Crescent Dragonwagon was born Ellen Zolotow, the second child and only daughter of Charlotte Zolotow. The two shared a personal and collegial relationship, the latter based on their mutual respect as writers. They periodically gave talks together, and Charlotte appointed Crescent (who spent much of the last 5 years of Charlotte’s life with her) her literary executor.
Like Charlotte, Crescent always knew that she would become a writer. Unlike Charlotte, Crescent was not drawn exclusively to one genre; she works in several, including culinary memoir and adult non-fiction. But she always knew that one of these would be writing for children. Indeed, Crescent’s first book, Rainy Day Together, published when she was sixteen under the name Ellen Parsons, was for young readers. Crescent’s award-winning titles for children include Half a Moon and One Whole Star, a Coretta Scott King Award-winner, and the YA The Year It Rained, a New York Times Notable.
Like Charlotte, Crescent also derives great satisfaction through helping other writers get clear about what they want to write, and as well as writing it with greater depth and emotional honesty. While Charlotte did her nurturing and prodding as an editor, Crescent does so through her workshops (such as Fearless Writing™) and individual mentoring.
Crescent recalls that once, as a child of six or seven, she came downstairs to find her mother curled up in the living room on the couch, a notebook on her knee. “Ellen,” Charlotte said to her, “Tell me some of the mean things Stevie does to you. ”
Crescent, then Ellen, was delighted. ” I thought, at last! Justice will be done!” So she listed the various ways her big brother made her miserable, hopes rising as she saw her mother studiously taking notes. To her then-disappointment, Stephen was never called to account. Instead, two years later, in 1960, came the publication of Charlotte’s Big Brother Little Sister, her fifteenth book for young readers.
“If there is a clearer example of life being the material from which literature is made, I don’t know what it could be, ” says Crescent. “So while she didn’t give my brother what I thought was coming to him, she gave me something much more valuable: that you could use what happened to and around you and turn it into stories.” (Many years later, Crescent revisited this same material and wrote her own book on sibling warfare, I Hate My Brother Harry.)