2018-07-27 00:46:41 UTC
Betty Miles, the pioneering feminist author of more than 25 books for children and young adults, and a writer and editor for the Bank Street Readers, the first multicultural, urban-oriented primers, died on July 19 at her home in Shelburne, Vt. She was 90.
Miles was born Elizabeth Baker in Chicago on May 16, 1928, the only child of missionary and social activist parents, David and Helen Baker. “When I was three months old,” she wrote in her autobiographical essay for Something About the Author, “my parents carried me in a laundry basket to Baghdad, where I lived until, at six, I came ‘home’ to a country I didn’t know.” She retained vivid, colorful memories of those early years in Baghdad and recalled that learning to read “for myself” at age five, while living there, was “most exciting of all.”
Miles grew up in Baltimore and the Midwest where she was an avid reader, and a writer of poems, essays, stories, and school newspaper articles. She revealed in her autobiography that one of the first times she took a stand for social justice was during high school when she was the lone holdout in her homeroom, refusing to purchase (WWII) war savings stamps each week as was the strongly encouraged practice. “I had decided, for myself, that my twenty-five cents would go to war relief rather than waging war,” she wrote, “and each week I slipped the quarter into a relief collection box at home.”
After high school, Miles attended Antioch College, where she met Matthew Miles, whom she married at the start of the couple’s senior year in 1949. In 1950, following their graduation, they moved to New York City; their family grew to include three children. In the years when she was first married, Miles found work as an assistant kindergarten teacher in a private school in Manhattan. Working with the students there proved a great inspiration. “Reading children’s books on my own and then reading them aloud to children made me want to try writing them myself,” she wrote. Miles pursued her professional passion by taking a “Writing for Young Children” course at Bank Street College of Education taught by Claudia Lewis, whose mentor was Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Bank Street’s founder. Miles continued to study writing there and later became a distinguished author, editor, and teacher at the institution.
While her three children were still young, and following several years of rejection letters, Miles published her first picture book, A House for Everyone (Knopf, 1958), describing various kinds of families. That initial title was quickly followed by What Is the World? (Knopf, 1958), a poetic collaboration with the artist Remy Charlip. Miles wrote solely picture books for the next decade or so, and during that time became active in the women’s movement. She also was a key member of the Feminists on Children’s Media group, whose presentation, “Little Miss Muffet Fights Back,” helped change publishers’ and libraries’ consciousness about sexism in children’s books. Some of that work influenced her first young adult novel, The Real Me (Knopf, 1974), which broke ground for its story of a girl speaking up for her rights. The same year, Miles contributed a story to the Ms. Magazine anthology Free to Be You and Me (McGraw-Hill, 1974).
A prolific and wide-ranging writer, Miles showed respect for her readers: “I want to present characters who can serve as models,” she wrote in her autobiography, “not because they are exceptionally brave or righteous, but precisely because they are ordinary kids dealing with everyday worries and embarrassments... who, like my readers, are working hard to figure out what they believe and make their own choices.”...
(birthday post from this year - includes booklist - I slipped up regarding her address)
From Contemporary Authors:
Miles' work touches on topics of current interest, such as ecology,
censorship, and discrimination, as well as subjects of perennial
interest for young people: growing pains, social adjustment, personal
responsibility, and self-esteem...
But while Miles continued to present good role models for girls
through her books, stereotypes of women persisted in real life. She
recalled in SAAS, "Women who wanted to change things were damned as
strident and unnatural and ridiculed in flippant jokes." Tired of
having requests for fairness characterized as "radical," Miles was
inspired to write her first novel for young readers, The Real Me
(1974). In the book, Barbara Fisher is an ordinary middle-school
student who becomes involved in women's liberation issues when she
questions why girls are denied paper routes and are not allowed to
take tennis for their physical education class. Barbara urges the
school to allow female participation in extra- curricular activities
other than field hockey and acrobatics, and she pursues work as a
newspaper carrier. In addition, her mother fights her own battle for
women rights. The mother and daughter duo thus come to be regarded as
troublemakers, but by tale's end they have both triumphed and earned
respect. As Doxey wrote in her entry on Miles in Twentieth-Century
Young Adult Writers, the mother and daughter "find, to their delight
and satisfaction, that they can and do help make changes in their
community and make life more bearable for the female population in
general." Doxey described The Real Me as "a comfortable
In keeping with her desire to present the real world to young readers,
Miles dealt with racial discrimination in All It Takes Is Practice, a
story of an interracial family that moves into a white, middle-class
neighborhood. And Kate Harris of Maudie and Me and the Dirty Book
faces censorship when she reads a book about a puppy's birth to a
first grade class.