The Alliance for the Study and Teaching of Adolescent Literature at Rhode Island College




- Ellen Levine -

Brief Biography:

Ellen Levine was born in New York, New York, on March 9, 1939. She was the daughter of a lawyer and a professional secretary. She was an avid reader as a child which served as one of her inspirations to become a writer. With the influence of professional parents, education became an important part of her life. Ms. Levine received her BA at Brandies University in 1960, her MA at the University of Chicago in 1962, and her JD at New York University in 1979.
Ms. Levine’s interests took her to several places in the United States and greatly broadened her career experiences. She has spent time in careers such as writing, sculpting, law, film making, illustrating, and photography. Having such a wide background in several areas has allowed Ms. Levine to expand her topics as an author. She also uses personal interests as inspirations for her books. She currently divides her living between New York City and Salem, New York

Books/Works In Print

Manners for Minors (illustrator), Association Press

Rebirth of Feminism (co-author), Quadrangle

Radical Feminism (co-editor), Quadrangle Books
All She Needs (cartoonist), Quadrangle Books

A Handbook For Beaten Women (co-editor), Brooklyn Legal Services Corp. B

The Rights of Single People (co-author), Bantam

If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon, Scholastic

If You Lived at the Time of the Great San Francisco Earth Quake, Scholastic
If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad, Scholastic

If You Were an Animal Doctor, Scholastic
Spies and Secret Missions: Four True Stories, Scholastic
I Hate English, Scholastic

Ready, Aim, Fire, Scholastic

If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King, Scholastic

Freedom’s Children, Avon Flare
If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island, Scholastic

The Tree That Would Not Die, Scholastic
Anna Pavlova, Scholastic


1972 - National Book Award nomination
1978 - American Judicature Society Prize
1979 - Order of the Coif, New York University
1981 - Writer’s Hall of Fame Award
1982 - YWCA’s Academy of Women Achievers Award
1994 - Girl Scout Council of Bergan County Award, New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs Award, Douglas College of Rutgers University Award, East Bergen Business and Professional Women’s Club of Achievement Award
1986 - American Society of Journalists and Authors Award
1987 - Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association Award
1989 - Matrix Award
1990 - Parents Choice Award

Voices of the Critics:

Freedom’s Children: "Remarkable testimonials to the courage and commitment of these young people… A must for all collections." -School Library Journal
"Thrilling… Nothing short of wonderful. -The New York Times

If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad: "A mini-classic." - New York Times Book Review

If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island: "…One of the best general historical accounts for young readers." - Booklist

The Tree That Would Not Die: "…It tells the story in a way that makes readers care, perhaps even moving them to tears." - Booklist

Book Summaries:

If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad, Scholastic, 1988
Thousands of slaves used the Underground Railroad to Escape from slavery in the south to freedom in the North. They traveled on foot, by carriage, and sometimes by train. Fugitive slaves faced dangerous animals, starvation, slave hunters, and many other dangers on their journey to freedom. If they, or the people who helped them were caught, they faced severe punishment.
Why would a slave want to risk his/her life to escape? Why would someone, especially a Caucasian, want to help a slave? How did fugitive slaves hide? What did they do when they finally reached freedom? These are just some of the questions answered by Ellen Levine in this book. This book begins with a brief introduction explaining what the Underground Railroad was and how it began, and ends with the defeat of slavery at the end of the Civil War.

If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King, Scholastic, 1990
Laws enforcing segregation dominated the South after the Civil War. African Americans were forced to use separate rest rooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, schools, and hospitals. They were treated as inferior people even though slavery had ended. The Supreme Court supported this treatment of African Americans in the 1890’s in a court case involving a man named Homer Plessy.
Ms. Levine describes the changes created during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The emergence of Martin Luther King during the Montgomery Boycott as a central figure of the movement is detailed. Though great strides were made, equality for African Americans has not been completely achieved. The importance of sit-ins, marches, other forms of nonviolent protests, and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement are discussed.

If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island, Scholastic
Ms. Levine writes this book in format that she commonly uses. After giving background information, she stages hypothetical questions that young people may ask about the topic and then proceeds to answer the questions in simple terminology.
This book gives basic background information concerning Ellis Island, explaining what it is, when and what things happened there, and the important role it played in our history. It is written in a way that young children are able to understand the concepts, yet adults are able use the historical information.
Questions such as, "Did all immigrants come through Ellis Island?" "Did they do it voluntarily?" "Who helped them?" "Was it dangerous?" and many more are answered in this beautifully illustrated children’s book.

Freedom’s Children, Avon Flare, 1993
This nonfiction book includes stories from thirty different young adults who were active during the Civil Rights Movement. The approach to the subject that Ms. Levine takes is a refreshing one. Although the times were cruel and unfair, the interviewees take pride in their involvement, and a type of confidence shines through their stories.
The book includes an important part in the history of the Civil Rights Movement by showing the real life experiences of young people during this time. It is written in a way that young people could relate to their peers, yet accurately depicts the historical view of the Civil Rights Movement

The Tree That Would Not Die, Scholastic, 1995
In this book, Ms. Levine takes the voice of a four hundred year old oak tree in Austin, Texas. Treaty Oak recounts the history of the area from the arrival of the Native Americans to the present. As the tree grows, it becomes valuable to those who have contact with her. The tree scratches the itch of a buffalo calf, provides refuge to a runaway slave, shelter for the homeless during the Great Depression, and comfort to many others throughout history. In the end, it is the tree itself who needs care and protection from the people. Illustrations by Ted Rand make this an excellent book for young readers. It is a wonderful story of the history and character of the southwest and its people.

Unifying Elements Among the Works of Ellen Levine:
The most evident unifying element of Ms. Levine’s work would have to be her concentration on nonfiction material. She also tends to write about diverse groups struggling for some type of equality, whether it be abused women, African Americans escaping from slavery, or immigrants and their difficulties through Ellis Island. Most of her books are structured in a question/answer form so that the knowledge is understandable to young people.

Suggested Teaching Activities:
(These activities are designed to be flexible according to age)

If Your Name Was Changed at Ellis Island:
Have students create a family tree, and research the history of their last name.

Freedom’s Children and If You Lived at the Time of Martin Luther King:
Have students interview a Civil Rights Activist.
Have students create a news article of a nonviolent movement.
Invite a guest speaker to speak to the class personally about the time period.

If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad:
Have students draw a map tracing an imaginary trip North on the Underground Railroad. Make sure that they include specific stops.
Have students create their own "code language" for communicating with helpers of the Underground Railroad.

The Tree That Would Not Die:
This book could be incorporated into a unit on conservation.

Works Cited:

Straub, Deborah A., ed. Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Volume 22, 1988. Gale Research Company: Detroit.
"A Note from Ellen Levine", Publicity Information: Scholastic, 555 Broadway, New York, NY 10012-3999.

Page compiled in part by: Pam Swanton and Judy Schantz

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