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Rachel Crandell (1943-) Biography

Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights

Born 1943, in Galveston, TX; Ethnicity: "Caucasian." Education: Principia College, B.A., 1965; Webster University, M.A.T., 1984. Politics: Independent. Religion: Christian Scientist. Hobbies and other interests: Nature education.


Worked at Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 1965, and Girl Scouts of Nations, Capital Council, 1966; nursery school teacher in Monrovia, IN, 1972-81; elementary school teacher in St. Louis, MO, 1981-2001; writer, 2001—. Wild Canid Survival and Research Center, board president, 1985-95; St. Louis Rainforest Advocates, president and board member, 1989-2002; Monteverde Conservation League, president, 2002; also worked as an environmental coordinator for a bilingual school in Costa Rica. Earthkeeper trainer for children; rainforest advocate and leader of trips to the tropics; public speaker and workshop presenter.


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

Honors Awards

Named National Firestone Eco-Educator of the Year, 1994; Environmental Award, Ladue Garden Club, 2001.


Six Inches to England: An Anthology of International Children's Stories, Andover-Green Book Publishers (Alton, NH), 2001.

(And photographer) Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2002.

Work in Progress

Michiq, Daughter of the Andes, a photo-essay about the Quechua people; "This Is the House that Graciliano Built," a rhyme about how indigenous people build their homes completely from the forest; research on the Embera-Choco people of Darien, Panama.

Rachel Crandell


Rachel Crandell told SATA: "I began Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play in an attempt to share what I was learning of the Maya Indian culture with other children besides my students. My second graders were pen pals with Maya children in Belize. On visits there, I had made lasting friends. The school is allotted only fifty cents per student per year. I wanted to help. So we built the village library by giving hundreds of books and our school's replaced computers. When I asked to come and live in the village, the elders said, 'Miss Rachel can stay as long as she wants.'

"During my sabbatical, I lived in the palm frond house the people built for me. I washed in the creek and did my laundry on a flat stone with the women. I learned to make tortillas, to carve in slate, to paddle upstream, to carry firewood with a tumpline across my forehead, to stalk jaguars in the night along the stream. I valued all the tasks the Maya people still do by hand, everyday tasks like house-building, digging cassava, planting corn, weaving, caring for children and livestock. I also traveled to many Maya villages in Guatemala, where half of the photographs in my book were taken.

"I wanted to record traditional parts of Maya culture that are still intact. I photographed people's hands closeup, along with a context picture of people doing their jobs. The New York publisher Henry Holt and Company liked the idea and wanted to make it into a children's book. So I added the text, glossary, introduction, and they did the map and layout.

"I took special pleasure in returning to Maya Centre Village, just months after Hands of the Maya came out, to give copies to the folks in the village whose pictures were in the book. It was pure joy to see how delighted they were to find themselves in a book. I explained that children all over the country would learn about them and what their lives are like by reading this book. They had become ambassadors!

"My husband and I have been sending children from the village primary school to high school in town, where it costs too much for their families to send them. Before 1994, no one was going on in school. In 1995, three students passed the Secondary Entrance Exam, knowing that they would receive financial help. Each year since, more and more children go to high school. Last year, there were eleven, this year fifteen. My proceeds from Hands of the Maya keep the scholarship fund going. The first boy to graduate has come back to the village to teach. That is why I keep selling my book.

"My advice to aspiring writers is the suggestion that you let your heart lead you. It was my love for the Maya people and their culture that inspired the book. I hope that Hands of the Maya will give readers insight into indigenous people's lives. My next book, Michiq, Daughter of the Andes, is a photo-essay of the Quechua people. Now I am getting to know the Embera-Choco people who live deep in the tropical forests of eastern Panama. My visits with them are like stepping back even farther in time. I want to keep writing about and photographing indigenous people and sharing their stories with children. Only when we understand each other will be truly value each other."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, May 1, 2002, Gillian Engberg, review of Hands of the Maya: Villagers at Work and Play, p. 1529.

Horn Book, October, 2002, review of Hands of the Maya, p. 593.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2002, review of Hands of the Maya.

School Library Journal, August, 2002, Daryl Grabarek, review of Hands of the Maya, p. 176.


Rainforest Rachel, http://www.rainforestrachel.com/ (March 6, 2003).

Additional topics

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