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Karen Hesse

Karen Hesse was born on August 29th in Baltimore, Maryland. When she was young, a librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library supplied her with books. Later, Karen would work in libraries. She has also been a nanny, a secretary, a typesetter, and a proofreader.

Karen graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in English and minors in psychology and anthropology.

Her first book, Wish on a Unicorn, was published in 1991. Known for her historical fiction, Karen’s characters range from Mila, the girl raised by dolphins, to Nicholas Young, a stowaway on Captain Cook’s ship. She immerses herself in her research by studying relevant artwork, music, literature, and photographs. Most projects require the reading of thousands of pages of bound books and miles of microfilm.

In 1998, Karen’s novel Out of the Dust won the Newbery Medal. Told in free verse from Billie Jo’s point of view, it is a work of historical fiction about the Dust Bowl. “I write a story and see everything in my head, running almost as a movie,” she says.

Karen was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellows Grant in 2002. That experience allowed her to meet gifted people from many fields. Their discussions reinforced in Karen’s mind that echoes resonate from seemingly unrelated arenas of knowledge. If she could have any other occupation in life, she would be a conductor!

In 2006, Karen was selected to receive the Kerlan Award for her contributions of original manuscripts and writing to the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota.

Karen and her husband Randy live and work in Vermont and are the parents of two grown daughters. She writes from the attic office of her home, surrounded by books, cozy places to read, and favorite artwork.

Brooklyn Bridge
Feiwel & Friends, 2008
ISBN 978-0312378868

It’s the summer of 1903 in Brooklyn and all fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom wants is to experience the thrill, the grandeur, and the electricity of the new amusement park at Coney Island. But that doesn’t seem likely. Ever since his parents—Russian immigrants—invented the stuffed Teddy Bear five months ago, Joseph’s life has turned upside down. No longer do the Michtom’s gather family and friends around the kitchen table to talk. No longer is Joseph at leisure to play stickball with the guys. Now, Joseph works. And complains. And falls in love. And argues with Mama and Papa. And falls out of love. And hopes. Joseph hopes he’ll see Coney Island soon. He hopes that everything will turn right-side up again. He hopes his luck hasn’t run out—because you never know.

Brooklyn Bridge

illustrated by Wendy Watson
Scholastic Press, 2008
ISBN 978-0439879934

Ma's been working so hard, she doesn't have much left over. So her three kids decide to do some work on their own. In the dark of night, they steal into their rich neighbor's potato fields in hopes of collecting the strays that have been left to rot. They dig flat-bellied in the dirt, hiding from passing cars, and drag a sack of spuds through the frost back home. But in the light, the sad truth is revealed: their bag is full of stones! Ma is upset when she sees what they've done, and makes them set things right. But in a surprise twist, they learned they have helped the farmer.

Ma's been working so hard, she doesn't have much left over. So her three kids decide to do some work on their own. In the dark of night, they steal into their rich neighbor's potato fields in hopes of collecting the strays that have been left to rot.

They dig flat-bellied in the dirt, hiding from passing cars, and drag a sack of spuds through the frost back home. But in the light, the sad truth is revealed: their bag is full of stones!

Ma is upset when she sees what they've done, and makes them set things right. But in a surprise twist, they learned they have helped the farmer and are invited to do this every year. And with love and pride, Ma makes the kids what they wanted all along—a big pan of her wonderful mouthwatering spuds, sliced thin as fingernails and fried up crusty brown , hot and sparkling with salt.


The Young Hans Christian Andersen
illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Scholastic Press, 2005
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-439-67990-9

Hans Christian Anderson was born in the slums of Odense, Denmark. His parents were hardworking, and Hans received little formal education, but his childhood was his opening to the world of folklore and fairy tales. Much of his work depicts characters who gain happiness in life after suffering and conflicts, and many of his childhood experiences inspired his most famous tales, such as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid.

The Young Hans Christian Andersen

The Cats in Krasinski Square
illustrated by Wendy Watson
Scholastic Press, 2004
ages 7 to 10, ISBN 978-0-439-43540-6

When Karen Hesse came upon a short article about cats out-foxing the Gestapo at the train station in Warsaw during WWII, she couldn't get the story out of her mind. The result is this stirring account of a Jewish girl's involvement in the Resistance. At once terrifying and soulful, this fictional account, borne of meticulous research, is a testament to history and to our passionate will to survive, as only Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse can write it.

The Cats in Krasinski Square

Stone Lamp:
Eight Stories Of Hanukkah Through History
illustrated by Brian Pinkney
Hyperion, 2003
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-06-054920-6

The story of Hanukkah is the story of triumph of light over darkness, of the small miracles that give hope to an entire people. In a series of eight powerful and evocative free-verse poems, award-winning author Karen Hesse captures the resilient spirit of the Jewish people through the voices of eight children at Hanukkah. The children—from Tamara in 12th-century England and Jeremie in 13th-century France to Havva in 17th-century Turkey and Ori in 20th-century Israel—have all experienced loss and hardship. But they are united by love, family, and their cherished stone lamp. The stone lamp provides each with comfort and hope, for every time its wicks are lit, the endurance of the Jewish people is re-illumined.

The Stone Lamp

Aleutian Sparrow
Margaret K. McElderry, 2003 (unavailable)
Aladdin, 2005 (paperback)
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-1-4169-0327-7

In June 1942, seven months after attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese navy invaded Alaska's Aleutian Islands. For nine thousand years the Aleut people had lived and thrived on these treeless, windswept lands. Within days of the first attack, the entire native population living west of Unimak Island was gathered up and evacuated to relocation centers in the dense forests of Alaska's Southeast.

With resilience, compassion, and humor, the Aleuts responded to the sorrows of upheaval and dislocation. This is the story of Vera, a young Aleut caught up in the turmoil of war. It chronicles her struggles to survive and to keep community and heritage intact despite harsh conditions in an alien environment.

Aleutian Sparrow

Scholastic Press, 2001
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-439-27199-8

The year is 1924, and a small town in Vermont is falling under the influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Two girls, Leanora Sutter and Esther Hirch, one black and the other Jewish, are among those who are no longer welcome. As the potential for violence increases, heroes and villains are revealed, and everyone in town is affected. With breathtaking verse, Karen Hesse tells her story in the voices of several characters. Through this chorus of voices, the true spirit of the town emerges. Witness is a story of poverty and prejudice but, ultimately, of hope and redemption.


Margaret K. McElderry, 2000
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-689-83987-0

It is known that in the summer of 1768, Captain James Cook sailed from England on H.M.S Endeavour, beginning a three-year voyage around the world on a secret mission to discover an unknown continent at the bottom of the globe. What is less known is that a boy by the name of Nicholas Young was a stowaway on that ship.

Newbery winner Karen Hesse re-creates Cook's momentous voyage through the eyes of this remarkable boy, creating a fictional journal filled with fierce hurricanes, warring natives, and disease, as Nick discovers new lands, incredible creatures, and lifelong friends.


Come On, Rain
illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Scholastic Press, 1999
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0-590-33125-8

"Come on, Rain!" Tess pleads to the sky as listless vines and parched plants droop in the endless heat. Then the clouds roll in and the rain pours. And Tess, her friends, and their mothers join in together in a rain dance to celebrate the shower that renews both body and spirit.

Come On, Rain!

A Light in the Storm:
The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin, Fenwick Island, Delaware

(Dear America Series)
Scholastic Press, 1999 (unavailable)
Scholastic Press, 2003 (2nd ed.)
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-439-55535-7

In 1860 and 1861, while working in her father's lighthouse on an island off the coast of Delaware, fifteen-year-old Amelia records in her diary how the Civil War is beginning to devastate her divided state.

A Light in the Storm

Just Juice
illustrated by Robert Andre Parker
Scholastic Press, 1998
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-590-03382-4

Letters and numbers still don't make sense to Juice Faulstich. She'd rather skip school and spend the day at home in the North Carolina hills, anyway. But when the bank threatens to repossess her family's home, Juice faces her first life-sized problem.

Just Juice

Out of the Dust
Scholastic Press, 1997
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-590-36080-7

In a series of poems, fifteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.

1998 Newbery Medal; Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction; IBBY Honor List

Out of the Dust

The Music of Dolphins
Scholastic Press, 1996 (unavailable)
Oxford University Press, 2004 (paperback)
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-19-271960-7

After rescuing an adolescent girl from the sea, researchers learn she has been raised by dolphins and attempt to rehabilitate her to the human world.

Golden Kite Award

The Music of Dolphins

A Time of Angels
1995 (unavailable)
Hyperion, 2003 (paperback)
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-7868-0621-8

Sick with influenza during the 1918 epidemic and separated from her two sisters, a young Jewish girl living in Boston relies on the help of an old German man, and her visions of angels, to get better and to reunite herself with her family.

A Time of Angels

illustrated by Marcia Sewall
Scholastic Books, 1994 (unavailable)
Henry Holt and Co., 1998 (paperback)
ages 6 to 9, ISBN 978-0-8050-5772-0

Tate is overjoyed when a scrawny mutt turns up in the yard one day. She even persuades Mam and Pap to let her keep Sable, named for her dark, silky fur. But before long, the incorrigible dog begins to cause trouble with the neighbors. Will Sable have to go?


Phoenix Rising
Henry Holt and Co., 1994
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-8050-3108-9

Nyle's life with her grandmother on their Vermont sheep farm advances rhythmically through the seasons until the night of the accident at the Cookshire nuclear power plant. Without warning, Nyle's modest world fills with protective masks, evacuations, contaminated food, disruptions, and mistrust. Nyle adjusts to the changes. As long as the fallout continues blowing to the East, Nyle, Gran, and the farm can go on. But into this uncertain haven stumble Ezra Trent and his mother, "refugees" from the heart of the accident, who take temporary shelter in the back bedroom of Nyle's house.

The back bedroom is the dying room: It took her mother when Nyle was six; it stole away her grandfather just two years ago. Now Ezra is back there and Nyle doesn't want to open her heart to him. Too many times she's let people in, only to have them desert her. Part love story, part coming of age, this is a tour de force by a gifted writer.

ALA Best Books for Young Adults; ALA Notable Book; Arizona Young Readers' Award; New York Charlotte Award; South Carolina Children's Book Award; IRA Teachers' Choice Award

Phoenix Rising

Poppy's Chair
illustrated by Kay Life
MacMillan, 1993
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0-02-743705-8

Leah visits her grandparents every summer, but this year is different. Her grandfather has passed away. Leah and Gramm do the things they always do, but Leah doesn't talk about Poppy—she can't even sit in his chair. Finally, after a long talk with Gramm, Leah is able to express her fears about death, to think about Poppy, and to feel happy about her memories.

Poppy's Chair

illustrated by Andrew Glass
Henry Holt and Co., 1993
ages 4 to 8, ISBN 978-0-8050-2528-6

Codie is secretly sewing a blanket for her favorite aunt Alix's new baby. Will the blanket be "fully done" by the time the baby is "fully done"?


Letters from Rifka
Henry Holt and Co., 1992
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-8050-1964-3

"America," the girl repeated. "What will you do there?"

I was silent for a little time. "I will do everything there," I answered.

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her observations and experiences in the form of letters to Tovah, the beloved cousin she has left behind.

Strong-hearted and determined, Rifka must endure a great deal: humiliating examinations by doctors and soldiers, deadly typhus, separation from all she has ever known and loved, murderous storms at sea, detainment on Ellis Island—and is if this is not enough, the loss of her glorious golden hair. Based on a true story from the author's family, Letters from Rifka presents a real-life heroine with an uncommon courage and unsinkable spirit.

Christopher Award; ALA Best Books for Young Adults; ALA Notable Book; IRA Children's Book Award; Sydney Taylor Book Award

Letters from Rifka

Wish on a Unicorn
Henry Holt and Co., 1991
ages 9 to 12, ISBN 978-0-8050-1572-0

Mags doesn't believe in making wishes. What's the point? If wishes came true, she wouldn't live in a trailer and she wouldn't have to wear ratty clothes to school. But then her sister Hannie finds an old stuffed unicorn, and suddenly Mags' luck starts to change. Mags knows the unicorn can't really be magical, but what's the harm in letting Hannie believe that it is?

Wish on a Unicorn

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