Late in December many newspapers and magazines do a final list of all the notables who passed away during the past year. Here are some of the children’s book creators we said goodbye to in 2008. If you know of any others that I missed, please let me know and I’ll add them.
Graham Percy died January 4 at age 68
The Auckland-born artist illustrated over 100 books for children including a 1997 edition of THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. According to his obituary in Great Britain’s INDEPENDENT, while Graham Percy was hospitalized “during his last illness, there was a moment when he frowned and his hands moved over the sheet. The nurse asked him if he needed morphine. He said no, that he was just working out a drawing."
Phyllis A. Whitney died February 8 at age 104
Though probably best known for her adult works of romance and suspense, Phyllis A. Whitney wrote a number of popular mysteries for young readers. THE MYSTERY OF THE HAUNTED POOL won the first Edgar Allan Poe Award for “Best Juvenile” in 1961. Three years later she won again for THE MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN HAND. Ms. Whitney began writing her autobiography (as yet unpublished) when she was 102 years old.
Julia Cunningham died February 27 at age 91
Poetic prose distinguished the work of Julia Cunningham, whose novels included ONION JOURNEY, BURNISH ME BRIGHT and the National Book Award nominee THE TREASURE IS THE ROSE. She is perhaps best known for 1965’s DORP DEAD, a tale of psychological horror. A 2001 reissue of included an afterward by critic Betsy Hearne. Upon reading Ms. Hearne’s explication of the novel, Julia Cunningham remarked, “She doesn’t really get it."
Michael de Larrabeiti died on April 18 at age 73
English author Michael de Larrabeiti wrote for adults as well as children. His fantasy trilogy about London runaways (THE BORRIBLES, 1976; THE BORRIBLES GO FOR BROKE, 1981) and THE BORRIBLES : ACROSS THE DARK METROPOLIS, 1986) was considered controversial for its language and violence. Some characters in the books are send-ups of the Wombles, fictional characters created by Elisabeth Beresford, which achieved great popularity in books, television shows, and songs during the 1970s.
Ted Key died May 3 at age 95
Ted Key’s is best known for creating a comic strip about Hazel the maid -- a character who came to Key in a dream, then ran for years in the Saturday Evening Post, as a syndicated newspaper feature, and in a long-running TV series starring Shirley Booth. Kids knew his comic “Diz and Liz” which ran in Jack and Jill magazine, his animated cartoon characters Peabody and Sherman, his children’s books such as THE BIGGEST DOG IN THE WORLD (1960), which was later filmed as DIGBY, THE BIGGEST DOG IN THE WORLD, and his screenplays for the Disney films MILLION DOLLAR DUCK and THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE.
Tasha Tudor died June 18 at the age of 92
A hugely popular author and illustrator, Tasha Tudor received Caldecott Honors in 1945 for MOTHER GOOSE and in 1957 for 1 IS ONE. The nostalgic, pastoral world depicted in her watercolors was a reflection of her real life, as she dressed in nineteenth-century clothing, grew her own food, and lived in an old-fashioned home without running water or electricity. According to her obituary in the Los Angeles Times, “In the early 1990s, Tudor announced that she was quitting public appearances, partly because it was hard to find someone who could watch the house and knew how to milk a goat.” The bonnet-wearing, goat-milking author did, however, drive a car.
Sue Alexander died July 3 at the age of 74
The author of NADIA THE WILLFUL and other well-received children’s books was one of the founders of the Society of Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators, which began in 1968 and now has over 20,000 members. The winner of the Society’s “Sue Alexander Most Promising New Work Award” was originally chosen by Ms. Alexander herself; now that she is gone, members of her twenty-year writing group will make the annual selection.
Thomas M. Disch died July 4 at the age of 68
Thomas Disch received a Hugo Award and multiple Nebula Award nominations for his adult science fiction, but is known in field of juvenile literature for THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER, a story that originally appeared in the August 1980 issue of THE MAGAZINE OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY and was published as a children’s book in 1986. Despondent over his health and finances, the inveterate blogger made his last LiveJournal entry just two days before committing suicide.
Richard Kidd died July 21 at age 56
A British illustrator and author, Richard Kidd entered the field of children’s books with ALMOST FAMOUS DAISY! (1996), a picture book praised for its mixed-media artwork. He later began writing mysteries for older children, including THE GIANT GOLDFISH ROBBERY and THE TIGER BONE THIEF. Mr. Kidd drowned while swimming under the Dunsulan Falls while visiting the Philippines.
Bjorn Berg died in July at age 84
A newspaper artist for over fifty years in his native Sweden, Bjorn Berg is known in the field of children’s books for illustrating several of Astrid Lindgren’s titles about a boy named Emil, reportedly using his own towheaded son as the model for that character. He also illustrated the “Mrs. Pepperpot" books by Alf Proysen. Mr. Berg was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1972.
Pauline Baynes died August 1 at the age of 86
Pauline Baynes won the 1968 Kate Greenaway Medal for providing nearly 600 margin illustrations to Grant Uden’s A DICTIONARY OF CHIVALRY (can you imagine a reference book like this winning America’s Caldecott?) However, she is best known for her collaborations with J.R.R. Tolkien (illustrating his FARMER GILES OF HAM, among others) and C.S. Lewis. Her artwork for Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” was, according to her obituary in Great Britain’s INDEPENDENT, “the definitive representation of the extraordinary land beyond the wardrobe.” The same obituary notes that Lewis praised the illustrator to her face, but complained behind her back that she “couldn’t draw lions.” Book collectors take note: Baynes’s first commissioned illustration work was a children’s title called QUESTION MARK -- though no copy of the book is known. Let’s start looking for it!
Jeannette Eyerley died August 18 at age 100
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, author Jeannette Eyerley tackled tough topics such as drugs, abortion, and alcoholism in issue-oriented young adult novels such as DROP-OUT and BONNIE JO, GO HOME. Eyerley said she began writing problem-novels because her own teenage daughters complained about “teenage gum drops” and suggested she write about “real kids with real problems.” The girls later said they didn’t remember making that comment.
Coleen Salley died September 18 at the age of 78
Although her children’s books included 2002’s EPOSSUMONDAS, Coleen Salley was best-known as a storyteller in her native New Orleans. She was featured in a 1992 Visa commercial telling Cajun stories and every door of her French Quarter home was filled with autographs and drawings by children’s book creators who came to visit.
Ellen Tarry died on September 23 at age 101
A biracial author who wrote about African American children in four picture books published between 1940 and 1950, Ellen Tarry is best known for MY DOG RINTY, which was illustrated by Marie Hall Ets and published in 1946. The book was praised for its depiction of a middle-class Harlem family dealing with everyday issues.
Dirk Zimmer died on September 26 at age 64
Born in Germany, Dirk Zimmer immigrated to the United States in 1977 where he found success as an illustrator, providing the artwork for books such as IN A DARK, DARK ROOM by Alvin Schwartz and THE IRON GIANT by Ted Hughes, as well as titles by John Bierhorst, Ann M. Martin, and Eric Kimmell. He was struck by an automobile while walking near the Hudson River and died from the injuries.
Eleanor Spence died September 30 at age 79
A former teacher and librarian, Australian author Eleanor Spence was known for tackling challenging issues in a number of well-regarded novels for young readers. She received the “Book of the Year Award” from the Children’s Book Council of Austrailia in 1964 for THE GREEN LAUREL and again in 1977 for a novel concerning autism, THE OCTOBER CHILD.
Margery Gill died October 31 at age 83
Though she illustrated dozens of books, including Susan Cooper’s DAWN OF FEAR and OVER SEA, UNDER STONE, Margery Gill never received the recognition accorded to many of her peers. Her obituary in Great Britain’s GUARDIAN noted that when Puffin Classics reissued the 1961 edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A LITTLE PRINCESS this year -- a volume especially notable due to Ms. Gill’s pen-and-ink illustrations -- the title page listed the artist as “Margery Hill.” When the illustrator heard of this error, she reportedly laughed.
Marylin Hafner died October 31 at age 82
Like Dirk Zimmer, Marylin Hafner also died of injuries sustained in a pedestrian car accident. Many will remember her cartoon “Molly and Emmett,” which ran first as a back-cover feature in LADYBUG magazine and later in CRICKET. She also illustrated many books for children including IT’S CHRISTMAS by Jack Prelutsky and A CARNIVAL OF ANIMALS by Sid Fleischman.
Ivan Southall died on November 18 at age 87
With his 1971 young adult novel JOSH, Ivan Southall became the first and only Australian to ever win Great Britain’s Carnegie Medal. His other well-regarded books include ASH ROAD (1966) and LET THE BALLOON GO (1968.) In 2003 he won the Phoenix Award, which is given to a book published twenty years earlier without having won a major prize, for his 1983 novel THE LONG NIGHT WATCH.
Dorothy Sterling died December 1 at age 95
Although she herself was caucasian, Dorothy Sterling played a major role in publishing early works about the African American experience, including FREEDOM TRAIN : THE STORY OF HARRIET TUBMAN, a biography which has been in print for over fifty years, and the 1959 novel MARY JANE, which describes the battle for desegregation from the perspective of a young black girl. Sterling’s family was long active in civil rights and once had a cross burned in their front yard.
Though these authors left us in 2008, they will never truly depart as long as their books continue to be read.