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Clyde R. Bulla, 93; wrote more than 60 children’s books

Times Staff Writer

Clyde Robert Bulla, a prolific writer who captivated young readers for decades with his stories of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Pocahontas and other historical figures as well as tales of contemporary boys and girls, died Wednesday at his home in Warrensburg, Mo. He was 93.

Clark Holdren of Sweeney-Phillips and Holdren Funeral Home in Warrensburg confirmed Bulla’s death but did not specify the cause.

Bulla, who spent most of his adult life in Los Angeles, wrote more than 60 children’s books, most fiction but some nonfiction, starting in 1946 with “The Donkey Cart.”

“I’m reaching children at very impressionable age levels -- third to sixth grade, 8 to 11 years old,” Bulla told The Times’ Charles Hillinger in 1973. “I have to be very careful what I write about.”

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Using simple, straightforward language and fast-moving plots, he often spun his tales against a historical background. “Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims,” “Pocahontas and the Strangers,” “A Lion to Guard Us” and “Charlie’s House” depicted colonial America through the eyes of children.

He brought the past to life in “The Story of Valentine’s Day,” “Lincoln’s Birthday” and “Washington’s Birthday,” explained basic scientific principles in “A Tree Is a Plant” and “What Makes a Shadow?” and in other books retold stories from the Bible and opera.

He also described the challenges faced by modern youths, most notably in “Shoeshine Girl” (1975), “The Chalk Box Kid” (1987) and “The Paint Brush Kid” (1999).

The Authors Club of Los Angeles named his “Benito” the outstanding juvenile book by a Southern California author in 1961. And the next year the Southern California Council on Children’s Literature honored Bulla for his distinguished contribution to the field of children’s literature.

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Born in 1914, Bulla grew up on a farm near King City, Mo., the youngest of four children. He attended a one-room school and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a writer. An enthusiastic reader who taught himself to play piano, he dropped out of high school after a year to work on the family farm but finished his studies through correspondence courses.

“Late at night, when the house was quiet, I sat up and wrote as long as I could stay awake,” Bulla said many years later.

He began submitting stories to magazines and with modest success helped his family make ends meet during the Depression. In 1941 he wrote his only adult novel, “These Bright Young Dreams,” but it made no money because the publisher went bankrupt.

Bulla moved from the farm to King City, where he worked as a columnist and linotype operator for the weekly Tri-County News. With encouragement from a friend and fellow writer, he tried a children’s book. After “The Donkey Cart” was accepted in 1946, he decided to focus on writing for children and left Missouri for Los Angeles.

In 1985 he wrote “A Grain of Wheat: A Writer Begins,” a short memoir aimed at children. A few years ago, he moved back to Missouri.

Although he never married and never had children, Bulla still connected with his audience. As he told Hillinger, “I was a child, and I remember what it was like.”

Bulla is survived by a niece, Barbara Bulla of King City, where services will be held Saturday.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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