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Irene Hunt was born on May 18, 1907, in Newton, Illinois, the daughter of Franklin P. and Sarah Land Hunt. Educated in southern Illinois schools, she later obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in 1939 and a master's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1946. From 1930 to 1945 Hunt taught French and English in the public schools of Oak Park, Illinois. After receiving her master's degree, she became an instructor in psychology at the University of South Dakota (1946-1950), and later served as a teacher (1950-1965) and then director of language arts (1965-1969) in the public schools of Cicero, Illinois. Since the mid-1960s, she has worked as a writer.

Hunt's writing career began with a much-praised historical novel about the Civil War period, Across Five Aprils. Her interest in historical fiction has continued in Trail of Apple Blossoms, a story of the American pioneer days, and in No Promises in the Wind, which details the times of the Great Depression. But the author will probably be most remembered for her honest and sensitive presentation of the maturing process of children—Julie Trelling of Up a Road Slowly, the runaway Grondowski brothers of No Promises in the Wind, and the battered George Burgess of The Lottery Rose.

Hunt's novels have all received critical acclaim, but perhaps the best-known is Up a Road Slowly, which received the Newbery Medal in 1967. Across Five Aprils, a close second in popularity, was sole runner-up for the 1965 Newbery Medal and received the 1964 Charles W. Follett Award and a 1965 American Notable Book designation. Hunt also received the Friends of Literature Award and the Charles W. Follett Award in 1971 for No Promises in the Wind. In 1974 she was a nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, given for an author's overall contribution to literature for young people.

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