Liz

Sonneborn

Author of more than ninety books for young readers

 
 

I was born in the small city of Newark, Ohio, in 1960. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time riding my bike and looking for adventure. I was far more successful with the bike riding. Adventure, it turns out, was in fairly short supply then in Newark, so I was happy, at age ten, when my family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, a big city with plenty more going on.

I lived in Nashville during the 1970s—a weird time there for schoolkids. The federal government was then forcing Nashville and other places in the South to desegregate its schools. (Desegregation meant that schools had to admit both black and white students, who before that time generally had to go to different schools.) Many white people resisted desegregation, but my parents, and me, felt it was important. Between fourth and twelfth grade, I went to five different schools—some had mostly white students, some had mostly black students, and some were pretty mixed.

I graduated from Pearl High School, which had been a very important institution for educating African Americans since the 1860s. I count myself very lucky to have gone to Pearl. As a white kid, I was in the minority. But the Pearl community welcomed me with open arms, and, as a result, I remember my high school years with great fondness.

After graduating, I headed east to attend to Swarthmore College, which is near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It’s a well-known “grind” school, and it did its best to grind me down. I took my studies extremely seriously, which got in the way of any hope I had for a terribly misspent youth. I was officially an English major, but I was much more excited by my art history classes because, as everyone knows, nothing brings in the job offers like a keen understanding of Dadaism and the Italian Futurists.

When I left Swarthmore, I decided on a career in book publishing. I moved in with a few college friends in Manhattan and started pounding the pavement. By the flukiest of flukes, I interviewed for a job at Charles Scribners’ Sons my second day in New York, and on my fifth day there, I began work as an editorial assistant. As a junior editor, I spent about three years editing and acquiring trade books at Scribners and at Crown Publishing before I faced an uncomfortable truth—I was a fierce manuscript editor, but the worst acquiring editor ever to grace the world.

I had a strange obsession with reading young adult books, so children’s publishing seemed a natural segue. I took a job at Chelsea House Publishers, a nonfiction YA house. A few months later, I was a senior editor heading up the team that produced the Indians of North America series. Chelsea House was a crazy place to work, in a good way. I really enjoyed my four years there. I also got the chance to write two books for Chelsea, which made me realize that, although I had some skills as an editor, I had more as a writer.

I spent a few more years laboring away in the Trade Reference Department of Oxford University Press, where I had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the greatest scholars and historians in the United States. But the writing bug had bit, so I said goodbye to Oxford and a regular paycheck, and hello to the freelance life and perpetual uncertainty.

Since going freelance full-time in 1997, I’ve been incredibly busy and lucky. Concentrating on books for middle grade readers and young adults, I’ve had the chance to work with terrific editors from a host of great publishers, including Scholastic, Facts On File, Children’s Press, Lerner, Marshall Cavendish, Chelsea House, Rosen, Twenty-First Century, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Millbrook. I’ve written about an incredibly wide variety of topics—from the Mormon Trail to the four fundamental forces in nature, from Pompeii to modern Yemen, from the Islamic philosopher Averroes to the American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino.

            It is an incredible delight to do what I do. I get paid to research and write about a crazy mix of subjects. Every day, I find out new things, and every day, I’m excited about getting to tell kids about what I’ve learned.

            Recently, my career has taken a different turn. I’ve started writing young adult historical novels and have completed my first manuscript, I Saw the Elephant, about a teen boy’s experiences during the California Gold Rush. You can find out more about the book in the Upcoming section of this site. I’ve also begun research on my second novel, Topsy and Eva, about a boy and girl acting in a traveling show based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1915.

            After so many years of writing nonfiction, I’m excited and terrified by trying my hand at historical fiction. It’s fun to be working in a made-up world, but at that the same time, I have to work hard to make sure that that world is true to real historical era. It forces you to strike the best possible balance between creative lying and difficult truthtelling.

 

About Me

My first career goal was to become Mighty Mouse. My second choice was cowgirl.  Writer was a distant third.

My high school self playing with my dog, Boomer.

Hanging with my husband, the comics writer and editor Stuart Moore, at our home in Brooklyn.

I’ve been a New Yorker for half of my life, but still I enjoy the occasional excursion into nature.

My most fearsome critics--an indifferent Bebe and a judgmental Rocko.

Me in 2011, in front of one of my many overflowing bookcases.