Ann Rinaldi was born in 1934 in New York City, and had a difficult childhood. Her mother died soon after she was born, and after a brief happy period with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, she went to live with her father, four siblings, and a stepmother. Discouraged by her family from following her dreams, she was not even permitted to attend college after she finished high school. Instead she became a secretary, leaving that profession when she married in 1960. She began writing seriously when her two children were young, and though her novels were not successful, in 1969 she began a career as a newspaper columnist. In 1979, she finished a short story, “Term Paper,” that grew into the young adult novel of the same name.
Rinaldi was drawn to American history when her son, Ron, became involved in Revolutionary War re-enactments while he was in high school. “Most mothers go to soccer or football games,” said Rinaldi, “but I went to wars.” Rinaldi herself participated in some of the re-enactments, even dressing in period costume for the events. Seeing young people, like her son, become excited about history, she wanted to use her writing to bring that excitement to readers. But her first historical novel, Time Enough for Drums, was turned down by ten publishers, all of whom claimed that children wouldn't read history. When the book was finally published, it became an ALA Best Book. Rinaldi has worked exclusively on historical fiction since then.
Dedicated and thorough in her research, Rinaldi takes pride in making American history resonate with immediacy in her books. Her teenage protagonists experience jealousy, fear, and rivalry just like contemporary kids, making them easy to identify with. She has achieved her initial objective, as well: “I have been told by teachers that my novels, which revolve around young females in history, have influenced girls' interest in history.” Rinaldi is considering writing a historical novel with a young male protagonist with the hopes of inspiring boys as well.