Gail Carson Levine (1947–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
Born 1947, in New York, NY; Education: City College of the City University of New York, B.A., 1969.
Agent—c/o Author's Mail, HarperCollins Children's Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.
Children's book author. New York State Department of Labor, New York, NY, employment interviewer, 1970–82; New York State Department of Commerce, New York, NY, administrative assistant, 1982–86; New York State Department of Social Services, New York, NY, welfare administrator, 1986–96; New York State Department of Labor, New York, NY, welfare administrator, 1986–
Best Books for Young Adults, and Quick Picks for Young Adults citations, American Library Association (ALA), and Newbery Honor Book, ALA, all 1998, all for Ella Enchanted.
Ella Enchanted, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
The Wish, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
The Princess Test, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
The Fairy's Mistake, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Dave at Night, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1999.
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
For Biddle's Sake, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
The Fairy's Return, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
Betsy Who Cried Wolf, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2002.
The Princess Tales, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.
Also author of script for children's musical Spacenapped, produced in Brooklyn, NY.
Ella Enchanted was filmed by Miramax and released in 2004; The Two Princesses of Bamarre was optioned for film by Miramax; many of Levine's books have been adapted for audio.
While Gail Carson Levine writes fairy tales featuring princesses, dragons, elves, and fairies, hers are modern renditions of traditional themes. Although she sometimes bases her novels on such familiar stories as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, the characters in books such as Ella Enchanted and The Princess Tales are decidedly ultramodern in their outlook.
Levine was raised in New York City, in a home that valued books. She once told Something about the Author (SATA): "My father was interested in writing, and my mother wrote full-length plays in rhyme for her students to perform. Both of them had an absolute reverence for creativity and creative people, a reverence that they passed along to my sister and me.
"I didn't plan to be a writer, even though I started writing early. In elementary school I was a charter member of the Scribble Scrabble Club, and in high school my poems were published in an anthology of student poetry, but my ambition was to act or to be a painter like my older sister.
"It was painting that brought me to writing in earnest for children. I took a class in writing and illustrating children's books and found that I was much more interested in the writing than in the illustrating."
Levine's Newbery Medal-winning book Ella Enchanted actually had its start in a writing class. "I had to write something and couldn't think of a plot, so I decided to write a Cinderella story because it already had a plot! Then, when I thought about Cinderella's character, I realized she was too much of a goody-two-shoes for me, and I would hate her before I finished ten pages. That's when I came up with the curse: she's only good because she has to be, and she is in constant rebellion."
Ella Enchanted tells of a girl who is cursed at birth: she is unable to disobey the commands of other people, no matter what they are. When the condition becomes too much to bear, Ella runs away in search of the thoughtless fairy who originally cursed her. Her journey leads only to a job as a scullery maid for her new stepmother, where she finally overcomes her curse. Anne Deifendeifer, writing in Horn Book, found that Levine's "expert characterization and original ideas enliven this novelization of Cinderella."
The Princess Test is a story based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea." In Levine's version, the familiar tale is turned on its head, with a blacksmith's daughter proving that she is as delicate and sensitive as any girl of royal blood. A Horn Book contributor wrote that "fans of funny fairy tales will have some laughs" over Levine's book, while a critic for Publishers Weekly maintained that Levine's heroines "defy fairy-tale stereotypes."
In Dave at Night, Levine draws her inspiration from her father's own experience growing up in an orphanage in New York City during the 1920s. Dave Carlos lives at the Hebrew Home for Boys because his father died in an accident and his mother is unable to raise him alone. Each night, the rebellious boy climbs over the orphanage wall and explores the nearby streets of Harlem, where he befriends an elderly fortune teller, listens to jazz music, and learns how to dance the Charleston. Eventually, Dave discovers his artistic talents and, more importantly, the value of his orphan friends. "Dave's excursions into the noise and excitement of long-ago Harlem nights will linger in the memory," predicted a critic for Horn Book.
In The Wish, Levine tells a story set in the modern world but with a fairy tale twist. Wilma Sturtz is an eighth-grader in New York City. Her two best friends have left her school and she is feeling lonely and unwanted. When she gives up her seat on the bus to an eccentric old woman, the woman grants her one wish.
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Wilma wishes to be the most popular student at her school. Very soon she is being invited to parties and dances, but the wish only lasts until the end of the school year. Will anyone still be her friend after that? Renee Steinberg, writing in School Library Journal, called The Wish "an enjoyable, thought-provoking, and absorbing selection." "The fun is watching the nerdy girl, with whom readers will identify, blossom into a self-assured kid," commented Ilene Cooper in Booklist.
The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in a fairy-tale kingdom where Princess Addie and Princess Meryl live in the castle of their father, the king. While Meryl is an independent girl, Addie is less so. When Meryl comes down with a serious illness called the Gray Death, however, Addie takes it upon herself to discover the cure and save her sister's life. Donna Miller, writing in Book Report, found The Two Princesses of Bamarre to be "a lively tale with vivid characters and an exciting plot."
Levine once told SATA: "As a child I loved fairy tales because the story, the what-comes-next, is paramount. As an adult I am fascinated by their logic and illogic. Ella's magic book gave me the chance to answer a question that always plagued me about The Shoemaker and the Elves: why the elves abandon the shoemaker. I came up with one answer, but many are possible—and I think the real solution goes to the heart of gratitude and recognition, an example of the depth in fairy tales.
"My advice to aspiring writers is: suspend judgment of your work and keep writing. Take advantage of the wonderful community of writers for children, who are always ready with helpful criticism and support in the struggle to succeed. And be patient: writing and glaciers advance at about the same pace!"
Levine and her husband David live in Brewster, New York, in a 200-year-old farmhouse that they share with their Airdale, Jake.
Biographical and Critical Sources
McGinty, Alice B., Meet Gail Carson Levine, Rosen Publishing (New York, NY), 2003.
ALAN Review, fall, 1997.
Booklist, April 15, 1997, p. 1423; November 15, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Princess Sonora and the Long Sleep, p. 627; April 1, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of The Wish, p. 1462; April 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 1558; September 1, 2001, Jean Hatfield, review of The Wish (audiobook), p. 128; August, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Fairy's Return, p. 1964.
Book Report, September-October, 2001, Donna Miller, review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 63.
Daily Variety, September 30, 2003, Jonathan Bing, "'Princesses' Enchant Miramax," p. 5.
Horn Book, May-June, 1997, Anne Deifendeifer, review of Ella Enchanted, p. 325; May, 1999, reviews of The Fairy's Mistake and The Princess Test, p. 332; January, 2000, review of Dave at Night, p. 78; May, 2001, review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 330.
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, November, 2002, review of The Wish, p. 218.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1997, p. 225; April 15, 2002, review of Betsy Who Cried Wolf, p. 574; September 15, 2002, review of For Biddle's Sake, p. 1393.
Kliatt, May, 2003, Claire Rosser, review of review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 26; March, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, p. 75; June 30, 1997, p. 28; February 15, 1999, reviews of The Fairy's Mistake and The Princess Test, p. 108; November 1, 1999, review of Dave at Night, p. 58; April 24, 2000, review of The Wish, p. 91; May 7, 2001, review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 248; May 6, 2002, review of Betsy Who Cried Wolf, p. 57.
School Library Journal, April, 1997, p. 138; May, 2000, Renee Steinberg, review of The Wish, p. 173; May, 2001, Kit Vaughan, review of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, p. 155; June, 2002, Grace Oliff, review of Betsy Who Cried Wolf, p. 98; September, 2002, Eva Mitnick, review of For Biddle's Sake, p. 198.
Cynthia Leitich Smith Web site, http://www.cynthialeitichsmith.com/ (May 6, 2005), interview with Levine.
HarperCollins Web site, http://www.harperchildrens.com/ (May 6, 2005), "Gail Carson Levine."
Good Conversation!: A Talk with Gail Carson Levine (video), Tim Podell Productions, 2001.
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