Noted author Ellen Conford, largely known for her humorous and realistic YA fiction and middle grade novels, including the Jenny Archer series, died Friday, March 20, of a heart ailment – on her 73rd birthday – at her home in Great Neck, N.Y.

Conford was born in New York City and grew up “as a kid who loved to read, who turned into an adult who loves to read,” she once said, noting that she enjoyed writing books “meant purely to entertain, to amuse, to divert.” She attended Hofstra College (now University) from 1959 to 1962, and in 1960 she married David Conford, who survives her.

Conford’s first foray into writing was short stories for teen magazines, she told the online literary journal YARN (Young Adult Review Network) in a 2014 interview. But a trip to the local library in those early days of her career changed her direction. “One day in the library I couldn’t find a good book for my son,” she said. “When I got home I told my husband, ‘I’ll bet I can write a better book than any I saw in the library today.’ ‘I’ll bet you could,’ he said. ‘So why don’t you do it?’ I did; I sat down that afternoon and wrote [picture book] Impossible, Possum.” After rejections from 12 publishers, the story was acquired by Little, Brown and published in 1971.

As her writing progressed Conford’s body of work grew to include picture books, short story collections and novels, in all more than 40 titles for a broad range of readers. Though her last new work was released 11 years ago (Annabel the Actress: Starring in Camping It Up, Simon & Schuster, 2004), more recently two of her out-of-print YA titles (To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie, along with And This Is Laura) have been reissued by Ig Publishing’s Lizzie Skurnick Books.

Conford expressed her pleasure about the reissues in her YARN interview. “It’s wonderful to know that my books will have new life,” she said. “But, of course, no thrill can compare with finding out that your first book will be published. I am so flattered to be part of Lizzie’s list, and in such classy company (with some of my own favorite writers).”