Award-winning children’s author Janet Taylor Lisle, lauded for her novels featuring complex characters in stories blending everyday life with elements of mystery and magic, died on October 5 in Boston. She was 76.

Lisle was born February 13, 1947 in Englewood, N.J., the eldest of five children and the only daughter of Alden and Janet Taylor. For her first two years, she lived on the coast of Rhode Island—where she would eventually spend every summer—before her parents moved to Farmington, Conn.

Growing up in Farmington, Lisle and her brothers were passionate readers and devoured all the titles they could find. “We read each other’s books, our parents’ books, the books that houseguests left lying around,” she wrote in her autobiography for Something About the Author. Lisle also discovered an affinity for writing early on, creating some of her first stories for a third-grade assignment. She quickly realized that although she loved to write, she did not enjoy being graded on grammar and punctuation. As a result, she decided to craft her own tales at home, far from any critic’s pen. “This secret writing made me feel like a real story writer,” she said.

Lisle characterized her middle school years as a time when she struggled with math, loved English class, and became “good in sports,” especially soccer. At age 15, Lisle opted to leave home for the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Conn., the same boarding school her mother had attended. She then enrolled at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and earned a B.A. in English in 1969. Soon after graduation, she married and joined Volunteers in Service to America, which brought her to Atlanta where she worked in public housing projects for a year. The experience led her to study journalism at Georgia State University in 1971. “Shocked by the poverty I had seen, I wanted to write about it,” she noted in her autobiography. An internship with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution followed and Lisle built a career working as a reporter for local newspapers in Georgia and then Bedford, N.Y. She has said that the discipline of deadlines and the other rigors of her reporting work were good training for novel writing.

By 1976, her first marriage had ended, and she had met Richard Lisle on the beach in Little Compton, R.I. The couple wed and settled in Westchester County, N.Y., welcoming their daughter in 1977. In 1982 the family moved to Montclair, N.J., where Lisle set up a studio in the attic and moved full steam ahead into an entirely new direction: writing for children. After 10 years as a journalist, Lisle noted that “facts were becoming a little boring, truth to tell.”

Lisle credits a writing workshop she took with Yorktown, N.Y.-based writer Emily Hanlon in 1980 as the catalyst for pursuing a profession as a children’s author. Hanlon had offered to introduce Lisle to her editor if she thought she had a potentially publishable project. After her first year of effort, Lisle believed she had a viable manuscript—the story of 100 stray cats living in a run-down drugstore in a town inspired by Farmington. Hanlon put Lisle in touch with her editor, the venerable Richard Jackson. Jackson acquired Lisle’s The Dancing Cats of Applesap in 1983 and published it at Bradbury Press in 1984. Thus began a long and fruitful partnership.

Over the next 40 years, Lisle created 17 books for young readers and several nonfiction works for adults including a two-volume history of her family’s beloved seaside town of Little Compton. Among Lisle’s many accolades, her novel Afternoon of the Elves (Orchard/Jackson, 1989) was named a 1990 Newbery Honor Book and The Art of Keeping Cool (Atheneum/Jackson) received the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2001.

Patricia Lee Gauch, former editor and publisher of Philomel Books, who worked with Lisle on several projects, shared this remembrance: “What was amazing about Afternoon of the Elves was that it took young readers into wonderful and strange territory where they could not be certain whether the adventure was nitty-gritty real or pure fantasy. Janet Lisle loved the ambiguity of fantasy, believed that children deserved that delicious ambiguity, and intended to write it. And write it she did, in the memorable Elves and, again, in the gentle The Lost Flower Children. She was a brilliant writer who wrote for children, and never forgot them.”