As a children’s non-fiction writer, Ginger Wadsworth is sometimes asked by unthinking adults when she’ll stop writing practice biographies for children and write real biographies for adults. What these adults don’t realize is that Wadsworth brings a contagious passion to her non-fiction that engrosses children and stimulates them to ask for more. Each book is deliberately crafted as a page-turner. “If one child visits the sequoias or reads about John Muir or chooses a career relating to the earth, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do.”
Wadsworth, a graduate of the University of California, Davis with degrees in Literature and American History, attributes her passion for non-fiction to her overwhelming curiosity and her willingness to act on it. She’s explored and studied all of the deserts in the United States and Baja, Mexico. She actively solicits ideas from school children, friends and family. Information from a nature class on Sandhill Cranes or a volunteer experience with the Golden Gate Raptor Organization are all fodder for past and future books. With more than 1,000 volumes in her personal library, she describes her office as a “blizzard of ideas.” Wadsworth quips, “I don’t have trouble getting ideas. I have problems with control and focus.”
But her books tell a different story. Wadsworth’s many biographies, which each take about two years to produce, reflect painstaking research and a tremendous ability to focus. None of the dialogue in Wadsworth’s biographies is made up; it’s all culled from diaries, letters, and the published works of the subjects. Julia Morgan, Architect of Dreams, voted a Notable Trade book in Social Studies, began as an article inCobblestone Magazine and is now in its fifth printing. Rachel Carson, Voice for the Earth, a 1992 Best Book in Science, is probably Wadsworth’s favorite personal achievement. “Rachel Carson defied conventions and became a marine biologist when women didn’t do such things.” Wadsworth admires Carson’s determination, and often wonders what Carson would think about the current state of the earth.
A typical school visit involves up to five 45-minute talks with small groups of children. According to Wadsworth, many children have preconceived notions that because she’s a writer, she’s rich. “Did you come in a limo?” is a popular question. Her response? “I am rich in meeting you and in being able to wear my bathrobe to work, but not in money. I still walk the dog and clean the bathrooms.”
One Sacramento, California school that Wadsworth visited thanked her with their own beautiful version of Desert Discoveries (a 1997 ABA Pick of the Lists). Rio Linda, California students actually re-wrote One on a Web as a rap song. One of her favorite pieces of fan mail starts: “Remember me? I’m the one in the third row, two people in from the left.”
Wadsworth’s father was Hal G. Evarts, a western writer. “We were never allowed to talk about Zane Grey because he was a competitor. But growing up, it was kind of embarrassing to have a writer for a father because he was a celebrity in our small community. I kind of resented it.” The irony of this situation is not lost on Wadsworth, the mother of two grown sons.
One of Wadsworth’s publishers sends the first copy of each of her new books wrapped in pretty paper with a ribbon. Since the books usually arrive at her Orinda, California home during the day when her husband is at work, Wadsworth, together with her golden retriever, Luke, and her huge cat, Michael Jordan, celebrate with a little music and some dancing. For her next pet, she hopes to acquire a llama.
Wadsworth recently welcomed a grandson into her family. Instead of purchasing the usual crib or toys or clothes, she chose to give him a book case instead. Of course.