8 minute read

Karen Romano Young (1959–) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights

Born 1959, in Ithaca, NY; Education: Syracuse University, B.S. (education), 1981. Politics: Democrat.


Agent—Faye Bender, Faye Bender Literary Agency, 337 W. 76th St., No. E1, New York, NY 10023.


Scholastic News, New York, NY, writer and assistant then associate editor, 1981–83; freelance writer and editor, 1983–.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Authors Guild, National Marine Educators Association.

Honors Awards

Smithsonian Best Book Award, and Oppenheimer Toy Portfolio Gold Medal, both 2002, both for Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking.


(With Marlene Barron) Ready, Set, Read and Write: Sixty Playful Activities for You and Your Child to Share, illustrated by Elaine Yabroudy, Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 1995.

(With Marlene Barron) Ready, Set, Count: Sixty Playful Activities for You and Your Child to Share, illustrated by Elaine Yabroudy, Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 1995.

Karen Romano Young

(With Marlene Barron) Ready, Set, Cooperate: Sixty Playful Activities for You and Your Child to Share, Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 1996.

(With Marlene Barron) Ready, Set, Explore: Sixty Playful Activities for You and Your Child to Share, Wiley (Hoboken, NJ), 1996.

The Ice's Edge: The Story of a Harp Seal Pup, illustrated by Brian Shaw, Soundprints (Norwalk, CT), 1996.

Guinness Record Breakers, Guinness Media, 1997.

The Beetle and Me: A Love Story (young-adult novel), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Video (young-adult novel), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 1999.

Arctic Investigations: Exploring the Frozen Ocean, Raintree Steck-Vaughn (Austin, TX), 2000.

Outside In (young-adult novel), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2001.

Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking, illustrated by Ingo Fast, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2002.

Cobwebs (young-adult novel), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2004.

Across the Wide Ocean (young-adult novel), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2007.

The Rainbow Timeline: A Gay Civil Rights History (young-adult nonfiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 2007.

The Librarian's Child (middle-grade fiction), Greenwillow (New York, NY), 2008.


The Beetle and Me was adapted as an audiobook, Recorded Books, 2001.


Beginning her career as a writer and editor for an educational current events magazine, Karen Romano Young moved to writing book-length nonfiction before tackling her first young-adult novel, The Beetle and Me: A Love Story, published in 1999. Young's first novel captured the hearts of critics with its deft blend of romance and coming-of-age themes peopled by surprising and likable characters. She has followed this success with several other books, among them Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking, Cobwebs, Across the Wide Ocean, and The Rainbow Timeline. In addition to fiction, Young has also coauthored several activity books for younger children that are based on Montessori teaching methods: Ready, Set, Count, as well as the related Ready, Set, Read and Write, Ready, Set, Explore, and Ready, Set, Cooperate. School Library Journal reviewer Kevin Wayne Booe predicted that "parents will probably have as much fun with these activities as their children will."

Born in upstate New York in 1959, Young grew up in southern New England. "I have been an avid reader since I was a very young child," the author once recalled to SATA, "and my parents and grandparents all loved to read to all of us children. There's no better preparation for a writer than so very much joyful reading.

"I always wanted to be a writer and I was always writing something. Along the way I tried art, film, teaching, biology, nursing, library science, marketing, and more. Through a piece of luck—and a friend or two—I found myself walking into an interview at Scholastic. It was my first visit to a children's publishing house. I have never looked back. There could be no greater happiness in work for me than writing books for children—unless one day I woke up with illustrating talent!"

In Young's first novel, The Beetle and Me, fifteen-year-old Daisy sets her heart on restoring the old Volkswagen Beetle rusting in an outbuilding on the family farm, despite the discouragement she receives from the other crack mechanics in her family. Booklist reviewer Jean Franklin described the progress of Young's plot as: "Girl risks all to save car; girl loses car; girl gets car back—sort of—and finds her true self." The seven chapters of the novel correspond to seven months in the life of its protagonist, as she stubbornly refuses all offers of help to fix up the car. Meanwhile, Daisy endures the disappointment of finding out that the boy she has a crush on is interested in her boisterous cousin, as well as the realization that Billy, an old friend and fellow car buff, is in love with her. "Young shows many types of love: mature love; intense and unrequited teen love; and steady, slow-growing someday love," observed Cindy Darling Codell in School Library Journal, adding praise for Young's successful creation of "strong, likable female characters who still find men very attractive." Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly predicted that "readers of both sexes are sure to be swept up in the vibrant characterizations, finely nuanced emotions and detailed auto arcana" that comprise the story of The Beetle and Me.

In Video Young takes a darker turn. The author's 1999 novel focuses on the consequences involved when high schooler Eric Gooch secretly videotapes fellow classmate Janine Gagnon for his spring term project and discovers that the girl's solitary treks into the wetlands near her home are also witnessed by a suspicious older man. The narrative alternates between first-person accounts by Eric and Janine detailing each teen's view of events. "The author creates a compelling picture of Janine as a once popular girl, fallen from favor, and her simultaneous craving for solitude and attention," remarked Sybil Steinberg in Publishers Weekly.

Set in 1968, during the middle of the Vietnam War era, Outside In focuses on preteen Cherie Witkowski, whose job as a newspaper carrier makes her aware of existing social and political divisiveness. The upheaval reflected in newspaper headlines is reflected in Cherie's own life: the arrival of another sibling forces the family to move, a girl her age is abducted from a nearby town, and Cherie herself struggles with the emotional ups and downs of a budding romance. In Booklist Ann O'Malley praised Young's depiction of Cherie's parents, who "come across as sensitive, loving, and involved … without being saintly," while in School Library Journal Connie Tyrrell Burns wrote that, although Cherie's emotional "paralysis" seems dramatic, the story "adeptly paints an authentic picture of the '60s." Young "excels at creating spunky and capable young female protagonists," concluded Paula Rohrlick in Kliatt, "and at evoking family life in all its confusion."

Cobwebs finds sixteen-year-old Brooklynite Nancy somewhat mystified about her quirky yet loving family, each member of which seems to have some sort of spider-like quality. Her elderly grandparents, who live upstairs in the family's brownstone, are known as healers whose treatments utilize the cobweb strands they produce. Her mother, an agoraphobic, is a weaver, while her father, Ned—full name, Arachnid—is able to generate sticky ropes that can suspend him from high buildings. Nancy's biracial parents love each other but live apart during the warmer months, when Ned sets up temporary digs on a nearby rooftop. While Nancy moves freely between the homes of her relatives, strange restrictions are placed on her after she reaches adolescence; for example, she is not allowed to shave her legs like other girls her age. Noting that "spider puns and inferences abound," a Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that readers will enjoy the tale's "super-natural" elements and share Nancy's fascination with a haunting homeless boy named Dion. In School Library Journal Johanna Lewis praised Young's text as "simple and graceful," while Jennifer Mattson wrote in Booklist that creative-minded teen readers will enjoy the novel's "poetic, free-verse narrative, and the imaginative, comic book-inspired premise" of Young's complex story.

Young has channeled her love for marine science into several nonfiction books. Arctic Investigations: Exploring the Frozen Ocean presents an overview of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's research in the Arctic. More ocean science comes into play in a grand overview of the world of mapping in the award-winning Small Worlds: Map and Mapmaking. In 2004 the author carried her love for marine science aboard the research vessel Atlantis as it steamed into the East Pacific to explore the rift zone at the East Pacific Rise, located nine degrees north of the equator. This trip, part of the Extreme mission led by Craig Cary of the University of Delaware, involved diving in the submarine Alvin two miles down to the ocean floor for a first-hand look at the rift zone—including tall chimneys belching hot lava and the unique creatures that make their home in this environment. These discoveries led to Young's book about navigating at sea, Across the Wide Ocean, and to another book about Alvin.

Regarding her role as a writer, Young told SATA: "I think that when you're a writer you're alive to the world in a very special way. Although the years of junior high and high school were not particularly marvelous times in my life, I remember what I thought and saw and felt then most clearly. So must of the stories I write about are those years in my characters' lives."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, April 15, 1999, Jean Franklin, review of The Beetle and Me: A Love Story, p. 1523; April 1, 2002, Anne O'Malley, review of Outside In, p. 1320; January 1, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Cobwebs, p. 864.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2002, review of Outside In, p. 670; October 15, 2004, review of Cobwebs, p. 1015.

Kliatt, May, 2002, Paula Rohrlick, review of Outside In, p. 15; November, 2004, Claire Rosser, review of Cobwebs, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly, May 3, 1999, review of The Beetle and Me, p. 77; June 28, 1999, Jennifer M. Brown "Karen Romano Young," p. 25; September 13, 1999, review of Video, p. 85; May 13, 2002, review of Outside In, p. 71.

School Library Journal, August, 1996, Kevin Wayne Booe, review of Ready, Set, Count: Sixty Playful Activities for You and Your Child to Share and Ready, Set, Read, and Write: Sixty Playful Activities for You and Your Child to Share, p. 36; May, 1999, Cindy Darling Codell, review of The Beetle and Me, p. 133; April, 2000, Frances E. Millhouser, review of Arctic Investigations: Exploring the Frozen Ocean, p. 157; May, 2002, Connie Tyrrell Burns, review of Outside In, p. 164; June, 2003, David Pauli, review of Small Worlds: Maps and Mapmaking, p. 174; January, 2005, Johanna Lewis, review of Cobwebs, p. 139.


Karen Romano Young Home Page, http://www.karenromanoyoung.com (March 6, 2006).

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Carlos Watson Biography - Was a Student Journalist to Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) Biography