Award-winning author and journalist Ann Rinaldi, best known for her painstakingly researched YA historical fiction featuring female protagonists, died on July 1 in Branchburg, N.J. She was 86.
Rinaldi was born August 27, 1934 in New York City, the fifth child of Michael Feis, a newspaper manager, and his wife Marcela Feis, who died just after Ann’s birth. She grew up in New Brunswick, N.J., and graduated from St. Peter’s High School there in 1952.
By her early teenage years Rinaldi had begun writing poetry as a creative outlet. Following high school, her father suggested that she enter the business world; she told Something about the Author that she “kicked around the typing pool” and held jobs at the Visiting Nurse Association in New Brunswick and the American Can Company in Metuchen. In 1960 Rinaldi married Ronald Rinaldi and moved to Branchburg, where they raised two children and where they remained through 61 years of married life.
When her children started school, Rinaldi began to write in earnest. “I wanted to be a novelist,” she told SATA, saying she wrote four “terrible” full-length novels before she approached her local weekly newspaper, the Somerset Messenger Gazette, and asked for a column. “The editor gave it to me,” she recalled. “I earned seven dollars a week, but I was writing!” Rinaldi’s weekly column became syndicated and ran in a variety of newspapers around the state. The following year, in 1970, Rinaldi pitched herself to the Trentonian newspaper, where she was hired to write two columns a week and quickly advanced to additionally writing soft news and features. Her column won first place in the New Jersey Press Association Awards in 1978 and 1989.
In addition to her journalism career, Rinaldi also returned to writing fiction, at night when her children were in bed and in the mornings before work. She had been working on a contemporary story inspired by the relationships and experiences in her own life, from the viewpoint of a 14-year-old girl. She had a good friend who was experiencing success writing young adult novels and Rinaldi realized that’s where her story might fit, marketing-wise. The result was the novel Term Paper, which was published by Walker & Co. in 1980. The sequel, Promises Are for Keeping, followed in 1982. It wasn’t until a few years later, inspired by her own family, that Rinaldi would turn her fiction focus to history.
Rinaldi’s son Ronald Rinaldi II had been an American history buff from a young age and she noted that through her newspaper coverage of the bicentennial events in Trenton and Princeton in 1976, he became especially interested in the American Revolution, joining a local re-enactment group. His passion for the era grew and his sister Marcella became a re-enactor too, prompting the entire family to travel to living history events all over the East Coast. “My son dragged us to every battlefield, monument, fort, and battleground, north and south, from Saratoga to Yorktown,” she recalled to SATA. This immersive experience, involving learning the food, crafts, and lifestyle of the period, led Rinaldi to write a YA novel on the American Revolution set in Trenton. “It was rejected by 10 publishers who wouldn’t touch it because it was history,” she said. That novel was Time Enough for Drums, which was published by Holiday House in 1986. Rinaldi had called the book “close to my heart, my favorite—the one everyone told me not to write!” She has always credited her son with sparking her historical writing career.
Rinaldi left her position as feature and editorial writer at the Trentonian in 1991 to work on her books full-time. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, she wrote prolifically, sometimes publishing several novels per year. In all, she created 49 YA novels, most of them historical fiction focused on U.S. history. She also lectured on journalism at schools and educational conferences around the country.
Freelance editor Karen Grove, formerly of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (and later HMH), was Rinaldi’s longtime editor. She shared this remembrance: “Ann and I worked together on 23 of her 49 titles and remained friends, talking frequently, long after she left the publishing world. In addition to her love for history and ability to bring the past alive, Ann was extremely family oriented. When you look beyond the historical events she wrote about, the importance she placed on family relationships is evident in her writing. Above all, she loved her husband, children, and grandchildren and was so proud of their accomplishments. I feel honored not only to have worked with her over the course of 30 years but to have been able to call her a dear friend.”
Author and former children’s book editor and publisher Margery Cuyler, who worked on Time Enough for Drums and several other Rinaldi titles when she was editor-in-chief at Holiday House, offered this tribute: “Ann was passionate about history, and when she found a choice tidbit while doing research, her imagination soared. She introduced her readers to convincing worlds from the past, rich in detail, and with complex, memorable characters. She especially favored spirited girl protagonists. Best of all, she knew how to tell a good story. It was a privilege to edit her books.”