SHEILA SOLOMON KLASS has been writing fiction for young adults for nearly five decades. Her books include The Uncivil War ; Shooting Star: A Novel About Annie Oakley; and Little Women Next Door. Ms. Klass lives in New York City.
Where did you grow up? Williamsburg, a slum neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
What is your earliest memory of writing/drawing?
Two elementary school-age memories: I entered the Stuhmer's Pumpernickel
Contest: Finish the sentence "I like Stuhmer's Pumpernickel because-" Money was the prize, but I won a large pumpernickel. (A consolation prize) Nonetheless, there was family jubilation. LATER, I had a limerick published in the Pen & Ink school magazine:
Mrs. Astorbilt once had a poodle,
She fed him on apple strudel.
He became temperamental;
Wouldn't eat beans or lentils;
So they shot him right through the noodle.
The joy and local fame these writing successes brought have never been equaled.
What inspired you to write/illustrate your first book?
The incredible unfairness of the NYC school system; I taught in a junior high school in Harlem in the 1950's and the callus, opportunism of the white administrators needed to be written about. I hoped my first novel, Come Back On Monday, would bring reforms.
Do you use your childhood as inspiration?
Yes, but then I use everything.
What books from your childhood have most influenced your work? What about adult titles?
Little Women and all the other Alcott books; Heidi, Pinocchio, the various colored fairy books: (i.e. The Red Fairy Tales, etc.) of Andrew Lang; Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Dickens' novels, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Later, Green Mansions, The Good Earth.
What are your hobbies and interests besides reading and books?
I love to travel and have lived in Trinidad and India for extended periods. Exotic foods entice me; I enjoy the theater and good movies. My great pleasure is teaching people who want to write fiction; I still teach at CUNY because it is such a joy for me.
Who are a couple of your favorite author/illustrators? What is it about their work that inspires and interests you?
Maurice Sendak's off-beat humor and wild imagination charm me; The Madeline books have always been a pleasure; I still love and reread Alcott. Stuart Little and the Garth Williams; illustrations are a pleasure.
What one or two words of advice would you give for young authors/illustrators?
Read, read, read and then you will find your own way.
Sheila Solomon Klass
Holt Books for Young Readers
Henry Holt and Co. BYR Paperbacks
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