Pulitzer-prize winning columnist/ novelist Anna Quindlen has said the best preparation for writing fiction is journalism. For me, at least, that's been very true. I wrote for the Washingtonian magazine for almost twenty years before I tackled my first young adult novel. Writing factual articles taught me to spot stories in everyday events and heroism in everyday people; to use one word rather than three; to collect details that "show rather than tell" a character's personality; and to make characters speak as people truly do with errors, hesitation, and regional colloquialisms. It proved to me that research is FUN-the treasure hunt step of writing. And I learned to make deadlines-although I must admit I find that harder to do writing novels than magazine articles! (I think that's because I'm a Mom first and my children are very busy people.)
With the Washingtonian I enjoyed such variety-I profiled soccer star Mia Hamm, followed a woman during her bone marrow transplant, watched a choreographer create a ballet, observed doctors saving babies who were born three months early. It was a privilege to be invited into all of their lives. I learned so much. That's the best part of writing-you're always learning because to write about a subject convincingly you must really understand it. Topics I covered for the magazine-family relationships, emotional growth, ordinary people facing sudden crisis with courage-seem to creep into my fiction as themes. In fact, my first YA novel, Under a War-torn Sky, grew out of an article about my father's experiences as a B-24 pilot with the French Resistance during World War II.
I enjoy historical fiction because history is fascinating, truly! But it's more so when you learn facts without realizing it, while reading a good story about how people were affected by events-what choices they had to make, how they survived, what they discovered in themselves. I hope my books can do that for young readers.
I also have a lot of fun with picture books. Watching my own children deal with playground conundrums prompted me to create two raccoon friends who explore the issues of peer pressure, popularity, and competition. I've been blessed to be teamed with illustrator Lynn Munsinger, whose whimsical watercolors are so delightful.
Da Vinci's Tiger
Harper Collins: November 10, 2015
For fans of rich and complex historical novels like Girl with a Pearl Earring or Code Name Verity, Laura Malone Elliott delivers the stunning tale of real-life Renaissance woman Ginevra de' Benci, the inspiration for one of Leonardo da Vinci's earliest masterpieces.
The young and beautiful daughter of a wealthy family, Ginevra longs to share her poetry and participate in the artistic ferment of Renaissance Florence but is trapped in an arranged marriage in a society dictated by men. The arrival of the charismatic Venetian ambassador, Bernardo Bembo, introduces Ginevra to a dazzling circle of patrons, artists, and philosophers. Bembo chooses Ginevra as his Platonic muse and commissions a portrait of her by a young Leonardo da Vinci. Posing for the brilliant painter inspires an intimate connection between them, one Ginevra only begins to understand. In a rich and vivid world of exquisite art with a dangerous underbelly of deadly political feuds, Ginevra faces many challenges to discover her voice and artistic companionship—and to find love.
"An exquisitely detailed story of the passionate relationship between artist and muse, whose spirited yet gentle Renaissance heroine put me in awe of just how far women have had to come in 500 years. Beautifully painted." -- Elizabeth Wein, Michael L. Printz Honor winner and New York Times bestselling author of Code Name Verity
“Elliott’s novel is thoroughly researched, portraying three-dimensional characters in a lively atmosphere of love and art. Renaissance Florence breathes through this book, bringing readers to a fuller understanding of the portrait, the era, and an indomitable young woman.” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Rich in historical detail. . . fans of historical fiction will find Italy’s Renaissance fascinating.” -- Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA)
“Elliott meticulously researched the 15th century to bring alive the affluence, art, and clothing Florence was known for. In many ways, this intriguing novel is a feminist piece. Add this gem to round-out collections skewed toward 20th century history.” -- School Library Journal
“[T]he independent female narrator and the richly drawn portrait of Italian culture will attract history buffs and artists alike to this story behind da Vinci’s first-known painting.” --Booklist
A Troubled Peace
Hyperion: September 14, 2010
World War II may be ending, but the conflict still rages for nineteen-year-old bomber pilot Henry Forester. After returning home to Virginia he is still reliving his struggles, and can’t stop worrying about the safety of those who helped him escape—most of all, one French boy, Pierre, who may have lost everything because of Henry. When he returns to France to find Pierre, Henry is staggered by the consequences of war. Amid starvation, cities devastated by Allied bombing, and the shocking return of concentration camp survivors, Henry must embark on a brave search for a lost boy and a fight to find his own peace.
Across a War-Tossed Sea
Hyperion: April 21, 2015 (paperback)
It's 1943, and World War II is raging. To escape the terror of the Blitz, ten-year-old Wesley and fourteen-year-old Charles were evacuated from England to America. After a few near misses with German U-boats and a treacherous ocean crossing, the brothers arrived in Virginia. The culture shock is intense as the London boys adjust to rural farm life and have to learn new sports, customs, and spellings, plus contend with racial segregation and bullying.
As time goes by, the brothers begin to adapt to their new reality and blaze their own trails, writing letters home, making new friends, and pitching in to the American war effort. But just when Wes and Charles think they are safe from the terror of the battles raging thousands of miles across the sea, they encounter the very brand of soldiers they were trying to escape: Nazis, from a POW camp right around the corner and U-boats torpedoing American ships off the nearby Atlantic coastline. Suddenly, Charles, Wesley, and their new Virginian family must face the dangers of a foreign war coming too close to home.
"Gr 5–8—Ten-year-old Wesley and fourteen-year-old Charles Bishop evacuate London during the Blitz, trading bombs bursting in air for the perils of fitting in at a new school in rural Virginia. While Charles makes friends easily, Wesley struggles to find a place in their foster family, the Ratcliffs. It isn't until he meets Freddy, an African American boy living with his grandparents while his father builds ships for the war effort, that the true plot really takes off. Elliott uses the backdrop of World War II and the horrors of Hitler's plans to illuminate an entirely different picture of the racial divide in the United States. At every turn in this well-plotted novel, readers see an example of prejudice and preconceptions coming from white American characters. The author's attention to detail is evident, as the facts of World War II come through clearly in each chapter, just as they did in Under a War Torn Sky (Hyperion, 2001). This historical novel would be a perfect fit for any collection seeking to engage readers in conversations around race, culture, and equality in America." -- Pete Smith, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts CPS, South Hadley, MA, School Library Journal (This text refers to the Library Binding edition.)
"This follow-up to Under a War-Torn Sky (2001) picks up the story of British brothers Charles, 14, and Wesley, 10, as they learn to live as Yanks in Virginia following their escape from the firebombings and U-boat disasters of the UK. As the battle in Europe continues to rage, Charles struggles to understand American culture while looking out for Wesley, whose usually cheery nature is punctuated with traumatic memories. The book feels like it could have been written 50 years ago—and that’s not a bad thing—as Elliott leads us through a series of misadventures and straight-up adventures as the boys go hunting, hold a haunted house, contribute to the war effort, and even conduct a few acts of outright heroism. Serious issues of intolerance (religious freedom in Europe, racism in America, cruelty to German POWs) permeate the story without overwhelming it, making this a breezy and enlightening read. The occasional letters from the brothers to their father overseas are a nice touch, portraying an accurate kid’s-eye-view of a terrible time in history. Grades 5-8." --Daniel Kraus, Booklist (This text refers to the Library Binding edition.)
Annie, Between the States
HarperCollins, 2004, Ages 12 up, $15.95 ISBN 0-06-001211-0, Paperback: $6.99 ISBN 0-06-001213-7
IRA Teachers' Choice 2005
New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age
Junior Library Guild Y+ Selection
Virginia Readers Choice, 2006-2007 high school master list
July 21, 1861: The Civil War has erupted on the steps of Annie Sinclair's Manassas home. Fifteen-year-old Annie finds herself tending wounded soldiers in the first trial of a personal odyssey that consumes the next four years. While some of Annie's relatives remain loyal to the Union, her brothers join J.E.B. Stuart's Virginia cavalry and John Mosby's rangers. Determined to save lives, Annie conceals Confederate soldiers and warns them of Union traps. Yet, Annie's sense of what is right is constantly tested. She disapproves of slavery and begins to question Virginia's involvement in the war, in part because of her friendship with a Northern officer. When she risks her life to save an abducted freed slave, Annie is accused of treason and jailed in Federal prison. To gain her freedom, she must confront the largest quandary of all: choosing her own course.
"Part Ken Burns' The Civil War, part Gone with the Wind, Elliott's third novel will be devoured by fans of historical fiction….fiery, intelligent Annie remains a heroine to relish, and readers who encounter her story will find themselves pondering the same soul-wrenching questions she asks: "Had their war been a justifiable one? Could anything justify such carnage?"
"Scenes are so powerfully drawn that readers will be engaged from chapter one…. A rich experience for Civil War history buffs."
"Against a background of authentic events peopled with true historic figures, Annie and her contemporaries are brought to life in this compelling book…. The author's note, time line, and bibliography are particularly enlightening and reflect Elliott's careful, thorough research. The result is high quality historical fiction."
HarperCollins, 2003; ages 9 up, $15.99, ISBN 0-06-001214-5
Joan G. Sugarman Award for Children's Literature, 2003
Best Children's Books of the Year, 2004, Bank Street College of Education
In the summer of 1968, a year marked by assassinations, Vietnam War protests, and civil rights rioting, Alice faces some trying concerns of her own. Alice longs for a connection with her mother, who is beautiful but distant, caught up in the search for the right husband. Alice's friendship with Bridget, a tennis-playing Twiggy, introduces her to competitiveness and the prejudice many Americans still feel toward Blacks. It is Alice's friendship with Doc, the family gardener, that brings her back to the truths that will shape her life.
"This is both a poignant mother-daughter story and a comforting tale of the affection between a lonely young girl and an irascible but devoted old man. Readers will find poignancy, humor, and history in this story."
-School Library Journal
"Elliott creates a strong sense of time and place, with issues of feminism and civil rights woven into both plot and characterization…..the rose garden metaphor is subtle, but the hurt and comfort implicit in the thorns and flowers will stay with readers."
"Elliott's dialogue is right on target with the soft accent of the old Southern aristocracy….her sure hand explores a complicated chapter in America's ambivalence toward race."
Give Me Liberty
HarperCollins, 2006, Ages 9 Up, $16.99 ISBN 0-06-074421-9
Laced with real events and leaders, Give Me Liberty explores the American Revolution through the eyes of a 13-year-old indentured servant, a loveable and slightly eccentric schoolmaster, a hot-headed apprentice, and a runaway slave in Williamsburg, Virginia. Life has been hard for Nathaniel Dunn. It presents even tougher challenges in 1775 as he labors in the shop of a loyalist carriage-maker surrounded by patriots awakened by the ringing words of Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. Fearful of the trouble taking sides might bring him, Nathaniel is slowly coaxed into believing in his rights by the old schoolmaster’s music and books. When the apprentice, Ben, is injured in a booby-trap left by British soldiers in Williamsburg’s gunpowder magazine, Nathaniel knows he must take a stand. He joins the 2nd Virginia Regiment as a fifer. But his belief in the Revolution and its ideals is marred by the fact his friend, Moses, remains in slavery. Moses’ only chance for liberty is to run away and join the British Royal Ethiopian, a Redcoat regiment of escaped Virginia slaves. In the dramatic Battle at Great Bridge in December 1775, just south of Norfolk, Nathaniel will not only face well-trained British troops, he will confront his oldest friend. What is the meaning of liberty in a country that depends on slaves and indentured servants? Nathaniel faces crucial choices as his courage and sense of right and wrong are tested when rebellion explodes in America.
“Elliott’s engaging and highly readable novel is well researched and sprinkled liberally with renowned patriots of the period. Readers come away not only with an accurate glimpse into 18th-century life, but also with a better understanding of how the colonies cooperated. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which Elliott handles the paradox of colonial Americans fighting for their independence from England yet clinging to the practice of enslaving other human beings. She does not provide pat answers, and Nathaniel’s inability to reconcile what he sees around him promises to provoke thoughtful discussion."
"A rich and robust piece of historical literature."
--School Library Journal
"...a lively account of the times with a likable narrator and solid action. As Nathaniel gets involved in the war itself and wonders about fighting for freedom and independence in a land where so many are not free, readers will be prompted to ponder the contradictions of their nation's past. Elliott takes her readers seriously, and her author's note tells more about characters and ideas."
Under a War-torn Sky
Hyperion, 2001, ages 12 up; $15.99/$5.99 ISBN: 078680755-5/ 0-7868-1753-4
A NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, 2002
Winner of the Border's Original Voices Award for Young Adult Literature, 2001
Jefferson Cup Award Honor Book, 2002
The Best Children's Books of the Year, 2002, Bank Street College of Education
Books About Trauma, Tragedy and Loss, 2002; Children's Book Council
Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Book Award, 2004-2005 high school master list
Iowa Teen Award, 2003-2004 master list
Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Award, 2002-2003 master list
South Carolina Junior Book Awards, 2003-2004 master list
Shot down behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied France, 19-year-old Henry Forester, a B-24 flier, finds himself on a whole new battleground. Wounded and afraid, he struggles toward freedom on foot, relying on the kindness, determination, and cunning of the French Resistance to reach the next town alive.
"It's packed with action, intrigue, and suspense, but this novel celebrates acts of kindness and heroism without glorifying war."
"Elliott's fluid storytelling style is woven together with vivid historical details from WWII…Henry learns not only about those who have risked their lives to rescue him but also about himself and the influences that shaped his life…a gripping and suspenseful story that explores the human spirit in thought-provoking dialogue…fans of history, culture, language or just good storytelling will definitely want to read this."
"A powerful debut novel, this is a believable story of adventure and salvation. Readers, young and old will be touched and moved by this fine book."
My Picture Books
Hunter & Stripe and the Soccer Showdown
HarperCollins, 2005; $15.99 ISBN: 0-06-052759-5
A Book Sense Children’s Pick, 2005
What happens when two inseparable friends become competitors? When Hunter and Stripe land on different soccer teams--and it's time to face off against each other--can their friendship endure the test of competition and the drive to be champ?
“Lively and appealing…a story touched with humor and sympathy about what matters most on and off the field.”
-- ALA Booklist
“Beginning soccer fans will ask for repeat readings."
--School Library Journal
“Elliott’s story appreciates that how you play the game provides the crucial balance, not to mention the art and substance of the athlete, when one team necessarily has to lose.”
Hunter's Best Friend at School
HarperCollins, 2002; ages 4-7; $15.99/$5.99; ISBN: 0-06-000230-1 /0-06-075319-6
IRA/CBC Children's Choice Award
Texas Library Association 2003 2X2 Reading List
ABA's Booksense 76
Oppenheim Gold Award
Virginia Readers Choice, 2006-2007 primary master list
Society of Illustrators Original Art Award
Hunter and Stripe are best friends. This young raccoon pair does everything together. But when Stripe arrives one day at school in a mischief-making mood and starts stirring up trouble in Mr. Ringtail's class, should Hunter follow along?
"Elliott sympathetically addresses the prickly topic of peer pressure from a child's perspective, revealing how easy it is for the well-intentioned to slide into trouble just by going with the flow. Hunter learns a critical lesson regarding the importance of staying true to one's self."
"Elliott wisely makes Stripe's misbehavior inviting (it is fun to secretly poke and giggle during story hour) and playful rather than mean-spirited. As usual, Munsinger's deceptively simple line-and-watercolor art gives her characters individualistic charm without cloying cuteness. She gets a good deal of furry mileage from raccoon whiskers and ringed tails, making Hunter and Stripe's raccoon-filled classroom one that many youngsters will envy."
-The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
To learn more about my books, or for suggested student research links into time periods I've written on (WWII, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, or the 1960s), classroom activities, and reading group guides, see www.lmelliott.com.
To read an article I wrote on writing historical fiction, please click onto: http://www.harperchildrens.com/teacher/catalog/book_essay_xml.asp?isbn=0060012110
To read an essay I wrote about what it was like to write on the American Revolution, which appeared on HarperCollins’ teacher website, please click onto: http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/HarperChildrens/Teachers/BookDetail.aspx?...