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In Memoriam: JoAnn Jonas

On April 25, 2020 JoAnn Jonas, a truly great librarian and early childhood advocate (amongst many other things) died. JoAnn was one of librarians that formed my perceptions of what librarianship could do, having preceded me in the Central Children’s Room of NYPL. Today, JoAnn’s 2002 Newbery committee will be paying homage to her life, her work, and her influence.

JoAnn Jonas: Member of the 2002 Newbery Committee Family

JoAnn Jonas, our dear friend and a beloved librarian who died this past April, once wrote about her work: “Sharing my love of reading with students, children, and their families is the most joyful work I can imagine.” Every action she took as a librarian and many she took in her personal life reflected these beliefs.

JoAnn Midwinter 2012

JoAnn was, among her many contributions to children and children’s literature, a member of the 2002 Newbery Award Committee. Our committee has grown into close group of friends over the past twenty years, and we wanted to express our love and admiration for JoAnn here, for those of you who knew her and for her other fellow librarians and educators.

Here are facts about her distinguished career as a children’s librarian, words from our committee members, and photographs of her and our group since 2002.
Our committee with winner Linda Sue Park in 2002

JoAnn grew up in Minnesota and earned her B.S. in 1973 at the University of Minnesota in Experimental Education and Child Psychology. She received a Montessori teaching credential from the American Montessori Society and a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute.

“Her appreciation for quality children’s literature was only matched by the respect she held for young readers and their caregivers. She was a mentor to countless library workers on both coasts – and many colleagues in between, including Minnesota where she was born and raised.”

Our tenth year celebration in 2012

JoAnn worked at The New York Public Library’s Central Children’s Room and as director of its Early Childhood Resource and Information Center (ECRIC). She later served as Youth Services Librarian/Manager at Carlsbad and Chula Vista Public Libraries, and selector of youth books and materials for the San Diego County Library System.

JoAnn always brought a positive attitude into any place she entered. Her friendship was an incredible gift as was her professionalism. Her knowledge and commitment to literature and young readers was as solid as a rock and she was welcoming and open to all.”

San Francisco 2015

In addition the 2002 Newbery committee, she served on Caldecott, Wilder (now Legacy), and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer award committees. She was on the Board of the Children’s Reading Alliance in Las Cruces, NM, and was member of the Kerlan Friends Board of the University of Minnesota Libraries.

“Her insights and warmth made any discussion better. No matter what, JoAnn always knew exactly the right thing to say, and often it was very funny. We will remember JoAnn for her intelligence, friendly nature, warmth and kindness.”

Orlando 2016

JoAnn was a volunteer at the Children’s Literature Research Collections of University of Minnesota’s Children’s Literature Research Collections, project managing “Children’s Book Art: Techniques and Media and The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter.”

 “She was a constant presence, always warmly interested, always doing and something interesting JoAnn listened with keen interest, and then responded by speaking the truth straight up. Kind and honest at the same time.”

JoAnn with Linda Sue Park 2017

JoAnn found great joy in her marriage to another book person, Larry Jonas. His death in a motorcycle accident five years ago broke her heart. Yet she still reached out to other members of our committee when they were dealing with tragedies of their own.

“JoAnn dealt with her own misfortunes with courage, strength, and grace. She had been through life with love and tragedy, and she embodied a spirit of kindness towards others. Her warmth and support helped buoy us in many a rough sea.

Washington D.C. Awards Banquet 2019

JoAnn had cancer that recurred last fall. She died at her home in New Mexico in April with her brother and his wife, and two other close friends at her side.

“We, the 2002 Newbery Award committee, were fortunate to have been her fellow committee members so many years ago and her friends ever since. She was, and will forever be, an example for us all. Our world has a hole in it without her. We will miss her enormously.”

Thank you to Junko Yokota, Roxanne Feldman, Jeri Kladder, Vicky Smith, Linda Sue Park, Deb Taylor, Ken Setterington, Sharon Harvey, Lisa Falk, Vaunda Nelson, Patricia Carleton, Gail Nordstrom, Elizabeth Overmyer, Louise Sherman, and Kathleen Odean for the memories and images of one of our best in the field.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. 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 EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.