. Potter excelled at drawing from nature and attempted to publish her scientific drawings with little success. In her thirties, she turned to writing and illustrating children’s stories. After being rejected by several publishers, Peter Rabbit, her first book, was published in 1902 and was an immediate success. Her thirty animal stories are still in print and widely read. Potter spent the final portion of her life as Mrs. William Heelis, living in the Lake District farming sheep, collecting antiques, and preserving the countryside she has become so firmly associated with through her books. She died in 1943.

Three letters from Beatrix Potter (1927, 1934, 1941) | More Beatrix Potter and the Horn Book | More Beatrix Potter on

William Steig

William Steig was born into a family of artists in New York City in 1907. He attended City College and the National Academy of Design. In 1930, Steig’s work began appearing in The New Yorker, where his drawings have been a popular fixture ever since. He published his first children’s book, Roland the Minstrel Pig in 1968, embarking on a new and very different career. Steig’s books reflect his conviction that children want the security of a devoted family and friends. In 1970, Steig received the Caldecott Medal for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. His books also include The Amazing Bone, a Caldecott Honor Book, Abel’s Island and Doctor De Soto, both Newbery Honor Books. He has won numerous other international awards, and published collections of drawings for adults. (Biographical information posted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

Two letters from William Steig (May, 1970 and June, 1970)

Rosemary Wells

Born in New York City, Rosemary Wells grew up in a house “filled with books, dogs, and nineteenth-century music.” Her childhood years were spent between her parents’ home near Red Bank, New Jersey, and her grandmother’s rambling stucco house on the Jersey Shore. Most of her sentimental memories, both good and bad, stem from that place and time.

A self-proclaimed “poor student,” Wells attended the Museum School in Boston after finishing high school. It was, she recalls, “a bastion of abstract expressionism an art form that brought to my mind things I don’t like to eat, fabrics that itch against the skin, divorce, paper cuts, and metallic noises.”

Without her degree, she left school at 19, married, and began a fledgling career as a book designer with a Boston textbook publisher. When her husband, Tom, applied to the Columbia School of Architecture two years later, the couple moved to New York, where she landed a job as a designer at Macmillan.

Wells wrote and illustrated Unfortunately Harriet, her first book with Dial, in 1972. One year later she wrote the popular Noisy Nora. “The children and our home life have inspired, in part, many of my books. Our West Highland white terrier, Angus, had the shape and expressions to become Benjamin and Tulip, Timothy, and all the other animals I have made up for my stories.” Her daughters Victoria and Beezoo were constant inspirations, especially for the now famous “Max” board book series. “Simple incidents from childhood are universal,” Wells says. “The dynamics between older and younger siblings are common to all families.”

But not all of Wells’ ideas come from within the family circle. She admits, “I put into my books all of the things I remember. I am an accomplished eavesdropper in restaurants, trains, and gatherings of any kind. These remembrances are jumbled up and changed because fiction is always more palatable than truth. Memories become more true as they are honed and whittled into characters and stories.”

Her writing career, spanning nearly three decades, has been a “pure delight,” she says. “I regret only that I cannot live other lives parallel to my own. Writing is a lonely profession and I am a gregarious sort of person. I would like someday to work for the FBI. A part of me was never satisfied with years of tennis. I still yearned to play basketball.” (From HarperCollins web site. Permmission granted.)

1986 radio interview with Rosemary Wells | More Rosemary Wells on

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in the log cabin described in Little House in the Big Woods. As her classic Little House books tell us, she and her family traveled by covered wagon across the Midwest. She and her husband, Almanzo, made their own covered-wagon trip with their daughter, Rose, to Mansfield, Missouri. There Laura wrote the classic Little House books and lived until she was ninety years old. For millions of readers, however, she lives forever as the little pioneer girl in the classic Little House books. (From HarperCollins web site. Permission granted.)

1953 letter from Laura Ingalls Wilder | More Laura Ingalls Wilder on

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