Conford, Ellen 1942–
Conford, Ellen 1942–
Born March 20, 1942, in New York, NY; daughter of Harry and Lillian (Pfeffer) Schaffer; married David H. Conford (a professor of English and poet), November 23, 1960; children: Michael. Education: Attended Hofstra College (now Hofstra University), 1959–62. Hobbies and other interests: "I like to cook, do crossword puzzles, watch old movies, and play Scrabble. I compete in crossword puzzle and Scrabble tournaments. I love to read, especially mysteries, cookbooks, and popular history, sociology, and psychology."
Home —26 Strathmore Rd., Great Neck, NY 11023. Agent —McIntosh & Otis, Inc., 310 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10017.
Writer of books for children and young adults.
Best Books designation, School Library Journal, 1971, for Impossible, Possum; Children's Books of International Interest citation, 1974, for Just the Thing for Geraldine; Children's Books of the Year designation, Library of Congress, 1974, for Me and the Terrible Two; Books of the Year selection, Child Study Association of America, 1975, for The Luck of Pokey Bloom and Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate; Best Books for Young Adults selection, American Library Association, 1976, for The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations; Surrey School award and Pacific Northwest Young Readers' Choice Award, both 1981, and California Young Readers' Medal, 1982, all for Hail, Hail, Camp Timberwood; Best Books selection, School Library Journal, and Parents' Choice award, both 1983, both for Lenny Kandell, Smart Aleck; Parents' Choice award, 1985, for Why Me?, and 1986, for A Royal Pain; South Carolina Young-Adult Book Award, 1986–87, and South Dakota Prairie Pasque Award, 1989, both for If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti.
Impossible, Possum, illustrated by Rosemary Wells, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1971.
Why Can't I Be William?, illustrated by Philip Wende, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1972.
Dreams of Victory, illustrated by Gail Rockwell, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1973.
Felicia the Critic, illustrated by Arvis Stewart, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1973.
Just the Thing for Geraldine, illustrated by John Larrecq, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.
Me and the Terrible Two, illustrated by Charles Carroll, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.
The Luck of Pokey Bloom, illustrated by Bernice Lowenstein, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1975.
Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1975.
The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1976.
And This Is Laura, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.
Eugene the Brave, illustrated by John Larrecq, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.
Hail, Hail, Camp Timberwood, illustrated by Gail Owens, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1978.
Anything for a Friend, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1979.
We Interrupt This Semester for an Important Bulletin, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1979.
The Revenge of the Incredible Dr. Rancid and His Youthful Assistant, Jeffrey, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.
Seven Days to a Brand-New Me, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1981.
To All My Fans, with Love, from Sylvie, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982.
Lenny Kandell, Smart Aleck, illustrated by Walter Gaffney-Kessell, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1983.
If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti (short stories), Four Winds Press (New York, NY), 1983.
You Never Can Tell, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1984.
Why Me?, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1985.
Strictly for Laughs, Pacer, 1986.
A Royal Pain, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1986.
The Things I Did for Love, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Genie with the Light Blue Hair, Bantam (New York, NY), 1989.
Loving Someone Else, Bantam (New York, NY), 1991.
Dear Mom, Get Me out of Here!, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1992.
I Love You, I Hate You, Get Lost (short stories), Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
My Sister the Witch ("Norman Newman" series), illustrated by Tim Jacobus, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Norman Newman and the Werewolf of Walnut Street ("Norman Newman" series), illustrated by Tim Jacobus, Troll (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
The Frog Princess of Pelham, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Crush (short stories), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Diary of a Monster's Son, illustrated by Tom Newsom, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.
Contributor of short fiction to anthologies, including A Night to Remember, Avon Flare (New York, NY), 1995. Contributor of stories and poems to periodicals, including Teen, Reader's Digest, and Modern Bride, and of reviews to New York Times and American Record Guide.
"JENNY ARCHER" SERIES; BEGINNING READERS
A Job for Jenny Archer, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988.
A Case for Jenny Archer, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1988.
Jenny Archer, Author, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.
What's Cooking, Jenny Archer?, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.
Jenny Archer to the Rescue, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
Can Do, Jenny Archer, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Springboard (Boston, MA), 1991.
Nibble, Nibble, Jenny Archer, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Get the Picture, Jenny Archer?, illustrated by Diane Palmisciano, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
"ANNABEL THE ACTRESS" SERIES; CHAPTER BOOKS
Annabel the Actress Starring in Gorilla My Dreams, illustrated by Renee Williams-Andriani, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
Annabel the Actress Starring in Just a Little Extra, illustrated by Renee Williams-Andriani, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
Annabel the Actress Starring in Hound of the Barkervilles, illustrated by Renee W. Andriani, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2002.
Annabel the Actress Starring in Camping It Up, illustrated by Renee W. Andriani, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2004.
And This Is Laura and The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations were filmed for television; "Getting Even: A Wimp's Revenge" (based on The Revenge of the Incredible Dr. Rancid and His Youthful Assistant, Jeffrey ) was filmed as an ABC Afterschool Special, starring Adolph Caesar and Jon Rothstein, 1986; Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate was dramatized for television as an ABC Afterschool Special; Dreams of Victory was made into a sound recording; If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti, Lenny Kandell, Smart Aleck, The Luck of Pokey Bloom, and The Revenge of the Incredible Dr. Rancid and His Youthful Assistant, Jeffrey, were recorded on audio cassettes; film rights to Genie with the Light Blue Hair were acquired by Emmett/Furla Films, 2004.
Ellen Conford's basic philosophy comes through in all her books for young people: "Believe in yourself." Her stories appeal to readers who can identify with middle-class, suburban characters as they face the universal problems of childhood while being supported by loving, caring families. Conford has a light, often humorous touch in plotting both her novels and picture books. Among her most popular books for younger children are a series of beginning readers featuring savvy elementary-school student Jenny Archer, and chapter books featuring aspiring actress Annabel, while older teens have enjoyed Conford's short story collections I Love You, I Hate You, Get Lost and 1998's Crush, as well as novels such as Lenny Kandell, Smart Aleck and the humorous Diary of a Monster's Son, a beginning chapter book that Booklist reviewer Susan Dove Lempke praised for its "highly episodic" and "fun" story about a boy's admiration for his rather unusual father.
Praising Conford's fiction as "fast-paced and optimistic," St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers essayist Deidre Johnson added that the author's "stories offer engaging, sometimes quirky characters, uncomplicated plots, and simple solutions, complete with a generous dose of humor." Johnson described Conford's style as "comic realism," adding that "the majority of [her] books deal with the lighter problems of adolescence—especially romance—as seen through the eyes of teenagers."
Conford was born in New York City in 1942. Shy as a child, she gained a love of books while in elementary school, and read up to eight books a week. "I have enjoyed writing since I was in the third grade," she recalled to Something about the Author (SATA), adding that her first efforts at poetry consisted of working "assigned spelling words into poems instead of simply using each word in a separate and unrelated sentence. I don't think those poems were very good, or even made much sense, but my teacher was pleased with them and encouraged me with praise and enthusiasm." Soon Conford began writing in earnest, sure that she was destined to be a writer when she grew up.
Following the proper course for a soon-to-be-author and gaining self-confidence, Conford worked on the student newspaper and the yearbook, and edited her high school's humor magazine. After graduating, she enrolled at Hofstra College, planning to help pay her way through school by working as a proofreader and salesperson. However, after the first day of class those plans changed; she met fellow student David Conford, with whom she quickly fell in love and married. In 1961 she had a son, Michael, and while she returned to take several classes, her husband's budding career as a professor of English, her commitment to being a parent, and her growing accomplishments in the field of children's literature kept her from completing her degree.
Conford's experiences in hunting down quality books to read to her son inspired her first attempt at children's book writing. Having already accumulated publishing credits by placing several poems and stories in magazines such as Reader's Digest, Conford was experienced enough in the discipline of writing to complete the text that would become Impossible, Possum, her first published book.
Published in 1971, Impossible, Possum is about a silver-haired marsupial named Randolph, who is unable to master the art of hanging by his tail demonstrated by his relatives. Commended by a School Library Journal contributor for penning of the best books of the year, Conford would feature Randolph and his family of opossums in two more of her picture books, 1974's Just the Thing for Geraldine and 1978's Eugene the Brave. At the same time, she began to write stories for older children.
1973's Dreams of Victory was Conford's first novel for older readers. Targeting the middle-school crowd, the
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novel is narrated by Victory Benneker, a young teen who daydreams about being everything from an Olympic ice-skater to president of the United States while trying to survive the rigors of the sixth grade. Characteristic of much of Conford's work, the book focuses on a teenage girl and her day-to-day problems, many of which center on boys, worries about her appearance, and concerns over friends, all of which is seen through the viewpoint of a smart, likeable, witty character.
Other books featuring thirteen-and fourteen-year-old protagonists include Dear Lovey Hart, I Am Desperate, about narrator Carrie Wasserman's efforts to become anonymous advisor to her high school's lovelorn through the school newspaper's advice column, and Dear Mom, Get Me out of Here! Unlike most of Conford's other novels, Dear Mom, Get Me out of Here features a male protagonist, Paul Tanner, who finds himself stuck at Burnside Academy, the boarding school from hell, while his wealthy parents explore Europe. Amid the chaos caused by a murder on campus, a quirky student body, and several demented faculty members, Paul proves to be "the voice of reason in an environment of mayhem and madness…. [His] wry observations … advance the story and make for pleasurable reading," in the opinion of Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Stephanie M. Baker.
The story line in each of Conford's novels evolves out of the personality of the main character. "When I get an idea for a book, I just jot it down in one sentence, usually, and let it stay in the back of my mind for awhile," she explained to SATA. "If it's a good idea, it usually begins to take shape as a book without my even consciously working at it. And it stays in my mind until I do something about it. (Write it.) If it doesn't keep coming back to me, if it doesn't get bigger and better, it doesn't become a book. For an idea to turn into a book, it has to bother you and haunt you until it forces you to write it." A disciplined writer, she makes it a habit to write five pages a day, for two or three hours at a time.
In contrast to her characteristic lighthearted plots, Conford has also penned To All My Fans, with Love, from Sylvie, a novel that Peter D. Sieruta praised in Children's Books and Their Creators as "an ambitious work" featuring "one of the few Conford characters not growing up in a stable, two-parent home." The 1982 novel, which takes place in the 1950s, focuses on such topics as sexual abuse and running away from home.
In addition to her novel-length works, Conford has written several collections of short fiction, including If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti, I Love You, I Hate You, Get Lost, and Crush. In keeping with the book's title, a sense of fun runs through I Love You, I Hate You, Get Lost, as seven "entertaining, quick-reading stories" highlight the humorous side to troubles with parents, step-siblings, and uncooperative love interests, according to Booklist contributor Susan DeRonne. In Crush, the annual Valentine's-Day Dance provides the focal point—as well as the source of a lot of tension—in ten stories that demonstrate the unpredictability of life and love. "Tangled situations end up neatly tied into love knots," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor, who praised Conford's "vitality" and "keen wit"; however, "arrangements that seem all sewn up, however, can just as easily unravel," the critic added. While noting that the collection is "about as deep as a one-layer box of Valentine candy," Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer Janice M. Del Negro added, "it's still fun."
Conford entertains younger readers in both her "Jenny Archer" and "Annabel the Actress" series. Sporting titles like A Job for Jenny Archer and Get the Picture, Jenny Archer?, the books feature a spunky ten-year-old protagonist, "the kid I wished that I had been," as Conford once admitted. With initiative to spare, the independent-minded Jenny, her best friend Wilson, and Barkley, her tagalong pet, take matters into their own hands, with often humorous results. Another ambitious girl is the focus of books such as Annabel the Actress Starring in Camping It Up, wherein the budding thespian is off to a summer camp for, appropriately, budding thespians. When her teacher turns out to be an actor from tacky horror films, Annabel is initially disappointed, but her talent for deranged screaming and her ability to improvise saves the group's play. More acting triumphs are profiled in Annabel the Actress Starring in Hound of the Barkervilles, as Conford's heroine gets a part in a local play but also finds that her off-stage duties include taking care of the four-legged lead. Reviewing Annabel the Actress Starring in Camping It Up for Booklist, Ilene Cooper noted that fans of the series will enjoy Conford's humor as well as "the story's fast pace, and its breezy dialogue," while a Kirkus Reviews critic praised the series' "can-do budding actress heroine" as "intelligent and resourceful." Carolyn Phelan predicted that Annabel the Actress Starring in Hound of the Barkervilles will engage readers with its "light tone, … quick pace, and more than a touch of humor."
While unique characters like the indomitable Jenny Archer are not based specifically on a person Conford knows, the author once explained to SATA that "their personalities, mannerisms and characteristics are derived from those of adults and children I've known myself," kids and grown-ups who share what can best be characterized as a typical middle-class suburban existence.
Another work geared for younger readers, The Frog Princess of Pelham is a fairy tale for younger readers that finds wealthy, orphaned Chandler inadvertently turned toadlike after a kiss from friend Danny Malone. A plea for help in breaking the spell draws federal agents, the Army, and assorted other authorities into the mix in a novel that Janice M. Del Negro dubbed "a lot of froggy fun" in her Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books review.
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Through her work, Conford hopes to share the reading bug with others. "I am disturbed by the number of children and adults who have never experienced the joys of reading a book just for pleasure," she once explained. "Therefore, I write the kinds of books for children and teenagers that I liked to read at their age, books meant purely to entertain, to amuse, to divert. I feel that I am competing with the television set for a child's mind and attention, and if I receive a letter that says, 'I never used to like to read until I read one of your books, and now I really enjoy reading,' I feel I've won a great victory. A child who discovers that reading can be pleasurable may become an educated, literate, well-informed adult. I like to think I'm doing what I can to help the cause."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Children's Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995, pp. 160-161.
Children's Literature Review, Volume 10, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986, pp. 87-100.
Fifth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators, H. W. Wilson (Bronx, NY), 1983, pp. 82-83.
St. James Guide to Young-Adult Writers, St. James Press, 1999, pp. 183-185.
Booklist, October 15, 1992, p. 417; April 1, 1983, Denise M. Wilms, review of If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti, p. 1031; March 1, 1994, Susan DeRonne, review of I Love You, I Hate You, Get Lost, pp. 1249-1250; March 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of The Frog Prince of Pelham, p. 1241; July, 1999, Helen Rosenberg, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Gorilla in My Dreams, p. 1945; September 15, 2000, Catherine Andronik, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Just a Little Extra, p. 239; December 1, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of Get the Picture, Jenny Archer?, p. 680; January 1, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Crush, p. 794; July, 1999, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Diary of a Monster's Son, p. 1946; February 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Camping It Up, p. 1061; July, 2002, Carolyn Phelan, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in "Hound of the Barkervilles, p. 1844.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 1999, p. 347.
Horn Book, February, 1980, Ann A. Flowers, review of We Interrupt This Semester for an Important Bulletin, p. 59; June, 1983, Mary Burns, review of If This Is Love, I'll Take Spaghetti, pp. 309-310; March-April, 1998, review of Crush, p. 220.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1992, p. 1440; April 15, 1997, p. 638; July 8, 1997, Janice M. Del Negro, review of The Frog Princess of Pelham, p. 390; March, 1998, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Crush, pp. 238-239; May 15, 2002, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Hound of the Barkervilles, p. 730.
Publishers Weekly, November 16, 1992, p. 64; March 24, 1997, review of The Frog Prince of Pelham, p. 84 December 1, 1997, review of Crush, p. 54; June 21, 1999, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Gorilla My Dreams, p. 68.
School Library Journal, November, 1992, p. 119; April, 1994, p. 152; May 29, 1995, review of A Night to Remember, p. 86 June, 1997, p. 114; January, 1998, p. 111; July, 1999, pp. 67-68; December, 2000, Pat Leach, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Just a Little Extra, p. 106; April, 2004, Allison Grant, review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Camping It Up, p. 103; July, 2002; review of Annabel the Actress Starring in Hound of the Barkervilles, p. 86.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1993, Stephanie M., Baker, review of Dear Mom, Get Me out of Here!, p. 338; June, 1994, p. 81.
"Conford, Ellen 1942–." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/conford-ellen-1942
"Conford, Ellen 1942–." Something About the Author. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/conford-ellen-1942
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