Author of ‘Nadia the Willful,’ other children’s books

Times Staff Writer

Sue Alexander, who spun tales for children in popular books such as “Nadia the Willful” and championed the efforts of other authors, has died. She was 74.

A founding member of the Los Angeles-based Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Alexander died July 3 at her home in West Hills, her husband, Joel, said.

Over a 35-year career, Alexander wrote about 25 books for children and scores of stories aimed at young readers for magazines and newspapers. From 1998 to 2007 she was a prolific contributor to the Kids’ Reading Room page in the Los Angeles Times.


“First and foremost, she was trying to entertain kids,” Stephen Mooser, a fellow author and the president of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, said last week. “She believed strongly in literacy and the idea that if you could attract a kid’s attention, they’re going to go on to pick up another book and another and then become readers.”

After years of unsuccessfully submitting stories to children’s magazines, Alexander sold her first book in 1973. Published by Scholastic Books, “Small Plays for You and a Friend” sprang from simple dramas she created for her own children to act out.

Other titles followed, including the well-received “World Famous Muriel” (1984) and “Behold the Trees” (2001). Many of the story lines in Alexander’s books -- which she wrote but did not illustrate -- were drawn from her own experiences.

“Nadia the Willful,” a 1983 book about a Bedouin girl mourning her brother’s death, grew out of Alexander’s grief over the death of her brother and her father’s unwillingness to talk about it. “Nadia” became one of her best-regarded books.

“Lila on the Landing” from 1987 recalled her 1940s childhood in Chicago, as did “Sara’s City.” That 1995 story poetically captures a night when the city was like “a dark coat with shiny buttons” and a ride on the El reveals back porches showing “little pieces of everybody’s world.”

She was born Sue Lynn Ratner on Aug. 20, 1933, in Tucson but spent most of her youth in Chicago. She attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., but did not graduate. After a brief early marriage failed, she moved to California and married Joel Alexander in 1959. They raised three children.


In 1968 Alexander helped found the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, an international organization formed to support active and would-be authors and artists. It now has 22,000 members around the world. A longtime board member, she helped create and administer the society’s Golden Kite Award, given annually to recognize excellence in children’s literature. The society’s Sue Alexander Award, established in 1996, goes to writers who have produced promising manuscripts, several of which have since been published.

Valued as a mentor to writers, librarians and teachers, Alexander received the Dorothy C. McKenzie Award from the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California in 1980 for distinguished contributions to the field of children’s literature.

Besides her husband, Alexander is survived by sons Glenn and Marc, daughter Stacey Finn and two grandchildren.

A memorial gathering will be held Saturday. More information: Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators at (323) 782-1010.