Verna Aardema: "The Bookworm Who Hatched"

"Long, long ago, when the earth was set down and the sky was lifted up, all folktales were owned by the Sky God."

So begins an Ashanti tale, Anansi Does the Impossible!, retold by Verna Aardema. Anansi the Spider and his clever wife, Aso, use their wits to buy the folk tales for the Ashanti people. Verna Aardema spent much of her life retelling these folktales.

Verna loved to read when she was a little girl in Michigan. She had eight brothers and sisters, and there was lots of work to do, but whenever she could Verna AardemaVerna would sneak off to read a book, avoiding her chores whenever possible! Sometimes she went to her dark secret room, a cavelike place inside a clump of trees, surrounded by wildflowers and squawberries in the cedar swamp near their house.

When Verna was older, she went to the secret room and imagined many kinds of stories which she later wrote down. In college, she took all the writing courses she could and worked as a staff correspondent for the local newspaper. She married Albert Aardema after college, became a schoolteacher, and started a family. Her little daughter, Paula, was a fussy eater and demanded stories with every meal. Verna told her stories based on African folk tales. She sent off one of her "feeding stories" to a book publisher. He liked it very much, and Verna went on to write an entire collection of African stories, Tales from a Story Hat.

She told her stories to her elementary school classes and wrote more than 25 books through the years. She based her stories on African folk tales but retold them in her own way for new audiences. Four of her books were featured on Reading Rainbow: Borreguita and the Coyote, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, and Who's in Rabbit's House? These individual folktales are wonderful to read out loud for they capture the storyteller's rhythm and are beautifully illustrated. Leo and Diane Dillon's drawings for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears won the Caldecott Medal as the most distinguished American children's picture book in 1976.

Anansi does the ImpossibleVerna Aardema died in August of 2000. Her legacy is not only the sum of the many wonderfully entertaining books she wrote for children but also the kindness and mentoring she gave to young people who attended her storytelling sessions and were inspired to become writers themselves. Click here for a complete list of her books at Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

Fast Facts

Born: June 6, 1911, in New Era, Michigan
Education: graduated from Michigan State University with a B.A. in journalism in 1934 Career(s): grade school teacher (1934-1973); correspondent for the Muskegon Chronicle (1951-1972); her first book, Tales from the Story Hat, was published in 1960.
Selected Awards: Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears (1975, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon) received the Caldecott Medal in 1976, as well as the Brooklyn Art Books for Children Award in 1977. Who's in Rabbit's House was the 1977 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year and a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award Winner in 1978. She received the Children's Reading Round Table Award in 1981. Oh, Kojo! How Could You! won the 1984 Parents' Choice Award for Literature.
Full name: Verna Norberg Aardema Vugteveen
Marriages: Albert Aardema (1908-1974), followed by Joel Vugteveen
Died: May 11, 2000, in Fort Myers, Florida

Read More about Verna Aardema:

Biography in Context: Verna Aardema
Here she is listed as Verna Aardema Vugteveen. In 1975, after her first husband's death, she married Joel Vugteveen.