An author of young adult fantasy books, she is known for Owl Moon, How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight, and the Nebula Award-winning story, Sister Emily's Lightship. Perhaps her best-known work, The Devil's Arithmetic, deals with the theme of the Holocaust.
She was raised in New York, California, and Virginia. She attended Smith College and published her first young adult book, The Bird of Time, in 1971.
She was the first woman to give the Andrew Lang lecture.
She had three children with her husband, David W. Stemple, whom she married in 1962. She and Stemple settled in Massachusetts and also owned a home in Scotland.
She and J.K. Rowling are both authors of children's and young adult fiction.