Mollie Hunter, whose novels for young readers won accolades on both sides of the ocean, died on July 31 in Inverness, Scotland. She was 90.
Hunter was born in East Lothian, Scotland, in 1922. As a child, she loved books and the Scottish countryside, both of which would later influence her as an author. Though she left school at 14 to help support her family after her father’s death, Hunter continued to educate herself through night school and libraries. It was in the National Library that she first encountered the Scottish folk tales that would feature so heavily in her work.
Her first book, Patrick Kentigern Keenan (Blackie, 1963) (currently published under the title The Smartest Man in Ireland), originally began as stories she made up for her two sons.
Hunter’s books for young adults were generally historical fiction set in Scotland, while her work for children consisted of fantasy and often involved Celtic folklore. Her novel The Kelpie’s Pearls (Funk & Wagnalls, 1964) addressed the myth of the kelpie, a water horse that lures riders into the water to their deaths.
Similarly, in A Stranger Came Ashore (Harper & Row, 1975), a 12-year-old boy suspects that a man staying with his family may be a selkie, or a seal that assumes human form on land according to Scottish legend. Hunter received the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award and a New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year citation for the novel, and School Library Journal named it one of its Best Children’s Books.
In 1974, she published The Stronghold (Harper & Row), a Carnegie award-winning novel set in first-century Scotland written from the point of view of a teenager whose tribe is staving off Roman invaders. In The King’s Swift Rider: A Novel on Robert the Bruce (HarperCollins, 1998), Hunter wrote about Scotland’s struggle for freedom from England in the 14th century. The novel was named an ALA Popular Paperback in 2002, and School Library Journal praised it, saying that Hunter “provided a powerful sense of a very different place and time.”
Though best known for her novels, Hunter also taught writing and children’s literature. In 1975, she received the Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award, an honor given annually by the Association for Library Service to Children to an outstanding author, critic, librarian, or teacher. Hunter also lectured throughout the United States that year and in New Zealand the following year.
In addition to her more than 20 fiction books for children and young adults, Hunter published Talent Is Not Enough: Mollie Hunter on Writing for Children (Harper & Row, 1976), a book of five essays based on her lectures in the United States. She explored topics ranging from folklore and fairy tales to children’s book authors’ obligation to truly understand their readers. She also taught writing workshops to both children and adults and served as a writer-in-residence at Dalhousie University in the early 1980s.