• Happy birthday Virginia Euwer Wolff (Make Lemonade), Charles Ghigna (Mice Are Nice), Ian Falconer (Olivia), and Lane Smith (It’s a Book; The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales).
  • It’s the birth date of Bret Harte (1836-1902), The Queen of the Pirate Isle, and Walt Kelly (1913-1973), Pogo.
  • In 1835 the New York Sun newspaper perpetrates the Great Moon Hoax. Read The Great Moon Hoax by Stephan Krensky, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon.
  • Best birthday wishes to the United States National Park Service, created in 1916. Read M is for Majestic by David Domeniconi, illustrated by Pam Carroll.
  • Other books to read in honor of the 1944 liberation of Paris from the Nazis by the Allies include Eloise in Paris by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight, and Dodsworth in Paris by Tim Egan.
  • It’s Kiss and Make Up Day. Read Counting Kisses by Karen Katz, and Funny You Should Ask: How to Make Up Jokes and Riddles with Wordplay by Marvin Terban, illustrated by John O’Brien.

Today marks the birthday of American author Virginia Euwer Wolff. She grew up on her family’s fruit ranch in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains. Her father died when she was five—she would later create many fatherless children in her novels. A violinist, Wolff attended Smith College, and then traveled with her husband and two children. In the seventies she returned to Oregon to teach high school English and begin her writing career.

Probably Still Nick Swanson appeared in 1988. But in 1993 Wolff published Make Lemonade, the first book in a trilogy that would make her reputation as a writer. So many aspects of this stream-of-consciousness poetic novel made it unusual for its time and it remains unique today. In Make Lemonade Wolff explores poverty and its crushing effects on the young. But although readers grow to learn a great deal about the protagonist, LaVaughn, an intelligent fourteen-year-old with great drive, and the down-on-her luck teenage mother Jolly that LaVaughn babysits for, the race of the characters is never specified. Readers have believed them to be white, black, and Asian; hence there are as many interpretations of this book as there are readers.

LaVaughn dreams of college, a way out of the poverty of her inner-city landscape. Because of that, she saves and works and finally takes a job supporting a teenage mother whose life swirls more and more out of control. Although LaVaughn knows it makes no logical sense to continue to support Jolly even when her wages are withheld, she has come to care for the children and for Jolly herself. These two teenagers, both lonely and isolated in their own ways, form a strange friendship and bond. LaVaughn’s father has died; the fathers of Jolly’s two children provide no support for them. Out of their relationship come some good solutions for both of them. In certainly one of the most satisfying transformations in any novel, Jolly begins to take some control of her life and work toward a GED. She realizes that although she has been given some lemons in her life, she needs to make the best of it—lemonade.

Wolff continued LaVaughn’s story in the sequels True Believer, winner of the National Book Award, and This Full House. Critics consider this trilogy the best-executed series of poetic novels of contemporary times. The immediacy of the free verse and first person, the believable problems facing the girls and their resolutions have made the novels favorites for independent reading for twelve- to fourteen-year-olds or for group discussion.

Happy birthday, Virginia Euwer Wolff. Thank you for your brilliant and honest writing.

Here’s a page from Make Lemonade:


Originally posted August 25, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Family, School, Women
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Make Lemonade
One year ago: This is Paris


  1. McCourt says:

    I am not familiar with this series, but am intrigued by the story and the writing. Thanks again for sharing something new to put on my library list!

  2. Anita says:

    McCourt: I’m always happy to lead you to a new book or new author. I appreciate your comments very much on this blog.

  3. Janet Wong says:

    Thank you for this reminder to reread MAKE LEMONADE–a book with such incredible impact and HEART!

  4. Nora says:

    Due to this post, I checked out all three of these books and read them over the past 2 weeks.
    What an outstanding trilogy! I feel like I am given a gift every time I find a new book to enjoy.

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