10 minute read

Priscilla Cummings (1951–) Biography

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

Born 1951, in Ludlow, MA; Education: University of New Hampshire, B.A. (English literature), 1973. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, playing piano, taking walks.


Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, Holyoke, MA, newspaper reporter, 1973–75; Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT, newspaper reporter, 1975–76; Richmond News Leader, Richmond, VA, newspaper reporter, 1976–82; magazine editor and writer, 1982–85; writer of children's books, 1986–.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Children's Book Guild of Washington, DC.

Honors Awards

Journalism awards from United Press International (UPI) News Editors of New England, National Federation of Press Women, and Virginia Press Association; Virginia Journalist of the Year, UPI, 1980; Arthur J. Blaney Award, 1982; Pick of the List, American Booksellers Association, 1997, and Maryland Black-eyed Susan Book List, 1999–2000, both for Autumn Journey; International Literacy Award, Metro-Washington Association for Childhood Education, 2001, for "Chadwick the Crab" books; Notable Children's Book selection, American Library Association (ALA), 2002, for A Face First; Children's Choice designation, Children's Book Council/International Reading Association, and New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age designation, both 2005, and ALA Best Books for Young Adults designation, 2006, all for Red Kayak; books named to various state reading lists.



Chadwick the Crab, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1986.

Chadwick and the Garplegrungen, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1987.

The Chadwick Coloring Book, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1988.

Chadwick's Wedding, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1989.

Chadwick Forever, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1993.

Meet Chadwick and His Friends, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1999.


Oswald and the Timberdoodles, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1990.

Sid and Sal's Famous Channel Marker Diner, illustratedn by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1991.

Toulouse: The Story of a Canada Goose, illustrated by A.R. Cohen, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 1995.

Chesapeake ABC, illustrated by David Aiken, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 2000.

Chesapeake 1 2 3, illustrated by David Aiken, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 2002.

Chesapeake Rainbow, illustrated by David Aiken, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 2004.

Santa Claws: The Christmas Crab, illustrated by Marcy Dunn Ramsey, Tidewater Publishers (Centreville, MD), 2006.


Autumn Journey, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.

A Face First, Dutton (New York, NY), 2001.

Saving Grace, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.

Red Kayak, Dutton (New York, NY), 2004.

What Mr. Mattero Did, Dutton (New York, NY), 2005.

Author's novels have been translated into Korean and German.


A former journalist, Priscilla Cummings first tried her hand at writing for young readers in 1986 with the picture book Chadwick the Crab. A blue crab who calls the Chesapeake Bay home, Chadwick and his other animal friends are featured in several books about the crustacean, introducing children to the importance of preserving the marine environment from pollution. The author's stories about the crab's adventures have proved popular in the Maryland region, with the "Chadwick the Crab" series selling over 300,000 copies.

Though many of Cummings' books are set on the Chesapeake Bay, she grew up on a dairy farm in western Massachusetts. "Even as a little girl, I enjoyed writing about animals," she recalled on the Children's Book Guild Web site. "Often, I illustrated those stories and made them into little books. Writing was something I did for fun." It was something she enjoyed so much, in fact, that she once had more than twenty pen pals from around the world. Cummings followed her dreams of writing and became a newspaper reporter, then moved to magazine writing and editing. When she moved to Maryland, she began learning about blue crabs, which interest inspired her to begin the "Chadwick the Crab" series. Along with the "Chadwick" books, Cummings has written several picture books featuring the Chesapeake Bay, and others featuring different animal characters.

After publishing several picture books, Cummings added a new dimension to her literature career, authoring novels for older readers, including Autumn Journey and A Face First. In an interview with Washington Post contributor Holly Smith, she confided that this transition was not easy. "I'm embarrassed to say this, but parts of Autumn Journey were written almost ten years before the book was published." Despite this slow start, however, the author persisted with her longer fiction, publishing Autumn Journey in 1997 and A Face First four years later. In describing Cummings' efforts, Smith claimed that "some authors write children's books with lovable characters and straightforward text. Others create complex novels that connect with tough-to-reach adolescents. A few can do both. Priscilla Cummings is one of them."

Described as presenting "true strength of character and respect for both family and the natural world" by School Library Journal contributor Susan Oliver, Autumn Journey follows the story of eleven-year-old Will Newcomb as his father loses his job and the family must leave their Maryland home and move in with relatives. Despite the extra chores, the fifth grader enjoys living on his grandfather's farm, but his parents' constant fighting disturbs him. When his grandfather suffers a heart attack, Will fears that his family will fall apart, a concern Cover of Cummings' A Face First, featuring artwork by Goro Sasaki. (Copyright © 2001 by Priscilla Cummings. Published by Puffin Books. Cover illustration copyright © Goro Sasaki/Bernstein and Andriulli, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)that intensifies after his father temporarily disappears. A Canada goose Will shoots but cannot bring himself to kill ultimately teaches the boy about perseverance, as he nurses the wounded creature back to health. Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a critic found Autumn Journey "less a tale of unmitigated woe than a beautifully told, uplifting story about the power and strength of family."

A Face First deals with a different type of tragedy in its focus on twelve-year-old Kelley, who suffers severe burns to her face, hands, and leg during a car accident. As her memory of the events preceding the accident return, Kelley realizes her mother's carelessness caused the crash and begins to blame the woman for the disfigurement. Forced to wear protective coverings, including a plastic pressure face mask, to help her skin heal, the sixth grader retreats into her own private world, rejecting efforts by family and friends to help comfort her. However, with the support of other burn victims, Kelley begins to realize that she is not alone in her suffering and starts working to accept the changes in her life. Critics noted Cummings' extensive knowledge of medical treatment for burn victims, evidenced in the author's descriptive passages of Kelley's time spent in the hospital. However, according to School Library Journal critic Cindy Darling, the author "really shines in showing the careful balance of push, pull, and nurturing that must be maintained by the dedicated medical staff." Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan remarked that this "knowledgeable but compassionate tone rings true," going on to call A Face First "a thoughtful read that will encourage empathy."

Another novel for young people, Saving Grace is set during the Great Depression, when eleven-year-old Grace is placed in a charity shelter until her family can afford to take care of her and her siblings. That Christmas, Grace is taken in by a wealthy family, and when the Hammonds announce that they may want to adopt her, Grace must decide whether to go back to her family and hope for better times or to stay where she is. "The realistic historical detail is an integral part of the family drama," wrote Hazel Rochman in her Booklist review. A Kirkus Reviews contributor also noted Cum-mings' attention to the time period, writing: "The vivid rendition of the Depression era makes this a valuable addition to the genre."

Red Kayak is a novel for older readers in which thirteen-year-old Brady befriends the DiAngelos, a well-off tourist family whose members the local Chesapeake Bay community view as outsiders. When some of Brady's friends play a prank that results in the death of the Di-Angelos's three-year-old son, the teen feels responsible; while he does not want to betray his friends, he wants to do what is right. "Cummings has created a multifaceted story that is as much about the families and life in the Chesapeake as it is about a prank gone awry," wrote Vicki Reutter in School Library Journal, while a Kirkus Reviews contributor found the novel to be a "well-written, sometimes gripping story." As Anne O'Malley noted in her Booklist review, "Brady's ultimate decision is both anguished and well reasoned, making for a realistic conclusion."

Similarly written for young teens, What Mr. Mattero Did tells the story of three seventh graders who accuse their school music teacher of sexual abuse. Mr. Matte-ro's own daughter, Melody, is in eighth grade; the story is told half from her perspective and details what the accusation does to her family. The other half is told from the viewpoint of Claire, one of the accusers. Knowing the truth of what happened—that Mr. Mattero is innocent—Claire begins to question her own actions, as well as those of her friends. Jennifer Hubert, reviewing the novel for Booklist, considered What Mr. Mattero Did "an age-appropriate introduction to a difficult topic," and a Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded: "Riveting and timely, this shocking slice-of-life drama is sure to keep pages turning." Jeffrey Hastings wrote in School Library Journal that "Cummings has crafted an engrossing and thought-provoking tale involving sensitive, real-life issues."

Cummings once told SATA: "When children at school ask me what advice I have for them, as future authors, I tell them they should be reading at every opportunity: books, magazines, newspapers. I tell them to write—not just stories, but poems, letters, journal entries, essays—whatever. And I tell them this: they should be learning to watch and listen.

"As a newspaper reporter for ten years, I learned that standing back to watch and listen often gave me as much compelling information as asking a question or demanding an answer. As an author, I have discovered that standing back to watch and listen gives me many of the valuable details that bring a character to life and drive a story forward.

"When I was on the burn unit of a local hospital researching my novel, A Face First, I stood back to become the eyes and ears of my character, Kelley, a twelve-year-old burn victim, slowly recovering in a hospital bed. Outside the window, I saw how 'the traffic never stopped.'In the book, I wrote: 'At two, three, four o'clock in the morning, headlights came and went steadily in the darkness. Like a pulse, Kelley couldn't help but think. Life outside the hospital went on: People got in their cars, buckled themselves in, and went Cover of Cummings' 2005 novel What Mr. Mattero Did. (Copyright © 2005 by Priscilla Cummings. Published by Dutton Children's Books. Cover photograph copyright © 2005 by Getty Images.)places, even if it was just to pick up shirts at the cleaners or get a gallon of milk at the 7-Eleven or order a meatball sub at Jerry's.'

"Inside the hospital, I listened to a burn patient cry as he struggled to eat a canned pear, and heard the sounds of a Medivac helicopter landing outside the window to deliver another patient into the emergency room entrance below. Both of these details also become part of Kelley's story.

"Standing back to watch, and listen, for the telling detail has been just as important to me as watching for the right ideas, and listening to my heart and mind for the story to emerge."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 1, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of A Face First, p. 1052; May 15, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Saving Grace, p. 1665; September 1, 2004, Anne O'Malley, review of Red Kayak, p. 106; July, 2005, Jennifer Hubert, review of What Mr. Mattero Did, p. 1915.

Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, February, 2001, review of A Face First, p. 220; October, 2004, Deborah Stevenson, review of Red Kayak, p. 66.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1997, review of Autumn Journey, p. 871; June 1, 2003, review of Saving Grace, p. 801; September 1, 2004, review of Red Kayak, p. 862; July 15, 2005, review of What Mr. Mattero Did, p. 788.

Kliatt, September, 2004, review of Red Kayak, p. 6.

Publishers Weekly, August 11, 1997, Claire Rosser, review of Autumn Journey, p. 402; January 22, 2001, review of A Face First, p. 325; August 29, 2005, review of What Mr. Mattero Did, p. 57.

School Library Journal, February, 1987, Hayden E. Atwood, review of Chadwick the Crab, p. 66; October, 1997, Susan Oliver, review of Autumn Journey, p. 132; February, 2001, Cindy Darling, review of A Face First, p. 117; June, 2003, review of Saving Grace, p. 137; September, 2004, Vicki Reutter, review of Red Kayak, p. 202; August, 2005, Jeffrey Hastings, review of What Mr. Mattero Did, p. 126.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2001, Mary E. Heslin, review of A Face First, p. 421; October, 2003, review of Saving Grace, p. 302; August, 2005, Rollie Welch, review of What Mr. Mattero Did, p. 214.

Washington Post, July 5, 2001, Holly Smith, "Maturing with Her Audience."


Cornell Maritime Press Web site, http://www.cornellmaritimepress.com/ (April 8, 2006), profile of Cummings.

Children's Book Guild Web site, http://www.childrensbookguild.org/ (December 14, 2001), "Pri-cilla Cummings."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) Biography