Irene Hunt was born on May 18, 1907 in southern Illinois, where Across Five Aprils takes place. She grew up on a family farm. She received her A.B. degree in 1939 from the University of Illinois, her M.A. in 1946 from the University of Minnesota and did graduate work in psychology at the University of Colorado.

From 1930 to 1945 she taught French and English at public schools in Oak Park, Illinois. She moved to South Dakota and taught psychology at the university for the next five years before moving back to Illinois to teach junior high school. In 1965 she became the Director of Language Arts, which gave her the ability to integrate books she felt were relevant into the curriculum. She believes that books are a crucial source of happiness and enlightenment and that they contain valuable messages for children.

Hunt published her first book, Across Five Aprils, at age 57. She researched the historical facts and integrated stories that were told to her by her grandfather. The Creighton family was documented in those stories and in letters and records. Like Jethro, the book's protagonist, her grandfather was only nine when the Civil War erupted, so Hunt used him as a vehicle through which to imagine what a family must have gone through at that time. Across Five Aprils won a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1966, the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, the Clara Ingram Judson Memorial Award in 1965, the Charles W. Follett Award in 1964, and was runner-up for the Newbery Medal for 1965. Her second book, Up A Road Slowly, was published in 1967 and was based on her experience of losing her father when she was only seven years old. This book won the Newbery Medal and has a permanent part of the White House home library.

Hunt's main focus was to integrate history and literature. Across Five Aprils is arguably as much of an historical text as it is a literary text, and she wove the two together seamlessly, not sacrificing historical accuracy for literary flair and vice versa. Hunt also integrated national history into personal history. She used her grandfather's stories and accounts of growing up during the war and balanced them against purely historical accounts of the Civil War and records and reports of other families living during that time. Hunt retired from teaching in 1969 but continued writing in St. Petersburg, Florida. She died in 2001.