Don L. Wulffson (1943-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1943, in Los Angeles, CA; Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.A., 1965, teaching credential, 1967. Politics: "Confused liberal." Religion: "Even more confused." Hobbies and other interests: Animals, sports, daydreaming.
Agent—Susan Cohen, Writers House, 21 West 26th St., New York, NY, 10010.
Writer. Teacher of English, creative writing, and reading, 1967-94; full-time writer, beginning 1994.
Authors Guild, Authors League.
Leather Medal, New Directions Publishing, 1971, for "You Too Can Be a Floorwax That Even Your Husband Could Apply" (poem); Outstanding Educator in America citation, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1985; Distinguished Achievement Award, Educational Press Association of America, 1981, for Writing You'll Enjoy; American Booksellers Pick of the List, 1997, for The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle, and Other Surprising Stories about Inventions; Christopher Award for Young-Adult Literature, 2001, for Soldier X; two Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People designations, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council, both 2002, for Soldier X and The Kid Who Invented the Trampoline.
Strange, Extraordinary Stories behind How Sports Came to Be, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1980.
True Stories You Won't Believe, Xerox Education Publications (Middletown, CT), 1980.
Extraordinary Stories behind the Invention of Ordinary Things, illustrated by Roy Doty, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1981.
Incredible True Adventures, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1986.
Terror at Sea, Field Publications, 1988.
More Incredible True Adventures, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Ordinary Things, Avon (New York, NY), 1990.
Amazing True Stories, illustrated by John R. Jones, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1991.
(Coauthor and consultant) Above and Beyond, Time-Life Books (New York, NY), 1993.
The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle, and Other Surprising Stories about Inventions, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1996.
When Human Heads Were Footballs: Surprising Stories of How Sports Began, illustrated by Mike Dietz, Aladdin (New York, NY), 1998.
Great Stories behind Famous Books, Alleyside Press (Ft. Atkinson, WI), 1999.
Pro Sports—How Did They Begin? Fun and Wacky Facts about Baseball, Basketball, and Football, Mondo Publishing (New York, NY), 2000.
Toys!: Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions, illustrated by Laurie Keller, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2000.
The Kid Who Invented the Trampoline: More Surprising Stories about Inventions, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.
Toybox Treasures, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
(With wife, Pam Wulffson) Abracadabra to Zombie: More than 500 Wacky Word Origins, illustrated by Jared Lee, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Discover How Things Work, Publications International, 1996.
NOVELS; FOR CHILDREN
The Upside-down Ship, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1986.
Valley of the Screaming Statues ("Nightmares! How Will Yours End?" series), illustrated by Dominick Domingo, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
Castle of Horror ("Nightmares! How Will Yours End?" series), illustrated by Dominick Domingo, Price, Stern (Los Angeles, CA), 1994.
Planet of Terror ("Nightmares! How Will Yours End?" series), illustrated by Neal Yamamoto, Price, Stern (Los Angeles, CA), 1994.
Cave of Fear ("Nightmares! How Will Yours End?" series), illustrated by Neal Yamamoto, Price, Stern (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.
Soldier X, Viking Children's Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Upside-Down Voyage, Mondo Publications (New York, NY), 2004.
STORIES; FOR CHILDREN
Eyebrowse (stories and nonfiction), Economy Co., 1976.
Visions (stories and nonfiction), Globe Book Co., 1980, published as Facts and Fantasies, 1982.
Time Fix and Other Tales of Terror, Cobblehill Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Screamers 1! The Fright Mask and Other Stories to Twist Your Mind, Troll Publication (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Screamers 2! The Trap Door and Other Stories to Twist Your Mind, Troll Publication (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Six-Minute Mysteries, illustrated by Laurel Long, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1994.
More Six-Minute Mysteries, illustrated by Laurel Long, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1995.
Future Fright: Tales of High-Tech Terror, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1996.
Mega Scary Stories for Sleep-overs, illustrated by Dwight Been, Price, Stern (Los Angeles, CA), 1996.
Aliens: Extraterrestrial Tales of Terror, Lowell House (Los Angeles, CA), 1996.
Fright Write, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1997.
Even More Scary Stories for Stormy Nights, illustrated by Eric Angeloch, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1997.
Contributor to anthologies, including Bone-chilling Tales of Fright and More Bone-chilling Tales of Fright, both 1994, and Frantic: Lightning Strike, and Other Gripping Tales of Survival, all published by Lowell House.
Author's works have been translated into Chinese.
(Editor and contributor) Themes and Writers (literature series), four volumes, McGraw-Hill, 1973.
Building Vocabulary, Xerox Education Publications (Middletown, CT), 1976.
Writing You'll Enjoy, Xerox Education Publications (Middletown, CT), 1977.
The Touchstone Series, three volumes, Steck, 1977.
Punctuation Errors You Hate to Make (and How to Avoid Them), Xerox Education Publications (Middletown, CT), 1978.
The Wonderful Word Book, Xerox Education Publications (Middletown, CT), 1978.
Supergrammar, Pruett (Boulder, CO), 1980.
Mindgame: Experiences in Creative Writing, Xerox Education Publications (Middletown, CT), 1980.
The Basics of Writing, three volumes, Globe Book Co., 1985.
Bright and Beautiful, Scott, Foresman, 1985.
Point Blank (adult novel), Signet (New York, NY), 1987.
Contributor of articles, poems, and children's plays to journals, including Boy's Life, Cricket, Child Life, Hyperion, Journal of Reading, Read, and Tangent Poetry Quarterly. Contributor to anthologies, including New Directions Twenty-three, New Directions, 1971; Words and Beyond, Ginn, 1973; National Poetry Anthology, National Poetry Press, 1975; and Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts, Volume 2, Grossett & Dunlap, 1982. Also author of "Skillmaster" series, Xerox Education Publications.
California-based writer Don L. Wulffson is the author of numerous books for young readers—including Time Fix and Other Tales of Terror, The Upside-down Ship, Soldier X, and Terror at Sea—which have been praised by reviewers for their ability to lure even reluctant readers into turning the pages of a book. "I have always been intrigued by both the past and the future," Wulffson once commented to Something about the Author (SATA). "With my readers, I greatly enjoy exploring how the world came to be, what it is today, and trying to anticipate what it might someday become."
"I think I knew how to write before I learned how to read," Wulffson also recalled. "Regardless, I've been writing ever since I was a little kid. My teachers never liked my writing (especially my sci-fi and adventure stories, which they thought were too wild and bizarre); but then again, I never liked any of my teachers, so I guess we're even.
"While in college I wanted to grow up to be [a noted poet like] Lawrence Ferlinghetti or a psychiatrist. Much to my dismay I ended up as an English teacher. In 1971 I published a surrealistic poem, 'You Too Can Be a Floorwax That Even Your Husband Could Apply.' It appeared in the New Directions annual that included works by Ferlinghetti. I was so impressed by my achievement that I decided to quit writing poetry."
While ceasing his poetry career, Wulffson continued teaching English language and composition on the high-school level. "All in all, I loved it. I miss it," the former poet later admitted to SATA. "I make up for it by writing full-time, writing the kinds of things I think that kids will like." As a writer for young readers, Wulffson has published hundreds of stories and poems, several plays, and more than thirty books. "I'm proud of that," he conceded, "but I'm only interested in what I'm writing now, not what I've written before. I've never even bothered reading any of my books."
From a hunter who ruthlessly kills a deer, only to be turned into a deer himself in "The Hunted," to a boy who dies from drowning after being haunted by a nightmare about the sea in "Dream World," Wulffson's popular story collection Time Fix and Other Tales of Terror runs the gauntlet from watery to weird. Equally imaginative are his other collections of scary stories, among them a series of make-your-own-nightmare novels that includes Planet of Terror, Castle of Horror, and Valley of the Screaming Statues. "I write because it's the only way I know of doing all the really interesting and strange things I know I'll never do," Wulffson said of his surprise endings and exciting plots, "and because it's the one way I have of being myself, as well as anybody else I feel like being." In Valley of the Screaming Statues a boy, the boy's brother, and his anthropologist father become separated in the jungles of Malaysia, while in Castle of Horror the young hero finds himself forced to wander the halls of a Scottish castle under the control of a fiendish magician.
A busy writer, Wulffson works "relentlessly, endlessly—usually on at least two or three books at the same time. I adhere to no schedule whatsoever. I write when I feel like it, which is most of the time." One of the longer works of fiction produced by such a dedication to his craft is The Upside-down Ship, published in 1986. The novel concerns a Scottish whaling captain named Bruce Gordon, whose ship is grounded by an iceberg in a northern sea. After several years of survival in this cold, forbidding region, he makes it back to civilization, only to find it equally forbidding. "It's about a man living alone in an empty, upside-down world," Wulffson explained. "He struggles year after year to get back to the 'real' world—and eventually does, only to discover he lost everything by leaving."
Wulffson counts the young-adult novel Soldier X as perhaps his best work. As he described it, Soldier X "is an anti-war novel… about a boy who goes from being a German soldier on the Eastern Front to a patient in a Russian hospital." Reflecting on the book's theme, Wulffson added: "I think it was Faulkner who said that writing an anti-war novel is like trying to stop a bullet with a piece of paper. Maybe he's right. Maybe not. Perhaps someday an immense collective voice demanding peace will drown out the insipid bombast of those enamored of war. Perhaps someday all the armies of the world will wear the same uniform and will fight our collective enemies: hunger, disease, and poverty."
Based on an actual incident, Soldier X takes place during 1944, as sixteen-year-old Erik Brandt is drafted from the Hitler Youth into the German Army and sent, after only limited basic training, to the Russian Front where soldiers are desperately needed and few are likely to survive the brutality of trench warfare. Rendered unconscious during a Russian bombing, he awakens to discover that he has been separated from his regiment and is now stranded behind enemy lines. Drawing on his knowledge of Russian—Erik's mother was Russian, his father German—he steals the clothing off a Russian soldier's corpse and feigns amnesia, surviving the war in a soldier's hospital. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Soldier X for its "well-researched and meticulously recorded details of life under fire," while commending particularly Wulffson's central message: that one must "look past the outer trappings of the enemy to discover the human being inside the uniform." A Horn Book contributor also praised the novel for its "unusual perspective"; rather than dealing with the emotional issues surrounding betrayal of one's culture, Soldier X is far grittier: Wulffson "records battlefield sequences with an unflinching—and occasionally numbing—brutality" as Erik focuses solely on survival.
In addition to his stories and novels, Wulffson has authored several language-arts programs for use at the secondary-school level, as well as numerous plays and short works of nonfiction for young adult readers. Among his best-known nonfiction works are The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle, and Other Surprising Stories about Inventions and its sequel, The Kid Who Invented the Trampoline: More Surprising Stories about Inventions. From the genesis of ice-cream treats to Post-It Notes and Zambonis, the books are written in a "conversational and humorous" style that Booklist contributor Shelley Townsend-Hudson praised as reflecting the author's "passion for his subject" and his "respect for the audience's intelligence." A similar approach is taken in Toys!: Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions, which discusses the creation of everything from Silly Putty and Play-Doh to Twister and Mr. Potato Head, as well as classics such as checkers, toy soldiers, Parcheesi, and other perennial favorites. Calling the book "intriguing," Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan added: "It's hard to say whether adults or kids will get a bigger kick" from Toys! Victoria Kidd also enjoyed the work, noting in School Library Journal that in his "engaging text" Wulffson also includes "a lesson in persistence, surprise outcomes, and creative thinking": toys such as Slinky and Play-Doh were actually "invented" during failed efforts to create products to advance industry!
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, May 15, 1986, p. 1389; July, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Time Fix and Other Tales of Terror, p. 1949; June 2, 2000, Carolyn Phelan, review of Toys!: Amazing Stories behind Some Great Inventions, p. 1890; May 1, 2001, Karen Simonetti, review of Soldier X, p. 1676; July, 2001, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Kid Who Invented the Trampoline, p. 2004.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 1986, p. 60; March, 1987, p. 139.
Horn Book, July, 2001, review of Soldier X, p. 463.
Publishers Weekly, June 19, 2000, review of Toys!, p. 82; January 29, 2001, review of Soldier X, p. 90; August 27, 2001, review of The Kid Who Invented the Trampoline, p. 87.
School Library Journal, October, 1986, p. 185; July, 1994;
September, 2000, Victoria Kidd, review of Toys!, p. 257; March, 2001, Cheri Estes, review of Soldier X, p. 258; October, 2001, Carol Fazioli, review of The Kid Who Invented the Trampoline, p. 192; January, 2004, Linda Wadleigh, review of Abracadabra to Zombie: More than 500 Wacky Word Origins, p. 162.*
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