We were saddened to learn that E.L. Konisburg, a Jewish American author whose true-to-life depictions of adolescent life endeared her to young readers, died Friday at 83. During her lifetime, the author and illustrator published 16 books and was a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968) and The View from Saturday (1997), and the only writer to receive the Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor in the same year.
Throughout her career, she famously modeled her characters on her three children and hoped to write something that reflected their growing up. As she explained to Scholastic:
I believe that the problems that children face – the children that I write about – at the age I write about them are the same basic problems I had when I was that age. The essential problems remain the same. The dressing that goes on the problems changes. But the kids I write about are asking for the same things I wanted. They want two contradictory things. They want to be the same as everyone else, and they want to be different from everyone else. They want acceptance for both.
Konigsburg also revealed that she used ‘what-if’ questions to help frame her stories. “Suppose you get on the school bus tomorrow morning. What if suddenly the school-bus driver can only speak Hungarian and your best friend won’t speak to you at all? Suppose you get up in the morning to see the sunrise, and what if the trees in the light of day are all blue instead of green and the sky is red instead of blue? Suppose you’re sitting in school, and what if you are suddenly not right-handed but left-handed? What if you are suddenly blue-eyed instead of brown-eyed?”
Born in New York City, Konisburg grew up in various towns in Pennsylvania and originally trained to be a chemist. After teaching at a private girls school in Jacksonville, Florida though, she rediscovered her childhood interest in painting and writing and soon published her first novel, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth in 1967. Her most recent book was The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (2007).