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Ellen Conford, children’s writer, dies at 73

Ellen Conford, a children’s writer whose comic tales about such things as the travails of high school and a girl’s summer camp crush brought her a strong following for decades, died March 20 at her home in Great Neck, N.Y.

She died of a heart ailment on her 73rd birthday, said her husband, David Conford.

Mrs. Conford wrote more than 40 books for an audience ranging from small children to young adults. Her work included the “Jenny Archer” and “Annabel the Actress” series and the novel “And This is Laura.”

Her husband said a personal favorite was “The Alfred G. Graebner Memorial High School Handbook of Rules and Regulations,” published in 1976 and inspired by the guidelines that their son, Michael, received while in high school.

Lizzie Skurnick, who has been reissuing Mrs. Conford’s work through her eponymous imprint, said: “Whether she was writing about a girl fleeing foster homes in the 1950s (‘To All My Fans, With Love, From Sylvie’) or the consummate novel of summer camp (‘Hail, Hail Camp Timberwood’), her books are plotted so well, and her writing is so smart and fabulous. Readers have been sending me pictures of all the old books they’ve held onto since they were teenagers.”

She was born Ellen Schaffer on March 20, 1942, in New York City. She edited her high school’s humor magazine and attended Hofstra College (now Hofstra University).

She had been writing poems and short stories when a trip to the library inspired her to try a different kind of book. She was frustrated by the scarcity of good stories for her son and wondered aloud whether she couldn’t write one herself.

“I said to her, ‘Then why don’t you?’ ” her husband recalled.

Ellen Conford’s first book, the picture story “Impossible, Possum,” came out in 1971, and she published regularly over the next 30 years.

“I am disturbed by the number of children and adults who have never experienced the joys of reading a book just for pleasure,” she once said. “Therefore, I write the kinds of books for children and teenagers that I liked to read at their age, books meant purely to entertain, to amuse, to divert.

“I feel that I am competing with the television set for a child’s mind and attention, and if I receive a letter that says, ‘I never used to like to read until I read one of your books, and now I really enjoy reading,’ I feel I’ve won a great victory. A child who discovers that reading can be pleasurable may become an educated, literate, well-informed adult. I like to think I’m doing what I can to help the cause.”

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