TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman has no trouble coming up with ideas for books, and no trouble sharing them with her husband. But one day, as she started to tell him about a new idea she had, he handed her paper and pencil and told her this time he wanted her to write it down. What she wrote was the outline for her first book Catherine, Called Birdy (Clarion, 1994), a Newbery Honor Award-winner.

Karen calls herself a "late bloomer." Growing up in a working-class family in Chicago, she never put much thought into becoming a writer. Though she wrote poetry and plays as a child, Karen didn't begin writing professionally for young adults until she was fifty.

"Everything I know I've learned from books," Karen says. As a child she tried to read everything in the library, and when she set out to write her own book, Karen read as many young adult historical novels as she could—including those by Rosemary Sutcliffe and Patricia MacLachlan.

Karen had always been interested in history. Her research into medieval England and its culture led to both Catherine, Called Birdy, and The Midwife's Apprentice (Clarion 1995), her second book and winner of the prestigious Newbery Award in 1996. Karen says, "I grew tired of hearing about kings, princesses, generals, presidents. I wanted to know what life was like for ordinary young people in other times." In her book The Ballad of Lucy Whipple (Clarion 1996), Karen strikes a balance between rich historical detail and the engaging voice of the storyteller. Karen's books address many of the "issues a young person is interested in—issues of identity, responsibility, limitation, and what it means to be human in this world."

Both Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice have garnered many awards and honors including the Gold Kite Award for Fiction from the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and was chosen as one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year. Karen's work has also been recognized for excellence by Horn Book, Parenting Magazine, Hungry Mind Review, and the American Library Association.

Karen holds an MA in both Human Behavior and Museum Studies and lives on Vashon Island in Seattle, Washington with her husband Philip.