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Willo Davis Roberts, 76; Suspense Author Wrote for Children

Times Staff Writer

Willo Davis Roberts, a prolific author best known for her award-winning children’s books, died Nov. 19 of congestive heart disease at her home in Granite Falls, Wash. She was 76.

Roberts wrote 99 books, including mystery, gothic and historical novels, during a 50-year career. She began writing for the adult market in 1955 with “Murder at Grand Bay,” but embraced the juvenile audience 20 years later at the suggestion of her agent and an editor, who had urged her to rewrite one of her suspense novels as a children’s book.

Roberts took umbrage at their suggestion at first, but reluctantly agreed to make the revisions. “The View From the Cherry Tree,” about a boy who witnesses a murder, was published in 1975 and became one of her most successful books. It is still in print.

“She loved to write about children and dogs. She had their concerns and their voices. And she was very good at suspense,” her longtime agent, Emilie Jacobson, said of Roberts’ longevity as a children’s author.

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“I think in essence I’ve remained about 11 myself,” Roberts once wrote. “I remember very clearly what I thought and felt at that age, how painfully shy I was, how I was intimidated by people and circumstances.”

An accomplished mystery writer, Roberts won three Edgar awards for the books “Megan’s Island,” " The Absolutely True Story of My Visit to Yellowstone With the Terrible Rupes” and “Twisted Summer.”

Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., Roberts moved often as a child because of her father’s disinclination to stay in one job for long. She said her family’s transient lifestyle made her lonely and led her into writing.

She married in 1949 and had four children, whom she and her husband, David, raised on a dairy farm in California. The farm did not prosper, forcing Roberts to find outside work. One of her jobs was at a hospital, which inspired her to write a series of novels featuring nurses.

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In her later years, she traveled the country with her husband in a 37-foot motor home equipped with a computer and gathered material for her books. She enjoyed meeting her young readers and told them that she hoped to write until the day she died.

Jacobson said that Roberts was completing revisions to her 100th novel -- another children’s suspense story -- a few days before her death.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.


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