Charlotte Zolotow was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1915. The family moved often, usually in search of better economic opportunities. After Norfolk, the Shapiros lived in Detroit, Michigan (where she learned to read and saw her first snowstorm), Brookline, Massachusetts, and New York City. Even when they stayed in a place for awhile, the family changed apartments frequently. The moves, and the new schools that often came with them, were difficult for Charlotte, especially as, from about second-grade on, she had a series of physical problems that isolated her further. She was fitted with large, thick glasses, then braces on her teeth. Then, because she had scoliosis (curvature of the spine), she wore a large and ungainly, inflexible back-brace. Charlotte's father started a collection of china animals for Charlotte, about which she later wrote an essay (The American Girl, a magazine of the time, awarded her a small silver pencil as a prize for it). Not long after that, in the New York school system she was put into classes much larger than those she was accustomed to Brookline. She became prone to fainting spells. These lasted until she was placed in a private school with much smaller classes, where she finally made a friend or two and was encouraged by the teachers.