Gerald McDermott, award-winning author and illustrator best known for his original take on folktales, died on December 26, 2012, at the age of 71. He is survived by his wife, Beverly Brodsky.
His first children’s book, the Caldecott Honor Anansi the Spider (Holt, 1972), based upon his animated film, retold the traditional West African tale of the clever and mischievous trickster. In his Caldecott Medal-winning Arrow to the Sun (Viking, 1974), McDermott once more recast one of his animated films in picture book format. The book retold the Pueblo tale of a boy who journeys to the sun to seek his father.
McDermott received both a Caldecott Honor and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award for Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest, (Harcourt, 1993), a Native American tale of the birth of the sun which School Library Journal described as an “amusing and well-conceived picture book.”
In recent works such as Creation (Dutton, 2003), Pig-Boy: A Trickster Tale from Hawai’i (2009), and Monkey: A Trickster Tale from India (both Harcourt, 2011), McDermott turned to Aztec, Hawaiian, and Buddhist traditions to continue with his convention of bringing folklore to life.
In addition to his work as an author and illustrator, McDermott regularly shared his views on his craft with others through lectures and presentations. In 2001, he gave several talks in Japan, where his books have long been popular, and in 2003, he presented a discussion on picture book art at the Maui Writers Conference in Hawaii.
Born in 1941 in Detroit, McDermott displayed a passion for art early in life. At the age of four, he took classes at the Detroit Institute of Arts. McDermott went on to study at Cass Tech and then later at Pratt Institute in New York on scholarship. He then started a career as a filmmaker, producing short animated features on folklore, including “Anansi the Spider,” which garnered the American Film Festival Blue Ribbon in 1970.
“Gerald had an unusual talent for reaching both kids and adults; the six trickster tales he published with Harcourt certainly show his ability to reach across generations,” said Jeannette Larson, editorial director of Harcourt Children’s Books, who worked with McDermott. “His grasp of the cultural heritage behind his stories was impeccable, yet his books were never weighed down by his depth of knowledge. Every story is distilled to its essence; each one has a vein of humor that makes it accessible to even the youngest readers. And his artwork! Always stunning.”