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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Goodbye, Peter.

Last night I received a phone call from Jules Danielson of the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog and one of my co-writers on a book for Candlewick.  We’d been working on it for a couple years now with our fellow blogger, Peter Sieruta of Collecting Children’s Books and had turned our edits in not too long ago.  Saturday night phone calls were not a normal thing for us, though, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Whatever it was, I didn’t expect this.  Jules informed me that on Facebook she had just learned that Peter, our friend and co-writer, has passed away.

The details are still being released at this time, but what I can say is that this loss is beyond devastating.  I’m lucky enough to say that I’ve never experienced a friend’s death.  Peter is the first.  He worked cataloging children’s books for Wayne State University and his life was dedicated to the history, the cultural import, and the criticism of children’s literature.  That’s the dry explanation.  The heart of the matter is that he loved kids books.  Loved them more than anyone else I know.  Some of us talk about dedicating our lives to them.  Peter actually did it and with his death there is absolutely no one to fill his shoes.  Peter didn’t just know the history of children’s literature, he made it accessible to the masses.  When I discovered his blog Collecting Children’s Books all those years ago it was like stumbling on a veritable goldmine.  His writing wasn’t just smart.  It was funny, infinitely witty, and easily put my own to shame.  Nobody knew as much as he did or was as good at conveying that info in such an engaging way.

Peter, Jules and I had a book contract with Candlewick to create a book about the true stories behind your favorite children’s books and I believe Jules joins me in saying that of the three of us Peter left us in the dust.  His passages came to us like they’d been in books for years yet he never seemed to show any much deserved pride in them.  He was such a professional, modest to a fault, zero ego, always willing to help us out when we were feeling stuck.  It is intolerable to lose him.

Author Helen Frost recently shared one memory of Peter with me.  If you have others you’d like to share, please consider posting them here or on Jules’ blog where she has offered up her own memories of Peter.  Said Helen:

“I met him in person a couple of months ago, at a book launch for STEP GENTLY OUT. It was hard for him to make himself socialize to that extent–he posted about that on facebook–but once he got there, we had such a lovely evening in a little room at the back of the Bookbeat bookstore. He sat in a chair and conversed with me, Kathe Koja, Sarah Miller, Rick Lieder, and my husband for over an hour, as others came in and out, and Rick and I signed books–surprising himself, I think, by how comfortable he became after a few minutes. I treasure that memory. He asked me if I’d like to see his book collection–so sweetly asked, and I said I’d love to.”

You can see that amazing children’s literary collection here.

And here’s the video he took of his Newbery books:

  • Monica Edinger has written her own tribute post where she links to some of his best pieces.  Worth reading, every last one.

Goodbye, Peter.  I think you were my friend.  I was yours.

share save 171 16 Goodbye, Peter.
Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Jules says:

    I will miss him so much.

  2. Sarah Miller says:

    I only met him the one time, but still. Such a shock.

  3. Ed Spicer says:

    Betsy,

    As you say, Peter loved books. When I found out about his Newbery collection, I knew we would be friends. I could not wait to come see his collection. I have a collection of Newbery books as well (except for four honor books–one from the twenties and three from the thirties). I was very much looking forward to comparing his copies with the ones I have collected and hearing his stories about how he got some of the ones that are pretty hard to come by. When Peter contacted me with the information about his ankle, it was disappointing, but we still planned to meet. Peter sent me information about traveling to NY, he shared stories about authors, and he sent me messages about books and authors–including the story about the author event with Helen Frost (which I loved hearing). I only knew Peter through Facebook and email, but he had that knack of making you feel like a loved family member. I had been thinking of Peter this whole weekend. Peter was extremely quick about responding to posts. I had sent him a joking note asking him whether or not he had whittled down his “Garage to Front Door” time and he did not answer. Sending him a note was on my list for this weekend. My condolences to you and Jules for the loss of your friend and writing partner and my condolences to Peter’s family. So sad. Peter could probably write a meaningful and beautiful post in such circumstances; I wish I had his gift.

  4. Allison says:

    This is such terribly sad and shocking news. I didn’t know Peter personally, but his blog was one of my very favorites. I always enjoyed sitting down to read his posts, knowing each one would be a treasure trove of information about children’s literature, written with such warmth and heart.

    What a loss.

  5. Colleen says:

    Oh Betsy – I am so sorry for you and for Jules in the loss of your friend. I’ll be thinking of you both.

  6. Lisa Yee says:

    I am so sad.

  7. DaNae says:

    I’m so sorry. I just am.

  8. Philip Nel says:

    Betsy: So sorry to hear of this. I never knew Peter, and indeed was introduced to his work (primarily his blog) via you and Jules. I expect that the book’s publication will be somewhat bittersweet now, but how fortunate that you and Jules are here to carry forth Peter’s legacy — not just in the book, but in the work that you both do. Take care.

  9. mhg says:

    Such sad news. My sympathies to his family and colleagues and all who knew him. Thinking about you, Betsy.

  10. I’m stunned and so sad about this news, Betsy. All my sympathies to you and to Jules who were lucky enough to work with him….

  11. How beautiful that video, how sad this news.

  12. Kekla Magoon says:

    This is incredibly sad. So sorry for your loss, Betsy. And for the loss to our whole children’s lit community. xo.

  13. Sherry says:

    Betsy, I remember those many years ago when I sent you a link to Peter’s new blog. I and his friend Colleen from Book Beat had been pestering him for months to start a blog, but he just couldn’t do it. Then one day I got the email, he had began to blog. He was a treasure and a true friend. We emailed daily, many times a day. Many of his emails coming in the middle of the night and there when I got up in the morning. The last one was last Monday and I’ve been concerned ever since. Tears are in my eyes as I type this. You are so lucky to have met him and we all were so lucky to have known him. RIP Peter we’ll miss you

  14. Laura says:

    I never met Peter Sieruta, but I was enormously grateful to his collection of short stories, HEARTBEATS. Twenty years ago, I had to teach an unusually vicious group of middle school children. They ate me for breakfast–until I began to read them these short stories. Then the students quieted down, laughed in all the funny places, and allowed the stories to touch their hearts. The book humanized them. I never see the cover of HEARTBEATS–(the binding is starting to go, but there’s no way our library’s weeding it)–without re-visiting my feelings of gratitude and relief. That book rescued me. Peter Sieruta understood young people, as well as children’s books.

  15. Sarah Miller says:

    Returning with a memory of Peter:

    “Even though I’m sure that EVERYONE Sarah Miller meets offers a suggestion for the subject of her next novel, I couldn’t resist giving her one of my own. She told me she liked it! ”
    ~Collecting Children’s Books, March 25, 2012

    He was such an unassuming fellow, I’m not sure he could appreciate what receiving that suggestion was like for me. To be told by Peter D. Sieruta that you’re worthy and suited to a fascinating topic? That in itself is a compliment I won’t soon forget.

    I hardly knew Peter, but I’m so sorry he’s gone.

  16. Sherry says:

    When Peter reviewed for Horn Book he wrote many articles. Here is a classic from 1998

    http://archive.hbook.com/magazine/articles/1998/nov98_sieruta.asp

  17. Betsy, I’m so very sorry for you and Jules on the loss of your friend. I did not know Peter personally but was a fan of his site, and I had hoped to meet him someday.

  18. Shelf Elf says:

    This is sad news indeed. My thoughts are with you and Jules.

  19. Karen Gray Ruelle says:

    So sorry for your loss–and our loss.

  20. Kathi Appelt says:

    Oh Betsy, I’m so very sorry.

  21. Helen Frost says:

    Wasn’t it here, in comments on your blog, that Peter and Carter Hasegawa got into a conversation about being shy when it came to approaching authors to sign books? Peter confessed that he sometimes asks a friend to approach a much-admired author, and I posted an exasperated comment, something like “Get over it, you two.” Later, in a face-to-face conversation with Peter, we talked about that–he wondered if I really understood how hard it was for him, and I countered, “Well yes, but what author wants to brag that she signed a book for Peter Sieruta’s FRIEND?” He did smile at that, though he still couldn’t believe I wouldn’t concede the point, naming authors he thought might intimidate me. “Modest to a fault” maybe, but what an endearing fault.

  22. Beth Kephart says:

    I am so sorry. I can’t imagine how you feel just now. I understand what a void he has left.

  23. ChrisinNY says:

    I am so, so sad here. I feel like we had been in the middle of a conversation, Peter and me, and now we won’t have a chance to finish it. I was so pleased when he went back to read The Wicked Enchantment and I kept on waiting for a final report. I will miss him- his humor, his touching stories that he shared on Facebook, his wry observations.

  24. Amy g Koss says:

    I only knew him through the web and initialy felt I wasn’t intitled to be sad. Odd thought for a writer, I know, but we learn slowly…. dragged along by our emotions. Sad.

  25. Sherry says:

    Helen; many, many times I got books signed & inscribed for Peter. The last entry in his LibraryThing catalog I got signed for him. I also got Insurgent signed for him, but he didn’t get to enter it into his LT catalog. I’m just miss this dear sweet person, and can’t believe we’ll not read his words again. He left too soon.

  26. ashley wolff says:

    This is such sad news, Betsy and Jules. A loss for the community indeed.

  27. So sorry for this loss, for all of us and our precious community.

  28. barbara saunders says:

    As an internet book seller who developed a friendship with Peter over the years, I considered him a friend and a good person who loved books and loved talking about them. Sunday will never seem the same to me again. His blog was one of the highlights of my day. He will be missed by many. We were all lucky to know him in all the different ways we did. His book meant so much to him and is a wonderful legacy.

  29. Debbie Reese says:

    Before Peter fell, he and I had started talking about Scott O’Dell.

    Before that, we had talked about pies and bread. I admired his work in children’s lit, but it is the personal exchanges we had about our pies that I have held gently as this day has passed.

    I will miss him.

    Debbie

  30. Genevieve says:

    Oh no! I am so, so sorry, Betsy. He was such a marvelous writer, and his passion for children’s books poured out of every post and comment he wrote.

  31. Samantha says:

    The loss of a friend is so sad. My sympathy to you and Jules.

  32. Alethea says:

    Heartbreaking. I’m so sorry, Betsy and Jules. May Peter have all the books he wants and all the time he needs to read them in Heaven.

  33. Sandy D. says:

    I’m so very sorry to hear this. He lived not too far away from me and I always thought I’d get a chance to meet him at a book signing or something and tell him in person how much I enjoyed his blog and how much I learned from it.

    My sympathies to his family.

  34. Connie Rockman says:

    Betsy, this is beyond belief. I simply can’t imagine a world without another virtual Sunday Brunch. My favorite was the one in which Peter revealed that Evaline Ness, Caldecott-winning illustrator, had once been married to the “untouchable” Eliot Ness … He was remarkable for the stories he knew behind the scenes.

    Peter wrote a number of profiles for me when I edited the Eighth Book of Junior Authors and Illustrators over ten years ago (thanks to Anita Silvey for recommending him), but it wasn’t until he started his blog that I realized the breadth of his knowledge and his wit.

    The world will be a lesser place without him.

  35. Sondy says:

    So sorry to hear this!

  36. So sorry to hear of your loss…and our community’s loss. I am sad, too, I never met or knew him.

  37. Betsy, I am very sorry to hear of this. My condolences to Peter’s family and friends.

  38. Marc Tyler Nobleman says:

    My deepest condolences on the loss of your friend Peter. I wish I’d gotten to know him, but the closest I came was when he covered my interview with author Edward Ormondroyd in October 2011. I found it poignant that Peter’s last post pays tribute to Maurice Sendak; in radically different ways both have done so much for children’s literature. And Betsy, if you ever doubt your own writing ability, I encourage you to reread the beautiful eulogy you wrote, in haste and in grief, about Peter.

    With sympathy,
    Marc

  39. Carol Hinz says:

    I am so, so sorry.

  40. Debbie Reese says:

    Betsy,

    I gathered the few exchanges I had with Peter here:
    http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2012/05/peter-d-sieruta.html

    Debbie

  41. Kelly W says:

    I only knew Peter through his blog, but it was one of the best blogs out there about children’s books and interesting little tidbits about the authors, the publishing world and the backgrounds of almost anything connected to the titles.

    I’m so sorry for your personal loss and for the loss to the children’s literature community. And that now I will never get to know someone who really impacted my world, even though he never knew it.

  42. Linde Lund says:

    We are so sad and miss Peter Sieruta so much.

    Peter Sieruta loved Betty MacDonald’s books and it was wonderful to be in contact with Peter.

    You can read Peter Sieruta’s comments on Betty MacDonald fan Club website

    http://bettymacdonaldfanclub.blogspot.com

    What a loss!

  43. Amy says:

    AAAAHHHH. I only now found out about Peter Sieruta’s death. I am so sorry to hear…I actually commented on his blog – and sent him an email, too, not realizing.

    R.I.P., Peter

Trackbacks

  1. [...] was a freelance writer for Horn Book Magazine. At the time of his death he was collaborating with Elizabeth Bird and Jules Danielson for a book, Wild Things!: Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s [...]