Donna Jo Napoli

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Donna Jo Napoli
Born (1948-02-28) February 28, 1948 (age 75)
Miami, Florida, US
OccupationLinguist, fiction writer
Period1993–present (fiction)
GenreFantasy[1] for young people, children's books, picture books

Donna Jo Napoli (born February 28, 1948) is an American writer of children's and young adult fiction, as well as a linguist. She currently is a professor at Swarthmore College teaching Linguistics in all different forms (music, Theater (structure), dance, Comparative Literature Studies).She has also taught linguistics at Smith College, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Georgetown University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Pennsylvania,[2]

Early life and personal life[edit]

Donna Jo Napoli was born the youngest of four children in Miami, February 28, 1948, to an Italian-American family. After correcting an eyesight problem left undiagnosed until the age of 10, Napoli became an avid reader.[3] From then on she found solace in the escape provided by books, using reading as comfort during family troubles and instability stemming from her father's gambling problem.[3]

Napoli has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy. She is married and has five children.[4]

Education and linguistics career[edit]

She was accepted to Harvard University for undergraduate education and received both her B.S. (Mathematics, 1970) and M.A./Ph.D. (Romance Languages, 1973). Her Phd dissertation was titled The Two Si's of Italian: An Analysis of Reflexive, Inchoative, and Indefinite Subject Sentences in Modern Standard Italian and was published by the Indiana University Linguistics Club.[5] A postdoctoral fellowship in linguistics at M.I.T. in 1974 led to her resulting career in the field.[6]

Napoli began her linguistics career in generative syntax, with a focus on Italian and other Romance languages. Her subsequent work spanned many topics within generative syntax on Romance languages and English, including its interfaces with intonation, morphology, and other areas.[7] She has worked in syntax, phonetics, phonology, morphology, historical and comparative linguistics, Romance studies, structure of American Sign Language, poetics, writing for ESL students, and mathematical and linguistic analysis of folk dance.

Her publications in linguistics include Syntactic argumentation (with Emily Rando). (Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press, 1979), Syntax: Theory and Problems (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993), Linguistics: An introduction (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1996), Humour in sign languages: The linguistic underpinnings (with Rachel Sutton-Spence) (Dublin: Trinity Press, 2009), and L'animale parlante ("The speaking animal") (2004), written with Marina Nespor,[8] along with dozens of articles in the scholarly journals.[9]

In 2015, she was inducted as a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America.[10]

Writing career[edit]

Although Napoli always had a love of writing, she decided not to pursue it as a career in early life.[3] Her professional writing career began with the publication of her first book, The Hero of Barletta, in 1988. Napoli's novels tackle real-world problems children of any age may face, including family hardships, anxiety, phobias, and illness. As explained in a 2012 TED Talk, Napoli finds it important that children read stories about real-life problems they may face, to help comfort those who are experiencing similar difficulties.[11]

Her children's books have been translated into many languages, including different sign languages. Many of her children's books are retellings of fairy tales, including The Magic Circle, Crazy Jack, Spinners, Zel, Breath, Bound, Beast, and The Wager for older children, and The Prince of the Pond, Ugly, and Mogo the Third Warthog for younger children. Other children's stories are historical fiction based in Italy, including Daughter of Venice, For the Love of Venice, and The Smile. Napoli has won numerous awards for her work, including the Golden Kite Award given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (for Stones in Water, and honor book Breath), the Sydney Taylor Award given by the Association of Jewish Libraries (for Stones in Water, and, honor book, The King of Mulberry Street and the Parents' Choice Gold Award (for Alligator Bayou and Silver awards for North and The King of Mulberry Street).

Work with Deaf communities[edit]

In the early 2000s, Donna Jo Napoli began a program of research on sign languages and developed connections within the Deaf community.[12]

Napoli has contributed to linguistic research on sign languages, including the publication of the book Primary movement in sign languages in 2011.[13]

Combining her interest in language and literature, Napoli has collaborated with others to create bimodal bilingual e-books for hearing parents to read to their deaf children.[14] These are ebooks and videos that are both conveyed in oral language, and conveyed in sign language in a video. Languages represented in this project include American Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, Fijian Sign Language, Korean Sign Language, Irish Sign Language, Nepali Sign Language, Swedish Sign Language, and others. The books are translated into the oral language relevant for each signed language.

Fiction books[edit]

Young Adult novels[edit]

Elementary- and middle-school novels[edit]

The Angelwings Series[edit]

Published by Simon & Schuster 1999-2001

  • Friends Everywhere
  • Little Creatures
  • On Her Own
  • One Leap Forward
  • Give and Take
  • No Fair!
  • April Flowers
  • Playing Games
  • Lies and Lemons
  • Running Away
  • Know-It-All
  • New Voices
  • Left Out
  • Happy Holidays
  • Partners
  • Hang In There

Picture books and early readers[edit]


  • Hang In There, 2015
  • Left Out, 2015
  • Partners, 2015
  • Happy Holidays, 2015
  • Know-It-All, 2015
  • No Fair!, 2015
  • Playing Games, 2015
  • April Flowers, 2015
  • One Leap Forward, 2015
  • Give And Take, 2015
  • On Her Own, 2015
  • Song Of The Magdalene, 2015
  • Friends Everywhere, 2015
  • Little Creatures, 2015

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donna Jo Napoli at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2014-02-20.
  2. ^ "Donna Jo Napoli". November 24, 2014. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c "Donna Jo Napoli Biography - life, family, children, parents, story, school, mother, young, son". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  4. ^ "Biography". Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  5. ^ Napoli, Donna Jo. "The two si's of Italian" (PDF). Publications available for download Swarthmore, Linguistics.
  6. ^ "April 2017 Member Spotlight: Donna Jo Napoli | Linguistic Society of America". Retrieved May 22, 2023.
  7. ^ Napoli, D.J. "Curriculum Vitae" (PDF).
  8. ^ Nespor, Marina (2020). L'animale parlante : introduzione allo studio del linguaggio. Donna Jo Napoli. Roma: Carocci. ISBN 978-88-290-0150-7. OCLC 1206448278.
  9. ^ "Donna Jo Napoli". Retrieved May 21, 2023.
  10. ^ "LSA Fellows By Name | Linguistic Society of America". Retrieved May 21, 2023.
  11. ^ TEDx Talks (April 3, 2012), TEDxSwarthmore - Donna Jo Napoli - What Children (and Everyone Else) Need to Read, archived from the original on December 12, 2021, retrieved March 22, 2019
  12. ^ "Language is Healthcare, Says Donna Jo Napoli | American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)". February 25, 2022. Retrieved May 21, 2023.
  13. ^ Napoli, Donna Jo; Gaw, Nicholas; Mai, Mark (2011). Primary movement in sign languages: a study of six languages. Washington, DC: Gallaudet Univ. Press. ISBN 978-1-56368-491-3.
  14. ^ "Riseebooks". Riseebooks. Retrieved March 22, 2019.

External links[edit]