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In Memorium: Remembering Those Lost in 2021

I’ve been writing Obituary posts for a number of years now, and I can say with certainty that in no year have I seen as many notable, unforgettable, downright amazing names as I saw pass away in 2021. This past year was a gut-punch to the children’s literature community. Here is every author and illustrator of books pertaining to children’s literature I knew of throughout the year, in the order in which they left us. If I’ve forgotten anyone, please let me know:


Mitsumasa Anno

March 20, 1926 – December 24, 2020

“Anno was a great artist and a great friend. He once stayed in our house and made sketches of dung beetles. I also visited him and his museum in Japan, where he was a national treasure and great host.” – Ann Beneduce, Publishers Weekly


George Ancona

Dec. 4, 1929 – January 1, 2021

“He was a kind and positive person, always happy,” said his son, Pablo Ancona. “He had a lot of respect and admiration for children, and he learned from them, too.” – Santa Fe New Mexican


Kathleen Krull

July 29, 1952 – January 16, 2021

“She was not only talented, but always brimming with great new ideas, and her books were both critically acclaimed and widely popular. Editors always wanted to keep working with her. A critic once dubbed her ‘The Queen of Kids’ Nonfiction.’ ” – Susan Cohen, Publishers Weekly


Laban Carrick Hill

1960-February 16, 2021

“I have now declared myself Poet Laureate of the Salmon Hole just below the Winooski Dam. I’m thinking about declaring myself music director as well. Perhaps I put up a plaque.” – Laban Hill, Burlington Free Press


Norton Juster

June 2, 1929 – March 8, 2021

“Today’s world of texting and tweeting is quite a different place, but children are still the same as they’ve always been. They still get bored and confused, and still struggle to figure out the important questions of life. Well, one thing has changed: as many states eliminate tolls on highways, some children may never encounter a real tollbooth. Luckily there are other routes to the Lands Beyond. And it is possible to seek them, and fun to try.” – Norton Juster, The Guardian


Joan Walsh Anglund

January 3, 1926 – March 9, 2021

“She taught me the importance of always observing life around me with empathy and humanity and to appreciate and enjoy moments alone or with loved ones. I will miss her mischievous laugh and her innate sense of wonder at the world we live in.” – Brein Lopez, Publishers Weekly

Judith Mathews

December 18, 1948 – March 16, 2021

I had the pleasure of working with Jude at Evanston Public Library for several years before her passing. Jude had a marvelous career as both author and librarian. She served on the Newbery/Caldecott committee in the late 1970s, published seven books for kids, and composed and performed music as well. She is sorely missed.


Ann K. Beneduce

September 16, 1918 – March 18, 2021

“Ann Beneduce was the creator of Philomel Books, named for an English nightingale, and named just right. Ann was an editor’s editor. She loved making what she called ‘beautiful books.’ It began with taste and artistic skills of her own, which, of course she used to do spectacular books. In coming to Philomel, I discovered how much the whole publishing house, the international publishers, other American publishers appreciated Ann.” – Patricia Gauch, Publishers Weekly

Beverly Cleary

April 12, 1916 – March 25, 2021

“I think children want to read about normal, everyday kids. That’s what I wanted to read about when I was growing up.” – Beverly Cleary, NPR


Constance C. Greene

October 24, 1924 – April 7, 2021

“Greene said that Beat the Turtle Drum (Viking, 1976) was her most autobiographical book and, unlike most of her other novels, it had a heavier theme: the death of a sister. The story was based on Greene’s childhood loss of her own older sister. Beat the Turtle Drum was adapted as an ABC Afterschool Special titled Very Good Friends. In all, Greene published more than 25 books for young readers during her career.” – PW


Margaret Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton

June 7, 1936 – April 21, 2021

“She was always really moved that children who were still going through hard times could use her story to realize that there was going to be a next chapter.” – Christy Jordan-Fenton, Toronto Star


Arnold Adoff

July 16, 1934 – May 7, 2021

“I began writing for kids because I wanted to effect a change in American society,” Adoff told SATA. “By the time we reach adulthood, we are closed and set in our attitudes…. But I can open a child’s imagination, develop his appetite for poetry, and most importantly show him that poetry is a natural part of everyday life. We all need someone to point out that the emperor has no clothes. That’s the poet’s job…. I know, too, that I write for children because the child in me is still very much alive.” – Arnold Adoff, PW


Robert M. Quackenbush

July 23, 1929 – May 17, 2021

“There’s a lot of fun that’s been made about the name, especially when I was in the Army,” Mr. Quackenbush said in the 2020 interview. “They called me ‘Quack.’ When my son was born, I thought, ‘I don’t want him to go through what I’ve been through with the Quackenbush thing.’ I invented a duck character called Henry the Duck and dedicated the book to him.” “Every book I did was dedicated to my son,” he added. “After that, nobody made fun of him and his last name.” – Robert Quackenbush, The New York Times


Eric Carle

June 25, 1929-May 23, 2021

“Eric Carle’s work is profoundly foundational,” said Rachel Payne, coordinator of public services at Brooklyn Public Library. “I can’t tell you how many times I have seen very young children, toddlers who are not yet reading and may not even be fully talking, “read” The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? He created books that got kids excited about books, particularly kids still learning to turn pages. From babies reading board book versions of his classics with loving caregivers to first graders taking their first steps to reading one of his picture books on their own, he has launched so many readers and thinkers with his timeless work.” – School Library Journal


Lois Ehlert

November 9, 1934 – May 25, 2021

“Throughout her ‘colorful life,’ Lois wore the bright colors in her books. She generously figured out how organizations important to her could become more visually effective. Lois enjoyed theater and music performances. It was always a lot of fun to be with Lois. During one autumn, without formal permission, Lois and a friend impishly planted daffodil bulbs in various Milwaukee public spaces while delighting in the anticipation of a colorful civic spring. Lois was a champion of all that ‘creeps, leaps, wiggles, sings, blooms, and flies with wings.’ In her books she brought that world to children by means of her color-filled celebrations of the natural world and gentle invitations to create original responses.” – Ginny Moore Kruse, PW


Byrd Baylor

March 28, 1924 – June 16, 2021

“I always knew I was going to be a writer,” Baylor told the Arizona Daily Star in 2009. “When I was a little kid, I was sending off poems to magazines and signing them, ‘Byrd Baylor, age 36.’ ” – PW


Bernette Ford

June 30, 1950 – June 20, 2021

“Bernette was a pioneer in building out the young novelty category with bright, engaging, and wonderful books. I have particularly fond memories of watching her in Bologna, as she inspired young packagers and connected with talented creators from around the world. Bernette will be missed, but she leaves an indelible mark on children’s books and the readers who love them.” – Ellie Berger, PW


Patricia Reilly Giff

April 26, 1935 – June 22, 2021

“You really have to have a sense of your own childhood, to remember distinctly what it was like to be a child in order to write for a child without being patronizing.” – Patricia Reilly Giff, The New York Times


Floyd Cooper

January 8, 1956 – July 15, 2021

“Floyd Cooper has passed away. His depth of talent was greater than he knew. I feel so blessed to have worked with him, and to have called him friend. It’s impossible to calculate how much he will be missed. RIP, Floyd.” – Nikki Grimes, School Library Journal


Barbara Bader

1927-2021

In addition to her best known work (American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within) Bader was a longtime children’s book editor and eventually the co-owner of Kirkus Reviews. She was also a prolific Horn Book Magazine contributor as well. On her 90th birthday, HB compiled this list of some of her articles:

Horn Book


Ted Lewin

May 6, 1935 – July 28, 2021

Lest we forget, Ted was a professional wrestler before he was a children’s author. He discussed this fact in his book I WAS A TEENAGE PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER

“Athlete, artist, adventurer, advocate for nature and wildlife, and beloved husband to Betsy, Ted Lewin was always fun to be with and a pleasure to work with. My favorite Ted Lewin book has a very simple text that can be read by the newest readers, but the art is spectacular—with beautiful paintings of animals—gorilla, elephant, giraffes, warthog—as they do what’s necessary to survive—eat, drink, run, and hide. Ted told me that these were images from his travels that he’d always wanted to paint, but he hadn’t had an opportunity to paint them until he created Look! “Look” is a word I associate with Ted, a man who would look, see, and enjoy, and then share his joy through his wonderful books. Ted has made the world a better and more beautiful place.” – Grace Maccarone, PW


Eloise Greenfield

May 17, 1929-August 5, 2021

“Our work is far from over. All of us—authors, illustrators, educators, and many others—will continue our commitment to this work so that children can see themselves in books, see their beauty and intelligence, see the strengths they have inherited from a long line of predecessors, see their ability to overcome difficulties, challenges, pain, and find deep joy and laughter in books, in characters they recognize as themselves.” – Eloise Greenfield, PW


Jill Murphy

July 5, 1949 – August 18, 2021

“Jill was so creative, beautiful and funny. Her genius lay in the way both the child and the adult could identify with her stories.” – Pamela Todd, The Guardian


Gary Paulsen

May 17, 1939 – October 13, 2021

“The indestructible, one-of-a-kind Gary Paulsen has left us. His storytelling power was astonishing, and so was his impact on his readers, whom he dearly loved. He taught us so much, most of all, how to survive anything, whether it be a brutal childhood, a blizzard in Alaska, a moose attack, or the humiliating comedy of middle school. Gary is now at peace, but not at rest—he’s driving a dogsled through the stars, with a team made up of his favorite dogs.” – Wendy Lamb, PW


Jerry Pinkney

December 22, 1939 – October 20, 2021

“Jerry Pinkney was a man of limitless talent and unfailing kindness and generosity; it was a privilege to have him in my life. The book we were working on at the time of his death was, in part, about the legacy that an artist leaves behind, and in Jerry’s case that legacy knows no bounds.” – Neal Porter, PW


April Pulley Sayre

April 11, 1966 – November 6, 2021

“April was endlessly curious about nature and a poet and artist at heart, and this was reflected in each of the 12 picture books we made together. She loved to explore beneath the surface of things, and it was always so fun to be along for the ride. We had long conversations on topics ranging from leaves to lemurs to an especially charismatic frog living in her pond that she named Lemon. I’ll never forget the time she asked for an extension one spring because she had been distracted by ‘an excessive amount of cuteness going on in the yard.’ Though I will miss April tremendously, it’s comforting to know that her books will continue to give children the gift of seeing and appreciating the natural world from her inimitable point of view.” – Andrea Welch, PW


bell hooks

September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021

“Everywhere I go, people want to feel more connected. They want to feel more connected to their neighbors. They want to feel more connected to the world. And when we learn that through love we can have that connection, we can see the stranger as ourselves. And I think that it would be absolutely fantastic to have that sense of ‘Let’s return to kind of a utopian focus on love, not unlike the sort of hippie focus on love.’ Because I always say to people, you know, the ’60s’ focus on love had its stupid sentimental dimensions, but then it had these life-transforming dimensions. When I think of the love of justice that led three young people, two Jews and one African American Christian, to go to the South and fight for justice and give their lives — Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner — I think that’s a quality of love that’s awesome. … I tell this to young people, you know, that we can love in a deep and profound way that transforms the political world in which we live in.” – bell hooks, NPR

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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.

Comments

  1. Not all of these names hit the news, so thank you for putting this together. Kathleen Krull and Constance Greene were two I had not heard. I am so grateful for the work of all of these people.

  2. Kathleen Odean says

    So many losses. So many familiar and well-loved books. Thanks for writing this column.

  3. Liz Porter says

    What a year of loss! Thank you for this remembrance!

  4. Judy Weymouth says

    I, too, greatly appreciate that you post this annual list. Rather than simply listing names and dates, I’m grateful for the time you put in to give a brief description, include pictures of books and people. It’s a wonderful way to honor each. Collectively, I agree that 2021 was truly a year of incredible loss. I’m so sad that they will no longer create . . . so much talent.

  5. Thank you so much for this compilation. All of these giants who came before us and dedicated their lives to children have stories that need to be told a remembered.

  6. Thanks for assembling this, Betsy. I’d missed a few of these. And, of course, all are missed.

  7. As a retired LMS, I feel that so many of these people were my colleagues. We were all in the business of inspiring children to be readers and life-long learners. I feel so lucky to have “known” so many of them.

  8. Marcia Leonard says

    To this stellar list, I would add Marianne Carus, founder and editor-in-chief of Cricket Magazine and its many offshoots. She gave so many children joy and excitement, as they received their very own magazines in the mail, and so many authors and artists their first platform in the field. She was also my first employer and a great teacher and mentor.

  9. He just missed your 2021 list, but my favorite illustrator has died: Steve Jenkins. He illustrated, and many times wrote, absolutely beautiful books about the animal world.

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