Marilyn Sachs (1927-) Biography
Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights
(Marilyn Stickle Sachs)
Born 1927, in New York, NY; Education: Hunter College (now Hunter College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1949; Columbia University, M.S. (library science), 1953. Politics: "I'm for whatever and whoever will help bring about a more human, peaceful society." Religion: Jewish.
Writer. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn, NY, children's librarian, 1949–60; San Francisco Public Library, San Francisco, CA, part-time children's librarian, 1961–67.
PEN, Authors Guild, American Jane Austen Society, English Jane Austen Society, American Civil Liberties Union, SANE (National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy) Freeze.
Notable book designation, American Library Association (ALA), 1968, Veronica Ganz; outstanding book of the year designation, New York Times, 1971, for The Bears' House, and 1973, for A Pocket Full of Seeds; best book of the year designation, School Library Journal, 1971, for The Bears' House, and 1973, for The Truth about Mary Rose; National Book Award finalist, 1972, for The Bears' House; Jane Addams Children' Book Honor Award, 1974, for A Pocket Full of Seeds; Silver Pencil Award, Collective Propaganda van het Bederlandse Boek (Netherlands), 1974, for The Truth about Mary Rose, and 1977, for Dorrie's Book; Austrian Children's Book Prize, 1977, for The Bears' House; Garden State Children's Book Award, 1978, for Dorrie's Book; A Summer's Lease selected among School Library Journal's best books for spring, 1979; Fleet-footed Florence selected as a children's choice, International Reading Association, 1982; Association of Jewish Libraries Award, 1983, for Call Me Ruth; The Fat Girl selected an ALA best books for young adults, 1984; Christopher Award, 1986, for Underdog; ALA notable book designation, 1987, and Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award, 1988, both for Fran Ellen's House; recognition of merit, George C. Stone Center for Children's Books, 1989, for The Bears' House and Fran Ellen's House; Jane Addams Children' Book Award, 1990, and ALA notable book designation, 1991, both for The Big Book for Peace.
Amy Moves In, illustrated by Judith Gwyn Brown, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1964.
Laura's Luck, illustrated by Ib Spang Ohlsson, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1965.
Amy and Laura, illustrated by Tracy Sugarman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966.
Veronica Ganz, illustrated by Louis Glanzman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1968, reprinted, Puffin (New York, NY), 1995.
Peter and Veronica (sequel to Veronica Ganz), illustrated by Louis Glanzman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted, Puffin (New York, NY), 1995.
Marv, illustrated by Louis Glanzman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.
Reading between the Lines (play) Children's Book Council, 1971.
The Bears' House, illustrated by Louis Glanzman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971.
The Truth about Mary Rose (sequel to Peter and Veronica), illustrated by Louis Glanzman, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, Puffin (New York, NY), 1995.
A Pocket Full of Seeds, illustrated by Ben Stahl, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.
Matt's Mitt, illustrated by Hilary Knight, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
Dorrie's Book, illustrated by Anne Sachs, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.
A December Tale, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1976.
A Secret Friend, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.
A Summer's Lease, Dutton (New York, NY), 1979.
Bus Ride, illustrated by Amy Rowen, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
Class Pictures, Dutton (New York, NY), 1980.
Fleet-footed Florence, illustrated by Charles Robinson, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1981.
Hello … Wrong Number, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, Dutton (New York, NY), 1981.
Beach Towels, illustrated by Jim Spence, Dutton (New York, NY), 1982.
Call Me Ruth, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1982.
Fourteen, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983.
The Fat Girl, Dutton (New York, NY), 1983.
Thunderbird, illustrated by Jim Spence, Dutton (New York, NY), 1985.
Underdog, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
Baby Sister, Dutton (New York, NY), 1986.
Almost Fifteen, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
Fran Ellen's House, Dutton (New York, NY), 1987.
Just like a Friend, Dutton (New York, NY), 1989.
At the Sound of the Beep, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
(Editor, with Ann Durell) The Big Book for Peace, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Steven Kellog, and others, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.
Circles, Dutton (New York, NY), 1991.
What My Sister Remembered, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
Thirteen Going on Seven, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
Ghosts in the Family, Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
Another Day, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
Surprise Party, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
JoJo and Winnie: Sister Stories, illustrated by Meredith Johnson, Dutton (New York, NY), 1999.
JoJo and Winnie Again: More Sister Stories, illustrated by Meredith Johnson, Dutton (New York, NY), 2000.
The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger, Atheneum (New York, NY), 2002.
Lost in America (sequel to A Pocket Full of Seeds), Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2005.
First Impressions, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT, 2006.
Contributor to New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.
Veronica Ganz was adapted as a filmstrip, Insight Media Programs, 1975.
Marilyn Sachs, the author of more than thirty books for children and young adults, helped launch the trend of realistic fiction for young readers with her first book, 1964's Amy Moves In. Her middle-grade and young-adult novels, such as Veronica Ganz, The Fat Girl, and Lost in America, are known for their treatments of serious themes, such as bullying, divorce, family crises, and prejudice. Sachs' characters often do not fit into mainstream teenage life; distanced from their peers by circumstance or choice, they struggle with dilemmas in search of plausible solutions which will still allow them to be true to themselves. They work out the problems that confront them by recounting their life stories. Sachs has been praised by critics for her ability to realistically portray relationships and has also been commended for incorporating relevant social issues in her works. In addition, reviewers have lauded her identification with and compassion for her sometimes flawed characters.
Sachs' own childhood provides the framework for many of her stories. Born in New York City, she grew up in an apartment on Jennings Street in the east Bronx. Sachs once recalled that although the street had no trees, flowers, or birds, it did have plenty of children. Because there was not much traffic on Jennings Street, neighborhood children would gather to play outdoor games. Although most families that lived on the street—including Sachs' own—were poor, the author remem-bers this time of her life fondly and has documented it in her books. As she once remarked: "Amy Moves In, my first book, probably comes closer to describing my life on Jennings Street than any of my other books."
"I was a little, skinny, cowardly kid," Sachs recalled; because of this, she was sometimes the target of neighborhood bullies. "My older sister, who always seemed to me a glorious figure of righteousness and revenge, frequently had to fight my battles for me. My father gave me boxing lessons but to no avail." To avoid bullies—and because it was one of her favorite pastimes—Sachs found refuge at the local library, where she enjoyed reading books from previous centuries, such as fairy tales, classics, and historical fiction. However, as she once observed, "I read other things as well—comic books, magazines, 'The Bobbsey Twin' series, and any books my sister recommended. She was one of the strongest influences in my life when I was a child."
An admitted "liar and … crybaby," Sachs explained that "my own rearrangement of reality always seemed much more appealing than what everybody else considered the truth." When she speaks to groups of children about being an author, Sachs points to this childhood habit as a positive qualification for writing fiction. "Basically, the child who lies and the writer who weaves stories out of her own experiences, are each doing the same thing," she once remarked. "They are rearranging the bare, boring facts into a more harmonious, meaningful pattern. The child, of course, gets scolded for lying while the writer is praised for her imagination."
Sachs' childhood penchant for telling tales and rearranging the truth may have been inherited. "Everybody told stories in my family, and everybody's stories were different…. My father's stories tended to deal with the epic and heroic…. Like myself, my father often embroidered reality and was the one member of my family not disturbed about my lack of truthfulness." The author recalled that "some of the best stories came from my mother's mother who had come to this country from Russia around 1900 with my mother and oldest uncle." Sachs' maternal grandmother was the inspiration for the mother in her novel Call Me Ruth, in which a young immigrant girl learns to adapt to life in America and is embarrassed by her mother, who clings to the traditions of their home country.
After Sachs' mother died when the author was in her early teens, her father remarried and the family moved to a new neighborhood. Because Sachs liked her old school, she decided to finish her high-school education there, and remembers those years fondly. She had many friends, belonged to clubs, and was an editor of the school newspaper.
Because of her wish to go to college over her father's objections, Sachs left home after high-school graduation and enrolled at Hunter College. She once wrote that "it wasn't easy. I had to support myself and overcome my natural laziness. It was hard juggling all the various part-time jobs I worked at and buckling down to the kind of scholarship Hunter College demanded of its students." A move to Brooklyn allowed her to meet her future husband, sculptor Morris Sachs, when they both belonged to a left-wing youth organization.
The couple married while they were still in college, and after graduation Sachs got a job as a library trainee at the Brooklyn Public Library. Remembering the bossy librarians of her own youth, her approach to her job was "never to interfere with children who wanted to pick out books for themselves." She stayed at the library for ten years while returning to school to get her master's degree in library science at Columbia University. As Sachs once explained, "I loved my job, most of the kids, and the books. I read and read and read and somewhere along the line I realized what kind of books I wanted to write and who I wanted to write for."
In 1954 Sachs took a six-month leave of absence from the library and wrote Amy Moves In. The book's central character is, according to the author, "a girl named Amy who told lies. Her family was poor, Jewish, lived in the city, and didn't celebrate any Jewish holidays in the course of the story. The father had trouble keeping a job and the mother, hurt in an accident, was still in the hospital by the end of the book." Noting the book's basis in her own life, Sachs was proud of her manuscript, but editors rejected it because the story's realistic depiction of a troubled family struggling during the Great Depression of the 1930s was deemed too negative and depressing for young readers. Most children's books published at the time had happy endings, and editors wanted Sachs to alter her story to fit this formula. However, she refused and had to wait ten years to get Amy Moves In published.
In the meantime, Sachs moved to San Francisco, California, with her husband and their two young children, Anne and Paul, and worked as a part-time librarian at the San Francisco Public Library. During these years she was busy caring for her children and working part-time, so was not able to pursue her writing. However, in 1963, she received a letter from a former Brooklyn Public Library coworker who had since become an editor at a book publishing company. The friend asked about the manuscript of Amy Moves In. With the detachment of a few years, Sachs looked over her novel and realized that it needed some work, but she sent it anyway, assuming it would be rejected. Two weeks later she was pleasantly surprised when she received notice that the book was going to be published. Amy Moves In was received favorably by critics, a Kirkus Reviews critic calling the work a "very funny book that still offers readers valid insights into people and their behavior … it is true to its time and true to the unchanging conditions of childhood."
The publication of Amy Moves In marked a new stage in Sachs' life: that of a busy author. She once described her family household during those days as "often a cir-cus…. We never had much money—artists usually don't—and I never had a room of my own then, as [British author] Virginia Woolf prescribes for serious artists. But I wrote—in between childhood sicknesses, peace marches, flooded toilets, and all the other demands life made on my time. It was hectic and it was good." Sachs wrote a book a year, on average. "First, there were the 'Amy/Laura' books which came out of my own childhood. Then [the middle-grade novel] Veronica Ganz which I always considered one of my best books. Veronica was a composite of all the bullies who terrorized me as a child."
In Veronica Ganz a taller-than-average tomboy plays the bully in her local middle school. However, the tables turn when new-kid-in-school Peter Weydemeyer pits his brains against Veronica's size and comes out the victor … or so he thinks. The book, popular with young readers, has inspired several sequels, including Peter and Veronica and The Truth about Mary Rose, all of which were reprinted in 1995. The Truth about Mary Rose focuses on Veronica's daughter, who learns that she was named after an aunt who died in a fire and goes on a quest to find out more about this mysterious relative.
Sachs' "JoJo and Winnie" books have earned enthusiastic reviews for the warmth with which they depict sibling relationships and the ups and downs of family life. "Just about every scenario and scrap of dialogue … rings true" in JoJo and Winnie: Sister Stories, wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, while School Library Journal contributor Lynda Ritterman compared JoJo and Winnie Again: More Sister Stories to Beverly Cleary's beloved "Ramona" books, praising it for featuring "plausible situations" and "realistic dialogue" between the two girls—aged six and nine—as they tackle jealousy and learn to recognize and support each other's attributes.
Also for middle-grade readers, The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D contains "simple, descriptive language that's just right for readers newly comfortable with chapter books," according to Booklist reviewer Gillian Engberg. In Sachs' humorous story, ten-year-old Lily dislikes her neighbor, cranky Mr. Freeman, and has equal contempt for his loud, funny-looking cats. However, after she is locked out of her apartment and sits crying on her doorstep, the elderly man invites her to stay until her parents return. Witnessing the love between the man and his cats, Lily realizes that she was wrong in her judgment, and after Mr. Freedman's death she commits herself to finding good homes for her furry and now homeless neighbors. A critic for Kirkus Reviews praised Lily as "an engaging child who recognizes and responds to kindness," while in Horn Book Christine M. Heppermann noted that an "appealing directness … marks her [Lilly's] narrative throughout." Noting that Sachs' text contains its characteristic "charms," a Publishers Weekly reviewer dubbed The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D "agreeable entertainment."
Sachs has become best known for her young-adult novels, and in The Fat Girl she takes on the delicate subject of body image and its relationships to social class and power. The novel focuses on Jeff, a popular teen who begins a friendship with the obese Ellen out of guilt after having made fun of her. Ellen begins to lose weight and becomes Jeff's girlfriend, while Jeff must eventually confront his own motives for befriending and then controlling Ellen. According to Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in an analysis of the novel for the Literature, Arts, and Medicine Online Database, Sachs considers The Fat Girl one of the most difficult books she has written. "While the book chronicles the pain and slow transformation of an adolescent girl buried in layers of fat that insulate and isolate her," wrote McEntyre, "it focuses even more closely on the development of the boy who takes what is at first a courageous and charitable interest in … her, and is ultimately forced to confront his own mixed motives for doing so."
Also for an older readership, Lost in America finds Jewish teen Nicole Nieman keeping one step ahead of the Nazis as they attempt to rout out the Jews in
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Nicole's French homeland. Away from home the night the Gestapo invades her home and capture her family, Nicole relies on her wits to survive the war and at age seventeen makes her way to the United States, where she lives with unkind relatives in New York City and attempts to adapt to a strange new culture. A sequel to Sachs' early novel A Pocket Full of Seeds, Lost in America was praised by a Kirkus Reviews contributor as "a moving, believable story … rich in historical details," while in Kliatt Janis Flint-Ferguson wrote that "Nicole's naive views of life in her new country are poignant."
In preparing to write a book, Sachs' first step is to conduct research on her subject, which can take a month or more. Next, she drafts a general outline of the book. After this, the actual writing begins which, according to Sachs, usually consists of a half of a chapter per day. While still following this regimen, the author has changed certain aspects of her writing over the years. When she started Sachs wrote in the third person, later switched to a first-person voice, and now uses both. Although Sachs initially incorporated certain events from her childhood into her books, she never repeats an actual incident from start to finish. "One thing you learn as a writer," she once disclosed, "is that you must distance yourself from your own life or nobody will want to read what you write. It's necessary to start off with something that matters to you, but you must learn how to open it up for your readers as well."
The author insists that her childhood love of books—which led to jobs as a librarian—was indispensable for her emergence as a popular children's author. "Read! As much and as widely as you can," she once urged those with dreams of authorship. "Read for pleasure and without realizing it, you will learn the craft of writing." She also insists that daydreaming "is indispensable for writers. Daydream! And if people … criticize you for wasting your time … tell them you are gathering material for your next book."
Explaining her satisfaction with her chosen career path as an author, Sachs once remarked that "one of the pleasures of writing is that what you couldn't do in your own life, you can do in your books. You have a second chance." This vocation has been rewarding for Sachs, and she concluded: "I feel very lucky in my life and my work…. Each book I write is a new territory for me, new research, new thoughts, new daydreams."
Biographical and Critical Sources
American Women Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 2, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults, Volume 6, Beacham Publishing (Osprey, FL), 1994.
Carpenter, Humphrey, and Mari Prichard, Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1984.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 2, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1976.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 35, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.
Silvey, Anita, editor, Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1995.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Booklist, January 1, 1996, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Ghosts in the Family, p. 835; June 1, 1997, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of Another Day, p. 1686; July 1, 1998, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Surprise Party, p. 1768; August, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of JoJo and Winnie Again: More Sister Stories, p. 2141; May 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, p. 1528.
Book Report, November-December, 1997, Marjorie Stumpf, review of Another Day, p. 42; September, 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of JoJo and Winnie: Sister Stories, p. 261; August, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of JoJo and Winnie Again: More Sister Stories, p. 2141.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 2002, review of The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, p. 417.
Horn Book, December, 1983, Kate M. Flanagan, review of The Fat Girl, p. 719; July-August, 1998, Margaret A. Bush, review of Surprise Party, p. 497; March-April, 2002, Christine M. Heppermann, review of The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, p. 218.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1964, review of Amy Moves In, p. 453; March 15, 2002, review of The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, p. 425; March 1, 2005, review of Lost in America, p. 295.
Kliatt, March, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of Lost in America, p. 15.
New York Times Book Review, November 7, 1971; March 11, 1973; March 21, 1976; April 1, 1984, Barbara Cutler Helfgott, review of The Fat Girl, p. 29.
Plays, November, 1998, review of Surprise Party, p. 64.
Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1983, review of The Fat Girl, p. 115; December 11, 1995, review of Ghosts in the Family, p. 71; May 5, 1997, review of Another Day, p. 211; April 6, 1998, review of Surprise Party, p. 79; June 14, 1999, review of JoJo and Winnie, p. 70; April 8, 2002, review of The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, p. 228.
School Library Journal, December, 1995, Denise E. Agosto, review of Ghosts in the Family, p. 108; June, 1997, Susan W. Hunter, review of Another Day, p. 128; May, 1998, Carrie al Guarria, review of Surprise Party, p. 148; July, 1999, Adele Greenlee, review of JoJo and Winnie, p. 80; September, 2000, Lynda Ritterman, review of JoJo and Winnie Again, p. 208; March, 2002, Terrie Dorio, review of The Four Ugly Cats in Apartment 3D, p. 200.
Times Educational Supplement, March 18, 1988, Gerald Haigh, review of The Fat Girl, p. 61.
Times Literary Supplement, October 1, 1976; May 29, 1987.
Literature, Arts, and Medicine Online Database, http://endeavor.med/nyu/edu/lit-med/ (December 9, 1999), Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, review of The Fat Girl.
Marilyn Sachs Home Page, http://www.marilynsachs.com (September 17, 2005).
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