Pearsall, Shelley 1966–

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Pearsall, Shelley 1966–


Born 1966, in OH; married; husband's name Mike; children: Ethan. Education: College of Wooster, B.A., 1989; John Carroll University, M.A. (education). Hobbies and other interests: Swimming, gardening, attending the theatre, spending time with family.


Home and office—Silver Lake, OH. E-mail—[email protected]


Educator and author. Formerly worked as a public-school teacher and museum historian. James Thurber House, children's writer-in-residence, 2005.

Awards, Honors

Ohio Arts Council fellowship in writing; Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, Ohioana Library Book Award for Juvenile Fiction, Bank Street College of Education Best Book designation, Jefferson Cup Honor Book, and New York Public Library 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing designation, all 2003, all for Trouble Don't Last; New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age designation, Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People designation, and Great Lakes Book Award finalist, all 2006, all for Crooked River; American Library Association Notable Book designation, and New York Public Library Top 100 Books for Reading and Sharing designation, both 2007, and Voice of Youth Advocates Top Shelf designation, Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award nomination, and North Carolina Children's Book Award nomination, all 2008, all for All of the Above.


Remarkable Ohioans: Stories, illustrated by Mary McHale, Eden Valley Enterprises (Vermilion, OH), 1997.

Trouble Don't Last, Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.

Crooked River, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.

All of the Above, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.

All Shook Up, Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.


Much of Shelley Pearsall's writing for teens and younger readers has been inspired by her love of history and the past, as well as by her lifelong involvement in living history, archeological projects, and other history-related jobs. She began her writing career after working for several years as an upper-elementary-grade teacher, and has produced the middle-grade novels Trouble Don't Last, Crooked River, All of the Above, and All Shook Up. Praising Trouble Don't Last, a Publishers Weekly contributor cited Pearsall's skill in creating realistic and compelling characters and grounding her story in a sense of history, and concluded that the novel's "memorable portrayal" of individuals caught up in the injustices of their era "proves gripping from beginning to end."

Pearsall's fiction debut, the award-winning Trouble Don't Last, was published in 2002. The novel takes place in 1859 and focuses on an eleven-year-old slave named Samuel. Living on a Kentucky farm and raised under the thumb of a brutal master, Samuel joins Harrison, an elderly enslaved man, on Harrison's break for freedom along the Underground Railroad. Although the journey is a frightening one, full of uncertainty, fear, and discomfort, the boy learns the value of freedom and begins to understand the injustices of the life he has always known.

"I believe that the Underground Railroad should be seen as one of the great journeys in American history," Pearsall noted on her home page. "Although it was not a single journey made by a group of explorers, it was a journey made by thousands of courageous individuals who traveled many different ways and by many different routes…. I have always loved studying and reading about journeys, [and] … I wrote Trouble Don't Last to bring parts of the Underground Railroad to life and to show the courage of the people who made the journey." Noting that the historian/author's "extensive research is deftly woven into each scene," School Library Journal contributor William McLoughlin added that Pearsall "provid[es] … insight into plantation life, 19th-century social mores, religious and cultural norms, and the political turmoil in the years preceding the [U.S.] Civil War." Praising Pearsall for imbuing her "thrilling escape story" with a "harsh and realistic" view of her subject, Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper added that in Trouble Don't Last the author brings to life "the brutal effects of slavery that the runaways carry with them forever" as well as "the prejudice and hardship they encounter on their journey to freedom."

Pearsall again mines American history in Crooked River, a novel that takes readers back to the Ohio frontier of 1812. When the body of a white trapper is discovered, a young Chippewa named Amik is accused of the crime. Because there is no jail, the youth is chained and detained in the loft of thirteen-year-old Rebecca Carver's family home. As the trial date approaches, Rebecca becomes involved in the efforts of Amik's lawyer to see that justice is done within a culture that values vengeance over truth. Using a dual narrative, Pearsall brings to life the confusion of both the condemned Chippewa as he is drawn into the White Man's world and the young girl as she deals with the prejudice of her illiterate and embittered father as well as that of her community. Crooked River "wonderfully captures the language of the time as well as Rebecca's growing awareness for what passes for truth and justice in her community," according to Booklist reviewer Abby Nolan. While noting that Pearsall weights her novel with the morality of Amik's innocence and honorable world view, Myrna Marler concluded in Kliatt that the author's story "effectively and perhaps accurately reflects frontier justice and racial attitudes." According to School Library Journal reviewer Kimberly Monaghan, Crooked River will "quickly engage … readers" as a "captivating tale of fear, ignorance, and bravery."

Pearsall turns to contemporary themes in her novels All of the Above, in which a class of inner-city preteens aspire to build the world's largest tetrahedron, and All Shook Up, which finds a young teen dealing with an unusual family situation when his newly divorced father gets a job as an Elvis impersonator. Hoping to inspire an interest in math among his disinterested middle-school students, Mr. Collins challenged the group to construct a three-dimensional structure that will make it into the Guinness book of world records. Grounded in a true story that took place in a Cleveland, Ohio middle school, All of the Above is told from the overlapping viewpoint of the teacher and four students. Calling the novel "a feel-good read," Caitlin Augusta added in her School Library Journal review that Pearsall exhibits a strong talent for "creating strong narratives and characters that eschew predictability." "Smart and fast-paced, this story inspires as well as entertains," concluded a Kirkus Reviews critic, and in Booklist Frances Bradburn deemed All of the Above "a delightful story about the power of a vision and the importance of a goal."

Equally engaging, All Shook Up explores the shifting reality of thirteen year old Josh Greenwood as his dad seems to spiral out of control following a divorce. Chicago-based Dad is far more of a free spirit than Boston-based Mom, and the contrast becomes more than apparent to Josh when he spends the entire seventh-grade school year with his father. Suddenly the teen's life is burdened by a relationship with his dad's girlfriend Viv, and the woman's hippie daughter, Ivory. Now, Ivory has the power to expose Josh's wacky father's career as an Elvis impersonator to everyone at the school they now both attend. Even worse, she seems to have a crush on him. "Some funny moments, some offbeat characters, and some elements of suspense … will keep most readers engaged," predicted Michael Cart in his Booklist review of All Shook Up, and a Kirkus Reviews writer anticipated that "boys especially will identify with Josh's struggle to escape the stigma of an embarrassing parent."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, February 15, 2002, Hazel Rochman, review of Trouble Don't Last, p. 1024; May 15, 2005, Abby No-

lan, review of Crooked River, p. 1676; September 1, 2006, Frances Bradburn, review of All of the Above, p. 130; May 1, 2008, Michael Cart, review of All Shook Up, p. 86.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 2002, review of Trouble Don't Last, p. 251; November, 2006, Loretta Gaffney, review of All of the Above, p. 140.

Horn Book, September-October, 2006, Roger Sutton, review of All of the Above, p. 594.

Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2001, review of Trouble Don't Last, p. 1614; July 1, 2005, review of Crooked River, p. 741; July 15, 2006, review of All of the Above, p. 728; April 15, 2008, review of All Shook Up.

Kliatt, July, 2005, Myrna Marler, review of Crooked River, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly, December 17, 2001, review of Trouble Don't Last, p. 91.

School Library Journal, January, 2002, William McLoughlin, review of Trouble Don't Last, p. 138; October, 2005, Kimberly Monaghan, review of Crooked River, p. 171; September, 2006, Caitlin Augusta, review of All of the Above, p. 215.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 2003, review of Trouble Don't Last, p. 436; October, 2005, review of Crooked River, p. 312; February, 2007, Jan Chapman, review of Crooked River, p. 493.


Shelley Pearsall Home Page, (June 5, 2008).