It’s been a tough year for children’s literature. Every time I turn around it seems that another beloved author or illustrator of children’s books has died. It started last year when Diana Wynne Jones passed away in March. In spite of the fact that I discovered her when I was in college, I felt like a piece of my childhood was gone forever. Then in November, Anne McCaffrey and Perry Moore died. In December 2011, it was Russell Hoban, author of the Frances books, which I’ve mentioned before, and the Caldecott winning author/illustrator Simms Taback.
And the hits keep on coming. So far this year, I’ve read about the deaths of John Christopher, Bill Wallace, Jan Berenstain, Ray Bradbury, Leo Dillon, Ellen Levine, Else Holmeland Minarik, Jean Craighead George, Donald Sobol, and Maurice Sendak. Hearing about all of
these authors and illustrators passing away has reminded me of great memories and fantastic books.
I grew up reading the Berenstain Bears. I loved everything about them, from the tree house, to the scary babysitter who taught them to play tiddlywinks, to the fact that the two bear children were named “Brother” and “Sister,” while other characters had actual names. One of my most treasured childhood possessions is a Berenstain Bears mug that I use whenever I visit home. I still remember sipping hot
chocolate and reading about the adventures of Brother and Sister Bear.
Of course I remember Maurice Sendak from my childhood, especially the homemade audio version of Where the Wild Things Are recorded by my sister. But my favorite memory is when he died. I was at a meeting with other children’s librarians, and at lunchtime, one of them read on her phone that Maurice Sendak had died on May 9th. One problem—our meeting was on May 8th. We soon realized that her phone was not predicting the future, but that the article she read had a typo.
Still, as we laughed and mourned, I thought that, considering his books, he might not have minded.
I could go on to mention my first, rather traumatizing reading of Ray Bradbury’s terrifying Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is totally not a children’s book (not like that ever stopped me), or my first real experience with book romance in Bill Wallace’s Buffalo Gal (they
totally kissed! In public!). The skit I helped write in 3rd grade based on Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown and my admiration for the tough Sally Kimball. My deeper appreciation of electricity and indoor plumbing after reading some of Jean Craighead George’s adventure novels.
Or reading Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones in graduate school when I was sad, lonely, and discouraged, and how it made me remember that with a good book, I’m never alone. Instead, I’ll just say that even though I’m sad they’re gone, I’m grateful that they
were here, that they wrote books, and that I got to read them. I’m also
grateful that their books are still around for new people to discover.