Charlotte Zolotow’s over seventy books for children have established her as an influential twentieth-century author. Her best-known story is William’s Doll, which was produced as a short film and as a song for the popular children’s album Free to Be … You and Me.
Zolotow makes an effort to see, hear, and think as a child, an empathetic skill she calls “a common respect for the child.” Though some of Zolotow’s books do approach difficult topics such as gender roles, death, single parents, and conflict, her literary prowess is most apparent in her ability to capture a sensory or emotional experience and translate it into a dynamic, poetic story.
As an editor, Zolotow works with books for all ages of children, but she prefers to write picture books. She is excited by the additional dimension of storytelling that an illustrator can add, and she has an editorial talent for matching illustrators and authors. Her own books have been illustrated by accomplished artists including Garth Williams, Maurice Sendak, and H.A. Rey.
Judaism does not play an obvious role in Zolotow’s writing. She does, however, feel that the warm extended families who populate her books are echoes of the Orthodox Jewish culture of her own family.
Charlotte (Shapiro) Zolotow, born to Louis J. and Ella (Bernstein) Shapiro on June 26, 1915, in Norfolk, Virginia, grew up in New York City. She studied literature at the University of Wisconsin from 1933 to 1936, worked briefly at a collector’s bookshop, then joined Harper & Row, where she was Children’s Division senior editor from 1938 to 1944 and from 1962 to 1976. In 1938, she married writer Maurice Zolotow (whom she divorced in 1969). The couple had two children, Stephen and Ellen (children’s author Crescent Dragonwagon). Harper published her first book, The Park Book, in 1944. Zolotow was Junior Books Division vice president and associate publisher from 1976 to 1981 and became Charlotte Zolotow Books Division consultant and editorial director in 1981. She has lectured at writers’ conferences at the University of Colorado and Indiana University, and is a member of the PEN Authors League.
Zolotow’s awards include The New York Herald Tribune Spring Festival Honor for Indian, Indian (1952); Caldecott honors for The Storm Book and Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (1953 and 1963, respectively); American Library Association notable citations for Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, William’s Doll, My Grandson Lew, and Do You Know What I’ll Do?; New York Times outstanding book of the year and School Library Journal best book of the year awards for William’s Doll (1972); Redbook awards for William’s Doll and I Know A Lady (1984 and 1985 respectively); the Christopher Award for My Grandson Lew (1984). Zolotow also received the LMP Award, R.R. Bowker (1990); and the American Library Association tribute (1991).
Ms. Zolotow passed away at the age of 98 on November 19, 2013 in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY.
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How to cite this page
Oppenheim, Leah. "Charlotte Zolotow." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 8, 2016) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/zolotow-charlotte>.