Nilsson, Eleanor 1939-

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Nilsson, Eleanor 1939-


Born June 6, 1939, in Stirling, Scotland; daughter of Murdoch and Rose Luke; married Neil Nilsson (a teacher), December 23, 1967; children: Martin, Catherine. Ethnicity: "Scottish." Education: University of Adelaide, B.A. (with honors), and Diploma of Education.


Home—Coromandel Valley, South Australia, Australia. E-mail—[email protected].


High school teacher, 1960-61; Adelaide Teachers' College, Adelaide, South Australia, lecturer in English, 1962-68; South Australia College of Advanced Education, Adelaide, lecturer in English, 1971-90; University of South Australia, Adelaide, lecturer in English, 1991-92; full-time writer, 1992—.


Australian Literature Board fellowships, 1988, 1993; Children's Book Council of Australia, nomination for book of the year award, 1991, for The Black Duckling; book of the year award (older category), Children's Book Council of Australia, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and National Children's Literature Award, all 1992, for The House Guest.



Parrot Fashion, illustrated by Craig Smith, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1983.

The Rainbow Stealer, illustrated by Leanne Argent, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1984.

Tatty, illustrated by Leanne Argent, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1985.

A Bush Birthday, illustrated by Kerry Argent, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1985.

Heffalump?, illustrated by Rae Dale, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1986.

The 89th Kitten, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1987, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.

Pomily's Wish, illustrated by Rae Dale, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1987.

Mystery Meals, illustrated by Jane Disher, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1987.

There's a Crocodile There Now Too, J.M. Dent (Knoxville, Victoria, Australia), 1987.

Heffalump? and the Toy Hospital, illustrated by Rae Dale, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1989.

A Lamb like Alice, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1990.

The Black Duckling, illustrated by Rae Dale, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1990.

The House Guest, Viking (New York, NY), 1991.

Writing for Children, Penguin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1992.

Graffiti Dog, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1995.

Outside Permission, Viking (New York, NY), 1996.

Pearl's Pantry, illustrated by Betina Ogden, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1996.

The Experiment, Omnibus Books (Adelaide, Australia), 1996.

Tiptoe round a Pony, illustrated by Betina Ogden, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1998.

No One, illustrated by Betina Ogden, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 1999.

The Bell of Germelshausen, Lothian (Port Melbourne, Australia), 1999.

The Way Home, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2001.

Helping Out, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2003.

The Naughty Magpie, Puffin (Ringwood, Victoria, Australia), 2005.

Contributor to books, including Money!, Angus & Robertson (North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia), 1989.


In Eleanor Nilsson's books for children her young characters often have a greater affinity for animals than for people. An animal lover herself, Nilsson spoke with Magpies interviewer Moya Costello about her interest in children's relationships with animals as a method of revealing aspects in the children themselves. "Animals are the only thing children have power over," Nilsson observed. "Animals never criticise you, they love you whatever … you do, so they provide a lot of support." Fantasy literature has also had an influence on Nilsson's works, Costello noted, though she added that the author typically resolves her plots realistically rather than magically. Other critics have praised the author's intriguing characterizations, her poetic use of language, and her satisfying conclusions.

Nilsson's picture books for the youngest of children feature animal characters in gentle adventures. Pomily's Wish tells the story of young Pomily mouse, whose storytelling ability saves her from being eaten by a cat. In Heffalump? and the Toy Hospital a toy stuffed elephant complains about his boredom only to have his best friend, Bengal Tiger, disappear into the animal hospital without their owner Anne's knowledge. A Books for Keeps critic dubbed Heffalump's efforts to rescue his friend "a warm, reassuring story."

For slightly older children, Nilsson's The Black Duckling tells the story of Tom, whose father loses his job, forcing the family to move and leave behind Tom's pet duck. Costello commended the book's multi-faceted theme of communication, which is centered on five-year-old Tom, who rarely speaks but is able to relate to his pet. A Magpies reviewer noted the lack of sentimentality in The Black Duckling, adding that Nilsson keeps the reader's interest while supplying "a satisfying and reassuring ending." Another tale of animal rescue for this audience is The 89th Kitten, in which a lonely, elderly woman takes in more stray cats than her neighbors can tolerate. In this story of "loneliness, self-definition and self-determination," as Costello described it, young Sandy, with the help of the media and her distant father, finds good homes for the cats. An animal is also at the center of A Lamb like Alice, in which two children decide to rescue a lamb being fattened by the local butcher for slaughter.

For older children, Nilsson has written an award-winning novel, The House Guest, which is about a small gang of children breaking into houses for money. One of the gang members, Gunno, becomes intrigued with Hugh, a boy who seems to be missing from the house. "The idea for The House Guest," Nilsson once related to CA, "came from something that happened to our family. Our house was robbed, but in such a subtle, tidy way that we didn't even realize it had happened until several days after the event. Books were stolen as well as money. These two things, the tidiness and the books, gave me the idea for a rather unusual gang that operated by rules and also helped to give me the characters of Gunno and Jess. The fact that the children would have come into the house at all with our dog in it, who always barks furiously, even at friends, gave me the idea of Hugh, and of the very special relationship he has with Gunno. I knew the story would have to be told through Gunno's eyes, to preserve the sense of mystery and because he was the character who interested me most.

"I didn't really know what was going to happen," Nilsson continued; "I only knew that Gunno was going to be attracted back again and again to the house (my own!) and that in so doing, he would somehow unravel the mystery about Hugh (whatever that would turn out to be). Whenever I could imagine a scene, I wrote it down, even if it wasn't in sequence, almost as if I was filling in a jigsaw puzzle. The part that gave me the greatest trouble was the sequence where Gunno actually meets Hugh. The book was held up for almost a year because I couldn't get these few chapters right. When a friend suggested I visit the silver and lead mine at Glen Osmond, I knew I had found the setting where Hugh had his accident, and because I could visualize where it had happened, somehow the difficulty about writing this section disappeared. (The first version of The House Guest ended with a bushfire, the second with an open-hole mine like the copper mines in Coromandel Valley, the third with the cave-like mine of Glen Osmond.)"

In reviewing The House Guest, Costello noted that once again the author portrays her characters through their treatment of animals: in this case, through their differing reactions to the dog that greets them in the latest house they break into. "There's much that's playful in the book, but at the same time it is serious and sincere in intent. Its shape is impressive, providing pleasure through intrigue, and in so doing matching style to subject matter," Costello wrote.

Nilsson is also the author of Graffiti Dog, in which another teenager involved in illegal activities, this time a graffiti gang, is redirected from a life of crime by his growing attachment to a dog. Magpies reviewer Alan Horsfield commented on Nilsson's "humane and perceptive" treatment of her two main characters, the boy and the dog, and found the juxtaposition of the sympathy shared by Derek and his canine friend with the "uncaring adults" who populate Derek's life "most thought provoking." In Tiptoe round a Pony, set in the English countryside, the arrival of an Australian veterinarian who is somewhat fearful of horses inspires timid Tess to stand up to her father, despite his impatience, and prove her abilities despite her own fears. The result is an "agreeably winsome story [with] a romantic conclusion," wrote Kevin Steinberger in Magpies.

"Ideas come from things that have happened to me or my family," the author told CA, "from publishers, friends, from television, from the newspaper, from anywhere, really." When writing, Nilsson told Costello, "I like language that has a certain rhythm and a lilting quality." The author also confessed an admiration for such writers as Philippa Pearce and William Mayne, "whose concern is with language," and who write for children "with the very best words." As the author concluded: "The way to do your best by children is to write in the best way you can from a child's point of view."



Books for Keeps, January, 1990, review of Heffalump? and the Toy Hospital, p. 6.

Magpies, May, 1991, review of The Black Duckling, p. 21; November, 1991, Moya Costello, "Know the Author: Eleanor Nilsson," pp. 19-21; July, 1995, Alan Horsfield, review of Graffiti Dog, pp. 26-27; March, 1998, Kevin Steinberger, review of Tiptoe round a Pony, p. 34.