Author Spotlight

“I think writing is an extension of a childhood habit—the habit of entertaining oneself by taking interesting bits of reality and building upon them.”—Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is a three-time Newbery Honor winner, as well as the author of several ALA Notable Children’s Books, School Library Journal Best Books, and books that have received the Christopher Award and the William Allen White Award.


Raised in California, in the country—with no television and few movies to watch—three-time Newbery Honor winner Zilpha Keatley Snyder filled her childhood with animals, games, and books. Among her earliest acquaintances were cows, goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, and horses. In fact, her family’s animals were her closest friends, and a nearby library was a constant source of magic, adventure, and excitement for her. And when she wasn’t reading or playing with animals, Snyder made up games and stories to entertain herself.

While Snyder was growing up, interesting stories filled her household. Both of her parents spent a lot of time relating true accounts of past events in their lives, so Snyder came by her storytelling instincts honestly. But unlike her parents, when Zilpha had something to tell, she had, as she says, “an irresistible urge to make it worth telling, and without the rich and rather lengthy past that my parents had to draw on, I was forced to rely on the one commodity of which I had an adequate supply—imagination.” Consequently, at the age of 8, Snyder decided to become a writer.

As a student, Snyder was very proficient at reading and writing and experienced few problems in the small country schools she attended until the end of sixth grade. But upon entering the seventh grade in the big city of Ventura, she was, as she recalls, “suddenly a terrible misfit.” Snyder retreated further into books and daydreams, and admits: “Books were the window from which I looked out of a rather meager and decidedly narrow room, onto a rich and wonderful universe. I loved the look and feel of books, even the smell. . . . Libraries were treasure houses. I always entered them with a slight thrill of disbelief that all their endless riches were mine for the borrowing.”

Snyder attended Whittier College in Southern California, which recently awarded her an honorary doctorate. There she also met her future husband, Larry Snyder. While ultimately planning to be a writer, after graduation Snyder decided to teach school temporarily. But she found teaching to be an extremely rewarding experience and taught in the upper elementary grades for a total of nine years, three of them as a master teacher for the University of California at Berkeley. Zilpha and Larry were married in June of 1950, and went on to have three children, Melissa, Douglas, and Ben.

In the early sixties, when all of her children were finally in school, Snyder began to think about writing again. “Writing for children hadn’t occurred to me when I was younger, but nine years of teaching in the upper elementary grades had given me a deep appreciation of the gifts and graces that are specific to individuals with 10 or 11 years of experience as human beings. Remembering a dream I’d had when I was 12 years old about some strange and wonderful horses, I sat down and began to write.” Season of Ponies, Snyder’s first book, was published in 1964.

Snyder’s novel, Gib Rides Home, is a vivid look at the life of an orphan in prairie country almost a century ago. The book was inspired by Snyder’s father, who grew up in a Nebraska orphanage and was farmed out as labor on nearby ranches.

Snyder lives in Mill Valley, a small town near San Francisco. In her spare time, she still loves reading and traveling, and, of course, writing, which besides being her occupation has always been her all-time favorite hobby. You can visit the Zilpha Keatley Snyder home page at


“I began to write for children through the fortunate accident of nine years in the classroom. But I’ve continued to do so because over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s where I’m happiest. It is, I think, a matter of personal development (or lack of it, as the case may be). There are several peculiarities that I share with children which, like having no front teeth, are perhaps more acceptable in the very young, but which, for better or worse, seem to be a part of my makeup.

“First of all, there is optimism. Since growth and hope are almost synonymous no one begrudges a child’s natural optimism, but a writer’s is another matter. It’s not fashionable to write optimistically for adults nor, I must admit, even very sensible, given the world we live in today. But my own optimism seems to be organic, perhaps due to ‘a bad memory and a good digestion’ (a quote that I can’t attribute due to the aforementioned failing).

“Secondly, there is curiosity. Mine is as intense as a 3-year-old’s, but where a 3-year-old’s most obnoxious trait might be asking ‘Why?’ several hundred times a day, I am given to eavesdropping on conversations, peering into backyards and lighted windows, and even reading other people’s mail if I get a chance.

“And thirdly, there is a certain lack of reverence for factual limitations and a tendency to launch out into the far reaches of possibility.

“So I enjoy writing for an audience that shares my optimism, curiosity, and freewheeling imagination. I intend to go on writing for some time, and though I may occasionally try something for adults, I will always come back to children’s books, where I am happiest and most at home.”

—Zilpha Keatley Snyder


“The novel delivers an engaging glimpse of history as well as a compelling story.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“An exceptionally atmospheric and suspenseful tale.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Only in the hands of a skillful writer would the characters emerge so lifelike that the reader feels that he knows each one. A brief review cannot do justice to the book, which has originality and verve in plot, style and characterization.”—Starred, Library Journal

“[The Gypsy Game] continues to offer Snyder’s well-nigh irresistible combination of suspense, wit and avowal of the imagination.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Seen through Cat’s eyes, this story is both appealing and informative. . . . The characters are well drawn and beautifully motivated. . . . A compelling addition to Snyder’s superb body of work.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“This tender historical novel is as moving as it is insightful.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“Snyder’s setting and characters are beautifully realized. The moving conclusion is tempered with a bracing reality.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“The characters are pungent and believable, their interaction well-realized. . . . A grand, multileveled novel.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews