Doris Orgel, author of more than 40 children's and YA books as well as translations and retellings of classic fairy tales, Greek myths and other titles, died August 4. She was 92.
Born in Vienna, Orgel and her family fled Austria after the Nazi takeover in 1938, traveling via Yugoslavia and the U.K. to the U.S., where she lived the rest of her life. She wrote in part about her childhood in the novel The Devil in Vienna, which was
a Phoenix Award Honor book, an ALA Notable Book and winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and the Golden Kite Award. Centered on the friendship of two girls, one Jewish and one whose family becomes involved with the Nazis, the book was made into a 1988
Disney Channel film retitled A Friendship in Vienna, which starred Jane Alexander, Stephen Macht and Edward Asner.
Two of her books--Sarah's Room and her translation of Dwarf Long-Nose by Wilhelm Hauff (which won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award)--were illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Merry, Rose, and Christmas-Tree June was illustrated by Edward Gorey.
Many of her works addressed contemporary issues, including busy parents, divorce, the death of pets, and first sexual experiences.
Besides Hauff, her translations included work by the Brothers Grimm, Clemens Brentano and Theodor Storm. Her translations of Nero Corleone: A Cat's Story by Elke Heidenreich and Daniel Half Human by David Chotjewitz were Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Books,
recognizing outstanding translated children's books.
She also reviewed for the New York Times and was a longtime participant in the Bank Street Writers Lab.
She once advised writers to "Dig back in your life to when you were the age you're writing for. Keep writing to confirm that you are meant to do so. At best, you will discover you are a strong writer. If not, then facing how hard writing is will help you
sense how far you've come, and how much farther you still have to go."
On the Children's Book Council Web site, Orgel explained the sources of her inspiration: "The ancient Greeks believed the Muse, a goddess of the arts, inspired (literally, breathed) words, whole songs into a poet's ear. For us now, inspiration comes from
many sources. Encouragement can bring it on. Or someone we admire, an agent or an editor, suggests a topic, the topic catches on fire... And for a blessed interval, before I face up to the problems and sheer hard work ahead, I bask in feeling certain
that I'm in to something I was born to write."
She retold stories from Grimm, Wagner, Hoffman, and Greek mythology, such as "The Princess and the God" (Cupid & Psyche) and "Ariadne, Awake!"
As the persecution worsened, many Jewish parents sent their children
abroad to what they thought were safe havens. But Orgel's parents
resolved to keep their family together, come what may. In the summer
of 1938, thanks to a ruse, great courage, and good luck, they managed
to gain entrance to what was Yugoslavia. "The older I grow," she
remarked in SAAS, "the more acutely I am aware of the enormous risk
this entailed. I now acknowledge what as an adolescent and young adult
I went to great lengths to keep secret from myself: That we got out by
a hair's breadth. That we easily might not have."
They stayed in Yugoslavia until the following spring. Orgel attended
school in Zagreb, a bewildering experience because everybody spoke
Croatian, "of which I couldn't understand a word," she told CA. In
April, 1939, they traveled by train and boat to England. For a while,
they lived in London, then in the country. "I loved it there," the
author said. "I knew enough English to do well at school, make
friends, and thrill to a whole new world of reading: Charles
Kingsley's Water Babies, George Macdonald's The Princess and the
Goblin, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Anna Sewell's Black
Beauty, and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's