Elizabeth Coatsworth was born on May 13, 1893, in Buffalo, New York. Her family was wealthy and traveled a great deal. Her short children's novel Bess and the Sphinx is close to an autobiography of her early years.

Until she was eighteen, she attended the Buffalo Seminary, a very formal school. In 1912, her father died, and Elizabeth's remaining family gave up the family home and traveled from place to place. During this time, Coatsworth went to Vassar, then to Columbia, then Radcliffe, then traveled through Asia for a year and a half.

She came home and, with her mom, bought a 17th-century house in Hingham, Massachusetts. She wrote of this period, "Years of work and travel, hard to untangle." It was during this time that she began to write poetry. In 1927, her first children's book was published, a book of poetry, The Cat and the Captain.

She went on to write all kinds of things - poetry, prose, some for babies, some for teenagers, some even for adults, about all sorts of topics. She enjoyed variety in all things - family stories, stories about living and traveling all over the world, history, and folklore. She was fascinated by houses and by different modes of travel. Of having likes and dislikes, she wrote, "In all this I am a lamentable failure. I can't dislike even gladioli wholeheartedly. I do not know who is my favorite author. My reputation as a cat lover is accidental, for I like cats no more than other animals."

At age 36, Elizabeth married Henry Beston, a natural history writer, who would also write two collections of fairy tales. Family life with two daughters kept them close to home, but she and her husband continued to explore the world.

Beston died in 1968, and Elizabeth lived alone at the farm, with visits from her family and friends, surrounded by the treasured objects of a long life. In her book, Personal Geography; Almost an Autobiography, written when she was in her eighties, she writes: "After so many travels, I am home, and my happiness here is no less than it was in foreign lands and my sense of wonder has not dulled with all these years. I am as happy as an old dog stretched out in the sunlight."

Over her career, Elizabeth wrote over ninety children's books. She never had trouble getting anything published. Her writing career stretched from the 20s to the 80s.

Elizabeth died in 1986. She is buried next to her husband, in the graveyard of their farm.

Swift things are beautiful:
Swallows and deer,
And Lightning that falls
Bright-veined and clear,
Rivers and meteors,
Wind in the wheat,
The strong-withered horse,
The runner's sure feet.

And slow things are beautiful:
The closing of day,
The pause of the wave
That curves downward to spray,
The ember that crumbles,
The opening flower,
And the ox that moves on
In the quiet of power.


"I have, quite deliberately, tried to make my writing clear, rather than rich. and as always happens when one chooses one path instead of another, I have lost by the choice as well as gained."

"He (the author) is like a man walking with his family who suddenly sees ahead of him an unexpected mountain, a monkey in the branches of a tree, or comes upon a house in the woods where a little while ago there was only a glade. His first impulse is to turn and say, 'Look!'... The writer has come upon something in life which has amused or delighted or surprised him. 'Look!' he exclaims; and, if he is lucky, the children look."


Bess and the Sphinx

The Cat Who Went to Heaven   (1931 Newbery Award)

The Enchanted

The Mouse Chorus

Personal Geography; Almost an Autobiography

Snow Parlor and Other Bedtime Stories

Song of the Camels: A Christmas Poem

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