Amy Hest secretly aspired to be a writer from an early age, but, she says, “I never thought my life was exciting enough for a writer. I didn’t have any fantastic adventures. I didn’t run away from home. I actually got along with my parents. I was such a goody two-shoes that I couldn’t help but wonder what other kid would want to read anything I wrote.”
But her passion for books must have been apparent to all who knew her. Born in New York City and raised on Long Island, she worked in a library as a page from the age of sixteen. “I wanted the job so badly that I went to the director’s office every single day after school to tell him so,” she says. “Finally one day he called me to say that he had moved my application to the top of the pile and would keep it there if that meant I wouldn’t come by to bother him the next day.” Amy Hest worked as a children’s librarian in the New York Public Library system in the early 1970s, and then for years in children’s book publishing. She wrote all during this time, still not sharing her ambition with the world, not even with her publishing co-workers!
Today, Amy Hest is the highly versatile author of more than thirty books for young readers, many of which affectionately address family and intergenerational themes. Mr. George Baker is the tender tale of an elderly man and a young boy linked by the common pursuit of learning to read. Also among Amy Hest’s books are the beloved Baby Duck stories, illustrated by Jill Barton, including Guess Who, Baby Duck!, a sweet depiction of the special bond between Baby Duck and her Grampa. About In the Rain With Baby Duck—which received a Boston Globe–Horn Book Award—the author says, “It’s about things that I love: pancakes and rainy days and children (like mine) who pout, and parents (like me) who have their own agenda, and grandparents (like my own) who have a way of making problems go away.”
Another series of picture books by Amy Hest were inspired by the author’s son, Sam. “When Sam was small he knew countless ways to keep me in his room at bedtime,” she says of her inspiration for New York Times bestseller Kiss Good Night. Its follow-up, Don’t You Feel Well, Sam? came from memories of “some long-ago nights . . . when things weren’t quite right. There were many hugs, of course. And occasionally, a dose of terrible-tasting medicine.” In You Can Do It, Sam, the third of these endearing tales (all illustrated by Anita Jeram), Sam, with gentle encouragement from his mother, ventures out of the house to deliver homemade treats to his neighbors all by himself.
Amy Hest claims to be “a very moody person,” noting that “what I write depends on my mood.” These changeable moods have produced not just picture books but also novels for middle-grade readers, including I Love You, Soldier and its sequel, The Private Notebook of Katie Roberts, Age 11—both of which were named Booklist Editors’ Choices—as well as The Great Green Notebook of Katie Roberts, Age 12, and Remembering Mrs. Rossi. These moods have also earned the author a host of awards, including the prestigious Christopher Medal, twice—for the highly acclaimed When Jessie Came Across the Sea, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, and for Kiss Good Night.
Most of Amy Hest’s books take place close to home, in New York, where she and her husband live. “One of the things I love about working at home is the proximity to the refrigerator,” she says. “If you are going to be a writer, you need to have a lot of ice cream. When I have a bad writer’s day—and that happens a lot—a spoonful of ice cream perks me up. And when you have a good writer’s day, you need a reward.”