Alphin, Elaine Marie 1955–

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Alphin, Elaine Marie 1955–


Born October 30, 1955, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of Richard E. (a procurement officer) and Janice Bonilla; married Arthur B. Alphin (a corporate officer), May 9, 1982. Education: Rice University, B.A., 1977. Hobbies and other interests: Puzzles, dinosaurs, theater, needlework, collecting teddy bears and other stuffed animals, raising hamsters.


Home—Bozeman, MT.


Houston City (magazine), Houston, feature editor and writer, 1978-79; freelance writer, 1978—. A-Square Company, advertising manager and technical service provider, 1982-93; Hieroglyphics Unlimited, owner and cross-stitch designer, 1986—. Institute of Children's Literature, instructor, 1992—. Speaker at conferences, workshops, and schools.


Author's Guild, Authors League of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Association of American University Women, Society of Midland Authors, Tennessee Writers Alliance, Central Indiana Writer's Association, Louisville Children's Authors, Bozeman Children's Authors, Bloomington Children's Authors Group.


Thomas J. Watson research fellow in England and Italy, 1977-78; Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Magazine Merit Award, fiction category, 1989, for "A Song in the Dark"; Magazine Merit Award, nonfiction category, 1994, for "Cornflower's Test"; recommendation for reluctant readers, American Library Association, 1993, for The Proving Ground; Young Readers Award, best elementary-level book, Virginia State Reading Association, 1995, for A Bear for Miguel; International Washington Irving Literary Award and honorary M.F.A., Indianapolis Christian University, 2000, for lifetime achievement; inclusion among best children's books of 2000, St. Louis Post Dispatch Edgar Allan Poe Award, best young adult mystery, Mystery Writers of America, 2001, and selection as Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Young Adult Library Services Association, 2001, and Honor Book selection, Society of School Librarians International, 2002, all for Counterfeit Son; Children's Fiction Award, Society of Midland Authors, 2002, and Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award, 2004, both for Ghost Hunter; Outstanding Achievement Award, Parents' Guide to Children's Media, and Gold Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, both 2003, for Dinosaur Hunter; included among best children's books of the year, Bank Street College of Education, 2003, for Germ Hunter: A Story about Louis Pasteur; Gold Medal, young adult fiction book of the year, ForeWord, 2005, for The Perfect Shot; books also featured in several other recommended reading lists.



The Ghost Cadet (middle-grade novel), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1991.

The Proving Ground (middle-grade novel), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 1992.

Tournament of Time (middle-grade novel), Bluegrass Books (Pewee Valley, KY), 1994.

A Bear for Miguel, illustrated by Joan Sandin, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1996.

Counterfeit Son (young adult novel), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2000.

Ghost Soldier (middle-grade novel), Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2001.

History Makers: Davy Crockett, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 2002.

Simon Says (young adult novel), Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 2002.

Germ Hunter: A Story about Louis Pasteur, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

Time Travel Trap (e-book), FictionWorks, 2003.

Picture Perfect (young adult novel), Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.

Dinosaur Hunter (chapter book), illustrated by Don Bolognese, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.

(With husband, Arthur B. Alphin) History Makers: Dwight Eisenhower, Lerner (Minneapolis, MN), 2004.

(Coauthor) I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight: A Story about John Paul Jones, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2004.

The Perfect Shot (young adult fiction), Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2006.

Making the Leaves Talk (elementary fiction), Wendy Pye (Auckland, New Zealand), 2007.

Jelp (elementary fiction), Wendy Pye (Auckland, New Zealand), 2007.

Author of reading comprehension stories for children's textbooks. Contributor of short stories and articles to periodicals, including Cricket, Highlights for Children, Children's Digest, Child Life, Hopscotch, On the Line, Teen Quest, Wee Ones, Ladybug, and Primary Treasure.


Vacuum Cleaners, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1997.

Irons, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.

Toasters, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 1998.

Telephones, Carolrhoda Books (Minneapolis, MN), 2000.


101 Bible Puzzles, Standard Publishing (Cincinnati, OH), 1993.

Creating Characters Kids Will Love, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 2000.

Columnist for the newsletter Children's Writer, 1993-2003. Contributor to anthologies, including The Favorites, Institute of Children's Literature (West Red- ding, CT), 1991; Writer's Digest Children's Writers and Illustrator's Market, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 1992; Children's Magazine Market, Institute of Children's Literature, 1993; But That's Another Story …, Walker, 1996; and On Her Way, Dutton (New York, NY), 2004. Contributor to periodicals, including Writer's Journal, Pacificare, Writing!, Faith ‘n’ Stuff, Single Parent, and Communiqué.


Elaine Marie Alphin once commented that she has been enthusiastic about writing all her life. Alphin traced her motivation for writing to her love of creating imaginary worlds for herself as a child. As a young girl growing up in San Francisco, said Alphin, "I loved words and characters, and I loved escaping into a world of imagination in which I could right all wrongs and change the realities I saw around me." This concern for doing what is right and just has translated into a consistent theme in her young adult novels. Alphin herself explained: "My novels deal with serious realities that young people face and overcome by the power of their imagination. There is often danger, and my heroes must find the courage and conviction to put themselves on the line for what they believe."

Alphin's first novel, The Ghost Cadet, exemplifies the author's concern with justice as well as another abiding interest—history. In this story of a young boy named Benjy, who helps the ghost of a Virginia Institute cadet restore his honor by finding a watch. Alphin combines the virtues of friendship and justice with the background of Virginia during the U.S. Civil War to create a "fine novel," noted David Haward Bain in the New York Times. Molly Kinney, writing in the School Library Journal, said that in this story of "friendship, trust, caring and self-discovery," Alphin has skillfully combined "fact, fiction, and emotion."

Ghost Soldier is a story that combines the supernatural with elements of history and the military to tell the story of Alex Raskin and a young ghost from the Civil War. Alex has always been able to sense and hear spirits. His mother, who left him and his computer programmer father a few years ago, told him that he was special and therefore could communicate with people from the past. These sentiments are little consolation to Alex, however, as he travels with his father from Indiana to North Carolina to visit Paige Humbrick, his father's girlfriend. During a visit to an old Civil War battleground, Alex encounters the ghost of Richeson Francis Chamblee who wants help in tracing his family's history following the war. According to Starr E. Smith, Ghost Soldier is "an entertaining blend of paranormal, historical, and family themes, with a well-crafted plot."

The Proving Ground, features Kevin Spencer, the fourteen-year-old son of a military officer, who moves into the small town of Hadley where his father will be heading up an army testing facility. Due to the nature of Lieutenant-Commander Spencer's job, Kevin has changed schools frequently and often feels like an outsider. The same is true in Hadley. To make matters worse, local townspeople are resentful of the army's insensitivity in taking over farms in order to make room for the test facility, and this hostility spills over to Kevin as well, who is singled out as an "army brat." As he struggles to deal with the particularly rough treatment meted out to him by a girl named Charley and uncovers a plot that will sabotage the base, Kevin discovers that Hadley has provided him with an opportunity to test his own convictions. Jack Forman commented in the School Library Journal that Alphin offers a "deft mixture of adventure, a romantic undercurrent, local politics, and development of character," all of which combine to create a "briskly paced, involving story."

In Simon Says, Charles Weston, a teenage artist-in-progress, enrolls in a special boarding school, ostensibly to develop his artistic talent, but more importantly to meet a budding writer who seems to know the answers to the game of life. Charles struggles to create paintings that reveal his true inner nature, only to find that people end up seeing him through the filter of subjective interpretation. He sees in the writings of classmate Graeme Brandt a parallel search for an escape from conformity, but it seems that Graeme may actually be a consummate player of the very game that Charles seeks to avoid. The boys' relationship deepens in a potentially troubling direction, Charles's anguish grows instead of subsiding, and a suicide leaves one of them dead and the other filled with feelings of guilt. Some reviewers found this somber novel too long, the plot tedious and in places implausible, and the message somewhat heavy-handed, but others appreciated Alphin's ability to tackle the difficult issues that teenagers often face, to present believable and realistic images of gay youth, and to explore a theme as complex at that of art versus truth.

Not all of Alphin's characters have to leave comfortable surroundings to collide with the dark side of life. Counterfeit Son was characterized as a "psychological thriller" by Miranda Doyle in the School Library Journal. The novel focuses on fourteen-year-old Cameron Miller as he struggles to find a place for himself in the world. Cameron is the son of a serial killer who preyed on young boys. After years of abuse and neglect suffered at the hands of his father, Cameron assumes the identity of one of his father's victims, Neil Lacey, and begins living with the Lacey family. He lives in fear of being discovered, though, and eventually someone from Cameron's past does threaten his existence with his adopted family, forcing Cameron to decide whether he wants to tell the Laceys the truth. In addition to the moving interactions between Cameron and the Lacey family, Doyle described Counterfeit Son as a "solidly written, fast-paced read." Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly called it a "gripping novel," one that will leave readers "enthralled by [the] suspenseful plot."

Picture Perfect also addresses the issue of child abuse as it affects the young protagonist Ian Slater. Ian copes with his stern and sometimes sadistic father by alternating his personality or by escaping to a forest hideout with his friend Teddy to pursue a mutual hobby of photography. Teddy disappears, and Ian becomes a "person of interest" in the disappearance. Ian struggles to piece together his fleeting memories of the last day he saw Teddy with the photographs he took in order to figure out what might have happened to his friend. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, the boy "slowly recovers his memory, making his story … a compelling journey of self-discovery and self-protection." School Library Journal appraiser Lynn Evarts cautioned that the complex plot could deter a reluctant reader, but Booklist reviewer Debbie Carton recommended the story for its combination of "multiple personalities, name games, and paternity puzzles."

Geared toward a younger set of readers, A Bear for Miguel tells a "sensitive and compelling" tale observed Gale W. Sherman in the School Library Journal. Unfolding a straightforward narrative that tells the story of Maria's sacrifice to help her family, the tale is set against the backdrop of war-torn El Salvador. The story is told from Maria's perspective, as she helps her father trade the family's possessions, including her own stuffed bear, in order to buy some bare necessities. Maeve Visser Knoth, writing in Horn Book, noted that although the details of war-torn El Salvador are "grim," they do not overpower the compassion with which Alphin tells the story.

For boys in the lower elementary grades, Dinosaur Hunter offers a suspense story set in Wyoming in the late 1800s. Young Ned fulfills a dream when he discovers a dinosaur skeleton on his father's ranch, then almost loses it to a shady fossil hunter who tries to trick the boy into an unfair trade. Nick is clever enough to avoid the trap and settle the prehistoric bones where they will do the most good. Alphin based the story on historical accounts of nineteenth-century fossil hunters who scoured the American West for such treasures, not always with the purest of motives. A Kirkus Reviews contributor pointed out the appeal of a book full of "dinosaur fossils, horseback riding, and ranch life," while other reviewers recommended the story for its historical context.

Alphin has also written nonfiction accounts of historical events and figures such as Davy Crockett, Louis Pasteur, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Alphin told CA: "We all have something we feel deeply about; for me, it's injustice. Ever since I was a kid I couldn't stand by and see someone doing something wrong without trying to do something about it. Nothing angers me more than the way adults tell kids to always tell the truth and play fair—at least, until the kids get past grade school, when adults suddenly tell them that the world is unfair and they'd better get used to it. I believe that we should do everything we can to make the world fair. Injustice is a thread that runs through many of my books, but none more strongly than The Perfect Shot.

"This novel is about a high school basketball player named Brian, whose next-door neighbors, including his girlfriend, have been murdered, each with a perfect shot. Brian suspects that he may have seen the murderer that day, but he's not certain. His parents urge him to keep quiet about it, to not get involved, and he buried his grief and his suspicions in basketball. But then an innocent man is tried for the murder, and Brian is assigned a school history project that makes him wonder if he should have insisted on voicing his suspicions earlier and inspired him to take risky action now.

"The project concerns a real trial that occurred in Georgia in 1913, in which a teenage girl was found murdered in the factory where she worked and the factory manager, Leo Frank, was convicted of her murder. Because the case was so distorted by public opinion and political pressure, Frank's death sentence was commuted to life in prison, but so-called ‘good citizens’ broke into the prison farm and lynched him. In 1982, seventy years after the murder occurred, an old man came forward to say that he had been a teenager working in the factory and he had seen the real murderer with the body. The killer had told the boy to keep quiet, or he would kill him, too.

"These two stories, historical fact and present fiction, became a way to explore my deep feelings about injustice and our responsibility to combat it. I'm often asked why I write for kids and teens instead of for adults. I have always wanted to inspire readers to question their assumptions and explore ideas they had never considered before. Most adults don't really want to read books that challenge their assumptions and make them wonder if different choices might have led them down other, better paths. But young people do. My hope is that my writing can inspire just one reader to get involved because it is the right thing to do, and to do his or her part to make the world more fair."



Booklist, November 15, 1992, Janice Del Negro, review of The Proving Ground, p. 589; August, 2001, Denise Wilms, review of Ghost Soldier, p. 2118; April 15, 2002, Frances Bradburn, review of Simon Says, p. 1394; August, 2003, Debbie Carton, review of Picture Perfect, p. 1970; September 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Dinosaur Hunter, p. 127.

Horn Book, May-June, 1996, Maeve Visser Knoth, review of A Bear for Miguel, p. 331; January-February, 2004, Martha V. Parravano, review of Dinosaur Hunter, p. 78.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Simon Says, p. 486; July 1, 2003, review of Picture Perfect, p. 905; September 1, 2003, review of Dinosaur Hunter, p. 1119; August 15, 2005, review of The Perfect Shot, p. 907.

Kliatt, September, 2005, Jessica Swaim, review of Simon Says, p. 17; November, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of The Perfect Shot, p. 4; January, 2007, Stephanie Squicciarini, review of Picture Perfect, p. 158.

New York Times, May 19, 1991, David Haward Bain, review of The Ghost Cadet, p. 31.

Publishers Weekly, May 17, 1991, review of The Ghost Cadet, p. 64; August 28, 2000, review of Counterfeit Son, p. 84; May 20, 2002, review of Simon Says, p. 68; August 4, 2003, review of Picture Perfect, p. 81; November 7, 2005, review of The Perfect Shot, p. 75.

School Library Journal, May, 1991, Molly Kinney, review of The Ghost Cadet, p. 91; January, 1993, Jack Forman, review of The Proving Ground, p. 96; June, 1996, Gale W. Sherman, review of A Bear for Miguel, p. 92; December, 2000, Miranda Doyle, review of Counterfeit Son, p. 138; August, 2001, Starr E. Smith, review of Ghost Soldier, p. 175; June, 2002, Vicki Reutter, review of Simon Says, p. 130; December, 2002, Anne Chapman Callaghan, review of History Makers: Davy Crockett, p. 114; July, 2003, Donna Cardon, review of Germ Hunter: A Story about Louis Pasteur, p. 136; October, 2003, Lynn Evarts, review of Picture Perfect, p. 158; December, 2003, Anne Knickerbocker, review of Dinosaur Hunter, p. 102; January, 2005, Christine E. Carr, review of History Makers: Dwight Eisenhower, p. 101; October, 2005, Miranda Doyle, review of The Perfect Shot, p. 150.


Meet the Author: Elaine Marie Alphin, (September 11, 2007).