Biography

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 843

Paula Danziger was born in Washington, D.C. on August 18, 1944, to Samuel and Carolyn Danziger. Her growing up years were spent in various towns, including Arlington, Virginia and Metuchen, New Jersey. In those years, she always knew she wanted to be a writer. She studied for teaching at Montclair State College, where she met John Ciardi and became a frequent baby sitter for his children. He encouraged her in her studies, helped her understand poetry, and gave her a sense of language structure.

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After earning a B.A. in English in 1967, she began working as a substitute teacher, which led to full-time teaching at the junior high level. Three years later she returned to school for a master's degree, but her studies were interrupted by a car accident which left her with a whiplash. A couple of days later as her mother was taking her to the doctor, they were hit head-on by a drunken driver. Danziger hit the windshield and suffered temporary brain damage which left her unable to read.

As part of her "coming back" from the accident, she started writing her first book, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. She suffered nightmares about her accident which made it very hard for her to function. Her feelings of helplessness and terror brought back bad memories from her childhood and she needed therapy. She took the finished pages of her writing to many of her therapy appointments. Partly as a consequence, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit is her most autobiographical book. She was very much like Marcy: a fat kid who hated her father and was frustrated by her mother. The book was published in 1974 and dedicated to John Ciardi. The Pistachio Prescription followed in 1978. The success of her next books enabled her to leave teaching and write full time in 1978.

She says of herself in Something About the Author, "All writers write from deep experience. For me, that is childhood. From it flow feelings of vulnerability, compassion, and strength. Perhaps it would be better to say that I write 'of' young people rather than 'for' or 'to' them. Writers tell the best stories we possibly can, hopefully in ways that others will like. . . . I do 'sense memory' work as a preparation for writing. I imagine what a character's closet might look like. For me stories begin with character rather than plot, so for a book to hang together, the characters must be fully imagined."

Teaching influenced her writing as she listened intently to the conversations of her students' concerns about appearance, divorce, fighting in the family, dating, and school pressures. Her characters reflect her students. To stay relevant to young people, Danziger spends much time in classrooms, talking to kids and listening to them.

Danziger cares about kids, books, and creativity. She enjoys working with teachers who work with kids. Ideas for books come easily to her, but she says she must live with an idea for quite a while before she begins writing. She bounces her ideas and writing off a small circle of good friends and reads them to kids, all of whom react to her writing and critique for her.

Danziger is a voracious reader, and among her favorite writers for children and young adults are Judy Blume, E. L. Konigsburg, Francine Pascal, and Lois Lowry. She says of herself in Something About the Author, "My major ability as a writer, hopefully, is to tell a good honest story and let people laugh when it is appropriate."

Danziger's books have received a number of awards and honors: The Cat Ate My Gymsuit received the New Jersey Institute of Technology Award, 1976; a Young Reader Medal Nomination from the California Reading Association, 1977; the Massachusetts Children's Book Award, first runner-up, 1979; the Nene Award from the Hawaii Association of School Librarians and the Hawaii Library Association, 1980; and Children's Choice award from the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, 1980. The Pistachio Prescription received the Child Study Association of America's Children's Book of the Year award, 1978; the Massachusetts Children's Book Award from the Education Department of Salem State College, 1979; the Nene Award, 1979; the Children's Choice award from the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, 1979; the California Young Reader Medal Nomination, 1981; and the Arizona Young Reader Award, 1983. Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? received the Children's Choice award from the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, 1980. There's a Bat in Bunk Five received the Children's Choice award from the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, 1981; the CRABery Award from Prince George's County Memorial Library System (Maryland), 1982; and the Young Readers Medal, 1984. The Divorce Express received the Children's Choice from the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council, 1983, and the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award from the South Carolina Association of School Librarians, 1985. It's an Aardvark-Eat- Turtle World won the 1985, Parents' Choice Award for Literature from the Parents' Choice Foundation, 1985; it was exhibited at the Bologna International Children's Book Fair, 1985, and was selected one of the Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year, 1985.

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