Dayton, Ohio born Barbara Shook Hazen now divides her time between Manhattan, where she bikes and enjoys the theater, and Otis, Massachusetts in the Berkshire Hills, where she relishes the surrounding cultural and scenic bouquet, including bears.
A graduate of Smith, Columbia and night Speedwriting, she stayed East to become an assistant in the fiction/article department of the Ladies’ Home Journal, where she later became poetry editor. Her poetry, seen by Lucille Ogle, then vice president of Golden Books, led to a stint as an editor, during which she wrote a number of children’s books including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
The arrival of son, Brack, catapulted her into free-lancing, where she remains in orbit. She has published over 70 diverse children’s books and 10 adult non-fiction books, from the hopefully humorous There Wouldn’t Be Sunbeams Without Little Specks of Dust to the informative Dell Encyclopedia of Cats. She has also penned travel and food pieces. (Brack, now an engineer in robotics, lives in Pittsburgh with grandchild Katie.)
Family relationships are favorite subjects. Sibling rivalry led to Why Couldn’t I Be an Only Child Like You, Wigger and If It Weren’t for Benjamin, I’d Always Get to Lick the Icing Spoon. Her own divorce led to Two Homes to Live In, an explanation in book form of what she, at the time, had trouble saying to her son.
She is dedicated to exploring children’s feelings, frets and frustrations. Fear is a river running through many of her books. Fear and guilt are major elements in Katie’s Wish, her latest, about a little girl who believed her careless words caused the Irish Potato Famine. The Irish part of her warmed to the subject.
In Tight Times, one of the first Reading Rainbow selections, a child catches the aura of fear but totally misunderstands what tight times are when his father loses his job. The child wonders if they have to do with the two small head hole on his shirt.
In the Christopher-award winning Even If I Did Something Awful, which Publishers Weekly called “touching, funny and realistic,” a little girl fears the loss of her mother’s love, and tests “Would you still love me if…?” in worsening scenarios, from breaking a favorite vase to giving away the baby.
The Knight Who Was Afraid of the Dark explores a fear the author is on all too familiar terms with, while The Knight Who Was Afraid to Fight considers tickling a dragon to death preferable to stabbing it. Wally the Worry-Warthog frets about a lot of things, including the trolls under the bridge on the way to school and, mainly, sullen Wilburforce Warthog, who wears scary thick gloves for, it turns out, a happily surprising reason.
Other favorite subjects are animals, (In the I Can Read Book Digby, a little boy comes to understand his aging dog) conservation, World, World, What Can I Do?, manners, as in Hello Gnu, How Do You Do? a beginning guide to polite behavior, and girl power, as reflected in Amelia’s Flying Machine, in which young Amelia Earhart’s builds a roller coaster, and Mommy’s Office, in which a small girl accompanies her mother to work, a book School Library Journal called “a delightful story with a positive image of today’s working woman.”
She is currently curving back to rhyme, working on Sibling Spaghetti and Other Edible Rhymes for Meal Times and Awful Beastly Children, samples of which are “Bragging Bertha(who) blows her horn/ and beats upon her chest/ I’m brilliant, brave and beautiful./ I’m the biggest and the best” and “Daring Dan (who) does dentistry/ with daddy’s drill disastrously.” And, as someone who often writes backward b’s, comes up with unintentional creative spells of common words and tends to go off simultaneously in assorted directions, she has long been toying with adult and children’s manuscripts on dyslexia and A.D.D.
Between write-on times and school visits, she enjoys traveling as much as economically possible. She finds both a wonderful ways to explore, learn and get to know people, including oneself.