American juvenile author (full name: Elizabeth Allen) Betty Cavanna suffered from a crippling disease, infantile paralysis, as a child, which she eventually overcame with treatment and exercise. During her convalescence, attentive adults read to her until she was old enough to read to herself, beginning a long love affair with books.
Cavanna majored in journalism at the New Jersey College for Women in New Brunswick, from where she received the Bachelor of Letters degree in 1929. She also took art classes in New York and Philadelphia. Cavanna's first job was as a reporter for the Bayonne Times. In 1931 she joined the staff of the Westminster Press in Philadelphia and over the next ten years served as advertising manager and art director. She also wrote and sold material to Methodist and Baptist publishing firms. In 1940 she married Edward Talman Headley, with whom she had a son. They moved to Philadelphia. After her husband's death, she married George Russell Harrison, a university dean of science, as well as nonfiction writer, in 1957. He died in 1979.
Cavanna became a full-time writer in 1941. 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. As Betty Cavanna she also published the nonfiction "Around the World Today" about young people living in various countries.
Cavanna's juvenile fiction, about the difficulties of adolescenc, appealed to generations of teenage girls. Her characters confronted loneliness, sibling rivalries, divorce, and tense mother-daughter relationships. Her books, although characterized as pleasant, conventional, and stereotyped, have been extremely popular and recommended by critics for their attention to subjects which have reflected girls' interests. Going on Sixteen and Secret Passage were Spring Book Festival honor books in 1946 and 1947.
In the 1970s Cavanna turned to writing mysteries, which she termed "escape fiction," because she said she felt out of sync with the problems of modern teenagers. Two of her books have been runners-up for the Edgar Allan Poe Award: Spice Island Mystery in 1970 and the Ghost of Ballyhooly in 1972.
She died in France (2001).
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