Martha Seif Simpson Author Biography

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Home > Children's Authors > Martha Seif Simpson

Martha Seif Simpson
Photo of Martha Seif Simpson

Martha Seif Simpson is an author and children’s librarian. Her first children’s book, What NOT to Give Your Mom on Mother's Day, was released in 2013. Ms. Simpson’s most recent book with Wisdom Tales is Esther‘s Gragger: A Toyshop Tale of Purim, illustrated by award-winning author and illustrator Durga Yael Bernhard. Their first joint creation for Wisdom Tales was about the same toyshop owner in another adventure, the award-winning The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah.

In addition to her books for children, Martha has also written resource titles for librarians. Her first book, Summer Reading Clubs: Complete Plans for 50 Theme-Based Library Programs (McFarland & Company, Inc., 1992) was the first book published with detailed plans for running that mainstay of children’s library services. During her twenty-five plus years as a children’s librarian, Martha has shared her experience with others in her professional books, reviews, and activities. (See her website, linked below, for more information.)

Here are some details about how she got into writing stories for children as well as some other facts about her life:

I remember desperately wanting to learn how to read when I was young, but it took me a while to figure out how to do it. When I was in third grade, I found Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, and that book turned me into a real reader! I read every Beverly Cleary book I could find and then moved on to other authors. I love children’s books so much that I eventually became a children’s librarian so I could keep reading kids’ books, and then introduce them to boys and girls at the library.

I started writing for fun when I was in eighth grade. I liked thinking up silly stories and inventing goofy character names. And I was always making up my own words to popular songs that I heard on the radio. This turned out to be a useful skill as a children’s librarian, because I have written lots of songs to use in storytimes.

I grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts. My parents owned a small store, Dotty’s Variety (named after my mother) which they bought when I was 10 years old and my brother (Joel) was 9. Its main feature was a penny candy counter, back when you could actually buy Bazooka bubble gum and red licorice for a penny. The store was open from 7 am to 7 pm, 7 days a week with no hired help. It was just my parents, my brother and me for the 18 years that my parents owned it. I can recall lots of anecdotes about the people I met while working in a neighborhood mom-and-pop variety store!

Martha’s father, Sam Seif, was born and raised in Poland before World War II. Like many other Jews, he labored in a variety of camps during the Holocaust. He managed to survive, although most of his family did not. Sam came to the United States to start a new life after the war.

Martha Seif Simpson’s grandparents, on her mother’s side, were born in the USSR and came to America before World War I. They met here and lived in Dorchester, MA where her grandfather had a grocery store. He had various other jobs before that, including selling from a pushcart. (Just like the Peddler in the Toyshop books!) Martha notes that her own mother undoubtedly learned how to run a small family store from her father.

In addition to writing books for children, Martha Seif Simpson is also an award-winning librarian:

I started working at the Stratford Library in Stratford, CT in 1993 and have been Head of Children’s Services since 1996. I enjoy introducing children to the books and media in our collection. We also have a lot of fun with our many programs. The best part about being a children’s librarian is that you don’t have to grow up!

In 1999, I won the Econo-Clad Literature program Award for StoryCraft, a program I developed for children in grades 2-4. Fellow librarian Lynne Perrigo and I wrote about some of our ideas in StoryCraft: 50 Theme-Based Programs Combining Storytelling, Activities and Crafts for Children in Grades 1-3 (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001).

My staff members and I are very proud of our collaborative efforts with the local schools, including our class visits initiative. Teen librarian Lucretia I. Duwel and I co-authored a comprehensive how-to book, Bringing Classes into the Public Library (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2007) so other librarians and teachers can offer this valuable service in their communities.

I am also very active in the American Library Association (ALA), especially in The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and have served on several ALSC committees.

Many children’s literature professionals dream of being on the Newbery Medal Committee, the select group of 15 people who choose the best children’s book of the year. I served on that esteemed committee in 2003-2004. We read and considered hundreds of books, debating their merits until we finally determined the winner and honor books at the 2004 ALA Midwinter Conference.

From 2005-2009, I was on the ALSC Library Service to Special Population Children and their Caregivers Committee. During my time as committee chair, we were asked by Candlewick Press to develop a grant in honor of Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo and the themes represented in her books. I was proud to be part of this wonderful group of dedicated librarians who could really help make a difference in the lives of young people and their families.

I also chaired the ALSC committee that awarded the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video in 2012 and served on the 2016 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award) Committee honoring an author or illustrator for their significant and lasting contribution to children's literature.

It has been a joy to work with so many dedicated library professionals and meet authors and illustrators whom I have admired for years.

For more information and photos, look on Martha’s website under the “Library Life” tab.

Martha and her husband, John, have two boys and two girls. She says, “My first picture book, What NOT to Get Your Mom on Mother’s Day is dedicated to my children — Paul, Rose, Nick, and Shayna, who are all grown up now. My daughters followed my career path and are also librarians.”

Despite her busy life as a mother, writer and librarian, Martha still finds time for other interests: “John and I are big fans of the UConn Women’s Basketball team and the Connecticut Sun and we go to a lot of games every year. And we love to travel. We have visited all fifty states and have been to several different countries. There is so much to see and do!”

Awards for this Author’s Wisdom Tales Books

  • Esther‘s Gragger: A Toyshop Tale of Purim (illustrated by D. Yael Bernhard):
    • Gold Medal in the “Children’s Fiction” category of the 2020 Midwest Book Awards
    • Silver Medal in the “Children’s Picture Books” category of the 2020 Midwest Book Awards
    • Finalist in the “Children Mind/Body/Spirituality” category of the 2020 Best Book Awards
  • The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah (illustrated by D. Yael Bernhard):
    • Finalist in the “Children's Religious” category of the 2015 USA “Best Book” Awards
    • Finalist in the 2015 Benjamin Frankin Awards in the category “Interior Design (3 or more Color; Children’s/Young Adult)”

A Video Interview with the Author

An interview with Martha Seif Simpson about Esther’s Gragger
at the American Library Association’s annual conference
in 2019

Martha gives an on-the-spot interview about her book. You can hear the crowd in the background, but her description of the book is excellent. Martha also highlights the wonderful illustrations by D. Yael Bernhard.

Author Appearances & Events

Martha Seif Simpson maintains a page on her website for “Coming Events.”

Author Extras & Links

  • Martha Seif Simpson has a website which includes more biographical details, a list of all her publications along with links, a listing of coming and past events in which Martha participates, and more. To visit her page, click here.
Pages 20-11 from the book “Never Say a Mean Word Again”, written by Jacqueline Jules and illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard

A sample of a page written by Martha Seif Simpson and illustrated by Durga Yael
Bernhard for the book The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin: A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah

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