12 Famous Authors Who Also Wrote for Children

Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
Hulton Archive//Getty Images

Sometimes you just want to be a kid again. These literary luminaries quietly tried their hands at writing children’s stories. (Caution: spoilers!)

1. James Joyce

Original scan by Maria Popova/Brain Pickings

James Joyce wrote some of the most influential—and impenetrable—literature of the 20th century. When he wasn’t doing that, he wrote about cats.

In 1936, Joyce mailed two stories to his grandson, Stephen. The tales would later be published as children’s books: The Cat and the Devil and The Cats of Copenhagen. The Cat and the Devil, a riff off a French fable, posthumously became Joyce’s first picture book in 1964. In it, a mayor hires the devil to build a bridge. The devil agrees under one condition: he owns the first soul that crosses. When the devil finishes, the mayor tosses a cat across the bridge, sealing the deal and leaving Lucifer with a pet.

Joyce’s second story, The Cats of Copenhagen, was published in 2012. Here’s a page:

2. e. e. cummings

e. e. cummings wrote around 2900 poems, two novels, and countless essays. He also wrote four stories for his daughter Nancy, which were published in a 1965 collection called Fairy Tales. The stories include The Old Man Who Said "Why", The Elephant and the Butterfly, and The House that Ate Mosquito Pie. The most playful yarn, however, may be The Little Girl named I—an experiment with nouns. At the end, the girl named “I” meets a girl named “you.”

3. Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair was once called “a man with every gift except humor and silence.” Sinclair poured his life’s work into criticizing society and politics, but he still found room for fun. In 1936, the muckraker released The Gnomobile: A Gnice Gnew Gnarrative with Gnonsense, but Gnothing Gnaughty.

A girl named Elizabeth discovers the last two gnomes living in the Redwood Forest. The gnomes—Bobo and Glogo—distrust “big people” because they cut trees and destroy gnome homes. After gaining their trust, Elizabeth drives her pointy-hatted friends across the country to find other gnomes. Sinclair couldn’t help but moralize, subtly scolding industrialization and pollution along the way. In 1967, Walt Disney turned Sinclair’s tale into a movie.

4. Ernest Hemingway

In 1951, Holiday Magazine published Hemingway’s only stories for children: The Good Lion and The Faithful Bull. Hemingway likely wrote both fables for Adriana Ivancich (his Venetian love interest) and her nephew.

The Good Lion follows a winged, pasta-eating lion. He visits Africa, where he's bullied by other lions for being different. The big cat, however, never bites back. He stays cheerful, eventually flying away from his bullies in Hemingway style:

"Adios," he said, for he spoke beautiful Spanish, being a lion of culture.

The Faithful Bull is a parody of Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand, a tale about a bull who’d rather smell flowers than fight. Hemingway opens swinging:

One time there was a bull and his name was not Ferdinand and he cared nothing for flowers. He loved to fight and he fought with all the other bulls of his own age, or any age, and he was a champion.

The bull is later sent to pasture to breed, where he falls in love with a beautiful cow. His true love, however, is bullfighting, so he returns—only to be killed by a matador.

5. Aldous Huxley

Thirteen years after writing Brave New World, Aldous Huxley penned a story for his 5-year-old niece called The Crows of Pearblossom. Four years after Huxley died, Random House published the tale as a picture book. The story follows Mr. and Mrs. Crow and their neighbor, Mr. Snake, who always steals and eats their eggs. One day, the Crows leave fake eggs in their nest. When Mr. Snake eats the eggs, he gets a bad stomachache and dies.

6. John Updike

John Updike wrote dozens of novels and won two Pulitzer Prizes for literature. Most, however, forget the five children’s books on his resume: A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects, Bottom’s Dream, The Magic Flute, The Ring, and A Child’s Calendar.

In A Helpful Alphabet, Updike wrote a poem about 26 everyday objects—one for each letter of the alphabet—which his son photographed. Here’s letter K:

“A knot is a thing that happens to string, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not. To undo one is hard for a grownup or tot. The eyes and the fingernails must puzzle it away. Another puzzle: why is it spelled with a K?”

Three of Updike’s other children’s books—Bottom’s Dream, The Magic Flute, and The Ring—are playful adaptations of music by Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Wagner. His fifth book, A Child’s Calendar, is a collection of 12 poems, one for each month.

7. Salman Rushdie

After The Satanic Verses, Rushdie’s nine-year-old son, Zafar, scolded his father for never writing anything for children. Rushdie promised to write a kid-friendly book soon; two years later, he published Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The whimsical narrative follows Rashid, a professional storyteller who lost his ability to tell tales. Haroun, Rashid’s son, takes his father on an adventure, hoping to re-inspire him. The fantastical book emphasizes one theme: stories are the building blocks of your identity.

In 2010, Rushdie wrote a book for young adults, Luka and the Fire of Life.

8. Umberto Eco

Philosopher Umberto Eco is best known for his novel Foucault’s Pendulum, but he also wrote a trio of children’s books: The Three Astronauts, The Bomb and the General, and The Gnomes of Gnu.

All three books are subtly political. The Three Astronauts teaches lessons in tolerance and multiculturalism. Like a bad bar joke, an American, Russian, and Chinese astronaut walk onto a distant planet and discover they’re not so different. The Bomb and the General preaches pacifism. The story spotlights sentient atoms stuffed inside an atomic bomb. The particles are sad, so in the dead of night, they escape. When the weapon drops, nothing happens, and humans give up on war. The Gnomes of Gnu is Eco’s environmental fable. As earth’s climate changes, a space explorer searches for a new planet. He discovers the planet Gnu and meets native space gnomes. The gnomes reject human “civilization” because it already ruined one planet.

9. T.S. Eliot

Like Joyce, T.S. Eliot couldn’t resist a good cat story. In the early 1930s, Eliot mailed multiple cat tales to his godchildren, writing under the pseudonym Old Possum. In 1939, those stories were published in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Here’s an excerpt.

I have a Gumbie Cat in mind, her name is Jennyanydots;
Her coat is of the tabby kind, with tiger strips and
Leopard spots
All day she sits upon the stair on the steps or on the mat
She sits and sits and sits and sits—and that’s what makes
A Gumbie Cat!

Andrew Lloyd Webber called Practical Cats a “childhood favorite,” and it inspired his long-running musical, CATS.

10. Gertrude Stein

In 1938, Young Scott Books asked a handful of famous authors if they would try writing a children’s book. Most refused, but Gertrude Stein happily agreed: She had a half-written manuscript already sitting in her desk. The draft became The World is Round, a symbolic adventure about a girl who tries to make sense of the world. Here’s a taste:

Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around. Everywhere there was somewhere and everywhere there were men women children dogs cows wild pigs little rabbits cats lizards and animals. That is the way it was. And everybody dogs cats sheep rabbits and lizards and children all wanted to tell everybody all about it and they wanted to tell all about themselves.

Rambling but philosophical, Stein even planted her famous phrase “A rose is a rose is a rose,” which she regularly sprinkled in her work. In The World is Round, the girl—named Rose—carves it around a tree, forming an endless loop.

11. James Baldwin

James Baldwin’s novel Go Tell It On The Mountain is the story of a boy growing up in Harlem. Baldwin’s children’s book, Little Man Little Man, tells a similar tale. A 4-year old named TJ—based on Baldwin’s young nephew—plays ball in the streets. The story is a collage of his observations, written in a style that “blends black English and child’s talk.” Here’s an excerpt:

“A couple of times a car almost run him over. That ain’t nothing. He going to be a bigger star than Hank Aaron one of these days. Soon as he gets a little bit older, he going to jump the roofs.”

12. Leo Tolstoy

Original scan by Maria Popova/Brain Pickings

Tolstoy loved kids. At 21, the aristocrat opened a school for peasants on his estate. While writing Anna Karenina, he started working on schoolbooks for his students. Tolstoy wrote about his childhood, adapted Aesop’s Fables and Hindu stories, and penned playful fairy tales like Ivan the Fool and The Pheasant and the Cucumbers. When Tolstoy finished, he read the tales to his toughest critics—the tots at his schools. He asked them for pointers and reworked the stories until the tough crowd softened. Tolstoy eventually published the stories in two primers, the ABC Book and the New ABC Book, which became staples at Russian schools.

Interested in what other authors cooked up? Visit the blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie.

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon

Cosori/Amazon
Cosori/Amazon

When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76

Ultrean/Amazon

Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120

Cosori/Amazon

This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90

Innsky/Amazon

With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62

Secura/Amazon

This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60

Chefman/Amazon

For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100

Ninja/Amazon

The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100

Dash/Amazon

Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52

Bella/Amazon

This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Fascinating Facts About Herman Melville

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in New York City to a wealthy and socially connected family, Herman Melville (1819-1891) chose a life as exciting as that of his Moby-Dick narrator Ishmael. He spent years at sea on whaling ships and traveled to far-flung places, but also struggled to make it as a novelist while supporting a large extended family. To celebrate his birthday on August 1, we’re diving into Melville’s adventures and fishing for some surprising facts.

1. Herman Melville's mother changed the spelling of their last name.

Despite his family’s wealth and pedigree—his mother Maria Gansevoort descended from one of the first Dutch families in New York, and his father Allan Melvill came from old Boston stock—young Herman had an unstable, unhappy childhood. Allan declared bankruptcy in 1830 and died two years later, leaving Maria with eight children under the age of 17 and a pile of debt from loans and Allan’s unsuccessful businesses. Soon afterward, Maria added an "e" to their surname—perhaps to hide from collection agencies, although scholars are not sure exactly why. "It always seemed to me an unlikely way to avoid creditors in the early 19th century," Will Garrison, executive director of the Berkshire Historical Society, tells Mental Floss.

2. Herman Melville struggled to find employment.

Thanks to a national financial crisis in 1837, Melville had difficulty finding a permanent job, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. He served as a bank clerk, teacher, land surveyor, and crew member on a packet ship before signing on, in 1841, to the whaler Acushnet of New Bedford, Massachusetts, then the whaling capital of the world. He served aboard a few different whalers and rose to the role of harpooner. His adventures at sea planted the seeds for Melville’s interrogation of man, morality, and nature in Moby-Dick. In that novel, Melville (in the voice of Ishmael) says, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."

3. Herman Melville jumped ship in the middle of a three-year voyage. 

Melville and the Acushnet’s captain didn’t get along, so when the ship reached the Marquesas Islands, Melville and a friend, Richard Tobias Greene, hid in the forests until the ship departed. They spent a month living with the Pacific Islanders. Melville was impressed with their sophistication and peacefulness; most Europeans believed that Polynesians were cannibals. He also found reason to criticize European attempts to "civilize" the islanders by converting them to Christianity. Melville drew on his South Pacific experiences in his first two novels, which became runaway bestsellers: Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847).

4. Herman Melville was inspired by a mountain.

Herman Melville's home, Arrowhead, in Pittsfield, MassachusettsDaderot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Melville moved to Arrowhead, his charming mustard-colored home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Elizabeth and their son in 1850, after he achieved fame as a popular adventure novelist. In the upstairs study, he set up his writing desk so he could look out the north-facing window, which perfectly framed the summit of Mount Greylock, Massachusetts’s tallest mountain. Gazing at the peak on a sunny day, Melville was struck by how much the horizontal apex looked "like a sperm whale rising in the distance." He arranged his desk so he would see the summit when he happened to glance up from his work. In that room, in early 1851, Melville completed his manuscript of Moby-Dick.

5. Herman Melville fictionalized an actual whaling disaster.

While on the Acushnet, Melville had learned about an infamous shipwreck from the son of one of its survivors. In November 1820, a massive sperm whale had attacked and sunk the whaleship Essex of Nantucket in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its crew, stranded in three small boats with little food or water, chose to drift more than 4000 miles to South America instead of 1200 miles to the Marquesas Islands—where Melville had enjoyed his idyll—because they thought they’d be eaten by the natives. Ironically, some of the castaways ended up eating their dead shipmates to survive.

Melville used the disaster to form the climax of Moby-Dick, in which the Pequod of Nantucket is destroyed by the white whale. Melville visited Nantucket for the first time only after the novel was published. He personally interviewed the Essex’s captain, George Pollard, who had survived the terrible ordeal and become the town’s night watchman. Later, Melville wrote, "To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered."

6. Moby-Dick was a flop.

Readers who were expecting another rip-roarin’ adventure like his earlier novels Typee or Redburn were sorely disappointed when Melville’s masterpiece was published in November 1851. The British edition of Moby-Dick, or The Whale received some positive reviews in London newspapers, but American reviewers were shocked at its obscure literary symbolism and complexity. “There is no method in his madness; and we must needs pronounce the chief feature of the volume [the character of Captain Ahab] a perfect failure, and the work itself inartistic,” wrote the New York Albion. The reviewer added that the novel's style was like "having oil, mustard, vinegar, and pepper served up as a dish, in place of being scientifically administered sauce-wise."

7. Herman Melville was very fond of his chimney.

Arrowhead became the locus of Melville’s family life and work. Eventually, he and Lizzie, their two sons and two daughters, his mother Maria, and his sisters Augusta, Helen, and Fanny all lived in the cozy farmhouse. For a couple of years, Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a frequent guest that he had his own small bedroom off Melville’s study. After Moby-Dick, Melville wrote the novels Pierre and The Confidence-Man, his collection of works called The Piazza Tales, short stories including “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and many other pieces there. Melville grew very attached to the house, especially to the massive central chimney, which he immortalized in his 1856 short story “I and My Chimney.” Yet his financial struggles after Moby-Dick failed to find an audience led Melville to sell Arrowhead to his brother Allan in 1863. As an homage, Allan painted a few lines from “I and My Chimney” on the chimney's stonework, which are still visible today.

8. Herman Melville finally got a day job.

Melville’s chronic money woes prompted a return to New York City, into a brick townhouse at 104 East 26th Street in Manhattan, where the family benefited from being back in the bustle of civilization. Melville finally found regular employment as a district inspector for the U.S. Customs Service and maintained an office at 470 West Street. At the same time, he mostly abandoned writing short stories and novels in favor of poetry. In between inspections he wrote Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, based on his visit to the Middle East in 1857. Because of its length—at more than 18,000 lines, it's the longest poem in American literature—and unconventional approach to its subject, Melville once called it "eminently adapted for unpopularity."

9. Herman Melville's last major work was discovered by accident.

The centennial of Melville’s birth renewed interest in his novels and poems, most of which were long out of print by then. Raymond Weaver, a literature professor at Columbia University working on the first major biography of Melville, collaborated with Eleanor Melville Metcalf, Melville’s granddaughter and literary executor, who gave him access to the author’s papers. In 1919, while poking through letters and notes, Weaver discovered the unfinished manuscript of Billy Budd in a tin breadbox. Melville had started to write the short story about a tragic sailor in 1888 but, by his death in 1891, had not completed it. Weaver edited and published the story in 1924, but initially considered the tale "not distinguished." Other scholars asserted that Billy Budd was Melville’s final masterpiece.

10. You can see Herman Melville's personal collection of knick-knacks.

Just a short drive from Arrowhead, the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield holds the world’s largest collection of Melvilliana in its Melville Memorial Room. Along with first editions of Melville’s work and a full library of books about him, there are priceless objects owned by or associated with the author. Fans can geek out over the earliest known portrait of Melville, painted in 1848; carved wooden canoe paddles that he collected in Polynesia; his walking stick; his favorite inkstand, quills, and other desktop tchotchkes; a collection of scrimshaw, maps, and prints; and Elizabeth Melville’s writing desk. There's a section of the first successful transatlantic cable, which Melville valued as a prized souvenir, and even the actual breadbox in which Billy Budd had been hiding.