Ruby, Lois 1942–

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Ruby, Lois 1942–

(Lois F. Ruby)


Born September 11, 1942, in San Francisco, CA; daughter of Philip (an artist) and Eva (an apartment manager) Fox; married Thomas Ruby (a psychologist), August 29, 1965; children: David, Kenn, Jeff. Education: University of California, Berkeley, B.A., 1964; San Jose State College (now California State University, San Jose), M.A., 1968. Politics: "Liberal Democrat." Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Jewish survival ("a miracle!"), youth advocacy, First Amendment issues, "pigs!"


Home and office—Albuquerque, NM. Agent—Susan Cohn, Writers House, 21 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10010. E-mail—[email protected]


Librarian, author, and educator. Dallas Public Library, Dallas, TX, young-adult librarian, 1965-67; University of Missouri, Columbia, art and music librarian, 1967-68; freelance writer, beginning 1973; Wichita Jewish Community School, Wichita, KS, director, 1989-90; youth group adviser, 1976-91; creative writing instructor, 1985—; Temple Emanu-el of Wichita, librarian, 1975-93. Board president, Homeless Services of Inter-Faith Ministries, 1992-96, and Wichita Civil Rights and Services Board, 1994-97; member of board, Wichita Public Library.


American Library Association, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Association of Jewish Libraries, ALAN, Kansas Center for the Book (member of advisory board), New Mexico Library Association.


Best Books for Young Adults designation, American Library Association, 1977, for Arriving at a Place You've Never Left, and 1994, for Miriam's Well; Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies designation, National Council for the Social Studies/Children's Book Council (NCSS-CBC), 1982, for Two Truths in My Pocket, and 1995, for Steal Away Home; First Prize for fiction, Kansas Authors' Club, 1987, and honorable mention, Writer's Digest short-story competition, 1991, both for "Jubilee Year"; Books for the Teen Age designation, New York City Public Library, 1994, for Miriam's Well, 1995, for Skin Deep, 1996, for Steal Away Home; Young Adult Choice selection, International Reading Association, 1996, for Steal Away Home; Professionals Celebrate Literacy Award, Wichita Area Reading Council, 1996; Kansas Notable Book designation, 2007, for Shanghai Shadows.


Arriving at a Place You've Never Left (short stories), Dial (New York, NY), 1977.

What Do You Do in Quicksand?, Viking (New York, NY), 1979.

Two Truths in My Pocket (short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1982.

This Old Man, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1984.

Pig-Out Inn, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1987.

Miriam's Well, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.

Steal Away Home, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994.

Skin Deep, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.

Soon Be Free, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

Swindletop, Eakin Press (Austin, TX), 2000.

The Moxie Kid, Eakin Press (Austin, TX), 2002.

Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, Spark (New York, NY), 2003.

Journey to Jamestown, Kingfisher (Boston, MA), 2005.

Shanghai Shadows, Holiday House (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to books, including Words on the Page, the World in Your Hands, edited by Catherine Lipkin and Virginia Solotaroff, Harper, 1990, and The VOYA Reader, edited by Dorothy M. Broderick, Scarecrow Press, 1990. Contributor of short fiction to Writer's Digest, and one-act play to Today I Am, edited by Sandra Fenichel Asher.


In her novels and short stories for young adults, Lois Ruby confronts and addresses issues that shape many of her readers' lives in a society far different that that of their parents and teachers. According to Sharon Clontz Bernstein in Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, "Ruby's skillful incorporation of [controversial] themes into detailed story lines … and the strength of her characters in confronting [such] dilemmas head on—sometimes with the help of traditional faith, but often not—results in compelling fiction that is relevant to today's young people." Celebrated as a perceptive writer who tackles difficult issues while remaining impartial, Ruby places great value in showing teens "how important it is to be open to ideas, feelings, and new experiences," as she once explained: "It's often a lonely world we live in, and if we can touch and be touched by others, we cross that chasm between strangers."

Ruby was born in San Francisco in 1942, and was raised in an urban environment. "As a city child, I led a breathlessly exciting life," she once recalled. "I walked ten blocks to the library at least twice a week and read all the books about doctors. Early on, leprosy became a sentimental favorite of mine. Sometimes I took the trolley downtown, or the bus out to the beach, where you'd freeze to death, and no one dared swim because of the sharks. The big attraction at the beach midway was the Laughing Lady. She was obese and had bad skin and a boring job. I never could understand how she could laugh all the time. I guess it got me wondering about how people who laugh on the outside feel deep within themselves."

A reserved person, Ruby played the role of observer through much of high school, a role common to many budding writers. "I watched all the coolest of my classmates, to see if I could figure out what they had that I didn't. Since I couldn't figure it out, I did what I could do: I began [writing] parodies of them," she once explained. Unfortunately, her writing abilities got her into some trouble. "My mother sent one such embarrassment to a teen magazine, which actually paid fifty dollars to publish the story," the author remembered. "When it came out in bold black print, and when all the ‘Cool Kids’ read it, any hope I once harbored of being ‘IN’ was out." Dauntless, Ruby kept on writing, regardless of what others might think.

She continued to write through college, as well as through her marriage and after the birth of her three children, although she did not summon the courage to submit anything to a publisher until the early 1970s, a period during which realistic stories were in vogue with both publishers and the reading public. Ruby became confident that she could spin an honest yarn—"about kids who had something more important going on in their lives than a new gown for the prom or a new crankshaft for the jalopy," she once commented. Her prose did not pull any punches, despite the fact that her audience was youthful: "I was sure that teenagers weren't a separate species of animal, but that they were just like other humans—with problems, triumphs, heartbreaks, fears, dreams. Actually," Ruby added, "my approach hasn't changed much since then."

Ruby's first published book was the 1977 short-story collection Arriving at a Place You've Never Left. Containing seven short works that focus on teens attempting to cope with the crises in their lives, the book received enough positive critical response to encourage its author to pursue her writing further. While noting that "some of the stories are diffuse in structure or weak in endings," a reviewer for the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books added that Ruby's short fiction contains "diversity and drama," and that her "writing style shows promise." A reviewer for Booklist agreed, noting that "Ruby's first book is indeed an impressive achievement."

Ruby's first young-adult novel, What Do You Do in Quicksand?, was published in 1979 and features Leah, an unhappy teen living with her widowed stepfather. When sixteen-year-old Matt moves in next door with his infant daughter, Leah quickly offers to help out with the baby. Matt, pressured by efforts to support his family, keep up with schoolwork, and cope with the demands of an infant, is grateful for Leah's help, until she attempts to steal the baby in an effort to fill the emotional void in her own life. Dubbing the work "far from a run-of-the-mill-novel," a critic in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books praised Ruby's portrayal of the increasingly obsessed Leah, calling What Do You Do in Quicksand? "strong and moving … well structured and paced, with good characterization and dialogue and a candid exploration of human relationships." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the novel "Ruby's amazing feat," adding that it "spotlights not only the actions but the emotions of characters who couldn't be more real and affecting."

What Do You Do in Quicksand? was followed by Two Truths in My Pocket, a collection of short stories that center on Jewish teenagers. Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Sari Feldman noted that Ruby "has done a beautiful job of combining the universal elements of adolescence with the unique experience of Jews in America," while in Horn Book Ann A. Flowers asserted that the "strength of centuries of religious observance and the power of belief shine through every story." The author then wrote several other novels that confront controversial topics of interest to teens, including sexual molestation, prostitution, racism, and religious controversy. For example, in Skin Deep, Laurel Grady and Dan Penner become high school sweethearts at the beginning of their senior year, but the stresses of school, athletics, and family push Dan into acting out his personal frustrations by joining a local white-supremacist group. Abandoning Laurel for the acceptance of his new friends, Dan eventually realizes that he is no longer acting in accordance with his own personal beliefs and must now attempt to refocus his life. A Kirkus Reviews commentator maintained that Ruby "portrays skinhead culture and racial hatred with terrifying clarity in this well-written novel," and in Publishers Weekly a critic called the story's conclusion "satisfying without offering easy answers." Booklist critic Frances Bradburn, noting the depth in both Laurel and Dan, called Skin Deep "a complex novel, one that is hardly ‘skin deep’!"

In Miriam's Well, Ruby explores the concept of religious freedom through the relationship of two classmates, shy Miriam Pelham, a Christian fundamentalist, and Adam Bergen, a popular, outgoing Jewish boy. When Miriam is diagnosed with bone cancer, her fundamentalist sect disallows medical care for religious reasons, but as a minor the courts order her to accept treatment. As Miriam and her family cope with the legal and philosophical issues involved in the young woman's situation, Adam becomes increasingly drawn into her life as well. As his understanding and acceptance of Miriam's religious values grow, "the reader becomes more knowledgeable about Fundamentalist and Jewish beliefs and customs," according to Barbara Flottmeier in the Voice of Youth Advocates. Flottmeier concluded that Miriam's Well presents two diverse religious philosophies "with clarity and compassion" as well as with "teen appeal." In the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Betsy Hearne noted that Ruby explores "some controversial issues of religion and civil rights, without making her characters mouthpieces," a "real achievement" for the writer.

Steal Away Home started out "as a bunch of bones rattling around in my head," Ruby once recalled. "As I interviewed the bones, it became clear that they were the remains of a runaway slave in 1856, and that led me to the research, and that led me to more characters and their conflicts, and then all I had to do was record the story as the movie in my mind rolled before my eyes." Combining history with an engaging story, Steal Away Home follows twelve-year-old Dana Shannon as she discovers a skeleton in a hidden room of the old Kansas house she and her parents are restoring. An old diary dating from the pre-Civil War Era provides the parallel tale of the Weavers, a Quaker family who lived in Dana's house more than 140 years ago and who helped guide escaped slaves to freedom as part of the Underground Railroad. The diary gives Dana clues as to the skeleton's origins and helps the police solve a century-old mystery; it also gives teen readers insight into the issues surrounding the institution of slavery in the United States. Ruby's "skillfully rendered book will appeal to a wide audience," noted Margaret A. Bush in Horn Book. Writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, Patsy H. Adams noted that the author's "fluid transition and realistic portrayal of life in the present and the past make [Steal Away Home] … one of the best young adult books I have read in a long time."

The story begun in Steal Away Home continues in Soon Be Free. Like Steal Away Home, half of the sequel is told from Dana's perspective. The alternating chapters continue the story of James Weaver, who, at Dana's age, made decisions on behalf of escaping slaves that sometimes made him question his own loyalties. In Soon Be Free, James decides to hide a treaty between the United States and the Delaware Indians, endangering the cause of the Delaware people to protect the escaping slaves. Though feeling that the switch between narratives is sometimes "confusing," Hazel Rochman noted in Booklist that "both worlds are complex." Noting the difficult decision James makes, a reviewer wrote in Horn Book that "Dana's parallel story illustrates the enduring consequences of long-ago decisions."

To flee Nazi Austria in 1939, Ilse Shpann and her family flee to Shanghai in Shanghai Shadows. Though Ilse is at first preoccupied with her own woes—her family lives as refugees, and the only possession they have is her father's violin—she begins to realize the importance of freedom. The citizens of Shanghai are struggling under Japanese occupation, and Ilse's mother is arrested by the Japanese government. Ilse joins a resistance movement, befriending a street urchin and another refugee, and struggling not only to survive, but to strive toward freedom. Noting that the Jewish exodus to Shanghai is a little-told part of World War II history, Bradburn wrote that the story combines "careful research, courageous characters, low-key descriptions of fear and misery, and understated examples of love, friendship, and courage."

In addition to her novels and stories for young adults, Ruby is the author of Pig-Out Inn, a middle-grade novel that describes how the operation of a restaurant/truck stop run by fourteen-year-old Dovi and her mother leads to a custody battle for a nine-year-old boy left behind by his trucker father. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Pig-Out Inn a "warm and funny novel" and noted that Ruby "has created a memorable and original situation."

The Moxie Kid tells the story of Jonathan's summer before sixth grade. He wishes for excitement and fun, and misses his friend Randy, who is away at church camp. Although Jonathan is Jewish, he contemplates joining his friend so he will not be left out. Adventures start to happen, however, when Jonathan meets Mr. Caliberti, an aging neighbor who tells the preteen that he has "moxie." "The fast-paced plot features a humorous, convincing first-person narrative," wrote Laura Scott in a School Library Journal review.

For Ruby, the process of writing a book begins long before research trips to the library or setting down plot outlines on paper. As the author once commented, "a book starts in my mind as a character who taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, lady, check me out. If you ask me the right questions, I might just have a story to tell you.’ So, I bombard this mental pest with a hundred questions, and if I'm intrigued by the answers, I write the story."

"I hope that kids will like the stories I write," Ruby once commented, "but to be honest, I write them to please myself first. I like to do stories that are emotional roller coasters. You leap over a peak, your heart in your throat, and plunge down into a valley with your stomach doing flip-flops. Then you coast for a while until the next peak catches you off guard." Although she writes to please herself, Ruby is also aware of her audience. She told an interviewer for the Raven Stone Press Web site: "With every word and thought I put to paper, I'm conscious of the enormous responsibility of writing for young people. These are the things I worry about: Did I model proper English with at least one character in my story? Did I get the facts right? … Am I out of touch, or are there stories and values that transcend time and place and generation gaps? Despite these worries, I'm ultimately aware of the great privilege I have in doing the work I love most and seeing young people read and think robustly about my stories."

In teaching the craft of writing to others, Ruby discounts the old adage "Write what you know." "I say, write what you want to know," she once explained, "then find out all you can about it." Her own practice is to research a book for months, sometimes even years, collecting piles of notecards, drawers full of files, and things tacked up on the walls and stacked in piles on the floor of her office. "Sometimes I cower under the load of all those details," the author admitted. "I have to be careful not to pack too many of them into my stories. Fiction needs to be true, that is, true to the way the human heart behaves, but not absolutely factual."

Ruby also offered the following advice to young writers on her home page: "Read everything…. Read out loud to hear how words sound, how they feel rolling around on your tongue and not just on the back of your eyelids. Spy on conversations. Feed your curiosity…. Keep a journal. Jot down fascinating tidbits…. Use them. Don't censor your work as you write. Write down your first thoughts fast, without worrying about spelling or grammar or punctuation. Then go back and fix it all up carefully. Let somebody you trust give you feedback. Most important: write and write and write…."



Bernstein, Sharon Clontz, Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.

Gallo, Donald R., editor, Speaking for Ourselves, National Council of Teachers of English, 1993.


Booklist, October 1, 1977, review of Arriving at a Place You've Never Left, p. 282; April 15, 1982, p. 1087; November 15, 1984, p. 436; March 1, 1993, p. 1224; November 15, 1994, Frances Bradburn, review of Skin Deep, p. 595; January 1, 1995, p. 816; June 1, 2000, Hazel Rochman, review of Soon Be Free, p. 1882; November 1, 2006, Frances Bradburn, review of Shanghai Shadows, p. 45.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1977, review of Arriving Late at a Place You've Never Left, p. 68; February, 1980, review of What Do You Do in Quicksand?, p. 117; May, 1993, Betsy Hearne, review of Miriam's Well, pp. 294-295; February, 1995, review of Steal Away Home, p. 214; July, 2000, review of Soon to Be Free, p. 415; March, 2007, Elizabeth Bush, review of Shanghai Shadows, p. 307.

Horn Book, February, 1980, pp. 64-65; October, 1982, Ann A. Flowers, review of Two Truths in My Pocket, pp. 522-523; March-April, 1995, Margaret A. Bush, review of Steal Away Home, p. 195; September, 2000, review of Soon Be Free, p. 581.

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1977, p. 1271; February 1, 1980, p. 136; February 1, 1993, p. 153; November 11, 1994, review of Skin Deep, p. 1542; October 1, 2006, review of Shanghai Shadows, p. 1023.

Publishers Weekly, October 15, 1979, review of What Do You Do in Quicksand?, p. 67; April 24, 1987, review of Pig-Out Inn, p. 72; March 22, 1993, p. 80; September 19, 1994, review of Skin Deep, p. 72.

School Library Journal, May, 1993, p. 128; February, 1995, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Steal Away Home, p. 112; March, 1995, Margaret Cole, review of Skin Deep, p. 225; July, 2000, review of Soon Be Free, p. 415; February, 2003, Laura Scott, review of The Moxie Kid, p. 147; June, 2005, Christina Stenson-Carey, review of Journey to Jamestown, p. 168.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1982, Sari Feldman, review of Two Truths in My Pocket, p. 45; April, 1985, p. 51; June, 1987, p. 82; June, 1993, Barbara Flottmeier, review of Miriam's Well, p. 94; December, 1994, p. 290; April, 1995, Patsy H. Adams, review of Steal Away Home, p. 27; August, 2000, review of Soon Be Free, p. 193; February, 2007, Florence H. Munat, review of Shanghai Shadows, p. 531.


Lois Ruby's Home Page, (November 17, 2007).

Raven Stone Press Web site, (November 17, 2007), "Lois Ruby."