Rhoda Blumberg, 98; wrote children’s books that bought history to life

NEW YORK — Rhoda Blumberg, who was barely interested in reading until she was 10, began writing historical books for children in her mid-50s, and then produced more than two dozen over three decades, died June 6 at her home in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. She was 98.

A former researcher for the newspaper feature “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,” Mrs. Blumberg infused her nonfiction with enlightening nuggets that tantalized young readers. One of her books, “Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shogun,” received the Newbery Honor for literature from the Association for Library Service to Children in 1986.

In The New York Times Book Review, Elisabeth Bumiller described Mrs. Blumberg’s “Shipwrecked! The True Adventures of a Japanese Boy” in 2001 as “the historically accurate and amazing story of a poor fisher boy, Manjiro, who by storm and providence became the first Japanese person to live in the United States, arriving in Massachusetts in 1843 as a member of a whaling crew.”

“Blumberg manages to write an absorbing adventure story that is both politically sophisticated and culturally perceptive about two nations at odds,” the review concluded.


Her other books included “The Incredible Journey of Lewis & Clark” (1987), “The Great American Gold Rush” (1989), and “The Remarkable Voyages of Captain Cook” (1991).

Rhoda Shapiro was born in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn on Dec. 13, 1917. Her father, Abraham, owned a textile company in the garment district and was a residential real estate developer. His mother, the former Jrena Fromberg, was a founder of the Mizrachi Women’s Organization of America, a religious Zionist group (now known as AMIT, the Hebrew acronym for Organization for Volunteers for Judaism and Torah).

She showed little interest in reading until she was 10, when she was beguiled by L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels. She graduated from Girls High School and received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Adelphi College (now Adelphi University) on Long Island in 1937.


She produced programs for CBS Radio, wrote for several magazines (originally under a pseudonym, Rhoda Roder, to shield herself from anti-Semitism) and, after marrying Gerald Blumberg, a lawyer, moved with her family to a farm in Westchester County.

Her husband died in 2009. In addition to her son, she leaves three daughters, Rena and Leda Blumberg and Alice Rubin; nine grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and a sister, Cynthia Zeger.

Mrs. Blumberg began writing books in the 1960s, including “First Travel Guide to the Moon” and “First Travel Guide to the Bottom of the Sea.” By the early 1970s, when her youngest child started college, she had pivoted to history, and then went on to see more than 25 books published.