16 minute read

Kathleen Krull Biography (1952-)


Kathleen Krull has made a career of educating and entertaining children and young adults. She was headed for a writing career early in life, as she wrote in Something about the Author Autobiography Series (SAAS), becoming "a book addict" from the time she could read. Krull believes that "reading a lot is the main job requirement for being a writer." Encouraged by several of the nuns who taught her in Catholic school, she quickly began writing. Her earliest works, Krull once commented, included "A Garden Book (second grade) and Hair-Dos and People I Know (fifth)." By the time she graduated from college, she was certain she wanted to be a writer, but to make a living while she developed her craft, she entered the publishing business. "It was a way to work with real writers, learn from them, participate in a highly creative world, and get a paycheck all at the same time," she wrote in SAAS. Over a decade, through a series of jobs with various publishers, she rose from editorial assistant to senior editor and moved from the Midwest to San Diego, California. Editing hundreds of books, she worked with such authors as Tomie dePaola, Eve Bunting, Patricia Hermes, Anne Lindbergh, Jane Yolen, Charles Mikolaycak, Arnold Adoff, Amy Schwartz, Judy Delton, and Lael Littke.

Krull's first published works were brought out by companies that employed her. Then in 1984, with her solid credentials in writing and publishing, she became a full-time writer. Since then she has produced books covering a wide range of interests and age groups. While her work includes a "Trixie Belden" book, novels, a children's guide for saving the Earth, and even a book about writing successful books, Krull is especially well regarded by critics for her contributions to children's music appreciation. Krull's extensive background in music—she played several instruments as a child and minored in music during college—has made her "passionate about helping to ensure that music remains important in the lives of children."

Inspired by her eight years as a church organist (beginning when she was twelve), Songs of Praise is a collection of fifteen hymns accompanied by historical notes, alternative verses, piano scores, and guitar chords. This "stylish collection," as a Publishers Weekly writer described it, features hymns from England, Germany, Holland, and America, including "Amazing Grace," "Jesus Loves Me," and the Doxology. Phillis Wilson concluded in Booklist that this work, along with the illustrations of Kathryn Hewitt, creates a "veritable feast for the ears, the eyes, and the heart."

Gonna Sing My Head Off! American Folk Songs for Children, a comprehensive collection of sixty-two American songs, grew out of a love for the folk music Krull learned from her parents and from guitar study, as well as her "fear that traditional music was losing its place in the lives of children." From "I've Been Working on the Railroad," "Take Me out to the Ball Game," and "Oh, Susanna" to "What Have They Done to the Rain?," this "superbly edited" collection, according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, is "an invigorating musical tour of American history and American regions." Oscar Brand wrote in New York Times Book Review that the keys in the arrangements "are eminently singable, the chords easily playable," making the collection "totally enjoyable." A Kirkus Reviews critic praised the "scrupulous" care the author took in relating the origins of the songs, while Hazel Rochman of Booklist stated that Krull's headnotes "express the sense of connection with ordinary people's lives that is at the heart of this collection." School Library Journal reviewer Ann Stell concluded, "Krull has amassed so many outstanding selections that no one will be disappointed," adding that those who "get a hold of this book are sure to sing their heads off." This same book made a reappearance in 2003 under the title I Hear America Singing: Folk Songs for American Families, complete with a compact disc containing twenty-three of the sixty-two songs featured in the book.

Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought) is another book that reveals Krull's passion for music and her use of research to unearth quirky facts. This work, which grew out of a lunchtime conversation with Kathryn Hewitt, profiles the lives of twenty composers and provides information about them that, as Malcolm Jones wrote in Newsweek, "unstuffs a host of shirts and delivers wonderful musical trivia." Classical composers J. S. Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, and Vivaldi, operetta composers Gilbert and Sullivan, ragtime composer Scott Joplin, and even folk singer Woody Guthrie are all featured here in humorous detail. A Publishers Weekly critic praised Krull's editorial work: "Krull masterfully distills the essentials of each musician's life into snappy prose. . . . Even those only remotely interested in music will be hooked." And that, the author once noted, was her intent: "If this book brings readers close (or closer) to the music, and to thinking about music as a career or hobby, that would be my ultimate goal—but in the meantime, eccentric people make for fascinating reading."

Another musically-inspired offering from Krull is MIs for Music, an eclectic, largely pictorial introduction to the world of song. "The range of words explored [in M Is for Music] is almost as vast as the world of music itself," commented School Library Journal contributor Jane Marino. For example, on the "B is for Beatles" page, three "bees" labeled with the names of classical composers—Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms—fly around the modern British rock band. Performers from jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong to rock musician Frank Zappa, instruments from accordion to zither, and musical styles from a cappella to zydeco are also included. The "Musical Notes from A to Z" appendix provides explanations for the terms listed in the text, but not for the numerous items that appear only in Stacy Innerst's complex, collage-like illustrations. "Best for those ready to explore an interest in music, this will also appeal to those just learning the alphabet," thought a Kirkus Reviews critic.

It's My Earth, Too: How I Can Help the Earth Stay Alive provides a good example of Krull's contribution of other nonfiction subjects to children's literature. The volume received attention as the first children's book to be printed on recycled paper with environmentallyfriendly soybean inks and water-soluble glue, thus reinforcing the book's message. Throughout the book, Krull reminds children that judicious use of technology is best, and provides twelve suggestions for children that generally emphasize changing habits, thinking about one's actions, and trying to avoid greediness. With its list of suggestions, the book "could be very useful as an idea starter or discussion book in classrooms," Tina Smith Entwistle remarked in a School Library Journal review, while Kay Weisman of Booklist found that the "simple, rhythmic text" would be "particularly appropriate for this age level."

Krull also investigates individual American communities such as New York City's Chinatown and California's Latino neighborhoods in her "World of My Own" series. The purpose of the series, she once said, "is to explore, from a child's point of view, various American communities that for one reason or another not many people know about. We may eat in the restaurants of these comparatively unassimilated neighborhoods or read about them when there are problems, but most people in fact know very little about life there." In conducting her research, Krull added, "Interviews with actual children and families in these neighborhoods allowed me to do one of my favorite things, which is to ask nosy questions." Reviewing the first two books, City within a City: How Kids Live in New York's Chinatown and The Other Side: How Kids Live in a California Latino Neighborhood, Booklist's Rochman noted that these "lively photo-essays" are written in "an informal, chatty style, weaving together information about family, friends, school, [and] religion," among other things. Krull uses quotations to allow her subjects to speak for themselves; as a result, Roger Sutton remarked in Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, "in many ways, these books are a model for the genre." Reviewing all of the books in the series, Leigh Fenly similarly concluded in San Diego Union-Tribune that while multicultural books are now a "hot market," Krull "refreshingly takes the genre into the reality zone."

Returning to the quirky side of nonfiction, in 1994, Krull published Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought), which a Kirkus Reviews critic called "another colorful, enthralling excursion into our cultural heritage." With entertaining details about authors from Hans Christian Andersen to Jack London, "Krull knows exactly how to captivate her audience" by combining historical particulars with "amusing anecdotes that put flesh and blood on dry literary bones," a Publishers Weekly critic stated. Nevertheless, "the glimpses she provides are respectful of their times and influences without being dull," School Library Journal contributor Sally Margolis noted, which should be "enough to whet readers' appetites for more biography and for the writers' actual works," as Mary Harris Veeder concluded in Booklist. In 1995, Krull ventured on to the world of painting, sculpture, and other fine arts by compiling yet another intriguing nonfiction volume, Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought).

Krull wrote in SAAS that the "what the neighbors thought" approach helps her create "warts and all" portraits that are "lively and humanizing." Being a successful biographer, according to Krull, requires not only "having good research skills" but "being a good listener," as well as "being nosy" and having a taste for gossip. "Gossip is underrated as a motive for studying history," she commented. "As JFK once said about or to J. Edgar Hoover, 'All history is gossip.'" For example, Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought) features both political and personal details about each chief executive, including hints of scandal, such as President Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs. This, like the rest of the series, displays Krull's "proven knack for delivering generous dollops of covert asides along with fun facts and pertinent information," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer.

Outside the "Lives of" series but in a similar vein is They Saw the Future: Psychics, Oracles, Scientists, Inventors, and Pretty Good Guessers, which profiles a dozen people, including Nostradamus, Marshall McLuhan, and Jeane Dixon, who made detailed predictions about the world with varying degrees of success. This volume has a "healthily skeptical" tone, encouraging readers to scrutinize even apparently accurate projections, while also providing extensive information about the times and cultures in which her subject lived, reported a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Krull likes to show how famous people overcame adversity. Many of those she has written about have had to surmount major obstacles, and she has found that reading about this appeals to children. An example comes from Wilma Rudolph, the subject of Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman. After contracting polio as a child, Rudolph was told she was unlikely to regain the ability to walk. However, she managed not only to walk but to run, and she eventually became an Olympic champion. Krull originally set out to write about Rudolph in Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (and What the Neighbors Thought), but decided Rudolph's story was so fascinating it merited an entire book.

Another courageous American who battled against adversity is profiled in Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez. Though this biography, aimed at elementary school children, gives the details of the activist's childhood and discusses the early years of his movement to organize migrant farm workers in California, the majority of the book deals with the National Farm Workers Association's 1965 strike. "Focusing on one event makes the story appealing to younger readers," thought School Library Journal reviewer Sue Morgan. Because of that limited focus, Krull can provide gripping details of the strike and accompanying three hundred mile protest march, such as the fact that the marcher's feet blistered so badly that they bled. For readers who are interested in what happened to Chavez after 1965, Krull provides an author's note outlining his later life. Overall, Susan Dove Lempke concluded in Horn Book, Harvesting Hope "is a powerfully moving tribute to an important person in U.S. history."

Krull has also written fictional tales for children, some of which feature the character Alexandra Fitzgerald. In Alex Fitzgerald's Cure for Nightmares, the nine year old attempts to cope with the nightmares she has been having since she began to live with her father in California. Alexandra is worried that the other children in school will find out about her nightmares, but when she finally tells a friend about her problem, she is given some worry dolls. The nightmares finally stop. Krull once commented, "The inspiration for this book combined my stepdaughter's insomnia (and her resulting obsession with worry dolls) with my own experiences as a California transplant." Booklist's Wilson found the story "a sensitive and upbeat handling of a problem.... presented within an engaging school-activities plot."

The book's sequel, Alex Fitzgerald, TV Star, was inspired by an article about a girl "chosen to play the part of the young Madonna in a Pepsi commercial," Krull once noted. "I got to wondering how sudden fame would affect an ordinary kid. Also, with hours of my childhood spent at the piano, I've had my own visions of fame and stardom." In this story, fourth grader Alex is invited to audition for a music video. Excited about the celebrity status she imagines, she forgets to buy her father a Christmas present, asks him to spend more money than he has, and annoys her friends. Krull's "pleasant, entertaining story," according to Stephanie Zvirin of Booklist, is "wrapped around an important lesson." A Kirkus Reviews writer praised the author's "good ear for dialogue," while Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books critic Ruth Ann Smith concluded that readers will "sympathize with Alex's dreams of stardom, especially since they don't materialize."

Explaining her eclectic writing credits, Krull once observed: "I seem to write several different kinds of books, and I hope to do even more in the future. My passions include music, humor, gardening, food, health, history, travel, and people—neighbors and others. I aim for making my books as fresh as I can—using ideas and combinations of words only I would use. I try to be clear and funny and relevant to what is going on in children's lives, as well as true to my own memories of childhood. My 'hidden agenda' is always to create books that will mean as much to readers as books have meant to me."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Graham, Paula, editor, Speaking of Journals: Children's Book Writers Talk about Their Diaries, Boyds Mills Press (Honesdale, PA), 1999.

Krull, Kathleen, M Is for Music, illustrated by Stacy Innerst, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2003.

Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 106, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.


Booklist, November 15, 1988, Phillis Wilson, review of Songs of Praise, p. 586; June 15, 1990, Phillis Wilson, review of Alex Fitzgerald's Cure for Nightmares, p. 1986; March 1, 1991, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Alex Fitzgerald, TV Star, p. 1388; July, 1992, Kay Weisman, review of It's My Earth, Too: How I Can Help the Earth Stay Alive, p. 1941; October 15, 1992, Hazel Rochman, review of Gonna Sing My Head Off! American Folk Songs for Children, p. 424; April 15, 1994, Hazel Rochman, review of City within a City: How Kids Live in New York's Chinatown and The Other Side: How Kids Live in a California Latino Neighborhood; September 15, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought); October 15, 1994, p. 436; July, 1995, p. 1875; November 1, 1995, p. 468; May 1, 1996, p. 1503; March 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (and What the Neighbors Thought), p. 1147; June 1, 2003, Traci Todd, review of Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez, pp. 1795-1796; August 1, 2003, review of M Is for Music, p. 1019.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, September, 1988, p. 12; May, 1991, Ruth Ann Smith, review of Alex Fitzgerald, TV Star, pp. 221-222; October, 1992, p. 47; April, 1993, p. 256; May, 1994, Roger Sutton, review of City within a City and The Other Side.

Children's Digest, September-October, 2003, review of I Hear America Singing!: Folk Songs for American Families, p. 28.

Constitutional Commentary, summer, 2002, Luke Paulsen, review of A Kid's Guide to America's Bill of Rights, pp. 291-295.

Horn Book, November-December, 1994, p. 745; May-June, 1996, p. 349; September-October, 1996, p. 616; July-August, 2003, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Harvesting Hope, pp. 480-481; January-February, 2004, Joanna Rudge Long, review of The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss, p. 103.

Instructor, October, 1997, Judy Freeman, review of Lives of the Athletes: Thrills, Spills (and What the Neighbors Thought), p. 24.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1991, review of Alex Fitzgerald, TV Star, p. 730; October 1, 1992, review of Gonna Sing My Head Off!, p. 1257; September 15, 1994, review of Lives of the Writers; January 15, 2002, review of Clip Clip Clip: Three Stories about Hair, p. 106; May 15, 2003, review of What Really Happened in Roswell?: Just the Facts (Plus the Rumors) about UFOs and Aliens, p. 753; July 1, 2003, review of Harvesting Hope, p. 911; August 1, 2003, review of M Is for Music, p. 1019; September 15, 2003, review of The Book of Rock Stars: Twenty-four Musical Icons That Shine Through History, p. 1177.

Newsweek, November 22, 1993, Malcolm Jones, review of Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought).

New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1992, Oscar Brand, "These Songs Were Made for You and Me," review of Gonna Sing My Head Off!, p. 44; October 3, 1993, p. 31; October 23, 1994, p. 30; April 23, 1995, p. 27; September 10, 1995, p. 35; November 16, 2003, Paul O. Zelinsky, review of M Is for Music, p. 37.

Publishers Weekly, November 8, 1987; October 5, 1992, review of Gonna Sing My Head Off!, p. 72; January 25, 1993, review of Songs of Praise, p. 88; February 22, 1993, review of Lives of the Musicians, pp. 96-97; May 30, 1994, p. 58; August 1, 1994, review of Lives of the Writers, p. 79; May 15, 1995, review of VIsfor Victory: America Remembers World War II, p. 75; April 29, 1996, review of Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World's Fastest Woman, p. 73; June 8, 1998, review of Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought), p. 60; June 7, 1999, review of They Saw the Future: Psychics, Oracles, Scientists, Inventors, and Pretty Good Guessers, p. 84; February 25, 2002, review of Clip Clip Clip, p. 66; June 3, 2002, review of VIsfor Victory, p. 91; May 5, 2003, review of Harvesting Hope, p. 221; July 7, 2003, review of What Really Happened in Roswell?, p. 73; September 8, 2003, review of M Is for Music, p. 74; December 22, 2003, The Book of Rock Stars, p. 62; January 12, 2004, review of The Boy on Fairfield Street, p. 54.

San Diego Union-Tribune, August 7, 1994, Leigh Fenly, review of "World of My Own" series.

School Library Journal, May, 1991, p. 80; July, 1992, Tina Smith Entwistle, review of It's My Earth, Too, p. 70; October, 1992, Ann Stell, review of Gonna Sing My Head Off!, p. 105; May, 1993, p. 117; July, 1994, p. 111; October, 1994, Sally Margolis, review of Lives of the Writers, pp. 134-135; December, 1994, p. 77; October, 1995, p. 164; June, 1996, p. 116; March, 2002, Jody McCoy, review of Clip Clip Clip, p. 192; February, 2003, Lee Bock, review of Wilma Unlimited, p. 97; June, 2003, Sue Morgan, review of Harvesting Hope, pp. 129-130; September, 2003, Jane Marino, review of M Is for Music, pp. 200-201; October, 2003, Jeffrey Hastings, review of The Night the Martians Landed, pp. 193-194, Ann G. Brouse, review of What Really Happened in Roswell?, p. 194, and review of Harvesting Hope, p. S39; January, 2004, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of The Boy on Fairfield Street, p. 119.

Skipping Stones, March-April, 2003, review of Harvesting Hope, p. 32.

Teacher Librarian, September-October, 1998, Teri Lesesne, "The Many Lives of Kathleen Krull."


Kathleen Krull Web Site, http://www.kathleenkrull.com/ (April 15, 2002).*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) BiographyKathleen Krull (1952-) Biography - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights