Life and Background
Louis Sachar is the author of humorous and poignant stories for children and young adults. He published his first book, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, in 1978 and won the Newbery Medal in 1999 for his witty and suspenseful novel Holes. Sachar writes about topics familiar to children and young adults such as friendship, family relationships, overcoming obstacles, building character, and the consequences of choices. His protagonists are usually misfits — characters labeled nerd, bully, or klutz by classmates — who overcome their fears and anxieties while discovering their strengths through comical and realistic experiences and interactions with peers and adults. When Sachar writes, his goal is to make reading fun for his readers. Amidst the fun, he incorporates themes that encourage readers to think about right and wrong.
Sachar was born on March 20, 1954, in East Meadow, New York, to Robert J. Sachar, a salesman, and Ruth Raybin Sachar, a real estate broker. When he was nine years old, his family moved to Tustin, California. Sachar was a good student and liked school. He always enjoyed reading books, especially those by E.B. White. However, it wasn't until Sachar was in high school that he truly realized his love for reading.
After graduating from high school, Sachar enrolled in Antioch College in Ohio. Soon after classes began, his father died suddenly and Sachar returned to California to be with his mother. The following semester, rather than resume his studies in Ohio, Sachar enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in economics. Sachar's love of reading continued. His favorite authors included E.L. Doctorow, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Kazuo Ishiguro, Flannery O'Connor, Rex Stout, and Katherine Paterson. He developed an interest in Russian literature (two of his favorite Russian authors are Tolstoy and Dostoevsky) but, after dropping a Russian language course in college, decided to take an education class because he thought it would be easy: All he was required to do to earn three credits was work as a teacher's aide at a local elementary school. The course involved no homework, and he was not required to write any papers. Working as a teacher's aide was a significant experience in Sachar's life, because it inspired him to write a children's book. At the time, writing was a hobby for Sachar; he never expected his work to be published.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1976, Sachar moved to Norwalk, Connecticut, where he worked at a sweater warehouse during the day and began writing his first book at night. He was fired from the job almost a year later and decided to go to law school.
Sachar attended Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, California, and during his first week of law school, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, a book of short stories about kids who attended a thirty-story elementary school with one classroom on each floor, was accepted for publication. Sachar was unsure what he should do — be a lawyer or a writer. He did what most people would think the "sensible" thing and continued with his law degree, but Sachar continued to write children's books throughout law school. He graduated in 1980 with a law degree and passed the California Bar Exam, which allowed him to practice law in the state of California. He was not as excited about this accomplishment as his friends were; now he had no excuse for not getting a "real" job. Because Sachar's love was writing, he decided to continue writing children's books and to support himself by working part-time as a lawyer.
Soon after passing the California Bar Exam, Sachar met Carla Askew, an elementary school counselor (and Sachar's inspiration for the counselor in There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom). They lived together in a small one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. Because they lived in such close quarters, and because Sachar needed to be alone when he was writing, Carla, who was very supportive of Sachar, would wake up early and leave the apartment, even when she was on vacation from school. Between 1981 and 1987, Sachar wrote Johnny's in the Basement, Someday Angeline, Sixth Grade Secrets, and There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. He married Carla in 1985, and their daughter, Sherre, was born in 1987. Sachar's books were selling well; finally, in 1989, he was able to stop practicing law and become a full-time writer.
In 1991, Sachar and his family moved to Austin, Texas. He was proving to be a prolific writer of children's books. He'd had four more books published by then — The Boy Who Lost His Face (his daughter, who was one year old at the time, was Sachar's inspiration for the 1-year-old sister in the book), Wayside School Is Falling Down, Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, and Dogs Don't Tell Jokes. In 1992, Sachar began a series about the comical plights of an eight-year-old boy named Marvin Redpost, writing four Marvin Redpost books between 1992 and 1994, and three more in 1999 and 2000. After writing Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger in 1995, Sachar spent two years working on an adult novel. When the novel did not come together as he had planned, he quit working on it and began Holes, which was published in 1998 and won the 1999 Newbery Medal Award.
Sachar has received many prestigious awards and honors for his writing. In addition to winning the Newbery Medal Award, Holes was the winner of the National Book Award; a New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year; a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year; a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; on the Horn Book Fanfare Honor List; a Bulletin Blue Ribbon Book; and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year. Sachar has also received the Children's Choice Award from the International Reading Association and Children's Book Council, the 1987 Parents' Choice Award, and the 1990 Young Reader's Choice Award.
Sachar, Carla, Sherre, and their two dogs, Tippy and Lucky, continue to live in Austin, Texas. Sachar has an office over the garage of his house where he goes to write each weekday morning. No one is allowed in his office except Tippy and Lucky. After about two hours of writing, Tippy taps him with her paw or barks to remind him that it is time to quit writing because the dogs need a walk. Sachar has a strict rule that he adheres to when he is writing a book: He does not talk about it. Most of the time, his wife and daughter don't have any idea what he is doing in his office. Sometimes, Sachar spends an entire month just brainstorming. After he has written five or six drafts of a book, he lets Carla and Sherre read it, listening to their comments.
When Sachar is not writing, he loves to play bridge and tennis. He also enjoys other games, particularly video games, pinball, and basketball. Exercise is important to Sachar, but the oppressive heat in Texas has curtailed his outdoor running. (His dislike for the heat ignited his imagination and was the starting point for Holes.) Sachar continues to write fun books, hoping to increase his readers' ability to empathize with others and, as a result, become more caring people.
Sachar's Selected Works
Sideways Stories from Wayside School (1978)
Johnny's in the Basement (1981)
Someday Angeline (1983)
Sixth Grade Secrets (1987)
There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom (1987)
The Boy Who Lost His Face (1989)
Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School (1989)
Wayside School is Falling Down (1989)
Dogs Don't Tell Jokes (1991)
Monkey Soup (1992)
Marvin Redpost: Kidnapped at Birth? (1992)
Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me? (1993)
Marvin Redpost: Is He a Girl? (1993)
Marvin Redpost: Alone in His Teacher's House (1994)
More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School (1994)
Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger (1995)
Marvin Redpost: Class President (1999)
Marvin Redpost: A Flying Birthday Cake (1999)
Marvin Redpost: Super Fast, Out of Control! (2000)