Acclaimed children’s book creator Marc Simont, who illustrated nearly 100 children’s books, died on Saturday, July 13. He was 97. His many honors include a Caldecott Medal in 1957 for the art in Janice May Udry’s A Tree is Nice (1956), and Caldecott Honors for illustrating Ruth Krauss’s The Happy Day (1949) and his own The Stray Dog (2001, all HarperCollins).
The Paris native, who was born in 1915, was influenced by his Catalan father—Joseph Simont, a staff illustrator for the magazine L’Illustration—to pursue a career in the arts. He attended art school in Paris and immigrated to the United States at age 19, where he trained at the National Academy of Design in New York, alongside Make Way for the Ducklings Caldecott-winner Robert McCloskey. Simont lived his last days in West Cornwall, Connecticut.
During his long career, the prolific author/illustrator collaborated with publishing heavy hitters such as Ruth Krauss, James Thurber, and Margaret Wise Brown, and his art is represented in collections as far afield as the Kijo Picture Book Museum in Japan. His impact, however, is not limited to the children’s literature sphere. He was selected as the 1997 Illustrator of the Year in his hometown of Catalonia, and The Lakeville Journal, a community newspaper near his recent home in Connecticut, regularly featured his political cartoons.
Luann Toth, managing editor of School Library Journal’s book review, served on the Caldecott Committee that chose The Stray Dog as an honor book in 2002. The heartwarming tale chronicles the adoption of a charming dog by two siblings. “We fell in love with the book’s gentle humor yet distinctive line. Simont’s expressive and gorgeously rendered watercolors capture the emotions and energy of the simple story and make it irresistible,” she shares. “Looking back over his long and amazing career, it’s easy to see Simont’s well-earned spot among the greats of children’s literature.”
Kate Jackson, editor-in-chief at Harper Children’s, remembers Simont as a great illustrator and an even greater person. She met Simont for the first time when he dropped off a manila envelope containing the story and art for The Stray Dog, hoping that the publisher would add it to its list. “Reading the story as I looked through the art, I remember thinking that it was absolutely perfect and beautiful as it was,” she tells SLJ.
From editorial to sales, all of Harper’s departments were keen on the book’s presentation, Jackson says, adding, “Anne Hoppe, who was already a great admirer of his work, volunteered to participate in the editorial process as well. It was an altogether joyful experience: a labor of love for the house. As much as the editorial group cherished him, the designers adored him.”
Philip Nel, children’s literature professor at Kansas State University and biographer, recalls his short but memorable experience with Simont. While researching for a biography on the husband-wife team Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, Nel reached out to the artist about his relationship with the pair. “Simont was the illustrator for Krauss’s The Happy Day; and he was such a gentleman,” Nel says. “He was so generous in sharing his memories of the couple and faxing his correspondence about their projects. His passing marks the end of a certain generation of artists that worked on children’s books even before Maurice Sendak: Syd Hoff, Robert McCloskey, P.D. Eastman, Georges Prosper Remi [Hergé].”
Nel also says was struck by the soft-spoken and kind artist’s willingness to help someone he didn’t know, and how he continued to create children’s books late in life, winning Caldecott Honors more than 50 years apart.
Notably, Simont was also responsible for the art in books for older readers. He completed the unique illustrations in Bette Bao Lord’s In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, and was the longtime collaborator on the “Nate the Great” series (Delacorte) about a child detective and his dog assistant, Sludge. Beverly Horowitz, publisher at Delacorte Press, tells SLJ, “We were deeply saddened to hear the news of Marc’s death. His artwork is iconic to Marjorie Sharmat’s Nate the Great, and will continue to identify the series as a treasured classic to generations of readers.”
Simont illustrated the first 20 books from 1972 to 1998.
Toth described his works as “timeless treasures that will live on for generations to come.”
Adds Jackson, “He was a wonderful, generous, and kind human being, in addition to being so creative. It was such a privilege to know him.”
Simont is survived by his wife, Sarah Dalton Simont, and his son, Marc Dalton Simont.
From The Horn Book: Marc Simont’s Sketchbooks