cover image John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

Catherine Reef. Clarion Books, $17.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-395-71278-8

Fresh from her YA biography of Walt Whitman, Reef again subtly traces the links between the life and the work of a major American writer. This story begins in the middle, as John Steinbeck (1902-1968) travels among the migrant laborers of the Great Depression in California, gathering material for newspaper articles and for what would be his greatest work, The Grapes of Wrath. Other key experiences are presented chronologically, from the author's childhood in Salinas, Calif. (which he drew on for East of Eden) to a scientific trip along the coast to Mexico, during which he heard the story that formed the basis for The Pearl. According to Reef, Steinbeck did not seek fame or critical approval, wishing instead to make ""people understand each other"" in his varied writings, a goal that perhaps explains his enthusiastic embrace by the public as well as by the Pulitzer and Nobel juries. This thoughtful story, supplemented by more than 70 black-and-white photos, is as nonjudgmental and upbeat as Steinbeck himself strove to be, and an excellent introductory work. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)