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Eleanor Clymer; Children's Author Drew Inspiration From Her Family

April 03, 2001|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eleanor Clymer, who wrote 58 books of what she called "realistic fiction" for children ages 5 to 12, from "A Yard for John" in 1943 to "The Horse in the Attic" in 1983, has died. She was 95.

Clymer died Saturday at a retirement facility in Haverford, Pa.

"Mainly, I try to interpret children's feelings, questions and interest in the world they live in," she said in the 1994 "Something About the Author Autobiography Series."

The prolific if late-blooming writer drew inspiration from her family--her desire as a big-city girl for a country life, her only son's interests in such things as baseball and photography, and insights into poor children's lives from her husband, who was a social worker.

Clymer worked in a doctor's office and a social work agency and as a teacher until the birth of her only child, Adam, encouraged her to write for children. She studied with children's writer Lucy Sprague Mitchell at Bank Street College of Education, heeding Mitchell's advice to listen to children to learn the issues that are important to them. Fantasy is important, Mitchell taught her, but reality is even more so.

Published when she was 37, Clymer's first book was "A Yard for John," describing a little boy who wanted a place to dig--finding it only when his parents moved to the country.

Her young son's fascination with baseball later led to "Treasure at First Base," about a boy establishing baseball as the favorite sport in his new neighborhood while solving a historical mystery. Her son's interest in photography prompted "Chester," who decides to own a camera, and Adam's childhood food preferences prompted "Hamburgers--and Ice Cream for Dessert."

True tales of urban youngsters related by her husband enabled her to write from the points of view of the downtrodden--such books as "The Trolley Car Family," about an out-of-work trolley driver housing his brood in such a vehicle, and "The Latch-Key Club," about city children who are on their own after school while their parents work. Clymer's "My Brother Stevie," written from the point of view of an African American girl, won the Woodward School Zyra Lourie book award in 1968. "Luke Was There," the story of a boy who ran away from a children's shelter, earned the Children's Book Award of the Child Study Assn. of America in 1975.

Book Adapted as Musical

Clymer based one book, "The Tiny Little House," on an actual home she saw squeezed between Manhattan skyscrapers and her assumption that children would like playing there. The book was adapted into a children's off-off-Broadway musical, "The Little House of Cookies," in 1984.

The author's whimsical "The Get-Away Car," which won the Sequoyah Book Award of the Oklahoma Library Assn. in 1978, was based on a car Clymer and her husband bought for $10 in the early 1930s. The story involved a child and her grandmother driving from the city to a cousin's foreclosure-threatened country home, picking up several neighborhood children on the way.

Although reviewers always praised Clymer's writing for action and humor, they also saw her gentle ability to instruct young readers.

"When I write a book for children, I am telling them something about the world and about life," Clymer said. "If the book holds the children's interest and helps them cope with their world, I shall have succeeded."

Born Eleanor Lowenton in New York City on Jan. 7, 1906, she married Kinsey Clymer after attending Barnard College and earning a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin. Despite aborted attempts to move to the country, she made her life in the city until the 1960s, when she and her husband moved to Katonah, N.Y. Clymer's husband died in 1984.

Adam Clymer, their only child, is a Washington correspondent for the New York Times.

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