Deborah Heiligman
Children's and YA Author

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 upcoming book, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers, will be released in April 2017 by Henry Holt.


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


Author Photo Credit: Matt Peyton

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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
Square Fish

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.

Are You a Writer? In this presentation, Deborah discusses her career as a writer and how others can become writers. She talks about how to recognize the spark of inspiration and curiosity about the world that leads to writing. She advocates starting with questions and pursuing ideas.
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.

Watch Deborah give the Writing Tip of the Day on Tina Nichols Coury’s blog and
also read an interview with her there.

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.

Read the Kirkus and Booklist reviews of Vincent and Theo

Check out Cynsations interview by Cynthia Leitich Smith about Celebrate Passover with Matzah, Maror, and Memories and a more general conversation with Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Advance praised for Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers "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

"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 (Charles and Emma, 2009) 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; Vincent’s peripatetic, sometimes scandalous pursuit of a vocation; Theo’s dogged commitment to not only his own career but cultivating Vincent’s; and their ultimate demises, both of which are heartbreaking, in their own ways. 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."
-Sarah Hunter, Booklist

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&mdashopened to the notes.”