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David A. Adler (1947-) - Sidelights

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Prolific author David A. Adler has produced a wide range of work for children—from picture books and juvenile adventure stories to biographies and nonfiction volumes on such topics as science, history, math, and holidays. "Because of the diversity of the things I write," Adler once revealed, "I am able to vary my work even in a single day, from doing research on a nonfiction book to writing fiction to creating a silly riddle or poem."

Adler still resides in the same neighborhood in which he grew up. As he once commented, "Some years ago I was at Open School Night for my middle son. His fourth grade teacher was the same one my eldest son had seven years earlier and the same teacher I had some time in the 1950s. The teacher looked at me, smiled, and then told the roomful of parents, 'A long time ago, when I just started teaching, David was in my class.' She smiled again and said, 'I went to the principal and asked, "What should I do with Adler? He's always dreaming." "Leave him alone," the principal answered. "Maybe one day he'll be a writer."'"

Adler began creating books for children while pursuing doctoral studies in the early 1970s. Adler commented that his first book, A Little at a Time, was "the result of sheer inspiration and very little perspiration; I felt as if I was a conduit for a wonderful idea." Once the book was accepted by Random House for publication, Adler, a math teacher at the time, began writing math books for young readers on topics such as Roman numerals and dimensions. In 1977, when Adler and his wife had their first child, Adler decided to stay home with his son and write whenever the baby napped. "I was shunned in the playground," Adler related, "and even yelled at by an older woman I didn't know. She told me I should be at work and my wife should be at home. But I was at work, and working very hard."

During his writing career, Adler has penned nearly two hundred books, including such award-winning titles as Our Golda: The Story of Golda Meir and The Number on My Grandfather's Arm. He is also the author of the successful "Cam Jansen" and "Young Cam Jansen" mystery series, featuring an elementary-school-aged female detective with a photographic memory, and other lighthearted fiction series. Adler once commented, "I find my fiction to be a wonderful release from all the painstaking research I must do for nonfiction, which is why I try to alternate between fiction and nonfiction. I have real fun with the 'Cam Jansen' books. She is such a delightful character, and while feminists haven't focused too much attention on her, I should note that Cam's sense of adventure and her headstrong, fearless nature are certainly different than how ten-year-old girls were portrayed in earlier books for children."

The first "Cam Jansen" mystery was published in 1980, and the series is still going strong. In the mid-1990s, Adler added a related series, called the "Young Cam Jansen" mysteries, which bring the detective's adventures to a slightly younger audience. In all of the books, Cam uses her photographic memory to solve various conundrums around her school, home, and community. The original "Cam Jansen" series tends to feature actual crimes—in Cam Jansen and the Birthday Mystery, Cam breaks up a luggage-stealing ring when her grandparents are robbed at the airport; Cam Jansen and the School Play Mystery finds Cam trying to recover money stolen from a local theater—while the "Young Cam Jansen" mysteries are usually simpler cases of things simply getting lost. For example, in Young Cam Jansen and the Zoo Note Mystery, Cam helps her friend Eric find his misplaced permission slip for their class field trip to the zoo. All of the books lay out clues in the text and illustration, and "some astute readers may even solve the mystery before Cam does," Anne Knickerbocker noted in a School Library Journal review of Young Cam Jansen and the Zoo Note Mystery. The fun of paying close attention and trying to outsmart Cam is one reason why early readers will enjoy these series, many critics commented. Booklist's Lauren Peterson, in a review of Cam Jansen and the Catnapping Mystery (in which Cam helps an elderly woman recover her kidnapped cat), declared it "a good book to introduce young readers to chapter books: the level of mystery is just right for the audience."

About some of his other fictional books, Adler explained, "The main character in the book Benny, Benny Baseball Nut is based on one of my sons, [and] the characters in the 'Andy Russell' books on another son. He is an interesting boy with interesting questions such as, 'Daddy, what if the Wright brothers had been Siamese twins, what would the cockpit of an airplane look like now?'"

One of the "Andy Russell" books is similar to the "Cam Jansen" series in that it features a neighborhood mystery. In Andy Russell, NOT Wanted by the Police, the mystery is, who is living in the Perlmans' house? The Perlmans are away on vacation, but there are lights on in the house and trash in their can. At least, there are when Andy and his friend Tamika Anderson are watching; when they try to prove to Andy's parents and the police that someone is in the house, the place appears to be deserted. As it turns out, there is a very simple answer: the Perlmans allowed an artist to stay in their house while they are away. The series, like so many of Adler's works, is designed for early readers, and Andy Russell, NOT Wanted by the Police "has a comfort level that will have young readers flying through it," thought a Kirkus Reviews contributor.

One of Adler's better-known nonfiction works is We Remember the Holocaust, a book composed of historical commentary, photographs, and interviews with and recollections from survivors of the Nazi death camps in World War II. Adler has dealt with the Holocaust in several other books, including Hilde and Eli, Children of the Holocaust; Child of the Warsaw Ghetto; Hiding from the Nazis; and A Picture Book of Anne Frank. All of these books tell a portion of the story of the Holocaust from a child's perspective by reconstructing the stories of actual Holocaust victims and survivors. The technique is effective in Hilde and Eli, thought Booklist's Hazel Rochman: "Nothing is sensationalized, but the facts are terrifying." The books' protagonists are drawn from a variety of countries; Hilde is German; Eli is from Czechoslovakia; Anne Frank and Lore, from Hiding from the Nazis, were born in Germany but are in hiding in the Netherlands; and Froim, the child of the Warsaw Ghetto, is from Poland. Critics suggested that the books balance the personal stories of each victim with an overall sense of the Holocaust's magnitude. "This one child's story," Booklist's Rochman wrote of Child of the Warsaw Ghetto, "is a compelling way to focus group discussion" on the Holocaust. A Publishers Weekly reviewer thought that Adler's biography of the well-known Anne Frank was better than most. The author omits "the standard encomiums about his subject's courage and genius," the reviewer wrote, "with the result that Anne Frank emerges all the more poignantly."

Adler takes a lighter look at Jewish culture in Chanukah in Chelm, a humorous book about holiday preparations in the town renowned in folklore for the foolishness of its inhabitants. In this story, Mendel, the rabbi's helper, has trouble finding a table upon which to sit the synagogue's menorah. He looks all around the table in the storage closet but fails to see it, so he heads off to Tables Are Us to buy one. His choice is too large to carry, so he encourages it to walk to the synagogue with him. He calls to it, "Here table, table! Come on, boy!," while another character tries logic on it: "You have four strong legs. If we can walk to the synagogue on two legs, surely you can walk on four." Eventually, Mendel gives up and returns to the synagogue, where he finally sees the other, smaller table that he had overlooked before. However, Mendel thinks that this table is the one he bought, and he congratulates it: "That walk was good for you, table. You've lost weight." "The obvious absurdity that fuels the story will be a hit with kids," thought Booklist reviewer Stephanie Zvirin. Horn Book's Susan P. Bloom noted that "the youngest reader certainly won't get all the jokes … but there's more than enough broad humor … to have youngsters groaning appropriately."

Adler is also widely known for his numerous picture book biographies. These books deal with a wide variety of figures: sports heroes such as Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Gertrude Ederle; U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and John F. Kennedy; political and social activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth; inventor Thomas Alva Edison; and explorer Christopher Columbus. As Adler once commented, "The picture book biographies must be short, but that makes them very difficult to write. In my biography of Simon Bolivar, for example, the young reader must first know something about the history of South America. But in a picture book, of course, there is no room for a preface, so all the history had to be woven in with the story of Bolivar's life and all within fifteen hundred words. In my biography of Anne Frank, I needed to write about Germany's problems following the First World War, the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism, the refusal of the world to accept refugees of extreme persecution, vital information about the Second World War, and the horrible truth about the death camps. I needed to do all that and still keep the book focused on the life and diary of Anne Frank, all for relatively young children, and all within fifteen hundred words."

Reviewers have generally found that Adler gets this difficult balance right. His books have prompted comments from reviewers such as "an exciting story, well told" from a Publishers Weekly critic on America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle. Booklist's Hazel Rochman commended "the simple narrative text and dramatic color illustrations" in A Picture Book of Rosa Parks, and School Library Journal reviewer Gina Powell noted that Adler's biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe "offers easily accessible information supported by realistic, evocative oil paintings." That easy accessibility, a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote of A Picture Book of Harriet Beecher Stowe, makes the book "the perfect beginning for young readers doing a first project." Throughout the books, Adler occasionally steps into the story to explain the context of events, for example, writing about the reaction to Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin or pointing out why a vote held on the Lewis and Clarke expedition was unusual. "Among those who voted" on where to set up camp, Adler wrote in A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark, "were Clark's slave, York, and Sacagawea, long before blacks and women voted in United States elections."

As Adler once revealed about his first middle-grade biography, B. Franklin, Printer, "For my research I read hundreds of issues of Colonial newspapers. I found them fascinating. I included in the book many excerpts from those newspapers including first-hand accounts of the first shots of the Revolution." Chronicling the famous American's life from his beginnings as a Philadelphia printer to his position as a statesman, B. Franklin, Printer offers a more complete picture of the man through Adler's efforts to explain his life using illustrations, quotations, and facsimiles of documents Franklin produced in his lifetime. Additionally, the author concludes his book by offering end matter, including a bibliography, chronologies, and list of Web sites, for students interested in more material about the multi-talented Franklin. School Library Journal contributor Andrew Medlar wrote that Franklin's life "flies by … with readers hardly noticing the years passing, or that they are learning an interesting and important part of history." As with his biographies for younger readers, "Adler discusses Franklin in the context of his times," wrote Booklist's Carolyn Phelan, while creating "an intriguing portrait of a many-faceted man."

As busy as his work keeps him, Adler once remarked that he always makes time for his priorities: "I am pleased that the flexibility of my schedule allows me plenty of time to be with my family." Flexibility, however, is not writing's only attraction for him. "I love my work," he once said. "It allows me to pursue my many interests. I feel very fortunate that I can indulge my interests and call it work."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

Adler, David A., Chanukah in Chelm, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard (New York, NY), 1997.

Adler, David A., A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark, illustrated by Ronald Himler, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2003.

Wyatt, Flora R., Margaret Coggins, and Jane Hunter Imber, Popular Nonfiction Authors for Children, Libraries Unlimited (Englewood, CO), 1998.

PERIODICALS

Appraisal, winter, 1999, p. 6.

Booklist, October 15, 1993, Hazel Rochman, review of A Picture Book of Rosa Parks, p. 444; September 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of Hilde and Eli, Children of the Holocaust, p. 126; April 1, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Child of the Warsaw Ghetto, p. 1389; November 1, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of One Yellow Daffodil: A Hanukkah Story, p. 476; August, 1996, Carolyn Phelan, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Dinosaur Game and Young Cam Jansen and the Missing Cookie, pp. 1909-1910; May 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man, p. 1575; September 1, 1997, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Chanukah in Chelm, p. 137; April 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart, p. 1447; August, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Many Troubles of Andy Russell, p. 2002; November 15, 1998, Lauren Peterson, Cam Jansen and the Catnapping Mystery, p. 586; March 1, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, p. 1280; May 1, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Library Mystery, p. 1612; June, 2001, Eunice Weech, review of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 133; July, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., p. 2022; August, 2001, Hazel Rochman, review of Cam Jansen and the School Play Mystery, p. 2118; January 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of B. Franklin, Printer, p. 851, and Helen Rosenberg, review of Andy Russell, NOT Wanted by the Police, p. 855; October 15, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Picture Book of Dwight David Eisenhower, p. 408; December 1, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of A Hero and the Holocaust: The Story of Janusz Korczak and His Children, p. 658; February 15, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark, p. 1066; May 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Zoo Note Mystery, p. 1530; June 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of A Picture Book of Harriet Beecher Stowe, p. 1800; July, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Helen Keller, p. 1899; November 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Cam Jansen and the Tennis Trophy Mystery, p. 499.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man, p. 270; March, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of A Picture Book of Anne Frank, p. 204; November, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of Hilde and Eli, p. 79.

Childhood Education, fall, 2003, Amy E. Scherer, review of A Picture Book of Harriet Beecher Stowe, p. 38.

Horn Book, September-October, 1997, Susan P. Bloom, review of Chanukah in Chelm, p. 584.

Instructor, November-December, 2001, Judy Freeman, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Library Mystery, pp. 14-16.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1994, review of Hilde and Eli, p. 1521, review of A Picture Book of Jackie Robinson, pp. 1521-1522; October 15, 1997, review of Hiding from the Nazis, p. 1578; September 15, 2001, review of Andy Russell, NOT Wanted by the Police, p. 1352; April 15, 2002, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Double Beach Mystery, p. 560; August 15, 2002, review of A Picture Book of Dwight David Eisenhower, p. 1214; September 15, 2002, review of A Hero and the Holocaust, p. 1382; February 15, 2003, review of Mama Played Baseball, p. 298; March 1, 2003, review of A Picture Book of Harriet Beecher Stowe, p. 378; March 15, 2003, review of A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark, p. 458; October 1, 2003, review of Heroes of the Revolution, p. 1219.

Language Arts, September, 2002, review of B. Franklin, Printer, p. 72.

Plays, October, 2001, review of Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man, p. 70.

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 1982; July 23, 1982; October 22, 1982; April 5, 1993, review of A Picture Book of Anne Frank, p. 76; February 24, 1997, review of Lou Gehrig: The Luckiest Man, p. 91; October 20, 1997, review of Hiding from the Nazis, p. 76; August 17, 1998, review of The Many Troubles of Andy Russell, p. 73; May 10, 1999, review of The Babe and I, p. 67; March 6, 2000, review of America's Champion Swimmer: Gertrude Ederle, p. 111; February 3, 2003, review of Mama Played Baseball, p. 76.

School Library Journal, May, 1993, Cheryl Cufari, review of A Picture Book of Anne Frank, pp. 92-93; December, 1994, Tom S. Hurlburt, review of A Picture Book of Jackie Robinson, p. 94; October, 1995, Jane Marino, review of One Yellow Daffodil, p. 34; February, 1998, Lesley McKinstry, review of Wacky Jacks, p. 96; April, 1998, Cheryl Cufari, review of A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart, p. 112; January, 1999, Kit Vaughan, review of Cam Jansen and the Catnapping Mystery, p. 79; January, 2001, Wendy S. Carroll, review of Cam Jansen and the Birthday Mystery, p. 91; January, 2002, Debbie Feulner, review of Andy Russell, NOT Wanted by the Police, p. 89; February, 2002, Andrew Medlar, review of B. Franklin, Printer, p. 138; June, 2002, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Double Beach Mystery, p. 80; October, 2002, Barbara Buckley, review of A Picture Book of Dwight David Eisenhower, p. 136; March, 2003, Martha Link, review of A Hero and the Holocaust, and Heather E. Miller, review of A Picture Book of Lewis and Clark, both p. 212; April, 2003, Steven Engelfried, review of Mama Played Baseball, p. 114; May, 2003, Gina Powell, review of A Picture Book of Harriet Beecher Stowe, p. 133; July, 2003, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Young Cam Jansen and the Zoo Note Mystery, p. 86; September, 2003, Grace Oliff, review of The Babe and I, p. 83; November, 2003, Peg Glisson, review of Helen Keller, and Shauna Yusko, review of Heroes of the Revolution, both p. 120; March, 2004, Sue Sherif, review of Cam Jansen and the Tennis Trophy Mystery, p. 152.

Social Education, May, 2001, review of America's Champion Swimmer, p. 2S3.

ONLINE

Cam Jansen Web site, http://www.camjansen.com/ (April 10, 2004).

David A. Adler Web site, http://www.davidaadler.com/ (April 10, 2004).

Houghton Mifflin Education Place, http://www.eduplace.com/ (April 10, 2004), "Meet the Author: David A. Adler."

Scholastic Web site, http://www.scholastic.com/ (April 10, 2004), "David A. Adler's Biography."

Scott Foresman Web site, http://www.scottforesman.com/ (April 10, 2004), "Meet Celebrity Author David Adler."

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