Born in England; children: twin daughters, one son. Education: Degree from London art college (with highest honors); attended theatre school.
Home—North London, England.
Children's book author and illustrator. Theatre designer for the London stage, specializing in costume design, for fifteen years.
Smarties Book Prize Bronze Award, 2003, for The Countess's Calamity; Nestlé Children's Book Prize, 2006, for I, Coriander; various awards for costume design.
FOR CHILDREN; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
The Little Nut Tree, Tambourine Books (New York, NY), 1993.
My Little Princess, Orion (London, England), 1994.
A Book of Princesses, Orion (London, England), 1997.
The Fairy Catalogue: All You Need to Make a Fairy Tale, Orion (London, England), 2000, published as The Fairy Tale Catalog: Everything You Need to Make a Fairy Tale, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2001.
(Adaptor) The Glass Heart: A Tale of Three Princesses (based on "Die drie Schwestern mit den gläsernen Herzen" by Richard Volkmann-Leander), Orion (London, England), 2001.
(And illustrator) Mama, Don't Go out Tonight, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2002, published as Mummy, Don't Go out Tonight, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2002.
Fairy Shopping, Orion (London, England), 2003.
Lucy Willow, Orion (London, England), 2006.
"MAGICAL CHILDREN" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
The Strongest Girl in the World (also see below), Dolphin (London, England), 1999.
The Smallest Girl Ever, Dolphin (London, England), 2000.
The Boy Who Could Fly (also see below), Dolphin (London, England), 2001.
The Invisible Boy (also see below), Dolphin (London, England), 2002.
The Boy with the Magic Numbers, Dolphin (London, England), 2003.
Magical Children (includes The Strongest Girl in the World, The Invisible Boy, and The Boy Who Could Fly), Dolphin (London, England), 2004 published as Magical Kids: The Strongest Girl in the World and the Invisible Boy, Dial (New York, NY), 2007.
The Boy with the Lightning Feet, Dolphin (London, England), 2006.
"TALES FROM THE BOX" SERIES; SELF-ILLUSTRATED
The Countess's Calamity, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Boolar's Big Day Out, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Marjorie Newman, Robert and the Giant, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1990.
Beverley Birch, Suzi, Sam, George, and Alice, Bodley Head (London, England), 1993.
Playtime Rhymes, Orion (London, England), 1995.
Adrian Mitchell, Gynormous: The Ultimate Book of Giants, Orion (London England), 1996.
Jostein Gaarder, Hello? Is Anybody There?, translated by James Anderson, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 1998.
Georgie Adams, The Real Fairy Storybook, Orion (London, England), 1998.
Frances Thomas, Polly's Running Away Book, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2000, published as Polly's Really Secret Diary, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Frances Thomas, Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2001, Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2003.
I, Coriander (young-adult novel), Dial (New York, NY), 2005.
I, Coriander was adapted as an audiobook, read by Juliet Stevenson, Listening Library, 2006; Orion adapted several other books by Gardner as book-and-CD packs.
During Sally Gardner's school-aged years, where poor reading skills found the British schoolgirl struggling to pass class after class, no one—least of all Gardner herself—would have guessed that she would eventually become a successful children's book author. Her difficulty with reading was eventually dealt with through the eye-opening diagnosis of dyslexia, however, and Gardner's whimsical imagination and unique viewpoints have found an outlet in both self-illustrated picture books such as The Little Nut Tree and Mama, Don't Go out Tonight. Her chapter books for older readers include The Countess's Calamity and the multi-volume "Magical Children" series, which includes The Invisible Boy and The Strongest Girl in the World. Having more recently moved her attention to even older readers, Gardner's debut young-adult novel, I, Coriander, earned its author the coveted 2006 Nestlé Children's Book Prize in her native England.
Born and raised in London, Gardner found her success in school hampered by the fact that, due to her dyslexia, she could neither read nor write until her early teens. In fact, she even changed her first name from Sarah to Sally so she would be able to spell it correctly. Dismissed from several schools after being deemed uneducable, Gardner was eventually enrolled at a school for maladjusted children. Fortunately, by the time she reached age fourteen, advances in learning allowed her to deal with her condition, and the first book she read was Charlotte Brontë's Wuthering Heights. Writers that soon became favorites included Charles Dickens, E. Nesbit, Rachel Compton, and Jane Austen; in fact, Gardner still ranks Dickens' Great Expectations as her favorite book of all time.
Although reading was not Gardner's strong suit, she showed a talent for dealing with three-dimensional form as well as a strong artistic sense that fueled her success at art college and earned her a scholarship to study theatre design. For the next fifteen years, she worked on the London stage as a designer, and her costume design won her several awards. She moved to book illustration following the births of twin daughters and a son, and from there to writing. Her first self-illustrated picture book, The Little Nut Tree, which was published in 1994, has also been translated into Spanish.
Gardner's picture books and chapter books often feature fairytale themes and magical elements. Mama, Don't Go out Tonight, a picture book praised for its "gentle humor" by Booklist contributor Ellen Mandel, finds a young girl conjuring up a series of fantastical catastrophes that might befall her mother on a night out: from being captured by pirates to becoming a monster's appetizer. Her "Tales from the Box" chapter-book series brings to life the world of five abandoned dolls as they struggle to survive in a hostile world. Helped by a nearby mouse family in The Countess's Calamity, Boolar, Stitch, the Chinese doll Ting Tang, the sailor
doll Quilt, and the Countess are appreciative of their new home, although the fashionably dressed Countess demands a more luxurious abode. Ultimately, when her life is threatened by the sinister Mr. Cuddles, a local cat, the now-tattered doll learns to appreciate the charity of others with the help of a new heart. In School Library Journal Susan Helper praised The Countess's Calamity for its "fresh and lively" plot, while a Publishers Weekly writer deemed it a "diverting and clever fantasy."
Gardner's diminutive doll saga continues in Boolar's Big Day Out, as the resourceful Boolar leaves the group to join a puppet troupe as the lead in a production of The Adventures of Tom Thumb. While his time away is supposed to be brief, he quickly falls in love with the performing life as well as with his captivating marionette costar. With cold weather coming, the dolls he has left are forced to seek much-needed supplies for themselves, forgotten by their stage-struck friend. Ultimately, however, Boolar learns about the theatre's fickle side and, when his leading role is given to another, he returns to the toy box where all is forgiven. Reviewing Boolar's Big Day Out, a Kirkus Reviews writer praised Gardner's "charming pencil drawings," while JoAnn Jonas deemed the tale a "satisfying read" in her review for School Library Journal. Jonas further praised Boolar's Big Day Out, noting that it boasts "engaging writing, an entertaining story line, plus a lesson in friendship and loyalty."
Set in London during the 1600s, I, Coriander weaves together fantasy and history in its story of the unhappy daughter of a silk merchant. Following the death of England's King Charles I and the rise to power of Oliver Cromwell, Coriander Hobie's widowed father is forced to flee due to his loyalty to the English crown. Left in the care of an unloving stepmother, the imaginative nine year old is now an obstacle for the grasping woman and her friend, a coldhearted Puritan minister. Locked in a trunk and left to die, the girl instead finds herself in a dream world where she learns that her real mother, a fairy princess, has left her with a quest: to locate a secret object and save fairyland from the control of a destructive queen. The story's use of time shifts—Coriander ages six years during the retrospective tale—and Gardner's juxtaposition of "turbulent seventeenth-century London and the shimmering mysteries of fairyland" reflect the history of England's tumultuous Restoration period, as Jennifer Mattson noted in Booklist, the critic adding that I, Coriander presents readers with a rewarding challenge. In Kliatt Janis Flint-Ferguson characterized the novel as "one of good triumphing over evil and of true love saving the lives of honest people," while Beth Wright deemed I, Coriander an "absorbing, picturesque tale." Also commenting on Gardner's use of time travel and dual worlds, Wright added that the novel would have appeal for both fantasy fans and those who enjoy historical fiction, while "readers who love romantic fairy tales will delight" in Coriander's discovery of true love and "the way her dual heritage allows her to honor her human father and still have her fairy prince." "Deft and dulcet language … and the tie to a grim historical season will hold readers fast," predicted a Kirkus Reviews writer of Gardner's award-winning novel.
As an illustrator, Gardner has created art for Frances Thomas's amusing diaries of a nine year old named Polly, whose antic life is recounted in Polly's Running Away Book—published as Polly's Really Secret Diary in the United States—and Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever. She has also served as illustrator for Jostein Gaarder's novel Hello? Is Anybody There?, a story about a boy's encounter with a young space traveler. Through what a Kirkus Reviews writer characterized as a "combination of childlike pencil illustrations, magazine cut-outs, clip-art, and family photos," Gardner effectively brings to life the "frenetic, yet completely believable" account of Thomas's spunky and single-minded narrator in Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever.
"Fairy tales are the soul of the world," Gardner explained to Orion Web site contributor Danuta Kean
[Image not available for copyright reasons]
while discussing her motivation for writing for children. "They talk of great universal truths in a way that is accessible. When you write about a child living in a tower block with a crackhead mother, it is too close to her reality for her to see what else is in the story." However, "place her in a fairy tower with a horrible witch whom she is trying to escape," the author added, "and she can take inspiration from the message that good can triumph over evil."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, June 1, 2002, Kelly Milner Halls, review of Polly's Really Secret Diary, p. 1726; January 1, 2003, Ellen Mandel, review of Mama, Don't Go out Tonight, p. 906; July, 2003, Kay Weisman, review of Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 1892; August, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of I, Coriander, p. 2015.
Horn Book, November-December, 2005, Jennifer M. Brabander, review of I, Coriander, p. 719.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 812; November 1, 2003, review of Boolar's Big Day Out, p. 1310; July 15, 2005, review of I, Coriander, p. 789.
Kliatt, September, 2005, Janis Flint-Ferguson, review of I, Coriander, p. 8.
Publishers Weekly, May, 23, 1994, review of The Little Nut Tree, p. 87; August 10, 1998, review of Hello? Is Anybody There?, p. 388; June 3, 2002, review of Polly's Really Secret Diary, p. 88; October 28, 2002, review of Mama, Don't Go out Tonight, p. 71; March 24, 2003, review of The Countess's Calamity, p. 76; July 18, 2005, review of I, Coriander, p. 206.
School Librarian, spring, 1998, reviews of Hello? Is Anybody out There? and A Book of Princesses, p. 24; spring, 2001, review of The Fairy Catalogue: All You Need to Make a Fairy Tale, p. 33; spring, 2002, reviews of The Glass Heart and The Boy Who Could Fly, p. 24; winter, 2002, review of The Invisible Boy, p. 186; autumn, 2003, review of The Countess's Calamity, p. 136; autumn, 2005, Barbara Sherrard-Smith, review of I, Coriander, p. 155; autumn, 2006, Rosemary Woodman, review of The Boy with the Lightning Feet, p. 141.
School Library Journal, July, 1994, Cyrisse Jaffee, review of The Little Nut Tree, p. 76; August, 2002, Marietta Barral Zacker, review of The Fairy Catalog, p. 55, and Amy Stultz, review of Polly's Really Secret Diary, p. 171; December, 2002, Steven Engelfried, review of Mama, Don't Go out Tonight, p. 96; August, 2003, Susan Hepler, review of The Countess's Calamity, p. 128; November, 2003, Carolyn Janssen, review of Polly's Absolutely Worst Birthday Ever, p. 116; January, 2004, JoAnn Jonas, review of Boolar's Big Day Out, p. 98; September, 2005, Beth Wright, review of I, Coriander, p. 203.
Times Educational Supplement, November 16, 2001, review of The Boy Who Could Fly, p. 20; September 5, 2003, review of The Countess's Calamity, p. 14; July 29, 2005, Linda Newbery, review of I, Coriander, p. 26.
BookBrowse,http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (August 15, 2005), interview with Gardner.
Guardian Unlimited, http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (December 14, 2005), Michelle Pauli, "Dyslexic Writer Savours Nestle Victory."
Orion Web site,http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/ (March 7, 2007), Danuta Kean, profile of Gardner.