Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Cheswick, Allegheny County
Novelist Lynne Rae Perkins won the Newbery Award for Criss Cross.
Awards: Newbery Medal
Lynne Rae Perkins was born in Cheswick, Pennsylvania in 1956. She received a BFA from The Pennsylvania State University in 1978 and won the Newbery Medal for excellence in children’s writing for Criss Cross (2005).
Lynne Rae Perkins was born in 1956 in Cheswick, Pennsylvania, a small town outside Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. She married Bill Perkins, and they have two children together, Lucy and Frank. In 1978, she received a B.F.A. from The Pennsylvania State University in printmaking, and in 1981 she received a M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.
Perkins got her start in 1993 after hearing from a friend that the current Greenwillow Books art director, Ava Weiss, was going to be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reviewing portfolios at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Perkins, who was six months pregnant at the time and late to the conference, arrived just as Weiss was finishing reviews, according to Virginia Duncan of The Horn Book Magazine. Perkins had driven six hundred miles from her home in Michigan and was upset when she got there late but Weiss, “a softie at heart,” agreed to look at Perkins’ portfolio, according to Duncan. Weiss was impressed with Perkins’ work and told her “to consider writing her own material, since it is often hard to find good manuscripts that need illustrators,” according to Duncan.
In 1995, Greenwillow Books published Home Lovely, Lynne Rae Perkins’ first picture book. Home Lovely is about a young girl named Tiffany who spends her days planting and caring for a garden while her mom is at work. With the help of the kind mail-carrier, Bob, Tiffany learns about gardening, which helps her garden grow beautifully. “Realistically drawn in pen and ink and watercolors, the illustrations underscore the nurturing theme of the tender story,” according to Ellen Mandel of Booklist. “Featuring strong, appealing characters, Perkins’ first book is caringly phrased and washed in warm colors.”
Lynne Rae and her husband Bill moved to the north woods of Michigan after marrying and lived in “a sixteen-by-twenty-foot shack built by Bill,” according to Duncan. The Perkins’ house, which was only reachable by climbing 104 steps, inspired Clouds for Dinner, Lynne Rae’s second picture book. Clouds for Dinner is the story of Janet and her parents, who live in a house that is only reachable by climbing eighty-seven steps. Her parents are astronomy lovers and spend more time looking at the stars than they do with Janet. Janet has the chance for a “normal” life when she is invited to stay at her normal aunt’s house. After living with her aunt, Janet finally appreciates her parents for who they are. “This is a tender and personable book about the uniqueness of families; it’s honest about how alluring and also how alien differences can be,” according to Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books). “[Perkins] distinctive line-and-watercolor art provides vivid impressions of both lifestyles and the pleasures thereof…”
In 1999, All Alone in the Universe, a novel about best friends growing up and growing apart, was published. Perkins’ first novel has been honored as an ALA Notable Children’s Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books) and ALA Booklist “Top 10 First Novels” just to name a few. “Perkins…writes in this first novel with a clear simplicity about emotional muddle, using occasional, tiny black-and-white pictures to express Debbie’s viewpoint through particular details,” according to Hazel Rochman (Booklist).
Perkins’ next two picture books were tales involving animals. In The Broken Cat (2002), there are two parallel stories; the first is about Andy and his trip to the vet with his cat, and the second is about Andy’s mother back when she was a child and broke her arm. Her next picture book, Snow Music (2003), is a tale about the young narrator’s search for his dog in the snow. “With whispery, musical words and detailed, soft-focus images that depict typical winter scenes, this gentle book gives children a sense of what snow is,” according to Francisca Goldsmith (Booklist). Perkins’ most recent book was published in 2005; Criss Cross is her second novel in which Debbie (the character from All Alone in the Universe) returns for a tale about her friendship with her friend Hector. The book was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in writing for children.
The Perkins family lives in northern Michigan in a house designed by Lynne Rae and mostly built by Bill. “Bill and Lynne Rae did the finish carpentry on the house, and it is, like their first home, constructed mainly out of reclaimed materials,” according to Duncan.
Home Lovely. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1995.
Cloud for Dinner. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1997.
All Alone in the Universe. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1999.
The Broken Cat. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2002.