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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Cavanna, Betty

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Remember summers long ago sitting under a shade tree or laying on your bed with your nose stuck in a book, reading about teenage girls who traveled the world or experienced problems just like yours? Were books like Paintbox Summer, A Girl Can Dream and Going On Sixteen sitting on your bookcase? Well, if I just took you back in time, you remember the work of Elizabeth Allen Cavanna.

Elizabeth Cavanna was born on June 24, 1909. She suffered from a crippling disease as a child. Her nurse, a loving woman, read to her during her convalescence years and helped Elizabeth develop a love of books. Elizabeth eventually overcame her disease with long hours of treatment and exercise.

Puppy Stakes became her first book in 1943, published by Westminister. Since then she has written more than seventy books under the name of Betty Cavanna, as well as two pseudonyms: Betsy Allen, under which she wrote the Connie Blair mystery series, and Elizabeth Headley, under which she wrote several books, including the Diane stories. She also wrote a nonfiction series under the name of Betty Cavanna called Around the World Today about young people living in various countries. The exotic settings of Cavanna’s fiction and nonfiction books reflect her travels.

Cavanna’s fiction is about growing up and youthful problems; its largest audience is young teenage girls. Her books have been characterized as pleasant, conventional, and stereotyped but have been extremely popular and recommended by critics for their attention to subjects that have reflected girls’ interests. Beneath the surface romances lie characters who confront problems of loneliness, shyness, social ineptitude, brother-sister rivalry, strained mother-daughter relationships and family upheavals due to divorce, alcoholism, racial prejudice, or the death of a parent.

Because Elizabeth felt she was out of sync with the problems of modern teenagers she turned to writing mysteries, which she termed “escape fiction.” Two of her books, Spice Island Mystery and The Ghost of Ballyhooly have both been runners-up for the Edgar Allan Poe Award. Going on Sixteen and Secret Passage were Spring Book Festival honor books in 1946 and 1947. She died in 2001.

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