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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal

Peter Sieruta

I first became acquainted with Peter Sieruta about a dozen years ago on the child_lit listserv. We shared a love of children’s books, young adult books, and theater. And we developed a daily correspondence over the next several years that allowed me to appreciate Peter’s wit and wisdom on a wide range of topics, both personal and professional.

I’d like to think I was his special BFF, but I’m sure he carried on a dozen such correspondences at any given time, and he had a knack for being especially warm and cordial with even the most casual of acquaintances. I visited Detroit several times to present seminars and offered to meet him face-to-face on those occasions, but it never worked out. Not surprisingly, I might add, since Peter was extremely shy, preferring letter writing to personal visits and phone calls.

Our correspondence had tapered off to several times a year, but we always looked forward to checking in with each other, especially when speculating about awards–Newbery, Printz, Tonys. This post on the eve of last year’s Newbery announcement exemplified his inimitable style and inexhaustible store of book knowledge.

I’ve often thought of Peter and his legacy in these past months, fondly remembering the things you might expect–his endless supply of juicy book gossip, his kindness and gratitude, his keen intellect and generous spirit–but also random arbitrary details–his amusing anecdotes about co-workers and car trouble and conversations about favorite TV shows and restaurants.

Won’t you please take a few moments at the close of this year to share some of your own treasured Peter Sieruta memories? And perhaps together we can cobble together a fitting tribute for him.  I do not think we shall see the likes of him again.

 

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Jonathan Hunt About Jonathan Hunt

Jonathan Hunt is the County Schools Librarian at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at hunt_yellow@yahoo.com

Comments

  1. Ed Spicer says:

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for posting this!

  2. Em says:

    We sat in the cold with drinks and chatted about music and other things. It was the first time I had ever met Johnny and yet it seems like I had known him my whole life..like we were old friends catching up. I knew we’d be lifelong friends.

  3. Maggie says:

    Jonathan,
    Thanks for remembering our friend, Peter! We were elementary school classmates and had recently reconnected through Facebook. I awoke each day to see what treasured memory Peter had shared on Facebook. They were always amusing, whether they were about family or just something that had happened to Peter, himself, in the course of a day. Sometimes, I would laugh so hard I would be in tears, other times the tears were for times gone by that he remembered so poignantly and eloquently. So many memories that were lost when we lost Peter, I miss him!!

  4. Jonathan, this is a lovely tribute to someone who was a special and unique member of our small children’s book loving community. I miss him all the time; his wit, intelligence, and originality has no equal. I posted the following when hearing of his death: http://medinger.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/the-world-of-childrens-literature-has-just-lost-another-great-one-peter-d-sieruta/

  5. Elizabeth Burns says:

    I knew Peter mainly from online: reading him on listservs, and comments back and forth at blogs, and his posts at Facebook.

    The depth of his knowledge and his passion were remarkable.

    Several times over the past few months, I’ve thought, oh I wonder what Peter would have thought about x.

  6. Leda says:

    Thank you for writing about Peter, Jonathan. I miss his blog posts terribly, and I wish I had known him. You’re lucky to have had such a rich correspondence with him over the years (and he was lucky as well).
    Such a loss for his family and for those of us who love children’s books.

  7. jules says:

    I was working on a book with Peter when he died. As a thoughtful friend of mine pointed out, doing the work of writing with another soul is intimate and requires great trust and patience. I think of, and miss him, daily. He was remarkably giving, and he had a wit like no other. I shake my fist at the Peter-shaped hole in the world now.

    But I’m pleased that his legacy will live on in the book. I just wish he could be here this year to see its release. He would have been so excited.

    Thank you for writing this, Jonathan.

  8. Tomangleberger says:

    Perfectly said, Jules. It IS a fist-shaking matter. He had so much to share with us that we are never going to know.

  9. Helen Frost says:

    I’ve been missing Peter, too, and regretting that I never got to take him up on his offer to go to his home and see his book collection, an invitation he issued in that safest of places for him, the crowded stacks of the Book Beat bookstore, where “everyone knew his name.” What an education that would have been, conversing with Peter as he gently pulled his treasures from their shelves. And I have no doubt that he would have learned a few things about me and my books in the process, information he could be trusted to store away and enjoy, treating whatever he knew, about anyone, with respect and discretion,
    My other regret is that I didn’t read his short story collection while he was still here, and thus never offered the appreciation and encouragement for his writing that he poured forth so constantly, with both honesty and generosity, to others. I am very much looking forward to his 2013 book, with Betsy and Jules, a labor of love if there ever was one.
    Can’t you just picture the precocious child he must have been calling in as a member of the press to try to learn who won the awards he cared so much about, even then?
    It’s nice to remember him together here. Thanks, Jonathan.

  10. Wendy says:

    I think of Peter often. Here’s my post after I heard of his death: http://sixboxesofbooks.blogspot.com/2012/05/no-sunday-brunch.html

  11. ChrisinNY says:

    I was introduced to Peter’s blog via Betsy Bird, librarian extraordinaire, and read it for a number of years. I looked forward to his weekly postings on children’s books- both historical and modern- filled with arcane and sometimes whimsical details that he obviously spent countless hours unearthing. I mostly lurked on the blog, but I was lucky enough to know the answer to one of Peter’s musings (about whether there is a children’s book focused on Lent- The Wicked Enchantment by Benary-Isbert.) He read it/was reading it just before he died, and I regret that he never posted the full review as he indicated he might. I do hope he enjoyed it.

  12. Ed Spicer says:

    I went to see Peter’s library during the summer and I have pictures that I would be happy to share. Wayne State will house the Peter D Sieruta collection. Tentatively there will be some sort of program or reception sometime in the Spring (May–tentatively). Also, during the summer at ALA in Chicago, Candlewick and others will be having some sort of Peter celebration. These events are subject to change. Whether they are formal events or whether they are just a bunch of people getting together to lift a glass, I am not sure–but the heart of this post is that we will have many more opportunities to celebrate Peter D Sieruta’s life and love of books and reading.

  13. jules says:

    Yes, Candlewick does intend to do that, last I heard. Betsy and I committed to going to raise a glass in person to Peter. We might have galleys of the book then, though none of this is set in stone. If it happens, it’ll be bittersweet, that’s for sure. His legacy will live on in the book, but I wish he were here to see its publication.

  14. Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says:

    I loved reading Peter Sieruta’s blog…the perfect, weekly, idiosyncratic but always interesting reading. I always picked up an interesting insight into the awards with his looks back.

    I’d been wanting to start a personal correspondence with him, when in Sept 2011 I got an email message that began:

    “Hi Nina,
    After all the bickering we did over THE KNEEBONE BOY last year, I’m probably the last person you want to hear from this year….”

    …Which made me keel over laughing because of course he was the FIRST person I wanted to hear from. I keep this message because it has so much of his voice in it, from the little I knew of him.

    In April 2012, I was catching up on some of his posts and noted he had be “fishing” for an ARC and 1st edition of Inside Out and Back Again. I contacted him and sent him my ARC in early May. A week after he died, I found a first edition and bought it “for him.” Still have it here

  15. Scope Notes says:

    I originally wrote this after I heard the news in May:

    I never met Peter D. Sieruta, but I knew him in that uniquely 21st century way – through his blog and our online interactions. From my contact with him, this much I know is true: Peter was funny, he was smart, he was honest, he was humble. And he will be missed.

    While his career as a reader, writer, librarian and critic was long, I’ll remember him best for his conversational take on children’s and young adult literature in his hugely influential blog Collecting Children’s Books. Early on, I remember reading his staggeringly good piece about a high school friendship formed over the written word, and knew that I could never miss another post. I tried my best not to. After reading another particularly interesting “Sunday Brunch” (and I can’t pick it out because every Sunday Brunch was particularly interesting), I felt compelled to send Peter an out-of-the-blue email, encouraging him to have his blog turned into a book.

    I was so pleased to hear his response:

    “Actually, some entries from my blog ARE going to appear in a book. Betsy Bird (A Fuse #8 Production), Julie Danielson (Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) and I are writing a book for Candlewick called WILD THINGS : THE UNTOLD STORIES BEHIND AMERICA’S FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOKS; it’s an irreverent collection of stories and anecdotes.”

    I was amazed at the time and care he took in replying to my message. He went on to talk about the book – the stories that would be included and some of the challenges in unearthing them. There’s no doubt it will be first-class, and I’ll be first in line to read it.

    I felt a pride in the fact that Peter was a fellow Michigander – like somehow his thoughtfulness and talent would rub off being close in location. As I write this, I have a Word document called “Questions for Peter” open. I started it a year or two ago, adding things I hoped to ask him about when I got the chance. And plans were being made – friends Ed Spicer, Cindy Dobrez and I were trying to schedule a meeting this summer, until a recent ankle injury put things on hold.

    I’m thankful I had the chance, through his work, to know him.

  16. Elizabeth Bird Elizabeth Bird says:

    After reading all these tributes what can I possibly say? I stand beside Jules and could not find a better phrase than to “shake my fist at the Peter-shaped hole in the world now.” That he was a wonderful man, great friend, and remarkable writer is without question. What I can’t get over is the sheer waste of his loss. There was so much knowledge in that head of his that we simply cannot get back. Who knew more about children’s literature than Peter? No one. Our book will be just the tiniest droplet from the vast ocean of his expertise. I’ll see all of you at his event at ALA in June and we’ll raise a glass to him together. It’s the least we can do.

  17. Sam Bloom says:

    As a lover of statistics of all sorts I really appreciated the attention to detail Peter put into his blog posts (and comments on blogs). And of course the warmth that came through so clearly in all of his correspondences. What a great guy, obviously beloved, clearly missed by many.

  18. John Sieruta says:

    Hello Jonathan and everyone who took the time to remember Peter – it made me cry, yet so proud of him. He would have never in a million years thought his blog would impact (or perhaps a better word is “touch”) so many people.

    I miss Peter every minute of every day. He was my brother. Ever thoughtul. Ever kind. And always extending himself to others. It was just who he was.

    I’m fortunate to have so many memories. THOSE will never die. I’m living in his condo now, caregiver to our parents. I have made a make-shift apartment in what was his library. Some of you know this story, others not – about a year before Peter’s accident I asked him out-of-the-blue, “If something should happen, WHAT should I do with your book collection?” I don’t know why I asked that. But I’m so glad I did. He told me to donate them to Wayne State University where he worked. It was a sad day when Wayne State came and took his beloved books off the shelves. The only books I kept were M.E.Kerr’s, his favorite author. They are special to me – he and Marijane Meaker became close friends over the years. And each book has inscriptions to him. They exchanged holiday gifts. Cards and letters. And Marijane even dedicated her book YOUR EYES IN STARS to him. They had never met in person, Peter had never spoken to her on the phone. I called a local library where she lives to find out about tracking her down. The librarian I spoke with said she was a friend of hers. Within less than a half hour Marijane called me back. Oh how I wish Peter had done the same thing…

    I will absolutely be attending whatever Wayne State plans come Spring. And I would love to attend the Candlewick gathering…be it organized or a round of drinks at a pub to say “Cheers, Peter.”

    If anyone has any questions about Peter, or just want a new friend in me, please feel free to write. John.Sieruta@gmail.com

    Love to all.

  19. Jody Scheller says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful friend. I grew up with Peter in Detroit and we attended elementary, junior high and high school together. We both had a love of books and worked together in the library of our elementary school under the direction of a caring, doting librarian! We also took many a bike ride to the public library together. Pete and I also worked together as adults at Mercy College of Detroit with Peter in the library and me in the classroom as a teacher. I would ask for Peter’s advice when buying books for the children in my life and I was amazed at his knowledge. We stayed connected over the years through e-mail and then, thankfully, through Facebook. He was an eloquent writer and, as my friend Maggie stated, he could make you laugh out loud, cry or really make you think. The call that came from his brother John in May still seems like a bad dream. Peter would be amazed, humbled and proud of the outpouring of love and admiration that has come following his passing. I know that I am proud to have called him my friend. Thank you, Jonathan, for posting and to all you have shared. I know it means a great deal to his beloved brother John and provides those of us who have had our life touched by Peter an avenue to share. -Jody

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