If you’re anything like me, your favorite childhood books had a huge impact on your life growing up. Actually, if you’re really like me, your favorite childhood books still have a huge impact on your adult life.
(I may or may not still feel a pang of disappointment every time I check the mail and there’s no letter from Hogwarts; I may or may not also light an extra candle on my every birthday cake for Katniss – we share a birthday #nobigdeal).
One of the craziest parts about growing up is learning more about the lives of the authors behind the fictional characters who shaped your worldview. More often than not, those authors have stories that are just as, if not more, entertaining than those of the made-up worlds they created.
Without further ado, here are four surprising facts about your favorite childhood authors.
Roald Dahl Was a Spy
Putting aside the adorable fact that Roald Dahl only started writing children’s books after he had kids (say it with me now: “awww!”), the most surprising fact about the author of classics like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that he was actually a spy.
Dahl worked as a British fighter pilot during World War II, but he also gathered intelligence for the British. Dahl was part of the legendary covert intelligence service MI6, tasked with gathering information about Britain’s greatest ally: the United States. We’re still not sure how Dahl ended up as a spy, but given that he was tasked with spinning false stories in the US press, we can imagine he did a pretty good job.
Suzanne Collins Wrote For Some of the Most Popular Children’s TV Shows
Given how bloody the Hunger Games books are, it may come as a surprise that Suzanne Collins once worked on television shows for young children. Like, really young children – as a writer for Little Bear and Clifford’s Puppy Days, among others. Collins’ work was mostly aimed at the preschool crowd.
Collins did have other television writer credits for (slightly) older audiences, including Clarissa Explains It All and The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. Her years of work in television help explain her fascination with the power of the media to impact a nation.
J.K Rowling Is Basically a Metamorphmagus
J.K Rowling’s origin story is as much of a legend as that of her hero, Harry. We all know that she was down on her luck, writing what became Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on napkins while haunting various Edinburgh cafes.
What’s not as well-known, however, is Rowling’s extreme talent for disguise.
Aside from writing several best-selling books under a pseudonym, Rowling has also employed more physical disguises in her real life. Specifically, when shopping for her wedding dress, Rowling completely changed her appearance, assuming an alternate identity so she could browse unbothered.
Rowling refuses to divulge the secret of her disguise (in case she has to use it again), so we can only assume that she’s just as talented as her shape-shifting character, Nymphadora Tonks.
Shel Silverstein Also Wrote for Playboy
Aside from his prolific career as the author of some of the most heartwarming childhood classics ever (The Giving Tree just keeps getting more and more relevant with age), Shel Silverstein had an illustrious forty year run as a Playboy columnist.
According to legend, Silverstein hit it off with Playboy owner Hugh Hefner (himself a cartoonist) when the pair met as young men. Though Silverstein didn’t initially work with Hef, he eventually began to write travelogues that detailed his adventures through places like Fire Island and Tokyo. In fact, it was Silverstein’s work in Playboy that really kick-started his career and made him a well-recognized name.
The Best Story You Write Is Your Own
The fascinating lives of the authors behind these childhood classics tell us one thing: no matter how talented of a writer you are, the best story you can write is your own. Even if you don’t feel very good about your ability to string a poetic sentence together, you’re already working on a masterpiece: your life.