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Wendie C(orbin) Old (1943-) Biography

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

Born 1943, in Philadelphia, PA; Education: West Virginia University, B.A., 1966; University of Kentucky, M.L.S., 1969. Hobbies and other interests: Drawing, gardening, sewing, travel, grandchildren, photography.


Office—Harford County Public Library, 1221-A Brass Mill Rd., Belcamp, MD 21017.


Baltimore County Public Library, MD, children's librarian, 1969-77 and 1989—, part-time librarian, 1977-89. New England MG "T" Register, Ltd., convention chair, 1983.


Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, American Library Association, Authors Guild, Maryland Library Association, Maryland Writer's Association.

Honors Awards

Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citation, National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)/Children's Book Council (CBC), 1996, for Marian Wright Edelman: Fighting for Children's Rights; best unpublished picture book manuscript award, Maryland Writer's Association, 1999, for Dark; Boston Globe—Horn Book honor book, notable book citation, Wendie C. Old American Library Association, Blue Ribbon List of Best Books, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies citation, NCSS/CBC, Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12 designation, National Science Teachers of America, and Best Books for Children citation, Capitol Choices, all 2002, and Orbis Pictus Award honor book, 2003, all for To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers; (with others) Best Book Award—Gold Seal, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, for Busy Fingers.



Stacy Had a Little Sister, illustrated by Judith Friedman, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 1995.

(With Claudine Wirths and Mary Bowman-Kruhm, under joint pseudonym C. W. Bowie) Busy Toes, illustrated by Fred Willingham, Whispering Coyote Press (Watertown, MA), 1998.

To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers (nonfiction), illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, Clarion (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Claudine Wirths and Mary Bowman-Kruhm, under joint pseudonym C. W. Bowie) Busy Fingers, illustrated by Fred Willingham, Whispering Coyote Press (Watertown, MA), 2003.


Marion Wright Edelman: Fighting for Children's Rights, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1995.

Duke Ellington: Giant of Jazz, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1996.

George Washington, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1997, revised edition, 2003.

Thomas Jefferson, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1997, revised edition, 2003.

Louis Armstrong: King of Jazz, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1998.

James Monroe, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 1998, revised edition, 2003.

The Wright Brothers: Inventors of the Airplane, Enslow Publishers (Springfield, NJ), 2000.

The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun, illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2004.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Cricket, SCBW Bulletin, Discovery (in Braille), and Venture; feature writer for Parkville Reporter/Belair Booster Weekly newspapers. Stories included in beginning readers, Johns Hopkins University Center of Research on Effective Schooling—Success for All program, 1994; and anthologized in Ten for Christmas, Scholastic, 1999.

Author's works have been translated into Spanish.

Work in Progress

More biographies, more picture books, and some elementary-grade fiction.


While children's author Wendie C. Old has written biographies for older students as well as picture books for younger readers, her most notable—and most award-winning—book combines aspects of both. To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers tells the story of the first controlled heavier-than-air flights in fifteen short, heavily illustrated chapters that total only forty-eight oversize pages. As School Library Journal reviewer Harriett Fargnoli noted, there have been many biographies of Wilbur and Orville Wright written for children, but Old's tale is more focused on the human side of invention than most. "Her story ultimately shows how the brothers worked together—almost in tandem—like the bicycle wheels in their shop," Fargnoli explained, with Orville coming up with ideas and Wilbur working out the details. "The importance of the brothers' inquisitiveness, personal and intellectual partnership, and complementary processes of problem solving are consistent themes that inform the account without undue moralizing," Betty Carter added in a Horn Book review. To Fly does not overlook the scientific and technical side of the Wright's accomplishments; Old also includes a description of how the Wright brothers created a wind tunnel with a washtub to study air pressure, as well as how they arrived at many of their other technical innovations. To Fly "reads comfortably like a story, but is clearly nonfiction," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor; as Carolyn Phelan commented in Booklist, Old achieves this effect in part by "using intriguing details to enliven the account without distorting the larger picture."

In partnership with fellow writers Claudine Wirths and Mary Bowman-Kruhm, Old has also created the pre-school picture books Busy Toes and Busy Fingers. Each book describes some of the things that can be done with fingers and toes. In Busy Toes, the digits can wave, draw, pick things up, burrow in the sand, pet a dog, or take a bath, for example, while even tiny fingers can play games like Itsy-Bitsy Spider, say things using sign language, and paint. The books' texts are very simple, with only a few words per page; for example, the spread where the busy toes—and their owner—take a bath says simply "Soapy toes." The "solid concepts" are "clearly pictured," Jane Marino commented in a School Library Journal review of Busy Fingers, while Booklist contributor Lauren Peterson, noting the familiarity of the activities portrayed, declared Busy Fingers "a comforting book to snuggle up with at the end of a busy day."

Old told Something about the Author: "I began writing in high school to entertain myself and my friends—mostly silly poetry and tales of adventure. My Beware the Babysitting Job began with my friend arriving at a babysitting job (the only paying job available to young females in the 1950s) and promptly being kidnapped and taken off to have many adventures. Although my version never got published, another author has since used that title.

"While home with my first child, I tried to earn money making candles. (Don't do it. You don't make any money at it.) I went back to work as a children's librarian. When I retired to have my second child, I tried another way to make money—writing children's books. I thought I would put my children through college with the income from my books. After all, how hard could it be? I was a trained children's librarian. I already knew everything there was to know about children's books, right?


"In 1989, I went back to working full-time as a children's librarian to help pay for college expenses. A publisher finally bought one of my books in 1993, ten years after I began writing them, and I've had one or two published a year ever since.

"With my biographies, I try to make dead guys come to life. What was it like living way back then? Why did people in earlier times think the way they did? It helps that I live in a 1730 stone farmhouse in Maryland. I actually know what it's like to cook over a fire and on a woodstove, and to grow and can my own food. I've done a lot of camping and have been around horses. Therefore I know how slowly people used to travel when walking or riding a horse.

"When I choose a person to write about, I try to learn as much about them as possible. I read the available literature. I travel to their home place and talk to the people there. I try to get a sense of what the area looked like when they lived there. If their home or neighborhood, or where they worked, still exists, I will take many photographs. Some of these photographs might be used in the book when it is published.

"After I have piles of note cards and lots of photographs—both purchased and those I have taken—I arrange my material into subject headings. Then I take the cards and arrange them in chronological order and divide them into chapters. Finally I sit at my computer with that chapter's pile of cards and begin to write.

"The information on one card leads to the next card, and the next, and the next. Pages of paragraphs begin rolling onto my computer screen. Sometimes I'll have several cards with the same or similar information on them. I'll sit and think about the information until it mushes together in my mind, then I'll quickly type it into the chapter.

"If I find that something is missing—a fact or some information I have to find—I may call the library right then to get the answer. I have a phone right beside my computer. Or I may look it up on the Internet. Or else I make a note to find the information when I go back to work at my day job—as a librarian.

"Once I have written the biography, I put it aside for a day or two, or a week or two, if I have the time. When I look at it again, I smooth out my writing. Sometimes I must cut out less-important events, if the work turns out to be longer than the contract called for.

"At least two of my biographies turned out to be too long. One editor had to eliminate one chapter completely to shorten the book. The other editor decided she wanted more of the information I had removed about the subject and asked me to make parts of the book longer—even though that made the book much longer than the publisher had wanted. Later other parts of the book needed to be cut to bring the book within the required 128 pages.

" To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers is based on material that was cut out of my longer biography about the Wright brothers. That editor just wanted a short bit about the First Flight and more about their life afterward. And yet, I felt there was so much more neat information about the First Flight that I wanted to tell. So I created a whole new book about Orville and Wilbur Wright that ended with the First Flight.

" The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun came about when I discovered that there were no more books in print telling about the origin and details of that holiday. But the editor wanted more. She wanted jokes added. At first I panicked. I don't tell jokes well. Then I went online and asked my writer friends if they knew any good jokes about groundhogs. I was flooded with jokes—some great and some really awful ones. I also received instruction from a professional joke writer as to how to write jokes and riddles.

"My picture books and magazine stories come from events around me. A newspaper article about cats sparked my story titled 'The Cat in the Manger.' Parents looking for books to help their child cope with a baby's S.I.D.S. death (nothing was available) forced me to think about, and create Stacy Had a Little Sister."

As Old explained, the picture-books Busy Toes and Busy Fingers had their genesis during a trip home from a writer's conference. "Picture rain. Picture darkness. Picture three tired writers in my old Dodge Caravan driving along the Pennsylvania Turnpike—and the Caravan starts hydroplaning. Picture me worrying that we are going to slide off the road and down the mountainside any second now.

"The writer in the backseat asks, 'What do you do with toes?'

"The other two say, 'Huh?'

"'What can you do with toes? All I can think of is digging in the sand.'

"Driver gets a glimmer that the writer in the backseat (now to be revealed as Claudine Wirths) is trying to get our minds off the terrible driving conditions by giving us a writing problem. I toss my purse into the backseat.

"'Write these down,' I say. 'In my purse is a small flashlight, pens, and a small notebook.' (Okay, I'm a mom. I carry lots of emergency things in a large purse.)

"We spend the rest of the trip thinking of things you can do with toes.

"Then we polished the picture book text by e-mailing it back and forth. And—it sold. (After being sent to ten or fifteen publishers by the third writer of this group—Mary Bowman-Kruhm.) We decided to use a pen name with the initials of all three writers: 'C' for Claudine, 'W' for Wendie, 'Bowie' for Mary Bowman-Kruhm.

"The publisher spent six months looking for just the right illustrator. Fred Willingham's drawings of children enchanted all of us. We feel very luck that he also illustrated our second book, Busy Fingers, as well.

Biographical and Critical Sources


Biography, spring, 2003, Peter Plagans, review of To Fly: The Story of the Wright Brothers, p. 390.

Booklist, January 1, 1995, Kay Weisman, review of Stacy Had a Little Sister, p. 826; September 15, 1997, Denia Hester, review of George Washington, p. 233; February 1, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of Thomas Jefferson, p. 916; January 1, 1999, Annie Ayres, review of Busy Toes, p. 886; October 1, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of To Fly, p. 318; August, 2003, Lauren Peterson, review of Busy Fingers, p. 1987.

Horn Book, November-December, 2002, Betty Carter, review of To Fly, p. 779; January-February, 2004, Elizabeth Bush, review of To Fly, p. 32.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2002, review of To Fly, p. 1317; June 15, 2003, review of Busy Fingers, p. 856.

Language Arts, November, 2003, "Orbis Pictus Honor Books," pp. 159-161.

New York Times Book Review, November 17, 2002, Peter Plagens, review of To Fly, p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 2000, review of Busy Toes, p. 213; July 22, 2002, review of To Fly, p. 178.

School Library Journal, February, 1995, Judy Constantinides, review of Stacy Had a Little Sister, p. 78; December, 1995, Katrina Yurenka, review of Marian Wright Edelman: Fighting for Children's Rights, p. 112; November, 1996, Renee Steinberg, review of Duke Ellington: Giant of Jazz, p. 130; December, 1997, Mary Mueller, review of George Washington, p. 144; March, 1998, David A. Lindsey, review of Thomas Jefferson, p. 236; November, 1998, Kristen Oravec, review of Louis Armstrong, p. 141; December, 1998, Joy Fleishacker, review of Busy Toes, p. 81; July, 2000, Jean Gaffney, review of The Wright Brothers: Inventors of the Airplane, p. 120; October, 2002, Harriett Fargnoli, review of To Fly, p. 190; September, 2003, Jane Marino, review of Busy Fingers, p. 169; October, 2003, review of To Fly, p. 47.


Charlesbridge Press Web site, http://www.charlesbridge.com/ (September 20, 2004).

Ravenstone Press Web site, http://ravenstonepress.com/ (October 31, 2003), "Wendie C. Old."

Wendie C. Old Home Page, http://www.wendieold.com/ (June 1, 2004).*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - Career