Staton Rabin (1958–) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Work in Progress, Sidelights
Name pronounced "Stay-ton Ray-bin"; born 1958, in New York, NY; vice president and Education: Attended Oberlin College; New York University Tisch School of the Arts, B.F.A. (film), 1980. Politics: "Liberal Democrat." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Movies, museums, politics, science, history, reading.
Agent—Donna Bagdasarian, Maria Carvainis Agency, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, Ste. 2905, New York, NY 10019.
Children's book author, 1986–. Freelance story analyst for screenwriters and film producers, including Warner Brothers Pictures, 1993–; Scr(i)pt magazine, senior writer. Instructor in screenwriting and children's book writing; guest speaker.
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, Authors League, Stellar Network, Napoleonic Society of America.
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, Children's Book Council/National Council for Social Studies, and (with Greg Shed) first prize, Marion Vannett Ridgway Award, 1995, for Casey over There; American Booksellers Association Book-Sense Pick for Teen Readers, 2004, and New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age selection, 2005, both for Betsy and the Emperor.
Monster Myths: The Truth about Water Monsters, Franklin Watts (New York, NY), 1992.
Casey over There, illustrated by Greg Shed, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1994.
Betsy and the Emperor, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Black Powder, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Tsarevich, Margaret K. McElderry Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor of articles and stories to periodicals, including School Magazine (Australia), Cricket, Pennywhistle Press, Children's Digest, Ranger Rick, Woman, and San Francisco Examiner. Contributor to books, including Writers Handbook, 1994, Time Detectives (anthology), Scholastic, and Literacy Place (CD-ROM), Scholastic, 1995.
Author's works have been translated into Japanese, Polish, Spanish, French, Russian, Dutch, Czech, Korean, Romanian, and Korean.
Betsy and the Emperor was adapted for a film, directed by Patrice Chereau.
Work in Progress
Mr. Lincoln's Boys, for Viking, 2008; a young-adult novel "that will blend history and fantasy and involves time travel"; various screenplays.
"I have always had one foot in the children's book world, and another in the movie business, where I work as a story analyst and screenwriter," explained writer Staton Rabin, author of books that include Betsy and the Emperor and Black Powder. "When I was growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, my social studies teachers made learning history fun. They even let me make wacky movies about history 'starring' my teachers and friends. My teachers' creative and spirited approach has inspired me to bring the same kind of humor and verve to my writing about history and science for kids."
Rabin was named after her Russian great grandfather, whose last name "was something like Statonofsky," she once told Something about the Author (SATA.) She was exposed to both art and literature early in life through her mother, a graphic artist who "wouldn't even put a milk carton on the dinner table because she thought it was aesthetically ugly." Her father, an author of children's books, used Staton as his pen name before his daughter was born.
Rabin started out writing nonfiction for children. Answering a newspaper ad for writers for a children's encyclopedia, she "auditioned" by writing an article about Alaska and was hired for the job. "This job trained me to write in a way that a ten-year-old could fathom," she explained to SATA. "Best of all, I got to write about what interested me—all kinds of articles about American history, for example, from a biography of Lincoln to features about the Santa Fe Trail or the sinking of the Titanic."
In her first published book, 1992's Monster Myths: The Truth about Water Monsters, Rabin describes some of the scarier dwellers of the deep, including sharks, killer whales, alligators, and piranhas. She reminds readers that some of the factors that make these creatures frightening are necessary to their survival in nature; she also notes that much of the fear of them is based on ignorance. Denia Hester, writing in Booklist, described Monster Myths as "fascinating reading even as the myths are debunked."
Several of Rabin's books have been inspired by her own pacifism. Casey over There, written in reaction to the Persian Gulf War of the early 1990s, is the story of seven-year-old Aubrey, whose older brother Casey goes off to France to fight in World War I. While going about his life, Aubrey worries about his big brother, and Rabin intermixes scenes of Aubrey's everyday life in 1917 Brooklyn with scenes of Casey's wartime ordeals overseas. For older readers, Black Powder focuses on fourteen-year-old Langston, an African-American teen from South-Central Los Angeles. After his best friend is killed by members of a street gang, Langston borrows his science teacher's time machine and goes back to the year 1278, hoping to stop Roger Bacon from publicizing his formula for gunpowder: previously unknown in the Western world, Bacon's discovery made possible the invention of guns. Casey over There received praise from a Publishers Weekly contributor who stated that the work is an "excellent picture-book introduction to the topic of war and its effect on families."
Rabin's best-known book for younger readers is Betsy and the Emperor, a work of historical fiction that has been published in eleven languages. Taking place in 1815, the novel is based on a true story about fourteen-year-old Betsy Balcombe, an English girl who befriended Napoleon Bonaparte during the French emperor's exile on the island of St. Helena following his defeat at the battle of Waterloo. Becoming a friend to the defeated emperor while he stays in her family's home, Betsy attempts to devise all manner of escapes for Napoleon, including one involving a hot-air balloon constructed of a patchwork of silk dresses. In Booklist Jennifer Mattson wrote that Betsy and the Emperor is an "appealing" historical novel that presents readers with a "mix of facts and girl-powered fiction," while Anna M. Nelson noted in School Library Journal that Rabin's novel draws on extensive research and is "well-captured and satisfying." Dubbing the novel "fascinating," a Kirkus reviewer wrote that Rabin "plays with an against the stereotype" of the famous French general, who with his penchant for conquest was both feared and praised during his lifetime. In Bookloons.com J. A. Kaszuba-Locke concluded of the book that it presents "an engaging, well written, tender tale, and [is a] must read for anyone interested in Napoleon Bonaparte," while Betsy and the Emperor was cited as "engaging" by a New York Times Book Review critic.
"My advice for beginning writers is this," Rabin once told SATA: "Read, and re-read picture books (if that's your category of interest) until you learn their rhythm and the way transitions are used to accommodate page-turns. Learn how to construct a plot (study movies and screenplays) and don't submit a book that doesn't have one. Learn each publisher's taste by looking at their catalog. Make sure your manuscript has about the right number of words, chapters (if applicable), and pages and is aimed at a specific reading level/age group.
"Don't worry about the vocabulary you use in your books; it's the length of the sentences, and not the complexity of the words that determines reading level—despite what so-called experts may tell you. Children can understand tough words from context—or they can ask adults what a mystifying word means and thereby learn a new word. Give your book a succinct, intriguing but not mysterious-sounding title. The title should indicate what the book is about, but not give away the whole game. Be courteous to editors. Call them if they haven't replied to your manuscript after three months because polite nagging, up to a point, will get you a quicker response."
Rabin cites as the best writing advice she ever got that of Ian Hunter, her New York University professor and an Oscar-winning screenwriter. "He said that 'writing is just a job—like digging ditches,'" she more recently told SATA. "By this, he didn't mean that it's drudgery (though of course at times it can be), but rather that it takes hard work, it's not 'glamorous,' and you'll get a lot further by approaching it as a job and learning your craft (including the business aspects of it) than you will be viewing yourself as some sort of 'artiste' who needs to wait for a muse to come sit on your shoulder."
Biographical and Critical Sources
1995 Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market, Writer's Digest Books, 1995.
Booklist, December 15, 1992, Denia Hester, review of Monster Myths: The Truth about Water Monsters, pp. 732-733; November 15, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Betsy and the Emperor, p. 598.
Children's Book Review Service, spring, 1994, p. 138.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2004, review of Betsy and the Emperor, p. 967.
New York Times Book Review, April 10, 2005, review of Betsy and the Emperor.
Publishers Weekly, March 14, 1994, review of Casey over There, pp. 72-73; December 13, 2004, review of Betsy and the Emperor, p. 69.
School Library Journal, May, 1994, p. 103; November, 2004, Anna M. Nelson, review of Betsy and the Emperor, p. 152.
Science Books and Film, August, 1993, p. 181.
BookLoons.com, http://www.bookloons.com/ (September 21, 2005), J. A. Kaszuba Locke, review of Betsy and the Emperor.
Done Deal Web site, http://www.scriptsales.com/ (July 15, 2005), interview with Rabin.
Through the Looking Glass Web site, http://www.lookingglassreview.com/ (July 15, 2005), review of Betsy and the Emperor.