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In Memorium: Remembering Those Lost in 2020

Each year we look back not just as what was accomplished in the previous year but also who died. Here are the creators and promoters of children’s literature that we remember.

Edith Kunhardt Davis

Sept. 30, 1937 – January 2, 2020

“The 3-year-old girl who inspired “Pat the Bunny” was Kunhardt’s daughter and grew up to be Edith Kunhardt Davis, author of dozens of children’s books, including a set of sequels to her mother’s classic work.” – The Washington Post

Susan Jeffers

October 7, 1942 – January 22, 2020

“Susan Jeffers was a marvelous painter of wildlife, animals, and flora. She could look at something and draw it . . . Susan’s legacy is her wonderful library from Hitty to McDuff and many more. All of them have been in the hands of thousands of children and they have benefited. What a terrific life!” – Rosemary Wells, Publishers Weekly

Jaime Marie Gilson

July 4, 1933 – February 11, 2020

“She received many awards for her books, including the Carl Sandburg Award, the Charlie May Simon Award, the Prairie State Award for Excellence in Writing for Children, the Society of Midland Authors Award for Children’s Fiction, the Buckeye Children’s Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Young Reader’s Choice Award and the Sequoyah Book Award.She also taught kids how to write poetry. Jamie loved words and was good at them.” – Chicago Tribune

Ann Grifalconi

September 22, 1929 – February 19, 2020

“I’m an artist,” she told her friend Francie Wong in a videotaped interview. “My subjects pick me, they choose me, and I have to listen.” – The New York Times

Gail Shepherd

July 19, 1957 – February 24, 2020

Shepherd’s editor, Kathy Dawson, shared this remembrance: “Gail was always learning, always fighting the good fight, and was so caring and smart. She worked harder on her novel than almost anyone I’ve ever worked with, and it resulted in an amazing book.” – Publishers Weekly

Betsy Byars

August 7, 1928 – February 26, 2020

“On addressing an audience of authors, [Byars] told them: When you receive an editorial letter, just skip over all the flattering words at the beginning and look for the word ‘however.’ She was right on target.” – Publishers Weekly

Tomie dePaola

Sept. 15, 1934 – March 30, 2020

“As a grownup,” he said, “I want to give children the credit for everything I can: their courage, their humor, their love, their creative abilities, their abilities to be fair, their abilities to be unfair. But I do wish that we grownups would give children lots of credit for these ephemeral kind of qualities that they have.” – NPR

Jean Little

Jan. 2, 1932 – April 6, 2020

“I remember very clearly, being a child. I remember whole incidents and I remember how I felt and what I said to myself lying in bed and the daydreams I had,” she said. “What it was like for me being a child is still very much what it was like for children today.” – CBC

Robert Kimmel Smith

July 31, 1930 – April 18, 2020

“An early reader, Smith told Something About the Author that he was so enamored of adventure tales of pirates and the Wild West that he saw authors as heroes. He began jotting down his own stories in grade school and continued that pursuit into high school, at which point he told his parents of his ambitions to become a writer. “They said, quote, ‘There’s no way you can ever make a living,’ ” – Publishers Weekly

JoAnn Jonas

April 25, 2020

“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.” – A Fuse #8 Production

Karen Blumenthal

1969 – May 19 2020

“Karen was the best of us all. She was humble and curious. Brilliant and kind. She was unstoppable. If she needed an interview or an answer, I’m convinced she didn’t sleep until she got what she wanted. She was a journalist through and through and was committed fully to the truth—both finding it and delivering it to young readers. Our world is less now because she’s not in it. I’ll miss her very much.” – Publishers Weekly

Stella Pevsner

October 4, 1921 – June 11, 2020

“Her son told her how disappointed he was that his favorite author—Beverly Cleary—wasn’t turning out books fast enough for his liking. “He said to me, ‘I guess you’ll have to do it.’ ” She accepted the challenge … “I was buoyed by my kids’ interest in reading ‘the next chapter’ when they banged back into the house in what seemed to me just minutes after they’d left.” – Publishers Weekly

Robert Newton Peck

February 17, 1928 – June 23, 2020

“He just headed for the positive,” said his wife of 25 years, Sharon “Sam” Peck. “He always headed for the light. He celebrated the kind, little people in his books.” – Orlando Sentinel

Joanna Cole

August 11, 1944 – July 12, 2020

“Before beginning to write, Joanna researched deeply. She read every book and periodical on a subject, talked to the experts, and visited the sites. Working on Cockroaches, her very first book, Joanna decided that in addition to her usual research, she had to raise cockroaches to observe them closely. She got to observe them way more closely than planned when they overran her New York City apartment. When it came to research, Joanna never cut corners.  Researching was her joy.” – SCBWI Bulletin

John Lewis

February 21, 1940 – July 17, 2020

“Lewis’s philosophy might be summed up in a question he asked while opposing Bill Clinton’s neoliberal welfare ‘reform’ bill in 1996: ‘Where is the sense of decency? What does it profit a great nation to conquer the world, only to lose its soul?’ That he lived to see Confederate monuments topple as a vast majority of the nation rose in protest supporting the Black Lives Matter movement after the police murder of George Floyd was a tribute to his life of struggle.” – The Guardian

Kathleen Duey

Oct. 8, 1950 – July 26, 2020

“Speaking of Ms. Duey’s legacy, Mr. Coville said: ‘There’s her writing, which grew and grew and is very fine. But there is also the long-term impact of her teaching and mentoring’.” – The New York Times

Sam McBratney

March 1, 1943 – September 18, 2020

“Sam McBratney was a profoundly lovely human being … You could recognize his voice in a moment—he was an exceptionally talented wordsmith and always knew exactly what children would enjoy hearing the most. Amazingly humble, he also was a hilarious storyteller and convivial companion … Our world dims with his passing, but his legacy of kindness and humor will burn bright and carry on across time and distance through his stories, which have touched the hearts of readers around the globe.” – Publishers Weekly

Bette Greene

June 28, 1934 – October 2, 2020

“Bette Greene’s novels have a common thread: her characters showed empathy for those treated unjustly. During the years her books were published, so many decades ago, she depicted horrific bully behavior and readers felt how wrong those actions were. This was courageous writing especially at that time. When Bantam published her books in paperback editions, they were constantly censored, but were also embraced for classroom discussion that made kids think.” – Publishers Weekly

Jill Paton Walsh

April 29, 1937 – October 19, 2020

“As a young mother at home with her infant son, Walsh wrote in her autobiography that she was ‘bored frantic,’ and was compelled to pull out an old typewriter and begin writing. (‘I began to write a book. It was a children’s book. It never occurred to me to write any other kind,’ she wrote.)” – Publishers Weekly

Harry McNaught

1923 – November 13, 2020

“A lucky man left this life on Friday the 13th. But much like his work that illustrated his incredible caring for children, Harry McNaught, too, will live on.” – Courier Times

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.


  1. Kate Messner says

    Rep. John Lewis should be on this list. March: Book Three was the very first GN to win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature!