Deborah Heiligman grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Brown University with an A.B. in Religious Studies. While that might not seem like an obvious major for a children’s book author, her studies taught her how to ask questions about difficult topics, and that has become her specialty.
Deborah is the author of 30 books for children and teens, many of them nonfiction, including Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, a National Book Award Finalist, Printz Honor, an L.A. Times Book Prize Young Adult Literature finalist and the first YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award winner. Her most recent picture book, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, won the 2014 Cook Prize for best STEM book. It was also an Orbis Pictus honor, a NY Times Notable, a New York Public Library top 100 Books for Reading and Sharing, and an Anne Izard storytelling award winner. Her first YA novel, Intentions, won the Sidney Taylor Award from Association of Jewish Librarians.
Her latest book, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, was released in April 2017 by Henry Holt to critical acclaim, including six starred reviews in publications from Booklist to School Library Journal. In June 2017, Vincent and Theo won the the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction.
Deborah lives in New York City with her husband, Jonathan Weiner, an author and professor, and their Cairn Terrier, Ketzie. Their two sons live in Brooklyn, a subway ride away. For more information, please visit www.DeborahHeiligman.com.
Author Photo Credit: Matt PeytonDownload Bio
VINCENT AND THEOThe Van Gogh Brothers
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
The deep and enduring friendship between Vincent and Theo Van Gogh shaped both brothers' lives. Confidant, champion, sympathizer, friend—Theo supported Vincent as he struggled to find his path in life. They shared everything, swapping stories of lovers and friends, successes and disappointments, dreams and ambitions. Meticulously researched, drawing on the 658 letters Vincent wrote to Theo during his lifetime, Deborah Heiligman weaves a tale of two lives intertwined and the extraordinary love of the Van Gogh brothers.
THE BOY WHO LOVED MATHThe Improbable Life of Paul Erdos
Roaring Brook Press
With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this book is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man.
CHARLES AND EMMAThe Darwins' Leap of Faith
Deborah Heiligman's biography of Charles Darwin is a thought-provoking account of the man behind evolutionary theory: how his personal life affected his work and vice versa. The end result is an engaging exploration of history, science, and religion for young readers.
Falling in Love with Dead People Deborah’s bestselling YA book, Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith, required a great deal of research, as did her latest books Vincent and Theo and The Boy Who Loved Math. In this talk, Deborah discusses peering into primary sources. She also talks about connecting with characters, pacing, and crafting a story from research.
How Much is Too Much: Religion in YA Literature Deborah has always been fascinated by religion. She was brought up Jewish, but when she went to college, she discovered and studied other religions, which widened her world view. Several of her books feature characters’ relationships with religion. Deborah discusses writing about religion and her inspiration for doing so.
You Can't Make This Stuff Up: How to Use Primary Sources to Create Narrative NonfictionDeborah will take you inside her process of researching and writing. She will show you how she uses primary sources to create scenes and develop characters and story arcs, all the while telling the truth and nothing but the truth.
The Art of Brotherhood How Theo and Vincent van Gogh Can teach us by example about love, life, and art.
Gas Lamps and Horse Poop What you can and cannot do in nonfiction.
See Vincent and Theo in its spot as the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Nonfiction Winner for 2017.
Read about Deborah on Young People’s Literature.
Read an in-depth article on Deborah from Brown University.
Read Deborah’s interview with Penn & Ink, the Eastern PA SCBWI Chapter’s newsletter.
“Central to understanding the artist Vincent van Gogh was his relationship with his younger brother Theo, recorded for posterity in the nearly 700 surviving letters they wrote to each other. Here, Heiligman delivers an exquisitely told, heartfelt portrayal of that deep emotional and intellectual bond...a breathtaking achievement that will leave teens eager to learn more.”
—School Library Journal, starred review
“As teenagers, the Van Gogh brothers, Vincent and Theo, pledged to 'be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art.' In this intensive exploration of their turbulent lives, Heiligman focuses on their complex relationship and anchoring mutual bond. Writing in present tense, she follows them from their childhood closeness as two of six children of a Protestant pastor in the heavily Catholic Dutch village of Zundert into their contrasting adulthoods in France: painter Vincent’s life was precarious and erratic, while art dealer Theo’s was more stable and decorous, if often lonely. Heiligman tells the brothers’ story in short chapters, sometimes just scenes, and occasionally offers what she calls 'croquis' (sketches) to give a better sense of 'someone whose whole being cannot be captured on paper in one steady view. Like Theo.' She also recounts, in exhaustive detail, Vincent’s frequent cycles of descent into mental illness and subsequent rebounds, as well as the way the brothers alternately clashed with and clung to each other.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Vincent van Gogh is perhaps one of the best-known artists today, but it’s likely he wouldn’t be nearly as famous had it not been for his brother Theo, an art dealer who supported his troubled brother and championed his paintings until his own untimely death, only months after Vincent’s. While each brother had a pivotal career in his own right, Heiligman plumbs their correspondence, both to each other and beyond, and zeroes in on their relationship, which was fraught with a brotherly combination of competition, frustration, and, ultimately, adoration. Structured as a sort of gallery of key moments in the brothers’ lives, the book covers their childhood and the influence of their tight-knit family...In fittingly painterly language, Heiligman offers vivid descriptions of Vincent’s artwork and life, which grow more detailed and colorful as Vincent’s own artistic style becomes richer and more refined, particularly during the intense, almost manic flurry of work he produced in his last few years. This illuminating glimpse into the van Goghs’ turbulent life and historical period will add compelling depth to readers’ understanding of the iconic painter. Art-loving teens will be captivated.”
—Booklist, starred review
"As she did in Charles and Emma (2009), her biography of the Darwins, Heiligman renders a nuanced portrait of the complex, devoted, and enduring relationship between the Van Gogh brothers. Though Vincent and Theo unmistakably looked like brothers, they could not have been more opposite in habits and temperament; still, they pledged to each other as teenagers "to keep the bond between them strong and intimate." Heiligman explains: "They will be more than brothers, more than friends. They will be companions in the search for meaning in life and meaning in art….And they will, when needed, carry each other's parcels." She reveals their unfailing devotion to this pledge by drawing on the hundreds of letters they exchanged in their tragically short lifetimes, quoting extensively and adeptly integrating them into the narrative. She frames the story of their relationship as a series of gallery exhibits (introducing each with a black-and-white reproduction of a representative piece) and varies her writing style to reflect Vincent's work in different media such as sketching, drawing, and painting. Some depictions are vivid and richly textured, like Vincent's oil paintings, while others are lean and sharp, like his sketches and drawings."
-Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Heiligman again examines the impact of a family member on her main subject, this time unpacking the friendship between artist Vincent van Gogh and his brother Theo. After vividly setting the stage with brief sections that introduce Vincent and Theo near the end of their lives, Heiligman takes readers back to their beginnings. We learn of other siblings and of supportive parents; we gain a sense of their childhoods in their father’s parsonage. Structured as a walk through an art museum, the book proceeds through the years, each section a gallery...The layout, which incorporates sketches, subheads, and a generous use of white space, is a calming counterpoint to the turbulent narrative. Documenting the author’s research involving visits to sites, along with academic and primary sources, the extensive back matter includes a list of significant people, a timeline, a bibliography, thorough citations, and an author’s note. The result is a unique and riveting exploration of art, artists, and brotherly love."
—Horn Book, starred review
"Sunflowers. Stars. A severed ear. Teen readers can be expected to reach for this title armed with basic information about Vincent Van Gogh’s life, but those who have read material focused solely on the painter will view him in a new light as Heiligman reintroduces him in relation to his younger brother, Theo...Heiligman’s sensitive intertwining of the brother’s stories takes nothing away from the passionate tale of Vincent, the starving, suffering, mad genius artist. Readers, however, may unexpectedly find themselves in empathy with reliable Theo—emotionally guarded, frustrated at work, late in finding true love, quiet patron of loudly lauded Impressionists, husband and father who died miserably and alone. Notes, timeline, index, bibliography are appended for students conducting research, but this title is a treasure for readers who want to immerse in a roiling domestic drama and who don’t back away from a good cry."
—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
Praise for Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith “The unlikely, and happy marriage of Charles Darwin and Emma Wedgewood comes to life in Heiligman's intelligent and fast-moving book. Emma, a devout Christian but a sympathetic editor, helped make the arguments in ‘On the Origin of Species' airtight. Meanwhile readers can almost effortlessly absorb Darwin's ideas and the culture in which they developed, along with a portrait of Victorian everyday life.” —New York Times Book Review, 2009 Notable Book “With empathy, humor and insight, Heiligman proves the truth of the maxim that behind every great man there is indeed a great woman. There have been many Darwin-themed books published this year (which marks the 200th anniversary of his birth). This is clearly the best.”
“A delightful book about the question at the heart of the Darwins' marriage.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Heiligman's writing is so good—so rooted in particulars of time, place and Darwin's scientific thought, yet so light and full of drama—that readers will care about Charles and Emma and their love story. The debate between science and religion continues, today, but the relationship of Charles and Emma Darwin demonstrates that science and religion are not incompatible.”
“This is the ‘wow' biography on the Darwins - meticulously researched, richly rendered and rewarding every step of the way.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
Praise for The Boy Who Loved Math “Erdos's unconventional brilliance shines through on every page, and extensive author and illustrator notes (including Pham's explanations of the mathematical concepts she works into each illustration) will delight readers with even a fraction of Erdos's interest in math.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“An exuberant and admiring portrait introduces the odd, marvelously nerdy, way cool Hungarian-born itinerant mathematical genius.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“An infinitely creative and entertaining book.”
—The Horn Book
“Pair this with Don Brown's Odd Boy Out (BCCB 10/04) to compare genius eccentricities, or hand it to middle-grade lovers of math puzzles—opened to the notes.”