She was born Leila Goller on 12th November 1917 into a Jewish family in Salford, Greater Manchester. Her doctor father refused to speak to her as she was growing up simply because she had not been born a boy. They only began to converse when he and her mother split up, just as she was leaving school.
In 1937, Leila agreed to go to teacher-training college “for one term only” but spent her time writing and organising aid to Spain during its civil war. She had earlier joined the Youth Front against War and Fascism and then the Young Communist League. Two of her lovers were in the International Brigades and were killed.
She left college before she could be expelled and went to King’s College London to study for a diploma in journalism. Her career started with the Daily Worker.
During the second world war, Leila, now married to Harry Berg and heavily pregnant, narrowly escaped death with her husband when their house at the foot of Parliament Hill, in north-west London, was bombed. She and Harry divorced in 1977.
She was children’s books editor at Methuen from 1958 to 1960, and then editor of Salamander Books at Nelson, in 1965.
Leila became known for stressing the importance of children, especially those from the working-class and ethnic minorities, having access to books, especially after her `Nippers’ series of early readers’ books published from 1968, which she both edited and wrote for. These incorporated mundane and therefore unusual aspects of life, such as eating fish and chips or have an unemployed father, in a colloquial voice. Her `Little Pete’ stories also showed children as they really are.
Leila Berg died on the 17th April 2012, aged 94.
Source: Guardian 23rd April 2012
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