Jan Ormerod, author and illustrator of many books for young children, died Wednesday in England. She had been suffering from cancer, although the cause of her death “was probably a major stroke,” according to her daughter Laura. She was 66.
Ormerod began her kid-lit career more than 30 years ago after the birth of her first child; previously she taught art and design. Her first book, Sunshine (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1981), a wordless story that follows a little girl through her daily routine, won the 1982 the Mother Goose Award, given to the “the most exciting newcomer to British children’s book illustration.” It was also named the Australian Picture Book of the Year and an ALA Notable Book, and inspired a companion book, Moonlight (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1982). Both books were reissued in 2009 by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.
“My books have largely been a celebration and savoring of the positive experience of parenthood,” Ormerod once said about her work. She believed her task in the medium was to be a “visual storyteller”—to observe life and to place life’s images into her books.
In Ballet Sisters: The Duckling and the Swan (Cartwheel, 2007), she used dancing as a pretext to explore the ups and downs of a sisterly relationship. “The words and pictures work well together, and depict, with subtlety and humor, the emotional life of an ordinary family,” School Library Journal said in its review of the book.
She also served as artist for other picture book authors, such as Robie Harris, for which she illustrated I Am Not Going to School Today (Simon & Schuster, 2003) and Goodbye Mousie (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
“The world of children has lost one of the greats,” Harris tells SLJ. “I always did and still feel privileged that Jan illustrated my picture books. How ironic that the first was Goodbye Mousie, a story for young children about death? Her caring, loving, honest, and yet gentle art conveyed the range and the depth of feelings—from disbelief, to sadness, sorrow, to anger and finally some acceptance—that young children have about the loss of a beloved person or pet.”
Harris adds, “Jan thought hard about the stories I wrote and talked with me about almost every idea she had so that our work together would hopefully strike a responsive chord in young children. The result was art that made the stories have meaning, emotion, and depth for young children far beyond words. Thank you for all that and more, Jan.”