Children’s author Stella Pevsner, widely known for her middle grade and YA novels that often addressed problems like divorce or sibling rivalry, died on June 11 at her home in Albuquerque, N.M. She was 98.
Pevsner was born October 4, 1921 in Lincoln, Ill., where she grew up as one of six children; she noted to Something About the Author that she frequently acted like a tomboy playing rowdy games with her three brothers. She recalled her early love of reading and has said that she was known as the bookworm of her family.
Though her passion for reading was well-established, it wasn’t until high school that Pevsner tried her hand at writing when her English teacher asked her to create a humor column for the school paper. The thrill of seeing her work in print helped develop “the new perception I had of myself,” she wrote in her autobiographical essay. “Indeed, I was a writer.”
Pevsner kept writing on her own and also took creative writing courses in college, studying at Illinois State for two years, but her aim back then was to become a teacher. Her teaching career proved brief, however. Pevsner taught for two years, then during a summer spent in Chicago, she accompanied a friend who was signing up for an advertising course. She enrolled, as well, and found something she loved to do. Throughout the 1940s, Pevsner landed a series of jobs writing advertising copy for a drugstore, a department store, and ad agencies before becoming the promotion director at a perfume house.
In 1953, she left advertising when she married Leo Pevsner, a surgeon, with whom she would raise four children in the Chicago suburbs. Pevsner paired her busy life as a mother with a freelance career writing articles for the local paper as well as a children’s play and other projects. But it wasn’t until she received a request from one of her sons that she changed course. Her son told her how disappointed he was that his favorite author—Beverly Cleary—wasn’t turning out books fast enough for his liking. “He said to me, ‘I guess you’ll have to do it.’ ” She accepted the challenge, and the following fall, when her children returned to school, Pevsner turned her attention to writing what would become her first children’s book, Break a Leg! (Crown, 1969). “I’d never enjoyed writing so much,” she wrote in Something About the Author. “I was buoyed by my kids’ interest in reading ‘the next chapter’ when they banged back into the house in what seemed to me just minutes after they’d left.”
Following her debut, Pevsner said the ideas for more books came quickly and she wrote prolifically, drafting lighter fare early on, then moving into what she called “deeper” subject matter like divorce, dyslexia, sibling rivalry, and suicide. Among her most recognized titles were A Smart Kid Like You (Seabury, 1975), And You Give Me a Pain, Elaine (Seabury, 1978), Sister of the Quints (Ticknor & Fields, 1987) and How Could You Do It, Diane? (Clarion, 1989).
She continued to write into her 90s, her son Charles told the Chicago Sun-Times, noting that her failing eyesight meant she required some assistance with reading and editing for those later projects. Pevsner’s final title, the middle grade novel Bubblegum Angel, was self-published in 2018.
In all, Pevsner created 18 books for young readers. Her work received numerous state awards and other accolades and she was named the Illinois children’s book author of the year in 1987.