In high school, Paula Danziger tried out for chorus and was told to stop fooling around and sing in her normal voice. Funny, she was singing in her normal voice! While Danziger may not be the best singer in the world, she’s a creative, flamboyant writer who has captured the minds and hearts of millions of children with her humor and sensitivity. She has authored more than 25 children’s books, all still in print. This fact is a tribute to Danziger’s skill at creating characters that continue to resonate with children even after 20 years—characters like Marcy Lewis from The Cat Ate My Gymsuit(Delacorte, 1974); Matthew Martin from Everyone Else’s Parents Said Yes (Putnam, 1989); and Amber Brown. In fact, Amber is so popular with Danziger’s readers, they’ve created The Amber Brown Fan Club.
Danziger attributes a large part of her ability to bring characters to life to some acting lessons she took on the advice of a teacher. “They’re wonderful for anyone who wants to learn about characterization and motivation.”
Since second grade Danziger knew she wanted to become a writer. “I knew I loved books, I knew I loved stories. . .Writing has been one of my major fantasies, and I’ve worked hard at it and it’s happened.” With each new project, Danziger challenges herself. “As a writer, it’s important to change and grow and try out new things.”
What a Trip, Amber Brown and It’s Justin Time, Amber Brown (Putnam, 2001) are easy-reader prequels to Danziger’s existing Amber Brown novels and are intended for a younger audience. Because Amber’s parents separate and divorce in the Amber Brown novels, Danziger must introduce these difficult, but important issues in an easy-reader format. According to Danziger, these books “needed a lot of revision because they’re shorter. I needed to realize how much Tony [Ross, the illustrator] could bring to the text with his pictures.”
For her newest novel, What a State I’m In (Scholastic, 2001), Danziger again challenges herself. Not only is her protagonist a sixth grader confronting complex feelings associated with death and betrayal, but Danziger adds a new dimension to the story with the debut of her own artwork. The talented Danziger also completed her first picture book, Barfburger Baby, I Was Here First (Putnam, release date pending), which focuses on sibling rivalry with Danziger’s usual humor and panache.
Some days Danziger writes a lot and some days not enough, depending on her travel and speaking schedule. She speaks to writers and teachers at conferences and to children at school visits. Sometimes she visits a classroom just to observe and listen.
During college Danziger babysat poet John Ciardi’s children. “He taught me a lot about language. . .One day, he was talking about a poem. . .Ciardi said that if you took all the funny lines and underlined them in red and all the serious lines and underlined them in blue, the underlining would be purple. . .That’s what I always write toward, that mixture. I think that’s why Amber Brown works. The books are funny and sad, and that’s what people respond to.”
Danziger is a “survivor [of a difficult childhood] with a sense of humor.” Overflowing with energy, she has a high sense of play and has been known to send revolving lollipops, Snap Snot, and a watch “that does everything but tap dance” to Tony Ross (the Amber Brown illustrator) “because Amber would like it.”
Danziger has received numerous awards for her work, but one of the most meaningful was the 1999 Jeremiah Luddington Memorial Award given by the Educational Paperback Association. Its apt commendation reads: “For giving time so generously to get kids excited about reading; for writing with warmth, humor and understanding of how they feel; for living with a flamboyance and flair that awakens the adventurous spirit in readers of all ages; we salute you.”