Ellen Levine was the author of fiction and non-fiction for children, young readers, and adults that focused on important social issues and historical periods. Her rigorous research and devotion to accuracy made her stories compelling. Henry’s Freedom Box (a Caldecott Honor) is the true story of a slave who mailed himself to freedom; Darkness Over Denmark details the rescue of Jews by the Danes in World War II; A Fence Away from Freedom details the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s; Freedom’s Children, a profile of young black civil rights activists in the 1960s, was termed “nothing short of wonderful” in a New York Times review; I Hate English, about a Chinese girl struggling to learn English, has become a resource for ESL teachers.
"Writing nonfiction lets me in behind the scenes of the story. I enjoy learning new things and meeting new people, even if they lived 200 years ago. I first read about Henry ‘Box' Brown in William Still's 1872 book, The Underground Railroad. An 800-page volume, it contained the stories of all the runaway slaves who came through Still's Anti-slavery society office in Philadelphia," says Ellen.
"I was awed by Henry's ingenious plan and his courage in undertaking it. That he built a box not even three feet square and mailed himself to freedom, seemed to me a remarkable idea; that he traveled in that box for some twenty-seven hours with only a little water and a few biscuits, equally astonishing; that he survived to tell the tale, our great fortune." Still's volume was also a mainstay of her research for earlier Scholastic books: If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad, and Secret Missions: Four True Life Stories.
Prior to embarking on her writing career, Ellen clerked for Chief Judge Joseph Lord of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and practiced law with the Prisoners Rights Project of the NY Legal Aid Society.
Ms. Levine’s mother, Ide Gruber Levine, was a theater and arts reviewer for the “Review of Reviews” in the 1930’s and was a frequent contributor to the columns of Walter Winchell. Her father, Nathan Levine, one of the first attorneys appointed as a Trial Attorney in the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1947, became a lawyer for immigrant rights after retiring from the INS. “I grew up,” Ellen wrote, “knowing there were battles to be fought and worlds to change.”
Ellen Levine died on May 26, 2012.